Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak to you about agriculture today. I am very pleased to see that the Government has followed the example that the Official Opposition set for it by focussing the debates on agriculture. I feel that this subject is very important and goes beyond partisan matters.
The Official Opposition's first day this year was devoted to agriculture, and we now have another opportunity to make our views known. This is rather the way I see it, an opportunity to say what we feel the government should do with respect to agriculture in the years to come.
I will be speaking about this issue as a representative of the riding of Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, whose long agricultural tradition makes people very proud. This can be seen in the dairy industry, where producers have made their mark and have distinguished themselves among organizations across Canada as being very competent; the same is true in other production sectors. There is also a riding where there are institutions such as the Institut de technologie agricole and the federal government's experimental farm in La Pocatière, which certainly played a role in the development of agriculture in our region in the past.
However, I feel we should draw attention in the House to the fact that agriculture in Quebec reflects to a certain extent the situation elsewhere. We have gone from a protectionist system, a Canada-wide protected system in which Quebec's production was concentrated more in the dairy industry, and the West had certain other advantages. Now we have moved to an open system in which we will compete with the rest of North America, the Americas and the entire world. In this open system, the divergent interests that can be found in the various regions of Canada will be even more present than in the past. In a closed system, there were certain rules within which we were able to interact, but now, we will no longer be in control and we will have to ensure that each region is able to find its place in the scheme of things.
Another point is that we had a centralized system under which milk was trucked in to be processed near the markets. Under the new system, the open system, we will have to maintain a centralized approach for mass production, but at the same time, we should allow for something that does not exist today, namely, decentralizing milk supplies to small processors of agricultural products.
For instance, in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, in my riding, we have a factory that processes organic milk. Near Trois-Pistoles, a small cheese factory, the Fromagerie Petit Loup, has started producing cheese for local markets.
In the maple syrup sector, there has been a substantial increase in exports, but there is still room for expansion. I think the minister should realize it is important to leave room for new players on our export markets. A number of large co-operatives have been involved in exporting maple syrup for a long time, but there could be room for small operators as well. In my own riding, la Cuvée de l'érable would like to develop the equivalent of an "appellation contrôlée" which already exists for wine.
These people have good ideas. They do not have much money, but they manage. What they need is some help in reaching those export markets. Right now, they are not always in a position to take advantage of these markets, and it would therefore be useful to have programs to help these small operators.
It has been said repeatedly, and I heard this at the Bélanger-Campeau Commission from the present Minister of Foreign Affairs, that in the future, we will no longer enjoy the same protection for milk production in Canada. What happens if Quebec becomes sovereign? GATT and the free trade agreements have changed the rules. The answer is, of course, that we will have to manage on our own, because we no longer have any protection. When time comes, we will have to be able to compete and face foreign markets.
In this connection, it will be very important for Quebec to diversify its products. I am thinking, for instance, of fresh lamb which has increased market share but should be able to take an even larger share of the market. This market would require Canada to look at what New Zealand, among others, is doing in that area, so that we could take a larger share of the market. This would have a beneficial impact on stabilization payments. At the present time, because we cannot sell our production in a more effective way, there are stabilization costs that could be avoided.
Beef production is another sector where production diversification should take place. Quebec does not have its share of the Canadian production and now that the Canadian system I was mentioning earlier has collapsed under international pressure to open markets, we will have to find ways to have more beef processing in Quebec.
There could also be a debate on hog production. There is a very hot environmental controversy in this area, because environment protection organizations want a production method that is not harmful to the environment. However, we know that production could be increased in Quebec and Canada, as we have developed a very enviable reputation in hog production. We should have the possibility, in the future, to intervene more adequately in that field. We should inform the whole population, because the debate around hog production is a very emotional one. The government has the responsibility to provide information where needed to ensure that people understand the situation.
What I would like to say is that in the future-because we are really talking about the agriculture of the future-we should have flexible, focused and supportive structures, capable of reacting rapidly to changing signals in the market place. In the past, since we were in a protected system, we did not have to watch markets so closely.
In the next few years, if we do not watch how the markets evolve, we may find ourselves in situations where we will produce things that consumers do not want. We are going to have to adjust very quickly, and it is very important for the government to understand that, in this area, its huge bureaucracy does not always respond with the necessary speed and that the impact on the economy could be disastrous, especially if we do not adopt adequate policies in that respect.
The main criticism I have regarding today's motion is not so much the use of the words "pro-active work", but the fact that we are still in the consultation mode. Agriculture is a sector in which the government is going to have to stop consulting and quickly implement a global intervention strategy.
It is all very well to say that we support producers, that we have a good relationship with all the organizations, but if we miss the boat, it will not solve our problems. We need an interesting global strategy.
This strategy should first promote export assistance programs. We should pave the way for new players and, since they will no longer be protected, we should help those farmers who saw themselves only as producers, play an increasingly larger role in the food chain as a whole.
Regional research and development is another issue dear to my heart. We already have the facilities. I mentioned the experimental farm in La Pocatière, but I believe that in the future, it will be important to establish adequate research and development institutions in regional areas to provide direct service to local stakeholders. We will have to avoid making the mistake of concentrating research and development establishments near major centres because, by so doing, we would prevent research and development from meeting the needs of local producers.
There is a slightly more touchy issue I would like to raise regarding the government motion, namely the fact that the government should not forget the Quebec industry. Allow me to quote what Agriculture Canada said about the Quebec agri-food industry in its corporate intervention strategy. Page 5 contains a few words about the human and cultural side of the industry and they read as follows: "Despite the efforts of the Canadian government to provide services in both languages, many Quebec entrepreneurs make too little use of the national development tools available to all Canadians. Canadian associations often have trouble adjusting to this reality. As a result, Quebec's industry often tends to withdraw into its francophone environment, a situation which presents an additional challenge for regional departmental authorities".
Mind you, these words were not written by nasty sovereigntists, but by Agriculture Canada's regional management committee for the Quebec region. We on this side are truly
concerned that in the future, language will not prevent Quebec farmers and stakeholders from getting the credit they deserve.
I would also like to mention new areas such as big game and cattle production, backgrounding, ethanol production which has already been mentioned by other members from other regions, and feed exportation.
These are areas in which we need to expand, something which was not necessarily done in the past, perhaps in light of the protectionist system in place. I mentioned the response to environmental challenges. I think it is rather obvious that if agriculture is to retain its favoured status with Quebecers and Canadians, it must meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century. This is an important consideration.
Human resources development is another important intervention sector where the Canadian government is much weaker, not because of the individuals in the system but because of the system itself. Perhaps more than other sectors, agriculture is one area that reflects the Canadian federal system's paralysis and inability to adequately meet human resources development needs.
While Canada is one of the countries that spend the most on job training, it is also one of the countries that spend the least on the person being trained in the end. In an open system like we have today, it can be said that, at the end of the day, human resources are a country's only competitive advantage.
Therefore, we have to give our agricultural labour force the training it needs to adjust to new crops and new market demands, to ensure that our people can deal with the changes. I think we must recognize our shortcomings in this respect.
The current Canadian educational structure is very out of date and does not allow us to meet needs quickly, especially in agriculture where this type of adjustment will be needed in the next few years.
I also think it is important to have an intervention tool flexible enough to accommodate various sectors such as dairy products, pork, horticulture, grain and maple syrup production, which all need their own intervention strategies. Our good old bureaucratic dinosaur may find it difficult to meet the needs of each sector and we must find adequate and effective ways to spend the money in the right places and to delegate to the right entities to avoid losing money in the bureaucratic channels and to give much more to the producers, the processors and those who put their products on the domestic and international markets.
In conclusion, Canadian agriculture as it now stands gives me the impression that it will be very difficult if not impossible to have a Canada-wide balanced policy that would not put one of Canada's regions at a disadvantage. Access to markets to the South, North-South markets, whether in British Columbia, the Western provinces, Ontario, Quebec or Atlantic Canada, will necessitate a number of very well-structured actions, and definitely not competition between provinces by which one part of Canada would gain something over another because of it has more political weight.
In that area, we have reached the same point as with the rest of the free trade issue. In the 19th century, we used to need large government structures to create vast markets, with the political market and the economic market being one and the same. We have moved beyond that now. We no longer need these big political markets to create economic markets. This happens to be one of the reasons why Quebec as a whole has supported free trade, because the concept, the essence of free trade -not the transition phases but the very principle of free trade- would be beneficial to Quebec in that it would promote increased trade with other countries, the United States in particular, as well as a return to the direction development should always have had in North America, that is to say from the North to the South, as opposed to the more artificial East-West direction established by the Canadian confederation, which does not really meet the needs of the continent in terms of development.
So, this is one thing we have to contend with in the agricultural industry, but I bet you that with their drive, farmers will manage to get by in the future. It would be important however that the governments support them appropriately. Whether you look at the future from a federalist standpoint for Canada or from a sovereigntist one like I do for Quebec, in either case, an extremely decentralized approach is called for. The centralized approach some may have known in the past will no doubt rebound on those who chose that particular approach.
We need a different approach for the various regions of Quebec.
We need a body that can make decisions quickly and we need integrated regional development. I will give an example from our area. A milk-processing plant in Trois-Pistoles closed. Now all we see are milk trucks going to Montreal and the processed milk comes back in plastic bags. This is very bad for regional development. A region is not there only to provide raw materials; it can also do processing and occupy markets. I think that free trade will be an opportunity if we take the time to adjust and can meet the needs of the market.
In conclusion, I will simply reread an excerpt from article 31, which I mentioned last week during the opposition day debate on agriculture: "The future depends on decentralized authority in the hands of regional decision-making bodies that are in touch with local reality. Unfortunately, the shared jurisdiction for agriculture and the very different interests of Canada's main agricultural regions provide poor support for the initiatives of Quebec farmers". Quebec farmers are doing the same thing as the Bloc Quebecois; they are using the federal system so that Quebec gets as much out of it as possible. But like many other interest groups in Quebec, they are beginning to realize that
sovereignty for Quebec is an essential tool if Quebec agriculture is to win on the markets of the 21st century.