Mr. Speaker, I am pleased this evening to have the opportunity to add something to this important debate.
Annapolis Valley-Hants is home to a large and diverse agricultural and agri-food sector. I am committed to working closely with this sector and I am honoured to have the opportunity to bring its views to this place.
In order to help me effectively gain local input on agricultural issues I have set up an advisory committee made up of individuals from the local farming and processing sector. Meeting with this group has been of tremendous assistance to me in not only identifying local concerns but also highlighting workable solutions.
Most recently I received some very positive feedback from this group regarding the position of the minister of agriculture on our current dispute with the United States over wheat.
I would like to share with hon. members one particular response I received just yesterday: "Please continue to fight. Americans are tough traders but we must learn that our strengths and policies need to stay in place. So from my past business experience, hang tough".
That is precisely what we intend to do.
In contributing to this debate I would like to focus my comments on how we are assisting family farms. I would like to make it very clear that we must retain the family farm as a business unit. In my riding and the constituencies across this country, small and medium sized farms are the backbone of the local and regional economies. Through our commitment to enhance value added production, provide better access to capital and financing, and work with all of the stakeholders to redesign our supply management system, I believe that our policies are on the right track.
Our platform for the election last fall emphasized jobs and economic growth. The agri-food sector represents 8 per cent of our GDP and 15 per cent of all the jobs in this country. It is key to our success in achieving that growth and creating those jobs.
World markets are changing. Canadian consumers' tastes and needs are changing. Technology is giving farmers and food companies new ways to produce, market and manage to meet consumer demands. This is the sector where government support for innovation is vital.
Our platform, commitment to innovation and value added production, is particularly important to our government's focus on trade in agri-food. It is a high tech industry in which market share can only be maintained by being at the cutting edge of new technology.
Our government believes in innovation. As we stated in our red book: "For Canada comparative advantage now hinges not just on our natural resources, but on our technological prowess, our ability to be innovative".
One of the keys to this depends on a commitment to research. Better focused R and D is critical to our global competitiveness and economic growth. It is important for us to develop low cost processes and the new products we need to capture new markets.
Just yesterday the minister announced that the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food is launching a $500,000 pilot project for a new program called the agri-food R and D matching investment initiative. The goal of this initiative is to encourage further industry investment in research, especially where increased market potential exists. This innovative way will provide up to $25 million over the next four years.
In my riding I am proud to say that there are many examples of successful value added, community based initiatives. For example, the processing of hogs, chickens and fruits and vegetables can be found in communities throughout my riding.
Furthermore, a biotechnology firm located in my riding, the Efamol Research Institute, is making great gains in the area of value added non-food products. The Efamol Research Institute is a world leader in the research of the medical benefits derived from the oil of evening primrose plants.
I believe that as a government we must look to and work with the private sector to ensure that these companies are on the cutting edge of value added production.
Closely related to our focus on value added production is our commitment to provide comprehensive support for farmers through improved access to capital and financing. Time and time again farmers in my riding have said that in the past they have felt shut out by governments. Income support programs have often been passive in nature and put together on a piecemeal basis.
Statistics clearly show that most family farm operations would not be financially viable unless there was off-farm income coming into the household. However farmers in my riding and across Canada have also said that they do not want to rely on government handouts. Instead, they want the security of stable markets and the knowledge that the government will support them in their efforts to take advantage of new market opportunities.
Given these realities, we are redirecting our focus from providing merely a passive safety net to looking at comprehensive long term programs. We must ensure that these farms have access to the capital necessary to grow and to be competitive over the long term.
In order to improve access to capital for farms, we will focus on providing long term stability through established bodies such as the Farm Credit Corporation. Initiatives that we are committed to include are a long term mortgage program that would transfer some of the risk of interest rate fluctuations from the borrower to the Farm Credit Corporation, a vendor loan guarantee aimed at improving the availability of reasonably priced long term capital, and the agricultural equity development program which would allow the FCC to lease land acquired by foreclosures. This would allow the FCC to assist in getting foreclosed farmers back on their feet.
It is clear that farmers do not want us to repeat the policies of the past. They want to be masters of their own fate. They want government to help them with the tools that they need to be successful.
I would like to turn briefly to the critical issue of supply management and orderly marketing. In the past, supply management has worked to stabilize farmers' revenues while ensuring the supply of top quality and healthy food products. However many farmers have expressed concern over how the GATT agreement will affect their ability to remain competitive.
While we were not able to secure article XI during the GATT negotiations, we were able to ensure that a system of high tariffs will be put in place as a replacement to import quotas. In achieving this, we will be able to provide the necessary security for Canada's small farms and processors to remain competitive while they adjust to the new trade rules.
In the meantime, the GATT also opens new markets for these same products. The minister has stated on many occasions that it is his goal to see our agriculture exports almost double to $20 billion annually. In pursuing new international markets in such an aggressive manner, the government can ensure that Canada's rural communities will play an important role in generating economic growth.
The Financial Post reported this morning that according to a study by the Agri-Food Competitiveness Council, Canadian producers have nothing to fear from worldwide trade. I believe that the agri-food sector in my riding and across Canada can be the best in the world. I am committed to working with them to ensure that they have every opportunity to reach their potential.
With the GATT negotiations behind us, one of the biggest challenges facing our system of supply management is in the area of internal competition. More than ever there is a clear need for national and regional co-operation. In order to address this and other immediate challenges facing us, the parliamentary secretary has been working with a small task force.
The mandate of this group is to determine how to make the necessary changes to Canada's orderly marketing system by making it flexible and viable over the long term. The task force has to this point consulted widely with all of the stakeholders. These groups must have a direct role to play in mapping out the future of supply management and orderly marketing in Canada.
There is no question that we face many challenges. There are no easy solutions, no quick fixes to the issues I have raised here today. As a government we have shown that we are up to the challenge before us: working with industry to set priorities, encouraging industry investment in technological development, investing in the skills of our people, and providing security and stability for small and medium sized farms and producers. These are the ways to keep the Canadian agri-food products competitive.