Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak for a few minutes tonight to express the grievances, wishes and desires of the people whom I have the honour and the privilege to represent in this House.
Let me commence my remarks by complimenting the minister of agriculture. Not only has he proposed this motion today which is unprecedented but I have no recollection in the 14 years I have had the honour of representing my constituents at the federal and provincial levels of the government taking an initiative like that, of having a debate on its own; not an opposition motion but a government initiated debate of this kind. I congratulate the minister.
I also want to indicate to the House and indeed to all Canadians that the minister has been in the House as we have had this debate all day. He has been here for about 12 hours listening to the suggestions of hon. members from all sides of the House. I know that members of his able staff are here taking notes and informing themselves of the wishes of Canadians through their respective members of Parliament with regard to agriculture.
There are about 68,000 farms in the province which I have the honour to represent. My riding alone has 1,000 farmers. So it is an important region for supply managed agriculture.
As you well know, Mr. Speaker, there are also poultry producers, egg producers and many others. I would like to share some of my constituents' concerns and make some suggestions to the government.
First, I would like to join with some of my colleagues who today expressed an interest in ethanol.
I as well as other members use ethanol blends in my automobile. At the present time I do that in an effort to encourage agriculture in part because it is a good conservation measure and of course because it makes my car work better. My ethanol is a local brand called McEwans. You know it well, Mr. Speaker. I think Mr. McEwan is a close personal friend of yours. A number of McEwan gas bars in eastern Ontario sell this very good product.
This ethanol blend, however, as all ethanol blends in eastern Canada, mostly has in the portion of the blend which is ethanol a product imported largely from the United States. There is nothing wrong with that per se, except that in encouraging agriculture by purchasing gasoline I would much prefer to encourage agriculture in Canada and even better agriculture in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
You no doubt know the group of producers in our region, the St. Lawrence Ethanol Co-op, which also has an ethanol project in our region. I even think that it is in the riding of the hon. member for Leeds-Grenville, with many producers coming from your riding, and the president is a resident of mine. A whole group of corn growers in eastern Ontario is interested in this project. I point out to the minister that these growers need our encouragement and support.
I would also like to make some suggestions about the Farm Credit Corporation to the minister.
The Farm Credit Corporation of course lends funds to a number of producers both in my riding and elsewhere and I congratulate it for the work it does. I am not always pleased with what FCC does but I do not share the view of the Reform Party member who spoke earlier who suggested that there was no room for the Farm Credit Corporation in financing agriculture at all.
I do not share those views. I think the FCC has a significant role to play and if it did not it certainly would not have the loan portfolio that it does. In any case the Farm Credit Corporation is a valuable instrument and we should encourage it.
I want to suggest to the minister that he consider doing what another minister had done a number of years ago and that is to review the present loan portfolio of the Farm Credit Corporation in an effort to determine whether or not it would be possible to lower the interest rates on some of the existing loans.
In approximately 1985 or 1986 the then agriculture minister had made a decision to lower the interest rates on a number of outstanding loans, I believe they were loans financed at 16 per cent and above, to bring them to what had been the prevailing rate for the preceding year which was in the order of 12 per cent. That had a significant impact.
Of course farmers can do that now but they are subject to a considerable penalty and that has reduced some of the potential help that farmers could have received had they been able to restructure those loans with the Farm Credit Corporation.
I want to bring to the attention of the minister this suggestion of mine and I hope that he considers it.
I want to say a few words on GATT. The GATT agreement signed last fall was not the Liberal government's first choice. We did say what our first choice would have been. Mr. Speaker, you know hockey well. You know that if 117 teams play under the same rules, and if 116 of those teams decide to change the rules, you will not be able to do anything about it. Indeed, if 116 out of 117 teams decide to change the rules, those rules are going to be changed, no matter what.
Under these circumstances, we had to find what was best for our country. I think we have done that. And the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell is not the only one to think so. I have here an article published in the December 20 issue of Agricom , which is an agricultural publication from my riding. It says:
In spite of the loss of article XI, Canadian supply management programs are safe''. I will only quote another short excerpt:The new GATT agreement provides for the maintenance of supply management programs through tariffs''. Agri-com is not the only newspaper that said that. As a matter of fact I have before me the May 10 editorial of the agricultural publication Farm and Country , a very well known publication in
my province of Ontario. The editorial is entitled "Canada survives GATT Chess Game" and reads:
"The world's dairy producing countries which protected their markets before will continue to do so. The U.S. section 22 is gone. The EU's"-European unions-" variable import levies are gone. So is Canada's article XI. But domestic industries around the world will still be protected". The still critical Globe and Mail should take note.
In other words, this writer is responding to criticism of that in Toronto's Globe and Mail .
The point I am making is that agricultural publications are telling us that our supply management has been protected, but it is not over. I raised this in a question with one of my hon. colleagues earlier. I give this note of caution to members of the House and hopefully through them to all Canadians involved in supply management. I have said this before. The supply management system has achieved a certain maturity and when an industry does, it sometimes becomes self-critical. That is not bad in itself but when there is an excess of that there is a danger.
I am thinking generally of the chicken and poultry industry. I have what I have referred to as the fear of implosion for lack of a better word, and I am concerned about it. I hope producers in supply managed commodities will ensure they do not become their own worst enemies.
They could have been their own worst enemies last December and some of them were. Some of them panicked. Many of us, the parliamentary secretary, the minister and myself included, spent hours and hours, days on the phone with farmers reassuring them and telling them that if they sold their quota they could be putting the whole system in a tailspin. Most of them were careful and through the efforts of everyone the supply management sector survived.
But the concerns persist, and I want to point that out.
Let me express some thoughts in the few minutes I have left. I do not know how to solve the problem, but I ask the minister and the parliamentary secretary to think about this. We live in a society which does not give sufficient recognition to the agricultural sector and that concerns me. This is true for all of North America. Again, I do not know the solution, but I think it is good to mention that point.
I have had the opportunity to go to Europe many times and I noticed that Europeans in general value their agriculture a lot more than we do here. Is it because more European consumers go to the market to buy products directly from the farmer who is a personal friend, whereas here in North America consumers think that produce comes from the supermarket? Is it this lack of interaction which is responsible for the lack of recognition? I do not know. However, I urge the minister and his cabinet colleagues to look at this important issue and try to make sure that Canadians living in urban areas can better understand our agricultural sector.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you and the House for giving me this opportunity. Again I thank the minister and his parliamentary secretary for the attention they have given to agriculture in Canada.