Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to address the subject of agriculture.
Because of my rather extensive experience and background in agriculture I have a bit of trouble when I read the motion as put forward. It talks about proactive work of the government and uses phrases and words such as co-operation, enhance, building the sector to be among the best in the world, and sustainable agriculture. Sustainable is a good catch phrase. It is one that we as farmers have heard and used ourselves for some time now. Farmers are not looking for fancy catch phrases or motions but some assurance of where we are headed from this point.
As I have said I was born and raised on a farm. As such I have had the enjoyment of learning firsthand about picking rocks on our land. I have been involved in farming virtually all my life. For many years I operated about a 3,000 acre grain farm with one of my brothers who continues our family farming tradition today.
The farm was started by my father with the help of the Veterans Land Act shortly after the second world war. My family has quite a tradition of being on the land. Something I have witnessed and something I have personally felt is what I call the farmer's love of the land. The enjoyment of actually producing from one's own efforts is the very reason so many farmers today continue to struggle against all odds every year
when the economics of their business would dictate that in reality they should just give up and do something else, do something more profitable.
This love of the land could be equated to the similar feelings I am sure aboriginal peoples have for their traditional lands, or that foresters feel for forests, or pilots for the skies. In short, farmers are happiest when they are working on their land or working with their livestock.
Back home right now I know they have started preparing the soil and planting the 1994 crop. As I said earlier, they desperately need some assurance from the government that it intends to support those efforts with more than simply more empty rhetoric.
Over the years I have been involved in many farm organizations working on behalf of my fellow farmers. For a while I was president of the B.C. Grain Producers Association. As such I served as the director responsible for grain with the B.C. Federation of Agriculture. I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand farm programs that I would say were designed by bureaucrats for bureaucrats. By that I mean programs that have been unnecessarily cumbersome and heavy in administration, programs designed more to justify an ongoing need for government jobs than for sustaining agriculture.
The reality is that farmers are not asking for a handout. They never have and they never will. They just want to be able to earn a decent return on their investment and labour. In short they need to know if their industry will be protected from circumstances completely beyond their control.
Because farmers sell their products on the world market they are price takers, not price setters. When our competitors, namely the EEC and the U.S., choose to continue the seemingly never-ending trade war, it is our farmers who are caught in the middle.
City dwellers simply do not understand some of the sacrifices their rural cousins are called upon to make. I am speaking about the need for off-farm income. It has been well documented that in order to sustain farm operations farmers' wives are working off farm. Farmers may spend many days themselves in the wintertime away from their families just to sustain their farming operations. Also they have to make do with much lower standards of living in some cases than those of their urban neighbours.
I am concerned that when urban people drive by and see a farmer working his fields they relate his efforts to a small businessman rather than to an industry. They should be better educated about the situation. When they see a farmer and consider the need to sustain agriculture and to assist farmers, they must look at it as a primary industry similar to forestry, oil and gas or mining rather than a small business. It is not fair to equate farming with small business because like forestry, it is renewable.
I have always been somewhat upset when I pick up a newspaper and read about another subsidy to farmers. We have to recognize that all industries at different times, especially our natural resource industries, call upon both levels of government to support them. At different times both levels of government provide tax incentives or royalty holidays or initiate specific programs to assist major industries. As I have said, agriculture should not be viewed any differently.
Over the years there has virtually been a flood of farm programs supposedly designed to assist farms to remain sustainable. As has already been outlined, some programs have taken the form of transportation subsidies, the Crows Nest Pass rate which eventually became the Western Grain Transportation Act. There are various feed freight assistance programs and those types of things. Some have been designed to protect farmers from natural disasters, natural elements. Crop insurance is a program put in place to provide that type of protection.
There have been many others implemented to protect farmers from price fluctuations in the marketplace. The western grain stabilization program was such a program. It was proclaimed in 1976 and was eventually dissolved 15 years later in 1991. I know from personal experience on our farm that in consultations among my father, my brother and I, we chose not to participate in that program because we could see that it was not sustainable. By the way it was initially set up, it was not a good program for farmers.
As president of the B.C. grain producers I was personally involved with the special Canadian grains program that came about because of the trade war. In 1985-86 it was recognized that the WGSA was simply not addressing needs because it did not foresee how badly prices would drop.
We have moved through myriad programs over the years, and now we have come to GRIP and NISA. I am sure I could spend a lot more time than I have available today talking about all the problems that have developed with GRIP and NISA. Actually NISA is the one program that has been a relatively bright light in the darkness of government programs.
Despite all the problems with the programs that have been created in the past, we still talk about being proactive and co-operating with farm groups and farmers. The discussion seems to centre around which commodities to include in new programs on the horizon to replace GRIP and NISA.
As mentioned by my colleague earlier, Reform suggests a different route. It suggests elimination of the present farm support programs and instead the diverting of funds into basically three separate programs. The trade distortion adjustment program is an all-sector program, an all-inclusive program designed to address some of the concerns of my hon. colleague
across the way and what is going to be facing the supply management sector and other sectors.
We talk about a program specifically designed to offset foreign intervention and foreign competition through unfair subsidies our foreign competitors might be granted that we in this country do not have. We talk about other areas. As I have said, NISA has been a relatively successful program. We talk about making it more inclusive and making it applicable to all sectors of agriculture rather than just the grain sector.
We would continue to require crop insurance to offset the elements, the natural disasters that always occur and that farmers must be protected against. That briefly outlines my past history and what I say our government must move toward in relation to farm safety net programs.