Mr. Speaker, I rise in this place today to set the record straight about the agricultural industry.
The government introduced a motion in which it boasts about its proactive work in the agriculture sector. To listen to it all is well with the world. But then that is often the case when the opposition ventures constructive criticism.
I can tell you that my riding is mainly rural. So, I have excellent feelers in that sector. I may surprise you by saying that the federal government is indeed pro-active in the agri-food sector, in Western provinces. You can certainly count on the government to be active in Western Canada!
I will give you supporting figures in a moment. Before I do however, I want the government to understand that it is not enough to be pro-active or claim to be; you must also know where you are going and, more importantly, if you are on the right track.
Quebec has a real plan for the future of the agri-food sector. The agricultural community knows what it wants and has taken the necessary steps to achieve its goals.
When the government decided to impose its policy, it did not stop to think for one second that this may not be consistent with the priorities and development targets set by the community concerned. Unlike the government, this community takes a concerted approach.
Here are a few examples. In February 1991, Quebecers involved in regional development and in the agri-food sector met in Montreal, where it was decided that the community had to take its future in its own hands.
Other objectives developed during this summit conference of the rural community included: respect and promotion of regional and local values; joint action by regional and local partners; diversification of the regional economic base; protection and regeneration of resources; restructuring of the political power from the base up, an objective we did not hear the people across the floor mention.
This led to the creation of advisory committees, which are incidentally very active in my riding.
These committees raised consensus on the general approaches to be favoured in promoting the development of the Quebec agri-food industry at the Trois-Rivières summit in June 1992. Some recommendations to come out of it are: recognize, value and support the training of human resources; ensure the permanence, development and growth of agri-food companies; readjust current income security programs based on production costs; develop income security programs compatible with international trade rules; provide financing for agricultural enterprises and their transfer without massive debt; consider support for non-viable companies that could be reoriented within the sector and help people leaving farming.
We see that the farm community has taken action to control decision making in fields of concern to it, but the government must avoid making life difficult for them. Our party has also dealt with the situation.
Agricultural companies and processing plants must be encouraged to be self-sufficient by helping them adjust to new market requirements, to win new markets and to increase their competitiveness by lowering their production costs. The government should note this. We could finally break the vicious circle of dependence on subsidies.
But be careful! This does not mean blindly cutting budgets. The transition will take some time. We want this transition to go smoothly, but this is unlikely since the government signed the GATT agreement.
The agri-food sector competes directly with foreign competitors now that the Canadian government has thrown farm programs and practices into upheaval.
Let us talk about GATT. Does the government think it acted proactively when it signed the GATT agreement on November 15? This government did not even ensure a settlement of the trade disputes that could arise with the Americans. The Americans, who still seem to have the upper hand at their own game-and you know that baseball is their national sport-managed to lead Canada to the negotiating table on all agricultural issues.
Are all negotiations in good faith not conducted on a case-by-case basis? Unfortunately, our government tried to play cautiously and defensively. Yet our national sport is hockey. A long
time ago, experts realized that offence is the best defence. The Montreal Canadiens could only count on Patrick Roy this year and you saw where it got them.
Why not denounce the barriers the Americans put up against our products? Why not denounce the numerous measures taken to subsidize U.S. agricultural products? Why not condemn the hypocrisy of the Americans who accuse Canada of practices they themselves have used for a long time? The government may call this being proactive, but where I come from we refer to it as inertia.
Meanwhile, the Americans are having fun at our expense. The GATT and NAFTA agreements did not resolve all Canada-U.S. trade disputes. Far from it. The Americans even decided that quotas will be imposed on durum wheat exports effective July 1. This date would be quite a coincidence, if negotiations fail! In return, Canada threatens to retaliate against certain American products if the U.S. carries out its threat of imposing quotas.
A trade war is looming. The Bloc Quebecois is asking the government not to yield to American pressure, and not to sign a bad agreement for Quebec and Canadian farmers for the sole purpose of ending the conflict.
Another indication of the Canadian government's apathy in these negotiations with Americans is its willingness to negotiate a ceiling on Canadian exports of durum wheat to the United States. Canada is not guilty of any illegal trade practice in this case; yet, it is prepared to penalize itself. Americans are the sole responsible of their problems, since they subsidize their durum wheat exports. You can understand American producers who prefer to export their production. Canada is only satisfying a need. It is a simple market law which Americans do not respect because it is detrimental to them. Oh, inertia.
In the context of our party's position regarding the future of this most important industry, we feel that farmers must be considered as entrepreneurs and that regional entrepreneurship must be supported; also, agricultural development policies must be distinguished from regional development policies; finally, the government must promote an awareness by farmers themselves of the importance of the environment to promote agriculture.
The government does nothing in its negotiations with Americans, and it does nothing inside our borders either. I did say at the beginning of my remarks that the government can have a proactive approach. But I also added that it was mostly proactive in Western Canada. The federal government subsidizes Western crop diversification, and so much the better for that region. However, this is done to the detriment of Quebec. We say: Whoa, there! Here are some facts: Between 1981 and 1991, cultivated acreage for potatoes increased by 30 per cent in Western Canada, by 9 per cent in the maritimes, and by a mere two per cent in Quebec.
During the same period, beef production in the West increased by 4 per cent while it fell by 13 per cent in Quebec. In pork production, an area which Quebec has been developing for some years, the situation is critical. I know whereof I speak, because there are processing plants in my riding.
Again during the period from 1981 to 1991, the swine population in Quebec fell by 16 per cent and increased by 39 per cent in Western Canada. In the production of lamb, Quebec is also at a disadvantage compared to the West. While Quebec's lamb population increased by only 8% between 1981 and 1991, that of the West grew by 33 per cent. Even in hothouse crops, despite its energy advantages and its proximity to markets, Quebec lagged behind the West.
During this same period of 1981 to 1991, the area devoted to hothouse crops increased by 67 per cent in the West, compared to an increase of only 46 per cent in Quebec.
The proactiveness of the federal government here takes the form of unfair competition at the expense of Quebec producers because of subsidies to Western farmers. It is as simple as that. If only these subsidies made sense, but they do not. As in many areas, the government intervenes without consultation or consults the wrong people.
Departments should assess the results of their actions. In agriculture, the Department is involved in the analysis, organization and dissemination of information on agri-food markets. Very well, but, here as in other areas, the Auditor General notes serious shortcomings. He found that the information gathered did not necessarily meet the users' needs. Another example of public money being wasted, with decisions being made in ivory towers, when it might be easier to check firsthand what the clients' true needs are.
The government always takes heavyhanded action, when it should concentrate on avoiding duplication with provincial initiatives. Quebec has understood this, as industry and government have been working together for a long time to implement strategies to conquer new markets. It is not only Quebeckers who have understood this.
At the Sixth Outlook Conference on the future of the agri-food sector, which took place in Quebec City on March 9, Ms. Cooper, project co-ordinator at the Guelph Food Technology Center, made this point: "In the fight between the federal government and the provincial governments to decide who is going to lead the industry, the governments developed programs that overlap or conflict with others. This is a waste of public money and increases the debt".
Ms. Cooper, whose remarks were published in the journal La terre de chez nous , maintains that an effective government
encourages companies to become more competitive. Governments should be more responsible and more effective in their actions.
She also stated that governments should ensure more and more transparency and relevance with respect to money invested.
Many agricultural producers in Quebec are sovereigntists. I understand them. In a few minutes, I have shown how the federal government is ineffective for them, and they could go on at length about this subject. What is known is that the number one solution for our agricultural producers is to decentralize decision-making mechanisms and to provide effective budgets. Is the government willing to take this approach?