Mr. Speaker, Bill C-75, which we are debating this afternoon, is neither very long nor complex. It may, in fact, be summarized in a single, very simple, clause, which provides that the maximum of guaranteed loans will increase from $1.5 billion to $3 billion.
As my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, has just pointed out, this refers merely to loan guarantees. The government is not injecting an additional $3 billion or $1.5 billion into the agricultural sector-far from it. Bill C-75 is therefore simply an amendment to the Farm Improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act.
I must say that, when I read the title of this bill, I thought it was rather long. Like the Prime Minister, I counted the words. There are 16 words in the name of the act. There could, in my opinion, have been a lot fewer.
The amendment, therefore, is aimed at doubling the amount and the number of loans guaranteed under the terms of this act. The amendment simply increases the cap of guarantees for loans given by banking institutions in response to increased demand. The current cap is $1.5 billion, and with the adoption of Bill C-75, the limit will increase to $3 billion. For many farmers, this increase means greater access to financing.
Even though the bill concerns loan guarantees and not the investment of new money, an important question arises: Will taxpayers be bearing the costs of this increase directly? Although we are talking about loan guarantees, the risk of non payment remains, and, in the end, all taxpayers will have to foot the bill.
According to data from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food, losses due to non payment or non reimbursement represent more or less one per cent of the total loan guarantees. Therefore, the cost of the program will be relatively low. Nevertheless, one per cent of $3 billion could end up costing Canadian taxpayers $30 million.
Therefore, for the good of the farmers, the Bloc Quebecois will support the increase in the cap from $1.5 billion to $3 billion by supporting Bill C-75. In the present context, it is almost impossible for the provinces to gain a little more autonomy from the federal government. The only solution in the short term, and it is only for farmers, I repeat, is to allow the government to go ahead with Bill C-75.
However, I must point out that our support is based solely on a concern that farmers get the financing they need and are entitled to. Apart from this vital aspect, it is as clear as spring water that we cannot allow duplication to pass without comment. I wish to draw the attention of all my colleagues and especially you, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that Bill C-75 involves duplication from two levels of government, as I will explain to you.
The basic question we must ask ourselves is not only whether the limit provided for in the act to amend the Farm Improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act is high enough but whether the program as a whole is relevant. According to Agriculture Canada figures, the demand for loan guarantees is growing. It is this excessive demand that justifies the limit increase.
Mr. Speaker, you know as well as I do that the cost of farms has risen, as has the cost of buildings, of extensions. The cost of farm machinery such as tractors and combine-harvesters has gone up and even doubled in the last 10 years. The cost of digging manure pits keeps going up. I think that increasing the limit was justified.
I will not deny the importance for farmers of having access to financing in order to improve or expand their facilities. All the more reason to make their lives easier and allow them to meet their needs in a single place. More and more, Quebec favours the single window concept at all levels. In Quebec, there are now three organizations in place to help Quebec farmers who need financing.
Last weekend, I met with several farmers including my friend Bertrand Lacroix of Second Street in Disraeli, who explained to me how complex our situation is. On the one hand, you have Quebec's Société du financement agricole, which a few years ago was called the Office du crédit agricole and which comes under Quebec jurisdiction. On the other hand, you have the Farm Credit Corporation, which comes under federal jurisdiction. Thirdly, since there are 12 words in the bill before us this afternoon, an act to amend the Farm Improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act, from now on I will use the acronym AAFIMCLA. You can see how complex this is. We are really asking for it.
I am far from proud this afternoon of supporting this bill on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois. Our accumulated deficit exceeds $550 billion. While the deficit for this fiscal year will be close to $40 billion, the government is increasing duplication and overlap. This is a good example of overlap within the same government. At the federal level, farmers can borrow either from the Farm Credit Corporation or under the Farm Improvement Loans Act. Why not consolidate all that? I am sure tens of millions of dollars would be saved each year this way. Not only would this government save tens of millions dollars each year, but it would be much more efficient. It is even worse for Quebec farmers, who have a third choice in the farm finance corporation.
Saturday afternoon, the farm producer I was visiting told me that he had had to shop around in order to finance his new facility. He applied for all three and came to the conclusion that the program that best suited his expansion needs-I am not saying that it would be the same for everyone, but for him-was the one offered by the Société de financement du Québec. Another time, the Farm Credit Corporation could prove to be a better choice. In this instance, he told me that he had weighed the three programs against one another and that the best deal was that of the Société de financement agricole, formerly known as Quebec Farm Credit Bureau.
The bottom line is that a great deal of money is totally wasted on programs administered by three separate agencies. In their next budget, the various provincial governments, particularly Quebec and Ontario, which are two large provinces, will probably have to follow our finance minister's lead and hit their taxpayers hard. They will have to account for moneys spent, in my view, wastefully on duplication. In Quebec, we know what duplication is. We have been aware of this for quite a while, and that is why we would rather have our own tool box, with all the tools required to develop fully, freely and completely.
If the three programs I just mentioned are different, is it not because appropriate resources are scattered in three different places? What if the resources allocated to the other two agencies were made available to the Société du financement agricole? I would bet that it could provide new programs. It would be what we call a single window.
The province may have set criteria and standards of its own, which are not in line with what the federal government had in mind. Let us assume, for example, that the Quebec farm finance corporation's standards are higher that those set in bill C-75 for whatever reason. By setting separate standards, the federal government is once again interfering in provincial areas of responsibility.
Rather than moving to my next point, Mr. Speaker, I could stop here, and let you have the floor to call statements by members, and I could continue after oral question period.