Mr. Speaker, I too am very pleased to speak to Bill C-86, at the invitation of my colleague from Frontenac, not only because he has asked me to take part in this debate, but also because agriculture is a topic dear to my heart, although in my riding of Québec-Est there are no farms as such, just a few retired farmers.
It is of interest to me because I recognize the great importance of agriculture to the economic health of a country, and in Quebec we must do everything we can to maintain and strengthen the agricultural economy, and especially the all-important dairy sector. And in addition, because Bill C-86 is a good bill.
Finally, the Liberal government has tabled a good bill, something we do not often see. It is worth mentioning because the very great majority of bills it has tabled to date have been, if not terrible, certainly mediocre and second rate. Take the budget, for instance, which was probably one of the worst proposals ever tabled in this House, a budget in which everything was done to protect the rich in this country and make the poor poorer. One more example of their lack of vision and understanding. Take the Lobbyists Registration Act, another rotten piece of legislation. In fact, there are several bills that have been really disappointing, at a time when the public expected so much of this government. They have been very disappointing indeed.
However, Bill C-86 before the House today is a good bill, I must admit. And maybe it is a good bill because, basically, it was not so much the government as the farmers themselves that initiated this legislation. They were the ones to start the ball rolling. The farmers convinced the government to table this bill. They did everything they could to ensure that this proposal to pool resources and dairy production became a reality. I may add that Quebec farmers and dairy producers were largely instrumental in getting these proposals off the ground. They were actively involved in these plans for pooling dairy production. This is important. We are aware of that.
As was mentioned by other members, there was a problem with dairy production in Canada. Formerly, $3 per hectolitre was collected to subsidize exports of dairy products, mainly butter and powdered milk, which represented about $160 million.
The money was used to support the sales and distribution of these dairy products. Because of the new GATT and NAFTA agreements, Canada can no longer collect this money, because according to GATT and NAFTA, for various reasons this is perceived as money used to support unfair competition.
Canada is eliminating this $3 levy per hectolitre, as a result milk prices will go down. Moreover, milk production in the six eastern provinces, except Newfoundland, namely New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, which account for roughly 80 to 85 per cent of milk production in Canada, will be pooled and placed under the authority of one commission, with one price and one milk.
In the past, there was a difference between fluid milk or drinking milk and milk used in processing to make dairy products such as cottage cheese, butter, and powdered milk. From now on, there will be only one class of milk, one system and one price. All the quotas will be pooled, which means that all the provinces which currently have quotas will be able to retain them. Quebec, which accounts for 48 per cent of the total milk production, will keep the same production quotas, and so will Ontario and the other provinces.
This new commission, which hopefully will be able to get along with the provinces and operate as efficiently as possible, will have increased powers enabling it to deal with the export of milk based products. It would also be responsible for pricing and selling quotas, for instance. Provinces will be allowed to trade quotas.
However, we must admit that the main advantage of this new formula is that dairy production risks will be spread among dairy producers in eastern Canada, and that it will allow them to share the costs of managing the system. No doubt this will reduce the administration costs of the system, and we hope it does.
I will make the point, and it is a point that must be made: dairy production is very important to Quebec. In fact, the entire agri-food system is very important. For example, in 1993, Quebec exported over $1.5 billion worth of natural foodstuffs and, in 1994, it increased these exports by almost 5 per cent over the same period in the preceding year.
In 1989, for example, dairy products in Quebec represented 35 per cent of the province's total agricultural revenues and 38 per cent of Canada's dairy revenues.
The dairy industry in Quebec is beyond a doubt one of the largest industries and therefore it must be preserved and protected at all cost.
Bill C-86 will result in the economic integration of this whole sector, with milk production being consolidated under a new Canadian Dairy Commission. This is one way of protecting the common interests of all the provinces. Dairy producers are united in protecting themselves and this vital industry.
It must be said that the supply management system, particularly in the dairy sector, came under a lot of criticism in the past. The members of the Reform Party said it would be better to
eliminate the supply management system, because they prefer free competition.
My colleague for Richelieu pointed out that it was not a good idea to eliminate the supply management system. On the contrary, if we compare our system with the American one, we see that we are well off with our own. My colleague for Richelieu drew attention to an article by Claude Rivard, president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait, in which Mr. Rivard quotes two editorials in Hoard's Dairymen , which is apparently the Bible of American farmers.
The two editorials in this "Bible" noted that dairy producers had lost production value, in that an increasingly large part of the market had been taken over by wholesalers, food chains and supermarkets, to the detriment of farm producers. In other words, dairy producers in the United States have lost money. They have become poorer, they have suffered the highs and the lows of an insufficiently controlled market.
The editorial in Hoard's Dairymen recommended that the United States develop a system like Canada's, that is, a system in which supply can be adjusted to suit demand. It pointed out that the supply management system in Canada is highly efficient. We know it is.
We know that dairy production is volatile because production can be easily increased. Without a system to adjust production to supply, prices would vary significantly. Therefore the supply management system is a good one. It is better than the one in the United States and warrants keeping.
Bill C-86 does just that: it makes dairy producers feel safer, more secure about this system being maintained, now that they have pooled their resources. This strengthens this branch of the industry and gives some indication of what lies ahead for them. This bill clearly shows that, contrary to the fears raised by certain individuals about quotas going down in value, the supply management system disappearing or this entire sector declining in the coming years, the system will be maintained, and I might add, even after Quebec has become sovereign.
We must conclude from this bill that, even after Quebec has become sovereign, the supply management system will almost certainly be maintained. That is normal since, as we know, this bill was developed in response to international agreements such as NAFTA and GATT. It is an attempt to adjust to these agreements, which will be maintained after Quebec has become sovereign.
We know that Quebec as well as Canada will accept the requirements of both NAFTA and GATT, according to which there should be no unfair competition and no new tariff barriers or other barriers like those currently encountered.
Again, this is very reassuring to dairy producers since all dairy producers, from Nova Scotia to Manitoba, are now together in the same system. It will certainly be to their advantage to stick together, not only because this is an excellent system, a system that will maintain reasonable levels of production and income for them, but also because it keeps American producers at bay.
If this system were to disappear tomorrow or be rejected all of a sudden, then we would obviously have to compete with the Americans, and our dairy producers might have a hard time staying in business, in spite of the fact that they may offer higher quality products than the Americans.
This threat from the U.S. would be quite worrisome for producers, be they in Manitoba, Quebec or Nova Scotia, if they did not stick together, if they did not join in this pooling system. We can even predict that if Manitoba or Ontario decided to opt out of the pooling system after Quebec achieves sovereignty, this would create problems not only for that province and for Quebec but also for all the other provinces. The whole system could collapse, when it is beneficial to all dairy farmers in all six provinces.
It would therefore be illogical, even irrational, and certainly economically harmful to bring down the system being set up under Bill C-86. This system is beneficial to all dairy farmers and will be maintained after Quebec achieves sovereignty.
Quebec must achieve sovereignty, and it is in the farmers' interests to acknowledge that this will be good for the country as a whole because Quebec will want to repatriate the powers it needs in other sectors. However, dairy farmers in Quebec will be allowed to maintain this pooling system, which is beneficial to them and to their counterparts in other provinces. Upon achieving sovereignty, Quebec will be able to uphold the agreements in this sector and those that will be negotiated in other sectors.
In fact, some economists published a report yesterday that explained that because of GATT and NAFTA, similar economically sound administrative agreements in other sectors will be maintained and will continue to exist.
Once again, we have people saying that the end is near, that new borders will arise, that there will be customs check points between Quebec and Ontario. This is all purely hypothetical and just a lot of scaremongering. We know that even Europe has simple administrative systems that would work in Canada, between Quebec and Canada, and would not prevent free circulation of goods and services or alter generally beneficial agreements that exist now, like the pooling system to be implemented by Bill C-86.
All this will continue. There is no reason to believe it would not, and the same applies to other sectors. There is every indication that this is what will happen. In fact, farmers know
that the federal system here in Ottawa constitutes the greatest single threat to the agricultural sector. We have said this so often it has become a-