Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise this morning to participate in the debate on Bill C-75 at third reading.
As we said earlier, the purpose of the only amendment to the Farm Improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act is to double the number of loans guaranteed under this act.
As the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food explained so well, this change simply increases the limit of guarantees on loans made by banking institutions. The current limit is $1.5 billion. Bill C-75 would increase this limit to $3 billion.
This increase is said to be in line with the increased needs of many farmers and would facilitate access to financing.
Our position on Bill C-75 has not changed. To benefit our farmers and make their lives easier, we in the Bloc Quebecois will support the amendment proposed by Bill C-75. We therefore endorse raising the limit from $1.5 billion to $3 billion.
However, I wish to point out that, although we support Bill C-75 for our farmers' sake, this short term solution is not the one favoured by the Bloc Quebecois.
In the current federalist context, the provinces face the "mission impossible" of obtaining even a minimal degree of autonomy from the federal government, which is trying to take one power after another away from the provinces through its spending power. That is why we must support this temporary solution, to allow the government to go forward with Bill C-75 so that farmers in Canada and Quebec can have access to more funds, of course.
Although this is a fundamental aspect, I want to draw your attention to the duplication bills such as this one generate. The real question we should ask this morning is not whether the limit established by the Farm Improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act is high enough, but whether the program itself is basically sound.
According to Agriculture Canada figures, the increased demand for loan guarantees justifies the amendment proposed by Bill C-75. Farmers must, of course, have access to financing in order to improve or expand their facilities. We are not questioning this fact. The question we must ask this morning is, "What is the most efficient way to meet farmers' needs?"
In Quebec at the present time, there are three organizations that help farmers secure financing or can do so. There is the Société de financement agricole, which is under provincial jurisdiction, the Farm Credit Corporation, under federal jurisdiction, and the bill before us today, to amend the Farm improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act, the latter also coming under federal jurisdiction.
This is a fine example of this government's and this country's mismanagement. You have two different wickets at the same level of government offering loans to the same group of people.
Let me share with you what three farm producers from the federal electoral district of Frontenac told me when I had the chance to visit them a while ago. One of them described the problems he encountered trying to get funding to expand his family farm.
I phoned him this morning and took a few notes, because I wanted to be able to quote specific figures. I asked him if he was aware of the three choices he had. And that, I must point out, contradicts what my colleague, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, said a moment ago. He told me he was aware of only two sources of funding: the Société de financement agricole and the Farm Credit Corporation.
I said: "There is a third one, you know", and I gave him the seven or eight letter acronym. "Pardon my ignorance, he said, but I had never heard of this Farm Improvement and Marketing Cooperatives Loans Act until 8:20 this morning, when you told me about it". And this is a farm producer who had been negotiating with both the Société de financement agricole and the Farm Credit Corporation for five long months, from December to May. This is a good example of duplication.
If this government wishes our farm producers well, why does it not have a single wicket? At present, there are three choices, three wickets, and the third one, which we are debating this morning, is all but unknown to Quebecer producers. To decide whether to borrow from the Quebec Société de financement agricole or the federal Farm Credit Corporation, in many instances, our producers must set out on long and difficult consultations with financial institutions to make sure they get the best deal possible.
I asked that farmer: in the end, did you go to the Farm Credit Corporation or the Société de financement agricole? The Liberal members opposite, who are supposed to represent farmers from the Pacific to the Atlantic, should listen carefully. That person said that the best option for him was to go to the Société de financement agricole, which is under Quebec's jurisdiction.
I was happy to hear that, and I asked him how he came to that conclusion. It is not because he is a PQ or BQ partisan. He made that decision simply because it was the best option. He told me about contacting other lending institutions, namely the Royal Bank, the National Bank and the caisses populaires, and how he managed to get for his $750,000 loan a rate which is 0.75 per cent lower.
I am proud to say that our farmers have now become businesspeople running small businesses requiring investments which are often in excess of one million dollars. Consequently, they have to do some calculations, to think carefully and to choose the option best suited to their needs. This morning, that farmer also told me that this 0.75 per cent lower interest rate would result in annual savings of $6,000 to $7,500. He added that, by using these savings to lower the borrowed capital, he will, over the next 25 years, save an enormous amount of money, which is in the six figures.
This is the story of a farmer who talked to me this morning about these three borrowing options, one of which he was not at all aware of. I fail to see why the government is so intent on duplicating existing structures, with the result that in the same city and region there are two offices to deal with the same group of farmers.
Another friend of mine, who is involved in the dairy industry, said, in reference to the 50/50 split between industrial and fluid milk, that dairy producers were privileged in that they have two ministers of agriculture. One, whom they do not know, does not understand them and looks after two teats-that is, those which give the industrial milk-and the other one, whom they know very well, Marcel Landry, the Quebec minister of agriculture, who is a Quebecer like them, who is accessible, who can be reached any day, who understands them, and who visits them not just once a year, but whenever they want to see him.
Can the same be said of the federal Minister of Agriculture? Unfortunately, he never has time for people from Quebec, but he always manages to make time for western grain producers. It sounds a little like the Supreme Court, this tendency to favour to the West.
I agree that these three agencies-the Société du financement agricole, the Farm Credit Corporation and the FIMCLA we are discussing this morning in this debate on Bill C-75-offer programs that differ in a number of respects, so they do not interfere with each other. That is the impression we get initially. However, if we take a closer look, we soon realize that farm producers would be better served if all these programs could be accessed in a single location. It would be much more efficient to have programs that are complementary but with the same requirements, than to face filling out three different applications because the criteria are not the same.
If for instance the Société de financement agricole had access to the resources of the two other agencies, it could offer new programs. The SFA could become a single wicket centre. For years, the federal government has made a habit of making certain programs unnecessarily complex and in some cases almost inaccessible. A good example in Quebec is manpower training, where we are losing $265 million because two levels of government are involved. And even worse, our people do not get full value for the money that goes into these programs. There is a lot of interfering and shoving, and the neediest members of our
society end up having to pay for this exercise in futility. Need I repeat that manpower training is a provincial matter.
In fact, a province like Quebec, may decide to set criteria that are not compatible with what the federal government has decided to do. These criteria may be better adapted to the province's needs and current situation but not fit into the federal mould.
Let us assume that in Quebec, the Société du financement agricole has standards that are stricter than those of the FIMCLA referred to in Bill C-75. By setting up parallel programs, the federal government would undermine what the provincial government is doing, in this case the Government of Quebec, and if the province's objective is part of a strategy to develop the agricultural industry, that is just too bad.
Let us assume that the SFA wanted to do something about the alarming increase in farm debt by adopting certain criteria.
But it would not really be free to implement its decisions, because some federal agency would come along and decide that this would conflict with its priorities. Period. Once again, the federal government, with its unlimited power to spend, has the bigger end of the stick. To hell with the deficit. In 1970, this country was almost deficitless. And now, 25 years later, it is saddled with an accumulated deficit of over $550 billion, and need I remind you of the unpleasant fact that, during those 25 years, with the exception of the nine year Conservative reign, this country has been governed by the Liberals.