Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-86. I will use the opportunity to pay tribute to the good dairy farmers of my own region, Fraser Valley. I will talk about the bill and some of the solutions the Reform Party sees to the ever changing and
evolving world of supply managed agricultural industries in Canada.
Farmers in the Fraser Valley are among the best in the world not only in the diary industry but also in the poultry industry. We now have an ever expanding greenhouse industry.
Instead of going into a decline as many people had predicted some years ago, our agriculture industry has a very bright future and has shown to be very innovative, creative and very willing to change, which is what they must be in order to survive in the 1990s and into the next century.
If dairy farmers in what is probably richest growing area in all of Canada, the Fraser Valley, are given an opportunity they will continue to be a major milk producer for British Columbia and in essence could be a major milk producer for areas around the world.
I will state for the record what the bill will do. It is a change that will allow Canada's dairy industry to abandon its established system of producer levies on industrial milk. The levies would be replaced with a system of national pooling which will allow all stakeholders to equitably share the costs and benefits of pooling revenues and the effects of fluctuations in market size for both fluid and industrial milk.
It is an evolving system from what was once allowed and acceptable, the idea of national levies, to a system more GATT sensitive into a national pooling system. That is an inevitable change and it can be a good thing.
It is important for producers to know what the Reform Party's policy is because there has been a lot of misinformation circulated about it.
The Reform policy, from our policy manual, states: "All producers should be able to structure and manage their organizations in any manner which they believe will best serve their interest. The matter of regulating production and setting prices for products under the organization's jurisdiction is a producer issue and should be dealt with by producers".
The second part of our policy, which the previous speaker elaborated on at considerable length and in great detail, states: "Reformers acknowledge that the agricultural industry, including the supply managed sector, is moving toward a more competitive market driven system".
Those are two truths I campaigned on during the 1993 election. We were up front with Canadian consumers and with producers about what we saw as the inevitable changes that would have to come to the milk production system in Canada.
For one farmer to produce a steady supply of milk takes a lot of care and planning. It is not a quick fix way of going into business. Cattle must be purchased, sheltered and fed and all the machinery required is bought. Farmers need to make sure the cows are impregnated at a certain cycle. They must have dry cows at some part of the year and fresh cows at the same time so that they have a steady supply of milk and so on. It takes all that planning. That I would even have to go through the lactation cycle of a cow shows the changing demographic face of Canada.
My father and a lot of our fathers grew up with dairy cows, helped to milk cows and understood that whole system. That was a big benefit for Canadian farmers. There is a residual understanding, even in the House, about what it takes to be a farmer, especially a dairy farmer.
It is unfortunate now, as our cities are growing and the number of farmers is shrinking, that more and more in the future it will be incumbent upon those of us who are concerned about the agricultural industry to take the time to explain to school children and to other politicians about the difficulties of farming and why one cannot suddenly increase milk production by 20 per cent or why one cannot be a miracle worker especially in the dairy industry. It takes some planning.
The government has to play a role in allowing for steady and incremental changes to occur so that cataclysmic changes do not have to happen overnight. It is the role of government to provide that. If it fails in that role, with the understanding in general society, then it will have failed Canadian farmers. Therefore we need to make sure the government does that.
I urge the government to not soft pedal inevitable change. It has to come. Those of us familiar with the agricultural industry want it to come in an organized fashion, not in a chaotic fashion.
I think of our call for a triple E Senate. People might ask how that affects the agricultural industry. However, there is a reason for that. One of the reasons is to give outlying and less populated regions more clout in our national decision making. It will be all too easy in the years to come, as more and more people move to the mega cities and we get one big city after another along the Great Lakes. Even in my area of Vancouver, which is now expanding and pushing out to become one big city, it is important we have the regions and agricultural producers represented with some strength in Ottawa.
One of the ways that could be done is through an elected Senate which would allow people from varied backgrounds to represent different regions.
It would be a pleasure to know that after the bill left the House it would go to an upper house where four or five members from Saskatchewan, four or five from Manitoba, and so on, had a keen interest in the agricultural future of the country. It would be a pleasure to know the bill would be under the scrutiny of people who want the best for agricultural producers. That is something I hope the upper place will do. However, it is more difficult because that area is not represented in the same way as it would
be under a triple E Senate. If it were properly handled it could give a better voice to Canadian agricultural producers.
It takes two years before a cow has a calf and freshens and supplies milk. The farmers therefore need to know they will have a market down the road for their product. A farmer can grow a broiler chicken in a few weeks but it takes two years to get the first bottle of milk in the dairy industry.
Fluctuating demand is a problem, especially in the period following the second world war when producers and farmers could not be sure of selling their milk. There was a problem with a glut on the market and then a shortage. Consumers saw prices going up and down. That resulted in unhappy producers and consumers alike.
Supply management was introduced, a uniquely Canadian version, and to its credit it has made the market very stable and has helped producers to prosper all over Canada, including in Quebec where 50 per cent of the industrial milk is produced. The industry has done well under the supply management system. I hope Bloc members are thinking of their dairy farmers when they talk about cutting off the borders from Canada.
In any supply managed system there is a tendency to become stuck in one group where it has worked. If it worked well in the 1960s and it has continued to work then it should stay the same. However, it cannot stay the same.
During the election campaign I am sorry to say there were candidates on the Liberal side who said that if Article XI 2.(c) of the GATT went ahead without being strengthened and clarified they would lay on the railroad tracks, they would resign their seats if they were elected, and so on. They did not get elected in my area. Weeks after the election the GATT was signed without a strengthened and clarified Article XI 2.(c).
The change was inevitable, as was noted in the Reform Party campaign. It was not an attack on the supply managed industry, it was an acknowledgement that change must happen and could be good. We went through the campaign and many of the innovative farmers in my area understood they would have to deal with the new trade realities of the 1990s.
Farmers still must be prepared for increasing market forces against the traditional system of supply management. The bill addresses that in a small way because it talks about why we must change to the pooling system as opposed to keeping the old levy. They will not be subjected to local pressures. They will not be worried about an influx of cheap milk from Alberta or about Washington state. We are now talking about a global shift in trade laws which will bring global pressure on the dairy industry. Fluctuations in demand and supply will mean stiff competition down the road.
There are many examples of how this global change is going to be a good one for the dairy industry. I envision a day when the producers of the Fraser valley will no longer make the bulk of their milk sales to the local consumer. However, I envision a day when the bulk of sales will be offshore, to markets throughout the developing world where our products can be marketed at a profit. The milk industry will expand outside our borders and take on the world.
There are many examples of that. In B.C. the grape growers were afraid their industry would be swallowed up. Remember a few years ago when the grape industry said that it was just a matter of time before it would be swallowed up by the cheap products from the states, the California wine makers and so on.
The growers grabbed the bull by the horns, if I can mix my metaphors a little, and asked themselves why they could not be innovative. They would be on the leading edge of the new grapes, the new technology, the new way of making wine. Now they are taking on the world.
Last year the wine producers from the Okanagan valley produced the world's best wine. I know there are some other good wines in Canada. I do not downplay them, but the B.C. wine producers were able to produce by not being afraid of the competition, the best wines in the world. My hat is off to them.
They did a good job. They took on the world. They can compete both price wise and especially in quality. They are among the best in the entire world. That is the way the agricultural industry is moving.
My own area is not known as an apple growing area, but an interesting phenomenon is happening. In British Columbia apple growers have always come from the Okanagan. In the Fraser valley an interesting thing has happened. The farmers are not growing apples in an orchard any more. They grow apples in straight rows four feet apart, with certain pruning techniques, certain pollination techniques and so on. They can produce as many apples on an acre as other growers do in 10 acres in a conventional orchard.
They are able to do that with innovation, by taking on the world, by exporting to Japan. They produce an excellent product at a good price. That allows them to make a living even in the Fraser valley where it was unheard of to even in a serious way grow apples just a few short years ago.
Innovation is coming and producers know they must change. There is evidence of that in my own riding. Recently the producers have agreed to allow some of their potential profit to go into the Agassiz Research Station as a joint venture project
with the federal government, producers and industry in general to find new and better ways to produce milk.
They are going to increase the herd size in Agassiz. The University of British Columbia is bringing its herd out to Agassiz. They will get them all together and have a good sized herd, a real production herd of a couple of hundred cows.
They have huge new manure handling facilities there. They are being innovative on how to handle manure storage, composting, injection and all the things that we are going to have to do. We cannot live in a society where the cities are encroaching on the farms and think that the old honey wagon is going to be able to do the same job it used to do just a few short years ago.
It has to change and it is not bad that it changes. In fact, farmers are finding as they change that not only can they handle manure storage, for example, in a way that does not offend the encroaching neighbours but also have a better yield and better crop production by being more careful and more innovative on how they handle manure.
Change is inevitable and it is not bad that change comes. Another example, if I can use a local example, is the B.C. AI centre, the artificial insemination centre. It has changed. It used to be that cows and especially bulls were rated on how much butterfat would be produced. Everything was rated on butterfat. One wanted a cow that produced a lot of butterfat and one wanted a bull whose offspring produced even more. Butterfat was the key to the future.
Times have changed. The AI centre now has realized that people want a low fat product. Fat is not considered something to be paid extra for. The centre is now tinkering with their next crop of bulls whose offspring will produce milk that has more protein and less butterfat. It is the wave of the future. There is no use sitting and crying over spilt milk. The hon. member for Vegreville enjoyed that comment.
Producers are saying that they have to plan. With a bull, it is not just a couple of years to see how it checks out. It takes the first crop of offspring, then the tests on those, making sure that the protein count and the butterfat is trending the right way and so on. It takes years and years to develop a good genetic program.
BCAI is one of many groups that has realized that changes must come. It does not look just to the lower Fraser valley, not to British Columbia where its roots are. It looks around the world to market its products, to market its bulls around the world. It has been very successful in being a leading example of what it is going to take to compete in the next century. It is not going to be the status quo. It must change and this change will be good.
Through the free trade agreements which the government has signed, both the GATT and the NAFTA agreements, tariffs will be reduced over the next few years. American products will be able to compete as time goes on more and more, head to head with Canadian products.
We have had a period of grace where the low Canadian dollar means that we have not had in the last year and a half to two years a lot of cross border shopping. We have not had a large influx from the United States as far as dairy products are concerned. We cannot plan a long term agricultural policy based on the fluctuations of the Canadian dollar. We must be competitive. We have to be competitive and ready to go head to head with the Americans over the next 10 years.
There is no sense saying that it is not going to happen. It will happen. The low Canadian dollar best not lull us into complacency. We have to be ready for the Americans when they start aggressively challenging us. They are doing that as we speak. They are challenging us hoping to prove to us that NAFTA will supersede GATT.
We can take on the Americans. We can take on the world. We will do it all if we are willing to change. This bill is a change. We will support it because it shows that change is inevitable. It can be a good thing and I am happy to support it.