Mr. Speaker, when we talk about dairy farmers I always have to take my hat off to these people. I realize how dedicated they are to their jobs. I grew up on a farm and my dad had about 20 milk cows. I know what milking is all about. I did it for about 15 years before I went out on my own.
I sometimes cursed those dairy cows. I did not know why God invented them because He said: "Work six days and rest one", but these dairy farmers never rest.
If we had a ball game planned for Saturday night or the middle of the week we knew we milked first. Six o'clock was milking time and the ball games were postponed. We also knew that if we came in late after the ball game at 5.30 we would be off to the pasture to fetch the cows and do the milking. There was no fooling around.
That continues today. The dairy farmer is on schedule. He cannot be five minutes late or five minutes early. Those cows have to be milked at the right time.
It sometimes amazes me when I look at another aspect of government legislation. Where is the overtime? Where is the triple time for working on holidays that these dairy farmers deserve? Everybody wants to have at least two days of the week off but the dairy farmer is dedicated. He is there seven days a week and probably 24 hours a day.
It is a real credit to the dairy farmer to see the product he has produced. There is no better product in the milk industry worldwide. The American milk products cannot compete in terms of quality. We as consumers must recognize that and reward the farmer for it somehow.
Yesterday when I heard the parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister say we should give farmers the right to make decisions, I was wondering whether he had bought a Reform membership because that is exactly what we said throughout the election. The farmer should have the right to decide how to market his product and how it should be priced.
We have often been accused of being anti-marketing boards, anti-supply management. We have always said the farmer has the knowledge and expertise. He knows how to set the quotas, how to set the prices and what has to be done to keep up with the times.
During the election I experienced something surprising. I went through some of the Liberal propaganda saying that they would preserve article 11: "That has to stay. There is no other way. It will not be negotiated out of the World Trade Organization. Vote for the Liberals". The Conservatives said much the same thing, that they would negotiate supply management:
"You will have your quotas". I received a nice brochure in the mail from the Canadian dairy farmers saying: "Vote anything but Reform. These guys do not know what they are talking about when it comes to the dairy industry. Their saying we have to go to tariffication is a bunch of beans".
What has happened? Nobody in this House has taken off his or her hat to the Reform to say that we were right. We have it in black and white that we were right. We will say again to this House that the dairy farmer has to be protected and his livelihood has to be guaranteed. If we lose the dairy farmer we lose one of the most precious things this country has.
I must give credit to the Bloc members. When it comes to attending meetings where farm issues are being addressed they seem to give credit where credit is due. They are always concerned that agriculture is looked after, which is something we have failed to do in the west. We sometimes think we are independent and as farmers we will do everything on our own but it means working together. That is why I think these dairy farmers have to be complimented.
When I talk to dairy farmers now they are taking a different view of what Reform policy is. During the spring break I had a meeting with Manitoba's milk marketing board and a number of farmers. I was pleasantly surprised when they started talking about the problems of the high priced quotas. I was surprised when I heard someone say that something had to be done.
A quota of $3,000 per cow cannot work. We have to start realizing that financing a piece of paper at today's interest rates cannot be done. It is hurting us and we have to change. I must give the members on the Manitoba milk marketing board and the farmers who were present credit that they finally acknowledge this. Why do we have those huge quotas and the prices on those quotas? Because of government regulations. Because provinces tried to protect their territory. Innocently, without wanting to we got into a situation where this thing crept up into the system and the prices on these quotas became higher and higher.
Today we know that has to change. Consider a dairy quota of $3,000 per cow. That is $300 of interest a year that new farmers will have to pay. It is not feasible. They cannot do it and therefore the change will come. We can depend on the dairy farmers to make the right changes. They have the knowledge on how to restructure and to be competitive.
We are now in the 1990s but thinking back to the 1970s and 1980s, when it comes to dairy commissions, the government really is a dairy commission. It has been milking the public for so many years it has almost milked it dry. The consumers and taxpayers are getting very thin. If somehow the government does not use some of that BST on the taxpayers, they will all disappear. The BST that needs to be injected into consumers and taxpayers is that they have to pay less in taxes, produce a little more and become a little more competitive than some of the industries.
When talking of industries, I am talking about grain handling which is probably one of the main ones. I was surprised the other day when dairy farmers were before the subcommittee on transportation. They told us that they cannot survive as dairy farmers in Atlantic Canada because the feed costs are way too high. One gentleman told me that they were paying over $4 for a bushel of barley in Atlantic Canada. I asked how that could be because as a farmer in Manitoba, I barely get $2. Something is wrong somewhere.
Then I started to think about the hearings we had in Thunder Bay. The taxation on the grain handling system, the terminals, the property taxes alone are 25 times as high as down the road at Duluth. These costs are added onto the cost of a bushel of barley. I am wondering why the government does not realize this. When the National Transportation Agency told the minister a year ago that there should be no increase in pilotage fees, he overruled that. He gave the pilotage authority another 9 per cent increase.
Why, when we know that we have to start making things more efficient would that be done? Not only that but when the pilotage authority heard about that, it started charging these fees two months ahead of schedule. It ripped off the shippers another million dollars or so.
There might be a court case over it. The shippers want that money returned. What does the transportation minister say? The government will change the legislation and make it retroactive. The government will make the illegal thing legal. Is that the way we are going to build efficiencies into our system? Is that the way we want to run our country? If that is the way we are going to do it, then I am very sorry that we will not be able to compete with other countries. It is very important that the Liberal government along with the opposition start realizing that and keep on hammering with that.
It makes me wonder when I look at this bill whether everyone read the fine print. I hope they did because I know a number of red book promises were given to us during the election. One of them was the barley plebiscite that was supposed to be held to let farmers make decisions on how they wanted to market their barley.
It astounds me today when I read quotes in the paper that there will be a huge loss in the barley pool because we have been selling our grain to other countries at prices below the cost of production. When I see barley being shipped into the U.S. for about $60 a tonne less than we can deliver it to Atlantic Canada, I am wondering who it is we are really protecting. Are we doing
what we say we will, protecting our supply management, or are we really trying to destroy it?
If we are not going to look after our own producers, why worry about the others? It is astounding that we do not start realizing that we have to look at issues at home first before we start to address the problems of the rest of the world.
Looking at unfairness, a level playing field, the taxation, it is killing us. When I look at fuel taxes five miles away from where I farm and I can buy gasoline for almost half the price that I can in Canada and all of it is due to tax, something has to change.
The government said in the budget that it would cut back. What did it do? It put another 1.5 cents of tax on a litre of gasoline, which amounts to 6 cents a gallon. We are supposed to be having a level playing field. How can that be?
The issue which the Liberals do not seem to realize is that we have to solve our problems at home first before we can point our finger across the border at what the Americans are doing wrong. It does not make sense when I can pick up a bottle of propane in Hannah, North Dakota for half the price that I would pay two miles away in Snowflake, Manitoba. It just does not make sense. I do not know how the country will keep running with that kind of discrepancy.
It is not the production units which are bringing on the costs, it is taxation on taxation. When I look at the deficit and the fact that by 1997 we are going to be paying $1 billion a week in interest, how can we ever have a level playing field? Why has this come about? Because of mismanagement by previous governments and because previous governments would not listen to the grassroots people. They always told the grassroots people: "Vote for me. Everything is in order. We will make it better". Now we have ourselves in a mess which we do not know how to get out of, so we are starting to point fingers at other areas saying: "They are to blame".
I was in Saskatoon at the beginning of February when the dollar was plummeting. I talked to some financial people. That little town has about 180,000 people. Seventy million dollars went out of that little town into the U.S. for safe keeping because of the fear of our dropping dollar. How can our economy survive if that is the kind of fear we are instilling in the grassroots people of our communities, in the entrepreneurs and the developers? It just will not work. That is why I am concerned about dairy farmers. If something does not happen to provide them with a level playing field, whether it is supply management or free enterprise, they will never survive the same as grain farmers or other industries.
I met with some of the railway people during our subcommittee hearings. I heard them say that they pay $654 million more in fuel taxes, property taxes and sales taxes than their counterparts in the U.S. How can they compete? It all goes back to the primary producer. Eventually that is where the cost gets carried. That is why it is very important when we debate this bill that we really mean what we say, that we want to provide a level playing field. That is not to say that this farmer has to have the advantage of producing more or that he has to receive more for his product; it means that we have to bring the input costs down to what the input costs are in the competing areas.
When the American farmer travels on roads that cost half the taxation for fuel, when the American farmer has half the property taxes to pay and when the American farmer's income tax is 30 per cent lower than in Canada, how can we make a level playing field? Cut back government spending. Bring the deficit under control. Pay down the debt and let our farmers take control of their industries. I have never seen a farmer who could not handle his problems if he had a level playing field. That is what we have to work on.
When I look at the barley producers today taking a loss in their pool, if that is correct, how can we say we have a level playing field for the grain farmers? How can we say that they can produce a product for the dairy farmer so that he can survive? One goes hand in hand with the other. That is why it is so important that we provide a level playing field for the dairy farmer and the grain farmer.
It must also be there for the machinery salesmen, related industries and labour. Labour is a prime expense to everybody. When labour gets taxed to a point where it takes until the end of June to pay their income taxes and property taxes, they have to have a price to do it. This adds into the cost of production. This is what is creating an uneven playing field. I think that is what we have to address.
I am always amazed when we go to a store and pick up a product and say it is too expensive, it is unaffordable. I think this struck home to me a year or two ago when I was at an agricultural conference in Winnipeg. The head honcho from Cargill Grain was talking to us and he said: "You know, I never realized what is really going on in the food industry. I know what corn costs in the United States and I know what some of the other raw products cost. But my wife sent me shopping the other day and I picked up a box of corn flakes and went home and priced the corn that was in the box by the weight of it. Do you know what the farmer should have got if he had got the price? $1,800 a tonne. That was the price of the corn in the corn flakes box. Where did all the costs go? Not to the farmer. He is getting around $100. So eighteen times what the farmer got was added to the cost of that box of corn flakes."
How can people survive with those types of costs, even if you are a labourer? Something is wrong in our system. I look at the dairy farmer today, who is getting about 30 per cent out of a litre of milk for his costs. He has to produce a calf that has to grow for at least two and a half years before it starts producing milk. He has to build the barns, buy the equipment, do the work, and then get one-third of his costs just to ship the milk to the processor and to the shelf in the store.
Something is wrong and it has to be changed. I am wondering how we can do it. I do not mean to say that it has to just be done by the Liberal government. It also has to be pointed out by the opposition people that there is something wrong. If we do not do it we fail our commitment to this House. I am hoping we will take it seriously, especially when we look at the food products.
I was on a phone-in show one day with one of the agriculture people from Manitoba. They were complaining about a few things like the cost of fuel, which they thought should be brought down, and I agreed. One person said: "Well, as long as we have the production of fuel and hydro we will be all right". I asked the minister: "How are you going to keep on producing, Mr. Minister, if you do not have the farmer? How much oil can you drink to sustain life? Will it help you much?" I then asked the manager who was there from the Royal Bank: "How long can you chew on your silver coins and stay alive?"
These are the things we are forgetting. We have to start realizing where this country really comes from. It comes from the agricultural sector. This is why people came here, to earn a living, to raise a family, and to produce food for their neighbours. It is important that we start realizing that we have to supply our own needs and we have to be competitive on the world export markets because we are an exporting country. Once we can solve those problems and lower our cost of production, the price itself will determine how successful we are in foreign markets.
I appreciate this time to speak on these issues. I hope the hon. members have been listening, because when we fail to put food on our table we can see what happens in other countries. Two prime examples are the Soviet Union and the African countries. When agriculture gets abused and goes down the tubes, so does the country. I do not want to see that happen to this country. I hope this House can do something to provide level playing fields for the primary producers, whether dairy, grain, or one of the specialty products.