Madam Speaker, you have played a little trick on me, because you told me there would be a Reform Party member going ahead of me. I therefore had 10 minutes to prepare, but no matter, I will give my speech anyway.
As you know, the riding of Lotbinière, which I have the great honour to represent, is one of the largest agricultural ridings in Quebec. It is therefore with great interest and a sense of duty, Madam Speaker and dear colleagues, that I rise today to speak to Bill C-34, the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act.
First of all, I am pleased to note that the bill tabled is intended to combine four acts into a single act that provides support for the marketing of agricultural products.
This bill affects the Advance Payments for Crops Act, the Prairie Grain Advance Payments Act, the Agricultural Products Cooperative Marketing Act and the Agricultural Products Board Act. It also takes in the Cash Flow Enhancement Program.
My party, the Bloc Quebecois, is generally in favour of the objectives of Bill C-34, because it is essentially consistent with what the industry is calling for and seems more in line with our values and agricultural development models in the province of Quebec.
Nonetheless, I would point out an important budgeting inconsistency. If clauses 25 and 30 are financial in nature, the government hopes to be able to pay farmers under the advance payments program and the price pooling program.
We have learned that $40 million a year for three years have been set aside under the advance payments program. In other words, there should be $120 million after three years. Where it all goes badly wrong is when Agriculture and Agri-Food starts to take money for marketing programs out of the envelope reserved for the income protection program.
This transfer, this misappropriation frankly, of envelope funds means an equivalent reduction in the money available for protecting the incomes of farmers. By acting in this manner, the federal government is unfortunately once again cutting into Quebec's share.
Like it or not, Quebec's share of income protection programs for farmers is already, yes already, lower than what it is entitled to, given the relative weight of agriculture for Quebec.
There is a distinct feeling that once again, Quebec gets the short end of the stick. It is the same old story: Quebec does not get its fair share, on a per capita basis.
You will remember what my colleague, the hon. member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie, said in the House last week when he named various sectors in which Quebec did not receive its fair share.
Remember the case of raw milk cheese, where more than 50 per cent of the producers were from Quebec. A ban on this product can have a very serious impact on Quebec producers. My point is that when the government introduces measures, as in the case of raw milk cheese, it often does so at the expense of Quebecers.
To get back to the bill on agricultural marketing, we should insist that the budget for advance payments programs not be taken out of the budget for income protection programs. I think that is a major irritant for farmers in Quebec.
When that happens, the farms in my riding and throughout Quebec will at least be treated fairly under this program.
The budget envelope for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada income protection programs in 1997-98 is $600 million. This represents a drop of $250 million or 30 per cent from the prebudget level of $850 million. If the federal government goes ahead and siphons off funds from the budget for income protection programs, $120 million will have been taken out of this envelope over a period of three years.
To be perfectly frank, it is unconscionable to use part of the budget for protection of farm incomes to finance the advance payments program which, I may remind the House, is a program for the marketing of agricultural products. What connection is there between the advance payments program and income protection programs? None at all.
When the Minister of Finance tables his budget, does he do so fully intending to deceive taxpayers in Canada and Quebec? Should the budget not do what it is supposed to do? That would make sense. However, if we follow the logic of this government, should we infer that the existing figures do not mean a thing since they no longer correspond to the envelope they were supposed to cover? I am sorry but this is outrageous.
The budget for the income protection program is already inadequate, so there is certainly no reason to take money out of this budget, unless the government wants to penalize Quebec farmers. If the federal government, through the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, takes money set aside for income protection programs to finance the advance payments program, which is a program for marketing agricultural products, why did it not make those changes right now?
First of all, it would take real political will to change the situation and ensure that the money used for advance payments comes directly out of the funds set aside for the agricultural products marketing programs. I think the government should invest more money in the budget for marketing programs and stop cutting and siphoning off funds from one budget envelope to another. The solution is simple, but it is also vitally important.
As a result, in the future, the incomes of farmers in Lotbinière and throughout Quebec would be better protected. They could also take $120 million from the budget allocated to income protection plans, but we would not be any better off than today in that there would be less money for Quebec farmers in this area and distribution would be even more inequitable for the other nine provinces in the Canadian federation.
Another possibility mentioned by some would be for the government to inject new money into programs aimed at marketing agricultural products and transfer money from the budget earmarked for income protection programs.
In my opinion, this is a partly acceptable solution. That is why my party, the Bloc Quebecois, is asking the federal government to make the changes required to correct the situation and ensure that Quebec farmers are treated fairly.
In clear, simple terms, we are asking the government to take the money for the advance payments from the budget set aside for income protection programs. This is a major irritant for agricultural producers in Quebec, including, of course, those in my riding of Lotbinière.
The government tells us this bill will have no impact on Quebec producers receiving advance payments, except that it would be much harsher on those who do not repay their advance payments. We can only conclude that this bill will have a much bigger impact on Quebec producers.
Furthermore, with its new eligibility rules, Bill C-34 would exclude any kind of co-operative marketing. In fact, one of the eligibility requirements for producers must be rejected, especially the one about their being able to decide when to sell their crops. This requirement would exclude crops marketed co-operatively. One of those most affected would be the VEGCO Group of Quebec.
In closing, I agree that the federal government should use taxpayers' money efficiently by rationalizing its programs so that farmers receive the same benefits and meet the same obligations. But there is a major inconsistency in the way the budget is allocated and, if the government were left to itself, it would reduce Quebec's share of income protection programs even further.
I feel I have a duty to defend the interests of the farmers in my riding of Lotbinière and those of Quebecers.