Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-38 immediately after the parliamentary secretary.
As mentioned earlier, this is an act to provide for the mediation between insolvent farmers and their creditors, to amend the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Farm Debt Review Act.
Before drafting Bill C-38, the Minister of Agriculture should have given some thought as to why many farmers experience serious financial difficulties. Some of them may have a hard time when they go through a divorce or a separation. This can cause financial difficulties, and so could, for example, an illness. Nowadays, the agricultural world has very little to do with the popular television series currently being rerun on Radio-Canada, Le Temps d'une paix .
Today, farmers must be good administrators, since they manage small businesses. The invested capital often approaches or exceeds $1 million. But could it be that these financial problems are also directly related to the federal government, to its lack of vision concerning agriculture in Canada and in Quebec?
After watching for almost four years this government mishandle agricultural issues, it is no surprise to see that, every year, hundreds of farmers run into serious problems and must declare bankruptcy.
Just before I rose, I was reading the classified adds in the most widely read newspaper in French Canada, in Quebec, La Terre de chez nous . When you see so many auctions and liquidations being held in April, it means there is a problem. That problem is not just the result of bad management, family problems, or illness: it is also the result of the terrible conditions being imposed on farmers by the government, month after month.
Let me give you an example of the problems experienced by our producers, with the exception of course of those who are in a supply-managed sector such as dairy, poultry and egg producers, who are lucky enough to be protected, at last. Still, later on I will discuss price fluctuations in the dairy industry.
Take, for example, feeder calves. Three years ago, we could expect to get $1.15 or $1.20 per pound, in the fall, for our veal calves. One year ago, or seven months to be exact, last fall, it was possible to buy very fine calves at 50 per cent of what they were worth two years ago. A farmer hoping to get $700 for his calf got $350 or $360. We are no longer talking about a drop of 2 or 3 per cent, but of 50 per cent.
You will reply that cow and calf stabilization insurance is needed. You are right, but you know how insurance works: the more you use it, the more premiums go up. Since the government is also getting ready to cut its share of funding for the farm income stabilization program, we can expect a large increase in premiums there too, as well as a decrease in services.
Take maple syrup. This year, the run seems much inferior in quality and quantity to what it was last year. Prices will therefore rise slightly, but the maple syrup producer will not receive a fair wage. Pork production is fine, but reform is another matter entirely. In the case of softwood lumber, with the agreement the federal government negotiated with our neighbours to the south, when the export quota is reached, it will be the same story there as well.
The Canadian Wheat Board, which one of my Reform colleagues brought up earlier in connection with Bill C-72, and which has a monopoly, of course, is trying to get the best prices, except that western grain producers are not free to sell directly to their neighbours across the border at prices very often higher than what they could get from the Board.
With the exception of producers who operate under a supply management system, dairy, poultry and egg producers face uncertainty as a result of fluctuating prices.
Which reminds me, I wonder whether this government will have the guts to defend supply management at the WTO, since the American foreign trade representative has sworn she would not accept the tariffs imposed in the course of negotiations approved in December 1993 by GATT, now the WTO. She said she would fight to the death, if necessary, to win her case. The United States seems determined to go before a WTO panel.
I asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he would defend our tariffs with equal vigour. We shall see if the government is able to defend our interests. Of course we have only a few sitting days left. We will have to run again in our respective ridings. So we do not know who will be in a position to defend us. Will we have a minority or a majority government? As for who will form the next government, your guess is as good as mine.
This also brings us to examine the role that could be played by the Farm Credit Corporation. I hope that when the FCC evaluates the solvency of a farmer and approves a loan of $300,000 or $400,000, it does a very thorough evaluation. If approving the loan is too risky, the right thing to do would be for FCC representatives to consolidate the loan or simply refuse it.
So in several respects, farmers are like skilled workers or the owner of a factory, except they should not expect to work only40 hours, five days a week. A dairy farmer has to milk cows twice a day, seven times a week. If he leaves Friday evening, there will be no scabs on his farm. He will have to find a replacement or make arrangements with his neighbour, and next time he will have to return the favour, because, as I pointed out earlier, there are no scabs.
So a farmer has to work seven days a week and often 60 or70 hours a week. Unfortunately, in many cases his income is less than that of a skilled worker who only has to work 40 hours a week for five days, and in many cases, a little less than 40 hours in four days. The farmer therefore has to devote a great deal of time to the operation, often along with his wife and children, in order to make ends meet.
Recently, this government made its cuts and the agricultural sector got it in the neck. Taking the example of a dairy farmer producing industrial milk, the government has found the trick of reducing his income by an average 5.5 per cent, for the past two years and the coming three. Then the government wonders why dairy farmers have to give up their farms, or even declare bankruptcy.
Their income is cut and then they are told what poor managers they are. You know as well as I that, for a dairy farmer, it is not the first cow in the barn that brings him profit, but the last ones. His electricity costs the same, regardless of the number of cows, and more cows of course require more feed and more hay, but the last ones you milk will be nothing but profit.
The Bloc Quebecois, like the Reform Party, was vigorously opposed, while this government, including some of its members who are involved in the dairy industry, such as the hon. member for
Malpèque on Prince Edward Island, voted in favour of cutting the milk subsidy. This is an out and out scandal.
In a few weeks, however, the member in question will be doing the rounds of his beautiful riding of Malpèque, and he will forget all about this. He will, as André Pratte so aptly described it, be playing Pinocchio, hiding or falsifying the fact that he voted against the dairy farmers in his riding and in favour of cutting back to zero the milk subsidy, which was $5.43, or 5.5 cents a litre. For an average farm, such as my colleague from Malpèque himself has, 5.5 cents a litre represents a loss of $7,500.
It is not surprising that the dairy farmers, while not necessarily going bankrupt, will be announcing farm auctions on such and such a day at such and such a time, in order to get rid of all their stock and equipment. They are opting for retirement before they are forced into it. The worst thing is that 48 per cent of dairy farmers are located in Quebec. So this government is following its usual practice of going after Quebec first and foremost, which is forcing our dairy farmers to take a $108 million loss as a result of the elimination of this subsidy. And so, once again, Quebec pays the highest price.
The worst of it is that, if milk producers want to get as much money for their milk, the price of industrial milk will have to be raised, and that decision rests with the Canadian Dairy Commission. You do not have to be a lawyer to see that raising the price of industrial milk will raise the price of butter, cheese and all other dairy products.
According to a study ordered by the dairy producers of Canada, a 10 per cent increase in the price of butter results in a 7 per cent decrease in its consumption. When I said, Mr. Speaker, that the last cow is the most profitable, you seemed to agree with me. So, if consumption now drops by 7 or 14 per cent, you cannot even keep one or two extra, but may have to lose a couple. This sort of situation will bring hard financial times to the farming community.
According to the same study, raising the price of cheese by10 per cent lowers consumption by 4 per cent and further reduces the size of your herd. The worst is that, when you look at Agriculture Canada's overall budget, Quebec gets only 9 per cent of what it invested last year in Canada. In a good year, the figure goes up to 16 per cent.
Quebec alone generates some 17 per cent of direct agricultural activity. Add to that the processing of such things as cheese, butter and ham, and our share climbs to 24 per cent. We pay 24 per cent of federal taxes, or $30 billion. But we are getting barely 9 or 10 per cent back year after year. That is appalling.
I will be waiting for you, my Liberal friends, when you visit the riding of Frontenac in the next election campaign and tell the people of my riding, as the President of the Treasury Board did in the referendum, that, while Quebec pays $30 billion, it receives $31 billion or $32 billion. Why is it so important to you that we remain a part of your Canadian federation if we are costing you so much?
Mr. Speaker, we must look at who, in this country, got the first break. We will recall that, in 1841, when Upper and Lower Canada were joined-Upper Canada corresponding to what is now known as Ontario, and Lower Canada to Quebec-so were their respective debts. Upper Canada's debt was 1.195 million pounds, as compared to a mere 200,000 pounds for Lower Canada. How were the debts handled? They were simply added up. Living together meant paying off our debts together. So the French Canadians had to pay up. At the time, they were referred to as the Canadians, while the others were called the English. That is how it was at the beginning of the colony.
When this government abolished the WGTA, the Western Grain Transportation Act, two years ago, the yearly cost was-I would be much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture to look me straight in the eye. The yearly cost to the government was $860 million. What did you do to sugarcoat it in western Canada, to make this cut more palatable to western producers? You gave them $1.6 billion. Worse yet, you gave this money under the table. Farmers were not required to claim it on their income tax returns. This is appalling.
You have established a $300 million fund to finance adjustment measures, road upgrading, silo construction and the upgrading and construction of new railway lines. One million dollars was used to establish a loan guarantee fund to help certain foreign countries buy Canadian grain. All this adds up to $2.9 billion. Where is the equity in all this? For western grain producers, the government is prepared to pay $2.9 billion to save $860 million. But when the dairy producers subsidy was cut by $228 million, how much was paid in compensation? Not a penny.
Mister Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, 48 per cent of all Canadian milk is produced in Quebec. That is what your notion of equity is all about. You and I can debate this in my riding of Frontenac.