Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to introduce Bill C-38, the farm debt mediation act for third reading.
The bill will create a new strengthened farm debt mediation service to replace farm debt review boards. It will maintain the essential features of the old legislation including the stay of proceedings and a review of the mediation process. It will be coupled with and simultaneously implemented with a new farm debt consultation service.
The legislation reflects the views of farmers, their creditors and provincial governments across the country. We had many consultations with all groups. The bill was forged through some 18 months of consultations with farm organizations, leading institutions, farm debt review boards, panel members, financial experts, provincial government officials and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. They all took part in our consultation process.
It is a prime example of the government making good on promises to give members of Parliament and parliamentary committees more influence in drafting legislation.
Standing committee deliberations included MPs from all sides and a host of informed and experienced witnesses from both inside and outside government. The result is that we have before us today legislation to replace the existing Farm Debt Review Act with a new, simplified mediation service for insolvent farmers that still brings the same benefits as before and adds several others. The new
act, along with the consultation service, means reduced overlap and duplication, streamlined administration of financial mediation and consultation services, and a broader range of advisory and counselling options.
The bill recognizes that farmers and creditors are generally comfortable with the current process that allows mediation with a view to resolving the debt situations of farmers. It also reflects a demand for flexibility, an effective and streamlined process that is immune to the realities of farmers today. It will help creditors. It will help provincial governments deal with the realities of financial problems in the overall picture of operating farm debt problems. We are looking for resolutions that will be helpful to farmers and creditors.
As recommended by producer organizations, we will have an act that provides a new appeal mechanism not provided by an old law. It will give farmers and creditors an impartial review of decisions related to stay of proceedings. We will have an act that will allow farmers to engage their financial advisers for the preparation and recovery plan.
The new farm debt mediation act and complementary farm consultation service will be funded through the Canadian adaptation and rural development program or CARD. Funds for those purposes will help agriculture and agri-food sectors be more efficient, self-reliant and competitive.
There is one point I would like to underline. The new farm consultation service provides farmers in financial difficulty with the same and probably a broader financial review and consulting service than was ever provided in the preceding acts.
This new service will be more proactive. It will help farmers to find sources of advice and one on one counselling very early on in the stage before serious difficulties develop. It will provide non-farm assessment and diagnostic review for farmers already in financial difficulty, including three year operational plans which will be a key to financial recovery for many. In essence it will provide more extensive services than those farmers get under section 16 of the act.
I would now like to focus on the administration of the mediation process. Ten years ago the Farm Debt Review Act responded to severe debt problems of farmers by establishing farm debt review boards in every province. They were to assist farmers and creditors in finding mutually satisfactory financial arrangements.
There are currently some 32 review board members appointed at the discretion of the minister and by order in council. These OIC appointees participate in panel meetings between farmers and creditors and facilitate discussions leading to an arrangement to be finalized. Under the new debt farm mediation act there will be no OIC appointments. Mediators who have specific mediation expertise and experience in agriculture and finance may apply and compete to be on a list of standing offers to provide the mediation service under the act.
The existing act also requires that at every meeting with the farmers and creditors there be a three person panel, a mediator and two panel members, regardless of whether they are needed. This often results in unwanted expenses, including per diems, travel and room and board. The new act does away with this requirement, allowing experts to be brought into the case only when circumstances warrant.
I am pleased that we have reached this stage of consideration of Bill C-38 with the quality input from so many organizations and individuals. I am pleased that together we have fashioned an act which preserves what was valued most in the past and builds on a relevant new approach to the future.
I know that many will welcome the more efficient, more friendly service we are providing today. It will assist farmers in improving their financial circumstance and it will promote growth and prosperity in Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.
I therefore submit to every member of the House that the bill is great for Canadian farmers. I hope all members will support the bill.