House of Commons Hansard #158 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wheat.


Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

This is a rather special day for us. On behalf of members, over the past few years we have started a program of bringing distinguished Canadians into the House of Commons to be recognized by us, the representatives of the people of Canada.

We have the honour today of welcoming to this House new recipients of the Order of Canada.

These 31 men and women from across the country have made outstanding achievements in a wide range of fields from the arts, voluntarism and philanthropy to business, science, education and public service.

I am going to introduce the Order of Canada recipients to you, and to all of the citizens in Canada one at a time. I know that you want to applaud each individually but would you bear with me and hold your well deserved applause until I have called each of their names.

To you, my fellow Canadians, the recipients of the Order of Canada, I would ask that when I call your name to honour you in this place, the most honourable place in Canada, that you stand and stay standing until I have introduced all of you.

The Right Honourable Martial Asselin, Mary Frances Pratt, James Downey, Arthur Horne, James Kenneth Irving, Malak Karsh, Anne-Marie Alonzo, Sarah Anala, Simon Baker, Norman Barwin, Jenny Belzbert, Anthony Dobell, Frank Gunston, Joan Fletcher Harrison, Gerald Hatch, Simma Holt, Mary John, Charles Linkletter, Jean Loiselle, Lawrence Mysak, Sarah Weintraub Paltiel, Marilyn Ruth Peers, Jean-Henri Picard, Grace Davis Pine,

Charles-Albert Poissant, Bernard Riedel, Raymond Setlakwe, Bernard Snell, Charles Alexander Thompson and Irving Zucker. These are the distinguished citizens of the Order of Canada.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I cordially invite all of you to receive our recipients of the Order of Canada in Room 216 for a reception immediately following question period, if you can absent yourselves from your duties.

Business Of The HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is something of a holiday atmosphere in the House, but I would like to ask the government House leader if the House will be sitting on Monday.

Business Of The HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that parties continue to negotiate on a regular basis for a number of issues that are coming forward.

We intend to proceed with Bill C-92, Bill C-93 and to see how our work continues to proceed over the course of the next several days. I want to thank all parties in the House for their co-operation in facilitating the important work that Canadians feel we do in this place.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-38, an act to provide for 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, be read the third time and passed.

Farm Debt Mediation ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-38, the farm debt mediation act. The purpose of the bill is to change the farm debt review legislation and replace this decade old legislation with a review board system which involves a mediation type service for farmers who are facing seizure of their property by creditors.

First I will discuss the legislation currently in place and then the changes that have been made to it. After that I will discuss issues related to the farm debt review bill. The main provisions of this legislation put in place a review of a farmer's financial affairs, as there was in the old act and the provision of mediation between farmers and creditors to replace the old system which was far more adversarial. I am very familiar with that system. I have worked through it with some farmers.

The bill puts in place an order temporarily suspending the right of creditors to continue proceedings against farmers. The intent of this legislation more than anything else is to hold off creditors that are knocking at the door if the farmers and the board feel there is a possibility of working out a deal that will be beneficial to the creditors and the farmer involved. That is the purpose of the act.

The new system would replace the appointed panel members with mediators who would be hired after a bidding process. It allows a farmer facing insolvency to apply for up to a 30-day stay of proceedings. Then a farmer could renew this 30-day stay of proceedings for up to a total of 120 days.

In complicated cases, an expert on debt and the reorganization of debt could be hired to prepare an assessment of the farmer's situation. That was done under the old system as well.

The main change in the process is to move to a system which involves more mediation. In fact I know from personal experience that in many of the cases under the old system it did work more like a mediation process. In a way this formalizes the process that was being used before this change to the act.

The appeal board is made up of farmers who are considered to be financial experts and would be available to hear complaints about decisions and to grant, extend or to terminate proceedings. That is what this legislation is about.

The Reform Party's policy, even before the last election, supports measures by government to give farmers the instruments necessary to create more self-reliance. Farmers have used these instruments. Some have been available for some time. Farmers have used them extremely well and are far more capable now of working through complex financial situations, the reorganization of debt and situations like that, than they were a few years ago.

Unfortunately part of the reason they have become so good at reorganizing debt is that some of them have had to do it several times. Agriculture has gone through extremely tough times. Unfortunately, governments-it is not just this Liberal government but the Conservative government before as well-have put in place legislation and programs which have damaged farmers immeasurably.

It is very unfortunate that we even need legislation that is geared to helping farmers reorganize debt or geared to finding some way

of working with creditors so they have something left should they have financial failure and should the creditors come to collect. I put the blame for that clearly at the feet of governments and again, not just this government. Certainly past Conservative governments have put in several programs which have made things much worse for farmers and which have distorted the market so badly that farmers really do not have the opportunity to work within a free enterprise market situation. Instead they have had to work under the framework laid out by these various government programs. That has harmed the competitive ability of Canadian farmers immeasurably.

Liberal governments before the Conservatives were in power and this current Liberal government have to share some of the blame for those programs which have replaced the market situation which would be much healthier for farmers.

While this legislation makes some improvements to the farm debt review board act, it does not solve the main problem that farmers face today. The main problem that farmers face today directly stems from governments becoming too involved in the agriculture industry. I am not just talking about the Canadian government, although the Canadian government is certainly guilty of this and has been for the past 20 to 30 years. I am also talking about foreign governments. The European governments have dumped completely unfairly on markets around the world that under a competitive situation, under a fair trade situation, would have been markets for Canadian farmers.

In the grain industry, for example, the American government with its export enhancement program depressed world markets around the world. Canadian governments, Liberal, Conservative and now Liberal again, have put in place programs that make it difficult for farmers to do business. That is what they want to do. Farmers have no choice with the present trade agreements.

We have moved to some extent back to the free enterprise system that farmers want, but we have a long way to go and the government certainly has not helped to accommodate that change. It should be chastized for that.

I mentioned in my opening remarks that I know how the old Farm Debt Review Act works. I have seen how the panels work. In some cases it has helped farmers work through some very difficult situations. Unfortunately in most cases it involves the farmers going out of business. At least in some cases they can go out of business without having to carry debt beyond the end of their farming business.

In other cases there have been successes. Some farmers who have used the farm debt review board have managed to keep their farms. In some cases they rent the land from the Farm Credit Corporation, which became the owner as a result of the farm debt review board process. The farmers were able to farm the land. In some cases they were able to buy the land from the Farm Credit Corporation and other creditors.

The old Farm Debt Review Act worked in some cases. It was good for some farmers. At the same time it considered what the creditors wanted. It succeeded in getting farmers and creditors together to try to work out a deal which would be beneficial to both.

On the other hand, this program involves a lot of overlap with provincial programs which are already in place. I have personal experience. I was hired as a consultant by Alberta agriculture to work with farmers. I know the Farm Debt Review Act duplicated the services which were offered by the province and by the private sector. The duplication was completely unnecessary. Unfortunately that will continue with the new act. In many cases it puts the federal government into provincial jurisdiction.

The services that the mediator and others in the process offer to farmers to work out a deal with creditors are being provided by private consultants and provincial governments. The provinces have hired farmers on a contract basis to do the work. There is a lot of duplication.

Ten years ago when the Farm Debt Review Act was put in place it served a purpose. However, the provinces were fulfilling that role much better than the federal legislation. In the late 1980s farmers were being forced out of business as a result of government involvement in markets, which was depressing the prices at alarming rates.

I believe there was a role for provincial governments. Private consultants were not available and they certainly were not trained to the level which would allow them to help farmers work through their problems. For provincial governments to get involved made sense back then. They provided a service.

I worked for Alberta agriculture. I worked with dozens and dozens of farmers as a business management consultant. I helped them work through their difficult situations.

I have often worked with creditors just as a go between to try to work out a deal, sometimes very successfully but in many cases unfortunately completely unsuccessfully in terms of saving the business. However, often the farmers who were leaving the business because they were being forced out ended up with something. They had a little something to help them.

I think that was a useful service. I really wonder about the necessity of duplicating that service. I now know that private consultants are far better trained, are there and are quite willing to help farmers to work through these very difficult situations and, more important, to work with farmers before the situations become

so desperate that they go to the farm debt review board or to this new farm mediation system.

I do think there are some improvements in this legislation. For some of the reasons I mentioned earlier this legislation does provide a better framework. However, I have some specific concerns on the amount of money involved. My first concern is that the budget for this process is way too high. It is not just an arbitrary judgment that I make. Right now the Saskatchewan farm debt review board handles about half of all the cases in Canada and the cost is $700,000. Yet the budget for this new new farm debt board is $2.2 million. It leads one to ask if this government is anticipating that the load of farmers needing this service will increase dramatically. There has to be a reason for a budget being much higher than would seem to make sense when one considers the current budget.

One has to ask whether this government really does anticipate that more farmers are going to end up in serious financial trouble and will need the services of this act to work through financial difficulty, which usually ends in farmers being forced out of business and losing, in many cases, all their assets but at least not having to carry debt beyond the termination of their business.

As members would know, many Reform MPs are farmers or were before they got into this business. Of 52 members of Parliament, we have somewhere between 14 and 17 members who have a farming background, own farms or have worked in the agriculture industry. That is a real high number for a caucus of 52. When we have meetings dealing with agricultural issues it is not unusual, as we have had many times in the past, to have 14 to 16 Reform MPs at these meetings. The interest in agriculture certainly cannot be equaled in any caucus. The level of expertise on agriculture certainly cannot and is not equalled in any other caucus in the House.

The importance that the Reform caucus places on agriculture, on farmers, on ranchers and on others in agricultural business is not equalled by any other caucus in this country. We have shown a commitment to farmers and we are going to continue to do that. We ask farmers, as we ask all other Canadians going into the election, which seems certain to be coming quite soon, to look at everyone's platforms. We ask them to take a good look at the platforms that are being offered in agriculture and in other areas by all the political parties. I then ask them to look at the Reform platform and compare it to the platforms offered by others in the agriculture area and other areas.

Let us have the election fought on issues, not on labels that one party tries to pin on another. Let us not have an election with name calling and dirty politics. I invite any other political party to compare what we offer in agriculture and in the the rest of our platform to theirs. If that comparison takes place during the election campaign, Reform will form the government after the election.

All I ask is that the political parties compare platforms so that Canadians can compare platforms and vote for whomever has the best ideas, the best policies, the best people to carry them out and the best leader. I believe it will prove to be the Reform Party.

Another problem with the legislation is that there is too much political patronage. That should not be a big surprise because members throughout the day have been pointing out Liberal patronages one after the other; all Liberals appointed to the Senate since they came to office. It is unbelievable.

Even under the Mulroney government there was an elected Senator, Stan Waters of Alberta. He happened to be a Reform member. But what is important is that he was elected to the Senate. A precedent was set.

British Columbia has legislation to accommodate elected senators. The premier of British Columbia has asked that senators be elected. Albertans and the Government of Alberta have asked for elected senators. And what do we get? Every senator since the election has been replaced by patronage appointees by the Prime Minister. That is completely unacceptable. That is just the start of the list of patronage appointments. It goes on and on. I am not going to get into the list because I do not have time in my presentation today.

This legislation just sets up space for more patronage appointments. That is completely unacceptable. That alone is reason enough to not support the bill. We do not want to support anything which would allow more spots to be filled by patronage appointments.

This legislation is a minor one, acknowledged. It makes minor changes to the existing Farm Debt Review Act. It is really dealing with a small issue in terms of how many people it affects and it should be dealing with important issues. At least it does offer some changes to improve the existing Act.

I want to congratulate the government for those particular changes. On the other hand, as I have said, there a lot of other things that should have been changed but were not. There is $2.2 million in the budget, but if we could trust that the government had any ability to forecast accurately, I think farmers should be very concerned because the budget is way beyond what should be required when we consider the present costs.

Instead of dealing with this legislation just before an election, the government should be dealing with some serious legislation to improve grain transportation which would allow competition in the grain transportation system, allow some recourse for farmers to make the railways and grain handlers accountable. But it is not

doing that. The government should be dealing with legislation that would get rid of the wheat board monopoly and instead improve the wheat board to make it accountable to farmers and to give farmers an option to either market their products through the wheat board or a grain company or on their own. The government did not do that, therefore we are debating this legislation. Much more important legislation should have been debated than this. For that reason I will not take any more time on this legislation.

Farm Debt Mediation ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are not many farmers in the riding of Lévis, but I wanted to speak in this debate nevertheless. In any case, whenever we talk about agriculture in the House of Commons, I have a particular interest in the subject for two reasons.

As a farmer's son, I was aware of these problems from an early age. Reform Party members just said there were a lot of problems in the agriculture and agri-food sectors in Canada today, and especially in Quebec. Why? Because we do not get our fair share of federal spending on agriculture, although we contribute 24 per cent.

Today we are discussing Bill C-38, an act to provide for mediation between insolvent farmers and their creditors. We are talking about this because there is an increasing number of farmers with serious financial problems, in Quebec and in Canada. Why do they have so many financial problems? Because they must operate within an international free trade context which is hard on farmers. And also because the federal government's policies have brought a number of farmers close to bankruptcy and in many cases have pushed them over the brink.

This bill, although not perfect, has the effect of alleviating to some extent the untenable situation of certain farmers. Farmers today have to invest and go deeper and deeper into debt. To have a viable operation, they have to increase their acreage and expand their operations by buying their neighbour's land. Where I used to live, there were seven or eight farmers, but today there is only one farm, one operation.

An individual who has to manage all that has to incur enormous debts and take enormous risks, considering the fact that there is no new generation waiting in the wings. People are not lining up to continue this agricultural tradition. Why not? Because of the enormous investment involved.

You have to have a vocation. You almost have to be a missionary today to be a farmer. It is a very demanding occupation. As the Bloc Quebecois critic, the hon. member for Frontenac, said this morning, it is a seven-day-a-week job. It is as demanding as being a member of Parliament. We have to be here during the week and in our ridings on the weekend to take part in all kinds of activities. It is very demanding.

But do not expect any sympathy from farmers. No Quebec farmers will pity us because of the hours we work, because for years they have been used to working long hours to support their families. If everything works out, when he is old enough to retire, the farmer manages to convince his son or daughter or several sons to take over the farm and take out a farm loan, and then perhaps he will be able to enjoy his retirement.

But for 30 or maybe 40 years, the farmer and his wife have to work very hard. I mention the farm wives because, if there is any sector in Quebec that is a prime example of a family enterprise, it is farming.

Farm wives deserve as much praise as their husbands. The work has been divided up on the farm for years. Often the wife does the books, because the accounting is getting more and more complicated, and then there is all the paperwork to do with the milk.

I grew up with that, so I know what I am talking about. But people often have no idea. I am sometimes horrified to hear city people, of which I am one myself now, people who deserve what they earn and have their own problems but do not have to work the hours that farmers do, making deplorable comments about farmers.

They think the government heavily subsidizes agriculture and supports farmers. So many city folks make comments like this that they have an influence on the lawmakers and the people in government, especially the federal government, and end up convincing them that cuts to agriculture are justified.

This opinion is shortsighted because, if agricultural subsidies are cut, if there is no help for farmers at the primary level, this will have repercussions in the processing industry and then at the tertiary level, where agricultural products are sold to consumers.

I was listening earlier to our excellent agriculture critic, the hon. member for Frontenac, who often reminds us in the Bloc Quebecois of the importance of agriculture in Quebec, and no doubt in Canada as well, and in the West, as defended by the Reform Party. But we are not reminded often enough.

Based on my years as the political assistant to Jean Garon, the Quebec minister of agriculture between the Parti Quebecois' assent to power in 1976 and 1996, I would have no hesitation in describing him as the best minister of agriculture Quebec has ever had. He developed a concept that was no longer agriculture, but the concept known as agri-food, which established the link between production, processing and marketing. That forms a whole.

Mr. Garon used to talk about the importance of self-sufficiency and of buying our own products. This is vital. Why? Because it provided a living for more people in rural areas.

Whatever problem there may be in rural communities in Canada is due to the fact that we have started to ignore agriculture. Without agriculture, the major rural areas could not survive, and I think the problem starts at the grassroots. In other words, we have lost sight of the problems of the farming community, of farm producers, of people who process farm products and of those who sell them. Things are very difficult in the context of globalization.

This bill will ease things a bit for those in difficulty, because all too often we have seen people go bankrupt. I know you know how it works, but it always bears repeating. People get a farm loan, but they often must provide part of the financing themselves.

Parents who want their children to take over the farm sometimes loan some of the proceeds from the sale of their property to their children so they can make up the difference. This means that, at some point, there are two loans outstanding: the farm loan and the parents' loan. The time comes when they cannot be repaid, the operation is no longer profitable, and some of them face bankruptcy.

This legislation softens the edges. It provides for a new procedure to be established at the federal level to allow for mediation, so that people can make arrangements to keep the farm in operation before it reaches the point of going bankrupt.

What good does it do to declare someone bankrupt if no one else wants to buy the property and this agricultural heritage, sometimes built over generations, has to be abandoned for wanting to get out from under a burden of debt that has become excessive for a family? I think this is a good idea.

At report stage, the Bloc Quebecois, through its agriculture critic, the hon. member for Frontenac, put forward several amendments in committee. Like the third party, we had concerns. The whole issue of political patronage appointments, among other things, was of concern to us. We would like appointments to be made on a non-partisan basis, putting an end to the practice established in the federal government of rewarding defeated candidates by giving them a position. There will be plenty of them after the next election.

I know that many expect to win in ridings where the hold of the Bloc Quebecois is very strong. Soon we will have some of these people sitting on the kind of board that Bill C-38 is seeking to establish.

It is extremely difficult to wrest approval from the Liberals in committee, as is usually the case with the government, for amendments put forward by the opposition, sovereignist members who are looking after the interests of Quebecers. They cannot support this kind of amendments, because they are in office. So, the amendments are lost.

This does not prevent us from very objectively recognizing that this is a step in the right direction. Because it could save the taxpayers $1 million, we will vote in favour of this bill at third reading.

The hon. member for Frontenac has pointed out a number of flaws, which were unfortunately not addressed. But when one cannot have the best, one has to settle for second best. Because this bill is an improvement over the existing legislation, we will support it.

I would like to use the time I have left to remind the hon. members that, as I said at the beginning of my speech, Quebec is not getting its fair share of federal spending in agriculture. According to figures from the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we get only about 10 per cent of the federal expenditures in that sector, or some $311 million.

Yet, Quebec's contribution to Canadian revenues from agriculture represents about 16.4 per cent of the total. The figure goes up to 21.4 per cent if we take into account not just farm production itself, but the whole agri-food industry. In this case, if we take into account only the processing industry, the shortfall is increased by an additional $201 million.

In the years 1985-86 to 1994-95, when the Conservatives were in office, federal expenditures in Quebec's agri-food industry represented only 9 per cent of the total. During the same period, agricultural revenues from our province amounted to 16.3 per cent of the total. So, for these 10 years, the cumulative shortfall for Quebec totalled $3 billion. I could go on.

One might have thought the Liberals would have corrected the situation, but no. Things remain the same and Quebec is still being treated unfairly. Let me mention an important point. The figure of $3 billion resurfaces again. The government abolished the Crow's Nest rate. What was the result? They gave $3 billion in compensation to western farmers because that was what the Reform Party called for. In this case, Reform Party members deserve credit. They obtained $3 billion in compensation for western farmers. I do not know what those of us from Quebec did. We asked for our share of compensation as well. Instead of compensation, cuts were made to our agricultural sector.

As it is, we are not receiving our fair share, and they are cutting again. They cut $107 million in 1995-96; in 1996-97, it was another $30 million, in addition to the other cuts; in 1997-98, it will be another $113 million. This is unacceptable. Consumers thought

they were in purgatory. Now they are headed for hell. Things keep getting worse. We must speak out before the next election.

The point can never be made too strongly. It is true that Reform Party members have spoken about farming because they are looking out for western voters, but I say to them that in Quebec our farmers are suffering as well.

At the federal level, despite the fact we represent 24 per cent of the population, we are not receiving our fair share. As long as we stay in this system, as long as the people of Quebec do not opt for sovereignty, we in the Bloc Quebecois will continue to ask for our fair share, because we are paying taxes here in Ottawa.

We demand the equivalent of the $3 billion for the Crow rate buyout. Unfortunately, although this bill will ease the pain a little for a number of farmers, it resolves nothing. Canada's agriculture minister should show some backbone and resolve the problems; he should reach an agreement with the Government of Quebec to avoid duplication among other things.

Yes, I applauded the amalgamation of the three federal food inspection agencies a few months ago in the House. One came under the Department of Health, another under the Department of Agriculture and a third under another department. They were combined into one agency.

The fact is that it is essential that a stop be put to duplication in this sector and that Quebec receive financial compensation because it is closer to the people. You do not farm in an office in Ottawa. Raising cows, fishing and so on cannot be done in an office in Ottawa. The government must be closer to the community. The closest government is the Government of Quebec. Why not work together more, instead of structuring and regulating, which is sometimes of no use to Quebec?

I will conclude by urging my colleagues opposite, those who, knowing Friday would soon be here, have unfortunately already left, to give the matter some thought. We may not speak about those who are absent, but there are not very many of us here today on Thursday to speak about agriculture, although it is an extremely important sector. If they want to do some more work on the economy, if the Prime Minister is serious when he talks about the economy and "jobs, jobs, jobs", he would deliver speeches aimed at the agricultural community.

There is a line that is funny but true. When it comes to agriculture, certain Liberal ministers are behaving, as Jean Garon used to say, like mosquitos in a nudist colony; they do not know where to start. I apologize for this bit of humour, when the situation is so grim.

Farm Debt Mediation ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-38. Before I get into my speech I must commend my Bloc colleague for trying to impress on the House how important agriculture is to Quebec. It has always been appreciated by myself and other Reform MPs that Bloc members take such a unique interest in agriculture. They realize that we have to eat before we do anything else.

Bill C-38 is a quick way of fixing a farmer's problems. It decreases the time of suffering, but I still do not like to see that kind of thing happening.

The Farm Debt Review Act was established in 1986 in response to exceptional circumstances. The late seventies and the mid-eighties were difficult times in the agriculture sector. Family after family was forced to leave farming because it was not profitable. Why was it not profitable? Because of too much government interference.

Some members of Parliament will remember that in 1970 or 1971 the Liberal government of Prime Minister Trudeau was elected. The slogan at that time was we will create a just society. That sounded good. Everybody in western Canada felt that maybe conditions for western farmers would be improved, as well as conditions for western processors and the special crops industry.

The first thing that Liberal government did was increase the wages for grain handlers by 68 per cent in one shot. That was very extreme, although at that time their wages were probably not what they should have been.

That started a whole series of problems. The next thing the government of the day did, because of low grain prices, was to establish a program known as the LIFT program. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, if you were around at that time or if you remember that program. That program was designed to encourage farmers to summer fallow their land and to decrease the supply. They were paid $8 an acre to summer fallow their farmland.

That was a bad mistake. There was a crop failure the following year and the billion bushel surplus that everybody talked about, which was depressing prices, was gone. It was not there because of mismanagement in estimating what was held in reserve. That happened because three or four different grain companies in each town and each grain company, more or less, surveyed how many bushels were in the area, added them together and came up with an estimate which was three or four times higher than it should have been.

In 1972 we had grain prices the likes of which had never been seen before. Prices of $1.50 per bushel jumped to $5 and $6 a bushel. It was inflation. The farmers did very well. They started to be optimistic. People were encouraged to spend money.

The worst thing that happened was that government officials tried to encourage farmers to specialize. If a farmer wanted to

borrow money to improve his milk herd, or dairy operation or hog operation and wanted $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000, the Farm Credit Corporation would say: "No way. You have to get your act together and direct your energies toward one operation". If you did not borrow at least $50,000 or $100,000 you were denied the loan.

That gave farmers the direction to specialize. We saw small operations being closed down and bigger operations starting. Before we realized it, many farmers had a debt load that was beyond servicing when interest rates started, all of a sudden, to jump because of the money supply.

If I had not have been out of the country in 1981 and seen what inflation did in other countries, I probably would not have realized how detrimental it was to our country. However, when 24 per cent interest rates developed and farmers had debt loads of between $100,000 and $200,000, their debt load increased by one-quarter each year and they were unable to service that debt load.

This was the just society. I do not know if it was a just society for the bankers, the financiers or for whom. At that time I know there was a big debate on whether we should do away with the Crow and whether we should do certain other things.

I will never forget a program I was watching one night called Front Page Challenge . Members might remember Mr. Gordon Sinclair who was one of the specialists on the program. They were talking about the huge recession in the country. All of a suddenMr. Sinclair could not sit still any more and said: ``What recession? Twenty-four per cent interest rates. What recession?'' The financial institutions and investors were making huge profits. People did not realize we were losing farmers and business people left and right.

I will never forget the comic made out of the huge Liberal milk cow. Mr. Speaker, you might remember that picture. It showed this huge Liberal milk cow and the western farmers were feeding it as fast as they could. They were scrawny, poor, overworked and looked almost like skeletons compared to the huge cow. While the farmers in the west were feeding this huge Liberal milk cow, they were really feeding the eastern interests. Those interests were collecting the money and getting their 24 per cent interest rates.

The worst of it was that when one has a huge milk cow there is some organic material that has to be disposed of because otherwise it is environmentally unfriendly. Therefore, this organic fertilizer was dumped on the eastern provinces and it pretty well buried them. So we had three little problems. We had the western farmers starving to death. We had the eastern interests getting filthy rich and paying more income tax and the eastern Atlantic provinces being buried by something they did not really like. That was the situation that got western farmers into a huge debt load.

Looking back on the issue today, if we could have avoided the high interest rates at that time, we would have a lot more small business people still in business in western Canada and the family farm might not be in the position that it is today.

However, I want to get back to the debt review board. When we had the old board, it was at least willing to look at farmers who were viable and give them support and try to get them to reorganize.

Bill C-38 is only there, more or less, to get farmers out of business. Once you get to that point, I am a firm believer that just consultation and some advice is not sufficient. As members know, when banks or financial institutions are prepared to take over one's assets they have the best legal advice and the best consultation services available. They do not care about the cost. However, when a farmer is under that type of stress he does not have any financial power. He does not have the economic resources to get that type of advice.

If the government was really diligent and wanted to do something for farmers, it would make funds available to them to get the expert advice and consultation service needed because the banks or financial institutions have the upper hand.

During that time, I think during a Liberal government, I know there was a very big debate about the Crow rate. It think a prop of a crow being hung was brought into the House at that time. There was quite a bit of confrontation here. There was talk that governments were willing to bail out western farmers with the crow to a tune of $15 billion. That was its values then.

Some farm organizations were stubborn and did not realize how critical the issue was. They felt that it was not enough, was a very bad deal for western farmers and refused it. Fifteen billion dollars in 1978 or 1979 compared to $1.5 billion today is just a Mickey Mouse amount, peanuts. Big mistakes made in western Canada.

When we look at the grain transportation system we see that we did something in the House in the last year. We bought out the crow with $1.5 billion and did not have the transportation system in place that should have been there.

We heard from our colleagues from Peace River and Vegreville that farmers are in dire straits today because of the grain in their bins or out in the fields. Bill C-38 will be used probably more than ever before to liquidate farmers.

This is a sad situation. In such a desperate situation some special provisions should be made like we see in many big businesses instead of only having good consultation services available. They ask for bankruptcy protection for a certain time to see whether

things can be ironed out. They do not have the financial assets to protect themselves.

As the Bloc member pointed out, food is number one. If we cannot protect our food supply industry or our producers, sooner or later the country will fold. That is one point I have always appreciated. Even if we do not agree with a lot of the philosophy of Bloc members on the agriculture committee, this is one point we agree on. Agriculture is most important. A trip to a Third World country or an eastern bloc countries makes one realize the value of food very soon.

I met a young lady who was in Canada with a Chinese trade delegation shortly after I was elected. I asked her what she liked best about Canada after having seen some of it. She said the thing she liked best was our cheap food. I asked her what she meant by cheap food. I had no idea what that meant for the Chinese. She gave an example of a McDonald's in the city where she lived that charged exactly double in Chinese dollars what she would pay for the same hamburger in Ottawa.

I asked her how the amount of money spent on food compared to the earning power in China. She indicated that a high wage earner in China spent about 30 per cent to 50 per cent of his wages on food. We have a food basket cost that is about 11 per cent to 12 per cent of our earning power. That helps us see what kind of a blessing we have in Canada.

As was pointed out by another member, when we talk of farmers being subsidized to produce a product it is a subsidization for the consumer to get a cheaper and better product. They are the beneficiaries.

Let us look at the net income of farmers today. I am using Statistics Canada figures. They indicate that 48 per cent of net farm income comes from off farm jobs. We see what is happening to our food production system. If we do not change the system to a market driven, viable food production one, other systems will collapse along with it.

It is very important to realize that we have gone from a system of specialization. It did not work. Then farmers were told they had to become more efficient. Now we have a system that says we have to diversify. How much can they diversify when 48 per cent of their net farm income comes from off farm jobs?

We also hear that there must be value added industries. When farmers are financially strapped they do not have money to invest in value added industries. Somebody else will do it.

To make the farm economy viable again we must take some strong measures. After the next election I hope we will have a Reform government that is interested in making the system efficient, viable and self-reliant. That will transfer into other industries and we will have a country that does not need higher taxes or government support. That is the direction the country must go in.

At the Forum of Young Canadians banquet yesterday I saw their energy, interest and dedication to making the country work. They need a system that will look after some of the huge debt put on their shoulders by the government. They could make the country as viable as it should be.

We have the natural, renewable and human resources to do it. We need some expertise that we have not seen in the last 25 or 30 years of Conservative and Liberal governments. They have been directing our industry and have failed us every time.

It is imperative the electorate in the next election looks at the platform of the Reform Party. It proposes huge changes that will give provinces the right direction to do what they do best and will give the federal government the tools to do what it should do to reduce taxes, to bring down the deficit and to make the country a better place to live. We have heard our leader say a number of times that we could provide a better Canada and a better future for Canadian youngsters, for future generations.

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4:05 p.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the hon. member for Lisgar-Marquette commenting on Agriculture and Agri-food Canada since it is a very significant portion of our economy.

We are second in the world with the lowest cost of food. We have 29 million people in Canada, an economy of more than $700 billion, an export industry of $17 billion and quite a phenomenal growth rate.

With this bill and others the government has focused on the Farm Credit Corporation by providing extended finances, guaranteed loans, long term mortgage programs, vendor loan guarantee programs and agricultural equity development programs.

The hon. member talks about Bill C-38 as putting farmers under faster. The bill is actually a review process if a farmer becomes insolvent. If he gets into financial difficulty it is a process to assist him to go through mediation, to go through review, and to have a stay of proceedings if there is action taken on his assets.

If the hon. member's party formed the government and offered new policies to the public, would he repeal Bill C-38?

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4:10 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from my hon. colleague across the way.

I have been trying to say to the House that the farming industry should have never been put in this position. The bill will put farmers out of business. There is no place in the bill to help farmers

rejuvenate or become viable again. It is a last resort to make the pain a little less so they can get out of business.

That is not what we need. We have seen over the last three decades the farm population decrease to an unbelievable percentage. When I started farming a half section was sufficient to feed a family. Today a two-section farmer cannot survive. He has to have his mate either employed off the farm or he has to be involved in some other venture to make the farm viable.

We are taking jobs away from people who deserve then, The farm family should be on the farm making sure that it is running properly and is efficient and viable. That is why this piece of legislation is so bad. It will not give farmers any hope. It will just lessening the pain a bit of getting out of business. I do not know whether they will go on welfare or try to get into a new business, which is not easy today.

What astounds me is in the 1970s a Liberal government told us day after day that we had to have high interest rates to bring down inflation. We had to kill inflation. We have killed inflation. We have low interest rates and farmers do not have the opportunity to be viable. The passage of Bill C-38 will get them out of the system. It just does not make sense.

On the one hand a 24 per cent interest rate is inflationary. On the other hand the banks feel 24 per cent makes them viable. If it is not inflationary when the banks charge it, why is it inflationary when the farmer pays it? Those are the problems I have with some government policies. They like to interfere.

First we had to specialize and it did not work. Then we had to diversify and it did not work. Now we have to get value added industries, and who knows if that will work? If farmers do not get their fingers into value added industries, other industries will benefit and we will have less farmers rather than more. As I said, farming should never have been put into the position where it required this legislation.

Due to government policy over the last 30 years this has happened. It is not because of the way farmers have operated their farms. They have increased production. They have become more efficient. They have worked harder. The taxation system and the government bureaucrats have forced them off the land. That is very easily proven.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Mississauga South, health; the hon. member for Davenport, transport; the hon. member for Sarnia-Lambton, health.

I have also received notice from the hon. member for North Vancouver that he is unable to move his motion during private members hour on Friday, April 18. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence.

Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence. Private members hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members hour.

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4:15 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join in the debate this afternoon on Bill C-38, the Farm Debt Mediation Act.

At the outset I would like to reply very briefly to the comment and question posed to my hon. colleague from Lisgar-Marquette from across the way a minute ago.

The hon. Liberal member referred to the fact that we have very cheap food in Canada. Certainly that is the case and all consumers are very thankful for that. Everyone has to eat and therefore I am sure everyone is thankful in a way.

I remind the member of something that MPs from rural ridings are constantly reminded of, that a cheap food policy is a two edged sword. For the consumers to gain by this type of policy, the producers of the food lose.

She went on to ask if Reform would repeal Bill C-38. At the time we form the next government, we certainly will take a look at all the legislation passed by this failure of a Liberal government from the 35th Parliament and perhaps amend it.

We suggested a number of amendments to Bill C-38, as we have to a lot of bills, most bills that were introduced in this place. Unfortunately those amendments, of which Reform had four, were defeated by the government. That is why we are opposed to this.

The preceding speakers from the Reform Party, the hon. member for Vegreville and the hon. member for Lisgar-Marquette, remarked that we are not opposed to the intent of this legislation. There is no party that has a monopoly on good intentions and good ideas.

As amazing as it sometimes seems, even the Liberal Party comes up with some good ideas once in a while.

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4:15 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Especially the backbenchers.

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4:15 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Especially the backbenchers. All members in this place come up with good ideas from time to time, some good policy suggestions. Some good amendments to legislation are brought forward by people from all political persuasions at committee and in the House of Commons.

It is unfortunate when we see time after time that the cabinet or the applicable minister cracks the whip and gets the amendments, either at the committee stage or in the House, defeated for purely partisan reasons.

It does not matter that the amendment makes sense. The only reason is that if Reform suggests it, for example, in some cases the Bloc or the other independents, then it is automatically ruled that it does not make sense and it is voted down. "We have the majority on the committees. We have the majority in the House of Commons. We will vote that amendment down". Then they stand in the House of Commons and say "those darn Reformers vote against everything we try to do and every good idea that we bring into this place, those Reformers vote against it".

Is it any wonder? It seems every time we try to introduce amendments to legislation they are voted down. They are ruled out of hand. It is ruled that they are not good amendments simply because they come from Reformers. That is a tragedy to the democratic process and I believe that it puts paid to the red book promise of restoring more free votes and more true democracy to this place. We have seen the exact opposite happen during this 35th Parliament.

The Reform Party is supportive of the intent of Bill C-38. If there is sufficient time before the Liberals decide to go to an election, the bill will be passed because the Liberals have the majority, despite any amendments we bring forward which would be voted down.

The bill is an act to repeal the Farm Debt Review Act, a decade old farm debt review board system with debt mediation service for farmers facing seizure of their property by creditors. As a farmer I was fortunate that I never had to go through that process but I have had many friends and neighbours who during the tough times of the last 15 to 20 years in agriculture unfortunately had to face that situation.

Although they varied from region to region and province to province, the farm debt review boards did a lot of good work and certainly helped some farmers through some tough times with their creditors. They helped farmers as much as possible to meet their financial obligations. It is certainly a worthy and good intention that this bill is being brought forward to replace that old act.

The new act provides for a review of the farmer's financial affairs, for mediation between the farmer and the farmer's creditors for the purpose of reaching a mutually acceptable arrangement and in order to temporarily suspend the rights of creditors to take or to continue proceedings against the farmer's assets if the farmer were to request it.

Some concerns were brought forward not only by Reformers but also by a number of organizations and individuals who appeared before the standing committee when Bill C-38 was before the committee. I will run down the list to indicate to the viewing public that many witnesses came forward with concerns about this bill. They suggested possible amendments at the committee stage.

Included were the Alberta farm debt review board, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union, the Ontario farm debt review board, the Quebec farm debt review board and the Saskatchewan farm debt review board. A number of submissions were made and a number of concerns were raised at the committee stage about the content of the bill. My colleagues from Vegreville and Lisgar-Marquette raised some concerns as well.

One concern is that the budget seems fairly substantial in the sense that the Saskatchewan farm debt review board is currently handling half of all the cases in Canada for a total of only about $700,000 whereas the estimated total mediation budget under this new legislation will exceed $2.2 million. This is clearly a case where the bureaucracy is looking after itself, ensuring it will have ample funds available, as we have seen in so many different departments and ministries, to ensure its longevity regardless of what happens in the upcoming election.

Another concern, which we have had with a lot of legislation that has passed through this place, is with potential patronage under this new act. For instance, the appeal boards are to be appointed by the minister without being reviewed or approved by Parliament or the standing committee.

As we saw with Bill C-72, which for some reason has been swallowed by a black hole, the wording in the legislation states that the minister would have the power to appoint the board of directors and that he in his infinite wisdom could hold an election for one or more of the board members.

I did a survey, which I referred to a few hours ago, on Bill C-34. I referred to the fact that the Canadian Wheat Board had refused to allow me access to the mailing list of the producers who reside in the riding which I am honoured to represent in the House of Commons. I felt that was a bit of a tragedy in the sense that MPs want to serve their people accurately. That is the guiding creed of the Reform Party of Canada, to represent constituents accurately where there is the ability to deduce what the majority view of a group in a riding is.

In this case I wanted to target permit book holders. They are the ones who will be the most affected by Bill C-72. I was unable to obtain the list. The Canadian Wheat Board even refused when I told it I would pay to have the labels printed. I said them I would send them the questionnaires. They could look at the questions. I was not trying to hide anything. It was not anti-wheat board propagan-

da. It was a straightforward questionnaire containing ten questions. I wanted to survey permit book holders. It refused.

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4:25 p.m.

An hon. member

What democracy.

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4:25 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Exactly. What democracy. How is a person supposed to represent their constituents accurately?

I did not want to dilute the results of the survey by sending out a larger mailing which would include people who would not have the same interest in Bill C-72 because it would not affect their livelihood.

I mailed it out to a larger mailing list that I was able to obtain. I had 124 responses, which is fairly comprehensive for an area as small as the Peace River agricultural area. I do not know exactly how many permit book holders there are in my area because the wheat board will not tell me. I have heard that there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 450 to 500 permit book holders. So a return of 124 is substantial.

Unfortunately I do not have the time to go into all the survey questions asked, but I would like to explain the first question. The question I asked the producers was the following: "There has been a lot of discussion on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. Overall, how would you describe your attitude toward the Canadian Wheat Board?" Then I gave them the choices: "Eliminate. Major overhaul is needed. Minor overhaul. Unsure. Should the wheat board include other crops? Keep it as it is".

While 9 per cent of the respondents wanted to completely eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board, 70 per cent indicated they wanted a major or minor overhaul. I believe this indicates that farmers want to retain the Canadian Wheat Board but they want to see some substantive changes. They want choice.

Unfortunately, as with so many pieces of legislation, the government simply does not get the message that the farm community is trying to send it.

The minister did a mail ballot on the other legislation. I do not know how much it cost the taxpayers. Basically it was an all or nothing question: "Do you believe that barley should be included as it is now under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board or do you think that the Canadian Wheat Board should get out of it altogether?" There were no other options for farmers to choose.

What we saw, what we told the minister and what farm groups and individual farmers were telling him-I am sure they were because they were telling us this-was that it was a status quo question. It did not solve anything.

The fact is that farmers are still being sent to jail for trying to market their own product. This does not solve anything. Farmers recognize that. Likewise, Bill C-38 is not the answer. That is why we proposed four amendments to Bill C-38.

We proposed that the bill be amended to allow the standing committee on agriculture to review the appointment of the administrators. What would be wrong with that? Would not the farm community support that? Obviously the committee would be the place. It has the expertise and knowledge and witnesses could be called, if necessary, to look at who was being appointed as administrators.

We proposed an amendment to insert a new clause in the bill to make the government develop regulations or guidelines on performance evaluations for administrators and mediators. What could possibly be wrong with an amendment like that? It strikes to the heart of accountability.

If there is one thing that members have heard Reformers repeat day after day, speech after speech, whether on justice, spending, defence, agriculture, health or aboriginal affairs, name the department, over the past three years it is that we have constantly used the word "accountability". The people at the top must be held accountable. Members heard it about the Somali inquiry. That was why we are so concerned about what appears to be a cover-up at the highest levels. Members have heard it about so many other departments that unfortunately for Canadians have been tainted by scandal and by suspicion of patronage and those types of things. We have insisted on accountability.

We proposed a minor amendment that the government develop regulations on performance evaluations to hold the administrators and mediators accountable, and it is voted down. It is ruled that it is not appropriate by the Liberal majority.

The third amendment we proposed was to clause 15. It reads:

That clause 15 be amended to allow the standing committee on agriculture to review the minister's appointments to the appeal boards.

What could possibly be wrong with that? What does the minister want to hide, that his appointments should not be reviewed?

The fourth and final amendment that we proposed was:

That clause 28 be amended to allow the standing committee on agriculture to conduct a three year review of this act.

That was also voted down also.

When I start getting on to some of these issues I do not know where time goes. It just flies by. At any rate, I will sum up what I have in the little time remaining.

As a former farmer, whose family is still involved in the farming business back home and as a person who used to be active in farm groups, I am fortunate to have a lot of friends and supporters in the agricultural community in the riding that I am honoured to represent in this House. I can tell the House that the majority of

farmers in my area are thinking about trying to get last year's crop salvaged from under the snow. They are looking forward to trying to get that crop off or do something with it even if they have to burn it, accepting the huge loss that they are going to suffer and then try as hard as they can, weather permitting, to get this year's crop seeded.

One thing that galls me to no end is that there does not seem to be a lot of recognition from the people on that side of the House of the struggles and travails facing the farming communities. I get pretty upset when people say we do this for the farmers and that for the farmers and why do we treat them so special?

A lot of Canadians forget where the food comes from and how many people owe their livelihood to the farmer who is struggling to get his crop off. They forget the person who sells the herbicides for spraying, or the people who owe their living to transporting grain, whether it is the man running the locomotive or others involved in the transportation of grain. They forget the people who sell the farm equipment, the person at the store who sells building supplies to build a new granary. They forget the hundreds of thousands of people who owe their livelihood directly and indirectly to the sustainability of agriculture.

It is high time we had a government in the country, a Reform government, that puts some emphasis on agriculture.

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4:35 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the member from the Peace River area because he knows how important agriculture is.

Would he like to comment on an issue we addressed this morning when we were dealing with Bill C-34. This kind of flows into Bill C-38 which is more or less trying to dissolve farming operations which we hope can be avoided somehow. This morning we were asking for emergency cash advances of $50,000 interest free. That was denied because the government would not accept our amendments to Bill C-34.

However, in the last couple of months the Liberal government has doled out about $250 million to a company like Bombardier, that is interest free and probably forgivable. How does that compare with his feelings of how the farmers are treated in the west and even in Quebec, as we heard from our hon. colleague from the Bloc.

The Liberal government promised fairness, equality and democracy. I do not think we have seen any of that in the number of bills that have been passed lately.

How does my hon. colleague feel about this?

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4:35 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question and the comments from my colleague from Lisgar-Marquette.

Farmers in the riding of Prince George-Peace River and farmers across the country are quite frankly appalled by the performance of the Liberal government in doling out money to corporate friends. However, when farmers in Quebec or western Canada, Nova Scotia or Ontario get into trouble, it turns a deaf ear. "There is no money. We are cutting to the bone. We are trying to get the deficit under control".

Nobody understands the problem of deficit and debt better than the members Reform Party. We were the ones who highlighted this problem for the Liberal government before there was even a Mulroney government. We know what nine years of Tory government did to the country. The debt was doubled. We are well aware of the problem of deficit spending.

We have been saying for years and years that it has to be prioritized. I do not see how giving a handout to a corporation that is already making millions of dollars is a good or wise investment of Canadian tax dollars.

But when farmers with their backs to the wall turn to the government and ask not for a handout but for an interest free loan to tide them over the short term, recognizing the thousands and thousands of people who owe their livelihood to the agricultural sector and farmers in the country, the government says "no. You are not a priority. Sorry". A priority is a boccie court in a minister's riding or a canoe museum in Shawinigan.

I want to say that the farmers and the people of Canada are fed up with this kind of attitude from the government.

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4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House reading for the question?

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members