Mr. Speaker, I am really concerned that I must stand here today to make a speech that I, quite frankly, hoped I would never have to make. On the other hand, it is important to talk about the crisis that our farmers are facing.
There is a reason I had hoped I would never have to rise to make a speech like this. I am the member of parliament for Lakeland constituency, which is a very large rural constituency in Alberta. Agriculture is the most important industry in that constituency.
I have a farm myself. I worked to help support the farm for many years as a farm economist with the Alberta department of agriculture. In this job and in private consultations with farmers during the 1980s and early 1990s I saw things that I hope I will never see again.
I sat at the table with members of farm families whose farms were failing. This did not just happen once or twice or a dozen times. I literally met with farmers and helped them deal with situations dozens and dozens of times when I knew, often from the very start, that the end result would be that a farm family would be forced off their farm.
In many other cases I knew that the end result would be the downsizing of a farm in a way that the family never expected and never wanted.
The problem in the 1980s was caused by many of the same things that are causing the current crisis. For that reason I hoped it would never happen again. I really, really hoped that this government would recognize the problem and would deal with the situation so that we would not face this kind of crisis again.
Unfortunately, we are here today debating a motion, which I will read again:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should move immediately to defend the interests of Canadian farmers from the unfair subsidies and unfair trading practices by foreign countries, which have changed the problem of stagnant farm incomes to a full-blown farm income crisis, and in the event no immediate progress is made on this front, introduce emergency measures to provide tax relief, lower input costs, reduce user fees and address the inadequacies of the farm safety-net programs.
Here we are. We must talk about this. I think it is really important to go through what has happened in the last five years since this government has been in power, and indeed before that, to recognize clearly what has led to the situation that Canadian farmers are facing today.
I know the situation is a Canadian-wide situation, although I believe that the crisis is worse on the prairies.
It is important to look first at what has caused this situation. There are many causes for this situation. The first of course is the Asian economic problem. We recognize that as being part of the problem.
The second cause is normal market cycles, for example with hogs, which has been made even worse by the economic crisis which has spread beyond Asia.
Those things were not really preventable by Canadians and the Canadian government, but there are many things that were and those are the things we have to talk about.
We have to talk about the preventable factors that have led to this situation becoming as critical as it has. To do that we have to look at what has happened over the past five years.
When I think back to the first speech I made in the House of Commons, we were talking at that time about farm safety nets and about the farming situation. One of the things being discussed was the elimination of the Crow subsidy. The Crow subsidy was causing a lot of harm on the prairies, in particular in processing industries. Processing was not happening on the prairies, where it would have made sense. Jobs were being exported as raw commodities left the prairies.
Reform supported the elimination of the Crow benefit, but called for putting at least part of the capitalized value of the Crow benefit into a trade distortion adjustment program. We campaigned on that in 1993.
Look at what the Liberals allowed to happen. They did eliminate the Crow benefit, but instead of putting that money into something like a trade distortion adjustment program, which would have been there now to help farmers deal with this crisis, they made a $1.2 billion payout which really was done for political reasons and did farmers almost no good whatsoever.
As a result, we are in this situation with nothing to help farmers deal with the crisis.
A trade distortion adjustment program, which we campaigned on in 1993 and which was presented in this House by Reform MPs again and again after 1993, right up to the time the Crow benefit was eliminated, would have put some of the capitalized value of the Crow benefit into a fund which would have been there to deal with unfair trade practices in other countries. In other words, if commodity prices were hurt, as they are being hurt right now due to unfair trade practices on the part of Europe, the United States and Asian countries, there would have been money in this fund to help farmers deal with that situation.
We have unfair trade practices. For example, the European Economic Community has subsidies which are higher than the price we get for our alfalfa. European subsidies alone are destroying our alfalfa industry. It is very near collapse. We have nothing to help deal with this situation. That fund was not established, in spite of the pressure that was put on this government to do that. That is sad because now our farmers face a situation they should never have had to face.
If we go through the list of things that happened in the last parliament and did not happen, it is a long list and it is a sad indictment of this government. It is important to point these things out. If we do not, then this government will not do what has to be done now.
We can start with the elimination of the Crow and the fact that the money is no longer there to help anyone. Farmers face extremely high freight costs and, with low commodity prices, it is causing an unnecessary hardship on farmers. Had that fund been established, with this situation being forced on farmers, the money would have been there to help.
We can go through the list. There was the privatization of CN. We supported the privatization, but we did not support the legislation. There was nothing in it to ensure that competition would be allowed and that there would be fairness in dealing with situations involving a dispute between farmers and others and the railways.
Look at the Canadian Transportation Act. We called for the same kinds of things to be put in the act, but they were not.
In terms of cost recovery and user fees, one after another has been piled on farmers, often at costs that are much higher than need would be and no competition is allowed in terms of who can provide the services that these fees pay for. That is costing farmers a lot of money.
Tax increases on things like fuel, which affect all farm inputs, have put an undue and unnecessary burden on farmers. Tax increases across the board are one of the single biggest factors that have caused the problem we see today.
Prohibitive regulations have topped all of this off and made it extremely difficult for farmers to deal with the very difficult crisis they are facing today.
This list of indictments is something the government should take note of. I want to see the government stand in this House today to say exactly how it is going to make up for the wrongs that it has committed in the past and for the lack of action that has been shown on many issues.