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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Leader of the Official Opposition. Reformers will be splitting their time throughout the day.
I will begin by reading some headlines as they have been appearing in the papers out west. Since the minister of agriculture has been denying there is a farm income crisis, I can only surmise he is only reading the newspapers from Toronto.
Here is what the newspapers are saying. From the Calgary Herald on October 31, “Outlook cloudy for agriculture sector”. From the Regina Leader Post on October 30, “Farm crunch looms”. From Agri-Week on October 26, “No government aid for farm income crunch”. From the Winnipeg Free Press on October 30, “Farmers turn up heat on Ottawa as farm income plummets”. From the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on October 22, “Subsidy wars killing farmers”. From the Western Producer on October 22, “Net farm income needs attention” and “Prairie pools demand feds respond to farm crisis”.
Need I go on? Do the Liberals read the papers outside Toronto? Apparently not. The minister of agriculture has been responding to opposition questions about the farm income crisis since September 24 and has yet to acknowledge there is a real problem. On September 24 the minister said:
The disaster relief program and the farm safety net program for Canadian farmers are already in place.
On October 28 the minister repeated his mantra by saying:
We have one of the strongest safety nets in the world.
On behalf of thousands of farmers in Canada, if Canada has one of the strongest safety net systems in the world, why are we having a farm income crisis? Why are so many farmers in trouble? I ask the minister to acknowledge at least that NISA is totally inadequate in helping farmers compete with unfair foreign subsidies.
I want the minister of agriculture to listen to the words of just one of the many farmers coming into my office and phoning me. I spoke to this gentleman last week. He has been farming for 33 years. Here are his own words:
I feel so terrible. I can't even put money on the offering plate Sunday morning. I'm probably worth more than most people in Canada—I farm seven quarters, fifty head of beef cattle, I got seventy bushels of barley and 35 of wheat per acre. An average calf crop. Productivity is good, but prices aren't. I haven't replaced my equipment in seven years and it wasn't new then. I'm repairing and patching but I can't anymore. Farming is not like other businesses—we don't want to make a lot of money, but we can't keep going, and we have no alternatives. We have no alternatives! Farmers have something to offer the country—it's being eroded—it's not just dollars and cents. It's a sin that raw food has no value in exchange for goods and services. Why does our nation have a different view from the Europeans on this?
I share this with the House of Commons because this farmer expressed better than I the real pressures farmers are feeling on a daily basis. It takes a special kind of person to be a farmer. It is not an easy life. They only want to make a living. The minister should come with me to the restaurants in my riding and listen or take some of the calls I get into my office.
No matter how one calculates farm income, total net income or net cash income or realized net income, farm incomes have been flat on the prairies for at least 20 years. These farmers have managed to survive year by year in spite of stagnant incomes, but they are in no position to withstand a real income crisis such as we are experiencing today.
The indications of the crisis are varied. It is taking its toll on farmers. Record numbers of Saskatchewan farmers are calling the farm stress line this year. In September the stress line received 147 calls. The program co-ordinator for the line said:
There's been twice as many calls in September compared to other months. The hope is going. If you don't have hope you don't have much to look forward to. You can only struggle for so long.
Last Friday the Debt Mediation Service said that inquiries for help were already up 22% over last year in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It estimates that 600 producers will use its service this year alone. These are real people behind the statistics that the minister of agriculture is ignoring. These are not the only people the minister is ignoring.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says farm income is likely to drop by more than 40% this year, due largely to the collapse of the Asian market. Wheat prices have fallen by more than 40% over the last 12 months while another hard hit sector, hog farming, has seen a price decline of 28%. Meanwhile total federal funding for agriculture sits at $670 million, down from $2.5 billion a decade ago.
Saskatchewan agriculture minister Eric Upshall said:
We have about a 10% subsidy according to the OECD analysis, the U.S. has roughly 30% and the Europeans are at 36 to 37%. So there's a tremendous difference. We're caught in the squeeze. We've been the good guys on the block. We've cut our subsidy.
The world market has been hit from two sides. On the one hand there is a huge grain crop this year made larger because heavily subsidized European farmers decided to produce more wheat. On the other hand the booming Asian market is one big bust.
According to Statistics Canada, Canadian farm cash receipts in the first half of 1998 were 5.1% lower than the same period last year. In Saskatchewan they dropped 8.9% and 12.5% in some areas of Manitoba, blamed largely on a decline in wheat prices brought about by record world-wide production and dampened demand.
Canadian wheat, barley and livestock revenues were all down during the first six months of the year. Some Saskatchewan hog producers say that they are losing between $30 and $40 on every hog they sell. They are asking the province for a bailout.
The price of finished cattle, animals that have been fattened at the feedlot, is dismal as well. Saskatchewan farmers will likely see their realized net cash income less depreciation drop by more than 60% this year to less than $300 million. Meanwhile there has been no dropoff in freight rates or the cost of chemicals, fertilizer and farm machinery. There has been no dropoff in fuel and debt servicing.
From 1995 to 1997 gross operating expenses for Saskatchewan farmers have risen from $3.9 billion to $4.36 billion according to the province. The total debt held by farmers has risen from $4.48 billion in 1993 to $5.11 billion in 1997. Last year farm debt jumped 7% alone.
Finally last week Agri-Week reported:
Never before have prices of almost every major commodity class been down at the same time. This is the first time that the agricultural economy has been on its own through the down phase of an economic cycle.
The prairie pools are calling for an elimination of foreign subsidies, a reduction or elimination of cost recovery programs which the pools say cost farmers $138 million in 1998, and the development of a national disaster assistance program. Why is the minister not listening?
What can we conclude from all this? Our farmers could compete if only our government had not mismanaged affairs so badly. Our tax burden makes input costs for farmers very high. Some have estimated that for some items the farmer must purchase the input costs may be almost 50% tax.
The responsibility for the mismanagement of the agricultural portfolio rests squarely on the shoulders of the government and the last two ministers of agriculture. If the Liberal government and the bureaucrats were doing their job, agriculture would not be in this crisis. With the big bucks that are being poured into the department of agriculture bureaucracy, they should have been on top of this situation and had it solved before it became a crisis. Other countries did.
We live in a wonderful country. We all enjoy high quality food and a high standard of living. Farmers have contributed a great deal to it. We should hang our heads in shame for the little regard we have for them and the value they are to us.