Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the debate on the Canadian farm crisis. Of course we all know that it is Canada wide and that is why we are raising the topic here today.
I am sure all members of this House at some time in their lives were faced with the situation in which they had to scramble to overcome misfortune. Either due to choices they made or ones that were arbitrarily made for them, they awoke one day to discover that they were out of a job or that they had some sort of financial crisis looming over them. I just want members from urban centres to keep that picture in mind so they can appreciate what we are talking about today.
This is not like losing one's job. A Canada wide farm income crisis is like losing the best part of one's life and all that one has worked toward.
The present crisis in farm net incomes is nothing short of a financial earthquake rumbling across Canada toppling lives and livelihoods for years to come. One of the buzzwords we have heard in this House lately is child poverty. Child poverty is erupting and rearing its ugly head out on the prairies where I am from and across Canada due to the rural crisis. Like natural earthquakes, this one was preceded by tremors and will be followed by aftershocks that will reverberate in areas far from the epicentre on Canadian farms.
Unlike natural earthquakes, farmers cannot count on the Canadian forces coming to their assistance. In fact they cannot count on federal authorities to do anything except to keep many of the counterproductive, bureaucratic programs that they have loaded on to the Canadian farmer over the last number of years.
Simply put, the price that anyone can get for their produce minus their input costs and taxes determines whether or not they can succeed and invest for their future. Right now, economic turmoil in Asian markets is reducing demand and prices as well. The resulting oversupply in world markets is reinforcing this downward pressure.
But what about the input costs? In a free market, producers should be able to reduce their costs and adjust to a reduction in demand. That is not happening. That it is not happening is the fault of interference in the marketplace by a variety of players, including governments.
Canada's dollar is down and though the Prime Minister was too busy playing through to notice this summer, the effect has been devastating. For some exporters the low dollar stimulated sales, that is true. But for farmers the lower price for their products offset by massive agriculture subsidies by our neighbours to the south and even more by our so-called friends across the Atlantic have added to that situation. Furthermore, that low dollar cannot buy as much fertilizer, chemical, new machinery and/or parts which tend to be based on American dollars.
Of course the expenses connected to farming are not just the ones that go into the ground. Like every household and business in this country, farmers cannot seed or harvest a stock of grain without answering to a bureaucratic program or shelling out for a mandatory fee which is a tax. Farmers know as well as anyone that there has to be some tax to pay for government services, but we hold the opposite view of government members who display a desire to have constantly rising taxes pay for a constantly expanding government and its programs.
On a regular basis we have to question where these revenues come from, where they go and whether there is not a better way to provide certain services or manage public concerns. We do not see a commitment to re-examine the status quo on a host of issues from taxation to democratic accountability from that side of the House. We do not expect to see any imaginative resolutions to the present agricultural crisis either.
The farmers are doing their best. One of my constituents, Mr. Rene Cadrain, wrote in the Western Producer “They say diversify. I've been diversifying all my life and things are getting worse by the minute”.
The federal government can try to pawn off its responsibility by saying that Asia has depressed prices and there is nothing it can do about that. But what is really happening to the price of grain worldwide? We can see that a loaf of bread still costs the same. As a baker, Mr. Speaker, I am certain you can answer to that.
The Europeans are injecting billions into subsidies to keep farmers growing wheat when the market is already well served in that area. Insulated from the real price they should be getting, European farmers are contributing to a glut that nonetheless leaves millions of starving people around the world. That is obviously something that needs attention all by itself. But this government has done nothing to counteract the mistaken policies of its trading partners.
We scaled back our agriculture safety net from $2.5 billion to $600 million in accordance with the world trade agreement. Good for Canada, but we forgot to hold our allies to that same standard. The Americans are getting into the act now with their own bailouts.
Despite Canadians selling only 1.5 million tonnes into that market that consumes 35 million tonnes, this government does nothing as frustrated Americans stop our trucks. It is certainly ironic when a prairie farmer tries to sell his own wheat in the U.S. and he is arrested by his own government, and when his government tries to truck the wheat down there, it is turned back by state troopers. It gives you a greater appreciation of the comment in the Lethbridge Herald recently that wheat production is 10% grain and 90% politics.
We know that this government will be going to international conferences soon to discuss these issues, but will it just be a replay of Kyoto? No plan until they step from the hotel, no idea of what Canadian farmers need to compete and prosper and no idea of the cost and implications until it is too late.
We should all recognize the difficulty that governments face when they try to satisfy many competing interests. This is a diverse sector. Any policy has unintended consequences and is bound to have as many detractors as it has beneficiaries.
Most of the difficulties experienced by farmers in this time of falling net income relate to the tax burden. Federal income and payroll taxes are bad enough, but due to offloading by senior governments, many rural municipalities are forced to rely on excessive property taxes to maintain their services. This type of tax is not tied to the ability to pay and looms larger as land values fail to reflect the drop in value of the crops grown on them.
Senior levels of government brag about how they have balanced their budgets, but they are bragging to the same taxpayer who is getting squeezed at the local level. It is a shell game that no longer fools many Canadians.
Of course jurisdictions cross at the federal and provincial levels with negative consequences. The federal government is responsible for the railways, but has not come up with a policy to make the system more efficient. It offered a one time payout to eliminate the Crow rate which equalled one year's worth of freight. We are still shipping product. The effect is that now farmers are paying an extra 30 cents a bushel for freight, a major input cost.
What we have now are piecemeal rail abandonments, the destruction of elevators and the towns that support them, and longer hauls to market for crops. The roads take a pounding without any dedication of fuel taxes to compensate the local governments to fix them. The farmers' costs go up and grain ends up sitting in bins.
The feds and the provinces cannot agree on who is responsible for the environment either. We all have a stake in it of course, but policies that impose flat charges on a whole range of goods and services without any recognition of whether a large western farm of 3,000 acres has the same impact as an eastern farm of 70 acres of a diverse crop can wipe out that narrow margin of income.
Taxes and environmental fees on automotive parts and petroleum products can loom larger for a farmer than a high volume urban operation. We are never sure whether that money is going toward an environmental purpose or into general revenues. Farmers are certainly willing to pay their fair share and they have been but the key word here is fair and we just do not see that.
I am calling for the government to stand up for Canadian farmers on the international stage and to re-examine how the agricultural sector is treated within our borders. Farmers as businessmen need flexibility, accountability and efficiency from government policies. They need to see a thorough re-evaluation of the many short term band-aid solutions that have piled up over the years. They do not want handouts. They are very self sufficient. But they could use a playing field that would allow them to compete fairly and efficiently now and when times are good.
I quote my constituent, Mr. Cadrain, again: “Wives have to work to put food on the table and pay utilities. Why should we who feed the world go with less than the people we feed?”