Mr. Speaker, in western Canada in my constituency of Yorkton—Melville life on the farm has become very tough. Many farm families are struggling to get by.
We know that the incomes in Manitoba and Saskatchewan will drop by 98% this year. Projected net farm income in Saskatchewan for 1999 will be minus $48 million.
The Liberal government's lack of compassion and hard-hearted attitude is probably in part because it does not see the real people behind these statistics. It sees the numbers but it does not see the faces. We hear these numbers day after day, but we do not hear how these numbers are impacting the family farm.
I would like to take this opportunity in a somewhat different way than my colleagues, to pass along some of the comments that have been received in my office from families that are struggling to get through the worst crisis since the Great Depression. I only hope that the government will listen to these people and listen to their stories as I try to represent them here in the House.
The government talks about what it is doing for farmers but these comments will be clear evidence that it is not. Here is a producer in the northern part of my constituency explaining how discouraged farmers are these days:
I am having great difficulty meeting financial obligations. I am a young farmer who took over a small family farm. I have cattle and my wife works in town as well but it is very difficult and stressful trying to make ends meet with two young children. Maybe welfare is the answer?
Farmers are hardworking individuals who are proud of what they do. When farmers start talking about welfare, we know that life is getting very bad on the farm.
Here is a producer from Hudson Bay who is reeling from the effects of the farm income crisis:
Stress, financial uncertainty, family unrest. How can one plan for the future of their family when there doesn't appear to be any future.
There is another quote from a farmer in Kamsack, who said:
Myself and three brothers farm 6,000 acres. We keep 120 cows and feed 120 calves all winter. We work over 300 days a year, half of them are 16 hour days. I am having a hard time supporting a wife and two kids. I have no family life.
These are all real people with faces. This is not a faceless problem. The family is the one that ends up feeling the effects of the current farm income crisis. This government in its Speech from the Throne talked about how it is helping the children of this country. Saskatchewan farm families are not benefiting from the government's agenda.
I received a letter from the wife of a farmer in the Kamsack area the other day and it touched me deeply. I would like to share it with the House. It reads:
My husband has had to go out and get a job to put food on the table and support the family. He would get up at 4:00 a.m. and work on the field till 2:00 p.m. then go to work so he could provide for his family. He couldn't afford to take time off so some days he would work around the clock with only one or two hours of sleep. This has deteriorated his health with him losing a great deal of weight and he has become so withdrawn trying all possible ways to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I love him dearly for this but I want my husband back, not a walking time bomb.
I have had to take a job also and now have to leave my children without a mother figure. This is very hard and I cry every day that I leave, wondering if they are okay and if they need me. My baby cries as I leave and I feel terrible to be going, he needs me.
My daughter has been having trouble at school and she has a hard time adjusting to things around her. She hears the calls from collectors and wonders if we will be okay or not. She has complained of being sick so she can spend time with her parents who she misses.
My son has had to go see a therapist because he knows times are tough and he worries about all of us. He also complains of being sick so he can be near us. Many nights he would be sleeping at the foot of our bed. When asked why, he said I just wanted to see my dad.
We had an education fund for our children when the times were good but had to remove the money to pay the bills. Now will my children go to college? I don't know the answer.
We are all suffering. Is there anyone listening?
These kinds of stories really tug at our heartstrings and they put real faces to this crisis.
This letter could have come from a number of families that are trying to make a living on the farm. This is really impacting on children as well.
The focus should be to create the right environment where the family farm can prosper. Why is it so important to maintain the family farm? If the nation's food production is in the hands of a few corporate farmers, those corporate farmers will have control over the food supply and will have a great deal of power.
This is what a farmer from Carragana had to say:
Protect the family farms first. If you lose us you will have big organized corporations run by chemical and fertilizer companies who will be able to unionize globally. Then you can kiss your cheap food good-bye.
Maybe this is an answer to a question I posed earlier. How is this going to impact on people in the cities? Maybe if they realized that this is going to have a severe impact they would begin to take notice.
Another constituent said that the Liberals just cannot seem to see past their noses and that our children in the future are going to suffer because government is not handling our present crisis properly.
The agriculture minister talks about how the government has put $900 million into a farm aid package called AIDA. Very few qualify for support under this package. Why has it been so ineffective? I think it is because the program is designed for a drastic drop in income in 1998 when compared with farmers' previous three year average. The problem is that most farmers have not had a drastic drop in income.
A farmer from Canora put it best when he said:
I crunched some numbers in various scenarios and nobody in my neighbourhood qualified except for one 10,000 acre corporate farm. The only small family farms that qualify are the southern durum producers who have just come off three consecutive years of all time record high prices and should have some cash resource. The small to average farms in the black soil zone who have been hanging on by their fingernails the last three years will be left to slip into the hole even further.
It shows the basic unfairness of the way the government structured the program.
The government has to rework this AIDA package and make it so that farmers can get some support from the program. However, that is not the entire answer. Over the last 30 years government has mismanaged the entire agriculture sector, which is why a long term strategy has to be looked at. Otherwise we are just going to go from one crisis to the next. I would like to emphasize that a long term strategy is really needed.
A farmer from Foam Lake talked about the need for a long term solution. He said:
I think that in place of an emergency aid package the government should look at the longer term solutions like lowering freight rates which is the biggest expense. Check into prices of farm inputs. Why are the costs rising? Fuel expenses are a direct government responsibility and could be instantly lowered.
I have a lot more that I could read.
This has to be done immediately. I emphasize that. The long term solutions such as taxes on inputs can be dealt with immediately. The government has to look at user fees charged to farmers, foreign subsidies and the high cost of transportation.
This farm crisis has thousands of faces. Real people are being severely impacted by the drastic drop in income caused in part by the huge tax burden that is built right into a farmer's input costs. My comments today are to impress on the government that it is destroying people's livelihoods. Behind the statistics are many faces; faces of real people. The government deals with this issue as if it is faceless and just another problem. It is not.