House of Commons Hansard #10 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I found the debate rather interesting, in particular the address presented by the Leader of the Official Opposition.

I would like the member to expand a little further on the AIDA program and the distinction of the hon. member opposite regarding there being only two options. I wonder if my colleague could address that question in another way and simply suggest to the hon. member that perhaps there are not only those two distinctions.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with the AIDA issue is not that it does not work because it is not a good program, but it does not work because nobody understands it. The government does not understand it. The bureaucrats do not understand it. The farmers do not understand it. Certain accountants, when they are given all the papers to complete, will charge $500 or $600 to present the application only to discover that the farmer does not qualify or only gets $45. Could the hon. member comment on that issue?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kelowna for his question.

I have the opportunity once in a while to meet with farmers in the morning for a coffee in a local truck stop. There are dryland grain farmers, sugar beet growers, cattle producers, cattle feeders and people with a small land base that get into custom farming. It is a wide range of folks. Of those who completely understand the AIDA program there is not one that does not feel confident that it can help them out. They know they are going to have to go to an accountant. They know they are going to have another $500 or $600 bill.

Simplifying the process would go a long way toward relieving their concerns. Simplifying the process does not require one more dollar, it just requires some common sense.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in this debate for one basic reason and that is that the constituency which I represent was perhaps the worst hit constituency across Canada last spring.

My remarks will dwell on people. Everyone has done an adequate job of talking about the reasons, but I want to talk about the people, the people who I serve and the people across Canada, who through no fault of their own cannot extract one cent for the help that is needed now.

The people that I represent are proud prairie people, people who have been betrayed, people of the land. They are people who are fourth and fifth generation farmers. They are young farmers, young farm families, many of whom I know personally. They will tell me, as will some of the older people, that the situation they are looking at right now is even more severe than it was in the depths of the 1930s.

I get very emotional when I talk about these people. Make no mistake about it, these people have been betrayed. They have been betrayed by this government. They have been betrayed by their provincial government.

When the flood came two years ago to Manitoba the people that I represent rushed to help not only because of their location, many of them took equipment to help. Two years later there is more land under water in my constituency. A hundred times more land did not get seeded. While my constituents agreed with immediate help for the Red River flood, they are still waiting for some help from this government. Is it any wonder they feel betrayed?

My same constituents were happy to see the immediate influx of cash during the devastating ice storm. But there they sit with frozen grain in the field this fall. They filled out AIDA forms, which is like buying a $500 lottery ticket, and they lost because they have received nothing.

They are being betrayed because of the stubborn insistence of this government which says that the current programs are meeting the farmers' needs. They are not. The government should open up its ears to the provincial delegation that is coming down.

The sad part is that many of these young people are telling me that they are being politically punished simply because they do not support a government, provincial or federal, which really has no keen interest in agriculture.

They are feeling betrayed as well by the fact that they lost $400 million out of the provincial GRIP program. Boy, that would come in handy right now.

They are feeling betrayed because the property tax on their agricultural land is sky high.

They are feeling betrayed because the grain companies, which they really believed would be there when they needed them, are not there.

Finally, the greatest betrayal of all, they were told if they would just settle for the Crow rate removal, get rid of it, the government would pay them out. All they got was one year's free freight. That is all. That is not the end. This government told them in no uncertain terms that if they would accept the Crow, then they would not be fighting these big subsidy wars. The House knows the rest of the story. It is little wonder that I get emotional when I talk about this.

Virtually every night last summer, if a phone call was not picked up by my offices, I tried to make contact with that constituent. This House is dealing with a human tragedy which I witnessed for all but three days during last summer. People ask if anyone is listening.

Our daily newspaper, the Regina Leader Post , announced the results of a phone survey which revealed that even in Saskatchewan 60% of the people responded that farmers should not get any financial consideration. Obviously many people agree.

Farmers are not looking for a handout. They hate that term. They are not looking for a subsidy. Farmers are simply pleading with the government that they need some survival funds right now. That is what they are asking for. GRIP has turned them down. If farmers lost money for three years, GRIP does nothing. Farmers need assistance.

It is time the government stopped trying to score political brownie points. It is time the government took a look at people and helped them to survive so that they can, once more, pour billions of dollars back into the economy of Canada.

At this time of the year we hear the statement “If ye break faith”. Because the government's AIDA program was not designed for the area which I represent, it has broken faith. The government can correct that. It can correct that this Thursday. It can be corrected by making an agreement with the group coming here to put an end to what otherwise would be the blackest chapter in the history of agriculture in my constituency. The future is in our hands.

I want to mention three phone calls that I received. This will give members some idea of the extent of the suffering out there.

A young farmer's wife phoned me in August. She was 32 years of age and had one child who was starting school. She wanted to know if I could help. This family had spent $500 filling out an AIDA form. They were told that they would get a little bit. Two weeks later they were told that their application would be reviewed. Eventually this family may get something.

Before this phone call was over, this young lady broke down. She was in tears. She wept bitterly. The power bill would soon be due. The phone was about to be cut off. This lady's final words were that they had never asked for help before from anyone.

I want the government to listen. The programs which have been created have been misconstrued and misstated. The minister of agriculture said that individuals would receive $50 an acre for flooded land. Nobody received $50 an acre; not anywhere near it.

The second phone call I received was an even sadder case. This call came from a lady who was phoning from the bedside of her husband. She had spent the entire summer trying to get a bed in the hospital. Her husband is dying of cancer. The government had told this lady that they would get a small amount. All I could do was write to the government and beg on this couple's behalf. I want members to note her last words. She too broke down and said that their only son would probably never survive the agriculture crisis long enough to keep the land which was his great-grandfather's.

This is as great a crisis as that which has ever happened. Yet, we are still trying to make some political points from it.

The last phone call I received was very personal. It came from a young couple who are living on the same farm as my wife and I lived on. This young fellow bent my ear for 50 minutes. He basically said that he had learned not to trust any government. That is a sad case.

On behalf of my constituents and those across the prairies, we are not asking, we are begging that on Thursday the government meet with the provincial people and say, yes, that it can indeed look after those people who do not qualify because of some stupid form. They hate that form.

Let us look at the human tragedy. Let us stop the bleeding. It is in the hands of the government. Hundreds of farm families need to be listened to.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member two very specific questions. The first is, given that the AIDA program and other compensation programs are 60:40, should the provinces be required to pay their share?

The second, related question is, when this visit comes on Thursday, what happens if the federal government cannot get agreement with the provinces to reform AIDA in the manner that the hon. member suggests is necessary? Should the federal government then act unilaterally to reform it if it cannot get the agreement of the provinces?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I believe that both the federal and the provincial governments believe that it should be zero for qualification and not a negative. That has to be changed.

Second, if the government does not get the agreement of the provinces, then this must happen. If this human suffering is going to be stopped, this bleeding that I referred to, then it will fall on the government's shoulders to say, yes, it can make those improvements to AIDA that will fill the needs at this time.

I understand that they are going to be asking for $1 billion. The most disappointing thing I heard came from the only Liberal member from Saskatchewan, who I thought had passed away because we had not heard from him. He said that we do not have enough jingle jangle down here. That is nonsense. If this human story is turned over to everyone in the government, my guess is that the farmers will get help. However, if it is turned over just to cabinet, I am afraid this may rest on its hands. I hope I am wrong.

We have to help and I think the hon. member would agree with that.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, would the member for Souris—Moose Mountain please tell me if it is Reform policy to issue $1 billion in subsidies to farmers in Saskatchewan? If so, how would he see that being distributed fairly?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, is the hon. member for Brandon-Souris calling the AIDA program a subsidy? Is he calling the crop insurance program a subsidy?

All I said was that there is room within existing programs to sharpen them up to stop the human bleeding. That is what we are asking for. Quite frankly, if the government needs some help I can tell it how to help the hundreds of people who I know personally. Do not call it a subsidy. We are not calling it a subsidy. If the government wants to call it a subsidy, fine.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to repeat the question of my hon. friend from Brandon—Souris. Is it the Reform Party's policy to ask for an additional $1 billion for farmers in the province of Saskatchewan?

I remind the House that if the answer to the question is yes, this is a demand from a party that just a couple of years ago wanted to take about $1.5 billion out of agriculture. Which is it?

SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the hon. member should happen to refer to that. If he wants to know Reform policy I can give it to him straight out. We are there when help is needed. He should not ever let anyone fool him that we will not be there to help on a fair and equitable scale.

I will get to the question by the hon. member. We are saying that if the government were to get rid of many of its taxation policies it would not have to worry about programs like this one. It would not have to tell over half the farmers in Saskatchewan that they would not get a cent. Reform policy is to look after everybody fairly, not just so that a few get money and the others do not.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, let the record show that the previous speaker from Brandon—Souris did not answer the question. It does not come as a great surprise to me.

I will be splitting my time with the distinguished member for Waterloo—Wellington. I am very pleased to take part in this important debate. I wish to bring another perspective to the discussion.

Canadian farmers produce some of the safest, highest quality and most affordable food in the world, but having the best product at the best price does not do a lot of good unless there is an efficient, cost effective way to get product to the market.

This is what the government's grain handling and transportation reform is all about. It is the issue I will speak to today. This is an important issue for the bottom lines of western farmers. It is also an important issue for the thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on a robust farm economy.

Before I talk about the ongoing consultations and the decisions that lie ahead I would like to give some sense of the history of this very complex issue. The difficulty of transporting grain across vast expanses of land to deliver it to port for export is an issue that is multifaceted and that has prompted endless discussion. The severe backlog of grain shipments and ships waiting in the port of Vancouver during the winter of 1996-97, particularly in February of that year, hurt producers in the pocketbook. As a result the government's resolve to tackle the problem hardened.

During that winter, extreme weather conditions and railway infrastructure problems caused disruptions that affected every part of the grain transportation system. The then agriculture minister convened a meeting in Calgary to which he invited all participants in the system: railways, grain companies, the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Grain Commission and the car allocation policy group. They turned their efforts to finding solutions.

All agreed that it was time to concentrate on building a grain transportation system in which there would be more accountability and reliability, where there would be rewards for those who overperform, penalties for those who underperform and a system with incentives built into it to make sure grain gets to where it is supposed to be and on time.

In July 1997 the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board again convened a meeting of all stakeholders to develop strategies to ensure grain moves efficiently throughout the crop year and to further discuss industry calls for an early review of the grain handling and transportation system rather than wait for the 1999 statutory review under the Canada Transportation Act.

Several months later in December the Minister of Transport announced that Mr. Justice Willard Estey was to head a major review of the grain handling and transportation system.

His mandate was to come up with recommendations for, first, a responsive, efficient, customer oriented logistics system that would enhance the competitiveness of producers, shippers, carriers and ports; second, a system where all stakeholders including producers would share in the rewards of productivity improvements and would also share in the appropriate direct consequences for activities that detract from system performance; and, third, a system with well defined accountability for all elements of the grain logistics system to encourage high performance levels by each participant.

Justice Estey consulted with industry stakeholders in the early part of the year and provided a preliminary report at the end of April 1998. His final report delivered at the end of last year contained 15 recommendations. These recommendations constituted a blueprint for a less regulated, more accountable and competitive grain handling and transportation system

The government agrees with Justice Estey's vision that the western grain handling and transportation system should be made more efficient, more accountable and beneficial to farmers. We want it to move to a more contract based, commercially oriented environment with appropriate safeguards for all stakeholders.

Justice Estey set out key principles to be followed in solving grain transportation issues but there was still work to be done to put the operational details in place. To achieve this the Minister of Transport appointed Arthur Kroeger, a former deputy minister of transport, to involve western stakeholders in developing those operational details.

Over the course of this past summer Mr. Kroeger held extensive consultations among grain industry stakeholders on 12 of the 15 recommendations included in the Estey report. He headed a steering committee which set up three working groups that concentrated on rates, revenues, commercial relations, competition and safeguards. Mr. Kroeger was asked to provide recommendations on any issue that was not agreed upon by the stakeholders during the process.

When he delivered his report to the government last month he indicated in a letter to the Minister of Transport that there was still a dispute over the issue of eliminating regulated grain freight rates and replacing them with a cap on revenue for each railway. The point of a revenue cap is to provide a safeguard to ensure that producers are not paying too much to transport their grain and that as savings are achieved throughout the transportation system farmers get to benefit as much as anyone.

The main dispute was the starting point for a revenue cap, which Mr. Kroeger recommended should be set at 12% below the 1998 level. This would be a reduction of $3.73 per tonne or a total of $112 million below the 1998 level based on a total grain volume of 30 million tonnes. This means that shippers of grain would benefit to the tune of $112 million in the year 2000. I assure the House that many farmers are holding for greater savings than those.

In his report Mr. Justice Estey recognized the mutual dependence between the railways and grain producers, and I quote what he said:

—the efficiency and economic health of the rail system is of prime importance, ranking next in importance to the economic well-being of farmers. The railway and the farmers cannot do without each other. Mutual survival dictates that efficiencies and economies must be shared between the two.

I could not agree more. The prosperity of our producers depends on it. Mr. Kroeger also recommended that the federal government assess the results of these reductions at the end of a five year period. If at the end of that period the results were found to be unsatisfactory we would have other options open to us such as developing further measures to increase competition. In the meantime, however, the revenue cap would provide safeguards against excessive rate increases to grain producers during the trial period.

All the issues in the report and Mr. Kroeger's letter will be very carefully studied before we move to any consideration of new legislation.

We recognize the important role that grain handling and transport play in the costs and incomes of farmers and in the strength of the rural and agricultural economy of the west. I am confident, though, that through changes to the grain transportation system Canada's grain sector will become more competitive, which can only help western Canadian grain producers.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly thank the member for Charleswood St. James—Assiniboia for identifying for his government a potential $112 million saving to farmers on grain transportation. Today's debate is exactly about how to get more money into the hands of farmers, particularly those who are especially suffering in the area of export commodities.

In addition to making grain transportation more of a commercial contract based system, would the member consider advocating to his government the reduction of the four cent federal excise tax on fuel and lowering user fees, especially in the case of the Canadian Grain Commission, or not increasing those fees to cover its deficit?

Finally, to help farm incomes greatly he could advocate a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board so that farmers who want to form a co-op, which in essence is what the Canadian Wheat Board is, specific to their products, in this case durum wheat, could add further value and the value added money would stay with farmers producing durum wheat?

Would he comment on those ideas and indicate whether he would support them?

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether I can remember all those questions. I remind my hon. friend from Manitoba that the input costs or the fees charged by the grain commission have been frozen. I recognize the financial difficulties of farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and elsewhere. If those fees continue to be frozen for an indefinite period I would certainly support it and recommend it to the government.

I love advice from the Reform Party on a voluntary wheat board. The fact of the matter is that the producers the Reform claims to support are in charge of the Canadian Wheat Board. I remind the member for Selkirk—Interlake that we changed the governance of the wheat board. It now has 15 members, 10 of whom are elected by farmers.

The Canadian Wheat Board is dominated by producers who speak for farmers. If the Canadian Wheat Board wants to make changes with respect to marketing, whether it has to do with co-ops or anybody else, God bless them. Let it go ahead. It is the producers' board. We in Ottawa should not be telling them otherwise. Get a grip.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Charleswood St. James—Assiniboia has indicated that he and the government recognize that the last couple of years have been really hard on farmers for a variety of reasons, rail costs being one of them. A solution for rail costs is not in place as yet. Farmers will not benefit immediately from that at this crucial point.

If the government recognizes the last couple of years of hardship, why would it set up a program that does not take in five to seven years but takes in only the two years of great hardship? Why set up a program that will not meet the needs of farmers out there? From my perspective it sounds a lot like EI where we have it out there but some 40% of the people cannot access it. That is what the government has done to farmers as well.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not too sure whether the member for Churchill expressed her question clearly, or maybe I misunderstood it. If she is referring to the reference period, the reference period has to do with the past three years. I know there have been considerations about looking at a different kind of reference period called the Olympic model. Things are being considered.

AIDA has been modified to some extent from the time when it was brought in last Christmas. I would not be surprised that in aid of improving it and streamlining it there will be some other changes.

Who knows, there might even be another reference period adopted to give farmers a choice.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take the opportunity to enter this debate to provide some of the details on the government's response to this very serious financial situation facing Canadian farmers.

I feel very strongly about this issue for two reasons. First, in my riding of Waterloo—Wellington approximately 30% to 35% of the wealth generated is as a result of agriculture and agribusiness. Second, I still live on the family farm and therefore have firsthand experience about what it is like in this kind of situation. It is very important that we detail it in an effective and progressive manner and that is precisely what we are doing today.

While overall the agriculture and food sector is strong and makes a significant contribution to the Canadian economy, the government knows very well that the past year has not been an easy time for many of our producers and farmers. As the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food explained recently, Canadian farmers encountered problems last fall when the prices in the Asian economy hit North America. That situation was compounded by declining commodity prices, a low Canadian dollar and unusually difficult situations that occurred, especially the flood and drought conditions in certain areas of the country. All these things combined to make for a serious impact on the income of many producers, particularly those in grain, oilseeds and hog operations.

In response to that situation the government moved to the aid of Canadian farmers by introducing the agriculture income disaster assistance program, AIDA. Funded 60% by the federal government and 40% by the provinces, AIDA is providing $1.5 billion over two years to those farmers in need. That funding is in addition to the $1 billion the federal and provincial governments contribute each year to the safety net programs, including crop insurance and the net income stabilization account which cushion farmers during difficult times, and those programs which invest in marketing research and other initiatives which serve to strengthen the sector.

Working closely with farm organizations and farmers themselves, the federal and provincial governments designed AIDA to be a national program which would be as inclusive as possible, open to all farmers in all commodity areas in every region of Canada.

AIDA uses an individual producer's revenue and expense information from tax returns to calculate payments. The applicant's gross margin, that is, the allowable revenues from all commodities minus allowable expenses, is compared with the average from the three previous years to determine the amount of assistance available through AIDA. The farmer is entitled to a payment that brings his or her income up to 70% of the previous three year average.

AIDA was also designed so that governments could offer assistance to new or beginning farmers. That is crucial because we need to help our young people in this regard. Special procedures were put in place so that producers who had just started were able to apply for the program even though they may not have had the historical information necessary for the calculations.

AIDA has proven successful in helping Canadian farmers to withstand the current crisis. The numbers speak for themselves. Up to October 20, over 54,000 applications had been received. More than $220 million is now in the hands of more than 16,000 farmers across the country, with average payments amounting to about $14,000 per producer.

Saskatchewan is perhaps the province most affected by this crisis. I was in Saskatchewan this past summer and saw firsthand the kinds of situations the farmers are facing. More than 6,800 farmers in that province have been paid over $72 million. In Ontario where the provincial government is administering the program, more than $61 million has gone out to 4,200 producers.

The impressive number of applications means that Canadian farmers will use most, if not all, of the $600 million available to deal with reduced incomes in 1998. This money will ensure that farm incomes for 1998 are brought close to the previous five year averages.

In a move to ensure cash continues to flow to those farmers in need, the government has also made advance payments available from AIDA 1999. This allows farmers to get 60% of their estimated entitlement without having to wait to file their income forms next February. A total of $900 million in funding is available in 1999, the second year of the AIDA program.

In provinces where the Government of Canada is delivering the AIDA program, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, application forms for 1999 have been available since the beginning of September. I encourage all of those who need money soon to submit an application as quickly as possible.

There are those in the opposition who want the government to throw out this successful program and replace it with an acreage payment. Some on the prairies are demanding up to $80 per acre. The Government of Canada has not and will not implement such a program for three very good reasons.

First, acreage payments would go to all the producers regardless of need. This would not be fair to those who have suffered from some of the worst declining market conditions for a long time. Again the AIDA program is targeted at those in need.

Second, if we were to cover all land, an $80 per acre payment would cost up to $5.2 billion in Saskatchewan alone. To be fair, the payment would not just be offered to Saskatchewan producers.

Third, any ad hoc programming that is not disaster based and that does not treat all farmers equitably would violate our international trade obligations. If we were to implement this type of program we would be subject to countervail activity from our major trading partners, especially from the United States. The government cannot act irresponsibly in this regard and it will not.

AIDA is trade friendly because it treats all farmers in financial need equitably regardless of what commodity they grow or what province they live in. However the Government of Canada realizes that AIDA is not working for everyone. We realize that some producers have had several back to back years of low income, primarily due to repeated drought or flooding conditions. It is for this reason that the minister's national safety nets advisory committee was asked to recommend changes for the second year of the program. That advisory committee incidentally is made up of representatives from all the major farm commodity groups. The government is now considering its recommendations and will proceed accordingly.

The Government of Canada is committed to Canadian farmers, as well we should be and as we are. We are working to improve conditions for producers on many fronts including in the upcoming World Trade Organization talks where we will put forward a strong position which represents the broad trade interests of the entire agriculture and food sector.

We will continue to support farmers with effective and flexible safety nets. Dialogue continues with the provinces and farm groups on options for the long term renewal of a safety net package and a permanent disaster program. We will continue as we should to push for changes on the international front to level the playing field so that our farmers can compete on the same footing as their American and European counterparts. World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in December will be a major stepping stone toward our goal of subsidy elimination.

We will continue to invest in research and development so that the industry will be further strengthened by adopting new technologies which enhance food production and help the industry to develop new products and technologies that allow new uses to be made of existing products. In addition we will continue to support diversification in an effort to foster self-reliance and improved competitiveness.

All of our efforts will result in a strengthened agri-food sector and a strong and vital rural Canada. That is what all of us on the government side are working toward. We think it is important. We understand the importance of rural Canada to this great country of ours.

As the Speech from the Throne indicated, this government is committed to building a higher quality of life for all Canadians. That includes helping the agricultural sector to deal with this very difficult income situation. We know that AIDA has made a difference and has made significant contributions so far and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.

I applaud the government. It is appropriate that we let it be known to Canadians wherever they may live in this great country of ours that is the position of the Government of Canada.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise Progressive Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear my colleagues from the other side boast about leadership and vision. My constituents in West Nova, particularly those in farming and even those in the fishery fail to see where that vision and leadership is. We look at the Speech from the Throne. There is no leadership, no vision, nothing about fishing and farming. My constituents tell me that the AIDA disaster program is exactly that, a disaster.

Farmers would not have to ask for help if this government showed leadership and direction. That is not a question. I will leave it as a comment.

SupplyGovernment Orders

October 25th, 1999 / 1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly thank the member opposite for the question. He speaks of vision, leadership and direction.

Need I point out to him that in 1997 the New Democratic Party had a shopping list of $17.6 billion in additional spending? How much of that was geared toward subsidy for agriculture? How much was geared to help our farmers? A measly $11 million.

Imagine that they would now support leadership and direction when they had absolutely nothing to say about agriculture and the supports necessary.

Shame on the NDP.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we are to be debating the farm income crisis and not slamming each other around, party against party. We are all supposed to be doing what we can for the farmers.

I got one little hint of a positive comment from the member. He was talking of diversification in agriculture. Certainly that is one of the areas in which farm incomes can be raised.

When it comes to the Canadian Wheat Board, the member must be reminded that the wheat board only operates under the confines of federal legislation that restricts farmers from selling wheat and barley on export except through the board.

If in the case of prairie pasta producers, farmers were able to increase their incomes selling durum wheat by value adding it into a pasta type product, would the member support having a voluntary wheat board? It would allow growers of various crops to value add to their crops in conjunction and in co-operation with fellow farmers of the same attitude. Would he support a voluntary wheat board to promote this diversification in western agriculture?

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question.

We on the government side have strongly supported the Canadian Wheat Board over the years and will continue to do so in a very effective and strong fashion. Recently the kinds of changes that we have implemented support the Government of Canada's position in this all important area, fully understanding how important that wheat board is to Canadians.

I fail to understand from the Reform Party where exactly its principles are and what is left of them when it comes to agriculture. I was astounded to listen to the Leader of the Opposition, or more to the point not to listen to the Leader of the Opposition through the whole last session of parliament. How many questions were asked in this House by the Leader of the Opposition with respect to agriculture? The answer is one. Imagine, of all the questions that could have been asked, only one measly question was asked about agriculture. The Reform Party really has to get its act together with respect to this all important area.

I was surprised that the very person who is moving this motion today, the member for Selkirk—Interlake, was quoted not so long ago as showing compassion for our pork producers when the bottom fell out of the market. He told the CBC program Politics on November 30, 1998 that cattlemen do not go crying for aid every time the price of cattle goes down and neither should the hog industry.

Where is the compassion? Where is their sense of what is right for the agricultural sector? It is not there and Canadians see through it every time.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member opposite that the official opposition asked dozens of questions but the government answered none.

It is a pleasure to rise to speak to the motion which is before the House. I would like to thank my colleagues who have spoken today for their dedication to and hard work on the farm crisis which exists in this country. It is because of their commitment that the farm crisis issue is before the House today. If it was left up to the government this issue would not see the light of day in this place.

We are constantly reminded of the government's supposed commitment to our farmers. Yet, we continue to wait for the government to act in any meaningful way. I listened, as did all members of the House, to the government's Speech from the Throne, advertising to all its agenda going into the new millennium. There was a very brief mention of the upcoming WTO negotiations and the importance of those negotiations to the future of the agricultural sector in this country.

I listened with great interest to the Minister for International Trade in his reply to the throne speech for any new initiatives from the government that would deal effectively and immediately with the farm crisis that exists in our country. The minister talked a great deal about the need for Canada to open up to the world and that Canada is more open to trade than any other leading industrialized country. The minister talked of a rules based system and how Canada is one of the most active advocates and promoters of a rule based international trading system.

The minister spoke of a system that would guarantee a level playing field which would give Canadian businesses in all sectors easier access to the world market. He said that the humanization of globalization was the government's objective.

The issue of culture, the role of artists in our society and the importance of cultural diversity were all mentioned as priorities of the government by the Minister for International Trade. I waited and waited for the minister to mention where our farmers fit into the future equation of the government. I heard no mention of the crisis on our farms in either the throne speech or the trade minister's reply. I am truly saddened that the minister has chosen to ignore the needs of our farm communities.

It has not taken long for the new Minister for International Trade to tell Canadians what his true priorities are. Just last week the minister proudly announced the government's commitment to a global agreement which would protect Canada's cultural industries. Where is the government's commitment to protect Canada's farmers?

In the official opposition's dissenting report on Canada's position in the upcoming WTO negotiations it urged the government to make agriculture the number one priority and noted that tariff and subsidy reductions are crucial to the future success of our farms. Why is the government not working toward a global agreement to eliminate agricultural subsidies?

We have asked the Prime Minister to use his influence with the U.S.A. to eliminate its destructive agricultural subsidies. The Prime Minister came to the aid of our defence and aerospace industries in a recent trade dispute threatening our favoured nation status in bidding for defence contracts.

I called for prime ministerial intervention on this issue months ago when it looked like the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for International Trade could not get the job done. To his credit the Prime Minister did intervene and he did prevent what could have been a disastrous situation for our defence and aerospace industries.

The plight of our farmers demands that the Prime Minister intervene in the same manner for the elimination of the export enhancement program and similar export subsidization programs that directly impact Canada's ability to compete in global agricultural markets.

We know that the European Union heavily subsidizes its agricultural sector and has been opposed to any talks on liberalizing its aggressive export subsidization policies.

In the long term, if there is ever to be a fair rule in place for agriculture, it can only come from ensuring that agriculture is a priority in the upcoming WTO negotiations.

The government talks about the importance of the Seattle round. However, the government must adopt a clear position on this issue and demand maximum market access for all countries, including major tariff reductions for everyone and significant subsidy reductions by all major players.

Up until now we have not seen the political will necessary from the government to act aggressively in these negotiations. The Minister for International Trade is off to Geneva this week for talks with the European Union on the WTO position. Agriculture must be his first priority in these talks.

The official opposition has called on the government to immediately launch a team Canada mission to Europe; a delegation that would include the Prime Minister, the Minister for International Trade, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food; a team Canada mission dedicated to making a powerful argument to the Europeans that it is in the best interests of Europe that subsidies be removed. We must appeal to them that subsidies go against the very principle of free trade that the European Union seems to espouse.

In the last two weeks alone there have been three decisions that have forced Canada to expand and open its markets. We all know of the auto pact decision. The WTO in effect said that the auto pact discriminated against foreign automakers because only the big three were able to import cars into Canada duty free.

The WTO also ruled that Canada has been unfairly subsidizing its milk products.

In a mixed decision, the U.S.A. department of commerce cleared our beef producers of being unfairly subsidized, yet refused to eliminate tariffs on Canadian cattle.

Other countries are using mechanisms available to them to open our markets to their producers and to protect their industries. Why then is our government not acting in a similar fashion to protect our agricultural industry?

Our government continues to react in a passive manner and refuses to act aggressively in protecting and promoting the interests of Canada in the global marketplace. If the government is committed to free trade, as suggested in both the throne speech and the reply by the Minister for International Trade, that means more than simply knocking down our subsidies and trade barriers here at home. It means aggressively knocking down trade barriers that exist in countries around the world.

Our farmers are calling for the government to develop lasting solutions to the agricultural crisis. The usual do nothing approach advocated by the government is simply not good enough any more. The government cannot continue to be broadsided by decisions like the auto pact. Until this government acts our farmers will continue to operate at a disadvantage

I would like to wrap up my comments today by saying that the government's inability to deal with foreign subsidies is killing our farmers. Why is the government refusing to deal with this issue? It is more concerned with protecting our culture and appeasing the Maude Barlows of this world than it is in fighting for the future of our Canadian farmers.

It is clear that the new international trade minister's priorities lie elsewhere. I question whether the government's position on agriculture going into the WTO negotiations has any real teeth at all.

It is truly disgraceful that the farmers of this country are paying the ultimate price for a government that does not have the stomach or the political will to participate forcefully in today's global market.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the agriculture minister said, agriculture is a joint federal-provincial responsibility under the constitution. The Reform Party has always championed the issue that the federal government should stay out of areas of provincial jurisdiction. “Get out of the provinces' faces” has been the Reform Party attitude.

I have some figures here. In the years 1995, 1996 and 1997 support payments by the federal government to Saskatchewan alone were $779 million, and to Manitoba, $258 million. That is two and a half times more than the provinces put in during that same period. What the Reform Party is saying right here and now is that it wants more federal intervention and more federal money for the provinces. I would like to know how the Reform Party reconciles that with its policy of the provinces first, the federal government second.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member that it was the federal government which cut transfer payments for health care and education to the provinces, forcing them into a financial crisis in which they could not address this issue. Nevertheless, Alberta has just given $100 million to its farmers.

The bottom line is, what is the federal government doing about it? The issue is that the higher subsidies of the European Union and the U.S.A. are killing farmers in this country. That is what we are asking the government to address at the forthcoming WTO negotiations in Seattle.

What we have heard is the weak statement that, yes, we will talk about it. We would like to know exactly what is the position.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, I really think we should shed a tear for truth. The hon. member from Alberta is suggesting that we have been indifferent to killer subsidies imposed by the European Union and the U.S.A.

Let me remind the hon. member that in the past year the government has hosted and led an unprecedented number of meetings with all of the agricultural and agri-food stakeholders on what their input should be with regard to coming to a Canadian position on the WTO negotiations. All of the industrial stakeholders were very impressed with the kind of program which the minister of agriculture put together in the past year to come to a determination of what our country should say at the WTO negotiations beginning in Seattle next month.

In this debate we should have more facts and a little more truth so that people can understand what this debate is all about. Those are the facts.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is the usual Liberal rhetoric. The government can have as many meetings as it wants, but it has produced zero. Nothing has happened.

The official opposition is asking the Prime Minister to lead a high level delegation to Europe to explain the damage which the subsidies are causing to their industries as well as ours, as well to free trade. That is what the opposition is calling for. Maybe the hon. member could advise his government to do that.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was really enthralled with my hon. colleague's comments. He was very astute and very much to the point.

What is it that has really been accomplished by the Liberal government to help our farmers build into the secondary processing industry? There is so much value added that could be done by our farmers. What help have they been given? Instead, the government has reduced the ability of farmers to have the money to do the things they want to do. It has increased the costs for services rendered. It has increased their taxes instead of cutting taxes. All of these things go against farmers being independent.

I wonder if the hon. member would speak to that.