Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House of Commons today to discuss the farm crisis in western Canada and other parts of the country. This country has a farm income crisis that is unprecedented and has not been seen since the depression of the 1930s.
I represent an urban rural constituency. There are 37 rural communities and a number of farm families who live in and between those communities. They are having a very traumatic time with respect to their industry, their livelihoods and their futures.
I want to say a number of things today about what has transpired and what may transpire in the future. I want to focus on the priority of helping farm families and keeping our agricultural way of life. I want to talk about that and the four reasons that we are in this situation today. Everyone knows why we are in this situation. I want to elaborate on a few of the reasons. There are four major reasons.
One is that the commodity prices are in the dumpers. They are way, way below prices that we have ever seen before. Today farmers are getting for grain what farmers got in the 1930s, the same dollar, not the same dollar value. That is a very serious situation.
Two, we have seen a huge reduction in subsidies and supports for farmers while other countries have maintained their supports.
Three, we have seen large increases in huge input costs over the last two or three years. They have gone unfettered in terms of taking away farmers' potential earnings and so on.
Of course, the fourth reason is natural disasters. There have been a lot of natural disasters. We will get to all of them, but I want to talk first about the crisis.
It is my view and the view of the farmers in western Canada that the Liberal government has abandoned western prairie farmers. There used to be the Crow benefit, a transportation subsidy. It was provided to our western farmers in perpetuity by law because of the $14 billion to $20 billion in assets that we gave the railway companies to provide that Crow benefit.
What have we seen over the years? Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have allowed the railways to spin off all those assets, the mining companies, land companies and all the other assets that were given to them to subsidize some of that grain transportation. Governments have encouraged them to spin these companies off. They have left the railway companies all by themselves trying to make a profit on the farmers' backs. On top of that governments have deregulated the railway industry to a degree where they have allowed the railways to do whatever they want concerning branch lines. They have abandoned branch lines all over the place.
The government is abandoning its obligation to support western agriculture after successive governments have allowed billions and billions of dollars to be sucked out of the western agricultural industry.
Four years and four months ago I was at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. I went there as a delegate of this parliament. For members who do not know, all the European countries meet four times a year. Their members of parliament go there to talk about issues which are common to their countries and common to the world, actually.
I went to the agriculture committee. I asked the members of that committee in Strasbourg, France what they would be doing with their subsidies for agriculture. At the time the Liberals said that WTO makes it mandatory and we have to eliminate our subsidies for farmers. That is what farmers were told. The Liberals eliminated the transportation subsidy. Those farmers from Europe told me “We will not reduce our subsidies for farmers. We have five years to address the subsidy issue for our farmers. If you think for one moment we would sacrifice our farmers for the U.S.A., you are gravely mistaken”. That is what they told me. It is in their Hansard .
Here we are four years and four months later, the only government out of the 38 members of the Council of Europe, the U.S.A. and Canada that has abandoned its farmers. The only country is Canada, the best place in the world in which to live, for everybody except farmers.
Here we have one of the major reasons for the crisis out west. There has been nothing in terms of supporting that.
The second reason is the drop in commodity prices. Commodity prices are dropping because every other country has received subsidies. My colleague from Palliser spoke this morning about the subsidies. The Americans have committed $23 billion to their farmers plus another $13 billion, for a total of $36 billion to the American farmers. That is supporting their farmers.
Are our Liberal ministers going to the states saying “This is GATTable. This is against the WTO. This is terrible”. Not a peep, and on top of that not a dollar for western grain farmers. The Liberals talk about the AIDA program and the $900 million they are giving. Everybody got it, except Manitoba and Saskatchewan farmers and some Alberta farmers as well.
When I was in Strasbourg, France, four years ago talking to the farm oriented members of parliament for Europe, they told me that their subsidies were in the vicinity of 55 cents to 60 cents on the dollar. Ours with the Crow benefit was 19 cents, and the Americans at that time were at about 42 cents.
Now we are getting six cents on the dollar for every dollar farmers earn and the Europeans are getting 56 cents, almost 10 times more than Canadians, and the Americans are getting six times more at 38 cents on the dollar. Is this how our government has negotiated?
My colleague from Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys made a speech in the House not long ago when he showed Canadians the negotiating position of the Liberals. He was on his knees for most of the speech because he was talking about the Liberal negotiating position.
We have seen a betrayal in terms of the loss of subsidies to our farmers. It is totally unacceptable.
One farmer told me that in this current world of the Liberal agricultural policy he feels like a kamikaze pilot with a two ship quota. That is what all western farmers are feeling right now because of the ineptitude, the betrayal and the purposeful abandonment.
For the first time since the 1930s we have seen the Liberals encourage farmers to demonstrate and to protest how they have been treated by the federal government. They are demonstrating across western Canada.
My fear, and farmers tell me this, is that if continued betrayal happens we will not have demonstrations, I fear there might be violence. I do not want to see that. I tell my farmers not to do that. I do not know what they will do until they get some support from the government.
What do farmers get for their commodities? When we go to the grocery store and buy a $4.50 box of shredded wheat, farmers get less than four cents out of the $4.50. Where does the money go? It does not go to farmers. That is part of their problem.
The third reason we are in this pickle is because of increasing input costs. There is a fuel tax on diesel fuel for farmers. The federal government takes about 12 cents a litre on that tax and it does not spend a dime on roads or transportation in western Canada.
My advice to the government is that when it is looking at how it deals with western farmers maybe it should put some of the fuel tax into an agricultural support program.
We have seen transportation costs skyrocket. I talked the other day to a farmer near Craik in my constituency. He sent three carloads of barley to the marketplace. One carload of the three was for his transportation costs. Now we have serfs in our country working for the railway and grain companies. All the farmers want to do is make a living for their families. They are prepared to pay their fair share, but they want some respect and dignity from the government opposite.
We have seen fertilizer, chemical and pesticide costs increase. Taxes on those should be reduced or eliminated for our farmers.
The most incredible increase in costs has been the downloading of equalization payments and moneys to the provinces in health care and education. They have been downloaded directly to the farmers. They have to pay higher costs for education and health care from their properties, businesses and family farms because the government was, in the words of the minister, continuing to defend the interests of farmers. With friends like that we do not need any enemies in western Canada.
The farm crisis is totally invisible to Ottawa. The throne speech did not have one reference to the farm crisis. We are hoping that there are some people opposite who are prepared to support our rural farmers.
The fourth reason we are in this pickle is because of natural disasters. We have seen floods, frost, drought, hail and pestilence, but the greatest natural disaster has been the Liberal government opposite. It does not seem to understand how to put an agricultural emergency program together.
Some 13 months ago I raised the question of assistance for farmers in the House of Commons. We called for an emergency debate. The government opposite turned it down. About 18 months ago my colleague from Palliser, our agricultural spokesperson, raised questions in the House about the impending crisis. It fell on deaf ears because the Liberals were too busy doing other things. We see a Liberal government opposite which does not have an understanding of what agriculture is all about.
I was at the airport the other day when a cabinet minister came up to me and said “What is it you have in your hand?” I said “What do you think it is?” He said “Is it rice?” I said “No, it is grain. It is wheat”. He did not understand what wheat was. I found that quite incredible.
We need an agricultural program like AIDA which has to start covering negative margins. It has to start covering a longer term, not just three years but over five years. The government would be well advised to take the advice of the farmers out west who say if we are going to have an emergency agriculture disaster assistance program, then maybe it should help agriculture producers directly.
We have seen in Saskatchewan and Manitoba that less than half of the farmers are qualifying for AIDA. I had a call from a farmer just last week who was in tears because he has had a negative income for the past two years. He received a call from AIDA in Winnipeg saying “We can't give you any money because you don't qualify”. He told me that he will be finished by next spring. Unless he receives emergency aid his farm will be gone.
That is one of hundreds of farmers with whom I spoke over this last summer. These farmers are desperate. Their eyes are gaunt. They look like they have been abandoned by the federal government. All they want is an opportunity to play on a level playing field in order to produce a product which is necessary in this world, food. That is all they ask. They do not want to be subsidized all the time. They want to have a fair, level playing field.
We have a government that does not seem to get it. Instead it sends Mr. Kroeger around, who says that what we should do is take the cap off the transportation of grain. We have already seen transportation costs triple since the Crow benefit was eliminated. The government, in the words of the parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture, continues to defend the interests of farmers in international trade negotiations.
The government is really doing a great job. Railroads are expanding in the United States and we are helping them. We have two railroads in this country, one that we paid for but never owned and one that we used to own but never paid for. Now we have two railroads that we have paid for in both ways and someone else owns them and they are expanding everywhere. When I asked the railroads if they would give the farmers a break on their transportation costs because they are making all of this money, they said “Maybe, but maybe not”. Now the government is asking for the freight rate cap to be taken off.
The NDP is the only party in the House of Commons, and in this country, which supports the retention of the cap on freight rates. There should actually be a rollback to make farming more affordable for these people.
We have three kinds of farmers in Saskatchewan. One-third of them are making it year by year. If they have a bad year they might make it to the second year with certain supports. For the middle third, if they have a couple of bad years in a row they can still make a go of it. The other third does not have any land or equipment debt. That is the structure of the agricultural community in Saskatchewan.
What is tearing at my heartstrings and what I am pleading with the government to listen to is that I am talking to more and more farmers in that top third who have no land debt and no capital debt who are telling me they may farm one more year and then they will be gone because they now have to borrow on about one-third of their property assets to put in the grain next spring. They have to buy fertilizers and other inputs. They are going backwards.
If the top third are in jeopardy, or contemplating leaving, what is happening with the other two-thirds?
I am told by many sources that up to half of our farmers in Saskatchewan alone, in Manitoba and probably Alberta as well, may be out of business in the next 12 months if something is not forthcoming that is fair to them in this competitive world.
I talked to members of the co-op boards. This does not only concern farmers. We know that the Liberals wanted to restructure agriculture. When the member for Wascana, the Liberal natural resources minister, was parliamentary secretary to Otto Lang from 1974 to 1979, he and Otto Lang tried to get rid of the Crow benefit. The member for Wascana, who was re-elected, came back and did it himself single-handedly, thanks to the good training of Otto Lang. The only party that opposed that move was the NDP in the House of Commons.
Here, unfortunately, four years and five months later we are saying that it has been a disaster, as we said it would be. We are asking the government to reconsider that approach and to help our farmers as soon as possible.
I spoke to a farmer near Govan, Saskatchewan. He has 10 quarters of land that he has been farming for 30 years. There is no debt on the land. His equipment is paid for. His children have moved away from the farm. He told me that he may have one more year left to farm and then he is out of it. That is a very serious situation.
If the Liberals are not listening to these points, I have one more they should pay attention to. A former federal Liberal candidate in the 1984 election who farms in my district said to me that last July or August he sent in his Liberal Party membership card. He was a colleague of government members. He ran with them shoulder to shoulder in an election campaign in the past. He is a farmer and he is saying that he is sick and tired of the Liberals. They have abandoned, betrayed and butchered farmers and he is done. He is no longer a Liberal card carrier. He sent his Liberal membership back to a cabinet minister.
There are some very serious situations. I do not know if the dramatic situations that farmers are talking about will materialize. However, in local newspapers, such as the Davidson Leader , which is a newspaper in my constituency and in that of one of my colleagues in the Reform Party, the headlines say that the minister of agriculture should resign. The Davidson Leader is a very important newspaper in the rural community that I represent.