Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on the issue of the farm income crisis in Canada. I am proud to say that the Reform Party is sponsoring the debate today because we know how critical the issue is to hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It is about time we debated the issue in the House of Commons, and it is time the government started paying attention.
I will reiterate something my leader said today. He said that we would like to see the Prime Minister take a personal interest in this issue. It is an extraordinarily important issue but we never see him anywhere on it. He can attend the opening of a plant somewhere that may contribute a few million dollars to the economy but when it comes to agriculture, which has a multibillion dollar impact on the economy, he is absolutely nowhere to be seen.
I want to address a couple of things. I want to first address an issue the agriculture minister raised when he spoke earlier today. He said that on average things on the farm are pretty good. As my leader has said on more than one occasion “if your hair is on fire and your feet are in a block of ice, on average you are doing okay, but it really does not go to the issue”.
The issue is that thousands of farmers are going broke today and the government has no plan. It does the easiest thing it can. It says that it will put together some kind of a program, and even though it will be deeply flawed and will not help at least half of the people out there, it can at least say that it is doing something. It has completely failed to deal with the issues that are a little more difficult to deal with. It in fact retreats and runs away from them.
I will now deal with two issues: European subsidies and taxes. I will talk a little about the subsidy issue. We have seen the Prime Minister make extraordinary trips around the country for all kinds of things that he should not be doing. His time should be more valuable than that. We have seen him go on trade missions for the photo opportunities so he could stand there and sign agreements that were put in place months or years before. He just has to get there, get on the bicycle and ride along the Great Wall of China for the photo op. That is what he does.
He should be leading trade delegations to Europe. He should be using Canada's privileged place in the world to demand some kind of agreement on the issue of subsidies. What do we get? We get him running around the world as he pursues the photo opportunities. It is an absolute disgrace that he is not engaging in a serious way in the debate today given how much is at stake and given that half the country, especially western Canada, is in a very difficult position right now. It is absolutely disgraceful.
My colleague argued a few minutes ago, as did my leader earlier today and in his response to the throne speech, that the government should put together a super committee of cabinet consisting of the Prime Minister, the agriculture minister, the foreign affairs minister and the trade minister to give this the priority it should get. That is a common sense approach considering that Canada is a trading nation. We do depend to a large degree on the trade we do with the rest of the world. We have a small domestic population of 30 million people and we depend on trade for about 40% of our economy. We must do a better job of dealing with trade issues. Canada could be doing more about the irritants and barriers to trade that are out there.
The issue of tariffs on beef is one barrier that affects my riding. We have pleaded with the agriculture minister to make some very small changes that would allow more American beef to come into Canada. In the spirit of goodwill, we would, as a quid pro quo, then expect the Americans to not pursue the complaint they have against Canada. As a result, we would save millions upon millions of dollars in tariffs that are being charged against live Canadian beef going into the United States. What do we get? We get stonewalling from the government and all kinds of reasons why it cannot move quickly.
I distinctly remember that when a law was struck down by the courts respecting the wheat board, the cabinet moved within two hours to change the law. However, it cannot change in a few months some regulations respecting the import of American beef. It is time it quit pretending. It should take the issue seriously because we need it addressed.
I want to talk for a moment about taxes. We stand in the House day after day saying we need to have lower taxes. The government says that it is working on it and it is getting there. The provinces are taking the issue so seriously today that they are seeking a meeting with the government because bond raters in New York and other places around the world are so concerned about the government's high tax and high debt policies that our economy is suffering as a result. We have higher borrowing costs and a much weaker dollar because the government cannot get its act together.
We are arguing that a common sense way to help farmers would be to lower taxes. Every year the farm population spends millions of dollars on fuel costs and fuel is 50% tax. Every year, whether or not crops are good or bad, they have to spend a lot on fuel because that is what they do. They have to put the crop in the ground. The government could help immediately by beginning to lower the taxes on fuel.
Although there have been some tough years for farmers in the last few years, when they do have a good year they spend an outrageous amount of money on income taxes. Over a 40 year period on the farm, I argue that the government takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra taxes from farmers. That is shameful. It should be lowering taxes.
In Europe they have high subsidies and high taxes. In Canada we could subsidize every taxpayer by cutting taxes. We could give our people a huge competitive advantage by lowering taxes but the government refuses to act. It continues to spend more and more every year and we never do get the tax relief that would help everyone.
Consider the taxes that are embedded in the cost of fertilizer and chemicals amounting to billions of dollars over the course of a farmer's lifetime spread out amongst all farmers. We are saying that the government should start to reduce taxes so that those input costs go down. If it did, farmers in Canada would have a fighting chance, but with this government in place it seems like it does not care. It is falling on deaf ears. This is such an obvious way to help not just farmers but everyone that I cannot understand why it does not move to do it immediately.
We see instead that taxes are going up. On January 1 we will see a big CPP tax hike and a personal income tax hike because of bracket creep. We will see the small business exemption eroded again because of bracket creep. We will see the $500,000 capital gains exemption eroded because of bracket creep, which affects farmers. The government is raising taxes when we are already the highest taxed country of all of our major trading partners, one of the highest taxed in the world and they are still going up. That does not help farmers. That does not help anybody.
The government must put the effort into ensuring that Canada's trade interests are protected. It is not doing it today. In fact, the Americans and the Europeans are eating our lunch while the Prime Minister effectively holidays around the world. It also has to start to lower taxes for the sake of everyone. It is the fair and compassionate thing to do.