Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this supply motion today.
I would like to make a few comments about the work of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and what we are doing in so many different ways to assist farmers, as well as our work with the total agri-food industry in Canada. As I have reminded the House before, this is very important subject and Canadians know clearly the importance of the agriculture and agri-food industry.
It all starts on the farm, that very tough part of the food production cycle in Canada and in the world, where those people, those families and those communities deal not only with the vagaries of the world market, but also with the vagaries of the weather and many other things which, no matter how good their management or the technology they have, are out of their control. It is a tough, unpredictable business which can tear out anyone's heart. However, 75% of the jobs in the agri-food industry are beyond the farm gate.
When most people think of the agricultural industry, they think of the farmers, and well they should because they are the important key people who start the whole food production cycle. However, when the product leaves the farm gate, it enters into what I refer to as the agri-food portion, that is, the further processing, the retailing, the marketing, et cetera, which presents to Canadians, to the customers of Canadian agriculture and agri-food products around the world, without question, some of the highest quality food products in the world.
We also have some of the highest safety standards in the world. Consumers around the world are concerned about food safety. We have a positive and effective regulatory system in this country. That has been clearly demonstrated. The best test of any system is the results, and the results are that this is the safest food in the world.
There is no mistaking the importance of the programs and services that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is involved in, only a small minority of which are mentioned in the motion that we are debating.
I want to remind my colleagues and the people of Canada that the agri-food industry is one of the largest employers in the country. One in seven working Canadians works in the industry. Over 13% of Canadian jobs are in the agriculture and agri-food industry. I think we would all be surprised to learn that over half of all young Canadians entering the workforce for the first time get jobs in the agri-food industry.
It is also a highly innovative industry, one that depends on scientific progress, which is why we spend a good chunk of our money investing in research each and every year. It is an industry in which we can take a great deal of pride, one I believe must and will survive and thrive, not just for the good of farmers, but for the good of the country as a whole, whether it be in job creation or anything else.
As members know, I spent a good portion of my life in the industry. I know firsthand the ups and downs of the industry, but I also know firsthand the satisfaction that comes with the success of meeting the challenges which come every day. There are risks and there are things which happen that can make a person's heart pound or the hair on the back of their neck rise because, just when that person figures out the way things should go, that is when the chain flies off, or whatever terminology we want to use.
We are going to continue to work together and keep holding everything together so that more can happen. In the partnership we have with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and with everybody in the industry, I am convinced that we will find an effective way to deal as much as possible with those risks that have become not only my preoccupation over the last many months, but the continuing preoccupation of everyone involved.
As my colleagues know, earlier this week I returned from very important meetings for the agriculture and agri-food sector. The meetings were held in Seattle, where the WTO talks were expected to be launched. We know the results. Unfortunately they did not get off to the start we had hoped.
I also met this week with my provincial counterparts to work toward a long term safety net. It is not the only challenge we have before us at the present time, but I would say, without question, it is the most important challenge.
The fact that the world trade talks could not be launched as planned is obviously a disappointment. However, for those people who try to paint this as the end for agriculture, I want to tell them that they are a long way from reality. That is just not the case.
The 135 countries represented at Seattle could not agree on how to proceed on a variety of issues, but the talks will begin. Agriculture and services were mandated in the Uruguay round to begin in the year 2000 and will begin at that time.
I am pleased to say that we were able to maintain the agricultural working group and the text was frozen. When the talks begin again we will begin negotiations from that point. We were clearly in a position that our negotiators could go forward from that text as it was frozen and negotiate toward the mandate that we announced as an industry after a long period of consultation back in August as the goals and the objectives for the Canadian industry.
We did make progress in Seattle, despite what some reports might have suggested and that is the important thing. It will be a setback, unfortunately, but only a temporary setback. That was a very important meeting to work toward trade reforms and we will continue to press on for and with our industry.
At this time, on behalf of myself, the government and the trade minister who was there, we were very pleased with the support, co-operation and attendance of a large number of non-governmental organizations, as well as provincial members of parliament, federal MPs and senators who were there as team Canada at the WTO talks.
As one of the biggest trading countries in the world, Canada does have a strong interest in those talks and we are absolutely committed to staying in the game until the very end. The commitment is not just at the federal level either. One of the really positive things about the talks and this whole process of getting ready for them has been the partnership, the working together and how everybody in the industry has stuck together throughout all that. That kind of co-operation will stand us in good stead in the long negotiations to come.
Our farmers need a level playing field. I will continue to work to build support with our trading partners around the world so that we can get an agreement that allows our Canadian farmers to compete fairly in markets all over the globe.
As we said, the WTO talks even if they had started last week are not going to be a quick fix, but they are a necessity and an important part of all that we have to do in order to continue to level that playing field.
In the meantime, we brought forward as a government the aid program, AIDA, a year ago. We look back to where we were about a year ago this week when we announced as a federal government that we would be putting forward $900 million. Since then we have added another $170 million so it is close to $1.1 billion. With the provincial contribution to that, there is over $1.75 billion available over 1998 and 1999 to assist producers in this stressful time they are going through.
I am well aware of the criticism that the program has received. I think the House is aware that I am not as happy with the program as we would all liked to have been. The goals of the program were to target the resources that were available as much as possible to those who needed support. In targeting, it takes some paperwork. The easiest and quickest way to disburse money at any time is just to send everybody a cheque, but when one does that those who do not need the support as much as the others get support and, for those who need it, there is less to have.
We have fixed some of the problems with the program. We will continue to work at it, but I remind everybody that it was a program to deal with the precipitous drop in incomes in 1998 and 1999 relative to the period of time before that. That was the request. We remember the very spirited and thoughtful debates we were having in this place and other places a year ago. Everyone was saying that because the bottom had dropped out of grain and hog prices that we needed to do something to address it. We did that. There are those who unfortunately it did not reach and we are looking at that. That is why we are looking at a long term program. I had a good discussion with ministers earlier this week. We will continue that discussion through our officials and through further meetings in as early as January.
We know we need to put a long term program in place. We have a short term problem and we have a long term reality to face. We have to work the two of them together. I am confident that we can. I am confident that we will be able to find a lot of resources to do that. I am a realist and I know there are not enough resources to satisfy everybody to the extent that every individual would like, but we will do the best job we can.
I personally feel strongly that we need to work together. We are working together to be more flexible with a system that responds to the whole range of needs that exist in a very diverse agricultural industry. When we think of the size of this country, of how diverse it is even within one province and how diverse the agriculture and agri-food industry is from coast to coast to coast, it is absolutely incredible.
It is not an easy task but nobody said it would be easy. If it were easy, we probably would have been there a long time ago. Every time we do these kinds of things in the best interest of and in fairness to everybody who has been involved in the past, present and future, we think we have got it. Then we find out that because this industry is so flexible, so rolling and moving so fast that we have a hard job keeping up. Because there are so many things that affect what goes on out there, things change.
I will talk about change for a minute. It not only applies to the agri-food industry but also to our lives in general. The assistant deputy minister of research in my department told a group of us not too long ago that 90% of the scientists who ever lived are alive today. There are some pluses and minuses or pros and cons to that. It is not just agriculture and agri-food scientists but all kinds of scientists who make up this 90%. It is just amazing what these people will produce in terms of new technologies, new research, et cetera, and that is fantastic. We can see that every day in our lives.
It also means that because so much is being produced and so many of those results are coming about, the shelf life, to use a layman's term, is so much shorter because something comes on to follow what was there before. This is happening in every sector of our society. Things change and the only constant is that there are changes taking place.
I know the discussions will be frank and fruitful and we will continue with those.
Farmers are counting on us. They can know that we are spending an inordinate amount of time and that we have their best interests in mind. All ministers I met with this week know it is our obligation to show leadership and to work together to come up with a package of risk management tools that the government could be involved in to encourage producers to get involved in what I refer to as commercial risk management. There are other ways to manage the risk out there as well that will help us build an adaptable, productive and competitive industry.
All of us as individuals, all of us as ministers and all of us as MPs and provincial members of legislatures want the best for farmers. I want the best for Canadian farmers. We cannot afford to divide ourselves if we are going to deliver to our producers. As I said, I will be meeting with my provincial counterparts to continue on that.
The moneys in this motion today are to go toward a number of those things, programs such as the Canadian adaptation and rural development fund, to make sure our industry is compliant. We have contingency planning for the Y2K event that will be happening not too many days ahead of us. There is money for the Canadian biotechnology strategy and money for genomics based on research and development. There is the implementation of a component of the youth employment strategy and those types of things. They are very important things that we need to do.
I will continue to do whatever it takes with my colleagues here in the House and with my fellow agriculture ministers across the country, with industry itself and with our trading partners around the world, to build an agriculture and agri-food industry that is strong, stable and productive.
This has been a busy year again for all of us. It has not been an easy year for industry. I am sure building on the experiences and determination that we have, we will all continue to do whatever it takes; my colleagues here in the House, the ministers, the industry and our trading partners. I look forward to continuing to meet and beat the challenges that we have before us and to find opportunities, to make opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities for everyone in the important agriculture and agri-food industry in Canada.