Debates of Dec. 10th, 1999
House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.
- Message From The Senate
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Message From The Senate
December 10th, 1999 / 10:05 a.m.
The Deputy Speaker
I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired: Bill S-14, an act to amend the Act of incorporation of the Board of Elders of the Canadian District of the Moravian Church in America.
This bill is deemed to have been read the first time and the second reading is set for the next sitting of the House.
(Bill deemed read the first time)
The Deputy Speaker
Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending December 10, 1999, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill. In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?
Some hon. members
Lucienne Robillard President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure
Motion No. 1
That Vote 1a, in the amount of $63,196,279, under AGRICULTURE AND AGRI-FOOD—Operating expenditures, in Supplementary Estimates (A) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2000, be concurred in.
Lyle Vanclief Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
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.
Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB
Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing the official opposition's responsibility in the House to ask the first question.
The history of agriculture in Canada is written one page at a time. The agriculture minister has been writing his pages certainly since the start of his appointment to the ministry in the House.
My question for the agriculture minister deals with his administration of the agriculture department. He briefly mentioned that he had responded to the drastic drop in income. In the good administration of a minister's department, particularly agriculture, why is the minister simply responding to requests as opposed to administering the department and foreseeing that ad hoc payments have not worked out over the past 100 years? Why has he not been able to put in place long term programs over the past two terms of this Liberal government?
My question relates to the $1.4 billion budget that he has to work with and why an additional $63,196,279 has to be appropriated in extra payments from taxpayers at this time.
Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member obviously does not understand how the system works. Before we can get permission from Treasury Board to actually get the money, we have to demonstrate what it will be used for.
At the beginning of a year when the budgeting is done, plans are there and the money is there. However, before we can actually draw it from the Treasury Board we have to go back with the specific things that we will be using it for. We tell Treasury Board what we expect to need, what our plans are and what our budgets will be for the year.
It is not as simple as the Treasury Board just writing a minister or a department a cheque and saying “Here is the $1.X billion. Go away and do it”. There is a system of checks and balances there.
If I recall, members of the official opposition have said a number of times that they want to see that type of system. That type of system is there. The reason we are here today and why we are having these votes is to move those moneys from point A to point B.
The hon. member talked about the government reacting to things rather than being as proactive as he would like it to be. If we go back to the previous election, the definition of proactivity of members of the official opposition was to remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the agriculture and agri-food budget in Canada. Thank goodness they did not get elected.
We were proactive when nobody saw the expected downturn in the industry coming to the extent that it did. As a government we found the money, an extra $1.1 billion. It is quite a difference, if we compare it to the opposition wanting to remove over $600 million. The farmers of Canada are fortunate that it is a Liberal government and not a Reform government.
Lorne Nystrom Qu'Appelle, SK
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the minister. The Reform Party wanted to cut back even further.
My question is one that farmers are asking me on an almost daily basis, and I ask it very sincerely. Why is there no more assistance coming from the government?
The minister knows that the joint position in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is supported by all three provincial political parties: the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party, which is the Saskatchewan party, and the Conservative Party. It is supported by all farm organizations, chambers of commerce and federations of labour. There is sort of a position of solidarity in both provinces that they need an extra $1.3 billion for people to survive.
I do not want to go over the arguments this morning. We all know the argument that the trade war is driving down the price of grain and people are at the point of suffering. I am sure the minister is aware of that. In light of all the protests, in light of all the representations, in light of the solidarity among members of his own party, and in light of all the media coverage, people are asking me why there has not been any action.
The Liberal Party ran an extremely high profile popular candidate in the byelection in Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, Henry Dayday who was mayor of the city of Saskatoon for 11 years and a very good person. He obtained 15% of the votes, basically because the issue became the farm crisis and the economic harm that would result if there were no additional aid.
Farmers are asking why the message did not get through. We know there is a surplus of approximately $10 billion coming next year, or almost $100 billion over five years. People are aware of that. Historically the minister is very conservative in his estimates. It may even be more than that.
If this money were to come, farmers also know that a lot of it would go back to the federal government because of the extra stimulus in the economy and taxes. They are asking why this message did not get through in terms of getting the extra $1.3 billion. I hope the minister understands what I am asking.
Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON
Mr. Speaker, I understand what the hon. member is asking, but I also understand that in the last few years the province from which he comes has drastically cut back its support to the agricultural industry. The federal government did so too because of fiscal realities.
Because of what we did we are now able to put $1.1 billion back in. We are now able to talk about a long term program based on the experiences of that program, the needs, the realities of today, and the everyday changing and rolling, if I could use that term.
I remind the hon. member of the incredible difficulty we had as a government to get the Government of Saskatchewan in particular to come forward. We had to beg. We had to push. We had to pull. I could use words stronger than those in order to get it to to support that major industry in that province.
Agriculture is a shared jurisdiction between the federal government and provincial governments. Shared usually means 50:50. In the safety net program over the last number of years the federal government has paid 60%. I had to do a lot of levering to get the hon. member's provincial government to come forward with its 40%.
When we came forward with another change to the program to cover negative margins, the province did not want to do it. It wants to take some money and mail a cheque out to every farmer in Saskatchewan. I understand there are farmers that the IDEA program did not reach. We are trying to fix that in the future, but in order to get money to farmers that need money that provincial government wants to give money to those that do not.
In the last 12 months the federal government has put in $1.1 billion. When we combine that with what we have finally convinced the province of Saskatchewan to put in, it means that $575 million more than what there was a year ago are going into the hands of farmers of the province of Saskatchewan who are hurting. Only the New Democratic Party would say that $575 million were insignificant.
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for West Nova.
With respect to agriculture we are very pleased that it was the Conservative Party that brought about this debate. Obviously the minister has been forthright in his remarks today, but it is increasingly clear every day that the federal government has not clearly recognized the importance of agriculture in Canada. Due to the urging of members of this party and others a standing committee is currently travelling in an attempt to deal with this crisis.
A crisis is the proper word. The government manages by crisis. It waits until the wheels come off and then it reacts. It is not like there has been any planning. The minister talked about long term planning. It will be a long time and a cold day in this place before we see long term planning coming from the government.
With respect to that topic we now know that legislation is coming that is meant to provoke the province of Quebec. Yes, the little cat from Shawinigan is out of the bag. We now know that the government plans to bring in legislation in very short order. There will be a press conference later today in which the Prime Minister will outline his attempt to poke Quebec in the eye once again and try to get the country embroiled in a debate over national unity.
We question the timing, the procedure, and the process that has been followed. It has been demonstrated again. We just finished a 40-plus hour debate over a similar issue, an issue that is divisive, an issue where the government has failed to consult, and an issue where the government deliberately ran roughshod and used a process to beat the opposition and rest of the country over the head to impose its will. We are about to embark on that same process again. Later today in a press conference the Prime Minister will outline his way to impose things upon the province of Quebec in a referendum.
We have to question that. As members of the House we are representatives of the people of Canada. It is our responsibility to question the Prime Minister as to why he is doing it and why he is continuing to demonstrate such a provocative, aggressive approach toward one province of the country. We have seen it. It is always Quebec that the government and the Prime Minister single out in an attempt to impose their will. We do not see leadership demonstrated in the government. We see dictatorship. We do not see democracy. We see autocracy. That is what the government stands for.
There has been very little insight from the Prime Minister. Time and time again he has demonstrated that he does not understand his home province. Again the process is being abused and used by the government to impose its will.
Why are we dealing with the issue of agriculture today? A supply day is traditionally and has always been a day on which the opposition was allowed to choose its priorities. It is clear that the opposition understands the priorities of the country a lot better than the government.
I am of the mind that the Prime Minister gets up every morning with no plan. It is whatever pops into his head that day. He got up one day and decided to pick a fight with the premier of Quebec and with the province of Quebec. Why? Maybe in the back of his mind he thinks that this is a way to somehow rewrite history, to correct the wrongs or correct the way he somehow dropped the ball in the pass. He is trying to make Canadians forget that he completely mismanaged this issue during 1995. He has completely misunderstood Quebec from the very day he entered public life.
There is very little faith not only in the province of Quebec but in every province. I suspect the premiers will be extremely upset when they come to understand what the Prime Minister is doing.
The premiers have not been consulted. The provinces have not been consulted. God knows the opposition has not been consulted at all on this issue. Why now? Why at this time when we have seen in the province of Quebec the most sustained period of stability that has existed for some time?
An hon. member
It is Christmas.
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Perhaps it is that it is Christmas. Perhaps it is because the Prime Minister is very good at manipulating the rules. It is very clear to him that we will be out of here some time in the next week. Of course that is at his urging; he is the person who will control the agenda. Then Quebeckers and the rest of the country will be left to stew in their own juices over the holidays, to sit and wonder and wait to see what the Prime Minister will do next.
This supply day is focused on agriculture. There will be significant debate on the issue. My colleague for West Nova will speak further on the Conservative position. Sadly the member for Brandon—Souris cannot be in the House. He is travelling with the agriculture committee and doing his good work on behalf of his party, of Canadians, and of his home province of Manitoba.
We are faced with a very crucial issue in and of itself, the issue of what the Prime Minister is up to. We read about it through a leak. The government policy is to leak things through the press rather than have any meaningful debate or interaction with members of the opposition. We see this time and time again, not only from the Prime Minister but from all ministers across the way. They would rather leak something to the press gallery than come in here to make a ministerial announcement, talk with members of the opposition or go to committee.
Why are members of the opposition even in the House if they cannot expect some kind of meaningful dialogue, some indication that government members are listening? Members of the House have been elected to put forward their beliefs on behalf of their constituents. Yet the government completely forgets that and abrogates its responsibility when it comes to having any kind of dialogue with members of the House. We see it in committees when ministers are simply too busy to appear before members of the committees to speak about the government plan, and we are left wondering what the point is.
With respect to Quebec we know that the plan is to be provocative and reckless. The government will impose what it thinks it should do as opposed to sitting down with Quebec and discussing what should happen. Does it try to include the commentary and thoughtful insights of the province of Quebec? No, that is not the way the government approaches the situation. It has not been and it probably never will be under this Prime Minister.
The Liberal government has very skewed priorities. It knows that its one driving or motivating force for being in government is to remain in government. That is what the government is about. It is not about identifying issues that are important to Canadians. It is about how it stays in power.
Government members are like survivors of the Titanic clinging to a lifeboat. That is the way they approach this matter. They will do whatever they have to do to stay in power. They are clinging to power by dividing the country. They have taken a provocative approach that will pit members of one province against those of other provinces. That is an easy thing to do. It is always easy to find issues that divide the country. The Prime Minister has demonstrated that time and time again.
It is very easy to keep the passions of people outside Quebec enraged against those who live in Quebec. It is very easy to leave Quebeckers with the impression that the rest of Canada does not care about them, and that is not true. That is not the case. There are people right across the country, francophones both inside and outside Quebec, who want to make the country work.
We have to remind Quebeckers and Canadians of that time and time again. Unity is something that can and will work in the country, but the Prime Minister does not understand that. He would rather pick a fight, get down on a very base level and try to impose his will, his vision if he even has one, of how Quebec should exist within the country. It is a sad day in the House when that happens. It is a sad day every day that the government takes a provocative and mean-spirited approach toward one province and one people in the country.
That is not the position of the Conservative Party of Canada. It never has been and never will be. We have a long and proud record of what we have tried to do to keep the country together, not in an appeasing way or in a way that is meant to give away rights but in a way that is meant to respect, understand and at least make meaningful and truthful gestures when it comes to keeping the country united and people of the country working toward a common goal.
I realize my time is short and that we are somewhat off topic in talking about agriculture, but it is too important an issue to let it go by at this time. We have not seen the type of leadership that one would expect from the Prime Minister who is from Quebec. He has abrogated his own responsibility and understanding toward his own home province in the move he has made today.
I suspect that members of the government are surprised and taken aback at the approach their leader, the Prime Minister, has taken. There is very little unity in the government as opposed to the unity in the country at this time, yet the Prime Minister, I suggest, is prepared to stumble recklessly into this issue for his own political gain.
When the press conference occurs today, Canadians should beware and be ready for what the Prime Minister will say. It is not going to be all wine and roses. That will be the approach he takes. It will be an attempt to baffle Canadians with his insights into Quebec. They should look a little deeper as to what is behind this provocative move by the Prime Minister. It is not an approach to heal; it is an approach that will harm the unity of this country.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, my colleague who has just spoken has condemned the parliamentary scandal we are facing. It shows that we have reached a total breakdown of the Canadian federal system.
I have a question for him. Do the negative effects of this alarming power grab the Prime Minister will be carrying out with the complicity of the Liberal Party of Canada not indicate a disdain for democracy, a disdain for parliament, a disdain for all the people of Quebec and of Canada, for which he will pay the price politically? Will he not go down in history as the Prime Minister of Canada who was responsible for this failure of democracy?
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question and a very apt description.
We know that the Prime Minister has always been prepared to manipulate the process, to use a provocative, powerful approach when he has a majority government to beat other provinces over the head. We know that other governments have been less likely to do so.
What about the farmers? Why did they not make today an agriculture day instead of sitting over there on their butts?
The province of Quebec is very concerned about why this is happening now. Why is the Prime Minister creating an issue at this time when there are other important issues brewing like agriculture, the crisis in the fishery on the east coast and problems right across the country? He is just creating an issue. There is no reason whatsoever to be in this debate right now. There is no reason. It is only because the Prime Minister once again wants to create a problem.
Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB
Mr. Speaker, the member from Pictou—Antigonish has brought up the fact that agriculture has a lot of problems today and something has to be done. That is what we are here to debate. He also brought up alienation, east versus west, Quebec versus the west, all the different parts of the country fighting against each other.
I have one question for the member. Back in the 1980s, Mr. Brian Mulroney was the prime minister. Fifty percent of the alienation in western Canada today is directly related to that prime minister. Not only did he take the CF-18 contract away from western Canada, from my own city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, but he turned off the farmers. Where was the long term disaster assistance program for farmers? Why was it not created during the Mulroney years, the Progressive Conservative years, when they had the biggest majority ever as the governing party?