House of Commons Hansard #215 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.


National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

moved that Bill C-387, an act to establish a national committee to develop policies and procedures to ensure coordination in the delivery of programs by governments in the case of agricultural losses or disasters created by weather or pests, the coordination of the delivery of information, assistance, relief and compensation and study the compliance of such programs with World Trade Organization requirements, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to a private member's Bill C-387 that was submitted. Unfortunately, it was not deemed to be votable by the committee.

However, I will put the House on notice that I too will re-submit the bill in a different form, and I will re-submit the bill in a different form, and I will re-submit the bill in a different form until it does have the opportunity to have a vote in the House. I feel very strongly about this issue which obviously resonates with the farm community across the country. It certainly resonates with the constituents who I represent in the constituency of Brandon—Souris and the farmers who produce the food for Canadians across this great country of ours.

I would like to begin the debate today with an excerpt from a letter that was sent to the minister of agriculture on February 15 from the national safety nets advisory committee during the negotiations surrounding the AIDA program. It states:

The majority of the National Safety Nets Advisory Committee would like to express its disagreement with Agriculture Canada and provincial governments regarding the changes they intend to make to the Farm Income Disaster Program. The committee does not support the program as it is currently designed....We are seriously concerned about the precedents which these decisions set on for the next round of Safety Net negotiations. The program as designed now no longer provides sufficient support to farmers facing a crisis.

That letter came to the minister from the minister's own appointed national safety net's advisory committee.

The minister and the department of agriculture decided on their own to make some substantive changes to the recommendations that were put forward by the safety nets committee. Those changes included the aspect of negative margins not being covered under the new AIDA program. It suggested that NISA had to be drawn down prior to any access to the AIDA program. It dealt with a three year averaging as opposed to a five year averaging, or perhaps even longer as is the case with a lot of provincial programs. This was done completely without the input of the national safety nets advisory committee. It was done ad hoc by the department.

If only the minister of agriculture had actually listened and acted on the words of the committee, perhaps he would not be facing the criticism he is now facing with respect to the AIDA program. The minister dropped the ball on the design and delivery of the AIDA program so badly that the producers and producer groups, such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, have completely lost trust and faith in the minister and the government's commitment to agriculture.

In a move last week, after my party meeting with key industry stakeholders, the CFA decided that it was going to form its own advisory committee and take steps in discussions that the minister has so far failed to do.

This issue is particularly important now given the fact that the minister of agriculture, in a letter on March 24 to the standing committee on agriculture, said:

It is the intent that over the course of the calendar year 1999, we will establish a new direction and enter into new agreements with the provinces on the longer-term direction for agricultural safety nets.

It is important that these discussions begin immediately with the input of all industry stakeholders. It is vital that there be more transparency and fairness in the process.

That was a quote from the minister asking for transparency, negotiations and consultation. The very stakeholders who he wishes to consult with have now said that they will set up their own program, their own safety nets advisory committee because they do not trust the agriculture minister to put forward what they believe are the right, fair and equitable programs.

Furthermore, world trade talks start again in November. The Americans and the European Union will again beef up their subsidies on agriculture to strengthen their positions at the talks. Canadian farmers are going to be caught in the middle and the need for a long term safety net strategy will again become readily apparent. The time to put these in place is now.

I want to be perfectly clear. An advisory committee can work in the future if it includes representation from all three levels of government. The federal government, the provincial government and stakeholders must have representation and must be given more power to make recommendations to the minister. Bill C-387 would do just that.

Whether it be the ice storm of January 1998, the floods in Manitoba and the Saguenay or the droughts in Nova Scotia, it is more often farmers who are hit the hardest financially. When natural disasters occur through weather and pests, or agricultural losses through falling commodity prices, the federal government must take a more proactive than reactive approach and start developing policies in advance that benefit our producers in good times and in bad.

The purpose of my private members' bill is to help the government in doing just that. The bill would create a committee that would assist the minister of agriculture in developing policies and procedures to ensure the coordination between different government authorities with respect to the delivery of information, assistance, relief and compensation.

The committee would monitor situations on an ongoing basis and discuss what income protection measures are available to farmers in the event of disasters or unusual conditions caused by weather or pests, taking into account such areas as crop insurance, flood and draught protection programs and NISA.

The committee's mandate could and should be expanded to include monitoring the effects of the low commodity prices on the agricultural industry and the primary producer's farm income. The committee has the power to create subcommittees, much like our standing committees, to pursue such ideas.

The committee would also investigate and advise the minister on the compliance of any income assistance program with the WTO requirements. The act would be cited as the national agricultural relief coordination act.

The committee would consist of a membership of up to 21 members: three nominated by the minister of agriculture: one nominated by each provincial agricultural minister; five should be representatives of farmers and be nominated by such organizations representing farmers; and three should be representatives of industry related to agricultural products and be nominated by such organizations representing the industry.

The last example of an ad hoc assistance program, the AIDA program, was done behind closed doors with the bureaucracy of the department of agriculture. The model was put forward and, after the fact, the minister of agriculture went out to sell it to the provinces. As we recognized, a number of those provinces were not terribly receptive to the program model that was put forward by the government.

Does it not make sense that the 10 agricultural ministers should have a say in how agriculture is going to be dealt with in their own provinces? Does it not make sense that rather than forcing a program onto the provinces that those provinces should be part of the negotiating process to put the program together in the first place?

We had many problems when AIDA was first unveiled. The problems, quite frankly, were due to a lack of communications and the ability of the federal and provincial governments to work together. This speaks to the lack of co-operative federalism that I see is so very important in trying to work with the provinces. I was told this did not happen because the provinces would not work with the federal government. That comment came from a federal bureaucrat.

My answer to that comment is: Does that not cry for leadership? Should there not be leadership at the federal level that will bring the provinces together so that they can all agree on a package, on a program, on a philosophy and on a vision for agriculture? Or, is it simply best to have a federal government design the program and then force it on the provinces? It does not work nor does it speak to the bigger issue as to where we should be heading in the next decade or two decades and the philosophy that we should share for agriculture in this country.

As members are aware, there already exits a national safety net review committee. My bill is an extension of that committee, expanding the role, power and membership in the committee. This bill would give an advisory committee more teeth, more power and more ability to react and act in a positive fashion. It would create a more permanent committee rather simply an ad hoc committee that is created at the whim of the minister and legislates the tabling of its reports before parliament.

No longer can the minister simply strike a committee and then disband the committee at whim based on the old political optics of the day. This bill would put into place and legislate the requirement of this committee with criteria and ground rules and with the ability to make a difference.

It is clear that the current advisory committee has not been able to have the desired impact on the safety net process. Farm organizations spent a significant amount of time developing the efficient disaster relief program during the farm income crisis through the current national safety nets advisory committee.

At the end of the day most of the recommendations were not taken into account when the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food designed the AIDA program. What a waste of time when in fact the people who really understand and know the issues are not listened to. This has to change. Our industry has told politicians time and time again that we need to re-evaluate our income protection system for farmers.

The recent discussion surrounding the agriculture income disaster assistance program of the minister of agriculture is just one example of the need for a strong advisory committee with actual power to help in developing the policies and coordinating assistance programs.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture stated in a letter addressed to me:

The farm community has lost confidence in the process by which provincial and federal governments negotiate. If the farm community is to regain its confidence in the safety nets debate of the future, a more honest, open relationship between industry and government has to be developed. Therefore, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is supporting your proposal to establish a national committee to develop policies and coordinate the delivery of federation programs.

Furthermore, in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food dated March 17, 1999, the CFA stated:

—a transparent process should be developed including consultation with all parties and full disclosure of all information. Therefore, we encourage you to create a committee composed of federal and provincial representatives, and farm organizations that will examine the safety nets package and identify different options.

That is exactly to what the bill speaks, exactly what not only the CFA but farm organizations across the country need: open and honest transparency where in fact we can sit down, share opinions with others and develop what is necessary for agriculture, not only for today but for the future.

Bill C-387 speaks to the concerns raised by the CFA for more transparency and disclosure of information. In fact the bill specifically calls for all reports to be laid before parliament, not the situation and certainly not the case right now with the national advisory safety nets committee.

That being said, it is also important that we emphasize the word consistency when we talk about coordinating assistance programs. This committee would work toward alleviating any problems with achieving consistency in the delivery and co-ordination of assistance programs.

There must be consistency in determining the level of assistance. It should not simply be based on the amount of publicity a disaster gets. Ad hoc programs provide ad hoc solutions. With the environmental and climatic changes that this country and the world are undergoing, it is vital now more than ever to monitor these issues on an ongoing basis and develop consistent policies which would help farmers deal with these changes both financially and realistically.

Consistency is the key word here. One of the problems that we have when we deal with ad hoc programs, whether from a natural disaster perspective or from a commodity price perspective, is that we must be consistent among the regions. One region cannot be pitted against another one. We cannot just simply say that because there is more publicity for this area there has to be a difference in program. The programs must be developed so that they are equal and have some equality within regions. It is important that this tripartite committee be struck to do just that.

I thank the House for the time to put forward Bill C-387. I can also suggest that not being a votable item this time it will be put forward again in committee. Next time I hope it is votable so that the House can have a say in what happens.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Egmont P.E.I.


Joe McGuire LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Madam Speaker, I remind the House and the proposer of the bill that there is such a thing as short term memory and I think quite a few people are suffering from that.

We have to remember that the AIDA program was put in place principally by the leadership of the federal government responding to the crisis in the farm community and with consultations with the provinces and consultations with the safety nets committee, co-chaired by the past president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

I remember the day we announced our share of $900 million to go along with the provincial $600 million for a two year $1.5 billion program. The co-chair of the national safety nets committee, then president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, wholeheartedly praised our efforts. He said this was done in record time, responding to the needs of the farmers from one end of Canada to the other on a farm by farm basis regardless of province.

It would be whole farm and viewed as non-controversial by the World Trade Organization. It fits with the agreements we made with the World Trade Organization. When we got our $900 million in place intensive negotiations went on with the provinces. As a result all provinces with the exception of Nova Scotia joined the program.

The money has been flowing from the provinces that have disaster programs of their own. Money has been flowing to the farmers and provinces that did not have a provincial disaster program in place. Money will be starting to flow—it has been accelerated—this Friday, which is four to six weeks earlier than predicted by everyone involved in the process.

The federal government has responded by setting aside $900 million. In the last budget it was accelerated to $600 million this year, in response to the needs of the farming community in the country.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Are you going to spend it?

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

We certainly intend to spend it. If there is a disaster on any farm in Canada, through the triggers that have been negotiated people will get disaster funding.

By this Friday every province will be in receipt of some money. The money will begin to flow from the federal and provincial organizations in response to the serious situations on many of our farms across the country, especially in the province where the hon. member is from.

The government does not just wait for problems to arise. It will assist Canada's farmers. We are continually working in partnership with the provinces and industry to help producers prepare to meet the challenges of the future.

The classic example of this is whole farm safety nets. The federal government has signed agreements with all the provinces. We have a set of safety nets in place that are fully equitable, will minimize trade and economic distortions, and take provincial and regional interests into consideration.

The cornerstone of the safety net system is NISA, the net income stabilization account. This is a volunteer program that provides a source of money for farmers when their income declines for whatever reason.

NISA is a well regarded program but the government is also committed to improving on the system currently in place. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, along with the provincial ministers, are reviewing the current system and considering carefully how we will deal over the longer term with situations where exceptional circumstances seriously affect the incomes of farmers. He has said that he wants to give farmers a whole farm safety net system that provides security but does not mask the natural signals of the marketplace.

There are a number of complex issues the ministers are trying to address, including whether the funding allocated is the right one and whether the mix of programs meets the intended objectives. Ministers will continue working on the issues when they meet in Prince Albert this July.

I also add that the Government of Canada is well aware of the need to meet our international trading commitments. Our farmer assisted programs are designed and implemented with these commitments in mind. We are committed to providing support and management tools to assist our farmers within the rules of the WTO, just as we ask other nations to do.

As a medium size trading nation we are committed to a rules based trading system. Canada is also going to the upcoming WTO negotiations intending to reduce trade distorting support and protection measures around the world so that our producers can compete on a fair and level playing field.

We have been doing everything we can to make sure we hear from all parts of the agrifood industry about their interests going into negotiations before we announce an initial negotiation position for Canada this summer.

Over the past two years there have been regional meetings, hearings by the House of Commons standing committee and the Senate agriculture committee, and both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food have held extensive meetings with key industry groups.

Just this past week there was a major conference attended by some 600 representatives of the agriculture and agrifood sectors and the provincial and federal governments to pave the way toward a strong initial WTO position. We are now well on the way to developing a negotiating position that the provinces and all sectors of the industry can support. Our aim is to ensure Canada continues to have economically viable agriculture and food sectors.

The co-operative approach to farmer safety nets and international trade that we have been pursuing since the government took office has proven to be highly successful in the past and will stand us in good stead for the future.

Bill C-387 would not improve our ability to plan for the future, either in the development of farmer support programs or in dealing with the requirements of the WTO. For these reasons, and those outlined by my hon. colleagues, the government does not support the passage of this bill.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to talk to Bill C-387.

The hon. member for Brandon—Souris has a lot of good points in the bill, but many of these issues have already been addressed. There is legislation in place to enforce some of these issues but governments in the past have failed to listen.

The safety net review committee and advisory committee are there to suggest to governments what should be happening as far as the three lines of defence are concerned.

The first line of defence is the crop insurance program, of which every farmer is aware and is making use. The second line of defence is the NISA program, which is very valuable to older farmers especially who are in a profit position. NISA does not help address the issue of young farmers who have just started out and whose revenue has not been such that they could make use of NISA.

The Liberals claim that in record time they set up the third line of defence. The AIDA program is probably a joke, as far as I am concerned. I was in my constituency for the last couple of weeks during the Easter break and did not find one farmer who would qualify for any aid from this program at all.

When I talked to farmers, they asked me whether I could at least tell the banker that something is coming. This is not bankable. The Liberal government promised before Christmas that the AIDA program would be bankable. No banks will look at it today.

Everyone with whom I talked in my riding had looked into the AIDA program, had gone to accountants who did a summary. They are wasting their money. It will cost from $500 to $1,000 to fill out the forms for this AIDA package. After that they probably will not recoup the costs of the accountants doing the job. People are not even filing them because they are so ridiculous.

The AIDA program has been designed for a few corporate hog farmers. If the Liberal government does not realize that, it better go to western Canada and find out. It has been invited a number of times by Saskatchewan farmers to come clean and come to talk to them about the AIDA program. Nothing has happened. Not even the parliamentary secretary has agreed to come to talk to them.

If the AIDA program is the third line of defence, God help those farmers. They will die before they ever get a dollar out of the AIDA program.

The government has been warned about this for the last five years by Reform. We told the government in 1993 that all the subsidies on the rail transportation system when done away with should go into some kind of trade distortion program with which farmers could fight the huge subsidies thrown at them by the Americans and the Europeans. This program will do absolutely nothing to resolve that problem. We need a long term fix for farmers in which they can participate. We must design it so it is useful to them, so that in good years they can build up an account on which they can draw in later years when there are poor crops or when prices drop to the point where it is not profitable to farm.

I will touch a bit on the Canadian Wheat Board. For the past four or five years I have tried to bring in a private member's bill to have the auditor general audit the Canadian Wheat Board and to make sure farmers get a proper price for their grain. I must thank and congratulate the auditor general. A week ago Saturday the wheat board announced that the auditor general would have a look at the books, that he would do a value-added audit, more or less, to see whether farmers are getting a fair price. The auditor general has finally heard the cries of western farmers that we need something done with the auditing of the board so that we can respect the board and have confidence in it.

About 100 farmers are willing to go to jail and this government is prosecuting them and putting them in jail because they have sold a few bushels of their own wheat, in some cases as little as five bags. And the government is talking about providing a safety net program? Maybe being behind bars is a better livelihood than being on the farm today. At least there they get food and clothing.

I do not know what the government is trying to do by prosecuting these farmers for selling their own product while we have sex offenders and robbers running loose on the streets. Are these farmers violent criminals because they have taken four or five bags of grain across the border to demonstrate that they want some accountability in the wheat board? Is that such a criminal act? If that is a criminal act, we should probably all be behind bars. I am sure that every member of this House has objected to some type of mechanism that is set out and that we have to abide by. Income tax is one of them. When I hear of the amount of income tax that is funnelled out through loopholes in the tax system, maybe every government and opposition member should be behind bars because they are objecting to overtaxation in the country.

I do not know what is going to be accomplished by Bill C-387. The idea is good. I can support it and I know this type of idea has been floating in the agriculture community for the past 10 years. I have talked to people who sat on the advisory board who were designing the third line of defence. The AIDA program does not have the character which people want in a third line of defence. They want a line of defence in which they can be participants in terms of designing it and establishing a fund.

The AIDA program is really doing nothing. I have held nine town hall meetings in my constituency. People have been phoning me, telling me that they do not qualify. What kind of line of defence is it if they cannot qualify when grain prices have gone from $5 a bushel to barely $3 a bushel? That is almost half the price, while input costs are still rising. Every year there are input costs for fertilizer and machinery. We hear again that there has been an increase of three to four cents a litre in fuel prices.

How are farmers supposed to continue when they have no marketing power? They cannot add one single cent of their costs to their product. They have to accept what the market will offer them. This is very discouraging for farmers. I see more young farmers having auction sales this spring than I have ever seen before. It is not the older farmers who are debt free and who can work on their savings for another year or two; it is the young farmers who over the past four or five years have risked everything and who are now at the point where they cannot dig themselves out, even if they have three or four good crops and good prices. They are disillusioned with the whole agriculture sector and with the income their families receive, so they are throwing in the towel.

The government better realize that. If we lose this generation of young farmers there is going to be a real problem in the country. It will not only affect the farming industry, it will affect any one of the agri-processors or agri-businesses: machine dealers, fuel dealers, pasta plants, millers, whatever.

When $1 is taken out of a farmer's pocket the community loses at least $5 or $6 of economic value. That is why the farming industry in western Canada has shrunk. We have about half the farmers now that we had two decades ago. If we want to continue this, let us simply follow the former Conservative and Liberal governments with their safety nets and we will have the situation very quickly where there will be no farmers.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-387, at the request of my colleague for Louis-Hébert.

The purpose of this bill is to establish a national committee to administer government programs relating to disasters, or in other words any agricultural losses created by weather or pests.

The intention of my colleague for Brandon—Souris is praiseworthy and understandable, since it reflects the experiences of the farmers of his province as a result of natural catastrophes. As well, the Canadian west has suffered greatly from application of the agricultural income disaster assistance program, commonly called AIDA, which was recently introduced to compensate farmers who experienced drastic drops in income in 1998.

It is therefore obvious that our colleague's bill is a cry of alarm triggered by the government's inefficiency. For a number of farmers, it is a real tragedy to see a new growing season approaching when they are already deep in debt and now have to lay out sizeable amounts for fertilizers and seed.

No one in this House with any familiarity with agriculture is insensitive to the crises experienced by farmers who have unfortunately not yet received any compensation. The complexity of the AIDA program, based in part on the farmers' income tax returns, ends up doing more harm than good, in the short term.

Will the Bloc Quebecois be moved by this sad state of affairs to support the bill introduced by the member for Brandon—Souris? No, because we do not think that the solutions put forward in this bill will help Quebec farmers, and our reasons are twofold.

First, there is the income security aspect. Quebec has its own program, which differs from that of Canada's other provinces, and it is not about to switch, because it wants to hang on to its autonomy in this area.

We have worked to improve our income security system. We are continuing to do so in accordance with our own needs and model. During our farm crisis, we did not wait for the federal government to take action, particularly when hog farmers were having trouble last fall. We were proactive and advanced the funds required to save Quebec's hog industry.

For us, the AIDA program ended up being an account to account reimbursement between the federal and provincial governments. Rather than introducing another bill, a look should perhaps be taken at what Quebec has done and its lead followed.

We have some experience of the disaster program. The flooding in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region and the ice storm are still very unpleasant memories, and compensation is still not complete. The bill introduced by the member for Brandon—Souris offers no tangible solution to the problems people are experiencing.

One of the major problems is that the bill does not make it sufficiently clear who qualifies for compensation, and who is a full time and who a part time farmer. Through experience, Quebec has acquired expertise in acting quickly and effectively in disasters and does not want a slow acting federal committee to slow down its response time. It must remain a prerogative of the provincial government, within the framework of a partnership.

Quebec has no interest in supporting this bill, because it does not see the relevance of a committee comprised, unfortunately, primarily of the representatives of industry. It would mean that Quebec would be a minority member of the committee, whereas now it is totally autonomous.

We might ask ourselves why a national committee would come to the aid of farmers in the event of a catastrophe in addition to managing income security programs. Finally, the committee members would be appointed by the agriculture minister—another danger—directly or indirectly on the basis of choices made by the representative bodies. We oppose this sort of practice.

My eminent colleague from Brandon—Souris mentions in his statement, and I quote “In providing aid to victims, the accent must be on consistency. A lack of consistency in assistance programs for farmers can only create division among the farmers of this great country”.

Here again, we do not share his opinion. There must be clear and uniform rules in the application of legislation on catastrophes, and fairness. There is no consistency in agriculture. The value of land varies as does the value of the different crops. However, that the rules of the game must be the same for all, I agree with the member, who is skeptical of the scope of the publicity that often follows natural catastrophes.

In conclusion, we realize farm producers face problems, which must be resolved. And in this regard, the member for Brandon—Souris has shown his sensitivity towards farmers.

It is also true that, as pointed out by the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Bob Friesen, “the farming community no longer has confidence in federal-provincial negotiations. To restore its confidence in the debate on the protection of farm income, there must be more honest and open relations between the industry and the government”.

For the Bloc Quebecois, the solutions proposed in Bill C-387 are not the most appropriate ones, since they would result in Quebec, and its farm producers, losing ground on the long road to autonomy and income security.

This reminds me of the scholarships that allow our students to pursue a post-secondary and university education. Quebec developed a system that is the envy of the other Canadian provinces. The federal government has found a way, in the context of the new millennium, to try to torpedo a program that works very well in Quebec.

When it comes to income security, three provinces have well defined rules in the event of a major disaster: Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Quebec is ahead of the other provinces regarding this issue, because the Quebec government believes in income security for its farmers.

The hon. member for Brandon—Souris might consider putting pressure in that regard on the Government of Manitoba.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate today on Bill C-387. I congratulate the shy, quiet and soft-spoken member for Brandon—Souris for his initiative. I only wish as well that this were a votable motion.

This is a very good initiative. It calls for the co-ordination and delivery of programs by governments in the case of agricultural losses or disasters created by weather or pests, the co-ordination of the delivery of information, assistance, relief and compensation and to study the compliance of such programs with the World Trade Organization.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture president has stated in response to this that it supports the initiative on Bill C-387. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture feels that the farm community has lost confidence in the safety nets debate both now and in the future and it requires a more honest and open relationship between industry and government.

I am sure part of the initiative for this bill comes out of the meeting 26 in Regina that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture had back on February 26. It talked about the need to identify principles that are essential to initiate discussion for federal-provincial agreement on safety nets. This document is not a policy study but it suggests fair and transparent guidelines which are essential to establish a long term and predictable safety nets package.

I listened very carefully to the member for Brandon—Souris. It would not be my intention to be as hard on the minister of agriculture as the member was. I note last fall when we were discussing this program the minister of agriculture said a number of things publicly and privately. He said that it had to be a bankable program. He said it had to be a whole farm program. He said it had to be a long term program and that the application forms had to be easy to fill out.

By my calculations we have come out of this with one out of four of those. We have a whole farm program. But as my colleague from Manitoba has said, it is not a bankable program. The credit union manager in Dodsland is on the record as having said that. This is certainly not a long term program. It is a two year program which certainly is no one's definition of long term.

Despite the minister standing in this place last week and saying that only six forms have to be filled out, people that are in the accounting business for a livelihood say it is not just farmers who are dazed and confused by the rules governing the federal-provincial farm aid program. Professional accountants are saying that it is extremely complicated. It is so complicated a lot of producers may decide it is not worth the trouble and expense of applying for assistance under AIDA. One accountant also said that he hoped not but he thought it was probably going to happen.

I do not blame particularly the minister of agriculture for what has happened. I think that after December 10 the minister of agriculture was snookered by other members around the cabinet table, probably by the Minister of Finance. They wiggled and squirmed and dealt so that NISA was included and negative margins were excluded.

I remind the parliamentary secretary, who I am pleased to see here today, of the meeting we had at the Agricore Founding Convention in Calgary last year. He along with the mover of this bill, the member for Brandon—Souris, were present. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food predicted that the Government of Canada would be “very generous” when it came time to revealing the AIDA package. There are no farmers whom I have spoken with in the constituency of Palliser or in Saskatchewan who think this program is generous in any way shape of form.

As an aside, I met with the organizers of the rally in Bengough, the same group that organized the rally in Regina, on March 6. They were in my office on Friday. According to one of the organizers, he had found one individual who qualifies for some assistance. The amount is less than $500, or less than the bill that he will receive from his accountant for this work.

That is why the Canadian Federation of Agriculture came out on December 10 or 11 and said that it was very pleased with this program. This was before it realized that the devil was very much in the details. On April 6 it went on to say:

The AIDA a labyrinth so complex that very few farmers will be able to reach the financial assistance at its centre. CFA continues to find new twists in how eligibility for coverage is calculated that only serve to exclude an increasing number of farmers and reduce the 70 per cent of support promised. After the math is done, the effective support may be as low as 40 per cent for some farmers.

The former president, Mr. Wilkinson, has said that it is not the third line of defence that they requested. The current president, Mr. Friesen, said that this program is more about saving money than saving farmers. It is not what they wanted and not how they wanted to work with the federal government.

The farm stress line in Saskatchewan is overwhelmed with the number of calls that are coming in from farmers. I want to read into the record a couple of extracts from the farm stress line as of February 4. There is an update that I will get to in a moment. It says:

We have noted an increase in the number of calls beginning in the fall of 1998. The Farm Stress Line has received 1,581 (calls) in 1998, representing the second highest number of calls in a year since the Line began in Feb. of 1992. Thirty percent of the calls received in 1998 related to farm financial issues. These calls may be considered as indicators of the crisis, but should not be considered as reliable statistical data.

Callers are bringing forward a wide variety of problems and issues, but it is apparent that financial issues dominate. Callers speak of cash flow problems, operating loans being at maximum with no ability to pay them down, and not being able to make land and equipment payments. Others speak of an inability to pay their utility bills, and worry about services being cut off. They also worry about how they will put in crop this spring. We receive calls from families who are being pressed by collection agents, and others have noted little tolerance or leniency from lenders. Many of our callers feel that they have no control of their situation, whether it is commodity prices or input costs. This situation makes it very difficult for people to be proactive and to find solutions.

There was an update on April 5. It said that the farm stress line received 430 calls from January 1 to March 31. Of those calls, 37%, almost 160, were on farm finance issues. Callers spoke again of no money to put in the crop, inability to gain operating money or refusal of a loan.

Earlier in the year some callers made inquiries on the soon to be announced support payments. In February and early March as people became aware of AIDA they inquired about how the application form might be accessed. In March some called to express their anger at the complexity of the form and the need to spend $300 or more to have an accountant determine if they qualified for AIDA.

In the majority of financial and/or insolvency calls, many said that they did not see a future in agriculture and were searching for other options. Options discussed have been either off farm income to support the farm operation or exiting farming all together. Some callers expressed the view that their employment options were limited and they required retraining, and it goes on from there.

These hit home. These are the very real issues that are of concern.

Just let me conclude by saying that we note the difference between what has happened south of the border and what has happened here in Canada. I want to read into the record the statement that the secretary of agriculture, Dan Glickman, made last fall, November 16 to be precise:

Factors beyond farmers' control, record worldwide production, weak Asian markets and merciless treatment from Mother Nature combined to depress prices and threaten the livelihoods of the very people we count on—

That is why this administration was resolute in its determination to get immediate emergency assistance to America's farm families.

We are asking where is that immediate emergency assistance for Canadian farm families?

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Will I get an opportunity to rebut and have a bit of time at the end?

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Yes, you will have your five minutes reply at one minute to 12.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Hec Clouthier Liberal Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take this time to talk about Bill C-387 and how our government is already working to help our farmers who face difficulties.

It is rather interesting to notice the member for Brandon—Souris who, in his rather expansive way that seems to match his ample girth, will say if only the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food of Canada would listen to the people.

Let me tell the entire House of Commons that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food visited my riding, the great riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke last Thursday evening and spoke to the Lions Club. It was farmers night for Renfrew county. During that time he listened to each and every concern that the farmers in Renfrew county had. He listened to them. They got their point of view across. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food spoke rather eloquently and most passionately about farmers and the farming situation for over 25 minutes. After that 25 minutes when he opened it up for Q and A, there were no questions because he had answered each and every one of their questions.

The Government of Canada and all provinces have co-ordinated systems in place which are designed to help farmers—

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

I am absolutely dumbfounded, speechless.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Hec Clouthier Liberal Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

I might add that we should on occasion try to help the opposition too. Perhaps we should muzzle them on occasion.

The systems are designed to deal with weather related disasters—I might say that the hon. member from the fifth party on occasion can be an unmitigated disaster; that is why he is sitting in the fifth party—and financial setbacks that are beyond their control. It is not their fault that they are in the position they are. In recent years the effectiveness of those systems has been amply demonstrated on several occasions.

For example, working in close partnership with the provinces, the Government of Canada gave badly needed assistance to farmers who were affected by the flooding in the Saguenay area of Quebec and in Manitoba's Red River Valley, as well as those who suffered losses due to the ice storm here in central Canada. We have also lent extensive expertise to farmers through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and organizations like the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.

Personally I do not believe that Bill C-387 would add anything to the government's ability to respond to the needs of Canadian producers.

We have a colleague in the House, the member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, who is our residential chicken expert. I notice the member for Brandon—Souris was talking about laying plans. The member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey would know only too well that the member for Brandon—Souris is laying one big egg when he makes these nonsensical remarks about Bill C-387. He is just a big yokel on occasion.

We will continue to look after one of the most cherished segments of our society, our farmers. We know what farmers mean to this country. The Liberal Party will continue to do everything it possibly can to ameliorate the situation for farmers and will not indulge in scurrilous rhetoric in which the member for Brandon—Souris indulges.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business


Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank members who spoke to this proposed legislation, with one exception. Everyone spoke in a very professional manner and certainly understood the issues, with perhaps the exception of the last speaker. The diminutive member obviously does not have a real handle on what is going on in agriculture today in Canada.

The parliamentary secretary spoke about short memories. Perhaps we could refresh his memory just a little, as the member for Palliser just did. The program that was originally proposed and supported by a number of people on the national safety net advisory committee suggested that there should have been negative margins brought into the equation. There should have been an opportunity not to have to take the NISA.

Maybe short memory is something the Liberal government recognizes. Its members have short memories as well. The parliamentary secretary stands to take credit for the NISA program, which he said was a great program. However, the hon. member does not recognize that the NISA program was brought in by another government and certainly not his party.

The hon. member has a short memory with respect to the GRIP program, which was a good revenue program. Unfortunately the government decided in its infinite wisdom to take some short term gain for some long term pain and it got rid of the GRIP program.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Palliser, once again, for putting forward what I thought was a very interesting twist on this issue. He understands the issues very well, certainly more so than the government. We know that the current program will not affect any more than probably 5% or 7% of producers. It is not working. The whole gist of the bill that I put forward concerns the fact that it is not working.

We need an organization, a safety net committee, that has the ability to bring all levels together so that we can look at the issues before us in a logical manner. That is not happening. Unfortunately, behind closed doors the programs are being developed. They are very shortsighted programs. They do not resolve the issues. There is no equity and consistency in these programs.

Why is the government so insistent on continuing in this foolish direction? Why would it not want to have some input from other people? Why would it not want to sit down to co-operatively develop a program and a philosophy for agriculture? I do not know why it will not do so. Perhaps it does not know how to work with other people and other parties. Perhaps it does not know how to work with other organizations. Perhaps it is the autocratic way in which the Liberals have formed this government.

This bill will come back and eventually perhaps even the department itself will have the ability to bring forward legislation to deal with this and make sure that we have some logical, well thought out policies.

National Agricultural Relief Coordination ActPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders


Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons


That in relation to Bill C-78, an act to establish the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, to amend the Public Service Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the Defence Services Pension Continuation Act, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pension Continuation Act, the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act and the Canada Post Corporation Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill and, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for government business on the day allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 386Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.