Mr. Speaker, the Progressive Conservative Party today put a motion on the floor of the House condemning the government for its failure to provide Canadians with a long term sustainable plan to address the crisis in our health care system. First of all I will say that I reject the opposition motion and then I will put forward a plan that I think is central to the renewal and the revitalization of the health care system in Canada.
The national food plan which I am putting forward is something I have been working on with my colleagues in the greater Toronto caucus and my colleagues in the western and rural caucuses. We have been working on this idea for a few months and today we begin the campaign to promote it.
I feel it is important to put this idea forward in parliament because there is no greater fundamental to a healthy society than a healthy food system. We need a healthy food system which works for the benefit of all Canadians. If we do not have a food system that works as well as it can, then we cannot achieve our goals in continually working to build and strengthen a healthy society.
Key to our health is the food we eat. Fundamental to the food we eat is the quality, the affordability, the safety, the access and the security of that food.
Before I move into the details of a national food plan, I want to recognize an organization that has contributed a lot to developing this idea, FoodShare of Toronto. Debbie Field and her team understand the importance of a healthy food system to a healthy society. The team works each day to make sure that low income families, seniors and children have access to nutritious, affordable, safe and high quality food. They distribute the good food box to thousands of residents throughout Toronto. We salute them for their work.
Food is a key determinant of our health as a society and the production, distribution, ownership and control of our food system is something which my colleagues and I are very excited about presenting today through a national food plan.
We must begin with the source of our food, and of course that is the farm. I begin by discussing that source and the beleaguered state of the family farm in Canada. I will describe the loss of our processing sector and conclude by outlining some of the key components.
The farm crisis in the country is real. Never during times of prosperity have we seen a farm crisis of this magnitude. Some people blame the farmers. The message is that farm incomes are low because farmers are doing something wrong. Today the reality is that farmers are growing chick peas and lentils, they are raising wild boar, they are using genetically engineered seeds and high tech seeding equipment, but for all of this investment and innovation farmers have been rewarded with the lowest net farm incomes since the 1930s.
The farm crisis is hitting farmers all around the world, so that when one looks at the worldwide nature of this crisis it is hard to believe that our Canadian farmers are to blame or that our farmers alone can solve the problem. We must be aware that farmers are not the entire agricultural community. Farmers are one part of the larger agri-food sector, which includes input manufacturers, food processors, meat packers, restaurant owners and others.
Just think about the food processing sector. From milling to malt, from pasta to beef packing, foreign ownership and control of our food processing has been increasing. The global agricultural system is not serving our farmers as predicted nor is it serving the Canadian economy. It is not serving Canadian consumers either. For example, the price of corn has not changed in 20 years, but the price of corn flakes has tripled. Wheat prices have not changed either, but bread prices have tripled. This says something about the efficiency of our farmers.
Canada's farmers are so efficient that they can produce food for the same prices they did 25 years ago. In contrast, processors and retailers have tripled the prices they charge for their services.
Canada's food system, indeed the world's food system, while working to the benefit of some, is not working to the benefit of everyone, least of all family farms. The main reason I believe that we are in this position is because we do not have a national food plan. A national food plan is central in renewing the health care system of the country.
We need a plan that will safeguard the family farm, maintain Canadian ownership of our strategic food processing sector; one which will create jobs, protect food safety and ensure that farmers receive a fair share of the consumer's grocery store dollar. We need a food plan that puts the needs and interests of farm families and the urban families who eat the food at the forefront of our concerns.
First, we need to maintain Canadian control of key industries. Canada is about to lose its railways. We may also lose control of our grain companies. We are down to one company that is making tractors in this country. It is outrageous with the land mass we have and our commitment to agriculture that we may soon cease to make our own tractors.
Former Conservative Alberta Premier Lougheed recognized that in a recent speech when he said “Democratic control requires control over one's economy”. We are losing that control. We must take immediate and decisive action, both with regard to agriculture and the larger Canadian economy.
We must act now and immediately to renew the Competition Act. That act must assess large investments in Canada on the basis of their effects on Canada's farmers and Canada's food production system. To remain within the parameters of existing and international trade agreements we must use the tax system to create incentives for broad based co-operative ownership of vital food processing companies, co-operative ownership by Canadian farmers and consumers. This would ensure that these companies remain Canadian owned and controlled. This is central and this is related to the redesign and reconstruction of the health care system in this country.
With regard to our railways, the federal government should examine its options under the existing trade agreements. Canadian railways transport our food, serve remote communities, act as a link in our national defence system and transport Canadian minerals and forestry products. Surely when it comes to key strategic infrastructure such as our railways the Canadian government has options other than merely watching helplessly as those companies pass from Canadian hands.
Another component of our national food plan would be to ensure that farmers receive a fair share of the consumer's grocery store dollar or the restaurant dollar. There are several ways to do this. As a first step, one which will cost little or nothing, I would propose legislation which requires that every grocery item bear a prominent label listing the farmer's share of the retail price. I believe that Canadians would form a new understanding of the farm income crisis if they were reminded every day that the farmer gets only a nickel from the $1.40 loaf of bread and only 14 cents on a $15 case of beer.
I want to salute a former minister of agriculture who is in our Chamber today, the hon. Ralph Ferguson, for all the tremendous work he has done on “Compare the Share” in Canada. It has just been unbelievable. We challenge the grocers of Canada to deal with the challenge of giving the farmers their share.
The linkage between food and health care is undeniable. Because I have only had 10 minutes today, I want to refer listeners to our website, www.nationalfoodplan.com, because I am hoping that Canadians will realize that as we rebuild the health care system we must have a sound system for food in this country.