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House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was system.

Topics

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 13 petitions.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34, I have the honour to table in the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian section of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie, as well as the related financial report.

The report has to do with the meeting of the Commission on Parliamentary Affairs, held in Pnom Penh, Cambodia, from March 2 to March 4, 2000.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Pursuant to its order of reference dated Thursday, May 11, 2000, the committee has adopted Bill C-27, an act respecting the national parks of Canada and has agreed to report it with amendments.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the hon. members and witnesses who sat for many long hours to make this report possible.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present in both official languages the third report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. This report is entitled “Seeking a Balance: Final Report on Human Resources Development Canada Grants and Contributions”.

The report is the result of four months of very public hearings. The committee heard from witnesses from all over the country, from within government and outside of government. These witnesses were selected by members of all five parties represented on our committee.

I want to thank the members of the committee, the witnesses and the staff of the committee who assisted us in producing what I hope will be a very valuable piece of work.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, with respect to this report, the official opposition members of the committee are strongly of the opinion that the Liberal majority on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities failed to fully report and constructively criticize the department's mismanagement and abuse of grants and contributions programs.

We believe that the committee is in dereliction of its responsibility therefore to hold the government accountable on behalf of Canadian workers, employers and taxpayers.

The Liberal majority report does not impute any responsibility to anyone in the mismanagement of the department and blames other factors. Because the Liberal majority report denies the nature and scope of the problems at HRDC, the recommendations it makes fails to address the root cause of these problems and our dissenting report and 14 recommendations from the official opposition are appended.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would seek the permission of the House to explain the dissenting opinion of the Bloc Quebecois on this report.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I regret to inform the hon. member that that requires the unanimous consent of the House. Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member to explain his party's position on this report?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important report. It contains, among other things, a recommendation by the Bloc Quebecois, which I myself proposed, that the department be dismantled because of the crisis we have witnessed.

We submitted a dissenting report because, if the government simply dismantled the department without getting to the bottom of things in this situation through an independent public inquiry, we would not have honoured the wishes of the citizens of Quebec and Canada in this matter.

I think government action must go a lot further, otherwise this will be seen as nothing more than camouflaging.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, presented Tuesday, February 22, be concurred in.

We are here today to finish up a bit of unfinished business and ongoing business dealing with the farm income issue across Canada, in particular in western Canada.

I would ask if I could have the agreement of the House to share my time with the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster so that we would each have 10 minutes.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there the unanimous consent of the House to permit the hon. member to share his time?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not have concurrence to share my time. We should have a positive attitude in parliament and we should work together to address agricultural issues. I am very disappointed that my colleagues in the House feel that this spirit of co-operation is not necessary in addressing agricultural problems in Canada.

The majority report which was put forward by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on March 13, in which I concurred, was inadequate and did not adequately address the issues, nor did it adequately examine the problems. I will address that as we go along. Primarily the problem was that the hearings were confined to three provinces, when I know very clearly from geography books and the history of the country that we have 10 provinces as well as the territories which have agricultural issues.

Since October 21, 1999, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food has examined issues surrounding the farm income crisis facing farmers. I would like to point out that it was the Canadian Alliance and my motion which in fact got the hearings going on the farm income issue. As far as I know, had we not done that, the government would have continued on with the statements of the minister, saying “Relax, NISA and crop insurance are sufficient to address this crisis”, when it soon became very apparent that the basic farm safety net programs would not do the job.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Reform

John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that if the member for Selkirk—Interlake had simply stated that he was splitting his time, that indeed would be allowable in the House.

May I request that he simply make that statement at this time, that he would indeed be splitting his time with another alliance member?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Yes, that has certainly been the practice. The hon. member asked for consent and sat down, so I asked for consent and it was refused. I only asked for it because he asked me to.

If he wants to split his time, that is his business. Normally we do accept that a member can stand at the beginning of his or her remarks and say that he or she will be splitting his or her time.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time.

In November 1999 the Canadian Alliance started a series of meetings across Canada to address this issue, which the Standing Committee on Agriculture Agri-Food and the Liberal government were unwilling to do.

In November 1999 the action for struggling agriculture producers committee was struck by the Canadian Alliance in response to the income crisis. The hearings were necessary because the ongoing farm income crisis had not abated. In fact, as of this day it has not abated.

In Saskatchewan farm incomes have improved somewhat, but only because of farm subsidy programs. What we have not seen is an improvement due to the government addressing the root causes and the problems of farm incomes in Canada, including western Canada and southwest Ontario, which rely on export markets for many of their cash crops.

There are many root problems, but I will just mention two or three that are major and should be addressed right away.

First, the government has to get out of the way of the value added processing of raw agriculture, such as grains and meats, on the prairies and across the country. The Canadian Wheat Board at the present time is putting roadblocks in the way of pasta producers, who, in trying to do value added processing, find that they have to sell their grain through the wheat board and then buy it back, which makes it uneconomical. The organic farmers will also find that the wheat board is a tough customer to deal with as their organic products start to increase.

We have the problem of marketing, which I have mentioned. Farmers must have the ability to decide how best to market the products from their farms. In this regard the government has to move to make the Canadian Wheat Board a voluntary organization.

Later today we will be dealing with the transport reforms. I mention them here as part of the ASAP report, because farmers certainly said that they need to have transport reform. The transport reform needs to be toward the side of a commercial contract based system.

I would like to point out the current situation on the prairies. I would like to refer to people in Saskatchewan who have addressed this issue.

We have the general statistic that arrears on farm debt in Saskatchewan increased between February and March from $6.3 million to $8.2 million.

John Eberl, the administrator of the Rural Municipality of Antler, said that out of 15 farmers in his immediate area, three have gone bankrupt. After 30 years, Don Kincaid believes he is finished with farming. Don Kincaid lives about 60 kilometres southwest of Regina. He said the reason is that he could not risk losing more money. That is a sign of desperation. Farmers do not see any improvement in the immediate future. That is a big problem.

The issue of input is also paramount to the health of agriculture in western Canada. Between 1994 and 1998 farm cash receipts increased 7.5%. Meanwhile, operating expenses like fuels, chemicals and labour rose 9.4% and depreciation increased 15.8% As a result, realized net income fell by 11.5% during the five year period.

Until these root causes of the problems for farm income are addressed, including high taxation by the government, farmers will not be able to have a real optimistic outlook. The government is perhaps hoping that there will be natural disasters around the world that will drive up grain prices, but that is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to start addressing the root causes in Canada.

I would ask for the concurrence of the House to table, in both official languages, the report of the action for struggling agriculture producers committee, which I have compiled along with my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance. In particular, I would like to mention the outstanding work done by the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table the document to which he has referred?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his presentation today and for bringing us up to date on the progress of the ASAP report. I know that he and the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster have worked very hard on this, as have many of us. It is unfortunate that we did not get consent from the House to table that report, because it reflects the views of some 3,500 farmers with whom we met. It would be very wise of the government to listen and to have a look at what these people had to say.

I know that copies of the ASAP report were sent to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Could the hon. member comment on the response he has received from them?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, whilst I have not received a response, I certainly hope to receive it in the near future.

Members on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food voted down motion after motion which I brought forward to hold hearings across the country on safety nets. They refused to go to southwestern Ontario, which is the single biggest agriculture producing province in Canada. I can only conclude from that that the minister from Toronto and other ministers from the area thought that if they could keep the Canadian Alliance away from the people of Ontario it would be an out of sight/out of mind situation. Looking back, that seemed to be the whole objective of denying the standing committee the opportunity to travel to southwestern Ontario to talk directly with farmers.

That shows the crassness of the political objectives of this government. The farmers' interests come second, third or fourth. The government's political objectives are to get re-elected and to keep politicians from other parties out of southwestern Ontario.

I am proud to say that the Canadian Alliance went to southern Ontario. We held six meetings. A lot of people who came to the meetings, who were of all political persuasions, questioned the representation they were getting from their members of parliament.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened very diligently to my colleague across the way this morning and to his response to the last question. I am a member from southwestern Ontario. I welcome his great initiative to travel in my area. He obviously recognizes where the quality of land in agriculture is very vital.

I am a member of the agriculture committee, as is he. Yes, indeed, the motion was put that we travel west and to southwestern Ontario. Does he remember, in that particular instance, that yes, I voted against it, but the motion was to travel to Ontario and the eastern provinces? Was there a political motive in that he only wanted to visit southwestern Ontario?

How many meetings did the hon. member attend out west?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, in answer to the question, we had great representation by the Canadian Alliance at every one of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food meetings. The meetings we held on the ASAP report were attended by provincial politicians from all parties. I did not see any federal Liberal members there who could have come out to listen directly to it. They seemed to rely on the minister from Regina to be the one to speak for them, telling the sheep in the background as to what the heck they should be voting on and saying.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food had many opportunities and still does have the opportunity to consult farmers on the safety net programs. Agriculture is not out of the woods and the member's question indicates to me that the government does not intend to do anything more to address the root causes of the agricultural crisis in Canada.

We are going to be debating reforms to the grain transportation system that fall far short of the ideal and of the requests of the major farm organizations in western Canada. Who are those major farm organizations in western Canada with regard to the grain transportation issue? They are the five grain companies, three of which are owned and administered by farmers. Those people want to see a much greater commercialization of grain transportation than what we see today.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Gerry Ritz Reform Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the ongoing agricultural crisis in the country. As we see from the co-operation we are getting from the government side of the House, agriculture's biggest problem is that it is 90% politics and 10% production. Of course that goes to the root cause of what is happening out there now. There is a sad lack of cashflow due to government inattention and government cuts.

Since the government will not seem to co-operate and allow us to table this report, I will spend my 10 minutes on the 13 policy suggestions from farmers. These are primary producers. Some 3,500 to 4,000 primary producers came out to our town hall meetings and told us what they thought. We went straight to the horse's mouth, if you will, Mr. Speaker, rather than the other end that we see here in the House.

Policy suggestion number one: Farmers demand that promised disaster assistance be delivered on time. Of course that has not happened. The agricultural income disaster assistance program, AIDA, did not accomplish this goal. Less than 30% of the money allocated for 1998 got off the cabinet table out to the kitchen tables.

Emergency compensation programs must be structured in such a way as to target assistance to all farmers who need help. Again AIDA failed miserably.

Policy suggestion number two: National farm safety net programs must not only be maintained, they must be improved. Any long term safety net program must include an income disaster program, a crop insurance program and an income stabilization program such as NISA. The problem we had earlier on was that the agriculture minister, backed up by his colleagues, insisted that crop insurance and NISA were more than adequate to handle the problem. We knew otherwise.

An effective farm safety net would ensure long term stable protection for farmers and would eliminate the need for ad hoc programs such as AIDA in the future.

Policy suggestion number three: The majority of farmers are calling on the federal government to become more aggressive in trade negotiations. They want better access to world markets. Farmers have stated that the Canadian government has lowered its agricultural support much faster than other nations and much faster than we agreed to in the trade negotiations in the Uruguay round.

Farmers are demanding that the government not lower agricultural support any faster than our trade competitors and no faster than agreed to.

Policy suggestion number four: Governments must clearly define the future direction for agriculture policy in Canada. Is it sustainable? Do we need a good safe secure food supply? Of course we do. As part of this, government must define who falls into the category of farmer. This would help to decrease uncertainty in who qualifies for farm safety net programs and would reduce conflicts with farm income tax provisions.

We also saw this flaw clearly in the evidence in the election for the wheat board. Folks who were landlords from the United States got ballots. An immigrant lady who had been in Toronto for one week received a ballot. There were a lot of things like that. If we had a clear definition of who was actually farming, it would certainly go a long way to help the government define farmer.

Policy suggestion number five: Farmers suggest that the federal government lower user fees charged by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business just completed a study. The findings indicate that farmers are another casualty of the government's cost recovery policies. It says that the government is adding to producers' problems with huge user fees, rising input costs, government debt and deficit reduction, which of course has hit the agriculture sector harder than anybody else, government regulations and the paper burden. Sixty-eight percent of those that replied to the survey say that one of the most heinous jobs they have is the paperwork that is required in sending all of this stuff to Ottawa when it does not seem to do any good.

Policy suggestion number six: Farmers suggest that the federal government immediately lower farmers' costs by enabling a competitive commercially accountable grain handling and transportation system.

That will go to the heart of what we are going to hear later today when the transport minister introduces Bill C-34 redoing the grain transportation act.

Policy suggestion number seven: Farmers are calling on the federal government to immediately allow producers to improve their income by moving up the processing chain. This would require the government to remove the regulations slowing direct farmer involvement in value added processing.

Prairie pasture producers wanting to create 100-plus jobs in southern Saskatchewan, wanting to upgrade the value of durum here at home rather than shipping it to the United States or other places to be processed, are the types of incentives we need to see. That is rural development. That is the type of thing the Secretary of State for Rural Development should be talking about in this House. It goes to the root cause of why farmers are not making any money. They are not allowed to handle and market their own product.

Policy suggestion number eight: The majority of farmers believe that western Canadian farmers should have the freedom to market their grain independently of the Canadian Wheat Board. Most farmers do not want the wheat board to disappear but believe it should be one of their marketing options that also includes but is not limited to marketing directly to farmer owned new generation co-operatives or any other access they find.

The problem we have with the wheat board is it is a monopoly. It is a closed shop. It is also spreading its tentacles into areas such as organic farming which is just starting to come on big in the west. That goes to the government's bill on pesticides and that type of thing. Organic farming is definitely part of the answer. The wheat board does not really want to handle the product because it is a niche market and it is too small for it. Yet it still wants to control the pricing and have the buyback provisions. It is absolutely ludicrous.

When we see a farmer from southern Manitoba in shackles and chains because he marketed his own product across the line, it is absolutely abhorrent that type of thing can happen in a democracy such as Canada.

Policy suggestion number nine: Most farmers believe that overall farm income would increase if interprovincial trade barriers were removed. They are calling on the federal and provincial governments to actively pursue free trade within Canada.

It is great to have trading negotiations going on with all the countries in the world, but we have huge trade distortions within our own country from province to province. Numbers put that disparity at about $6 billion a year. It is a horrendous amount of money that should be in producers' pockets.

Policy suggestion number ten: Most farmers maintain that any endangered species legislation must respect the property rights of landowners. That is a big item. There has to be adequate compensation and respect for the property owner. And it must include compensation for land if the habitat must be taken out of production. We have not seen that in any of the legislation that has been brought forward. It has to be there.

The majority of producers believe that the government could achieve more through co-operation with farmers and ranchers than through threats of punishment. We know how well that is working with the gun registration bill.

Policy suggestion number eleven: The majority of farmers demand that any legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gases must not reduce farmers' income.

As we see, farming and agriculture in Canada is the only industry I know of that buys retail and sells wholesale. Any costs that are incurred by any one of the suppliers and so on are passed on to the farm gate. They cannot be added to the product price and shipped back out again, as we see in every other industry.

The environmental taxes that are now being collected not only hit the farmer himself but they also hit the machine dealer and the fertilizer dealer. Everyone else passes them on in increased costs to the farmer who must eat the increased cost and cannot pass it back in any way, shape or form. It is not fair.

Policy suggestion number twelve: Most farmers support giving Canadians the ability to choose and not to consume food that contains genetically modified organisms. Most farmers acknowledge that this will require some form of labelling on food containing those GMOs.

We are saying that it cannot be a mandatory type of system. It just will not work. Voluntary should work quite well as it has in other jurisdictions.

Policy suggestion number thirteen: Farmers are asking for all levels of government to ensure that adequate counselling, support programs and such are available for farm families suffering through this farm crisis. That seems to be something government can intervene in and also be there to backstop farmers.

There has been talk of an escape clause for people who want to get out. In my home province of Saskatchewan the average age of farmers is approaching 60 years. These farmers are working away at their equity, shortening their retirement values and so on. It is just not right and it is not fair.

Thirty percent of the AIDA funds for 1998 are all that escaped from Ottawa and got out there to do any good. We are now seeing headlines that the 1999 program may not have enough cash in it. It is absolutely ludicrous. When family farms are not receiving the cash, where is the money going? Administration costs cannot be that high.

Huge rallies have been held in western Canada with farmers going out in their tractors, trucks or whatever to become part of a convoy. The very first one was held out west in my riding of Battlefords—Lloydminster in which 400 units took part just to show some support.

We are also finding a lot of intervention from past the farm gate suppliers. These fellows are carrying huge debt loads and farmers cannot afford to pay their bills. Bank credit has dried up. Farmers are asking for some long term, low interest loans as farm credit's mandate originally was. It has now become a quasi-judicial board separate from the government which those folks like to do to hide responsibility. We are not seeing the type of financial package the agriculture industry will need to sustain itself in the next millennium.

The farmers out there are in trouble. They are looking for some sort of leadership from the federal government and from their provincial governments. They are not seeing a whole lot.