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.