Mr. Speaker, it is with tremendous pride that I rise to speak to the emergency debate on agriculture. That pride comes from being a farm partner. I was born and raised on a farm. I have spent my 36 years of married life farming. I know firsthand how farming has changed in the last 50 years and the challenges today's agriculture community faces.
I could stand here and talk for hours about agricultural subsidies, the failure of the AIDA program, the transportation costs and the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly. I could talk about the decimation of our rural communities, the loss of young families to urban centres and the fact that our small town can hardly keep its school open let alone field a minor hockey team, but I felt this was an opportunity to let the farmers speak with their own words.
Last year, prior to entering the political arena and during the ongoing farm crisis, I took some personal action. I was very discouraged with the words and actions of the agriculture minister and the federal government toward struggling farm families. I thought that if I put a face on the problem perhaps the importance of the issue would be noticed.
I appealed through the media to farm women and children in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta to write letters about the circumstances that they were facing on the farm and to send them to me. I vowed to somehow try to get the minister of agriculture's attention with those letters.
Well the minister of agriculture is not here tonight but we shall have it in Hansard . I am going to speak their words. I received letters from farm women, farm men and children. They are amazing letters with words that speak of hard work, sacrifice, heartbreak and of feeling forgotten by the nation and their government.
Some of the letters were agonizing to read but most of the agonizing letters did not come from farm women and children, they came from men.
This evening I want to read short excerpts from just a few of the letters. I urge all members of the House to sit back in their chairs, close their eyes and listen. I wish there were more members here to hear them. I want members to really listen to the words they are about to hear. These are not words of a politician. These are the words of farmers, farm wives and the children.
Letter No. 1 reads:
I am a farm wife raising four sons age 4 to 15. I work full-time. Due to low grain prices and excessive moisture, my husband was forced to work full-time in town. So that left our 4 sons on the farm for long hours. I did not realize how stressed my eldest son was until he expressed concerns, weeping to me one evening. He felt he had to (be the) head of the farm while his dad was away. He's 15. He should be a kid while he can.
Letter No. 2 reads:
Everything that my mom and dad ever made went back into their 12-quarter farm. They never splurged on anything and definitely don't have any luxuries. They never took my sister and I on a holiday because they couldn't afford it. I always thought my sister and I were deprived because we didn't have lots of clothes and we didn't have our own brand new vehicles when we turned 16. I have to sit back and watch everything that my dad achieved in his 37 years of farming go down the drain. Their retirement is going down the drain because everything always went back into the farm so they could keep up and make the payments. Years of hard work and tears are down the drain. Even if my mom and dad survive another year on the farm, it won't be the same. The hurt of knowing this cannot even be said. It won't be passed down to any more family ever again. And that's not because I don't want to continue in my father's footsteps, it's because we can't make a living. The government is slapping farmers in the face. Could I charge the government with abuse? They would slap me in the face and laugh at how pitiful I am, and continue on with turning Canada into their goal of becoming the next Third World country.
Letter No. 3 reads:
It is difficult to explain the toll and the effect that the farm crisis has had on my husband, myself, and my family. Who would have ever guessed that the year 1998 would be so disruptive for our family. As usual, the crop was put in this spring, despite the fact there was basically no moisture. My husband had to have his gall bladder removed and so he had scheduled his surgery sandwiched between seeding and springtime. My husband has never been hospitalized before in his life. The stress mounted daily as he awaited his surgery and as he awaited the growth of the crop. Now, only a wife knows and understands the pride that men have that does not allow them to speak of their innermost concerns and fears. This is what the government does not see. It does not see farmers losing their pride and self-respect. It does not see the wives who try to improve their husband's frame of mind only to have their husband turn against them. And the government does not want to see the despair in the eyes of the farmer. The beginning of 1999 of course brought no relief—take extensions on the loans, buy a little at a time, hope for AIDA. I don't think so; hope is long-gone, not even a subject to be brought up on the farm these days. This is the real farm crisis—the loss of hope, continued discouragement and deep depression and a disregard for government figures who are clueless as to the plight of farmers.
Letter No. 4 reads:
Our family is in a farm crisis. We are durum farmers in southwest Saskatchewan who farm two sections of land. My husband and I both were both raised on farms and we chose to raise our family on the farm. We were not gifted with a family farm and realize only too well the stress of trying to make a farm work financially. We have applied for AIDA but we have heard nothing. We cashed in on all the RRSPs that we had to make last year's payments. What more are we expected to do? We do not want a handout. We want a fair value for the product we grow. We need the government to see our family as worthwhile contributors to our Canadian society. I need the government to understand that I am working as hard as I can to support my family in our chosen lifestyle of farming. Times are very financially tough for us right now. The big banks do not care about us but our government should. We farmers are talking about survival; not acquiring the newest truck; not travelling to Hawaii for the winter, not building the biggest, newest home. Please listen to us. Please understand our situation and help us through it.
Letter No. 5 reads:
Farming in Saskatchewan has never been a cakewalk. My forefathers came to this country shortly after the turn of the century with a sense of adventure, a need for opportunity, and a keen desire to succeed. My ancestors no doubt endured hardships that tested their endurance. Canadian prairie agriculture is characterized by people determined to succeed. One thing that has not changed is the farmers' sense of pride and many farmers still prefer to put on a stiff upper lip regardless of how bad things get. We still have our pride and fortunately the facilitator of this letter campaign has pried a few stiff upper lips into telling their story. The insolence and cold-hearted responses of our nation's politicians show a pathetic lack of appreciation for what farmers are sacrificing in terms of economic stability, mental anguish and family discord.
I hope all members of every political stripe have truly heard these words. I have one more letter. It reads:
To Someone Who Cares. It has been another one of those days. Tears at breakfast and again at dinner and probably at supper too. I have a constant pressure in my chest and nausea all the time. I have never been so depressed. I have a million things to do but what is the point? Why work so hard for literally nothing? Production costs far outweigh what our crop is worth. Bills are still outstanding.
I am sharing my time with the hon. member in front of me but I want to state that the government must heed these words. It must recognize how Canadian agriculture is struggling. It is time for action from the federal government to support and stabilize an industry that is so vital to our whole nation.
The words I have read are full of meaning and a heartfelt plea for help. On behalf of these farm families I would like to table these letters in the House today. I urge the Liberal government to immediately and meaningfully address the agricultural crisis in Canada.