Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving the House the opportunity to debate this very important issue.
Some people consider Durham to be part of the GTA so that therefore we would not know about farming. In fact, my riding is proud that its second largest industry is agriculture. Our first one is General Motors. Agriculture is a big feature of the Durham riding.
Just as a personal note, I spent about eight years of my life farming on a part time basis. I can well remember the years when I could not get my farm crop in because of weather conditions and the elevators in the spring would not give me the proper pricing for that. I had to dump the crop on my farm floor and feed it to pigs. I can certainly understand the trials and tribulations that have occurred in the agricultural industry. Some things are predicated by weather conditions, others by market forces. The decisions are made way beyond the farm gate.
Our farmers are having a crisis. Every member in the House has agreed that we have a significant one.
I was just speaking to a number of farmers in my riding last Friday. They belong to an organization called the Canadian Foodgrain Bank. This is an organization that many people would not understand. The farmers get together to volunteer their time and labour to grow grain. They basically have a storage facility. CIDA actually purchases that grain and ships it overseas. The farm community, even in its time of need, has found ways to reach out to those less fortunate in other countries.
It is only appropriate that farmers are looking to us in their time of need. It is time for us to discuss their issue and to ensure that they are properly taken care of.
I do not have to tell hon. members that a couple of world wars have taught a lot of nations that it is very dangerous to be dependent on other countries for their food supply. Even though some people will argue, improperly I think, that other agricultural countries could possibly outproduce us, I do not believe that is true. I think it is dangerous if it is true. We must sustain our Canadian agricultural industry.
It seems to me the farm sector is broken down into a number of areas. We have a very dangerous tendency in the House to talk about agriculture as if it were some kind of holistic thing. In fact it is many industries all at once.
We have the supply management industry. Some people have suggested it is doing well. Others have suggested it is simply on a life support system. It is actually crumbling under the weight of international pricing and the move toward tariffication as opposed to a quota system for some of our supply based industries. It too is in jeopardy and needs to be protected. We as legislators need to stand up for that industry.
However it is true that the supply management industry is not under the strain of grain and oilseeds and the other sectors of the agricultural industry that do not have a supply management industry.
These industries are coming to the government and saying that it is their supply manager. As a bunch of small producers they find it very difficult to compete, not only internationally but domestically. After all, there are only two or three major buyers of livestock in Canada but there are many livestock farmers. There is a great disproportionate disparity in the marketplace. I believe another member talked about the failure of the market to deal directly with farmers.
Many people talked about the crisis today and suggested that we need money and cash injection. I agree with that. However I would like to talk today about the whole concept of program delivery.
Before I started to study this debate I sourced some interesting statistics, Canadian revenue income statistics. These figures are for people who reported their incomes in 1998 from farming. They may be somewhat inaccurate because they come from people's tax returns. This is on a personal income tax basis, so it does not reflect people who carried on farming in a corporate entity. They would not show up in these figures. However it gives us a rough overview, a sort of barometer of what is actually going on in the agricultural industry.
A total of 439,990 tax filers who claimed that their chief source of income was from farming had a total income of about $2 billion. That works out to a median income for farmers of $4,552.
What is even more startling is the report of the National Council of Welfare in 1998 which talked about a low income cutoff for people determined as being on welfare. For a family of three it indicated $20,000 as the low income cutoff level. That is lower than for people who live in the city because it is believed that their taxes and other expenses are possibly cheaper. They were taken into consideration.
It is amazing to see, as people have losses from farming, up through the income stream that we have 214,470 farmers with $20,000 worth of income. Basically that indicates that 50% of the people who filed their tax return in 1998 and declared their chief source of income to be from farming are living in poverty. That is a very sad testament for our country. Basically the people living in urban areas are the net benefactors of that policy.
It is not so much government per se, but for whatever reason we have been the beneficiary of a cheap food policy. Nine per cent of our disposable income is spent on food. That is lower than the United States which has a bigger per capita income than we do. We have a cheap food policy in Canada but it has been driven on the backs of our farm community.
We have heard the concerns of people regarding various government programs. Historically what has happened is that every time we have had a problem or a crisis in the farm sector a plan has been developed to prevent it, to adjust it or deal with it. As a consequence, we have created a band-aid solution to farm income support systems.
We have talked about a safety net system. The intentions of governments, no matter what stripe, have basically been good, but they have not been able to take the time to sit down and look at the long range aspect of farm income support systems. I suggest that we look in another direction, which is to create a negative income tax for farmers.
We have an AIDA system, a NISA system, a CPIF system, a market revenue system and a crop insurance system. We have a multiplicity of systems. We normally put $1.6 billion toward agriculture support. We put another billion dollars per year up to $2.5 billion. I just said that the total income of farmers reported in 1998 was $2 billion. There is no question that we could afford a negative income tax system to support our farm community without making every farmer an accountant or a lawyer.
In my riding, half of the people who are entitled to these programs are not getting money because they cannot fill out the damn forms. The first category in this group lost $255 million. These people cannot afford to pay $1,000 for an accountant or a lawyer to fill out these forms, so they do not get the money. The money is not getting to the people who need it.
Yes, we do have all these programs in place but the money is not getting to the people who are entitled to it. We will have to do things in a better way.