Mr. Speaker, I would like to start tonight by reminding everyone about Canadian agriculture and Canadian farmers, a bit of a history lesson perhaps.
First, our farmers farm in Canada under some of the most severe geographic and weather conditions in the world. Over 55% of our food production is produced farther north than any other country in the northern hemisphere.
How did this come about in this land called Canada? I ask the House to think back to the time when the king of France, occupied by the European war, when asked about the settlers in New France and what would happen to them, said “Who cares. Let them survive the best way they know. Who wants that land of ice and snow anyhow?”
They did survive and became the most productive part of our society. If all other parts of our society were as productive as our farmers we never would have known inflation as we did. There was no other part of our society that became as productive per person as those engaged in agriculture.
At one time in the early development of our country, Canada, one farm family produced enough for itself and one other family. Now today one farm family produces enough for itself and 160 other families. How do they accomplish this great feat? From the very beginning the governments of the day established display farms, research stations and experimental farms to help the new settlers from all over the world.
Through Agriculture Canada our scientists and our farmers worked together. They developed new short season hardier crops, disease resistant cereal grains, a new variety of soyabean, canola, lentils and the very best genetic breeding programs in the world for our livestock and poultry industries. They learned how to produce fruit and vegetables in short seasons. They developed the best storage systems in the world; controlled atmospheres for apples, oranges, cabbage and carrots. You name it, Mr. Speaker, we stored it.
We developed programs in Canada to help our farmers build this kind of storage. For example, the government paid up to one-third of the cost if three farmers joined together to build a storage facility. British Columbia in time was able to ship the highest quality of apples to over 30 countries in the Pacific Rim area.
Canada took advantage of the international laws to create the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Dairy Commission, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, the Canadian Chicken Marketing Agency, the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency, all of these fair marketing agency systems that allowed good farmers a decent profit for what they produced, as well as providing consumers with a very fair priced product.
Would it not be just great if the energy producers of oil and gas could offer the consumers of their products the same fair priced products today?
When we make a comparison to other parts of the world we must remember the differences. For example, in the United States of America the constitution is different. The federal government in the United States has total authority, 100%. It does not have to deal with 51 ministers of agriculture. The states' secretaries of agriculture are nothing more than agriculture extension services. Imagine the United States of America's secretary of agriculture having to do the same as the Canadian minister of agriculture? Under our constitution it is a shared responsibility, much different and more difficult to administer among rich and poor sectors. For instance, Alberta is oil rich and Manitoba and New Brunswick have very limited resources.
It is nearly impossible to run a fair national program with the status quo. However, I must say that our farmers are victims of their own success, doing what the economists told them to do: “Produce, produce, produce. That's your answer to economic prosperity”. For agriculture in an over produced global world it can be economic death.
I would like to read from the Palm Beach Post from Sunday, December 24, 2000. It reads:
For somebody who works the hard northern land that was first cut by homesteaders' plows less than a century ago, the big harvest of government checks usually happens in the fall $40,000 for just being a farmer, another $40,000 for emergencies like bad market conditions, more than $100,000 for not making any money on what is grown, and $50,000 for taking other land out of production.
Good crops or bad, high yields or low, it hardly matters, the checks roll in from the federal government, the biggest payroll in farm country. By the end of the year, some farmers can receive up to $280,000 simply by having another miserable year of failure.
In eight states, including Montana, government assistance made up 100% of all farm income. This is what is happening in the United States today. This is what is causing the price of grains and oilseed to be depressed so that Canadian farmers who are the most productive, efficient farmers in the world cannot compete fairly.
The government has put programs in place. However, the government also needs to take a look at how we fix those programs to address the grain and oilseed crisis. All the parties have to come to the table, the federal, the provincial government and all the farm commodity groups. We must find a way to help Canadian producers compete. We do not want to be, as the article goes on to say “a ward of the federal government, a slow fading county, a society that is similar to welfare”. We do not want our agriculture sector to resemble that. We have to work to ensure that trade laws are changed so that rules are enforced so we can play on a fair playing field.
In the meantime, we need to do something now for our Canadian farmers. Our farmers and our rural communities that are at risk in the grain and oilseed sector need immediate assistance. The government is looking for a solution and working toward a solution, but again we need all the parties to come to the table.
We need to find a way to help our Canadian producers compete. They are part of our society and contribute greatly to our quality of life. We cannot forget the history lesson of how Canada was formed. We cannot forget what they mean to the fabric of our society. We cannot forget how important it is to ensure that Canadians have safe, efficient, good quality and low cost food for all Canadians, whether rich or poor, so that we can ensure that this country stays strong. We do not want to be at the mercy of any other country for our food supply. We must always remember the important history lesson of our Canadian farmers. We must not forget, we shall not forget.