House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:35 p.m.


Susan Whelan Liberal Essex, ON

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.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a privilege to be in the House tonight to speak on behalf of farmers in the west and to speak on behalf a sector that is hurting, a sector that is diminishing and disappearing. We are here tonight because we believe that we can make changes. We have not totally given up hope. We believe that there is still a place for the family farm in western Canada and throughout Canada.

I realize, Mr. Speaker, that you are a sporting enthusiast. We may be all having a little difficulty this evening staying awake. It is 12.45 p.m. here and 9.45 p.m. in Alberta.

As a new member of parliament, I have already given my response to the throne speech. Tomorrow I will give a speech with regard to the young offenders legislation. I was not aware that I was going to give a speech on agriculture tonight, but I was told that if I waited until midnight I might find a opening. I am glad I did.

This little illustration I am about to tell the House is about a football game in 1929. California was leading Georgia Tech by a score of seven to two. The quarterback went up to the line and shouted for the ball. When the centre passed the ball to the quarterback he turned and handed the ball to a running back by the name of Roy Regals. Roy Regals took the ball, ran into the line and bumped up against his tackles and his guards and got turned around. He started running one way. Then he started running another way. Pretty soon he found himself running in the wrong direction. As he ran the wrong way the crowd hollered “no, no, no” but Roy thought they were hollering “go, go, go”. He continued to run in the wrong direction.

California had a player by the name of Benny Lam. Benny Lam took after the running back and he tried to run him down. He caught him at the five yard line. He explained to his running back that he was running in the wrong direction. Georgia Tech tried to kick the ball from its end zone and get out of trouble. When they kicked it, it was blocked. The opposing team fell on it and won the football game.

I believe we have a government very similar to the player who was running in the wrong direction, putting out all the effort to get a job done and working hard to see that agriculture and many other sectors that are in dire straits get help. However the government is running in the wrong direction.

We have stood for years and decades in the House to tell the government that there were troubles coming in the agricultural sector which needed to be addressed. They put it on hold. Everything was continually put on hold.

This past fall we travelled throughout the constituency of Crowfoot, a constituency that is dependent on agriculture and whose lifeblood is agriculture. We saw communities that are dependent on farming, grain and cattle. We were told that they would not make it.

I have travelled through many small towns in this past election campaign and found many more doors locked on main street than opened. When we talk to businessmen, whether in Drumheller, Stetler, Hannah, Camrose or Killum, they say that if we want to help their businesses we should help the farmers. If we want to keep the businesses alive, it will not come in any other way than by helping the agricultural sector.

We have looked at ways of helping agriculture. Government members looked at ways of helping agriculture. They were heading in the wrong direction. They came up with the AIDA program. They promised billions of dollars to farmers. They promised that there would be money coming and then gave us a paperwork nightmare. The other ones having nightmares are the accountants because they are the only ones who can fill out the forms. More farmers end up paying a higher accounting bill than they get in return from the government. We need to change the direction in which we are headed.

We have talked about the concerns of transportation. I am a farmer. I have farmed for 25 years. Farming is the only business which pays the end price for every purchase made. Farmers pay a retail price on everything they buy. Everything they sell is sold at a wholesale price. They also pay the freight both ways when they sell it. Before they sell any grain they pay for the freight when it leaves the farm gate. When they buy sprays and cover their input costs, they pay the final cost, which includes all those things.

We have talked about tax reform. Many of our members won the election on our stand on tax reform. One of our directors, a gentleman from Czar, Alberta, went to the United States and toured a John Deere factory. He spoke one evening with the president of John Deere. He told the president the problem with a lot of the equipment and machinery manufacturers was that they did not make equipment for the smaller farmer, the farmer who is looking for a $40,000 tractor.

He was told that when the iron comes out of the smelter and rolls out it is taxed. It goes to the next level and is taxed again. If all levels of accumulative taxes were removed from a $100,000 tractor, we would end up with a $40,000 tractor. The level of taxation on all input costs is too high.

The family farm is disappearing. I want to mention a true story about what happened during the election. I knocked on the door of farmhouse, walked in and went to the kitchen table. The farmer sat down with me and told me that he would not make it. He was 72 years old and he had no hope. In past years he had a glimmer of hope. He thought there would be hope, but he saw no hope coming from the government or anyone.

As he sat there he told me that he spent two hours on the Sunday previous looking for a .22 shell. He said that there was no hope for him. When I left that farmhouse, he was sitting, weeping at the table.

The only time I have ever stolen anything in my life is when I left the farmhouse that day. I went to his gun rack on the porch, took the rifle and put it in my pickup. It is a true story. It simply illustrates the degree of hopelessness people are feeling out there.

I have received phone calls and letters from people in my riding. I have had individuals sitting in my office, breaking down and weeping. A 58 year old farmer from Edgerton told me that on the night previous his 26 year old son who has one young child had come in to his home and had told him “Dad, I am leaving. Why would I stay?” This individual had most of his land finally paid for. He was looking forward to his son taking over the farm. We are losing a generation from the farm and they will not come back.

What do we want farms to look like in 10 years? What do we want western Canada to look like in 10 years? My communities are dependent on the family farm. We are begging the government to listen. The Prime Minister stood in the House the other day and said that he would go to the United States and encourage President Bush to drop the subsidy.

We need help and we need it now in the agricultural sector in western Canada. We need help from a government that will say that we will not simply ask Mr. Bush but will lobby governments in Europe, in the United States and throughout the world, our competitors. We want our farmers on a level playing field with farmers around the world.

There are too many stories out there about people who have lost hope. Twenty-two thousand farmers over the last year have packed their bags and said that they were going somewhere to find a job. They were going to learn about computers so that they could work in the city somewhere, which our government is encouraging them to do.

The family farm is disappearing. What will it look like in 10 years? I have no idea. I do realize that just as in the 1930s in Alberta and throughout western Canada populist movements came along and people found hope. People are looking to the government today for hope. They are looking to each side for hope. Let us hope and pray that we come up with some long term solutions soon and a quick influx of cash before spring work.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I consider it a privilege to be able to end the debate this evening. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for entertaining the application for the emergency debate. I think that we have made points on all sides of the House tonight on why it is a very important topic. I will reflect for a moment on the speech my colleague from Crowfoot just gave. What he has done is he has given us a human context for this issue.

We can come to this place and debate numbers, failed programs and subsidies that are in place in certain jurisdictions and not in others, and then leave at the end of the night. We will have done our part somewhat in raising these issues, but the fact of the matter is that when we leave this place tonight people across the country will still be in dire straits because of the farm income crisis my colleague and others have mentioned. We need to do something immediately.

The government provided relief with the AIDA program, but we know that has not completely solved the problem, partly because of the administrative quagmire that has ensued where the money has not gone to the people who have needed it. We have heard from individuals, from our own members today who represent the constituents across the country, that it needs to be fixed and needs to be fixed now. We need to get those dollars to the people who need them so that they can put their crops in this year.

My riding is one that is an urban-rural riding. I consider myself a city boy. I spent most of my life in the city, but had the opportunity to spend many of my summers as a young man on my uncle's farm in Killarney, Manitoba, and to see firsthand what it was like to live on a farm and what hard work went into the production of foodstuffs in our country.

We have a network of people across this country that puts food on the table for all Canadians. We need to keep that in mind, no matter what region we may come from or what demographic we might associate ourselves with. We need to put the help out there right now.

I would like to correct a couple of comments that I heard from my colleague across the way who has been here and listening to the debate. The member for Malpeque mentioned that the Alliance does not support supply management. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have many dairy farmers in my own riding, in Agassiz. We have a research station in Agassiz that does good work and we have producers who work very hard. This is an issue that touches us from coast to coast.

We have heard passionate speeches tonight as to why the government needs to move ahead in terms of foreign subsidies, which other nations are providing to their farmers. Our government seems to have moved in a unilateral disarmament way in relation to subsidies. We need immediate action on that.

We have asked for implementation of measures that would help with input costs, such as reducing fuel taxes and many other measures. As my colleague for Crowfoot so eloquently explained, our farmers are paying the retail price for production. They are putting in the input costs themselves, such as the high cost of transportation, and getting wholesale prices.

We know there are solutions out there. One of our colleagues from the government side said that we need to find a way to help our farmers compete. There are ideas. They are here before us. They have been laid out in debate this evening. We are asking that the government take the ideas that are there and put them in place and do it now. It is only when we take the actions necessary to back up our words that we show with our deeds we are serious about what we say in the House.

Opposition members and government members, we need to move ahead co-operatively. This is not a partisan issue, as we are all aware. We perhaps have different ideas about how to get to the solution, but we know that there are people in need tonight in our country. They are the producers, our farmers and their families, who may not be putting in a crop again, who face personal loss, and not only of their jobs. It is more than a job. It is a way of life for so many and I think all of us have been touched by those who have lived that life.

It is for that very reason that as we leave this place tonight we need to put action to our words. I implore my colleagues on the government side to use whatever influence they may have with the ministers and with those who have the opportunity to move ahead on regulatory changes, input taxes and the foreign subsidies that have been mentioned. I implore them to move ahead on those things and do what they can. People across the country are waiting for that and looking for leadership from this place.

Tonight's debate has been a great opportunity. I hope the importance of this issue is not lost on any of us. It is my sincere hope and wish, as I think it is the wish of all members, that as we leave this place tonight we do not just compartmentalize this debate, put it on the shelf and say that we did our job. It is my sincere hope and wish that we move forward on the initiatives that have been suggested and look for real solutions to help real people who are in dire straits tonight across our country.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being midnight, I declare the motion carried.

The House therefore stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 12 a.m.)