Mr. Speaker, this is another emergency debate that many of us have taken part in several times before. I have been in the House almost eight years and it really disturbs me that we continue to go down the same road having to deal with these situations with agriculture in a knee-jerk fashion.
I would like to try to take the politics out of this issue because it has been a problem that has plagued us for a long time.
It seems to me that Canadian people have to be asked and have to answer a very basic question: Do we want agriculture in this country or not? That is what it comes down to. When it comes down to the oilseed and grain sector, that is the very stark choice that is happening in the prairies and other parts of the country these days because it simply will not be around unless we take a different approach to how we handle agriculture.
I have seen the devastation and we have heard about it here today. We have heard a lot of good comments summarizing the seriousness of the situation. I agree 100% that we have a very vital industry that is going down the tubes. People are losing their farms. I see it every day in my riding.
I suggest that we will have do something in the short term with emergency aid, but unless we have some kind of long term plan to deal with this and unless we have some appreciation by the Canadian people that it is in their interest that we have agriculture in Canada, we will lose this war. One of the reasons I say that is that we simply cannot compete with subsidies against massively populated countries like the United States or the European Union.
I should mention at this time that I will be splitting my time with the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
We simply cannot play that game. We will lose every time. We have to do something today about the emergency crisis, but I make the case very passionately that we simply cannot win that game in the long term.
What could be done? First, I think Canadians have to decide whether they want this agricultural industry. We could import food more cheaply from other countries, I would think right now, with the subsidies out there. We could go that route and we would see the devastation that would happen in our rural communities. I am afraid it would not stop there.
I have one rural community that lost several farm dealerships last year. The community is in decline. I had a public meeting and there were grown people crying at that meeting. That is how serious it is. They are losing their farms. It is not just the farmers. The businessmen were losing their car dealerships. It does not stop there. It goes to the cities, because in western Canada in particular where I live, agriculture is a very big part. For every job in agriculture there are seven spinoff jobs. If we do not think this affects the entire country we are not living in a real world.
What could be done? We know some of the things that could be done. There is the short term aid I talked about. Others have suggested tax relief on excise taxes on fuel. Those are things we could do at home. We could have transportation reform to try to get the cost of delivery down. We will have to do that. There have been some good suggestions in that regard.
The real problem has to be addressed by the international community. Canada has to play a lot stronger role in doing that. After all, who else will do it if we do not do it? Canada has long been a leader in trying to get some rules around doing business and trade in the world. Right after the war we were one of the main proponents calling for trade rules. Agriculture was not included for a lot of different reasons, but we were there and we continue to push for that.
I suggest we have to be a lot tougher in those negotiations. If we want our agricultural industry to survive, we have to start looking after our national interests much more than we are doing today. When it comes to situations like NATO saying that Canada is not playing its part and that we have to up the ante and put more money into it, we should be saying to them that we are prepared to do that. We are prepared to talk about that, but not if countries that are part of that organization have policies which are destroying a vital sector of our economy. We have to look after the national interest first, and we are not doing that.
It goes beyond that. Europe spent $150 billion on agriculture subsidies last year. We know that it overproduces. It does not only supply its own markets. That was its goal to begin with, but it produces 10% or 15% overage from what they need. What does it do with it? It dumps it on to the world market just to get rid of it. Those depressed prices kill our agriculture exports because they have to compete against that fire sale price.
When Europe comes to us next time with a problem in its backyard saying that Canada has great peacekeepers that are needed again in Bosnia or some place, I would say we are prepared to do that but not if it continues those kinds of policies that are killing a vital sector of our economy and destroying a way of life in Canada, destroying our rural communities.
It just seems to me that we have to get more hard-nosed. We have to recognize that we have a vital industry that is important to us. We could probably import our food cheaper than we could produce it right now with the subsidies that are out there, but what happens in 15 years if those subsidies are no longer there?
What happens if the currency changes and there is a terrific devaluation? All of a sudden the price of our food becomes much more expensive. What will happen? Canadians will wake up and ask: what happened to our farmers; why were the policymakers not more responsible; why did they not encourage our farmers; and why did they not tell us about the vital need for agriculture and food security? Those are the questions they will be asking once the agricultural industry has gone.
I say we need some foresight. Collectively as a country we have to be much more hard-nosed. That is the long term answer. People say to me that long term is 10 years or 15 years and their eyes glaze over. This problem existed when I came here in 1993, which will soon be eight years ago, and we are still going along with a knee-jerk reaction. The sooner we start to realize that our national interests have to be protected, the sooner we can work toward some kind of solution.
I encourage all members of the House to work together to that end. I am sorry to say that the way we are going is not the answer. We simply will not have a grain and oilseeds sector left in the near future unless we do something very important like the move I am suggesting.