Mr. Speaker, I rise to add to the sense of urgency that our party believes exists in regard to letting the government know that there is a crisis for the Canadian family farm.
In my home province of Ontario, the agricultural sector in rural Ontario remains an important engine for economic growth. Projected farm gate sales of $8.84 billion for 1999 tell us that agriculture in Ontario continues to grow. Additionally, the simultaneous increase in farm gate sales and the decline in farm jobs tells us that farmers continue to become more productive with a trend toward more capital intensive operations.
Agriculture is big business in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. A recent study that also includes our fellow Alliance members in the county of Lanark shows that there are 7,021 jobs tied to the agricultural sector and over $240 million per annum in sales from farms and businesses that buy and sell to farms.
The study also states that for every on farm job in Renfrew and Lanark counties, there are an additional 1.3 jobs off the farm in the economy serving the needs of local farm operators. The sales expenditure multiplier shows that for every dollar spent by a farmer there is an additional $1.45 in sales by businesses that deal with farmers.
During the past federal election, I was able to hear firsthand the plight of our local farmers. There has been a loss of small farms through consolidation. It is getting harder to find processing plants and markets to take their produce. Government services are actually being withdrawn from farmers and the gap is not always filled by the private sector. There is a shortage of skilled trades workers due to higher wages that are available elsewhere. Our most tragic problem is the exodus of our youth from the rural areas and the family farms because it is felt by some producers that there is no future on the family farm.
Most significantly, many of the farmers I spoke to believe that the problems facing farmers today are tied to one thing: low commodity prices. Much of the frustration my constituents had with the former member and the current government was that when they tried to draw attention to the farm crisis they were pushed off and told that the problem was the weather.
We in the Canadian Alliance know better. Farmers are being driven off the land by a Liberal government that has had its head in the sand when it comes to the practices of our trading partners.
Farmers are not asking for special treatment but for a level playing field when it comes to heavily subsidized foreign produce being dumped into our markets. Even though U.S. farmers are paid 10 times the amount of government dollars that the Canadian government pays to our farmers, Canadians enjoy some of the lowest food prices in the developed world. Where European consumers spend 30% of their incomes on food and Americans spend 11%, Canadians spend just 9.5% of their incomes on food.
Canadian farmers need a government that is on their side. It saddened me to learn that in the last parliament, Liberal, PC and NDP members on the Standing Committee for Agriculture and Agri-Food voted twice against allowing the committee to travel in Ontario to hear from farmers directly.
As an Alliance member from Ontario I am not afraid to hear about the plight of farmers in my home province, and they have my commitment that they will have a voice through me in this parliament, where they have not had one since at least 1993.
What farmers in Ontario and Renfrew county need is an immediate cash injection to safeguard the spring crop. They need a cost of production farm support program, one for all of Canada, and a government that will protect the independent farmer and the consumer from big business, which is buying up all the competition.
Once big business has driven the independent producers out of business, wait for prices to climb out of control. All we are asking is that the government support the needs of Canadian farmers so they can continue to put quality homegrown food on the tables of consumers.