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

7:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House and my colleague for Brandon—Souris for taking the initiative to have this essential debate.

This is not just a debate about lives and livelihoods, although it is that. It is also a debate about the security of the country, the food security of the country. We face a situation in which our capacity not only to be a supplier to the world but to look after our own interests is increasingly being jeopardized.

I heard a moment ago a dispute from one of the Liberal members questioning the figures put forward by my colleague from Brandon—Souris about the number of farmers who are off the land in prairie Canada, my part of Canada. The figure I have is 22,000.

Whether it is 22,000, 21,000 or 20,000, far too many Canadians are going off the land now. This is not just an arid statistic. This is a reality that is changing the nature of western Canada, the nature of Ontario and the nature of the constituency I had the honour to represent so briefly last fall, Kings—Hants in Nova Scotia. It is also putting at risk Canada's capacity to be an agricultural producer and a country that can grow the food it requires and use that food for technology in the future.

I am not here to argue the numbers of people who are going off the land. I am arguing that the House of Commons and the government has to pay attention now to this crisis. There has to be a response immediately. That is not because there were trucks and tractors on the streets in Cornwall the other day. It is because there is a very real threat to the capacity of Canada to maintain its food producing ability, and it extends right across the nation.

There is a need for an immediate cash infusion, and I emphasize the word immediate.

Farmers need to know now if there will be money available to them from the government. They do not have the luxury of waiting. They are arranging right now, as we speak in debate here, visits to their bankers so they can arrange a line of credit in March and April in order to be on the fields in May.

If we continue to delay and the government does not act, more farms will shut down across Ontario, the prairies, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. That is the crisis we are facing. There is a need now for the minister of agriculture to stand in the House and indicate that not only will there be an immediate cash infusion but, as we move beyond emergency aid, that there will also be a long term program.

We proposed in the last election campaign a program based upon the old principles of GRIP. We did not win the election, but let me say to the House that the principles of that program, which were criticized at the time, have proven themselves to be a basis on which we can provide some security to agriculture in the future. If it is not a program of the kind we proposed, there at least has to be, for the long term interest of the country, immediate action now to deal with cash infusion quickly and to ensure that there is long term action on agriculture.

It is not just about one region of the country. Farmers across Canada are affected. We saw the protests on the Hill. Yesterday, a rally was held in Cornwall, Ontario. Farmers blocked highways so that they would be listened to. The concerns about the future of family farms are very real.

On February 9, the provincial ministers of agriculture met in Regina and agreed that the financial situation of farmers is precarious and that they desperately need help from Ottawa.

It is anticipated that Manitoba farmers will face a 19% drop in their realized net income for the year 2000, compared to the average for 1995-96. In Saskatchewan, the drop will be 56%, while farmers in Prince Edward Island will probably face a 60% reduction in their realized net income, again compared to the average for 1995-96.

These forecasts are particularly disturbing for Canadian farmers trying to compete with producers abroad who benefit from high levels of subsidies.

The other day in the House, before the Prime Minister went to see President Bush, he made a clear commitment to the House and to farmers across the country that he would do something about the unacceptably high level of subsidy that the American government puts into their farm producers.

I do not know what results have occurred, but I say to the Prime Minister, in his absence, that if he is unable to persuade the Americans to reduce their subsidies, and the evidence is he cannot get them to bring theirs down, then he has a clear obligation to ensure that there is financial support to Canadian farmers who are suffering in comparison, who are not getting the help from their government that American producers are getting from their government.

Can this be done? Do we have the money to do that? Let us put it into context. Do we have the money to protect one of the basic industries of Canada and stop it from the gradual slide toward extinction, which we are now seeing? Yes, we have the money for that if we have the will. Do we have the right under the World Trade Organization? Yes, we have the right.

Officials of the Government of Canada have made it very clear that there is at least $2 billion worth of what they call wiggle room, which would allow us to put money into Canadian agriculture in the same way that countries with whom our producers have to compete put money into their agriculture.

I will wind down. I am just a city boy from Calgary, but one of the things I learned in Calgary, in a city centre constituency, is that even though we do not grow the grain and produce the product right there in the city, the economy of my city depends upon the strength of agriculture. The economy and security of people right across the country depend upon the strength of agriculture.

Agriculture used to be a dominant industry in Canada. It has slipped away from the centre of public attention. That has to stop and we in the House of Commons have to make it stop. It is not a question of food, although being able to ensure that there is a safe and adequate supply of food is of fundamental importance. It is also a question of the other things that we could do with agriculture.

There is not an industry in the nation that has been more finely tuned to high technology, to innovation, than the agricultural industry. It is not an industry of the past. It is very much an industry of the Canadian future, unless we snuff it out and let it drift away. The government has been letting it drift away by its failure to bring in either the kind of emergency assistance or the kind of long range planning that is needed.

We speak often about quality of life. We speak often about the importance of community. This is a nation of values, and some of the values of our nation are values deeply rooted in rural Canada. Rural Canada, while it is becoming more and more diverse now, had its inspiration from a reliance upon resource industries and upon agriculture.

If we let the industry fail as is happening now, we run the risk of changing the very nature of the country and of undermining values that are fundamentally important. I ask the minister and I ask the government to act immediately to get money into the system for people who need to see their bankers tomorrow, and then to bring before the House long range programs that will introduce a degree of stability into Canadian agriculture to let us be as proud and productive a producing country in the future as we have been in the past.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:20 p.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings Ontario


Lyle Vanclief LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the start that I will be sharing my time with the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka. I appreciate the opportunity to make some comments in the House of Commons tonight about this important sector of the Canadian economy and the very important subject we are talking about in reference to it.

First, I state unequivocally that our commitment to Canadian farmers is strong. The government understands and appreciates the immeasurable contribution that farmers make to our lives and to all our communities. Whether we are in urban Canada or in rural Canada they provide all of us with a safe supply of nutritious and high quality food at reasonable prices.

They generate domestic and international sales of more than $100 billion a year. More than 14% of Canadian jobs, which is one in seven working Canadians, are in the agriculture and the agrifood sector. It accounts for about 9% of our gross domestic product. It is a huge sector. It is one that is highly productive.

Canadian farmers, as has been said and I agree, are very efficient. Their products are admired the world over. Productive and efficient as our farmers are, that does not protect them from the whims of mother nature and the vagaries of global markets. As a former farmer I know all too well the many aspects of farming that are beyond the control of any individual or any government.

Canadian farmers face a number of challenges, whether they be weather, world markets, the pace of globalization, environmental issues or growing consumer concerns about the food they eat. I could go on. Front and centre right now, however, is farm income, particularly in the grains and oilseed sector. Because of overproduction in some parts of the world, some of it stemming from massive trade distorting subsidies in other countries, world grain prices are low. Our grain farmers are bearing the brunt of those low prices. We are working hard to address this situation in a number of ways, some of which I will elaborate on in a minute.

However I would be remiss not to point out that other sectors in our agriculture industry are doing reasonably well, such as the dairy sector, the livestock sector and the poultry sector. Nevertheless, for those farmers who are grappling with serious income shortfalls, the government has worked and will continue to work with farm organizations and provinces.

In the last five years alone we have, along with the provinces, invested $7.1 billion to help stabilize farm incomes in safety net programs. The federal contribution to whole farm safety nets will be $1.1 billion a year over the next three years. Coupled with the provinces, that means $5.5 billion in safety nets alone over the next three years. That is almost double what was set aside when I became Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in June 1997.

Very few of the members opposite have had the experience of getting all provincial ministers or a group of provincial governments on board for a national initiative. Last summer we were able to get all 10 provinces to sign on to our farm safety net agreement. It was a real and meaningful achievement.

However that is not the end of the story. We continue to work hard for farmers who are in need. I am meeting with provincial agriculture ministers next month and, as members of the House know very well, under the Canadian constitution the provinces and the federal government share the responsibility of agriculture.

We need to do more and we will do more. The government recognizes that if our agriculture and agrifood industry is to prosper and grow then, as we said in the throne speech, we must move beyond crisis management.

While we need to address the immediate farm income situation, we also need to examine this challenge in a broader context. The reputation of Canadian agriculture and agrifood products rests on consistency and high quality. Having talked to customers around the world I can say that this reputation for quality is virtually unmatched by any other country.

Increasingly customers both in Canada and around the world are asking more questions about the source of their food and about the relationship between its production and the environment, for example. They have the right to ask those questions. If consumers for some reason were to lose confidence in our products everything else would become moot. In agriculture, no less than any other business endeavour, the customer is absolutely key.

Therefore we must continue to hone and improve our food inspection system, which I am proud to say is one of the best in the world. We must keep it that way. As we work to address the income problems of some of our producers, we must also tackle the very real environmental challenges inherent in farming, not the least of which is ensuring that the sustainability of our precious water and soil resources is maintained.

To be able to do these things we must remain focused as well on research and innovation. In their determination to maintain their worldwide reputation for excellence and efficiency Canadian farmers are constantly seeking out and adopting the newest technologies and practices. Research, therefore, is no less important to agriculture than it is to the high tech and communications sectors. Last year we spent $250 million which was dedicated federal money for research conducted in our 19 research centres across Canada.

We are also working extremely hard on the international trade front and will continue to do so. Over the past decade Canada's agriculture and agrifood exports have almost doubled. We are an exporting nation. We produce far more than we can eat and use in Canada. They have almost doubled to $20 billion a year.

At the World Trade Organization and at every opportunity we have to meet at all levels with representatives or individuals of agricultural and trading nations. Through our international fora such as the Cairns Group we are working to improve access for Canadian products abroad and to change international trading rules so that our farmers do not suffer at the hands of other countries' farm subsidy policies.

As part of our position at the WTO, we will also maintain our right to operate domestic marketing systems such as the Canadian Wheat Board and the supply management systems that have served Canadians well. It is the high farm subsidies provided by some of our trading partners that have contributed to overproduction and depressed prices in commodities such as grain. I want to point out that the Government of Canada's WTO negotiating position was not arrived at in isolation. Our approach to addressing this was to discuss it with other countries. It was also done in collaboration with the industry, and I pledge to continue that consultation as we go forward.

In closing, I want to say that farm income is not an issue in isolation from all other issues facing farmers. It is an important one and one that we need to continue to address. However, the other issues also include: environmental sustainability; food safety; maintaining existing markets and finding new markets; having access to the best science and technology and the best minds available; and adapting to today's realities.

The government recognizes that these issues, like farming itself, are extremely complex and that we have to be more proactive, that we have to do more, now more than ever. We have to work with the provinces to ensure that our farmers are able to ride out the storms, whether they be caused by economic forces or by forces of nature.

The government and I, as minister, pledge to give that our best effort, to seek all the resources we possibly can, and to give it the highest possible priority in order to focus on the farm income issue and all of the other issues in the complex agricultural industry. Our farmers deserve no less.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:30 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalSecretary of State (Rural Development)(Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, allow me to say how pleased I am to see a colleague from northern Ontario in the chair. Congratulations on your appointment to your position.

I am particularly pleased to have an opportunity this evening in this special debate to talk about the issues of agriculture and agricultural producers, as well as to talk about the importance of the broader issues in the way that they impact on rural Canada and rural Canadians.

We are having a discussion tonight, but there are some things that I do not think are up for debate. One of them is the importance of the agricultural sector to Canada, to the Canadian economy and particularly to rural Canada. I do not think there is any question about that. The other thing I do not think there is really much debate about is the fact that there are serious challenges facing the agricultural sector and, as a result of that, challenges that are faced by rural Canada and rural Canadians in general.

I am pleased that we have the opportunity to have this discussion tonight and to have members from all sides of the House participate in the discussion. As the evening goes on and we listen to members from both sides of the House, I hope that we are going to hear suggestions, possible solutions and strategies.

I do not think that members of the House and Canadians watching are really overly interested in people pointing fingers and laying blame. There may be a place and a time for that, but what we are all about in the House, and what I hope the debate is all about tonight, is finding solutions for our agricultural industry, finding the ways that we as a government, that we collectively as members of parliament, can come together, as we need to, to find solutions. I hope that is what this debate is all about.

As the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food pointed out in his comments, a lot has been done in the last several years with respect to responding to the needs of our agricultural producers. The minister talked about the substantial increases in safety nets that have been put in place since he took over the portfolio. He talked about the agreement with the provinces. It was a very important step to bring all 10 provinces together with the federal government to sign an agreement on agriculture. It was an agreement that saw no province receive less funding and several provinces receive increased funding as part of that envelope, and of course last year we saw additional support specifically targeted to Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

As important as agriculture is, and it is extremely important, it is part of a broader context of rural Canada and rural Canadians. It is part of a very special part of the nation. Rural Canada is part of the social fabric of the nation. There are members on all sides of the House who come from rural Canada. It is special and unique place, a place of very special traditions and very special institutions.

When we talk about the agricultural industry, I believe we need to talk as well in the broader context of securing the future of rural Canada. It is important to see the scope and the breadth of rural Canada. Yes, it includes those rural agricultural communities of Saskatchewan and it includes the dairy producers of eastern Ontario. However, rural Canada also includes the mining communities in northern Ontario, as you know very well, Mr. Speaker, and the communities in the interior of British Columbia that depend on forestry or the outports of Newfoundland that depend on fisheries. Rural Canada is, in a large sense, based on our resource industries, including agriculture, and we need to deal not only with agriculture but with all of those issues that are faced by resource industries and by those communities that are dependent on resources for their livelihood.

I believe there is a very clear commitment from the government for dealing with rural Canada. The creation and existence of the position that I hold, that of Secretary of State for Rural Development, is something that had not existed in the government before the Prime Minister made the appointment. It is a belief that we can as a government, that we should as a government, that it is imperative as a government for us to work on the issues of rural Canada and to understand that the challenges faced by rural Canadians, although they share many of the same issues with urban Canadians, are different.

We have to deal with the issue of geography and what that means in delivering services over large distances. We have to deal with the issue of population density and what that means toward attracting investment into rural areas. We have to deal with the whole issue of the cyclical nature of our resource based industries and what that means in terms of the public policy that has to be pursued in order to sustain those communities.

That is what we need to do as a parliament to deal with those special circumstances that are faced by rural Canadians. That is a large part of what this debate is. It is about taking a particular industry that is predominant in rural Canada, understanding that it faces challenges that are specific to rural Canada and to that industry, and responding in a way that makes sense of those challenges.

In terms of dealing with rural Canada we have to make sure of two things. First, we have to make sure that we provide rural Canada and rural Canadians with the tools they need to deal with those challenges. Second, we have empower those communities with the ability to use those tools in a way that makes sense for them.

The government has provided a large number of tools to rural Canada and rural Canadians over the years. Take a look at the infrastructure program, the $2.65 billion. The fact is, when those agreements were signed with the provinces there was a specific amount that was set aside for the rural communities in those various provinces.

Look at the community futures program, which is a program that operates strictly in rural Canada. It is there to provide assistance for community development. It also provides assistance to ensure a strong and vibrant small business sector in those communities. There was a $90 million commitment in the last budget of the federal government to ensure that those community futures programs that operate in rural Canada are sustained and are able to do the work they need to do in order to help those communities.

There are several other tools that I could describe, but those are two very important ones. There are several others that are provided: the community access program, the CARTT program under agriculture and, as I mentioned earlier, the support that is being provided for farm incomes.

It is also important, as we deal with rural Canada and rural Canadians, that we empower communities to use those tools. That is why it is important in the approach that we take as the federal government to ensure something that we call the bottom up approach, one that ensures that communities themselves are empowered to undertake the decisions they need to take to sustain themselves.

It is an understanding that not every rural community is the same and that the challenges that are faced by a rural community in Saskatchewan are different from the ones that you and I face, Mr. Speaker, in northern Ontario and different again from what some of my colleagues face in Yukon, in central Ontario and in other parts of Canada.

That is why it is important to use a bottom up process, one that allows communities to set their priorities, one that allows communities to establish exactly the strategies they want to follow. The role of the federal government and, for that matter, of the provincial governments is to provide those communities with the tools they need to pursue their particular objectives and ensure that they are sustainable into the future.

We are here tonight to talk about agriculture. In a larger sense, we are here to talk about rural Canada, and in a larger sense than that, we are here to talk about Canada. We are here to talk about some very special values.

I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to raise my family in a rural part of Canada, in my hometown of Gravenhurst in the riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka. It is a very special place and the people who inhabit it are very special people. In my community, we believe in the values of community and in the values of family. I believe it is absolutely essential as we have this debate in the House that we come together to find the ways to sustain rural Canada, to find the ways to ensure that this special way of life we all cherish is able to continue, not just for ourselves but for our children as well.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Since the minister is still in the House, before he leaves the Chamber could I have unanimous consent of the House for 10 minutes of questions and comments with the minister?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:40 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian AllianceLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I advise you that I will be splitting my time with fellow opposition members.

I would like to take at face value the high sounding noises that we heard from across the way from the Secretary of State for Rural Development, but it is of grave concern to me that when we have a member asking the minister if he can ask some questions related to the dissertation which the minister just gave on agriculture, the minister says no. We cannot even ask some basic questions related to the crisis our farmers are facing.

I would have been more assured about the sincerity of the government if at some time between now and going back to last November or October we had heard some kind of assurance from the Prime Minister, from the secretary of state or from the minister of agriculture that their Liberal candidate in Regina was misspeaking when that candidate informed farmers who were waiting in Regina for the Prime Minister—and who would not meet with them—that because they would not vote properly they might not get the help they needed. We have never heard a denunciation of that particular comment.

I am trying to accept at face value the sincerity, but I have nothing to back it up. Questions will not be answered today and horrendous statements are not refuted or not reprimanded.

The Secretary of State for Rural Development has also said that the government is looking for strategies. I do appreciate his honesty from that point of view. The suggestion is that the government does not have the strategies but is looking for them. I appreciate that openness.

It is important to note, as we look at the immediate crisis upon us, that funding is needed. It is important to note that farmers in Canada from coast to coast, our producers, are able to do incredible things. They are able to feed the world. They are not simply asking for subsidization. They are not simply asking for more money.

The strategies that have been formulated by the Canadian Alliance have been based upon numerous meetings with producers from coast to coast. There were some 76 meetings with thousands of farmers, as compared to the government committee that trotted around some time ago. I think it had nine meetings. We are talking about 76 meetings with thousands of producers.

Those producers said some things in terms of direct strategies. They asked that their input costs be lowered. We have offered a number of ways to do that. There was a proposal in the House to lower costs of fuel, including diesel fuel. Liberal federal MPs voted against that. There was a strategy. We were offering some hope.

We have talked about the ability to lower user fees. Our estimations through Agriculture Canada are that user fees related to fertilizer purchases alone hit the farm community at something to the tune of $300 million. We have asked for a reduction of that to help with their input costs. The answer is no.

We have talked about value added. If we increase the value added areas of this part of our economy there will be more demand for the product, whether we are talking about the ethanol capabilities and possibilities that are there in Ontario or the pasta producing plants throughout the west. We have suggested that the government lower business taxes, lower costs of those businesses and increase the incentive to invest. We have offered that as very specific strategies. What do we get? No action.

I am having trouble with the sincerity in terms of wanting to help our agricultural sector. We have said that we should look aggressively at negotiating downward the horrendous subsidies faced by our farmers. Members know quite well that European grain farmers are subsidized to the tune of something like 56% of their income; U.S. farmers, something like 36% to 38%; and Canadians farmers, something like 8% to 9%. This is not a case of our producers saying that they simply need huge amounts of increased subsidies, but they do need some help now. We have offered some very specific strategies and we do not seem to be getting any.

We have offered the very clear strategy of giving producers, especially our grain producers, marketing choice related to the wheat board. These are specific strategies. We are not saying that we should crater the wheat board. There may be a place for it for those who choose it. Again we get no response. We have been asked for the strategies and we do not get them.

Our members have done significant detailed work in terms of improvements to the grain handling and transportation system. We have offered those as specific strategies. We are even willing to say that if members opposite in the Liberal government pick up those strategies we will applaud them. We will even give them credit. This has now gone beyond partisan concern. We have producers right now who are saying that they do not think they can get into the ground this spring. Something needs to happen now.

The AIDA program has been identified for two years. There is something like $1.7 billion sitting there on the cabinet table when it should be on the kitchen tables of our farmers. Almost half of that has been refused for those who are applying. In many cases it is on technicalities.

What is the problem with the federal Liberal government? We have farmers and producers who are saying they need those dollars now. They are sitting on the table. We approved those dollars to move ahead, and still we see no action. There are farmers who do not know if they can make it through this spring.

In terms of reducing downward these subsidies, there is great capability on behalf of our government to do that if it had a will to do it. It could marshal the power of other trading nations and use that collective buying power in terms of being significant on these reductions.

This is not simply a western problem or an Ontario problem. Let us look at the situation with P.E.I. with the potato shipments shut out at the border. We know through the people who had done the research related to the potato wart that this was not a problem. We understand the minister was globetrotting somewhere when these issues should have been dealt with. We had P.E.I. farmers either putting their product into the bins or ploughing them into the ground.

We need to do something and we need to do something now. They have asked for strategies and we have given those strategies. My colleagues will go into these in even more detail.

This is not a time for partisan positioning. It was only a few weeks ago that I met a group of farmers. One farmer held his hand out and as I shook his hand he held on to mine. He said that he was holding on but that he did not know if he could hold on through the spring. He said that they needed those dollars to be released to them now, the dollars that were on the table.

Politics aside, we are talking about enabling and empowering our agriculture community to do what it does best, which is to be the most innovative in the world. Canadian producers and farmers have proven that they can be the hardest working and most constructive in the world. Our agriculture community has proven that it can be number one in the world when it comes to conservation policies. It is time they had the support of a government that would clear the obstacles and allow them to be that.

It is time we had a federal government that set and maintained a vision for agriculture, a vision for our agriculture community to literally be able to feed the world and, at the same time, feed their own families while they are doing it. That is the position of the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition. The government has asked for strategies and we have given them strategies.

We are asking the government to act on those strategies because time is running out for too many farmers. It is time to move for the family farm.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

7:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, tonight we are here, as was stated earlier, to talk about an agricultural policy. Actually what we are here talking about is the lack of any sensible agricultural policy on the part of the Liberal government.

Is there a crisis in agriculture in Canada? When we talk about the grains, oilseeds and corn producers and the Prince Edward Island potato producers, there is a darned serious crisis, a crisis that involves the very livelihood and social fabric of many communities in western Canada, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and in fact farmers in every province. Yes, this debate is necessary but it is not about agricultural policy, it is about a real crisis that is happening right now.

I would like to touch for a moment on the history of this crisis because this did not come up just tonight or last week. This came up five to ten years ago. The lack of policy from governments over the past 30 years, no long term strategy for agriculture and no willingness to change and evolve as agriculture needed to evolve and change over time, is what is missing and the reason we are in a crisis today.

In 1997 we had a bill called Bill C-4, the famous Canadian Wheat Board amendments bill. The Canadian Wheat Board was never changed to a voluntary wheat board the way it should have been so that farmers could go ahead and market their own grain and increase their incomes. Those who needed the services of the wheat board could still have availed themselves of it via a voluntary process. We would have had value added as the pasta producers were trying to do. It would not be obstructing the durum producers of southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba who want to form a durum cartel with their North Dakota neighbours.

The failure of this government is very evident in the bills that it has tried to put forward, which have continued the excessive regulation of the agriculture industry and have not freed it up. I will give a couple of examples in a few moments that will show that.

The other bill that really hurt farmers was Bill C-34. What did we get from that debacle and the two years of wasted time we spent on the Estey-Kroeger report bringing up all the good solutions on the rail transportation system and on how the transportation of our grain to the ports had to be a commercial contract based system? We got a whole bunch of regulations with no solution, big debates and disputes between the various entities on moving our grain to port.

We have tried over the course of the last two years to deal with agricultural issues. We have had emergency debates on agriculture income. We can look in Hansard . We have had supply days on agriculture income. We have had an emergency debate on the grain strike in Vancouver. A grain strike could happen again. It happened in Montreal. It hurts producers like the pulse producers who shift containers over.

The pulse industry is one of the bright spots on the prairies in that they are actually making money growing pulse crops. It is another example of what the government is not doing and certainly could be doing. Western farmers and Ontario farmers are producing pulse crops. The government is always talking about research, but it does very little in the way of pulse crop research. There is one researcher in Saskatoon who does a bit in this regard, but there are three full time researchers working on wheat.

The government is working with Monsanto to develop a GMO wheat and will still have wheat at the same value it is today. Wheat is sold right now for below the cost of production. Pulse producers could make a profit on what they produce, but they could use some federal government dollars to match up with their producer dollars to do research. Where is the government on that? It is not providing that matching dollar. It still wants to do research on canola and wheat. Its priorities are all wrong in that area.

I have just talked about the transportation issue briefly. They cannot guarantee their customers overseas in India and other places that they will have product delivered to them on time. That is another suggestion the government could work on. Final offer arbitration is good example that could be used to ensure that the containers are loaded on to the ships and shipped to the customers. The Estey-Kroeger report should have been implemented and it was not. That also hampers our reliability in delivering our products.

The government has let the crisis build and build. We have talked about solutions, but the only solution is to go with what farm groups are saying, that they need $1 billion over and above existing safety net programs. There has to be an immediate cash injection before spring seeding. That means right away. The government has agreed to the emergency debate and it has no choice but to implement an immediate cash injection.

The problem with the AIDA program and the new CFIP is that it leaves out the farmers in crisis: the grains, oilseed, corn and, as of late, soybean producers.

I know my colleagues in the farming business will certainly have heard, but did anyone else hear what happened to commodity prices yesterday? Did they go up or did they go down? We are talking of grain, wheat, canola and the other crops in crisis. The futures market is down on every blasted one of them. Very clearly that is the problem today.

Farmers need to get their crops in the ground. They need to be able to adjust to other crops. However, the problem is that when the government cut out all the subsidies, including the Crow rate, it never replaced them with a decent, predictable long term program that helped all farmers as opposed to just a few. AIDA seemed to help hog farmers, but it did not help farmers who were suffering from the longer term problem of low income over many years.

Let us talk about trade issues for a moment. The government seems intent on irritating the Americans at every turn. Lately North Dakota has seen fit to pass some legislation, or at least present it in the house, partly because of the agreement our government made with the United States two years ago when we were having problems with R-Calf, the cattle business issue that went back and forth in the west in particular. They had a 40 point agreement where they would sit down before trade disputes arose. Before a trade dispute arose, such as the Prince Edward Island potato issue, the government would get together with United States farmers and politicians and prevent trade action.

Now we see trade action happening with Brazil. Is that not an interesting little case? We have political debts being paid to Bombardier and the province of Quebec. In order to get back at Brazil in any sniping little way the governement could, the agriculture minister had to be involved because it involved an importation of beef from Brazil. That importation of beef was stopped because of political interference. It was not stopped because of any other issue. In the next couple of days we will see that ban lifted.

When our NAFTA neighbours, the United States and Mexico, see political interference on trade issues they will not be very happy with the government. I do not have the inside track on what they are telling the government, but I can say that the United States secretary of agriculture is no doubt phoning Ottawa to tell the Prime Minister to life the ban on beef because it is hurting trade between the Americas.

If the intent of the government is to irritate our trade partners, there is no hope for our farmers. It is too bad that the government was not thrown out in the election of November 27 because it has ruined agriculture and I see no solutions coming from over there.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Champlain.

This evening in the House we have an opportunity to discuss an extremely urgent problem, basically the state of emergency in the area of agriculture. This debate was requested by the member for Brandon—Souris under Standing Order 52.

What is interesting about the Standing Order is that it provides that, in determining whether a matter should have urgent consideration, the Speaker shall have regard to the extent to which the debate or study requested concerns the administrative responsibilities of the government or could come within the scope of ministerial action. The Speaker also shall have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House within reasonable time by other means.

I would like to begin by thanking the Speaker for having recognized the urgent nature of the matter we are to debate this evening and for having authorized us to proceed.

Turning now to the criteria he must consider, he clearly identified this as an area concerning the administrative responsibilities of the government, as we all know it does. His other consideration was the probability of the matter being brought before the House within reasonable time by other means.

When the Minister of Finance, for instance, tells us that he was not thinking of bringing down a budget at this time of year but was going to wait until the fall, we wonder how the government is going to assume its responsibilities and find ways of dealing with this emergency.

The crisis in agriculture has not sprung up overnight. Already in December 1998, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food set aside all its other concerns and turned its attention to this issue.

It sounded the alarm with its report titled “The Farm Income Crisis in Canada”. Although the title might suggest that the committee had grasped how urgent it was to act, the committee's recommendations were described in the Bloc Quebecois dissenting report as paying no attention to the urgency of the situation.

I must acknowledge, three years down the line, just how accurate the Bloc Quebecois comments on the committee's recommendations were. The Canadian agricultural sector is in a state of ongoing major crisis.

In his letter to the Speaker of the House requesting the emergency debate, our colleague from Brandon—Souris described the crisis very well. He pointed out that agricultural communities across Canada had attempted to remedy the deplorable conditions that afflict them today.

Referring to a labour survey carried out by Statistics Canada, he said that, in 1999 alone, the prairies had lost 22,100 farmers as a result of the heavy psychological and financial pressures on the agricultural industry, not to mention the natural disasters and the unjustified subsidies in other countries which aggravate the situation.

Everyone who has spoken, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the leader of the Canadian Alliance, all of the members, have drawn attention to the same thing. Unfortunately, we could expect nothing better from the government than the reactions we have just heard from the minister and the secretary of state. No doubt some money is invested in agriculture, but not enough, given the scope of the problems.

This government lacks vision, as our colleague from Brandon—Souris pointed out. It is probably not the only one to lack vision either, since agriculture is in fairly poor shape. The people in the west have long, and perhaps too long, not been allowed to diversify their crops enough.

Prince Edward Island produces potatoes. Naturally, when there is a problem with potatoes, when the U.S. threatens to no longer allow Prince Edward Island potatoes into the states and Mexico wants to follow suit, clearly, if your province produces only one crop, you have big problems and your problems will grow.

One of the things that helps Quebec farming in a way—I see great financiers in this House and so I may use a financial expression—is that Quebec has a diversified farming portfolio, so that when glitches occur in one area, it is possible to fall back on another crop and try to cut losses.

When our colleague from Brandon—Souris wrote the Speaker to submit his request, he raised a very important point. He noted that the subsidies the U.S. and the E.U. give their farm producers cause ours, who have had a lot of their subsidies cut enormously by the Canadian government, to have a hard time competing in this area.

Let us make no mistake. The debate our colleague put on the table this evening is really of national concern, and the questions he raised directly affect all farming communities right across Canada, as he himself mentioned in his February 12 letter.

We must discuss the problems facing the agricultural industry in depth and we must try to find specific solutions to resolve these problems in the short, medium and long terms.

We have some catching up to do. I have been an MP since 1993 and I must unfortunately note that the Liberal government led by the member for Saint-Maurice has really neglected the agricultural sector.

We have become—to use an expression often used in my culture—more Catholic than the Pope. Because the WTO said that the agricultural industry should not be subsidized, the government seized the opportunity to quickly cut as many subsidies as possible, while the Americans hung on to theirs, completely destabilizing agricultural production in Canada.

When we talk about the problems affecting western Canada, Ontario and Prince Edward Island in particular, we must not kid ourselves. While the situation may not be catastrophic for all farmers in Canada, it is at least difficult. We will have a better idea of the extent of the problems facing our producers when we can examine the action plan soon to be submitted by provincial ministers to the office of the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, as part of the consensus reached at their meeting in Regina.

Then we will have an opportunity to gauge just how open-minded the Liberal government is, depending on whether it takes this consensus into account and looks for ways it can help farmers. In the context of market globalization, it is up to us to take the initiative to go global so that we not lose out because others made the decision for us.

I think that it is also important that we find a way of being as self-sufficient as possible in our agricultural production. There are ways of comparing the extent to which each of the provinces helps farmers. Quebec has, I think, been successful at pooling its resources so that money is distributed to producers within programs providing real assistance that reflects the needs and difficulties of our farmers.

I hope with all my heart that the government is open to the idea of negotiating assistance to farmers.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:10 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I may be a total newcomer to this House but I have a feeling of déjà vu about tonight's debate. I must explain that I have that feeling because I am a farmer's son and very much involved in the agricultural field at home in Quebec.

My hon. colleague said that perhaps Quebecers were lucky enough to have a kind of safety net for agricultural producers. I know what she was referring to, for I was in the grassroots of the UPA during the 70s when we were working to get that safety net.

I have sympathy for the farmers expressing their concerns for a crumbling industry, for I too have known the farmer's life. I find it a pity that the government has not been able, as my colleague has said, to foresee such situations.

Agriculture is the basis of our economy. Agriculture does not exist just for the farmer.

I listened to what the Secretary of State for Rural Development has had to say. I found it rather depressing and it took me back some 25 years to hear him talk about protecting the rural lifestyle, the necessity of getting down to basics, that rural Canada counts on its agriculture.

I must state that agriculture does not exist for the farmer, it exists because of the consumer. Its purpose is not preservation of a lifestyle. We are not talking folklore here. There is an element of that, of course. I think most people like to go out into the country to visit farmers. Their lifestyle appeals to us. However, agriculture exists first and foremost because consumers need food safety, they need healthy food produced close to where they live.

My colleague explained how agriculture was the cornerstone of the economy. This is what we must understand. When a farmer is forced to come to protest with a combine in front of parliament, it means that he is in debt up to his eyeballs. It means that he sees a new season ahead but he does not know if he will be able to start it.

It means there was a lack of vision, not on his part, but on the part of the government. When people come here en masse to protest to get help, to ask all political parties to come to their help, to ask the government to take action, there is a problem. They are there. They are there and they need help. They need support and we must be sensitive to their plight, before the problems start to surface. They want some sympathy for the vulnerability of their profession.

When a farmer gets up in the morning, he often wonders what will happen next. A farmer is vulnerable to anything, including the weather and the environment. He is vulnerable to market prices because his government did not protect him adequately. He is vulnerable because production was not properly planned. A farmer is always the first one and the last one to pay.

I thank those who proposed this debate in the House. It reminds me of a debate which, as I said earlier, took place in Quebec in the seventies and eighties, and during which I personally worked very hard to get the safety nets that we needed. I imagine that a responsible government, which boasts that it has the best and one of the richest countries in the world, will not stand by while agriculture, a pillar of its economy, collapses.

Farmers need support and agricultural programs on a daily basis. They need us to view their work as something other than a quaint way of life that must be preserved. They need to feel that consumers need their services. In order for them to be able to deliver those services, they have to be able to make a living at what they do. This means we must be able to anticipate the tough times so that they are not left to face their problems alone the way they are now.

Clearly I am calling on the government to come to the assistance of farmers, particularly those in the west, who are now in a difficult situation. We are not perhaps experiencing the same problems in Quebec right now.

However, agriculture in Quebec still requires assistance from the federal government. In this area, as in others, the money in the federal government's coffers represents our tax dollars. The government has to stop thinking that when it helps us, it is doing us a big favour. That is not the case. This money comes from the taxes paid by Quebecers and Canadians. We will always be here to ensure that Quebec gets its share of what it has to spend on agriculture.

That is only fair: when one pays taxes, one should be able to expect, particularly when things are not going well, that the government will be forthcoming with our, not its money. It should direct taxpayers' money where it is needed so that consumers and producers feel more secure and producers are less vulnerable when times are tough and a source of constant worry.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:20 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House on this particular emergency topic of agriculture.

For a number of the participants who have spoken in this debate, there is a degree of frustration being felt in the Chamber. Mine is a frustration of a member who was here in the last parliament. We thought we discharged our responsibilities, as members of parliament from all parties, to raise the subject of this crisis and to point out some solutions for the government. In short, we discharged our responsibilities to the best of our abilities.

Our frustration probably pales in comparison to the frustration that was felt by the farmers who came to Ottawa, who lobbied, who buttonholed members of parliament, who called meetings in their communities and who staged tractor demonstrations to draw attention to the farm crisis.

It does not matter whether it is Saskatchewan or Manitoba, or the corn and soybean producers in Ontario, or the problem that has come to light recently in Prince Edward Island with potatoes. I am sure my colleague from Nova Scotia will be addressing that particular issue later in the debate.

The frustration is aggravated when we hear the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, whose remarks I listened to carefully earlier this evening, acknowledging that there are particular financial hurts out there. He specifically indicated the grain and oilseed producers.

That in itself is not new either. Going back to 1997 and 1998 it was acknowledged even by the agriculture minister that the major hurt was with the grain and oilseed producers. What came out of that, with our lobbying and the lobbying of others, was the agricultural income disaster assistance program, AIDA. Who did it help the least? The grain and oilseed producers.

However, it helped other people. It was based on an Alberta program that was really designed for the red meat sector. It was not designed to help grain and oilseed producers. Why? Essentially, if we plotted it on a graph, the changes are very slight. They have been slight downward changes in grains and oilseeds over the past number of years. If we are dealing with livestock, we see sharp spikes. The up tilt is large for three or four years then all of sudden there is an abrupt drop. That triggers some assistance for those farmers.

It is frustration about that. It is frustration when we hear the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food say he will do more. The question that comes to mind is, when will he and the government do more?

The minister responsible for rural development, or the provincial secretary, says that agriculture is extremely important to everybody here. Please tell that to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. With due respect to the agriculture minister and the secretary for rural development, they cannot do that on their own. It has to be a collective effort. It has to be a team effort that involves all of the cabinet, especially the leadership of the cabinet.

On that point, may I quote from an e-mail that most of us who are participating in this debate probably received. It states:

Had the government implemented strategies three years ago to reduce government imposed costs; to deal with growing farm debt; to develop and implement safety net programs which are effective for grains and oilseeds; and to provide targeted assistance where it was needed; you would not likely have been called to participate in an emergency debate tonight on agriculture.

I believe that to be absolutely correct.

I want to take a few minutes to outline where this crisis originated. I believe that if we do not know where we came from it will be much harder to plot any solutions. Essentially, I believe what happened was that 1993 was a very significant year in this entire debate. It was not only the election of the first term of the government, but it was also the coming into effect of the GATT Uruguay round, and it was the first time agriculture was addressed at the GATT. There was an agreement of good faith. All the signatories agreed to reduce their subsidies and domestic supports by 20% over five years.

I believe the government, which had a mantra of eliminating the deficit as quickly as possible, chose to hide behind the GATT Uruguay round agreement and to slash, cut and hack subsidies. They cut supports not by 20% or 30% or 40%, but by 60% over the five year period to the point where our farmers were unable to compete with their counterparts in Europe and the United States.

The classic example from western Canada is the elimination of the Crow benefit in 1995 which costs Canadian farmers in western Canada more than $600 million each and every year. In the province of Saskatchewan alone it costs about $320 million.

Other speakers earlier in this debate have reported on the disparity between supports. I need not do that. It is on the record. I would just point out that it is because of those supports that food freedom day is coming earlier and earlier in the country. We are paying so little for food that is being produced by our farm families.

In the last year, and people may dispute the numbers, the number of farms reported by Statistics Canada that were no longer operating was approximately 6,400 in the province of Saskatchewan. People who know this far better than I will tell us that in good years and bad years, since the 1930s in Saskatchewan, there have always been 1,500 farms that go out of business. There are fewer farms but the ones that remain are getting larger. However, 6,400 is a sharp increase in the number of farms that have gone out of business.

It was acknowledged as well that it was because of the devastating cuts, government officials conceded. Mike Gifford, who used to be the trade commissioner for Canada and reported to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, reported that we could have $2 billion worth of inputs or support payments to Canadian farmers immediately without risking any degree of retaliation.

We had AIDA which did not really work for the group that it was intended to work for in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They are primarily corn and oilseed producers, but the program was based on the Alberta livestock program. We follow that now with a Canadian farm income program which we believe has less money in it than the AIDA program. As well, we have all of the problems around that with getting payments for farmers to assist with that program.

The Secretary of State for Rural Development said it was important that this debate not be just a litany of the problems, that there should be some solutions. He was encouraging members to come forward with solutions. I submit to the hon. member that there is no shortage of solutions, which have been proposed by any number of farm organizations and political parties.

Agricore, for example, has a number of what I think are workable short term solutions. Agricore is suggesting that AIDA and CFIP will not address the long term price depressions which are now hurting producers. It suggests that the government needs to work with safety net committees to design and implement new ways to support the farm economy, such as a payment through the net income stabilization account directly to the producer, as well as an increased contribution to the provinces for funding of companion programs.

The provinces, under this proposal, would decide how the programs would operate in their respective provinces. Companion programs would work better than national programs because they would recognize the differences that exist in each province and accordingly would have different solutions. The requirement for a provincial contribution would be waived. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is also proposing companion programs.

In the last election campaign, the New Democratic Party had a whole farm safety net program which we thought required putting in $1.4 billion per year for each of the next four years. That would basically double the amount of money available under our safety net programs and would at the same time provide $100 million for a program to help young farmers get established on the land and a program for older farmers averaging 58 and 60 years of age which would ease them off the farm.

I referred to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. The federation suggests: adequately funded farm income programs; companion programs that meet farmers' needs on a provincial basis; and NISA rules that allow farmers to withdraw funds when they need them.

If I may just pause there for a minute, Mr. Speaker, that last point is extremely important. It seems to me that NISA is an extremely paternalistic program. I have had farmers tell me that they have taken money out of their NISA account and then decided later on in that year that they would like to take out more money. They had not taken out enough because their crop did not come through to the extent that they thought it would. They were rejected because they could only make one withdrawal in any 12 month period. That is not an adequate solution. These people have to be given responsibility. They know far better than any of us here what their specific problems are. If there is money there and they cannot access it and withdraw it, that surely is another great frustration and one that ought to be very simply dealt with.

The CFA also suggests that we need a disaster program that is structured to deliver funds quickly rather than delay relief for farmers. That is a reference to the fact that only 51% of the 1999 AIDA claims have been paid out thus far.

The CFA goes on to suggest that we need $900 million per year for the next three years to restore safety net programs.

We have numbers ranging from $900 million a year to $1.4 billion to more than that. There are farmers who phone to talk to me. I am thinking of Lloyd Pletz in Balcarres, Saskatchewan, or Murray Downing in Manitoba. I am sure they phone other members of parliament as well to talk about programs and the specific ideas they have for costs of production. They feel that our farmers are simply unable to compete against the high subsidies coming from the United States and Europe.

There are long term solutions as well, not just solutions for the short term. I agree with previous speakers who have acknowledged that we do need a short term program to get farmers out on the land in a month, six weeks or two months' time, but we certainly do need a long term safety net program that is going to work for all of our farms and all of our farm families.

Some of those suggestions include: tax rebates on fuel; cost recovery; and reconsideration of user fees, which shot up dramatically as the government was consumed with eliminating the deficit back in the mid-nineties. I know they have been capped at this point, but I think the government needs to reduce and in some cases eliminate them. In these times of crisis, total farm debt in the last few years has increased by more than 44%, which needs to be addressed as well.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture was front and centre in the demonstration yesterday in Cornwall, if I read the papers correctly, Mr. Speaker, a demonstration you are acquainted with. The OFA talks about the need for safety nets, freight subsidies and other support programs and about restoring that support to the 1993 levels that I talked about earlier in regard to the costs of production, in order to subsidize the gap between farmers' financial capabilities and the average crop production.

We know that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will be meeting with his provincial counterparts in Quebec City early next month. We would really like to see some announcements prior to that so that farmers can prepare for their spring planting.

Let me refer to the agreement that was signed by provincial ministers in Regina last week. This was a meeting they requested, without the federal minister and officials being present. In their communiqué at the end of that meeting they said, and I quote:

It is now up to the federal government to fulfill its responsibilities and immediately invest accordingly to address this urgent situation. Provinces agreed to work with the federal government to prepare a framework that is predictable in the long term, effective and fair to all provinces. This framework will take into account a number of factors including the specific features and needs of each of the provinces and the relative economic importance of their agricultural sector in Canada. The ministers hold that integrated risk management in agriculture will require a joint response. This means a substantial contribution from Ottawa. While this urgent situation is occurring in the provinces, the additional funds required are in Ottawa.

Let me close by trying to encapsule some of the messages that the government needs to heed very quickly. We have heard them from different parts of the House during the debate this evening.

The first message is that over time the federal government has gone from taking the major responsibility for safety nets and disaster funding to a position of requiring provinces to pay 40% of the cost. Even though agriculture has always been jointly administered, it is only in the last number of years that the provinces have been specifically instructed that if they are going to have a safety net program they have to pony up 40% of the money. We are in a situation in Manitoba and Saskatchewan where we have a relatively small tax base and a lot of farmland, which is making it extremely difficult for provincial governments to come up with the 40% that is required to have an effective safety net program and effective protection for farm families. That is one thing that needs to be taken into account.

Second, over time, the federal government, going back 5 years and probably 13 or 14 years prior to the arrival of this government, took away major programs that helped farmers, including the two price wheat system, which my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle will tell you came off in 1988, and the Crow rate in 1995.

Third, farmers have faced and continue to face a number of challenges, such as international subsidies funded by the national treasuries of the European Union and the United States. The numbers have been talked about earlier in the debate in regard to how low our subsidies are in comparison to those trading partners.

Fourth, there are declining margins as input costs eat up more of the revenue, and there are the continued production and price risks associated with farming.

In conclusion, what I am trying to say is that farmers in this country simply need to know whether the federal government is going to stand behind them or if they are going to have to address all of the farm issues by themselves as they have essentially had to do over the last number of years. That is the important question that needs to be addressed tonight.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:40 p.m.


Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Malpeque.

I will take a few minutes to talk about an issue that I consider to be one of critical importance to the food security of our country. I believe that the future of our food industries and Canada's ability to produce safe and cheap food is at risk in this debate tonight.

I am not sure that Canadians are aware of this, but if we compare a normal food basket one might buy in any Canadian city to one in any other city or country around the world, we find that Canadians are paying the cheapest prices for the food that they buy. Unfortunately these prices are not getting down to the producers who produce the food. That is the problem we are faced with this evening. In fact, the amount going to the farmer, the producer of that food, has declined dramatically over the last 20 or 30 years.

The problem is that farmers today, in many commodities, cannot even get back the price of production. This means that in regard to the price of their labour, their fuel costs and their production costs, they cannot even get those costs back when they sell their food.

There are a number of reasons for this. Input costs are up. Input costs are the expenses incurred to operate a farm, such as costs for fertilizer, seed, labour and fuel. In fact, the cost of ammonia, which is used in making fertilizer, is up by 56%. That raises the cost of fertilizer. We have seen the price situation with fuel, not only across Canada but around the world. Those fuel prices dramatically increase the costs of production for a farmer because a farmer uses a lot of fuel when he produces a product.

Commodity prices in certain agricultural products are extremely low. For example, the grains and oilseeds prices have dropped dramatically since 1995. The price of corn has dropped by some 46%, wheat by 34% and canola by the same amount. These are figures put out by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. I believe that these prices are directly impacted by export subsidies and by trade distorting domestic subsidies from a number of countries around the world, particularly in this situation with the United States and the European Union.

What are the solutions? I think a two-pronged solution is needed here. We need to first deal with the short term problem, which is the problem being faced by farmers today in that they cannot get back their costs of production. We also need to deal with some of the underlying problems of income. This should involve a short term injection of cash, not only from the federal government but also from the provincial governments. At the same time, for the long term problem we need to continue to take an aggressive role at the international negotiating table.

I was glad to see the Prime Minister stand in the House and then take this issue to his meeting with George Bush last week. The Prime Minister went there and said it was a key priority on his part to talk to President Bush about the export subsidies and the ways in which we can coalesce with other countries around the world to bring these down.

I was glad to hear from the Prime Minister that President Bush was of the same opinion. The Minister for International Trade and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food have also taken the word of Canadian farmers to the international table. They did that by working with farm groups, farm organizations and provinces to come up with an international agreement they could take to the negotiating table, an agreement that first and foremost was credible.

It will take time. If we look at how these negotiations have gone in the past, we realize that we are talking about a number of years to get to a point where there may be agreement. What do we do in the meantime? We need an short injection of cash. I was glad to hear the minister of agriculture tonight make the point that more needs to be done and indeed will be done.

The provinces also need to get involved. Let us look at the expenditure figures from all the provinces. The federal government spends about 2% of its expenditures on agriculture; British Columbia, 0.4%; Alberta, 2.6%; Saskatchewan, 5.7%; Manitoba, 2.5%; Ontario, the richest province, my province, 0.78%; Quebec, 1.6%; New Brunswick, 0.5%; Nova Scotia, 0.9%; Prince Edward Island, 2.4%; and Newfoundland, 0.3%.

Grains and oilseeds in Saskatchewan is a particularly important area. I believe there is room at the provincial level to move forward on the issue.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says farmers need income programs that are adequately funded, that are able to be delivered quickly and efficiently, and that will be in place until we can get international agreements to deal with them.

As we as a country moved over the last number of years to deal with the deficit we said we needed to make certain commitments to do so. I believe we as a country need to continue to move forward in that area. This is not just a rural issue. I am not sure if Canadians or people in Toronto, for instance, know that one in six jobs in Toronto is in the food industry.

What is at risk is our national sovereignty, our food sovereignty, a cheap and safe food policy. We need the understanding of urban Canada because we are asking the government for tax dollars. We are asking Canadians at all levels for a commitment on the issue.

This is as serious an issue as Canada has faced for a number of years. We need to look at it both federally and provincially so that we as a government and as a country can move forward with solutions. We need a royal commission or something at the level where not only ministers of agriculture from across the country but representatives of all government levels and departments come together to solve the problem.

Farm families are looking to us tonight for solutions. I believe we have some. The government is seriously looking at them. I believe the Prime Minister is focused on it. I ask for their patience. I ask that they come together with their friends and neighbours in urban Canada to ask for their understanding as we in the House are asking tonight.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of sadness that I enter the debate tonight, another emergency debate on the farm crisis. We have had all too many of them in the House over the last seven years.

Is there a farm crisis today? Yes, there certainly is. Before I deal more specifically with the farm crisis, I must state that not all the industry is in trouble. Supply management commodities are doing okay. In the late sixties farmers in the country came together with the support of government to develop a system in which to market their product and gain fair returns on their labour investment.

Those marketing systems are still in place today because of the hard work of government members. We were able to retain those supply management systems at the GATT negotiations and the WTO discussions. We need to continue to fight to retain them.

If it were left up to the opposition party those kinds of systems would be destroyed. Consumers are doing well by supply management systems. They have cheap, high quality food and farmers get good returns for what they produce. There is balance.

Yes, there is a farm crisis in Canada and, to a great extent, globally. As mentioned previously, the CFA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, on February 6 held a food freedom day on which, by February 6, the average Canadian had earned enough to buy a year's supply of groceries at the grocery store level.

What about farmers' raw material costs freedom day? That would have been on about January 9 or 10. The rest of the time is taken up with the profits of the chain stores.

The CFA also mentioned that in Canada the ratio of cost of food to personal disposable income is only 9.8%. Food is actually too cheap in this country.

I want to put the farm crisis into some perspective. I will quote a statement made by the NFU, the National Farmers Union. It states:

The market is failing farmers, it is failing all around the world, and it has been since at least the late 1970s. The market is failing to return a fair and adequate share of the consumer dollar to farmers. And it is failing to allocate to farmers a reasonable return on labour, management, and equity from our agri-food system's huge revenue stream. Moreover, this market failure is entirely predictable. It is a direct result of dramatic market power imbalances between agri-food industry multinational corporations and the family farms that must do business with these firms.

When we look at a graph, it is interesting what the NFU is really saying. It says that some people are doing okay at the expense of the farm community. If we look at a graph of the increasing farm sector trade, we find that exports from the farm sector are going up about 60% but the net income for the farm sector, having produced that economy for everyone else in the system, is going down to somewhere around 6%. Some people are gaining as a result of the farmers' productivity.

The second quote I want to turn to is by Elbert van Donkersgoed of the Christian Farmers Federation. He stated that “the year 2001 looks like another year of running with the bulls”, comparing it to Pamplona, Spain. He went on to state:

For farmers, running with the bulls has become a necessity. Massive agribusiness conglomerates manage the food chain. There are fewer and fewer buyers for farm products. The competitive marketplace has become an endangered species. But farmers are an accommodating lot. They go along to get along. They will find the silver lining: economic doctrine says the giantification of Tyson (Foods) should deliver the much-heralded efficiencies of scale. Besides, quasi-independent farmers running as a pack in a narrow market lane is thrilling; and the bulls can get around to goring only a few.

I would suggest that year after year there are less and less of those farmers left.

He goes on to say:

Truckloads of grain will leave farms across Canada for yet another year of meagre returns. Canadian governments have been counting on the bulls of international trade, the United States and the European Union, to modify their subsidizing ways.

I raise those points because many out there are suggesting the serious problems in the marketplace are functioning in the farmers' interests. However, those are just two points of view.

I listened to the opposition and to the mover of the motion. The concern I have with tonight's debate is that, as usual, rather than proposing solutions they are attacking the government. I would love to get into a debate with opposition members in terms of some of the points they raised. It is hard to resist the urge to do that.

I feel very passionately about the supply management system, which the Alliance would destroy. I feel very strongly about the Canadian Wheat Board, which the Alliance attacks. The Canadian Wheat Board in this difficult market has been able to maximize returns, such as they are, to primary producers.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

What is the price of wheat?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:55 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

That is my point. If the member had listened to what I said about the international marketplace, the prices are down. Thank goodness we have the Canadian Wheat Board because it maximizes what little return there is back to primary producers.

My colleague, who spoke just previous to me, said that Canada must support its farm community. I agree that it must. If the Europeans and Americans continue to subsidize at the levels they do then Canada has an obligation to support its producers at similar levels.

Regardless of the different policy points of view, I believe we have a deeper problem, an underlying problem. I know I am doing the unthinkable, but I must say something about the managers of the agriculture and agrifood policies at the Sir John Carling building. I know one should not attack the bureaucracy because the opposition and some of our own members will say the minister is responsible, and that is true. However, I have spent 17 years in the farm movement and eight years in the government. I know how hard we try as backbenchers to put forward solutions, but I have never done anything so frustrating as dealing with the potato wart problem in Prince Edward Island.

Potato wart is not a problem. Finding a solution seems to be. Our trade officials are too weak-kneed to challenge the Americans on what they are doing. The department seems unable to come up with a solution in terms of an assistance package. There are always 16 reasons why the bureaucracy cannot do something and never one why it can.

I am frustrated with the department and I am laying it on the table. As members we can have our debates on politics and on policy but we need the department to put them forward in a positive way. I am laying it out here because I am frustrated about it and I think it must be said.

This country has to support the farm community to nearly equivalent levels with the United States and with Europe.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Be a little more specific.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

There are certainly no specifics coming from that side. All they can do over there is attack the very good policies that we have in place. They would undermine supply management. They would destroy the Canadian Wheat Board.

We have policies in place. We have put a lot of money into the farm sector. We know it is not enough and that we have to do more but at least this government is willing to work with the farm community to come forward with positive solutions.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

It is just you with all the answers.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

I admit that I do not have all the answers. Mr. Speaker, I am being interrupted. Could you call the House to order?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

No doubt I could attempt to bring more order, but short of unanimous consent the member is getting very close to his limit on time.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have laid out what I think is part of the problem, which is the upper establishment at the Sir John Carling building itself. I think that has to be said, and I hate to have to say it, but I believe it to be true.

Over the past five years the federal government has spent about $13 million in support for the agrifood sector. We have strongly supported its supply management. There are some industries that are seeing success out there. We will see more aggressive action on the part of the government to deal with the grains and oilseeds and the potato situation in P.E.I.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I thank the Speaker for allowing us to have this emergency debate tonight. It has been a fairly rare occasion that we have been able to get these kinds of things and I commend you and the Speaker.

I also compliment the member opposite who just gave his speech. It is not too often that we compliment them, but some of the remarks he made toward the end of his speech should be heeded and listened to. He made remarks with which I agree. I think that many times those who are administering the programs may not understand the problems down on the farm. I appreciate the comments that were made.

Most of my address will be to people who are not on the farm today. Those who are listening by television in our cities may not understand this problem, so I would, in essence, like to send my address to them.

The issue is of tremendous importance to my riding. Anyone listening to this debate has to realize how important it is to them, and many Canadians do not. We had a rally last year in my riding and one of the signs that was being held up by the farmers just jumped out to me. The sign read, “If you eat food don't just thank God, thank a farmer”. That sign really said a lot. We take for granted so often the quality of food that farmers put on our tables. If one eats, one should support agriculture.

Let me answer several questions in my speech tonight. First, the question I would like to ask is, is the crisis real? We have heard a lot of statistics and numbers here tonight to prove that, but the presence of farmers from my province in Ottawa tonight indicates that they are seeking assistance. They are here paying their own way. They cannot afford to hire professional lobbyists. They are trying their best to explain to whomever will listen that they cannot survive.

I invite anyone who does not believe that there is a huge problem in my riding or in rural Saskatchewan to join me in my riding sometime. They should come and answer the phone in my riding office or even at my home. The should come with me to the store, the post office, the curling rink or the church. I cannot go anywhere without hearing a description of how this is impacting the people in my riding. It really tears my heart out to listen to those wonderful people.

I even had a funeral director tell me about two very sad funerals he had to do for farmers who saw no hope. The crisis is devastating on the farm. Ninety-seven per cent of the farmers in a survey done in my riding stated that the federal government was not doing enough to help them through the crisis.

Seventy per cent of farmers in this survey said they lost money farming last year. People in the cities should realize that they did not just get a small income; they lost money. Eighty-five per cent said that their farming operation was worse off than it was last year. Seventy-five per cent were seriously considering whether or not to even continue farming.

Here are some of the comments that I got on this survey:

It is disturbing that the government boasts about the budget surplus and yet they cannot come up with $1 billion for farmers per year.

Farmers see a lot of money flowing to Ottawa in the form of tax. Yet when they are in need it does not come back to them. They would like tax reduction or they would like some assistance. It is not coming. Here is another quotation:

My family has gone through separation. We did get back together but with immense stress, emotional and financial. I farm eight quarters (a fairly small farm), plus we have two full time jobs to pay living expenses and help pay farm bills.

In other words farmers are working off farm to put food on their own tables but yet they grow grain that feeds the world. Here is another quotation:

The financial stress of farming is causing a great deal of family problems.

This crisis is not just manifested in the economics of the situation. There is a tremendous cost to our families and to our whole rural way and quality of life.

There is another question I would like answered. Why should we be concerned about the crisis? Why should someone in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal or Halifax be concerned? So what if we lose our farmers? Does it matter? Let me explain why this is serious and why Canadians in our cities should be telling the government to take action and put $1 billion more into farm assistance immediately.

Here is what happening. As our family farms disappear, corporations are buying up the land. If this trend continues they will gain control of our food supply. When that happens, they will no longer produce the quality of food that Canadians have come to take for granted but they will gain a monopoly. When that happens the people in our cities will no longer enjoy the low cost food. Quality and price will change dramatically when we lose our family farms and the large corporations take over.

Another point I would like to make is on an environmental issue. Family farmers care about the land. They will pass it on. They care about the different plants and animal species. The large corporations will not be as concerned about the soil and resources or about passing the land down to their children and grandchildren.

This is also an environmental issue which could catch the attention of our environmentalists. I wish they would pay attention to it. Squeezing our farmers means that they are desperately looking for more ways to make an extra buck. They may use more chemicals and fertilizers to keep going one more year. Family farmers are the best caretakers of the land because they want it to be there for many generations.

Another question I would like to answer is: Have we not been giving farmers lots of handouts already? It seems like they are always getting money. The government has given the impression that is the case but it is not. It announced $1.7 billion in assistance, but it never gets into the pockets of farmers. It ends up fuelling a bureaucracy. Only half of the money it announced several years ago has been received by farmers in any way. The programs are complex and they are structured so that they do not get the money to those who need it.

The people of Canada need to know that other countries are standing behind their farmers but our federal government does not. Because the Europeans and Americans help their farmers stay on the land and see the value of plenty of farmers providing quality food, it has driven down the price of food in Canada. What has happened here? Canadians in our cities have benefited from this because they know they can take advantage of the crisis. They get food produced at below the cost of production. Our farmers deserve to get paid for the work they do.

In conclusion, I would like to say on a very touchy subject that this Friday in Yorkton a rally is being held to promote the idea that Saskatchewan should separate, that Saskatchewan would be better off economically. The feeling of alienation is a serious problem. I do not think this is the way to go, but I remember a huge rally in Montreal just before the last referendum on separation in Quebec.

The theme of the rally was that we loved Quebec and wanted it to stay. Maybe it is about time we showed farmers that we care for them. They do not think the rest of the country feels their pain. Hopefully the government does not reflect the feeling of most Canadians.

A real antidote to the alienation in rural provinces is to reform our Senate and make parliament effective. The House of Commons needs to become more effective. We need to wrestle power away from the Prime Minister who does not treat all Canadians equally.

The farm crisis might not be as serious if we had democracy in Canada. My appeal this evening to all who are listening has been to those in the cities. We need their help on the farm. I ask them to put pressure on their MPs and their government to do something to help our farmers. We need that assistance right now.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

February 13th, 2001 / 9:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, debate on farm income is near and dear to my heart. I have farmed for 25 years and I have been in situations where I thought we were doing pretty well. I have also been in situations where I wondered if we would be able to make it through.

My home area of Cypress Hills—Grasslands, and particularly Frontier, was settled in the early 1900s by people who came mainly from Scandinavia looking for new opportunities. From the beginning some succeeded at farming and some did not.

Over the decades, particularly through the dirty thirties, people left our area. Depopulation took place a long time ago in southwestern Saskatchewan. We have already gone through what many other areas are only beginning to go through. To farm means that farmers will face obstacles.

Farmers have always faced and are willing to fight through disasters. All of us who have farmed have fought drought, floods, insects and heat. We were willing to do that, but this problem is different. This is a problem that does not come from the weather or from farmers themselves. Income crisis is not the fault of farmers. It has come about by circumstances totally outside our control.

Trade negotiations far away and unfair foreign subsidy programs have reduced our incomes to disastrous levels. Our income once again is dictated to us by the government.

The problems of the WTO talks and foreign subsidization programs have several results. One of them is that income drops for farmers. One of the newspapers in my constituency printed a notice that kitty litter now costs seven times as much as wheat. It is wrong when cat litter is worth more than our food.

On one side the income drops and on the other side the costs increase. If inputs skyrocket and income dives, it cannot work. A second result is that it is destroying people personally. People's willingness to continue farming is being taken away from them. Some of them are giving up. They cannot make it on their own. They do not want to be dependent on the government. They are proud people who want to be proud of what they do.

These people are self-employed. They are the ones who pay in but do not receive a lot back. They do not have fancy health plans, or in some cases even decent health care. They cannot take sick leave. They do not have big pension plans, but they are still the heart and the soul of our country.

We need a new framework. How could things be different? I would like members to come to my area of Cypress Hill—Grasslands and in particular to the Claydon, Frontier and Climax area with me. It has been home for nearly 100 years now to people who have been willing to take a chance. When people moved there it was a new opportunity for them.

People have continued to look for opportunity there and they have found it. Through the years they have established businesses. In the early seventies our community had agricultural implement manufacturers, primarily Friggstad. In the 1990s we had Honey Bee Manufacturing which makes swathing equipment and combining equipment. We have had processors move in that began to process our products and sell them themselves. We have diversified into specialty crops. People are interested in retailing in fuel, fertilizers and chemicals. Now people in our community are looking to the future. This is an area with only hundreds of people, not thousands of them. How does success happen in an area like that? There are two things that strike me about that area. First, the people desire to be free from government. They do not want to be dependent on government. They know that the government cannot sustain them long term. Second, they have an attitude that they will survive. They are going to survive and they will do what it takes to survive. We are doing that.

Does the government want some direction? Tonight we heard it ask for solutions and have heard some suggested by different people. I do not know if it wants specific solutions or not. It never initiated this debate and agriculture has never seemed to be a real priority for it.

I am going to make some suggestions anyway. As a producer, I would like to suggest first that the government strengthen what remains. I can think of two things, in particular the crop insurance programs that are in place and the NISA plan. Why not use NISA, tune it up, make it work and make it work better? As well, I would suggest, as we have heard tonight from my party and also from one of the parties on the opposition side, that we need stronger tax cuts and a reduction of government fees.

One program that worked last summer was the Canada-Saskatchewan adjustment program. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba were recipients of that. It was easily administered. The money was out there very quickly. It got to where it was needed and it was used to do what had to be done.

Second, we should eliminate the failures. I can think of two of them. They are the AIDA and the CFIP. These have been poorly administered and ineffective. They are dangerous because people get their hopes built up on what they are going to get out of the programs and then it is taken away from them.

We all know examples of where people have received money and have had it clawed back from them. I have constituents who have come to me and told me that they have been asked for the money back before they had even received it.

The second thing that needs to be dealt with is our trade positions, which must be a lot more aggressively pursued. The trade positions we end up with leave agriculture in a very bad situation.

The government needs also to give hope for tomorrow. We need to get emergency aid out there right now. We have half, or $800 million, of the AIDA money left. We are calling on the government to deliver another $1 billion before seeding time. That has to get out if we want farming to work successfully in the grain and oilseed sector.

The government needs to look to create incentives to change. One of the problems with AIDA is that it has rewarded people for staying the same. If I have grown a product and it has gone downhill, there is no incentive for me to change it because I can continue to try to collect from that program. We must look to create incentives to change.

The pulse growers are a good example of people who have gone into specialization diversification and have done a good job without a lot of government help. We can look to them for an example of people who are making agriculture work.

I would suggest we need to open access. We need to open it to the railways so we can get access to move some of our own products on the railways. I would also suggest, as we have heard earlier tonight, that we need to open access to marketing, particularly for grain. We need to allow freedom and open it up so people have choice in what they are marketing and can deal with their own product. We can market other crops worldwide and we can certainly do it with grain.

If the government will not address these solutions, I have another suggestion. It had better come up with some quick and effective transition programs for those who cannot continue to farm. We heard earlier that 6,400 people moved off their farms last year. That is going to accelerate very rapidly. These people know how to work. They want to work on their farms. However, if we are not prepared to help them, we had better be prepared to help them go on to something else.

In conclusion, I want to ask the question: is agriculture a necessary industry? If not, what is? If it is, the government needs to move. For three years it has failed to effectively address the situation in grains and oilseeds. It is time that it starts to mind the company store by addressing this immediate need.

Our ancestors came here for the opportunity. Let us try to make sure that there is one for our children as well.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9:15 p.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with another member.

One snowy day in January I found the parking lot of my constituency office dwarfed by giant combines and huge tractors. Inside my office a delegation of local farmers waited for me. We had a good discussion.

As each man left we shook hands. One of the last men to leave took my hand and said “Please make those people in Ottawa understand what we are going through”. He had been quiet throughout the meeting, saying nothing. The few words he left with me touched me in a very profound way.

As parliamentarians, as members of the House, the primary reason we are here is to make those people in Ottawa understand what our constituents and collectively what Canadians are going through. It is our duty to bring the stories, the concerns, the challenges, the hopes and the dreams of Canadians to Ottawa. We do this to ensure that decision making reflects the reality of Canadians' lives and that as best as is possible what we do here in this Chamber serves those who look to this place for leadership, for answers and at times for help. If we neglect to do this, the laws we make, the policies and programs we develop, will never meet the needs of Canadians. We will never solve the problems that our nation faces. We will never answer the fundamental questions we are required to address as a nation.

I am honoured to represent the riding of York North, an agriculture rich part of Ontario known for its dairy farms, its grain and cattle and the wonderful vegetables grown on our marsh farms. In fact, when I was a schoolgirl in Thunder Bay we studied the famous Holland Marsh in market gardening.

Because of its proximity to Toronto, York North has the distinction of being a bit of a hybrid riding, an agriculture basin and an important industrial region as well. We are home to many people who commute to work in Toronto, to those who live in the numerous small towns and villages in the rural countryside and to a great many who have farmed in this area for generations and who continue to do so.

Over the years our proximity to Canada's largest city has meant that York North has become increasingly urbanized. This can be said for many ridings represented in the House. A good deal of our farmland has disappeared. Despite this, the myth that the greater Toronto area does not make an important contribution to our agriculture sector can be quickly dispelled. A recent study noted that there are approximately $585 million in farm receipts in the York region alone.

Clearly, the agrifood sector remains vitally important to the economic health of the GTA and the York region. These are hardworking, resilient people who have farmed for generations. They have seen good times and tough times and now many are going through the toughest of times.

I am working closely with the agrifood producers in my riding. One of them, Mr. Don Chapman, has said to me and to the newspapers that “Farmers don't want subsidies. They don't want tax rebates. They don't want to call in crop insurance. They just want to be paid fairly for their products”. The government must listen to their need for immediate assistance and long term support. We produce some of the greatest agricultural products in the world and yet our farmers are in a dire way.

The farmers in my riding tell me Ontario farmers need an increase in the Canadian farm income program of $300 million. This program is split 60:40 with the province, which means that we need Ontario to step up to the plate to the tune of $120 million. Our agriculture sector is a shared responsibility.

The farmers in my riding also talk about longer term solutions and actions. They talk of increased funding to agricultural research and of the development of new markets. They talk of strengthening environmental programs. More important, any income assistance program should help ensure that they receive adequate returns for their investment, their input costs and their labour.

We all know debates are easy but coming up with practical long term solutions is not. Will we settle on some concrete initiatives this evening? I think not. More time is needed in the House on this matter. More time is needed to discuss the many facets of this complicated and lingering problem.

A local vegetable growers' association wrote to me recently to outline some of these facets. In addition to the serious weather pressures faced recently, they wrote that growers must contend with eroded markets due to the consolidation, increased domestic supply, increased year round global supply and free trade agreements that force growers to compete with the treasuries of the United States and the European Union.

The same vegetable growers noted that a pre-harvest survey of growers conducted in July 2000 placed crop losses to the growers of Bradford, Cookstown and East Gwillimbury at approximately 3,500 acres, or an estimated 40% of the total area grown. This is alarming.

There are other aspects to the problem as well. We need to discuss these important issues such as increasing our support for local growers. As Wendell Berry, the noted farmer, essayist and poet once wrote:

The orientation of agriculture to local needs, local possibilities and local limits is indispensable to the health of both land and people, and undoubtedly to the health of democratic liberties as well.

Why do we reach for lettuce trucked here from California instead of that grown perhaps only miles away? There is something so fundamentally wrong about that. How many of us even consider what such a simple choice does to our farmers?

That is why I urge the House and the government to initiate a national debate on food. We as Canadians from urban and rural communities need to understand how the producers of our foodstuffs live. We need to understand why mean farm incomes continue to go down and why input costs continue to rise. We need to understand why the next generation of farmers is not stepping up to take over our farms. In fact, according to some, the next generation has already decided not to. It is the generation after them that we need to woo back to the land.

The hon. member for Calgary Centre referred to this debate as one about food security. I agree with him but I would go further. I believe that this is a question of food sovereignty. If we care about good quality food in the country, and if we care that we as a nation have control over this very basic need, then we must understand that, as Wendell Berry also says “Whatever determines the fortune of the land determines also the fortune of the people.”

A vibrant, sustainable, profitable agricultural sector is part of who we are. If it is suffering, then we are suffering. More important, we become vulnerable.

I call on all members of the House to support our family farms. I call upon the government to do what is right.