As the hon. member said, there is, unfortunately, no long term plan and, more important, there is no short term plan.
There is an issue at stake here. We could use a couple of examples. It was mentioned earlier this evening that P.E.I.'s potato production has been completely shut down. We have a provincial program in P.E.I. to buy potatoes and compost them. We do not have any kind of program from the federal government. We have a promise but no cold hard cash is on the table. The only things on the table on a farm in P.E.I., if they are lucky, are a teapot and couple of elbows. They are sitting there contemplating their future and wondering whether it will be in the potato industry or in any other industry.
We have an ongoing issue. It is not complicated. We cannot expect our farmers to produce against the rest of the farmers on the planet, and specifically against farmers in the United States and in the EU, if we do not subsidize our farmers to the same degree that the Americans and the Europeans do, and we do not. We are a buck and change behind the Americans, and we are two dollars and change behind the Europeans.
This is not rocket science. We have to be on a level playing field and maybe then we could convince the Americans and the Europeans to drop their subsidies back. However we cannot do that when we are behind them in the starting blocks. We can only do it when we are at par. We do, without question, have a crisis in agriculture.
I would like to point out some numbers. Numbers make our eyes glaze over after a while and we start to say that maybe it is not a number issue, but it is always a number issue and it is always an issue of dollars before it is all done.
As we enter the 21st century and Canada faces new challenges and trends, some of which I talked about earlier, such as globalization and liberalization of trade forces, Canada will be forced to become more and more competitive. Farm incomes are already unstable. Infrastructure is crumbling. Access to capital is restricted. Foreign governments continue to subsidize their agriculture industries at high levels.
I used some rough figures a minute ago but I have an example here of real numbers. In 1997, for every dollar Canadians spent on farm support, the Americans spent $2.06, the European Union spent $2.14 and Japan spent $3.47.
According to Brian Doidge of the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology, Canada spends 78% of its GDP on agriculture support, while the Americans spend 1.7% of its GDP. The figures are based on the OECD aggregate measures of support. The figures say very clearly that we are behind and we are not doing anything to catch up.
From 1998 to September 2000, emergency income support program payments directly to growers amounted to $48.2 billion in the United States and $3.1 billion in Canada. The debate is over. With that type of a ratio it is impossible to catch up unless the government is determined to catch up and unless the government says that it is going to reach parody and that when it reaches parody it will talk about being equal and about everyone dropping their subsidies back. In the meantime, if we do not do that we will not have any farmers left. The grains and oilseeds may be the hardest hit today, but that will spread to the other commodity groups. It is only a matter of time.
A Statistics Canada report in August 2000 noted that a look at the month by month statistics since January 1997 shows that total employment in agriculture has plummeted from the fall of 1998. Agriculture employment on the prairies used to hover around the 200,000 mark. An August survey puts that number at 160,000, that is, 40,000 fewer people were working in agriculture on the prairies. That computes, then, to 22,100 farmers.
I do not mind entering this debate, but I am beginning to question why we are here, why we stand on our feet, why we continue to ask the government to deal with a crisis situation, to deal with a major problem in this country, while government members continue to sit over there and do nothing and literally sit on their hands.
We have a huge neighbour to the south that is a very powerful trading partner. It has shown us at every turn of the wheel that it will use a phytosanitary certificate for a non-tariff trade barrier. It continues to do that. It has done it in the Christmas tree industry, my background. It has done it with P.E.I. potatoes time and again. It has done it in other commodities. It has done it in lumber.
We, as the Parliament of Canada, have to better represent Canadians. We can encourage the government but we cannot force this majority to do something it does not want to do. I think the member for Peace River said it best. The members over there have to decide. The backbench members of the government have to force and lobby their own government and their own Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to respond to this crisis. If it is not done, we will see a day in this country where not only will we no longer have the family farm, we will be importing food. That is not a day I look forward to.