Mr. Speaker, I intend to share my time with my colleague from Nova Scotia who has a brilliant dissertation to make about the problems facing maritime agriculture, including the problems in Prince Edward Island.
This is the worst crisis in prairie agriculture since the 1930s. I am talking specifically about the grain and oilseed industry. In the 1930s many people were forced off the land. Today the same thing is happening and it is happening in spades.
From the fall of 1999 to the fall of 2000 some 22,000 prairie farmers were forced off the land: 6,500 in my own province, about 4,000 or 5,000 in Manitoba, and more than 10,000 in Alberta. So many farmers were forced off the land that statisticians at Statistics Canada at first could not believe what their computers told them. About 40,000 people in the farm industry were forced off the land at the same time.
The crisis on the prairies is unlike anything we have seen since the 1930s. All one has to do is drive around small towns in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to see how real the crisis is. The situation is the same in Alberta outside of Edmonton and Calgary. Regina and Saskatoon are not doing badly, but the rest of Saskatchewan is really suffering because of the farm crisis.
During the election campaign and last summer I went to every small town and village in my riding. With the exception of one or two, every town is suffering a loss of population. People are moving out and businesses are closing because of the collapse of the farm economy. The towns that are doing well, like my hometown of Wynyard or the town of Fort Qu'Appelle, are doing well because of other industries.
There is a chicken plant in Wynyard called Lillydale that employs about 500 people. The employees are unionized and receive decent wages and have decent working conditions. Despite that, the town is only holding its own.
Fort Qu'Appelle is a tourist town with a big tourist industry, particularly in the summertime. There too the people are only holding their own. Most other towns are shrinking because of the crisis in agriculture.
Two things have to happen and they have to happen soon. First, we need an immediate injection of cash into the farm economy so that farmers can seed their crops in the spring. If that does not happen thousands more farmers will leave the land.
Second, we need a long term farm program that has some relationship to the cost of production so that farmers have basic some guarantees about the commodities they produce. We can do that within the confines and context of the World Trade Organization.
It strikes me as strange that farmers in Canada are not as supported as farmers in the United States. Canada has a $100 billion surplus for the next five years. We can afford now to help grain farmers. Washington helps American farmers in North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma and right across the midwest of the United States. Brussels helps European farmers. What does our federal government do? It does very little when it comes to helping grain and oilseed farmers across Canada.
What we need is a long term farm program that is based on the cost of production so that farmers have an idea in the spring what they will receive in the fall. They need to know they will get back at least the cost of producing a crop and a decent living wage for their families. That is the kind of thing that will have to happen.
We also have to realize that if the government does not take the initiative to intervene in terms of long term programs to support the family farm and its way of life, those farms will disappear and corporate farms will take over. Small towns will be gone and soon Cargill, Dow Chemical, Monsanto and big corporations will run the entire western Canadian farm base. The only institution large enough to turn the trend around is the Government of Canada representing all the people of the country.
What we should realize is that agriculture is the basic foundation industry of this country and when the farmer is better off then we are all better off in terms of our economy and the creation of jobs in Canada. That is what a lot of people in the government do not seem to realize or understand.
There are some sections of farming that are not doing badly. The member for Malpeque said earlier that in the late 1960s legislation was read in the House to bring in supply management and marketing boards for four commodities. We have the Canadian Dairy Commission, CEMA, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, the Canadian Chicken Marketing Agency and the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency. These supply management boards guarantee to the producers in those areas a cost of production and a standard of living which is reasonable and decent for the products and foods they produce. For the consumers, they produce a stable price for people who buy milk, turkey, chickens and eggs.
Even those marketing boards are now under threat because of the World Trade Organization and mainly because the Americans see them as an inhibition to a so-called free market. For the Americans, the free market definition is what is good for a huge transnational corporation is good for the people of the United States. I say that is wrong. We have to fight to maintain our supply marketing boards. We have to fight to maintain the strength of the Canadian Wheat Board. It is very important that we have a single desk marketing agency which is the Canadian Wheat Board.
I am surprised time and time again to see the Alliance Party get up and talk about a dual marketing system which in effect would destroy the Canadian Wheat Board.
Those are issues that are very important if we are to preserve the farm in Canada. If we had a dual marketing system, the Canadian Wheat Board would not survive because it would be in competition with the huge transnational, multinational grain companies in Canada.
These are some of the issues. We plead tonight with the Minister of Finance to loosen the purse strings a bit and come up with an immediate injection of cash so that grain farmers can afford to put in a crop. We plead with him to come up with an immediate injection of cash that would help the farmers. There are stories after stories being told of their hardships and about people being forced off the land.
More important, in addition to that number one priority, is to make sure we have a long term program that is based on the cost of production so that farmers, like grain farmers, dairy producers, chicken producers and turkey producers will have some kind of a guarantee for the price of their commodities when they plant a crop in the spring. They should have some kind of a guarantee of a decent price come the fall.
I do not know why this has not become a priority of the Liberal government. We get up here day after day and say there is a crisis. We have Liberals day after day saying there is a crisis. My God, if there is a crisis, let us do something about it. Let us restore some democracy to this institution. Let us separate parliament from the executive. Let us have parliament say to the executive, the Government of Canada and to the cabinet, that this is a crisis, that as a crisis it is a priority and if it is a priority then money should be spent in making sure we solve the problems, not just for the farmers but for the people of Canada. That is what has to be done.
Instead we have an institution that has become more of a debating society where people get up and pontificate and make speeches. Some of them are good, like the member for Brandon—Souris who made an excellent speech. We come up and make these speeches time and time again. No wonder people are getting cynical of this institution. No wonder only 60% of the people voted in the last election. In spite of all the good words, the good intentions, all the speeches, the research and the money spent to run this place, it is falling on deaf ears when it comes to the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister, the mandarins in the Privy Council Office and in the Department of Finance.
It is about time the House passed a motion insisting that the will of parliament is to make sure we have an immediate short term program for the farmers and a long term program based on the cost of production to keep our farmers on the land.
My time has expired and there is going to be an absolutely eloquent speech coming from my friend from Nova Scotia.