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

9:25 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving the House the opportunity to debate this very important issue.

Some people consider Durham to be part of the GTA so that therefore we would not know about farming. In fact, my riding is proud that its second largest industry is agriculture. Our first one is General Motors. Agriculture is a big feature of the Durham riding.

Just as a personal note, I spent about eight years of my life farming on a part time basis. I can well remember the years when I could not get my farm crop in because of weather conditions and the elevators in the spring would not give me the proper pricing for that. I had to dump the crop on my farm floor and feed it to pigs. I can certainly understand the trials and tribulations that have occurred in the agricultural industry. Some things are predicated by weather conditions, others by market forces. The decisions are made way beyond the farm gate.

Our farmers are having a crisis. Every member in the House has agreed that we have a significant one.

I was just speaking to a number of farmers in my riding last Friday. They belong to an organization called the Canadian Foodgrain Bank. This is an organization that many people would not understand. The farmers get together to volunteer their time and labour to grow grain. They basically have a storage facility. CIDA actually purchases that grain and ships it overseas. The farm community, even in its time of need, has found ways to reach out to those less fortunate in other countries.

It is only appropriate that farmers are looking to us in their time of need. It is time for us to discuss their issue and to ensure that they are properly taken care of.

I do not have to tell hon. members that a couple of world wars have taught a lot of nations that it is very dangerous to be dependent on other countries for their food supply. Even though some people will argue, improperly I think, that other agricultural countries could possibly outproduce us, I do not believe that is true. I think it is dangerous if it is true. We must sustain our Canadian agricultural industry.

It seems to me the farm sector is broken down into a number of areas. We have a very dangerous tendency in the House to talk about agriculture as if it were some kind of holistic thing. In fact it is many industries all at once.

We have the supply management industry. Some people have suggested it is doing well. Others have suggested it is simply on a life support system. It is actually crumbling under the weight of international pricing and the move toward tariffication as opposed to a quota system for some of our supply based industries. It too is in jeopardy and needs to be protected. We as legislators need to stand up for that industry.

However it is true that the supply management industry is not under the strain of grain and oilseeds and the other sectors of the agricultural industry that do not have a supply management industry.

These industries are coming to the government and saying that it is their supply manager. As a bunch of small producers they find it very difficult to compete, not only internationally but domestically. After all, there are only two or three major buyers of livestock in Canada but there are many livestock farmers. There is a great disproportionate disparity in the marketplace. I believe another member talked about the failure of the market to deal directly with farmers.

Many people talked about the crisis today and suggested that we need money and cash injection. I agree with that. However I would like to talk today about the whole concept of program delivery.

Before I started to study this debate I sourced some interesting statistics, Canadian revenue income statistics. These figures are for people who reported their incomes in 1998 from farming. They may be somewhat inaccurate because they come from people's tax returns. This is on a personal income tax basis, so it does not reflect people who carried on farming in a corporate entity. They would not show up in these figures. However it gives us a rough overview, a sort of barometer of what is actually going on in the agricultural industry.

A total of 439,990 tax filers who claimed that their chief source of income was from farming had a total income of about $2 billion. That works out to a median income for farmers of $4,552.

What is even more startling is the report of the National Council of Welfare in 1998 which talked about a low income cutoff for people determined as being on welfare. For a family of three it indicated $20,000 as the low income cutoff level. That is lower than for people who live in the city because it is believed that their taxes and other expenses are possibly cheaper. They were taken into consideration.

It is amazing to see, as people have losses from farming, up through the income stream that we have 214,470 farmers with $20,000 worth of income. Basically that indicates that 50% of the people who filed their tax return in 1998 and declared their chief source of income to be from farming are living in poverty. That is a very sad testament for our country. Basically the people living in urban areas are the net benefactors of that policy.

It is not so much government per se, but for whatever reason we have been the beneficiary of a cheap food policy. Nine per cent of our disposable income is spent on food. That is lower than the United States which has a bigger per capita income than we do. We have a cheap food policy in Canada but it has been driven on the backs of our farm community.

We have heard the concerns of people regarding various government programs. Historically what has happened is that every time we have had a problem or a crisis in the farm sector a plan has been developed to prevent it, to adjust it or deal with it. As a consequence, we have created a band-aid solution to farm income support systems.

We have talked about a safety net system. The intentions of governments, no matter what stripe, have basically been good, but they have not been able to take the time to sit down and look at the long range aspect of farm income support systems. I suggest that we look in another direction, which is to create a negative income tax for farmers.

We have an AIDA system, a NISA system, a CPIF system, a market revenue system and a crop insurance system. We have a multiplicity of systems. We normally put $1.6 billion toward agriculture support. We put another billion dollars per year up to $2.5 billion. I just said that the total income of farmers reported in 1998 was $2 billion. There is no question that we could afford a negative income tax system to support our farm community without making every farmer an accountant or a lawyer.

In my riding, half of the people who are entitled to these programs are not getting money because they cannot fill out the damn forms. The first category in this group lost $255 million. These people cannot afford to pay $1,000 for an accountant or a lawyer to fill out these forms, so they do not get the money. The money is not getting to the people who need it.

Yes, we do have all these programs in place but the money is not getting to the people who are entitled to it. We will have to do things in a better way.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is another emergency debate that many of us have taken part in several times before. I have been in the House almost eight years and it really disturbs me that we continue to go down the same road having to deal with these situations with agriculture in a knee-jerk fashion.

I would like to try to take the politics out of this issue because it has been a problem that has plagued us for a long time.

It seems to me that Canadian people have to be asked and have to answer a very basic question: Do we want agriculture in this country or not? That is what it comes down to. When it comes down to the oilseed and grain sector, that is the very stark choice that is happening in the prairies and other parts of the country these days because it simply will not be around unless we take a different approach to how we handle agriculture.

I have seen the devastation and we have heard about it here today. We have heard a lot of good comments summarizing the seriousness of the situation. I agree 100% that we have a very vital industry that is going down the tubes. People are losing their farms. I see it every day in my riding.

I suggest that we will have do something in the short term with emergency aid, but unless we have some kind of long term plan to deal with this and unless we have some appreciation by the Canadian people that it is in their interest that we have agriculture in Canada, we will lose this war. One of the reasons I say that is that we simply cannot compete with subsidies against massively populated countries like the United States or the European Union.

I should mention at this time that I will be splitting my time with the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

We simply cannot play that game. We will lose every time. We have to do something today about the emergency crisis, but I make the case very passionately that we simply cannot win that game in the long term.

What could be done? First, I think Canadians have to decide whether they want this agricultural industry. We could import food more cheaply from other countries, I would think right now, with the subsidies out there. We could go that route and we would see the devastation that would happen in our rural communities. I am afraid it would not stop there.

I have one rural community that lost several farm dealerships last year. The community is in decline. I had a public meeting and there were grown people crying at that meeting. That is how serious it is. They are losing their farms. It is not just the farmers. The businessmen were losing their car dealerships. It does not stop there. It goes to the cities, because in western Canada in particular where I live, agriculture is a very big part. For every job in agriculture there are seven spinoff jobs. If we do not think this affects the entire country we are not living in a real world.

What could be done? We know some of the things that could be done. There is the short term aid I talked about. Others have suggested tax relief on excise taxes on fuel. Those are things we could do at home. We could have transportation reform to try to get the cost of delivery down. We will have to do that. There have been some good suggestions in that regard.

The real problem has to be addressed by the international community. Canada has to play a lot stronger role in doing that. After all, who else will do it if we do not do it? Canada has long been a leader in trying to get some rules around doing business and trade in the world. Right after the war we were one of the main proponents calling for trade rules. Agriculture was not included for a lot of different reasons, but we were there and we continue to push for that.

I suggest we have to be a lot tougher in those negotiations. If we want our agricultural industry to survive, we have to start looking after our national interests much more than we are doing today. When it comes to situations like NATO saying that Canada is not playing its part and that we have to up the ante and put more money into it, we should be saying to them that we are prepared to do that. We are prepared to talk about that, but not if countries that are part of that organization have policies which are destroying a vital sector of our economy. We have to look after the national interest first, and we are not doing that.

It goes beyond that. Europe spent $150 billion on agriculture subsidies last year. We know that it overproduces. It does not only supply its own markets. That was its goal to begin with, but it produces 10% or 15% overage from what they need. What does it do with it? It dumps it on to the world market just to get rid of it. Those depressed prices kill our agriculture exports because they have to compete against that fire sale price.

When Europe comes to us next time with a problem in its backyard saying that Canada has great peacekeepers that are needed again in Bosnia or some place, I would say we are prepared to do that but not if it continues those kinds of policies that are killing a vital sector of our economy and destroying a way of life in Canada, destroying our rural communities.

It just seems to me that we have to get more hard-nosed. We have to recognize that we have a vital industry that is important to us. We could probably import our food cheaper than we could produce it right now with the subsidies that are out there, but what happens in 15 years if those subsidies are no longer there?

What happens if the currency changes and there is a terrific devaluation? All of a sudden the price of our food becomes much more expensive. What will happen? Canadians will wake up and ask: what happened to our farmers; why were the policymakers not more responsible; why did they not encourage our farmers; and why did they not tell us about the vital need for agriculture and food security? Those are the questions they will be asking once the agricultural industry has gone.

I say we need some foresight. Collectively as a country we have to be much more hard-nosed. That is the long term answer. People say to me that long term is 10 years or 15 years and their eyes glaze over. This problem existed when I came here in 1993, which will soon be eight years ago, and we are still going along with a knee-jerk reaction. The sooner we start to realize that our national interests have to be protected, the sooner we can work toward some kind of solution.

I encourage all members of the House to work together to that end. I am sorry to say that the way we are going is not the answer. We simply will not have a grain and oilseeds sector left in the near future unless we do something very important like the move I am suggesting.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to add to the sense of urgency that our party believes exists in regard to letting the government know that there is a crisis for the Canadian family farm.

In my home province of Ontario, the agricultural sector in rural Ontario remains an important engine for economic growth. Projected farm gate sales of $8.84 billion for 1999 tell us that agriculture in Ontario continues to grow. Additionally, the simultaneous increase in farm gate sales and the decline in farm jobs tells us that farmers continue to become more productive with a trend toward more capital intensive operations.

Agriculture is big business in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. A recent study that also includes our fellow Alliance members in the county of Lanark shows that there are 7,021 jobs tied to the agricultural sector and over $240 million per annum in sales from farms and businesses that buy and sell to farms.

The study also states that for every on farm job in Renfrew and Lanark counties, there are an additional 1.3 jobs off the farm in the economy serving the needs of local farm operators. The sales expenditure multiplier shows that for every dollar spent by a farmer there is an additional $1.45 in sales by businesses that deal with farmers.

During the past federal election, I was able to hear firsthand the plight of our local farmers. There has been a loss of small farms through consolidation. It is getting harder to find processing plants and markets to take their produce. Government services are actually being withdrawn from farmers and the gap is not always filled by the private sector. There is a shortage of skilled trades workers due to higher wages that are available elsewhere. Our most tragic problem is the exodus of our youth from the rural areas and the family farms because it is felt by some producers that there is no future on the family farm.

Most significantly, many of the farmers I spoke to believe that the problems facing farmers today are tied to one thing: low commodity prices. Much of the frustration my constituents had with the former member and the current government was that when they tried to draw attention to the farm crisis they were pushed off and told that the problem was the weather.

We in the Canadian Alliance know better. Farmers are being driven off the land by a Liberal government that has had its head in the sand when it comes to the practices of our trading partners.

Farmers are not asking for special treatment but for a level playing field when it comes to heavily subsidized foreign produce being dumped into our markets. Even though U.S. farmers are paid 10 times the amount of government dollars that the Canadian government pays to our farmers, Canadians enjoy some of the lowest food prices in the developed world. Where European consumers spend 30% of their incomes on food and Americans spend 11%, Canadians spend just 9.5% of their incomes on food.

Canadian farmers need a government that is on their side. It saddened me to learn that in the last parliament, Liberal, PC and NDP members on the Standing Committee for Agriculture and Agri-Food voted twice against allowing the committee to travel in Ontario to hear from farmers directly.

As an Alliance member from Ontario I am not afraid to hear about the plight of farmers in my home province, and they have my commitment that they will have a voice through me in this parliament, where they have not had one since at least 1993.

What farmers in Ontario and Renfrew county need is an immediate cash injection to safeguard the spring crop. They need a cost of production farm support program, one for all of Canada, and a government that will protect the independent farmer and the consumer from big business, which is buying up all the competition.

Once big business has driven the independent producers out of business, wait for prices to climb out of control. All we are asking is that the government support the needs of Canadian farmers so they can continue to put quality homegrown food on the tables of consumers.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9:50 p.m.


Jerry Pickard Liberal Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate tonight. Member after member has stood in the House and pointed out that there is a tragic crisis in the agricultural community, and no one in the House, no one who has spent time with agricultural people, will deny that. We certainly need to make some changes. We need to move that agenda very rapidly and we need short term and long term solutions for that crisis.

A safe and abundant food supply that is very cheap is clearly one of the joys that we in Canada share. The agriculture and agrifood industry plays an enormous role in the daily living of every Canadian. The agriculture and agrifood industry is the third largest employer in Canada, generating about $95 billion in domestic, retail and food service sales each year and $22 billion in exports.

Indeed, the agriculture and agrifood industry holds a significant place in our country's economy. That is why the current state of this industry—and its future—is an extremely important issue for all people in Canada. Every Canadian must pay careful attention to what is happening.

Canadian farmers boast an impressive record despite the distressed economic situation they are facing. Farming has always been a risky business, but never more so than today. Low commodity prices, adverse weather, high input costs and overproduction due to high subsidies in the United States and the European Union are causing great hardship for our Canadian farmers. This is particularly the case for our grains and oilseeds producers, who have experienced significant income declines due to circumstances far beyond their control.

Prices paid to Ontario and other Canadian farmers for sales of most Ontario grains and oilseed crops have been near their lowest historic levels in value. In real dollars, they are lower in the last four years than in any historic past. This is a direct result of government policies in western Europe and the United States. We are told that a crop farmer in Ontario growing a typical balance of corn, soybeans and wheat receives less than half as much government support as he or she would receive from growing identical crops just a few miles south of my riding, in the United States. This is the reality my local farmers face.

Since December 20, the price of corn has dropped 10 cents to 13 cents a bushel. Soybeans are down 82 cents to 84 cents a bushel. Fuel and fertilizer costs are up. Last summer ammonium nitrate was $300 a metric tonne and now it is $345. The price of urea has increased from $300 to $450. Local property taxes are forecasted to increase. Farmers are having difficulty obtaining bank loans and banks will start foreclosure. In fact, news of foreclosures has already been splashed across the media in my area.

Farmers are wondering if they can even plant their crops this year, and the level of frustration among farmers is reaching a peak.

The approach the federal government has taken so far involves short term and long term measures. To respond to the farmers' immediate needs, emergency assistance has been put in place, first in 1998 and again last July. We worked hard to implement a three year $3.3 billion federal plan for agricultural incomes. This approach includes an outgoing income disaster program, which Canadian farmers called for. Annual funding for safety nets now committed by the federal government is almost double what it was before this agreement.

Over the past five years the federal government has spent approximately $13 billion in support of the agrifood sector, but immediate cash shortfalls and assistance programs are only part of the solution. At present, they are not helping our farm community as much as our farm community needs. Several members of the House have made it very clear a cash injection at this time is imperative. There is no question that we need to make sure there is some stability in that agricultural sector here in this country now. I think that is extremely important.

We also have to realize that we need to go onto the international scene, as many members of the House have said and certainly as the farm communities have said. We all want forms of agricultural support subsidies eliminated. Support subsidies in Europe, in the United States and in other countries that compete with our farmers cripple our farmers if our farmers do not get the same supports. If we try to raise our supports, we will just have a spiralling roof which will make it impossible to have reasonable prices for commodities.

Our farm communities have said very carefully that they do not want subsidies, they want fairness. They want good prices for their products. Cheap food is a reality in Canada, but we have not supported our agricultural producers who are producing that cheap food in the way we need to. The sooner the better, the minister has said, let us get rid of these subsidies. Let us not just go on a cheap food policy, but let us stop international dumping at low costs. Everyone gets hurt when it is an internationally subsidized crop. Clear rules are needed to prevent the forms of export assistance from becoming subsidies for export.

The same goes for domestic forms of assistance that can be as trade distorting as export subsidies. If world prices that are already too low are being driven down by these unfair practices, if these practices are hurting our farmers and farmers in the majority of other agriculture producing countries, these practices should be curtailed and eliminated. Rules that apply equally to all are an important part of a trade equation. Trade rules that are open, secure and predictable, as well as fair and level, are the key to ensuring that agricultural policies of this country and all other countries are fair.

That is why I am pleased to hear the Prime Minister recently state that we must address the subsidy problem, that our farmers should be able to compete on a level playing field. The subsidy wars are of no interest or help to Canadians. This is a battle Canada must win. Positioning the Canadian agriculture and agrifood sector strategically for the long term is an important element in helping Canadian farmers achieve stability, profitability and long term support.

That is why I was equally pleased to see that agriculture was mentioned in the recent throne speech and that the government will help Canada's agricultural sector move beyond crisis management.

I could not agree more. It is time the Government of Canada and Canadian farmers moved beyond the crisis management mode and worked together. I support the government's efforts to support this vital industry. However, we must commit to doing even more for our farmers at this time, especially those in the grain and oilseed sectors.

We need to do everything possible to help farmers who put food on our tables through this difficult period. We need to close the gap and put farmers on a fair and equal footing. That is what farmers want; that is what the government must do; and that is what I have heard from every member of the House who stood today.

We need to recognize very clearly the agricultural crisis. It is important to thousands of families across the land who do not farm. It is important to the sectors of society that sell goods to farmers. It is important to the sectors of society that use farm products. It is important to the sectors of society that are helped by this thriving industry.

Let us not forget that this basic industry has been the foundation for Canada's development in the past and in the present. It will be the industry of the future that will ensure the well-being of Canadians.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am using the last half of my friend's time. I wanted to make sure that the debate included Haliburton—Victoria—Brock. If I combine my riding with the neighbouring riding of Hastings—Frontenac, they together comprise a third of the land in southern Ontario.

My riding is a rural riding in Ontario, with 24 Santa Claus parades, 18 cenotaph services and many other such things that happen in rural ridings. When visiting its 44 municipalities I realize that I am dealing with small groups of agriculture based people.

It is the same in your riding, Mr. Speaker, which is a big farm community. There was a rally in your riding the other day, and I thank you for attending it. Some farmers from my riding were there to make the point that there was a crisis in certain sectors of agriculture today. More than one sector of agriculture is affected because today's problems in one sector are tomorrow's problems in another.

There are 27 commodity groups in Ontario. I have been trying to encourage farm groups to get together as one voice and not as segregated groups trying to accomplish things for their own sectors.

I work with farm groups. I realize they are very proud people. They are not looking for a handout. They are looking to work on a level playing field, as the saying goes, and to be able to compete globally.

Canada has some of the most efficient farmers in the world. My riding has a lot of agricultural groups that work through the supply management system. There are over 400 working dairy farms in my riding. When I approach farmers with items of concern, when I bring some of the chief negotiators into the riding to work with them to find ways to be more productive, the meetings tend to be very big.

Before this debate I attended a meeting with the Minister of Finance. I wanted to make sure he knew exactly what the problems were, what the numbers were and what we were asking for. I wanted also to be assured he had those numbers when he went to cabinet along with the minister of agriculture, so that they knew exactly what it would take for the 60 days between now and planting season. After planting season, farm people must look at what they will get for their crops in the end.

This is not a quick fix to get the seed in the ground. It is required in order to get a good price for the product. That is the systemic problem in Ontario and other provinces at this time.

This afternoon we met with the members for Malpeque, Essex, Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Leeds—Grenville, Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, Elgin—Middlesex—London and the member for Etobicoke North, who does not have any farms there. He is parliamentary secretary and we thought we should have him.

As we dealt with it, talked about it and laid out the numbers, we saw that it was a whole farm problem. It is not just one commodity group, although at this time grains and oilseeds are having problems and are at the forefront. Other sectors could be affected because Canada's food production is under attack from the world. If we allow ourselves to be taken over, if we allow the marketplace to be the only force that decides, we will not have family farms. We must deal with the issue.

I compliment some of the people in my riding: Ed Bragshaw, Bruce Webster, Joe Hickson and Bill Holland. They have held rallies. They have presented petitions. They have had phone campaigns. They are addressing the problem in a way that is very important to them and to me. They bring their voices forward to be heard.

I also compliment the member for Toronto—Danforth, who is a leader in promotion and a tremendous thinker when it comes to things like the farm aid show. There are no farms in his riding, but he is looking at being the voice for bringing farmers together. He is trying to make some type of promotional hook, and he knows today's problem with grains and oilseeds is tomorrow's problem for other sectors of agriculture.

A farm organization gets six cents worth of product in a box of cereal while a dollar on that box goes to a hockey player. I have nothing against hockey players. I know your son is in the NHL, Mr. Speaker. I am glad he is getting a dollar from a box of cereal. The point is that if a farmer gets six cents for the cereal while a golfer gets a dollar for his picture on the box, there is obviously something wrong with the way we do business in agriculture.

Our parties here tonight are close to short term solutions but the long term problems will still exist. An instant infusion of cash does not help the systemic problems. Another compounding issue is that on very successful farms the average age of a farmer is 57 or 58 years old. The younger generation is being discouraged from farming because of the problems in the marketplace.

In the short term I compliment the agricultural community for putting its voices together and bringing the problem to the forefront. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the debate to continue. I compliment the member for Brandon—Souris for bringing the problem to the House.

I ask the House to continue to debate our food system, not just grains and oilseeds but the whole farm problem, the whole food system, and the safety of our food which is uppermost in our minds. I think this problem is the tip of the iceberg for what is going on in agriculture today. We must address it very aggressively.

The House has to take a proactive stand to make sure farmers are protected and that they get a decent return for what they produce. The input costs have to be taken into consideration for the price of the end product.

I hope the House will continue to address the whole farm problem and not just the one segment before us tonight.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:10 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

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.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:20 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure and sadness at the same time to rise in the House to speak on the crisis in the country.

Coming from the east coast and going through the crisis in the fishing industry, I say that the parallels are exactly the same. My colleague from the Conservative Party from St. John's East, the member for St. John's West and the five Liberals who come from Newfoundland and Labrador can eloquently state that the exact same thing that is happening to our farmers in 2001 happened to our fishermen and their families in 1993. What did the government learn from that? Absolutely nothing.

Two weeks ago a group of farmers and their children spoke to our caucus about the crisis in the industry. I asked a young man who was about 12 or 13 years old from Saskatchewan if he was going to go into farming when he was old enough. The young man said no. I asked if any kids in his school who were going to take up agriculture as a way of life like his father, his grandfather and his forefathers did. The answer was no. This young man came to the House of Commons. He was very nervous. He spoke to us as parliamentarians and told us very honestly that there was no future for him or his classmates in agriculture.

I want to say this to anyone who is listening to the governing party, the official opposition and other political parties. Just who in hell will our farmers be in the future? Who is going to feed us? Who is going to feed our children? Who is going to look after us?

When we wake up and have breakfast in the morning, and when all Canadians wake up and feeds their kids oatmeal and cereal, where do they think that food comes from? It comes from the farmers. We are losing our food sovereignty. The day we lose that is the day that will live in infamy. It will be a very sad day when we have to rely on other nations to feed our population.

Just recently an absolute shame happened on Prince Edward Island. On a corporate farm, Cavendish Farms in P.E.I., a few potatoes were found with a bit of a wart. They call it a potato blight. Immediately it was sent to CFIA. Immediately the Americans were told and on Hallowe'en they shut the market down to P.E.I. potatoes, causing a huge crisis. About $30 million to $50 million of agricultural funds are being lost by potato producers on the island.

What did the Americans have the gall to tell our Canadian representatives? They said that not only was P.E.I not allowed to sell potatoes to the States because of the blight, it was not even allowed to sell its potatoes to other parts of Canada because of the so-called fear that the blight might spread to other fields. Imagine that?

What did our minister say? He said they would talk about it more and discuss it further. The minister showed absolutely no backbone by not standing up and protecting the producers in P.E.I., and by not telling the Americans once and for all to take their agricultural concerns and shove them where the sun does not shine. I say that with due all respect to my American cousins.

If Canada does not stand up for its producers, who will? Who will stand up for the P.E.I. farmers? I give kudos to the member for Malpeque. He is not only a personal friend, and I know he is in the governing party, but he has done yeoman's work in his years as a president of the National Farmers Union and as a Liberal backbencher to pursue this issue within his own government. He has told me many times how frustrated he is with the department of agriculture and with the lack of attention it pays to Canadian farmers and their families.

It is an absolute disgrace that I, as an immigrant, have to stand in the House of Commons to try to defend the interests of farmers along with the eloquent speakers from Regina—Qu'Appelle and Palliser, and also my great colleague Mr. John Solomon of Regina stood in the House time and time again to plead, to bargain, to do anything to bring the attention of the House to the farmers.

What happened? We get the same old rhetoric. We do not know if we can do anything. We are not sure. We are going to have to pick up the phone and see what the Americans are going to do.

In the short amount of time that I have left, let me say that Mr. John Solomon, a former member of the House, was in Brussels once at a UN talk. He met a French minister. They talked about the agricultural subsidies and the battles which were going on. What was said to Mr. Solomon was very clear about how the European Union looks after its farmers. The French minister said to John that if he thought for one second that the French were not going to look after their farmers because of the States or Canada, then he was out of his head. He also said that France would do everything in its power to see that its farmers were taken care of. They wanted French farmers to produce food to feed them.

That is almost a revelation. It is unbelievable that in France ministers stand up for their farmers. However, what do we do in Canada? We play the boy scout routine. We cut, slash, absolutely annihilate the farmers and force them off the lands.

In Newfoundland many years ago there was a premier named Joey Smallwood who brought in the resettlement program. At least he had the intellectual honesty to tell the people he was going to move them from the outports and industrialize them into the major centres.

The government does not even have the courage to tell the farmers that it is going to force them off the lands, which is the exact same thing it did to the fishermen on the east coast. The same crisis is happening to the fishermen on the west coast. It is not a surprise. There is no secrecy in this issue. I honestly believe that the government has an agenda in place to get rid of the independent family farm and move it to major transnational corporations and to big agri-farms. I think that is the future that the government wants to pursue. That is absolutely incredible.

On the east coast we lost the independent fishermen. We lost our lighthouses. In central Canada they are losing their grain elevators and their family farms. How can the government stand up and call itself a national party that cares about all citizens when it will not even look after the people who feed us every single day?

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, in your role in this Chamber, and anyone who is listening, when you have breakfast in the morning, to say a little prayer for our farmers and for the women and the children on those farms. They are the ones who feed us. They are the ones who take care of us. If we cannot take care of them and look after them, then we do not deserve to be in government. We do not even deserve to be in the House of Commons.

In fact, I think it would be excellent for the House and the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food to get out of their ivory towers. Everyone should get on a combine or put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and go out on the family farm. We should get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to see what it is like to plant the seeds in order to look after our farmers and our food. We must see where it actually comes from.

We have been sanitized to think that we just get up in the morning, we open up the fridge, the cupboard and, voila, there is all this food. If we run out, we go to the local store. That food comes directly from the farm from people who make a minimum salary and from people who love what they are doing. They feel absolutely out of touch with what is going on in the government. The government is absolutely out of touch with them.

I ask all members of parliament, especially my colleagues from the Liberal party for whom I have great respect, to please do something to help the farmers now. Bring in the long term plans for our farmers so that we can have farming in this country for many years to come.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:25 p.m.


Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That until the end of the debate, no dilatory motion such as quorum calls or motions to extend debate under Standing Order 26(1) shall be introduced.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Before we give consent to this particular request, I would like to make it known that this request was sought not on the floor of the House but in an earlier meeting and it was denied. I hope that by agreeing to this now we would not be setting any precedent or giving the government the impression that this is something we want to do at an earlier point in an emergency debate.

The members on the other side do not have to agree but I am trying to make a point here.

When there is an emergency debate, presumably members of the opposition or others who sought the emergency debate would want to have an opportunity to convince the government members that there is in fact an emergency. In order to do that, we need to have government members on the other side to talk to, which is one of the reasons we did not agree to the autopilot motion earlier. Otherwise we would have been speaking to an empty House all night.

Seeing as the debate is winding down, we agree but without prejudice to agreeing to do this in other circumstances.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Let me take this in the usual two steps. Does the hon. government deputy whip have consent to present his motion?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Does the House give its consent to the motion?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:30 p.m.


Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I am pleased to have this opportunity to include my comments during this emergency debate, it is unfortunate that this debate is even necessary.

We must change the mindset that exists in some quarters of official Ottawa, which may see agriculture as some outdated sector of our economy and may suggest that better management on our farms might solve all today's problems. Trust me: management of our farms is not the problem.

We are asking our farmers to confront and challenge the highly competitive export market while being tackled by subsidies in the U.S. and the European Union. Farmers need a level playing field to continue in the industry. For example, let me share with the House this evening an income statement from a local farmer, as of December 31, 2000. He owns and rents about 600 acres. His nitrogen costs were about $250 per tonne, a 67% increase from 1999. As of January 31, 2001, the cost is $350 per tonne, a 40% increase in one month. His diesel fuel increased 42% in one year. His income was just under $186,000 and his expenses were just slightly over $242,000. His net income is thus a negative $55,300.

At this point I should mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. Minister of Natural Resources.

How long can we expect this farmer to continue? This financial predicament has nothing to do with bad farming practices but everything to do with matters outside his or her control, such as high input costs and low commodity prices.

I hope that the decision makers are listening, because what is happening on our farms is not due to bad management or outdated ideas. We have survived thus far, due in large measure to good management and meeting the challenges of ever changing times. As a farmer in my life before politics I know well of the trials and tribulations. We cannot control the weather any more than we wish we could control the U.S. congress or France's financial backing of its agriculture sector.

There are many issues, one being subsidies, that our government is addressing on the global stage. Those matters are important and vital to the long term survival of our highly diversified farms.

I hear from farmers and their organizations every day. In rural Canada we are independent and self-sufficient. Demonstrations, blocking of traffic and rallies to highlight food freedom day are not the first objectives of farmers, but the frustration has grown rapidly.

Last summer several meetings were hosted by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture for farmers to talk about their circumstances to their provincial and federal elected members. One of the largest meetings was held in my riding, which is home to many farm leaders such as Ontario corn producers, soybean growers, asparagus growers and Ontario wheat producers, and the list goes on.

We know that the employment and sale expenditure multipliers indicate that for every job in agriculture there are an additional 1.28 jobs outside agriculture, and for each dollar in sales in agriculture, there is $1.57 in sales in agriculture related businesses.

When farmers are in financial difficulty the ripple effect is felt across all sectors of the economy, especially in our rural communities. Agriculture is big business. It is an original life science. This sector is continuously evolving and adapting in order to achieve goals and meet new challenges identified by science, trade and societal demands. Food production has become more efficient. Farmers have increased crop diversification, and agriculture's impact on the environment has gained much significance, especially in recent years.

To maintain Canada's high standard of agricultural production, the industry requires investment. Strengthening the agriculture and agrifood industry will serve to benefit all Canadians by providing safe and affordable food, greater employment, new uses for non-food products and a greener environment. We must secure conditions for success by improving farm income supports, lessening the tax burden on our farmers, improving research and development and investing in sustainable agriculture.

A vision for the future of agriculture has been laid out but the path to get there is still uncertain. Some progress has been made and too often that gets lost in the rush by others to criticize and condemn. I congratulate our Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food for working with the provinces on the new $5.5 billion three year national safety net agreement. It is part of our 85% increase in farm support since 1995 while the Ontario government, for example, continues to spend less.

The new safety net agreement followed many months of intense discussion. It was not easy. The prairie provinces felt they should be treated differently from Ontario, while the Ontario government was pushing for its fair share of the nationally allocated safety net dollars. Ontario received an additional $32 million per year as a result of those positive changes.

I believe we now have the appropriate programs in place, but we must enhance that with additional funding. It is essential to point out that the provinces do have a role to play here as well. They are quick to denounce and, in Ontario's case, slow to support.

The intent of safety nets is to set a solid foundation for a complementary package of programs to address a variety of farm income problems resulting from such factors as fluctuating prices, poor weather and foreign subsidies, but we must now look at doing more. Commodity prices are at historically low levels. For some products, prices will stay low for both the short and the long term. Foreign subsidies are not coming down. Farm input costs, including fuel and fertilizer costs, are not going down. Together they account for about $3.8 billion, or 13% of total input expenses.

We have enhanced NISA by allowing participants easier access to their accounts, and the federal government contributes at twice the rate of the provincial governments. We have renewed crop insurance. We have extended and enhanced the market revenue insurance program, which is expected to pay out more than $200 million for 2000.

Farmers often need access to credit to help them get their crops planted in the spring. That is why in April 2000 we launched the spring credit advance program, worth $52 million to 3,000 Ontario farmers.

We also know that farmers have bills to pay in the fall, often before they want to market their crops, so we continue to provide fall cash advance programs through the advanced payments program, through which the federal government pays the interest on the first $50,000 of an advance issued to a producer. About 4,000 Ontario farmers have been in the program over the past three years, saving over $6 million in interest.

National and provincial farm groups are suggesting adding $300 million to farm safety nets to address the crisis in the grains and oilseeds sector in particular, with 60% from the federal government and 40% from the province. This would help level the playing field.

We need to make certain that Canadian food continues to be produced at a reasonable price and at a fair return to our primary producers. Our nation is a success with a strong and viable agriculture industry. Let us all work together to ensure that agriculture remains a success within Canada. We can, and we must, do more.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:40 p.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario


John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the emergency debate on our agricultural sector.

I will take this opportunity to talk about food safety, an issue that is very important to the agricultural industry and to all Canadians. Food safety has become an issue in the media recently as a result of Canada's decision to suspend imports of food products from Brazil.

I would like to remind the House that Canada has one of the safest food supplies in the world, and during this debate I want to explain to the House how the current issues involving Brazilian food products have arisen as a result of our vigorous measures to put the health and safety of Canadians first and foremost.

We have a system of laws, regulations, inspections and product approval procedures that protects the health and safety of our food supply. The system is based on checks and balances to ensure that all parties fulfil their responsibilities. Imported products are subject to the same rigorous production and inspection standards that we set for our own domestic food products. Canadians expect no less.

Recently the food inspection systems in Canada and in other countries have had to respond to a new and troubling development, the growing threat of TSEs, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. TSEs are fatal diseases that affect the central nervous system of animals or humans. They include diseases such as scrapie in sheep. In elk and deer, they take the form of chronic wasting disease.

In the past few years there has been a growing concern about the form TSEs take in cattle, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, also known as mad cow disease. Researchers speculate that ingesting BSE infected beef may be related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the form that TSE takes in humans.

Canada has taken several measures to prevent the introduction of BSE or the spread of TSEs. So far these measures have proven to be successful. We have no reason to believe that BSE exists in Canada, but there is no such thing as zero risk and we cannot guarantee that a case of BSE will never occur in Canada.

In today's debate on what is happening in agriculture, I wish to reassure the House that the government has placed a very high priority on keeping BSE out of Canada. As a front line of defence, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency implements Health Canada's policy of keeping animals diagnosed or suspected of being infected with TSE out of the human or animal food chain.

Canadian veterinarians and livestock producers have been alerted to the signs of BSE. They must report suspected cases to a federal veterinarian. Adult cattle exhibiting symptoms suggestive of BSE are destroyed and subjected to a laboratory examination for BSE. Canada tests hundreds of cattle for BSE every year and has tested over 4,800 cattle in total since its BSE surveillance program was started. This level of testing exceeds international recommendations.

However, I want to emphasize that Canadians have a right to expect that the food that comes into this country meets the same high standards we apply to domestic products, so we have a policy of not importing ruminant meat and meat products from countries that have BSE.

We also have additional import controls in place for other animal products and byproducts from countries which have confirmed BSE in native animals. In fact, since December 7 we have suspended the importation of rendered material from all species from any country that has BSE. These countries include: the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Portugal, Denmark, Spain and Italy.

However, there are troubling signs that BSE may have spread beyond the countries where it first became a problem. For that reason, Canada has implemented a fair and reasonable policy to require our trading partners to provide us with information that would permit us to assess BSE status. In May 1998 we sent our trading partners notification of these policies. We provided a questionnaire to be used in assessing BSE status in these countries.

Our trading partners responded, except for one country, Brazil. Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand and the United States all provided information that has allowed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to conduct a proper assessment. Brazil did not. All these countries have been recognized as BSE free in accordance with the established process. Brazil has not. In addition, further information came to light that Brazil may have imported cattle from European Union countries that are not free of BSE.

In the interest of the health and safety of Canadians, we cannot stand by and let food products come into the country that we cannot demonstrate are BSE free. That is why earlier this month Canada suspended current imports of canned corned beef and liquid beef extract from Brazil. We proceeded with the removal of these products from the marketplace.

Until Brazil can show that it meets the established process to determine the safety of its beef products, we cannot let these products into the country. This is a health issue. Those who would confuse this issue with other disputes Canada has with Brazil are, in effect, asking the government to take its eye off the ball. The first and foremost priority is the health and safety of all Canadians.

Canada is taking an extra step to help resolve this issue.

Today the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that a team of scientists would conduct an onsite visit in Brazil as part of a continuing process to fully assess the Brazilian regulatory system for the risk of BSE. The team will be joined by officials from the United States and Mexico that are also working with Canada to review the documentation provided by Brazil on its BSE situation.

Together we are assessing three specific risk factors: Brazil's feeding and rendering practices, its import practices, and its surveillance and laboratory procedures. We need further information on these factors before we can have confidence that the Brazilian regulatory system is keeping BSE out of that country. Once the information is complete it will be reviewed and verified.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is doing everything possible to expedite this process and complete the assessment as quickly as it can. If Brazil meets Canada's requirement and is assessed as free of BSE, the temporary suspension of imports will be lifted.

Canadians can be proud of the high standards set by its food health and safety system. We have one of the best systems in the world, but that does not mean that we will allow ourselves to become complacent.

We will continue to be vigilant, to learn, to reassess, and to respond as science and experience evolve. We impose rigorous standards on the food produced in this country. We impose the same standards on the food that comes into this country. In today's debate on the state of agriculture in Canada, the strength of that food and safety system deserves the support of the House.

In the very brief time remaining, allow me to address the current crisis in our grains and oilseeds industries. A combination of factors has challenged our agricultural producers. Subsidies to our trade competitors, especially the U.S.; global grain stocks surpluses; and financial and political instability in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe have decreased demand for our commodities and pushed prices to their lowest levels in 20 years.

Unpredictable weather last spring and summer plagued farmers in my constituency of Erie—Lincoln. Many fields were too wet to plant, notwithstanding all the spring soil preparation that had been completed and the significant costs incurred. Indeed the cost of diesel and nitrogen fertilizers increased over 20% during the year 2000.

For those who got their seeds in the ground the situation only deteriorated. When the cool damp weather persisted crop growth was stunted or non-existent. At the end of June in place of crops that should have been lush and green, there were vast expanses of dried mud hard as concrete peaking above ponds of water. The 2000 crop year in my area was quite literally a washout with no yield or a pitifully poor yield.

As a result some farmers in my area are experiencing a disastrous cash crisis. I recall one young farmer coming to the microphone at an OFA meeting and advising that he had saved $10,000 a year for the previous 10 years to accumulate enough capital to buy a farm and embark upon a career he dearly loved. In one growing season his equity was drowned out. It was enough to make a grown man cry. In fact, that is exactly what he did before all those assembled.

This evening we have heard the many forms of safety net policies already in place. Last summer the federal and provincial ministers of agriculture reached an agreement on a new three year framework for safety nets. The Canadian farm income program will provide up to $5.5 billion in support to farmers over the length of the agreement, $3.3 billion from the federal government and $2.2 billion from the provincial government.

Farm groups have long been calling for a disaster component as part of the safety net programming. The Liberal government has responded to this request with new funding of over $1.2 billion for disaster relief over the life of the agreement.

For the first time producers have a safety net framework that includes such programs as NISA, crop insurance and its companion programs, as well as disaster relief programming.

The spring credit advance program also deserves mention. Under the 2000 spring credit advance program, $356 million in advances were issued to 31,000 producers. An evaluation of the 2000 spring credit advance program indicates that the program was well received by producers as it provided low cost access to credit. The spring credit advance program will be available for the 2001 crop year as well.

For the current year, advance payments program producer organizations have given over $925 million in advances to producers to provide cash flow until they sell their 2000 crops. Producers may continue to apply for these advances until May 31 of this year.

We cannot allow our grain farmers to continue down a path to extinction. The sovereignty of our food supply is too important.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is with tremendous pride that I rise to speak to the emergency debate on agriculture. That pride comes from being a farm partner. I was born and raised on a farm. I have spent my 36 years of married life farming. I know firsthand how farming has changed in the last 50 years and the challenges today's agriculture community faces.

I could stand here and talk for hours about agricultural subsidies, the failure of the AIDA program, the transportation costs and the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly. I could talk about the decimation of our rural communities, the loss of young families to urban centres and the fact that our small town can hardly keep its school open let alone field a minor hockey team, but I felt this was an opportunity to let the farmers speak with their own words.

Last year, prior to entering the political arena and during the ongoing farm crisis, I took some personal action. I was very discouraged with the words and actions of the agriculture minister and the federal government toward struggling farm families. I thought that if I put a face on the problem perhaps the importance of the issue would be noticed.

I appealed through the media to farm women and children in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta to write letters about the circumstances that they were facing on the farm and to send them to me. I vowed to somehow try to get the minister of agriculture's attention with those letters.

Well the minister of agriculture is not here tonight but we shall have it in Hansard . I am going to speak their words. I received letters from farm women, farm men and children. They are amazing letters with words that speak of hard work, sacrifice, heartbreak and of feeling forgotten by the nation and their government.

Some of the letters were agonizing to read but most of the agonizing letters did not come from farm women and children, they came from men.

This evening I want to read short excerpts from just a few of the letters. I urge all members of the House to sit back in their chairs, close their eyes and listen. I wish there were more members here to hear them. I want members to really listen to the words they are about to hear. These are not words of a politician. These are the words of farmers, farm wives and the children.

Letter No. 1 reads:

I am a farm wife raising four sons age 4 to 15. I work full-time. Due to low grain prices and excessive moisture, my husband was forced to work full-time in town. So that left our 4 sons on the farm for long hours. I did not realize how stressed my eldest son was until he expressed concerns, weeping to me one evening. He felt he had to (be the) head of the farm while his dad was away. He's 15. He should be a kid while he can.

Letter No. 2 reads:

Everything that my mom and dad ever made went back into their 12-quarter farm. They never splurged on anything and definitely don't have any luxuries. They never took my sister and I on a holiday because they couldn't afford it. I always thought my sister and I were deprived because we didn't have lots of clothes and we didn't have our own brand new vehicles when we turned 16. I have to sit back and watch everything that my dad achieved in his 37 years of farming go down the drain. Their retirement is going down the drain because everything always went back into the farm so they could keep up and make the payments. Years of hard work and tears are down the drain. Even if my mom and dad survive another year on the farm, it won't be the same. The hurt of knowing this cannot even be said. It won't be passed down to any more family ever again. And that's not because I don't want to continue in my father's footsteps, it's because we can't make a living. The government is slapping farmers in the face. Could I charge the government with abuse? They would slap me in the face and laugh at how pitiful I am, and continue on with turning Canada into their goal of becoming the next Third World country.

Letter No. 3 reads:

It is difficult to explain the toll and the effect that the farm crisis has had on my husband, myself, and my family. Who would have ever guessed that the year 1998 would be so disruptive for our family. As usual, the crop was put in this spring, despite the fact there was basically no moisture. My husband had to have his gall bladder removed and so he had scheduled his surgery sandwiched between seeding and springtime. My husband has never been hospitalized before in his life. The stress mounted daily as he awaited his surgery and as he awaited the growth of the crop. Now, only a wife knows and understands the pride that men have that does not allow them to speak of their innermost concerns and fears. This is what the government does not see. It does not see farmers losing their pride and self-respect. It does not see the wives who try to improve their husband's frame of mind only to have their husband turn against them. And the government does not want to see the despair in the eyes of the farmer. The beginning of 1999 of course brought no relief—take extensions on the loans, buy a little at a time, hope for AIDA. I don't think so; hope is long-gone, not even a subject to be brought up on the farm these days. This is the real farm crisis—the loss of hope, continued discouragement and deep depression and a disregard for government figures who are clueless as to the plight of farmers.

Letter No. 4 reads:

Our family is in a farm crisis. We are durum farmers in southwest Saskatchewan who farm two sections of land. My husband and I both were both raised on farms and we chose to raise our family on the farm. We were not gifted with a family farm and realize only too well the stress of trying to make a farm work financially. We have applied for AIDA but we have heard nothing. We cashed in on all the RRSPs that we had to make last year's payments. What more are we expected to do? We do not want a handout. We want a fair value for the product we grow. We need the government to see our family as worthwhile contributors to our Canadian society. I need the government to understand that I am working as hard as I can to support my family in our chosen lifestyle of farming. Times are very financially tough for us right now. The big banks do not care about us but our government should. We farmers are talking about survival; not acquiring the newest truck; not travelling to Hawaii for the winter, not building the biggest, newest home. Please listen to us. Please understand our situation and help us through it.

Letter No. 5 reads:

Farming in Saskatchewan has never been a cakewalk. My forefathers came to this country shortly after the turn of the century with a sense of adventure, a need for opportunity, and a keen desire to succeed. My ancestors no doubt endured hardships that tested their endurance. Canadian prairie agriculture is characterized by people determined to succeed. One thing that has not changed is the farmers' sense of pride and many farmers still prefer to put on a stiff upper lip regardless of how bad things get. We still have our pride and fortunately the facilitator of this letter campaign has pried a few stiff upper lips into telling their story. The insolence and cold-hearted responses of our nation's politicians show a pathetic lack of appreciation for what farmers are sacrificing in terms of economic stability, mental anguish and family discord.

I hope all members of every political stripe have truly heard these words. I have one more letter. It reads:

To Someone Who Cares. It has been another one of those days. Tears at breakfast and again at dinner and probably at supper too. I have a constant pressure in my chest and nausea all the time. I have never been so depressed. I have a million things to do but what is the point? Why work so hard for literally nothing? Production costs far outweigh what our crop is worth. Bills are still outstanding.

I am sharing my time with the hon. member in front of me but I want to state that the government must heed these words. It must recognize how Canadian agriculture is struggling. It is time for action from the federal government to support and stabilize an industry that is so vital to our whole nation.

The words I have read are full of meaning and a heartfelt plea for help. On behalf of these farm families I would like to table these letters in the House today. I urge the Liberal government to immediately and meaningfully address the agricultural crisis in Canada.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

10:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great difficulty that I rise in the House again for another emergency debate on agriculture. This is the sixth or seventh emergency debate that I have been involved in on issues involving agriculture in the seven or eight years I have been in the House.

For all of that, can we honestly say that things are any better? The answer is no. In fact things are worse than they have ever been in grain farming. Things have not improved.

Is the problem that members on this side of the House, on the opposition side, just do not care? No, that is not the problem.

Is the problem that members on this side of the House in the opposition parties do not work hard? No, that is not the problem.

Is it that we on this side of the House do not try? No, it is not.

We have just heard from my colleague who gave her presentation. We can tell from what she said that she cares, that she is working hard, and that she has tried. Opposition members of parliament have done their job and they will continue to do their job.

Is the problem that members on the government side do not care? No, I do not believe that for a minute. I do not believe there is one member of parliament in the House who does not care about the situation farmers are in right now.

Is the problem that members on the government side do not work hard? No, that is not the problem. I know and appreciate that members on the government side work very hard.

Is the problem that they do not try? No, it is not. Members on the government side work hard and they do care and they do try.

What is the problem? The problem is for all we care, for all we work hard, for all we try, it does precious little good because the fact is that the government is run by one man. It is run by the Prime Minister. What the Prime Minister says goes. The Prime Minister has not taken it to heart to do something about agriculture.

I heard the member for Malpeque talk earlier about the problems in the department and how public servants are not doing their job. I have some information for him. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that public servants in the departments do their jobs. Public servants work for the government. The problem is that the Prime Minister runs the show and he does not understand what is going on in agriculture.

It is time for members on the government side to take a stand, not just to try hard, not just to care, but to finally take a stand. This is the issue they must take a stand on. We have farmers, as other members have said, who will lose their farms this year. We have thousands who have lost their farms over the past few years.

I farmed for about 25 years. I still have my land. I rent it out on a crop share. I still depend on grain sales to make my payments on the mortgage on my land. I worked as a farm economist with Alberta agriculture for years, along with farming, to help support the farm and because I liked working with farmers.

It was during that time in the late eighties that I sat at the kitchen table with many farmers who were losing their farms. I saw the farm wife and the children in tears because they knew they were about to lose their farm. On many occasions I saw the husband in those situations with a blank look in his eyes because he knew he was about to lose the farm that had been in his family for three or more generations. I lived through this and I hoped and I prayed that I would never live to see it happen again.

I got into politics so I could try to change this situation and do my part to ensure that it would never happen again. I have offered suggestions to the government over and over again. These suggestions have come from farmers across the country, particularly my constituency in Alberta, and from my background in farming and working as a farm economist. Those suggestions have been ignored. My colleagues have done also brought forward suggestions.

It is time for government MPs to take a stand on this issue. This issue is important. The pain that farm families are living through once again is something that should not be happening. We cannot go back, but it is time that members on the government side tell the Prime Minister and cabinet that they are not putting up with it any more.

They should have a say in what the government does and their first say will be on agriculture. It is time for that to happen. I pray that members across the floor will finally take that stand. That is my hope and that is my prayer. I offer that not only from myself, my colleagues and members of the other opposition parties, but from farmers in my constituency, from farmers I have talked with from across Alberta, and from farmers who have contacted me and to whom I have listened from across the country.

It is long enough. It has been eight years. It is long enough. Many members of the governing party have been here eight years. They have been involved in the six, seven or eight emergency debates. They know in their hearts that things are not getting better. I think they know in their hearts that government could do many things that will help make things better. They know that they could act on some of the recommendations that have been made not only by opposition members but by their own members as well.

It is time. Eight years is enough. I encourage and I extend my hand to members of the governing party to stand up on this issue, not to let it just end with the emergency debate but to take the issue to their caucus meeting tomorrow and to the Prime Minister and to say that it is time. On behalf of the farmers who will suffer more and who could be prevented from losing their farms, on behalf of farmers who want to farm for years to come, I ask that all members in the government party now take their stand.

I cannot do more. I have offered what I believe are substantial, very useful solutions for eight years and years before that when I was not here as a member of parliament. Those solutions have not been acted on. All that is left is the members of the governing party. That is all that is left here now. They are the only people who could finally make the change which will keep farmers on the farm. They should make it happen. They are the only ones. I close by asking them to take that stand.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before I give the floor to the member for South Shore, I want to offer my apologies to the House. It would appear that I allowed the rotation to somehow get out of sync a bit, so I will recognize the member for South Shore.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise tonight to speak to agriculture. Like the member for Peace River who rose earlier, it is also with some regret that I rise to speak to agriculture.

This is the second emergency debate on agriculture I have participated in. I would hope it would be the last, but there is nothing coming from the government. Nothing has been promised. It is almost at a point where the government looks at agriculture as nothing ventured nothing gained; same old story; status quo is good enough; it does not have to deal with it and can forget about it.

That is simply not good enough. Hopefully, after this debate tonight and after all members have a chance to participate in it, we will be able to look back and review what has been discussed this evening. Surely the minister and his department will take another look at agriculture and be able to find a positive solution to a continuing crisis in a resource sector that many of us are from, many of us have participated in, and many of us hope to participate in again.

I have been reminded by my colleague that I will be sharing my time tonight. I know I only have 10 minutes to speak. I wonder exactly where one starts with 10 minutes to talk about an issue as vast and as wide ranging as the crisis in agriculture today.

For at least some of that time I would like to talk about some of the things that have not been discussed tonight. Not only do we have a crisis today on the farms, whether on the east coast, the west coast or the prairies. We also have a crisis coming in the future.

I see the member for Malpeque listening to the debate, as he should be, because we have a continuing crisis in plant inspection and food inspection. We have a continuing crisis in our water supply, not only for crops and livestock but for people.

There is a huge debate on food safety in the country that has not begun to be approached by the government.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:10 p.m.

An hon. member

There is no long term plan.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

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.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, perhaps people will wonder why somebody from Newfoundland, mainly known as a fishing area, would want to enter into a debate on agriculture.

There are two reasons. One is the similarity between what is happening now in the agricultural industry and what happened in Newfoundland a few years ago when we had a total collapse of the fishery. Earlier tonight one of the members mentioned that comparison. We once saw a resource where people made a reasonable living, giving and taking over the years. Then, perhaps because of mismanagement, perhaps because of overfishing, perhaps because of climate conditions or migration patterns, or perhaps more realistically because of a combination of all of them, we had a total collapse of the ground fishery.

The government at the time, being a good Tory government, stepped in immediately and helped out in that crisis. Now we see a similar crisis in the west. In comparison, besides the crisis and besides the need for help, there is the effect afterwards. Once the present government moved in and realized the magnitude of the problems, it seemed it was easier to turn control over to the larger corporations, which is what we see happening now in the fishery. The smaller, independent fisherperson is being frozen out of the industry. More and more control is being taken by the bigger players.

What we fail to see sometimes when we look at rural Canada, whether it be a farming area or a fishing area, is that it is the work, the product and the income generated in the rural areas that make our urban areas a success.

Why have our major towns and cities grown so fast? Is it because of the office work, because of the stores that are built there? Yes, but these offices and stores only exist because they serve the needs of many of the people in the rural areas who come into the larger areas for all their needs and services. Consequently, one is dependent on the other.

We also forget quite often to look at the spinoff from the primary industries, from the fishery or the farming industry, not realizing that when a farm goes out of business and the farm family is affected and has to go into bankruptcy or move away, a number of other people are also affected by that move.

Listening to the members on the government side speak tonight reminds me of Nero, who fiddled as Rome burned. Each one stood up, many with prepared texts, and talked about all the good things government is doing to assist the agricultural industry.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

February 13th, 2001 / 11:20 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

You obviously weren't listening.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

I hear my friend from Prince Edward Island say that I was not listening. I was listening very carefully, and I know that the farmers in Prince Edward Island are listening tonight too and still wondering when the federal government will step in and help them, as their own provincial government has done in the present crisis they are facing. They are asking if their help will come before Easter or after Easter. Hopefully it will come very soon. Whether it will be the Easter bunny or not who delivers the help to them, I am sure they certainly will need it.

The farmers in western Canada are listening tonight and wondering where the solutions are. We hear the problems being raised and enunciated on both sides, but we hear the excuses being given about all the government is doing, which is a sign that it intends to do very little to help them in their present crisis.

There are two things we have to look at. One is a long term plan for farming. In my own province of Newfoundland, the farming industry is also basically neglected by governments, both federal and provincial, yet dairy farming is an extremely important, lucrative industry. We do have plenty of land for vegetable farming. We do have people growing specialty crops and doing very well, but very little attention is being paid to the agricultural industry.

If somebody comes in and wants to create a few new jobs with a call centre or some other weird and wonderful idea, governments flock in with all kinds of handouts. The fly-by-nights come in, grab the money, last a few months and then are gone. Yet our own solid industries, our own solid working people who can create all kinds of new jobs in industries like the agricultural industry, get absolutely no encouragement and no help. These things have to change. That is where the long term plan comes in.

However, the immediate plan that is needed right now is immediate action to help farmers who need help today, not tomorrow, not next month or not the month after. They are preparing now for spring planting and if these farmers do not receive help, if they do not receive a cash injection immediately, this coming year is shot. If this year is shot for them, the same thing will happen to farmers in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario that happened to fisherfolk in rural Newfoundland. They will pack up and leave the rural areas to find work somewhere else. The primary resource, the food producing areas in the country, will die, and we know what happens when food is not produced. More than the areas die. People die also.

I will conclude with words from a song by a great Canadian singer and songwriter, Murray McLauchlan. It is called The Farmer's Song . He talks about “these days when everybody's taking so much, somebody's putting back in”. The farmer is the one putting back in and perhaps it is time we here in this great establishment recognize that.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

11:25 p.m.


Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity this evening to speak to the financial situation facing some of our agricultural producers and our government's response to the hardship that these growers are experiencing. I will be sharing my time with the member of parliament for Essex.

Mr. Speaker, you may ask why a member from a very urban riding in Toronto would want to stand up and speak on this issue this evening. Perhaps even more you might ask what an urban member could possibly know about the situation facing our farmers in Canada.

I would say to the members opposite that in fact my colleagues on the government side have done their job very well, but let me start with the why. I can only use as an example for the why something from a conversation that I had with the member of parliament for Essex, who so eloquently said that when we speak about the quality of life we are also speaking about the quality of the food we eat. That is what is integral to the quality of life. It begins with the food we eat. All of us need to realize that it is not just a rural issue but a national issue, and today I am proud to rise and say it is an issue that is important to the constituents of Parkdale—High Park.

I sat through the debate in which my colleague from the riding of Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant actually provided a very interesting statistic. He said that one in six jobs in Toronto is in the food industry. When I speak of the member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, let me tell the House that I had an opportunity this summer to visit his riding and speak to his constituents about their concerns. I would say to those people if they are listening that they have a wonderful advocate for farming issues, and these are not just farming issues but national issues. He spoke to other colleagues who had come to the riding and we met with these people, listened to them and talked to them.

Let me use as another example my colleague who is the member for Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford. Her riding is perhaps 80% urban and 20% rural, but again she has talked to us and stressed what has happened to the farmers in her riding with the adverse weather conditions that Ontario farmers have experienced.

When we talk about it and people say that it is just a rural issue and the urban MPs do not care, that is not true. Actually it was last spring that the member of parliament for Toronto—Danforth organized a farm aid concert in downtown Toronto to bring this issue to everyone's attention. He did it to help the farmers and to help our urban colleagues understand just what an important national issue this is.

One of the members opposite this evening also spoke about the member of parliament for Malpeque and said that he hoped the farmers from Prince Edward Island were listening. I hope so too, because I would tell them that they have a passionate advocate who understands their issues and brings them to caucus on a regular basis. I also had an opportunity to meet with his constituents this summer.

Even more so, when I was on the foreign affairs and international trade committee and had the opportunity of chairing the international trade committee in the last session, I travelled with the committee across the country. We listened to farmers. We listened to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. We listened to the National Farmers Union. It was at that time that I learned that our member for Malpeque was once the president of that National Farmers Union.

It is funny how a city girl can actually not only learn a lot about what is going on with our farms and our farmers but also realize, as the member for Essex said, that it is about the quality of life that affects all of us.

What has been the approach of our government to help these growers who are experiencing these financial difficulties? At the beginning of the debate this evening, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food outlined the government's approach, which has been to stabilize incomes while working on several fronts to encourage long term growth in the industry.

First, we are investing in programs and services that are having a direct impact on the sector's ability to adapt and diversify in today's competitive global economy.

We are investing in innovation, in protecting our environment and in the safety of our food supply. We are investing in promoting trade which is so vital to the agriculture and food industry and to the Canadian economy in general.

I cannot stress enough how all parties across Canada should listen to what farmers and the agricultural federation have to say about what our position should be at the World Trade Organization and also as we negotiate the free trade of the Americas agreement.

From what I have learned over the last few years, I can only conclude that Canadian agriculture is successful and that current programs work well to stabilize farm income fluctuations for the vast majority of commercial operations. At the same time we recognize that some Canadian farmers are facing serious financial constraints. Low commodity prices, international subsidies and adverse weather have had serious impact upon some of our producers, particularly those in the grains and oilseed sectors who have experienced significant income decline.

We have all listened to the concerns of the farm community and understand the difficulties that some producers are facing due to circumstances well beyond their control. The government has worked with farm organizations and other levels of government to address the situation with financial programs designed to target its assistance to those who need it the most.

As my hon. colleagues are aware, after many months of extensive discussions with the provinces and territories, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food reached a national framework agreement on safety nets for farmers. The agreement, signed by all provincial and territorial ministers last July, provides for a total investment by the federal and provincial governments of up to $5.5 billion for farm income programs for the year 2000, 2001 and 2002.

The agreement was a significant step forward. For the first time ever, all agriculture ministers across the country agreed on a common integrated approach to our farming safety net programs. One of the most important aspects of the agreement is that it includes an ongoing income disaster program, a feature which the producers had actually called for.

Funding under the national agreement is based on the standard 60:40 federal-provincial cost sharing ratio. Over the three years of the program, the federal government will provide up to $3.3 billion to fund the most comprehensive safety net packages to date.

I should point out to my hon. colleagues that annual funding for safety nets now committed by the federal government is almost double what it was before the agreement was reached. The commitment of funds allows us to help farmers manage the risk they face from natural events and market fluctuations.

Specifically the government contributes a major portion of the funding for crop insurance and for the net income stabilization account which is a program designed to provide income stabilization to individual producers for long term. Farmers have the opportunity to deposit money each year into their net income stabilization accounts and receive matching government contributions. Farmers can then withdraw money when needed in lower income years.

The Government of Canada has also put in place the spring credit advance program that provides interest free loans for producers to help with the cost of spring planting. The program has been very well received by the farm community. An amount of $356 million in interest free money was delivered in the first year of the program.

There is also the advance payments program. Under the program producers can obtain loans of up to $250,000 for the storage of eligible commodities, with the federal government paying the interest on the first $50,000. This allows producers to market their crops when prices may be more favourable while still meeting their short term financial obligations.

As I mentioned, the three year framework agreement with the provinces includes disaster assistance that is targeted to those who need it most. Under the Canadian farm income program, $2.2 billion in federal-provincial money has been allocated for disaster programming for the 2000, 2001 and 2002 fiscal years. Applications for the 2000 tax year will be available very soon.

We are continuously improving our existing programs and looking at ways to help farmers manage risk. For example, changes were made to the NISA program last year to increase producers' access to their NISA funds. For 1999, thousands of those participants have made withdrawals of more than $400 million dollars. This program is doing what it was designed to do; stabilizing producers incomes when needed.

In conclusion, I believe that we are going in the right direction. The government with the help of all of my colleagues will continue to work for farmers across Canada to ensure that Canada's agricultural sector continues to be both competitive and strong.