Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment.
It is a pleasure to take part in this historic throne speech debate as we set a course for the new millennium. I first want to express my appreciation to the constituents of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex for their continued support on my third consecutive election. They can rest assured that I will continue to put their views and concerns first and foremost.
In this, my maiden speech in the 37th parliament, I want express my sincere thanks to my family, Terry, Sandy, Michelle, Paul and my husband Louis for their dedication and support. Without them I could not do this job. To my friends, my staff, my campaign team and to the many volunteers who believe in me and continue to believe in me and support me, I certainly appreciate it.
This throne speech proposes an action plan to move Canada forward as a nation that creates opportunity, rewards excellence and ensures all citizens are full participants. We will focus on our efforts of ensuring that all share in the benefits of a strong economy and to create a workforce that is ready to meet the challenges of the new economy.
However, it is the current state of agriculture and its future that is most notably on the minds of many of my constituents.
With my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex harvesting more crops than all the maritime provinces combined, agriculture is without a doubt the economic backbone of southern Ontario, indeed Canada.
As agriculture goes, so goes our rural areas. If rural Canada has a future, we must work to ensure a positive future for agriculture.
To put this in perspective for everyone, I will present some numbers to summarize the vital importance of agriculture. For example, of Lambton county's nearly 600,000 acres, 491,000 acres are devoted to growing crops, representing 14% of the total jobs in that county. this results in over $773 million in annual sales. That is nearly a billion dollars of positive economic activity in one county.
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 are $1.57 in agriculture related businesses.
Kent county produces 25%, one-quarter of Ontario's total corn crop. In Middlesex county in just one month over 20 million eggs will be produced. There is enough wool produced from sheep each year to knit 19,000 sweaters. The swimming pool at the London Aquatic Centre holds nearly one million gallons of water. There is enough milk produced in the county of Middlesex each year to fill 22 pools that size.
Almost 4,500 acres of land are used to grow fruit such as peaches, pears, cherries, grapes and strawberries. Most of us enjoy a good steak. There are 13,500 beef cattle in Middlesex, producing not only meat and milk but car polish, medicine, leather, camera film, crayons, candles and sports equipment.
The feather industry in one county of my riding has nearly two million chickens and turkeys. In all counties of my riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, wheat, oats, barley, mixed grains, corn, alfalfa, soybean, tobacco and potatoes are the cash crops which are grown. Bike tires, suntan lotion, toothpaste, fuel, makeup, ink and bread can be made from these crops. Tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus and cauliflower are grown as well. Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is truly a diversified riding.
When we talk of a growing economy it means many things. Agriculture is not just food but value added products that we all use in our daily lives whether we live in downtown Vancouver or Toronto or in the villages of Alvinston, Eberts or Melbourne.
Some individuals may be indifferent to the farming crisis. However everyone must recognize the three necessities of life: clean air, clean water, and a safe and abundant food supply. Agriculture is the third largest employer in Canada, generating about $95 billion in domestic retail and food services sales each year. That is why I was pleased to see that agriculture was mentioned in the throne speech last week. It was a recognition of the essential place agriculture has in the economic success of Canada.
I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister state that we must address the subsidy problem. There are problems on the farm. Low commodity prices, coupled with bad weather, high input costs and overproduction due to high subsidies in the U.S. and the European Union, are putting our farmers in a financial vice, wounding the industry by cutting off its circulation as the lifeblood of our rural and urban economies.
The current three year $5.5 billion national safety net agreement is a positive factor in support of our farmers. Our agriculture minister worked very hard with the provinces to finalize this agreement, but we as Liberals know that more must be done. Unless and until the U.S. and EU drop their subsidies, all industries must be treated fairly in the face of international subsidies.
National and provincial farm groups are suggesting that an additional $300 million to the farm safety net for Ontario would be reasonable, with 50% from the federal government. I stress that what is happening today in agriculture has nothing to do with bad farm management decisions. It is out of the farmer's hands.
It is also important to point out that the Ontario government has a role to play here as well. Quebec farm support, for example, is 2.35 times greater than similar funding for income support and stabilization in Ontario. Over the past three years Quebec has spent $457.3 million on farm support. Ontario spent just $194.8 million, and that is going down.
Since 1995 federal support has increased by 85%. We are moving in the right direction. While the current Ontario government spends less than one-half of one per cent of its budget on agriculture, it is eight per cent of Ontario's gross domestic product.
Today, February 6, is Food Freedom Day. It is a day of celebration for those who eat at least once a day, but it is not as happy for those who produce our food.
Today Canadians have earned enough money to pay for their entire year's food supply. It takes just 37 days out of the whole year for the average Canadian consumer to pay for his or her groceries. In 1999 Canadians spent 10% of their personal disposable income on food. That compares to 13% in France, 15% in Germany and 33% in Mexico.
Farmers are earning just a fraction of the average food dollar. While Food Freedom Day is February 6, January 9 is the day on which we have paid for the farmers' amount. That is right. It takes only nine days to pay the farmers for a year's worth of food. Nine cents of a $1.50 loaf of bread is returned to the farmer. Sixteen cents goes to the dairy farmer on a $1.50 glass of milk. A waiter or waitress in a restaurant earns more on tips for serving the food than the farmer who produces it in the first place.
The throne speech of this new session is an important document. While it outlines the goals and proposals of the government on many fronts, it is agriculture that needs our immediate attention.
Our nation is a success, with a strong and viable agriculture industry. Ontario has always been a leader in agricultural production and agribusiness in Canada, and our nation's farmers are the most efficient in the world.
The Liberal government recognizes agriculture's value, not only to the Canadian economy but also to the quality of life in rural communities. I support the action we have taken to support agriculture through research and development, the Canadian adaptation and rural development fund, enhanced farm income programs and support for rural communities through such excellent programs as community futures, but we can and we must do more.