Mr. Speaker, on March 2 I questioned the government's ability to provide agriculture solutions for Canadian farmers, and that question remains unanswered.
Last week we learned that the government had no solution for short term farm aid when it refused to vote for additional funding. Over the years we have seen a lack of coherent agriculture policy, which has culminated in the AIDA program, a program that is complicated. It has taken accountants and AIDA employees many hours to put the program together and we still have a lack of ability to deal with the program and to understand it.
AIDA is a program that has been slow. People have waited up to 18 months for their payment. It is a program that has been inefficient. I had an accountant tell me that he thought the government was probably throwing the applications down a set of stairs and picking one or two out of the pile. That was as much sense as he could make out of the government's response to the applications.
AIDA has also been bureaucratic to the nth degree: new employees, revisiting files, combining files without consultation with producers, and demanding clawbacks from farmers up to 18 months later. AIDA has not been a long term solution for farm families.
I am also concerned that the government is not ready to deal with or provide a solution to another problem, and that is the threat of foot and mouth disease.
The Canadian Alliance has grave concerns about the government's ability to react. This is a viral disease that spreads rapidly and is highly contagious. It is a viral disease. We know it can survive and can be transported on clothing. It is deadly to the cattle industry wherever it has shown up. We must prevent the disease from coming to Canada. I would like to suggest some ways of doing that and suggest some things on which the government could improve.
We would like to see the government immediately initiate an education program. Travellers who are coming to and from Canada must have information about the disease. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and its employees need to have information on the disease. People who are working at airports need to understand the importance of dealing with it. The general public are calling us constantly and they also need to be educated.
Farmers and ranchers also need to be educated. They need to understand that they can be part of the solution by being careful as to who has access to their places and to their herds.
The former Texas agriculture commissioner, Jim Hightower, said at one time that “there ain't nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos”. The government needs to get going. It cannot sit in the middle of the road on this issue.
There is also the inspection issue. Does the government have enough staff and field personnel in both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the customs agency to deal with the problem? The government must increase the number of personnel if they are needed. Do we have enough sniffer dogs? When we talk to field people, they say no. We saw a news report this afternoon with some vets who have been in Britain and they also say no.
The cost of ensuring that the disease is stamped out is far less than dealing with it once it gets here. Is the government ready to act effectively? It is important that it begin to move on this. It cannot blame the opposition. It needs to make the right responses. If it makes inadequate or wrong decisions on this matter, it will cost billions.
I am asking the government if it has a solution for young people trying to do the right thing. A number of school groups are cancelling their trips and are facing a loss of their deposits. I call on the government to treat these young people properly. What will it do to provide these young people with a solution to this problem?
Is the government prepared to provide a solution for families and for young people with regard to the foot and mouth disease crisis?