Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak to third reading of Bill C-25 and to represent our PC agricultural critic, the member for Brandon—Souris.
I talked to the member and he wanted to go through a chronology of events on how it evolved in Canadian history from 1927 to the present date. I think there were five or six pages, which I will leave out of my speech today. However, a brief chronology is certainly in line.
The FCC, Farm Credit Corporation, was created on October 5, 1959, by the Diefenbaker Conservative government when the Farm Credit Act was proclaimed into law. It provided a consistent source of lending services that farmers could rely on through all the economic cycles, the ups and downs of the economic cycles. At the time the corporation was mandated to provide one product at one rate. First, it was mortgages to farmers to a maximum loan of $20,000.
During the first 34 years the Farm Credit Corporation and the Farm Credit Act went through many evolutions to keep step with the agriculture industry. In 1968 farming corporations became eligible for farm credit loans and loan limits increased to $150,000 in 1975. The 1982 amendments to the act led to the introduction of more loan product and the FCC made its debut on capital markets.
In 1993 the Farm Credit Act was replaced with the Farm Credit Corporation Act, which expanded the mandate of the FCC to better respond to the needs of the agriculture sector. Farm Credit Corporation could now offer producers financing to purchase or improve farmland and buildings, buy personal property for farming purposes and consolidate debts. It enabled the corporation to support value added production by providing financing for diversified enterprises on and off the farm.
This act helped bring the FCC in sync with the changing marketplace. The Farm Credit Corporation's loan portfolio has grown since those days from $3.4 billion in 1993 when the act was introduced to $6 billion today.
Today this crown corporation services 44,000 customers, has 900 employees and 100 offices across Canada.
It is important to understand that little chronology of events because what that tells us is the Farm Credit Corporation, from its introduction in 1959 by the Diefenbaker government, recognizes the needs and wants of farmers, and the agriculture community has responded and changed its situation, its portfolios and the services that it offers to accommodate changing times.
From 1984 to 1993 specifically, the Progressive Conservative government of the day improved the way the Farm Credit Corporation was managed. We brought in the Farm Credit Corporation equity building plan in 1990 to allow farmers to extend their leases and buyback land once they were on firmer financial ground. We moved the head office of Farm Credit Corporation to Regina, so it could be closer to those who used it the most. We passed a bill to expand the role of the Farm Credit Corporation allowing it to make loans to farmers who wanted to diversify their operations.
All these things were asked for by the agriculture community, and the Conservative government of the day responded to the wishes of the community.
There are a few major elements of Bill C-25. One, it would change the name to Farm Credit Canada. The mandate of the FCC would be expanded from financial services to farming operations and businesses related to farming to also include business services and products to such enterprises.
Farm Credit Corporation would have the authority to provide loans to businesses relating to farming in both cases where the business was majority owned by farmers and when it was not, quite significantly changing the mandate of the Farm Credit Corporation.
There is specific provision in the bill to emphasize the focus of the Farm Credit Corporation activities on farming operations including family farms. The FCC would be given authority to incorporate, amalgamate and dissolve subsidiaries. It would also provide lease financing for assets used or to be used in a farming operation or a business related to farming.
The Farm Credit Corporation would be given the authority to acquire and dispose of equity interests in farming operations or in businesses related to farming. The president of the FCC would be designated as its CEO and provision would be made for the appointment of an acting president and an acting chairperson when necessary.
The bill does not come to the House without some criticisms and it is only fair to mention some of those criticisms here today.
First, the name change is unnecessary and costly. It is certainly our belief that the minister is looking for a legacy for years of failed federal leadership in supporting agriculture from this government.
The bill has the potential to unnecessarily compete directly with credit unions and banks. We are not sure that will happen but the potential is there. The purpose of the FCC is to provide lending to farmers specifically, not to equipment dealers, wheat pools, for example the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool or any other wheat pool.
Although the bill expands lending powers of the Farm Credit Corporation, farmers do not need more debt at the present time. While the federal budgets for agriculture have been cut since 1993 by 65%, the total farm debt in Canada has increased by 44% since 1994. Statistics Canada and Revenue Canada statistics in 1999 report that the average farm debt in the country is $135,000.