House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:25 p.m.


Lyle Vanclief Liberal Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Madam Chairman, if I could have a couple of minutes I believe that along with the continuing and expeditious review of the safety net programs, crop insurance, NISA, et cetera, we need to look at the long range approach that we take to the industry.

We know, for example, that there are concerns in our industry and in society that were not there a few years ago. I am not saying producers are not doing a good job. It is like a lot of other things. We have to reassure and strengthen it in terms of farm food safety and the environment.

Can we help our industry brand our food products in Canada so that when people around the world think of Canada they think of what we are already building from? We have a leg up on many other countries in the world as far as our reputation is concerned. We need to continue to work on it.

I assure the House that in doing so we cannot diminish or take away from that. We need to build a stronger basic safety net program with the provinces. I am encouraged by the comments and the efforts of the provincial and territorial ministers in Whitehorse at the federal-provincial conference this summer when there was unanimous consent to go in that direction.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Chairman, I certainly thank the minister of agriculture for being here this evening and putting forward his points on agriculture. I also thank the member for Selkirk--Interlake for allowing us to debate what I consider and what I have always considered to be a very important issue not only in my constituency in western Canada but throughout this great country. Certainly the agriculture industry is extremely important to each and every one of us.

I do not want the minister to take this the wrong way, as I do not believe it is his fault, but it seems that ever since he has held the position of agriculture minister everything with agriculture that could go wrong seems to have gone wrong. As I said, I am not suggesting there be a change but that is perhaps one way of trying to get agriculture back on the rails.

However there have been severe problems within agriculture. First there was the ice storm and then there was a commodity crisis. We have had crisis in the tank for the last six or seven years. In 1999 in my area we had a situation of excessive rain. We had the Red River Valley flood in 1997. This year we have a drought across the entire nation. I obviously cannot blame the minister for the weather, but it seems we have never had a circumstance where we could get back to where agriculture should have been which is back in 1995 when we had excellent commodity prices and agriculture was actually in fairly good financial condition.

I have been fighting this battle for only four years and there are two areas in which I have been fighting. The first is for a long term safety net program, something that farmers can depend on that has been put into place that would allow them to see some light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps a program similar to GRIP which was taken away from producers in 1995 and has not been replaced. It was replaced with an ad hoc program called AIDA which has similarly been replaced with an ad hoc program called CFIP.

The second thing for which we have always fought and have suggested should be in place in agriculture is a disaster program. We are talking about a disaster program that could deal with droughts, with extraordinary circumstances like ice storms and excessive moisture. Unfortunately we have not had the opportunity to bring that back into place. We have not had any direction from the government and certainly the minister himself to try to put into place the necessary programs that would assist agriculture.

We are aware of the problems that now face agriculture. We know right now that in the grains and oilseeds industry in particular it stands to lose somewhere around $2 billion of its gross sales this year. That is a huge amount of money considering that commodity prices right now are as low as they have ever been. They are going up slightly right now but that is probably because there is going to be less crop harvested.

The minister said that we should not to jump to conclusions because not all of it has been harvested. The majority of my area has been harvested and I can say that my area, probably better than any, has good average crops. I will probably get a lot of phone calls and letters on that one but we do have a good average.

However I am a little oasis in a sea of total drought. Right now in western Canada we are looking at the possibility of a 14% reduction in barley production, a 20% reduction in meat and a 28% reduction in canola, which again would translate to about a $2 billion loss.

The minister talks about the programs that are in place and always seems to say that they are sufficient, that we should look at the problem and make sure the programs in place now take effect. The crop insurance program that he spoke about will in fact probably put $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion back into the farm economy, but that is an insurance program that in most cases does not cover the cost of production.

It does not cover the cost of the inputs that have to go in to make that crop in the first place, sometimes 70% or 75% depending on the area that the producer is in, but perhaps only 70% or 75% of their costs will be recovered. That still leaves a loss. People cannot go through years and years of losses without ultimately having some serious financial implications.

The minister talked about NISA. Absolutely, what a wonderful program, put in place I might add by a previous government that understood agriculture, but a program nonetheless that is there to serve the farmers. The problem is that the producers have been taking out of the NISA program for so many years that there is not a lot left in the program. Some producers who had some took it out over the last two years and now do not have any more access to funds. The minister is right, it is a wonderful program, but it has been used in a lot of cases to its maximum.

The minister talks about AIDA but not often, nor should he because there are lot of problems with AIDA and we are still suffering a lot of problems with that program.

The program that is in place now, CFIP, is not sufficient to take us to the next step. The drought we are suffering this year will take all of the funds that are in CFIP and more. Last year we had more dollars for support to agriculture than we have this year but the problems this year are much more serious than they were last year.

The minister must recognize that there has to be other financial resources put into the budget for this crop year to enable the producers to put in a crop next year.

I want to talk briefly about how Canadians see agriculture. The minister has in his possession a report by Ekos polling that was done for the department that says quite specifically that Canadians want to assist agriculture. As a matter of fact the numbers I have are that 69% of Canadians polled said that they would support more money going into agriculture. Sixty per cent said that they would provide short term financing to farmers in difficulty with no conditions placed on it. Seventy-two per cent said that government should certainly try to do something to save the family farm. Canadians themselves want the government to put into place a program that will assist Canadians staying on the farm.

We have before us a lot of serious issues. I agree with the minister that there are priorities. My belief is that agriculture is the top priority. We have a battle that we have to fight to make sure that message is given to the cabinet.

We have an issue right now with Air Canada, which we will be debating next week, where in fact dollars will be going into the airline industry. That is fair ball, but dollars must go into the agriculture industry as well. As a matter of fact, 5,000 people have lost their jobs at Air Canada. I feel for those people because there will not be a lot of opportunity for them now or perhaps in the foreseeable future.

However, just last year in the agricultural industry, not just farming but those people who are actually dependent on agriculture, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 34,600 people were displaced. That is a huge number of people but we do not hear about them because they go quietly away. Whether they be farmers who sell their farms and walk away or individuals who were involved in the direct or indirect servicing to agriculture, they go away without making much noise. We have not had a huge hue and cry about the fact that we have lost 34,600 jobs in agriculture. This is huge.

We also have about $14 billion of our economy that goes into agriculture from Canada to the United States. That is in jeopardy right now because of what happened on September 11. We must make sure that the border crossings are kept open, that the agricultural product that we produce in Canada has an opportunity to access the market in the United States. That too is the minister's responsibility. Not only is it his responsibility to keep the farmers on the farm and to put into place the proper support systems that will allow agriculture to survive, but he also has to make sure that farmers can market their produce at a fair price.

I appreciate the fact that the minister is here. I know that when he goes to the cabinet table he will fight for the same, if not a better package for agriculture as others will to go to the cabinet table to fight for Air Canada. That is all I an hope.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:35 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Chairman, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the discussion on the situation with agriculture producers in Canada. Those most deeply affected over the last number of months have been the farmers in western Canada. All of us have been affected in some way, shape or form, but certainly in Alberta, Saskatchewan and into Manitoba it has been an extremely tough time over the last number of years.

Knowing that, I picked up notes from my colleague, the agricultural critic, the member for Palliser, and noted the number of times we have had discussions on agriculture in the last short while. We had an emergency debate in February or March and we had discussions in March and April but we do not seem to be able to come up with a proper program or plan to assist farmers. I do not think anyone can.

We have a serious problem in agriculture. All one has to do is go out west and drive around the farms in some of those areas to see what they are going through.

Some farms, depending on where they are, are doing okay but the majority are really feeling the pinch for a variety of reasons, a number of which have been mentioned.

My colleague previous to me indicated that he hopes the agriculture minister will go in and fight and do what he has to do. I hate to say this but, quite frankly, we can only send the same fighter in so many times. When he does not do the job, we have to give him the hook. If he is not doing the job, we get him out of the way. He is not doing the job he is supposed to be doing for farmers. He is not promoting the agriculture industry in Canada.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

He is on the ropes.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:35 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

If he was on the ropes we would at least have a fighting chance. He is out of the ring. The problem has come up time and again in the House over the last number of years and it is still there but there seems to be no real plan to address it.

My colleague from Brandon--Souris mentioned the NISA program. The NISA program did provide the support that was needed but that is no longer the case. As the member indicated, it no longer works because it was used too often.

We all have heard at some point about the AIDA program which was there to help out during hard times. I heard much discussion going back and forth, but when we are not critics in that particular area, we do not always pay attention to every single thing that happens. We have so much to do each day in our own critic areas and in the different committees we attend that we can only to do the best we can in other areas. We do not always take everything in. However, the one thing everyone in the House knows is that the AIDA program was not working.

I never lived on a farm but I was around farming communities all my life. I have family members who are farmers, and they have a saying, as useless as tits on a bull. When something does not do the job it was supposed to do, that is the saying a farmer uses. That is exactly what the AIDA program was.

What we need see from the government is a dramatic change in its efforts if it wants to address the problem with agriculture in Canada, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

It is not okay to say that we are going to support numerous other industries but to heck with agriculture. As a Canadian I am not willing to have that happen and neither are the people in western Canada. We want agriculture. We want the family farm. We want those things to be part of Canadian culture but the government has been pulling the rug out from under agriculture and not giving a helping hand when farmers need it.

I want to refer to some statements made by my colleague, our agricultural critic. He said that following the 1993 election the Liberals adopted the Reform Party's policy of slashing agriculture support and shifting to an industry shaped entirely by market forces.

The European community was not willing to do that. It said it wanted to protect its agricultural industry. It knew that to maintain its farmers and their way of life it would need to give them support. The European community would not cut subsidies as has happened here. The federal Liberals did not need to cut as deeply as they did.

There is room for Canada to give more support to farmers without provoking WTO or NAFTA challenges. It can happen. Money can go into farming without it becoming a cross-border issue. It is a red herring to suggest it is not possible.

There is not a huge amount of farming in my riding. However because of the size of my riding, which is most of Manitoba's land mass, there are some farms as well as pretty much every industry one can imagine.

This summer was disappointing for farming areas in my riding. Farmers tried to diversify as the government told them to do. They invested more in cattle production and different types of farming. They expected support from the government for infrastructure programs if, for example, they had to fix their water supply. There were huge problems with the water supply to farming areas. A good number of farming areas in the west do not have water piped in to ensure a safe supply.

Projects had been started and an impression was given that PFRA would be there to support farmers and give more funding. In the past week one of my colleagues from the Alliance mentioned during question period that the money was gone in a couple of days. That is the reality. There was such a small amount of money in PFRA that it was not there to support farmers who needed the assistance.

The municipality and the province had put money toward a project to put in water lines and get them out to all the farms. Some were done and the rest were supposed to follow but there was no money. We were not talking about billions of dollars for the farmers. We were talking about a couple of million dollars but they could not get it.

Every time I see things come across my desk regarding industries in eastern Canada getting dollars I get ticked off. Industries in eastern Canada may not like hearing that, but quite frankly it is true.

A good number of people in the west no longer feel they are part of Canada. However there are those of us who will not say to heck with Canada, pack it in and become another country. We are fighting to stay part of Canada and make Canada recognize that it needs to treat all regions fairly. It must give support to all of them and not just certain areas. That is the way it must be.

I get darn annoyed when I see that happening. If the government is to get people back onside it must recognize that we must be the true nation we are and support each other from region to region in times of need. Otherwise there will always be hard feelings.

In my first campaign I was travelling around my riding and someone in one of the smaller communities referred to Ontario as the middle east. That was a classic. I have used it ever since.

I appreciate the work and the efforts of people in Ontario and throughout the country. I was raised to appreciate every aspect of the country. That is what we were taught in our schools. Quite frankly, the government needs to go back to the classroom. It must learn that to build a nation and keep it strong it must treat every region fairly. That needs to happen with agricultural producers in western Canada and throughout the country, or it will not work.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:45 p.m.

Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington Ontario


Larry McCormick LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Madam Chairman, it is great to see members from all areas of Canada take part in this most important debate. The latest speaker spoke with passion.

I will clarify what our programs at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada do and what they are invested in across the country. The AIDA program that my colleagues have mentioned had room for improvement so we improved it with a new program. Under the AIDA program more than $1.6 billion was paid out. By far most of it went to the province of Saskatchewan which certainly deserved it.

There is no denying the severity of the drought that affected many parts of Canada this summer. Yet parts of Manitoba and B.C., in an odd twist of irony, had too much rain. That is the business of farming. Whether drought, disease or too much rain, there will invariably be circumstances where farmers are unexpectedly faced with income declines beyond their control.

There is no question that farming is a risky business. That is why the government along with the provinces put in place the safety net programs the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food outlined for us today.

In the three years leading up to the year 2002, crop insurance programs such as the net income stabilization account and the Canada farm income program will provide $5.5 billion in federal and provincial funding to agriculture safety net programs and producers. These programs alone will pay out $5.5 billion.

Ensuring our producers remain viable is not just an important component of any program or agricultural policy. It should be the foundation, and it is. However we would be remiss if safety nets alone were the extent of our agricultural policy. To better meet the challenges facing our agricultural sector the government is developing a strategy to move the sector beyond crisis management, as was said in the Speech from the Throne.

The agricultural policy framework of which the hon. minister spoke is an action plan for a comprehensive national agricultural policy. It would take in the whole scope of agriculture and make Canada the world leader in food safety, innovation and environmentally responsible agriculture production. The new policy framework would not diminish the need for effective safety net programs but build on the programs over the long term.

One of the big factors driving agriculture today is the consumer. Consumers around the globe are more sophisticated, knowledgeable and discerning than ever before. Consumers are concerned about the food they eat and how it is grown. They have concerns about the environment in which it is produced. They are more particular about the kinds of food they eat.

Competitors are building on this concern by using technical issues such as barriers to trade. To be successful under these circumstances we must brand Canada in terms of food safety, quality and the environmentally responsible manner in which our products are grown and produced.

The agricultural policy framework would involve facilitating environmental management at the farm level. Being environmentally responsible in our production would mean sustainable resources and more investment in Canada. From a marketing perspective environmental planning is important because consumers are demanding it.

The plan would build on Canada's reputation as a producer of high quality, safe food by strengthening on farm food safety systems. Our producers have asked for it and are investing in it, and we are working with them. Safety and quality run through the entire food chain but it must start at the root. It must start on the farm.

The government will use science to help the sector create economic opportunities with innovative new products. We will renew the sector through programming for farmers that addresses their unique needs and helps them adapt to change.

We will look at management skills and practices, access to capital and addressing the productivity of the land. Essentially that means we will ensure we are providing the right tools, policies and programs to support farmers. That is why the new policy would include a review of farm safety nets.

This important work on the long term direction of the sector will be undertaken in close consultation with the industry. By investing in our producers and their ability to manage risks such as drought and consumer demand we will help them thrive as leaders in innovation and growth.

Canada is known around the world as a leader in food safety and environmental performance. By being number one in these areas we will use our position to influence international standards. Through the branding of Canadian agricultural products we will capture new and premium markets while maintaining existing ones. This is a long term comprehensive policy that will put our producers front and centre in the global marketplace.

As we have mentioned, the provinces and the federal government are working together on this important front. The debate we are having is part of this. We are glad the debate is happening and I look forward to hearing more comments from my colleagues.

The week after next when the House is not sitting I will attend a meeting in Toronto with the minister. The meeting is in Toronto this time. It was in Quebec earlier in the year, then it was in Whitehorse, and this time it will be in Ontario. Our minister and the ministers from each province will be in attendance to work together and resolve some of these challenges. I ask for and know I will get the support of members of the House.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Madam Chairman, it is a pleasure to speak to this issue. I thank the House for recognizing the importance of the crisis in agriculture and allowing this debate to take place. The member for Selkirk--Interlake, the critic for the Canadian Alliance, wanted to bring the issue forward the day the House resumed but of course we were consumed with other issues and wisely he chose to postpone it. As important as the issue is, we realized that other issues had priority.

Now that we are here I would like to quote some numbers from a survey which the Canadian Alliance undertook through Praxicus. One thousand people were randomly selected across Canada. Only six per cent, when asked if they believed there was a crisis facing farmers, said that there was not a crisis. The rest knew and believed that there is a crisis in agriculture. That is important for the government to recognize.

When they were asked why they thought the farms were in a crisis, 84% said it was poor weather conditions that hurt crop production and high subsidies by EU and the U.S. Canadians have an idea of what the problems are and 78% of Canadians think we should support our producers until we can bring down those EU and U.S. subsidies.

I am quickly going to run through some things we see as problems that exist because of the drought. The historically low grain prices and the EU subsidies have always been there. This is something we need to address but I want to get into some of the things we feel have highlighted the situation this year. Then, as an opposition party should, I will offer some solutions and avenues the government can take to solve problem.

Last year was the eighth driest year in southern Alberta. My riding in southern Alberta has gone through the second consecutive year of the most severe drought we have ever seen. The runoff from the mountains is low. There were record low rainfalls. The water holes have dried up. The prairie grass is gone. Cattle breeders and ranchers have faced the worst situation they have ever had and are selling off their herds. This year was the fifth driest on record in Saskatchewan. The water level is at a 30 year low. In the Great Lakes region it was 26% less than normal. New Brunswick usually gets 102 millimetres and it got 17.

Let us look at the impact on the livestock industry. Producers are searching for water. The PFRA ran out of money early in the year and could not help as many people as it had wished. It is hurting the cattle ranchers in B.C., the prairies, Quebec, Ontario and the maritimes. Shallow wells 30 metres deep are showing stress and need to be deepened. The PFRA says that 95% of the surface water in southern Alberta has been depleted. Some pastures may not bounce back for three years. Some say it will take as much as 10 years to bring back full productivity to prairie grasses. In New Brunswick, ranchers and dairy farmers estimate forage crops will be down 30%. It goes on and on.

The impact on the grain and oilseeds sector is particularly hard because of the historic low returns they are experiencing. It is compounded by the drought. I am sure my colleague from Grasslands in Saskatchewan will highlight some of the problems they have had.

I would like to put forward some solutions for the government. We have heard from the minister that the money which has been paid out is all there is going to be. The farmers and producers are saying it is not enough. We would like to offer some other solutions. We feel that due to the neglect of the government, our farmers need an immediate emergency cash infusion. Because of the drought we have to put it into their hands immediately.

The second idea I have came from the grain growers across Canada. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food should strike a special measures committee as provided for under section 12 of the Farm Income Protection Act to analyze the exceptional circumstances facing the grain and oilseeds sector.

I have talked about this idea with the minister and he has indicated a willingness to work with us on it. Ranchers who must liquidate their herds because of the drought can defer tax on the sale of some of their breeding stock for one year. We would like to see that changed so that the income deferral can take place until the grass is able to hold the cattle again, which as we said may take up to 10 years.

We must improve our existing safety net programs. We hear a lot about that. We must ensure they meet the needs of farmers.

The crop insurance program needs to be improved to ensure that it covers all costs that producers incur in seeding their crops. Regulations surrounding natural disasters must be amended to ensure that farmers can receive compensation for their inputs lost due to natural disasters. If this had been in place, farmers in southeastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba would have received some assistance back in 1998 for their flood losses.

The NISA program must be made more accessible to farmers in need. The calculation of NISA eligible costs should also be adjusted to include grain transportation costs. That is an important issue. The grain transportation system in western Canada is not working. When a farmer gets his cheque for selling his grain, a quarter to a third of it comes off the top to get that grain to market. Even if it does not move very far, it is a huge cost to farmers and we need to do something about that.

We can reduce costs imposed on farmers by the federal government. In the last election the Liberals campaigned on removing the excise tax on farm fuel. That could be done tomorrow but there has been no will so far to do it. User fees and taxes on inputs are issues that can be dealt with immediately. We realize fighting the European and U.S. subsidies is a long term goal, but some things can be done immediately to help the bottom line on the farm.

We can encourage farmer driven value added processing. The Canadian Wheat Board in western Canada has a marketing monopoly and is a hindrance to value added industries coming into our area. One in particular is the prairie pasta producers. They have tried to build pasta plants. They would like to get the wheat board out of the system so they can get the grain at a more reasonable price. That has not yet happened but could happen tomorrow with the will of the government.

Give grain farmers a marketing choice. This is something we have been raising here forever and ever. It is unbelievable. Some people do not believe us when we tell them that we do not have our own marketing options. We need that. A farmer should be able to sell his product where and when he wants.

We can reduce farmers' costs by modernizing the grain handling system which I have already touched on.

The Canadian Alliance agriculture policy has been built through continual consultation with farmers. We did a tour a year and a half or two years ago. We went to 70 different meetings. We talked to 3,500 producers face to face. We prepared the ASAP report which we tabled in the House. We gave copies to the agriculture minister. We said that this was what the producers were telling us, and those were the things that needed to be done. So far we have had no action along those lines.

The big one I suppose is the continued erosion of the income our producers face by the unfair European Union and U.S. subsidies. We have to be very aggressive at the negotiating table to beat the production-distorting subsidies down, so that there is not the flood on the market, and so that a farmer can get a good return on his investment in his crops. We have to keep that in mind with the WTO round coming up this fall. We have to pursue that vigorously. We feel that is something that has not been done in proper way.

Those are my comments. Once again I thank the House for this opportunity. As we said, there are other things gripping the nation and the world right now, but if we are going to send our soldiers into war, we had better be able to feed them.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalSecretary of State (Rural Development) (Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario)

Madam Chairman, I appreciate having another opportunity to talk about the issues of rural Canada. Today we are dealing with the agricultural sector. We have been here on debate before and we talked about the natural resource sector. We have had other opportunities for discussion. I am pleased to see that opposition members and government members are trying to seek solutions to deal with the issues that impact rural Canada.

As the Secretary of State for Rural Development I have the opportunity to deal with some of the key issues that those of us who represent rural Canada deal with on an ongoing basis with our constituents. A big part of what we are talking about as rural members of parliament, and many of us in the Chamber right now are rural members of parliament, is to make sure there is an understanding that a successful Canada and a strong Canada is a Canada that has both of its component parts strong, that we have both a strong urban and a strong rural Canada.

It is not an issue of one being strong at the expense of the other, or taking an asset from one and giving it to the other. The nation is strong when we have a strong urban and rural Canada. That is something we need to work toward. The reality is that we want to make sure as a government, and I am sure as all 301 members of parliament, whether they come from urban or rural Canada, that our rural citizens have an opportunity to access the wealth that is Canada, that we have an opportunity to share in everything the country has to offer.

One reality we need to recognize is that when it comes to rural Canada and rural Canadians, there are some structural differences from those that exist in urban Canada. There are challenges that are faced by rural Canada which are different from those that are faced by urban Canada. As we have these discussions here in the House and as we develop legislation and respond to the issues of the day, it is important for us to recognize those different challenges and to develop public policy that takes them into account.

What are those challenges? Some of them are fairly straightforward and obvious.

Take the issue of geography in rural Canada. There is a lot of geography in rural Canada. Many of us choose to live in rural Canada because of that geography. What it means is that when it comes to delivering programming, when it comes to delivering government services or private sector services, there are thousands and thousands of square kilometres in which to provide service and it is far more challenging than it may be in a tight urbanized centre.

Take the issue of population density. One of those structural realities is there is a low population density in rural Canada, particularly compared to some of our large cities. That has very significant ramifications. When we are trying to attract investment and trying to ensure that we have the right kind of investment in infrastructure or trying to get the investment into businesses, when there is low population densities, the return somebody can obtain from those investments will oftentimes not be as great and may be much more slow in coming than it would be in an urban centre. It makes it a challenge to attract that kind of investment to a rural area.

Sometimes the public policy response for attracting that investment has to be different. We need public-private partnerships. Sometimes the private sector may make an investment on its own in a high density urban area, but it may not be willing to make the same investment in a rural area unless there is a public-private partnership. That is what I mean by having a different public policy response in a rural area from what may be suitable in an urban area.

To speak more directly to the issue of agriculture and agriculture in rural Canada, one of the structural differences that exists in rural areas is the fact that the economy is cyclical in nature. For the most part rural Canada is a natural resource based economy whether it be forestry, mining, fisheries or agriculture. It is a cyclical type of economy based on fluctuating commodity prices.

An economy based that way is very different from many of our urban economies which tend to be diversified. They tend to be manufacturing or technology based. When there is a problem or a challenge in one component part of that economy there are many other component parts that can deal with it and ensure that on a macro basis the economy will continue to move forward and be strong.

Rural Canada has resource based economies which are often single industry economies and cyclical in nature. We understand that there is a need for a different public policy approach. As rural members from all sides of the House we are saying that we need a different type of public policy approach when dealing with rural Canada and its natural resource based economies. That is very clear.

What kind of public policy tools do we as a government respond with to deal with the cyclical nature of these economies? They will be very different from the tools that could be found in an urban economy or a very diversified economy. Those tools exist in the agricultural sector whether we are talking about crop insurance, NISA, CFIP or spring advances. There is a whole series of tools.

Members of the opposition are suggesting that there can be additional tools. We on the government side agree that the tools contained in the agricultural sector ought to be enriched or enhanced. That is the kind of discussion we are having here today. It is not an issue of those tools not existing.

The government has made a very strong response to the public policy issues I talked about by ensuring that the tools are available. However that does not mean the discussion should be over. We are having this debate so we can talk about how we should strengthen those tools or how we should add to them.

The previous speaker talked about consultations that had taken place with rural residents. That is important. Many of my colleagues are travelling across Canada this week as part of a task force developed for members of the Liberal Party. They are talking to rural citizens about those issues. I have established something I call rural dialogue. I do not mean rural consultation but rural dialogue.

I have taken the opportunity over the last two years to talk to rural citizens, be they ones who operate in the agricultural sector, the resource based sector or are simply part of the communities that support those industries. They have told me about some of the issues we need to deal with. In respect of that input we have been developing the tools I have talked about and changing them as appropriate and creating new ones as needed.

It is important to recognize in terms of agriculture the need to get away from simply having short term tools, as important and necessary as they are, to having a long term vision for agriculture. That is why I was so pleased this past June when I was in Yukon where all the provincial ministers came together and agreed on a framework for long term stability in the agricultural sector and the communities that depend on it.

I am pleased to have participated in this debate and the discussion with all members of the House on the types of things we need to do to ensure the long term sustainability of rural Canada.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

September 27th, 2001 / 5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Chairman, I begin by thanking you for allowing this emergency debate to take place. Throughout the entire summer farmers across the country have been dealing with one of the most severe droughts in recent history. In other areas of Canada farmers have had too much rain. All in all farmers have not been given the most ideal conditions within which to work. However that is part of being a farmer. Some years are good; other years are devastating.

My riding of Cypress Hills--Grasslands and the ridings that border it, particularly those of Battlefords--Lloydminster, Saskatoon--Rosetown--Biggar in Saskatchewan, and Medicine Hat and Lethbridge in Alberta, have been hard hit by the drought this summer. My constituents in southwestern Saskatchewan are mostly grain farmers and cattle ranchers, people who live off the land and need to produce to make a living.

In southern Alberta producers are faced with a similar situation. Ranchers do not have water for their cattle: farmers do not have water for their crops.

This spring, as I looked out the window from a little commuter plane between Medicine Hat and Calgary, it was interesting to see that the grass never did green up in that area. It stayed dry and grey the entire summer.

Tough times are nothing new to farmers. Grain farmers have been struggling with unstable commodity prices for many years. The present low commodity prices in the grain and oilseed sector are due to the excessive subsidies our competitors receive in the United States and overseas in Europe. These subsidies cause overproduction and distortion in certain agricultural commodities which drive down world prices.

In Canada farmers are not fortunate enough to have the strong backing of the federal Liberal government. For some reason the government believes that if it weans producers off subsidies and leaves them on their own they will become lean, mean, farming machines. However, in order to run a viable farming operation and stay in business, producers must make or at least have the opportunity to make money.

Farmers today are faced with an uphill battle and the government should be there to support them. The agri-food industry in Canada is the fifth largest industry in the country. It accounts for almost 8.5% of Canada's gross domestic product. This $95 billion sector of the economy is not insignificant and it is worth fighting for. One in seven jobs in Canada are tied directly or indirectly to agriculture.

United States wheat farmers receive 49% of their income from subsidies, while their European counterparts receive 52% of their income from the government. Our wheat farmers receive less than 13% support. At the same time it is delivered to farmers in convoluted income support programs like AIDA and CFIP. It take months and even years to process applications under these programs and in the end they deny support to many farmers.

Tonight we heard that Saskatchewan received a big portion of that money but in fact 46% of the applications were denied and rejected. That is not an indicator of a successful program.

It is a rather strange situation because farmers do not want to be dependent on subsidies and the government does not want to give them money. The ideal solution to our agriculture problems would be to reduce all trade distorting subsidies internationally. The only way to remove foreign subsidies is by negotiations through the World Trade Organization and NAFTA. This is a long and arduous task and can take years to complete, especially when players like the U.S. are now spending $20 billion a year in subsidies.

We must get moving in this regard. The agriculture discussions have been delayed long enough. We need to have some results in that area. The government does not have a choice on this issue. If it wants an agriculture sector in the country it must be willing to support it.

The Alliance has done some polling and released the results early last week. Canadians across the country want to support farmers. In that survey we saw that 78% of Canadians felt farmers should receive subsidies to help them compete until farm subsidies in other nations are lowered, even if it means subsidizing farmers for several years. Our poll of both urban and rural areas does not leave anything to question, yet the government still does not seem to get the point.

Livestock producers on the other hand have been fairly fortunate over the last few years, but the drought this summer changed that radically for them. As I mentioned, flying from Medicine Hat to Calgary the land never did green up, but one of the more concerning things was that we could watch the dugouts go dry. We could actually see from week to week as the water level went down. A lot of them are now dry.

Ranchers are resorting to hauling water and feed so that they can hold on to their cattle. If they are unable to do that, often they are forced to sell off part of their herd. Usually at times like this ranchers would be able to work with the PFRA to find a new water source or to install pipelines. However this year the budget for the PFRA was exhausted just four days into the fiscal year and currently up to 500 projects in Saskatchewan alone are on hold.

It appears that the priorities of the agriculture department are out of step. Would not reallocating more financial resources to the PFRA so that ranchers could find water be the logical thing to do during a drought? Producers are being faced with so many challenges right now they do not need the government to be another one as well.

A few weeks ago I received a letter from a constituent who operates a ranch in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. He wrote:

My family has raised cattle in this area since the 1880s. I've been associated with our operation over 30 years of my adult life. Never before have I had no livestock feed to harvest. We have had no irrigation or stock water releases in the 2001 season. Also, there has been no production on our native pastures for the past two years.

This livestock producer is not alone. There are many people like him in my part of the world. When feed crops fail to yield anything, ranchers have no recourse since they cannot effectively use crop insurance. Instead they must compete with U.S. producers in buying feed at very high prices.

One program ranchers can normally depend upon during especially dry seasons is the income tax deferral program. This summer the minister announced which regions of Canada would be eligible to use the program. He announced that relatively early in the season.

However restrictions placed on the program prevent producers from using it effectively. The tax deferral applies only to breeding livestock that are a year or older. This summer many people were forced to sell off their calves and feedlot owners were left in the dark altogether.

The tax deferral program is a relatively simple program, however the restrictions that are placed on it do not help producers. The government should open up the program to either more types of livestock or it should extend the tax repayment period over three years, or extend the tax repayment period until the land recovers.

The government realizes that it cannot remain silent on this issue. This drought could be the financial wall that will force many producers into bankruptcy. For years farmers have struggled with an income crisis and now they have a drought that has eliminated all production for many of them.

The government needs to discover a new commitment to agriculture. I admit that we have some members on the government side who have an interest in agriculture but the government in general has no heart for that sector. Agriculture is important and we need to support it. We also need to take a look at our spending and examine how it is taking place.

Last spring our party called on the government to allocate an additional $500 million in emergency aid to farmers. Rather than do that the government's response was to appoint a task force. The task force went around the country to meet and to discuss the same issues that were discussed by the government for the last nine years. It will not have a report until a year from now. That is not good enough. The government has been in power long enough. It needs to figure out where to spend efficiently and effectively in the agriculture sector.

I found it interesting that over the last few weeks we heard about aircraft manufacturers, airplane businesses and auto manufacturers coming to the government requesting money. There seems to be a clear and immediate interest in providing them with financial help. The agriculture sector has come to the government for years and the requests have fallen on deaf ears.

Why do they get such a quick response and the agriculture sector does not seem to? I would suggest, and I would hope it is not the case, that some of this may be geographic or may be the result of location.

The government needs to give farmers a chance to succeed. One of the ways it can do that is by providing voluntary marketing in western Canada. It needs to open up opportunities for people to thrive in their communities and to diversify.

The government needs to aggressively get after the United States and the European Union. It needs to go after their subsidies and get them reduced so that we can survive. I find it hard to remain calm on this issue.

My staff assured me that I did not need to come in here and yell and holler today so I have tried to abide by that. It is frustrating for me to continue to talk about these things time after time and not see a commitment to change, to examine programs and to come up with new ideas and new ways of affecting and improving agriculture for our farmers in this country.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:20 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Madam Chairman, there is no question the drought this past year was one of the worst this country has seen in the past four decades. There is no question that members of the House have their own stories from people back home in their ridings about how the drought has affected them.

There is no question either that the federal government has the mechanisms in place to help those in need, to assist those the drought has affected and to support our farmers.

Farming is one of those businesses where we depend on so many variables: the market, the technology, last year's crop, this year's crop and of course the weather. We can put marketing boards in place, we can invest in innovative new products and technologies and we can expand our markets at home and abroad, but there is one thing no government can control and that is the weather. We wish we could control it but we cannot.

In order to plan for the uncertainties in farming, like disease, too much rain or, in some areas this year including my county, drought, the federal government has worked hard with the provinces and producers to design safety net programs that respond to the various needs of farmers across the country to help them get through difficult and unforeseen situations.

In July of last year, as we have already heard, the federal and provincial ministers of agriculture signed a more flexible safety net agreement designed to stabilize farm income as much as possible. This safety net package provides $5.5 billion over three years, through to 2002, in support of farm income stabilization. It supports the net income stabilization account, NISA. It supports fall cash advances, crop insurance and companion programs. There is also an element for income disaster assistance and spring cash advances.

NISA, crop insurance and the Canadian farm income program, or CFIP, are all ongoing programs specifically designed to provide financial assistance to producers when they are faced with low incomes due to circumstances beyond their control.

There is currently about $3.2 billion in NISA accounts with approximately $1.3 billion of that available for immediate withdrawal. Farmers deposit money to their NISA accounts and that deposit is matched by the government. This program is designed to help producers achieve long term farm income stability on an individual basis. As the NISA accounts grow, farmers can make withdrawals in lower income years from the funds they have set aside.

The new Canadian farm income program provides up to $600 million to farmers across Canada for the year 2000. In provinces where the federal government delivers a program and in the province of Alberta, producers who have been affected by drought can apply now to CFIP for an interim payment for 2001. In areas across the country where the federal government delivers the CFIP interim payments, we can respond to a completed application in 30 days.

Crop insurance premiums hit a record low this year, both in terms of the premium cost and the producer paid portion of the premiums. Federal and provincial governments pay about 66% of total premium costs, while the producer pays the remaining 33%, which is on average about $2,000 per year. The number of crops, the total acreage, the number of farmers with crop insurance and the value of product covered by insurance this year are all at record high levels, which indicates pretty clearly that farmers are taking advantage of everything they can in order to maintain their position.

These three programs address different aspects of farm income. They allow the government to contribute to farmers' incomes in areas where they need it the most, whether that is crop insurance or a crop failure, an account to boost farmers' incomes in lean years with NISA or targeted assistance to producers who have experienced a sudden and severe drop in farming income for reasons beyond their control.

Drought is a natural phenomenon. It cannot be prevented. We can however increase our ability to withstand the impact of drought by implementing sound water and land management practices. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has a rural water development program that provides technical assistance and $5.5 million a year for secure water supply development in agricultural and rural areas in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and northern British Columbia.

Initiatives such as these, combined with a solid safety net practice, ensure that we can face these issues with the knowledge we have measures in place that will work for producers all across Canada.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Chairman, I would like to convey my thanks to the Speaker for allowing us to have an emergency debate this evening.

The agriculture crisis, the drought that is facing our farmers, is something we have not seen in a lifetime. Since the House adjourned for the summer recess, events have changed the way we look at the world. September 11 will be on our minds forever. My sympathies go out to all the victims and their families, to the American people and to people around the world who have been affected. Everyone will be affected by this in time.

Before those events occurred there was another crisis which the Liberal government was ignoring. That crisis developed over several years but has been compounded by the events of the last three months. With respect to all the other important issues before parliament at this time, and the crisis of September 11 is what I am referring to, we need to continue to address the concerns of agriculture.

A devastating drought has occurred in the prairies. In fact rainfall across the country has been very low. In Saskatchewan we have the fifth driest year ever on record. As I mentioned, and I will not go into the details, rainfall has been down across the country. My colleagues have adequately explained that.

Drought is not a local or regional issue, it is a national issue. The impact of the drought will be tenfold because it has come on the heels of consistently low commodity prices. A bad situation has been made even worse. Farmers who were wondering if it was worth planting a crop this spring are wondering now in the fall whether it is worth harvesting. Livestock producers, cattle producers, have had to sell off their stock because they do not have sufficient feedstocks to last the winter. Some dugouts that they use for water storage have dried up or are so low that there may not be enough water to last the month.

The government has sat idly by, and this is a sad fact, and allowed the situation to fester, hurting all Canadian producers. The financial impact of this drought will be horrendous. The Grain Growers of Canada estimate that the national cost of this drought on the grains and oilseeds sectors will be $2 billion. In the province of Saskatchewan alone it will be $770 million. The government of Saskatchewan has asked the federal government for $200 million to cover a shortfall in crop insurance payments.

The government has slammed the door in their faces: the agriculture minister said to prairie farmers this summer that they should look to crop insurance for help. In fact I heard him reiterate that when he was addressing us here a little while ago. What has he done? He has not sent out the money to the province to cover the shortfall.

The government is willing to give billions of dollars to the airlines and large corporations, but when it comes to hardworking, ordinary Canadians the government ignores them. Something has to change.

I would like at this point to read an excerpt from a statement put out by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The impression may be that we stand here and lament the problem of farmers, but the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which believes very much like we do that businesses should not be subsidized, has made a statement on this that I think is key. I want to read excerpts of this into the record. I cannot read the whole thing because of time limitations, but it is very important that we listen to what the chamber has to say. It states:

Agriculture has a major effect on Canadian industry including transportation, manufacturing, food, and finance and its stability affects every Canadian. Agriculture built Canada and feeds 30 million Canadians and millions more around the world. The diversification created by agriculture industries affects all Canadian industry, government and its people. If properly cared for, the agricultural sector is a sustainable renewable resource.

Canada has been a world leader in the reduction of trade distorting subsidies under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and in the present World Trade Organization (WTO) agriculture negotiations. However, agricultural subsidies have been increasing in the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), with severe consequences for the Canadian agricultural producers.

The Chambers of Commerce do not generally support any form of industrial subsidy. However, the Canadian farming sector faces imminent collapse and, unless some new, all inclusive form of federal funded, long term agricultural initiative is adopted, the outcome is inevitable. This situation is unique to agriculture and must be differentiated from other businesses as the market has been manipulated and interfered with. Farmers comprise less than 4% of the population but one out of every four jobs in Canada is directly or indirectly related to agriculture. On an average, for every dollar invested in agriculture, a spin off of seven dollars is generated.

The Canadian agricultural sector is world class and well-positioned to compete on a level playing field. However, the Canadian producers' skills, technology, infrastructure, capacity and markets will be lost if interim financial support is not provided. Other industries that provide inputs, such as rail transportation, port facilities and shipping will be lost along with their accompanying jobs. On the downstream side, value-added industries such as food processing and farm machinery, would decline with consequential job losses in those sectors.

I would like to read the whole thing, but time does not allow that. Let me read to the House the end of the letter:

Supplementary government financial assistance to agriculture will be required until there is a reduction in trade distorting subsidies to a level where Canadian producers can compete in a fair trade environment.

That is as much I will quote from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce statement, but it expresses better than I ever could my feelings on this topic.

I also wish to point out a very disturbing thing that I found out recently. The deputy minister of agriculture told the agriculture minister in a briefing note that a minority of grains and oilseeds producers are facing problems, arrears are almost non-existent, farm bankruptcies are low compared to other businesses, the farm debt mediator service is little used outside of Saskatchewan, land prices are up and safety net programs, including AIDA, have been effective. Someone in the minister's office is not telling the agriculture minister the truth. Someone is misleading him. Someone in the minister's office has missed the boat. It makes me angry when I hear stuff like this because it is so far removed from reality.

My office in Yorkton receives calls on almost a daily basis from farmers who were given an AIDA payout and suddenly get a letter from the department saying they have to pay the money back. They come to me weeping and asking where they are going to get the money. They say they are broke and cannot pay back the money, yet the government is demanding it. How on earth can anyone say that program is effective? AIDA has become the most despised agriculture program in recent memory. CFIP, the son of AIDA, there to replace it, is simply AIDA with another name. There is a lack of intelligence. Maybe I should choose my words more carefully, but the government should realize if it examines the situation that this is appalling.

Something must be done. We in the Canadian Alliance are asking for an immediate cash injection to help Canadian farmers, not only to deal with the drought but with three years of disastrously low commodity prices. We are asking the government to reduce costs imposed by it on the backs of farmers, such as the excise tax on fuel and all taxes on inputs. The Canadian Alliance encourages farmer driven, value added processing. We have all heard about how the wheat board is standing in the way of that. We would give farmers a choice in how they market their grain and we would reduce grain handling transportation costs by modernizing the whole system.

The agricultural policies of the Canadian Alliance have been developed by continually speaking with farmers and farm groups. We are speaking out for them. The Alliance is on the front lines. That is why we have asked for this debate today.

We in the Alliance have spent so much of our time and effort trying to get the government to listen. I appeal to the government this evening to please consider what we are saying. The Liberal government has failed to address the root causes of the farm crisis. There does not appear to be any long term vision on the part of the government. We appeal to them to immediately address this crisis.

I wish to say one other thing before my time is up. There are many other policies of the government that affect farmers. By the government not properly addressing the terrorism and security issue, the security of our borders and the immigration concerns we have been raising, agricultural exports to the U.S. are put at risk.

The government really needs to take a look at all the things it is doing because even things that may not appear at first watch to affect agriculture, such as this crisis and the concerns around it, will have an impact. If those borders close even a bit, it will really affect our farmers in Canada because we depend on our exports market.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:35 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Madam Chairman, I listened with a lot of interest to what the member for Yorkton--Melville had to say. The rural caucus on the government side lobbied hard to get a task force put together to look at the foreseeable future of agriculture, and the Prime Minister agreed. Members of the task force have been going out across Canada. In the first two weeks of September we were on the east coast working our way in, and we have been out west. In fact, part of the task force right now is in B.C. Some of the issues that the member across the way talked about are exactly what we have heard.

What I would like to talk about right now is the fact that we have a number of programs. We have CFIP, which is a Canadian income program, NISA, crop insurance. Quebec has ASRA. There is MRI or GRIP. These programs were brought in years back.

Let us deal with crop insurance, for instance. It was brought in in the mid-sixties. I am not driving a mid-sixties car yet agriculture is dealing with a mid-sixties program.

I happen to be in supply management. It is one sector of agriculture that currently does not cost the Government of Canada.

I see the member from Selkirk--Interlake kind of smiling over there. He was wondering when I would talk about chicken farming. It is fairly early in my speech.

The point that I am making is that there are some programs within Canadian agriculture right now that are in fact working. There are other programs that are in place that were designed years back and quite frankly they have to be updated, such as crop insurance.

When I insure my poultry barns, I insure each of them for fire insurance. If one barn burns, down I do not take the average of all the barns and that is what I am paid. That specific barn is insured. That is one thing that needs to be updated within crop insurance.

Another aspect is I believe that the input costs that go into it have to be insured. In essence, there could be a cost of production formula incorporated within crop insurance. This is what we have heard as we have moved across the country.

A cost of production formula is something that we deal with in the poultry industry. It works this way. We take the average of the input costs from the best and the poorest growers so that it is in the centre. It is great for the best grower because his input costs are a lot lower than what the average is so he is doing very well. However, the costs for the poorest grower are obviously a lot higher than what the average is and he is not doing as well. That is what we have done in the poultry industry to breed efficiency within the system and to get rid of inefficiency.

That is one of the things we have to still take a look at within the crop insurance program, if in fact we head toward the issue of a cost of production formula.

The member for Yorkton--Melville also talked about CFIP, the son of AIDA. I agree with him. However, it was brought in under an agreement between the federal and provincial governments and different farming organizations in 1998 to deal with the pork industry. Quite frankly, this is a program that needs a lot of rejigging if it is going to be a broad based paintbrush covering all commodities.

What I am saying is that we have programs in place that we have to analyze to see whether these they are good enough to be updated and kept in place to carry on to the next generation or whether they should be thrown out and a new program brought in to deal with the new issues that are facing agriculture.

I know my colleagues across the way will agree with this. Of the population of Canada, currently 2% is involved in agriculture. Of that, half of 1% produces 80% of the food and the other 1.5% produces 20%. Those are the statistics.

The next generation right now, if looks at the family farm, whatever that is, and will to go into that in a second, and the fact that their parents are not making, then why the heck would they want to go into it. Now we are into a philosophical debate. I am always convinced that somebody will be growing the food on the land. However, who will it be? Will it be somebody running the family farm or will it be a corporate entity?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. member


AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:40 p.m.


Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

It could be Bombardier. One never knows. Actually, those are loan guarantees not subsidies. Let me clarify that right off the bat.

Let us take a look at the family farm. These are some of the things that are facing agriculture right now. Back in the 1940s and the 1950s, when the family farm was transferred to the next generation, it was basically given to that generation and that generation took care of the generation that had retired. We do not see that today. One generation sells it to the next generation.

If we want to get down to this, I would start to question the definition of the family farm. The older generation needs so much money to retire. They look at their farming operations for that retirement money. However, if they attach a $500,000 mortgage to it, they have taken the farm and basically stopped it dead in its tracks because it has to pay for a $500,000 mortgage without any benefit to the efficiency within the farm. That farm now is paying off a $500,000 mortgage. It is stopped dead in its tracks. It cannot update its equipment or anything else like that until it pays off that mortgage. Anything within agriculture today that stands still is falling behind.

I believe we not only have to look at programs of support for the farming industry but we also have to look at how we will put programs in place so we can transfer the capital assets from one generation to the next. That is very incumbent upon agriculture today.

I have been working on my own family operation with just exactly that. I started this type of planning 20 years ago. My son is getting ready to go into the OAC at Guelph next year. He will take agri-economics. He also talking about veterinary science too. I am the third generation on the farm. With the planning that we put in place, there will be a fourth generation.

Someone mentioned the wheat board. I was on the standing committee of agriculture when we looked into this. It was a crown corporation with five commissioners. The reason why there was a government entity was because of the guarantee on the initial payments, which came under the finances act. Everyone of us in the House, and I know the member across the way is constantly talking about finances, has a responsibility to the taxpayers of Canada. So when we came up with the new wheat board, it had 15 members on it. It still had the five commissioners of the crown corporation but we now had 10 elected farmers on that board. Now we have the feedback of the grassroots into the CWB.

The more they get involved within the CWB, and I have had a chance to talk to some of these directors, the more supportive they are of the way the Canada Wheat Board is run. However, they are elected and have connections to the grassroots. Everyone in the House knows that if we do not do what our constituents think is the right, come election time we will not be back. That is the reality. So now there is a commitment of the grassroots to the Canada Wheat Board. Therefore, members can see just how complicated this issue is.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Chairman, I want to thank the House for permitting this debate today. Agriculture is a very important industry in my riding and around the country. As others have pointed out, it accounts for a big chunk of Canada's production every year. It annual GDP is about $14 billion. We need to take it more seriously than we do. We take it for granted because it has been around for so long. So many people live in urban areas today and they sometimes take for granted the food that arrives in their grocery stores.

The truth is that there is a crisis in agriculture today. I want to compliment the hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake for raising this issue on behalf of the Canadian Alliance. I would also like to point out some of the other agriculture critics who have made an issue of this. I am speaking of people like the hon. member for Cypress Hills--Grasslands, the hon. member for Peace River, the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville and people from all over Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba who are really pushing this issue and are standing up for farmers.

I want to take a moment to talk about the impact that the drought has had on my riding of Medicine Hat. Medicine Hat is a large area in southern Alberta and has been hard hit by the drought of the last couple of years. I thought the best way to explain what is going on is to touch a bit on some of the crop reports that were written by Alberta agriculture through the summer. These will give members an idea of what the agronomists have said about what is going on in southern Alberta. I will mention some of the specific areas that make up my riding.

Let me go back to mid-July because that is when we were really starting to understand that there would be another serious situation for the second year in a row. Let me quote from the crop report of July 17. Here is what it had to say about Foremost:

Things are very dry down here (like that's a big news flash!). Crop insurance has been very busy with calls from farmers wondering about turning cattle out into cereal fields and spraying out cereal crops completely. I have been working on a sawfly survey and have found moderate levels of infestations. Pea canola/mustard pods are starting to fill but the number of seeds in each pod is disappointing.

This is what it said about Medicine Hat:

Dryland yields across the district are expected to average in the single digits. The hot dry weather will now result in shriveled kernels and low bushel weight. Where height and volume permit, producers are salvaging crops for greenfeed or grazing.

About Taber, it said:

The relentless hot and dry conditions are taking a toll on dryland crops. Poor soil moisture conditions and the prospect of severely reduced yields are forcing producers into a salvage mode harvesting as greenfeed, silage, or grazing as the situation allows.

If I skip ahead a couple of weeks, this is what it had to say about Foremost:

Crop insurance has been assessing many, many acres and yields are being pegged at 1 to 3 bu/ac in a lot of the spring seeded cereals.

That is one to three bushels just for perspective. On dry land in an area, a typical crop would be 20 to 25 bushels an acre. Members can see it is pretty desperate.

The report went on to say:

Hail passed through a scattered area to the south of Foremost and Etzikom, further complicating harvest. Peas and chickpeas will be the bulk of combined acres. Most of these crops are very short, so harvest losses are expected to be significant.

This is what was said about Medicine Hat:

Total precipitation measured at Medicine Hat since April 1st to date is 46 mm. July rainfall stands at 10 mm. Less than 50% of the dryland seeded acres will be combined.

Let me skip ahead a couple of more weeks to August 14 and what it said about Foremost:

Harvest continues to progress. Reports of yields are even worse than expected for most farmers. There have been no more showers and continued intense heat which means what acres there are to be harvested are coming off at a record pace. Fall work will be very limited unless there is some substantial precipitation soon.

This is what was said about Medicine Hat:

Combining is perhaps 30% complete and salvage of crops for feed and grazing continues. Most producers are only combining a portion of their dryland crop and a considerable number of producers have no harvest at all. The highest yields that have been reported on individual fields is 15 bu. per acre, but 5 bu. per acre is closer to the average and less than that is common.

The damage from drought, grasshoppers and wheat stem sawfly are very evident.

Harvest is also starting in the irrigation district. Yields are expected to be below average due mainly to water rationing.

It goes on and on. I will skip ahead to September 11:

We have come through the driest 24 months since records began in 1886. From September 1999 to August 2001, Medicine Hat received about 12 inches of precipitation. This is over 3 inches less than the previous 2 year dry spell that ran through parts of 1928 to 1930. Producers are preoccupied with securing feed and water for livestock. Very little post harvest field work is being done.

It is the same for Taber and Foremost. It is a complete and utter disaster in my riding. I do not know of any other way to say it. When we fly over that area, as my colleague was pointing out a few minutes ago, or drive through it, the pastures are not brown. They are grey. The hon. member for Lethbridge was pointing to meteorological reports that were suggesting that pastures might take as long as three years to ten years to recover.

Prairie fires are burning. When they come through they burn down to the roots. There is no moisture in the soil. A tremendous wind came up the other day and blew the prairie grass off the top of the ground. Usually that wool is so tough it holds the soil in almost any condition, but after so much drought even the prairie grasses are blowing off the top of the ground. It is absolutely desperate.

That is bad at any time. It is especially bad coming at a time when prices are low and when the government has completely and utterly failed to listen to the opposition when it comes to fixing some of these programs. I do not know how many times we have raised the fact that AIDA is a disaster. It was supposed to be a disaster program. It is a disaster itself.

We have pointed out that the government sends out 20 page forms that farmers cannot figure out. Farmers spend a thousand dollars getting accountants to figure out the forms for them, only to find out that they do not qualify. It is a thousand dollars that they do not have. The situation is desperate.

This spring the Canadian Alliance proposed about a half a billion dollar injection into agriculture because the situation was so desperate. I am sad to say that Liberal members voted against it and that it was defeated. That is a shame. When one considers what the government spends its money on today it speaks volumes about what its priorities.

Every time we come into the House we on this side raise issues of government waste and mismanagement. We went through the billion dollar boondoggle last year, where the human resources minister was under so much fire because about a billion dollars had not been accounted for and was ill spent by the Department of Human Resources Development. Money just disappeared and a lot of the money was used, frankly, for patronage reasons.

We have farmers who are in a desperate situation through no fault of their own. It is time for the government to step up to the plate. In 1996 when the United States government passed the freedom to farm legislation it was spending about $7 billion a year on agriculture. Today it is up to $31 billion in subsidies.

Canada has not matched that. As a result we have seen commodity prices continue to be soft because the Americans and the Europeans are dumping so much grain on to the world market and depressing prices that Canada cannot keep up. Our farmers are being pounded as a result.

It is time for the government to recognize the desperate situation faced by farmers. I urge the government to set aside some of the partisan behaviour we have seen with respect to this issue, reallocate resources from some of the low priority programs and put them into agriculture to help these people out.

People on farms produce a lot of things but what they really produce is good people who need help right now. This party does not very often ask for much from the government. We do not demand money for many things. This is one time when we are united on this side in asking the government to stand up for farmers, open up that wallet a bit and ensure that farmers today can look forward to the future with a bit of hope.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

5:55 p.m.


Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Madam Chairman, I have listened with interest to the hon. member's position. I want to participate briefly in this debate. It is certainly good tonight to be able to look at the problems in agriculture and in particular the problems in certain sectors of industry.

My seatmate from Ontario referred to the so-called marketing systems in Canada. We find that those sectors where producers have made arrangements in terms of the amount of product and the price they might get for it seem to operate quite effectively.

This past year in the livestock industry the reports in terms of prices have been good. Most people in the beef sector and the dairy sector have had reasonably good years.

I am glad to see the hon. member for St. John's West here tonight. In my own province of New Brunswick potatoes are a big factor. Maybe he and I could get together to get a good fish and chip business going that would encourage both the fishery and agriculture sectors.

Potato producers and more important the people involved in growing vegetables have had a very difficult year in New Brunswick due to the dry conditions. We also found that people involved in the production apples had a very small product and one which was not so good for market.

In my own area of Kent county to the south and into Westmorland a number of producers have been involved with such products as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and various vegetables. They have not been able to reach the success they had in previous years. Some of them are appealing to our governments, both in New Brunswick and federally, for some assistance so that they can continue with that industry. It has been a significant employer in terms of a growing industry.

I know those involved with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and so forth certainly want to continue their businesses. However some of them tell me that unless they get some assistance they will have difficulty making it to another year.

We see people in the galleries and members in the House, especially those from the west who are here to hear the concerns. During the past winter I was on the agricultural committee with a number of my friends in the House. That committee undertook to look at some of the farm issues across the country, especially in the area of our grains, oilseeds and corn crops in Ontario and in Quebec.

The history of the past few years has not been good. Prices have been low. This year the crops in many areas were not good. In terms of dry conditions, only last week I visited the area between Montreal and the far side of the river and Hull. We found too that certain farmers had tremendous problems. In fact the floor here has probably more grass than some of those farms along the river. Further down we found areas where the corn crops were quite good.

Tonight we have heard the issue. I am glad it has been brought to the attention of the House. As Canadians it is to be hoped that we can look at agriculture as being a very important part of our economy. Our nation, if we remember, was first opened up by the fur trade. Then came agriculture, lumber and all the other primary industries.

In the past number of years we have seen great changes in our country. People have moved away from the rural areas toward the cities. We find that the cities are growing larger and a very small number of people today can provide the food we need.

Part of the overall philosophy in North America has been to maintain a very inexpensive food supply for people. People in the cities have benefited greatly from the efficiency of our agricultural communities. However, as one member mentioned briefly, we have to look at the future of this industry.

We have to show our children that there are opportunities, that there is a way of life, and that there is a livelihood that will sustain them and their families. If we cannot bring the young people into the industry, we have to ask what we can do as a nation to improve this industry.

I am concerned, in terms of what I have seen across Canada, that some provinces pay more attention to agriculture than others. I commend the province of Quebec because it has taken a very vital interest in agriculture. It has good programs for its farmers. It maintains agriculture as a very important part of the industry of that province. Other provinces seem to put agriculture at a much lower priority.

The federal government must assess the situation and attempt to encourage provinces to do more for their agricultural communities.

I am sure we will hear in committee that inputs for farmers have been increasing. The price of arm machinery is at an all time high. Farmers who have breakdowns have found that the cost of repairs and spare parts has been at international prices. The inputs directly affect what kind of profit the farmer may make at the end of a given year.

Hopefully the agriculture standing committee can work with agricultural communities, that it can hear from farmers, and eventually toward the end of the year can bring before the House definite recommendations on how we might address the problems of our farmers.

I have been listening with interest to this good debate. I see our friends from the west are greatly concerned because of commodity prices and the difficulties they have. I could not believe the hon. member for Medicine Hat buys water by the truckload in his home community. The different situations in Canada vary from province to province.

We hope that somehow in terms of the debate we are having tonight and in terms of the programs that might come from the agriculture committee chaired by the hon. member for Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey that we can offer farmers some hope that their industry is a viable industry. The agriculture industry needs the support of our federal government, the support of the provinces, and hopefully will offer a future for our young people.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Madam Chairman, members may be wondering what a fisherman from St. John's, Newfoundland is doing speaking on an agricultural debate. The first reason is that I support the resolution. As a Canadian I am well aware of the situation western farmers are going through and I am extremely supportive of helping them at this time of crisis.

The second reason is that we in Newfoundland always say, when we are ignored, which is quite often, that it is because it is only Newfoundland and because it is only fish. It seems to me that the people who count in this country, the primary producers, are the ones who are overlooked the most, and that is extremely unfortunate.

If we did not have the bread makers, the fish producers and the vegetable growers, where would we be? Let us just imagine the price we would have to pay for the basic necessities of life if we had to import them. We do not know how fortunate we are to live in a country where we can produce our own vegetables, fish, wheat and other grains that create staple foods that not only ourselves but that the world eats.

To think that in time of dire need we ignore agriculture and yet within hours of a perceived airline crisis, the government runs around trying to find money to bail out airlines that perhaps are their own worst enemy.

When I mentioned coming from a province that deals with fish, if we are talking about food supply, we also have farmers in our province who have had a major problem this year. It was not because of a lack of moisture, it was because of too much.

Last winter in Newfoundland we had a record snowfall, the most snow ever. Newfoundland is a place where in the past we have had pretty hard winters. Growing up in Newfoundland we had enjoyable winters. From the end of November until the middle of April we could ski, skidoo, skate, whatever we wanted to do to enjoy the winter scene.

Over the past 10 years or so, we thought we had moved south of Florida. A year ago we did not have to shovel the driveway or a step once during the winter. This past winter, it turned around again and we had record snowfalls, which meant that a lot of the snow did not melt until well into May. With that kind of accumulation, especially in open areas on the fields, one can imagine how wet the fields were. The farmers were extremely late getting their crops into the ground, to the extent that it affected their year's production, a reverse of what occurred in the west.

I think the total rainfall in the hon. member's area was 60-odd millimetres for the year?

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Twelve inches in two years.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

A hurricane hit Newfoundland about a week ago and in a few hours 120 millimetres of rain was dumped on the Avalon. That in itself caused a tremendous amount of damage, which we will be talking about tomorrow or the next day. It washed out roads and flooded basements. Some basements had as much as six feet of water. Some of the main roads were washed away and shoulders were taken off a lot of our highways. The cost has been phenomenal. The mayor of the city of St. John's called a state of emergency, which is not done lightly.

I read a story in the paper that summarized what happened. A lady said that she was awakened at three o'clock in the morning when her little dog jumped up on the bed. She said that when she pushed the dog off the bed she heard a splash.

That was pretty common in a lot of St. John's. It was an extremely dry summer and the ground was extremely hard. When there is a lot of rain like that everything runs off and takes whatever is there with it. That is what happened. It was a complete reversal of what the west has had to face.

Because of the heavy moisture, the late season and the excessive rains, the farmers in our area have had the reverse. They also have been negatively affected and have been asking for assistance but have been getting the cold shoulder.

Perhaps, collectively, we should all start zeroing in on the basics and look at the people who really are the hard workers, the people who built the country and stayed with the farms, those who did not sell their lands to housing projects when they had a chance to make a fortune and leave town. Those are the people who stayed through hard times and passed on their farms to generation and generation. They still exist today and still work the farms. It is the same for the fishermen in the boats who year after year worked the nets and then passed the boat and gear over to the son who then passed it on to his son, et cetera.

They provided good livelihoods. They were tremendous people who contributed greatly to the economy of their community, province and country. They asked for very little other than the freedom to work at what they wanted to do and, if times got tough, that we do for them what we would do for others who perhaps were less deserving.

We solidly support the request from the farmers in the west. We ask the government to stop fooling around. We must forget about what this agreement or that agreement says. The agreement should say that if there is a problem the government will be there to help if there is a legitimate need.

All the time that is spent, the bureaucracy that is involved, the costs that are involved and the costs incurred in waiting would certainly pay a lot of the debts that have been built up.

Let us cut out the fooling, get down to the basics and help the farmers who need help. Let us get on with the job so that hopefully next year will be a different year for everybody.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr.Chairman, I want to attack this from a human suffering point of view. I have in my hand a letter I received today from a constituent in Regina. Members may wonder why I would start off with this but here are the first two lines of the letter:

I want to let you know that I do not want to see any taxpayer money going to bail out Air Canada. The service they provide to us in Regina is not worthy of any support.

We have heard that the government may be bailing out such a major company as Air Canada. It has been explained to us often that it is because there are so many jobs involved, that it is our transportation and that it is our national airline.

Tonight we are talking about our national industry called agriculture, an industry that has a national impact on jobs. It is said that probably one in seven jobs in Saskatchewan is farm or agriculture related. We are very definitely talking about jobs when it comes to agriculture in Saskatchewan.

The Canadian Alliance has put out a little bulletin for us. The first point on it says “Canadian farmers from coast to coast are suffering from drought conditions”. I want to pull one word out of that because I believe there are more than drought conditions causing our farmers to suffer. Drought conditions have just heightened and increased it. They are suffering from a number of things. We all know that they have been suffering for a long time from the depressed prices of commodities. They do not get what they should for their crops. I remember hearing those same prices when I was a boy growing up and that was back in the days when they were greenback dollars.

The farmers are not only suffering from poor crop prices but they are also suffering from high input costs, which the government has failed to do anything about. The tax on fuel could have been removed. It would not have been a handout but at least it would have been of some help. I am told that there is another hidden cost, although I am sure some farmers would argue this. On one hand perhaps the low dollar helps, but a farmer told me the other day that the U.S. exchange on a new combine is in the neighbourhood of $80,000 being added to the cost of the new machine.

The drought of course is causing them to suffer as well as the prices. We can see that as the other members and I fly back and forth to our ridings. As we get closer to the ground we can see the blotchy fields and the arid spots where there is no straw, no stubble, no crop. We understand the drought is causing a great amount of suffering for people who were already near the edge and the unusually dry weather just pushes them over.

There are some other things that cause farmer to suffer. I have never heard anyone mention this but what I call forced diversification causes our farmers to suffer.

One of my constituents told me that in the spring, when they are considering what to plant, they like to keep it down to a maximum of six different crop varieties in order to control their machinery costs and harmonize their activities a little more. However, he said that he had to still diversify into seven different crops this year. He is very diversified. We cannot suggest that to farmers any longer because they are as diversified as they can get. They may diversify into an area that is supposed to be good and then the price drops out of it and they are hurting again. It is not a long range answer.

They are suffering because they are penalized for working off the farm. The young farmers who are really trying hard to make it work, work not only on the farm but put in many hours, perhaps even full time hours, at other jobs. Then when they apply for some of the assistance programs out there they are disqualified simply because they are making money in an off farm way.

Some of the farmers are suffering because they are working on the farm. We have some farmers in Saskatchewan manufacturing playground equipment or farm equipment. I was on one farm where the farmer was making his own crop sprayer. It was a beautiful sprayer. It would pass inspection at any farm implement factory. It was just a beautiful job. He had to make his own equipment. Farmers are suffering through the extra work they have to put in to design, build, make do, repair and work on their own equipment because of a lack of funds.

They are suffering because of the declining demand for used farm equipment and the prices for it. It is one thing to be able to have a fire sale and walk away from a business having sold the inventory, but try selling the used farm equipment or try selling the farm. There is just a dead end there for many of these farmers and they are suffering because they cannot even liquidate in a manner that would let them get out from under the debt load they are already carrying.

For years in Saskatchewan there has been a lot of farm counselling going on. For a number of years the Saskatchewan government has even had to sponsor and take care of counselling for farmers. They are counselled for depression. I would be depressed too if I had so little hope of making a living with such a debt load over me. It goes so far as to end up in marital counselling. Many farmers have experienced family breakdown because of this extreme pressure upon them. It goes right to the point of suicide counselling for farmers who feel they have no other choice but to consider taking their own lives.

We are talking about suffering. We are talking about the lives of people. We are talking about jobs being lost because of the crisis. We are talking about the kinds of things the government should be concerned about and want to help out with when it can.

In our constituency we have farmers losing the very land that their farm fathers fought for in World War II. Talk about a guilt trip. Talk about suffering. These poor fellows are crushed because they feel like they have failed their families and their fathers who fought so desperately to pass on the farm to them.

Where do they look for a job? Where do they go? Someone who lives in a city and loses a job has a little better opportunity to move to another source of income than what our farmers are faced with in the rural parts of our country. They suffer because of that. They have little choice in what they can do and where they can go.

I believe this is a crisis that should invoke compassion but also an understanding that we are dealing not only with a drought crisis: we are dealing with the loss of an industry that affects many jobs and many lives. I would hope that our government would take a second look at it and give a second thought to supporting this industry.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Chairman, I am very happy to stand to persuade all the Liberals in this hon. House that they ought to have compassion and take a serious look at the needs of farmers across the country.

I grew up on a farm, many years ago obviously. As a matter of fact my dad says that I am a child of the depression, the thirties. When we were young and growing up on the farm we were very poor. It is amazing to me that with all our technological advancements and our prosperity in the country now we have not invented a way of solving the problem for farmers when they have these downturns from time to time.

Way back then, like today, farmers faced many problems, anything from drought to too much moisture. I remember that as a youngster there was a time when we had rust in the fields. We also had plagues of grasshoppers. We had various diseases go through the crops. We had ups and downs in prices. Throughout all of that the farmers survived.

In order to emphasize the importance of this, especially in the context of what is seizing us as Canadians these days in terms of national security, I would like to point out that a solid, independent and self-sufficient food supply is absolutely critical to our national security.

There are many Ukrainians in my riding who point out to me frequently that there was a time in their history when the deprivation of food was used to destroy them as a people. It is really atrocious that we do not take it very seriously and make every effort possible to look at a secure food supply as a national security issue.

I imagine that everyone here today, especially on the other side of the House, has had a full meal or two today. We are not accustomed in Canada to thinking about real hunger. I do not know, Mr. Chairman, whether you have ever gone without food. I probably should have more than I have, but from time to time I have fasted, which is a good exercise for many reasons. To go without food for a day or two while drinking only water or perhaps juice has a number of very good effects on a person. One of the most important ones is that it really emphasizes the importance of food in our lives.

It has been said that a person can live about a minute or so without air, a day or two without water and a week or two without food. Mr. Chairman, I would probably outlast you, but it certainly is true that in a very short length of time we become dependent on food input in order to stay alive.

I think it would be a great exercise, as was suggested to me by my son-in-law, a farmer, if every member of parliament were to be asked to do a one day fast. If by the end of the first week the agriculture problem is not solved, the following week the members should do a two day fast. Then if by the end of that week the agriculture problem is not solved, they should do a three day fast, and they should keep going until the problem is solved. He said he was sure that MPs would soon discover a way of solving, in the long term, the agriculture problem that faces our country.

I think we ought to address the issue. Right now of course it is a disaster. My colleagues have spoken of areas where there is no income, where expenses and bills are piling up, where bankers and indeed the government's own Farm Credit Corporation are asking for the money and farmers do not have the ability to pay it back. It is in fact a desperate situation.

I suppose there is another way we can look at it. What would we as members of parliament do if at the end of the month we did not get a paycheque, then did not get one the next month or the month after? Then the banks would want to take our houses for not paying the mortgages, or the gas or electricity would be shut off because we were not paying the bills. We can see how quickly we would become desperate. That is where many farmers are today. They are without an income or a hope of an income and are literally facing personal disaster.

I want to mention a few things the government should do. One is with respect to user fees, which have really shot up for farmers. There is some justification for charging users the fees for these services that are supplied by government, but the fact of the matter is that these services for which fees are charged in the case of agriculture are good not only for the farmers. They are in fact for every Canadian. We should question whether or not we should charge excessive user fees to farmers when every citizen in the country is the beneficiary of the services such as food inspections and things like that supplied by the government.

I am thinking of another one that the government should do immediately. It could be done tomorrow if we had the political will to do it, and that is to have a motion that says effective tonight, or if we want to be generous take it to the weekend or the end of the month, as of October 1 we could have no more fuel tax on farm fuel. Why can we not take away that excise tax? No, the Liberal government seems to be quite content not only to charge excise tax on fuel used by farmers but then to charge GST on the excise tax itself, besides charging GST on the cost of the fuel. It is actually charging farmers, like all Canadians, a tax on a tax and it does not feel badly about it. I sometimes wonder whether government members have any conscience at all.

I think very seriously about the whole issue of trade. We presumably have an open border between the United States and Canada with the free trade agreement, except for food products. We can imagine how frustrating that is to farmers who, having a product in the bin which has value and which they can sell, are forced by the law in the country to sell only to the wheat board, but the wheat board is not buying it. They are prevented from pulling a truck up to the bin, loading their own product into the truck and taking it to a market where they could sell it. I have spoken to more than one farmer who has been in that situation. It is atrocious that in this country farmers do not have the freedom to sell their products to whomever will give them the price they are ready to sell it for. That is how the marketplace works. It works that way in every other area.

In my little town I have a number of different grocery stores to which I can go. I can choose to buy my food at Safeway or IGA. I should not have started the list. The others will be upset if I do not complete it. There is Save-on-Foods. We have all these different marketers of food. I cannot believe that farmers cannot also choose who to sell to. They should be able to make a deal. If somebody is willing to pay the price and they are willing to sell the product, let them go and do it.

I am thinking of organic farming, another area where farmers would like to break free. Can they do that? No. At every turn they have impediments from the government in regard to growing and marketing their products. In fact the wheat board will not handle organic food as a separate commodity and yet farmers are required to sell their grain to the wheat board. That is ridiculous.

I can see nothing wrong with continuing to have the wheat board, but we should make participation in it free. If a farmer gets the best price from the wheat board let him sell his product to the wheat board, but if he can get a better price elsewhere who are we in this country to pass a law to prevent him from doing that?

We should be thinking of some other things. When we go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread for around $1.20, depending upon where we are, the farmer gets about six or 10 cents. We could add just a little to the cost of food and give the farmer a fair market price.

There are many things that can be done. I am very sad that my time is up because I am only half done, but it will hold for another time.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Canadian Alliance Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Chairman, I am going to talk about Saskatchewan. Only nine per cent of the earth's surface is suitable for the production of food. Saskatchewan has more than 65 million acres of agricultural land which consists of cultivated land and grazing land. This represents 39% of Canada's total. We produce 38% of the primary agricultural exports. It is important for people to realize that Saskatchewan is a major producer.

The member across the way talked about the wheat board and how he was among those who helped form the Canadian Wheat Board. He is from Ontario and I am very surprised. He made reference to being an elected official responsible to constituents. I see the wheat board more like a committee where there are eight Liberals and seven opposition members with all the powerful positions being in that area. The Canadian Wheat Board has 10 elected and five appointed members. It is dominated and it is more like a committee than like being responsible to constituents.

I did have a speech but I prefer to raise this issue and if I had the cheque here, I would table it. A farmer wanted to buy school clothes and supplies this fall. He took his 2,100 bushels of wheat to the elevator and the cheque he got had three zeros, it was for $0.00.

I am not going to get into numbers, but these are some of the costs that came off. He had to pay for weighing and inspection, CWB/FAF deductions, elevation, terminal cleaning, and rail freight which was $1,430.74. In Saskatchewan we pay a lot more for freight than most other provinces. Then there was an advance refund. It was really nice to see that our minister of agriculture gave him an advance in the spring, but it was taken off his first truckload of wheat to the elevator this fall. Was that done with the Bombardier loan guarantees? Is it taken off the first plane that goes out? The farmer also had to pay for coordinated trucking, accounts receivable, which the farmer owed for chemicals he used in the spring and charged to his account, and there was a deferred amount that is an accommodation for the farmer. He had 2,100 bushels of wheat and got a cheque for zero dollars.

As the member for Elk Island mentioned, one bushel of wheat is worth $3.18 and produces 42 pounds of flour, enough to make 68 or 72 loaves of bread. Imagine how many loaves of bread have been made with that 2,100 bushels of wheat. In Saskatchewan we have grown up to five billion, accounting for 47% of Saskatchewan's total exports. That is our contribution to agriculture. We are stuck with approximately $15,000 per year per farm operation for transportation. Revenue user fees have gone up as much as 300% over the past years.

Those things are real. It is not just about saving the family farm anymore. It is about saving an industry.

I have a friend who was widowed at 40 years of age with four children, from nine to 15 years of age. When her husband died they were in bad shape on their farm. They had just gone through the Trudeau years, during which farming really suffered. She almost lost the farm but she learned to drive the tractor, she took a course, her kids took up farming and they decided to save the farm.

However she was hit with kidney disease and needed a kidney transplant. Her boys have helped her by taking over the farm. They now have to work up north in the oil fields to help save the family farm. She saved it by going back and learning how to drive a tractor. These kids will save it by going up north. It is not just up north, it is where nobody wants to go.

I want to make the point that it is about more than saving the family farm. We are talking about an industry. Saskatchewan should be more respected. When I hear how Saskatchewan gets all of these numbers of dollars, I challenge the minister of agriculture to show me the money. We have not seen it yet.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Chairman, I want to express my gratitude for having a chance to once again speak to the issue of the farm crisis and the agriculture industry crisis. It is such an important thing.

I hope that the one Liberal who is here listening to the speeches, and the one who just came in, the two in this big majority government, will try to take some messages back to their colleagues. They are the ones who are in a position to do something about it. We feel like we are not talking to anybody. They certainly do not respond to anything.

Mr. Chairman, I want to say to you that it is a pleasure that you asked how the elk, the deer and the bear are doing in my riding. One of the places that attracts a lot of people to my riding is the Lake Louise and Banff region. I can understand why they go there because if it is not the most beautiful spot in Canada, then it is one of the most beautiful. It is certainly worth venturing there. There are 25,000 square kilometres in my riding and those kinds of areas represent only about 20%. The other 80%, a big chunk of it, belongs to the agriculture industry.

Driving through Lake Louise and Banff and continuing eastward for approximately 450 miles we get to the eastern side of my riding. We come to a couple of small towns. Cluny is one and Gleichen and Hussar are others. What we see in this area today is absolutely devastating.

My wife and I drove to Gleichen. We drove out to the rural areas and stopped our car. I got out and took a walk into a field of grain which was stubble about six inches high with droopy heads that were not filling out. The cracks in the ground were anywhere from an inch to three inches wide and went all the way through the fields. Literally thousands, if not millions, of grasshoppers were flying in front of my face. It is a terrible thing to see. These people are absolutely devastated and do not know what to do. It is a drastic situation.

I have read comments by the members of the Liberal government who go out there. The minister responsible for the wheat board said “You have got to diversify”. We hear this comment a lot. I do not know what crop it is that they could grow that does not need moisture, that does not need water.

I have heard it said that they need to get into livestock. That whole area out there is surrounded with dugouts that are usually full of water where animals and livestock can drink, but the dugouts are dry. The ducks and geese that used to reside and nest on the dugouts are no longer there because there is no water. It is bad.

The day before yesterday I got a call from the riding and the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius. That is very unusual. It is nearly October. Yesterday it was up to about 28 degrees, the wind was blowing and the dust storms are unbelievable.

When I drove through there this summer, there were a couple of very windy days. It was like the panhandle of Oklahoma where the dust blows out of Oklahoma on its way to Texas and then when the wind changes direction it blows back from Texas to Oklahoma. The clouds were totally grey and black and we could not see the sun because of the dust that was flying around.

I went to a family reunion this summer. When we drove across the Salt Lake desert we saw more green there than we did in that portion of my riding. That shows how serious it is.

I think people understand the seriousness of it. We have to get off this kick that we have the programs in place that are working because what those people do not understand is that it is not getting into the hands of the people who are suffering, the people who are trying to make a go of things. It is not getting there.

They brought in the application forms required to be filled out for AIDA. They would need the help of 17 Philadelphia lawyers to fill out the forms. They had to hire accountants and try to find some professionals to help them fill out the documents, and when they apply they never get anything. They never get anywhere.

I do not know where all the money is going. I have not found anybody in my riding in that predicament who has received a cent.

There are solutions to all kind of situations that come up in agriculture but first we have to recognize that it is the most important industry in the country. I do not know if any of my colleagues agree with me, but it does not come across to me that the government puts the emphasis and priority on agriculture, not just in my riding in Alberta but all across the country.

Not only that, when we look at what is going on today, Mr. Chairman, those very mountains that you were talking about, where the elk and the deer roam, at this time of the year the mountains are usually solid white but they are not. They are grey and brown. There is no snow coming. That is going to hurt other industries, but I am not here to talk about them tonight. I am here to talk about the agriculture industry.

We need a cash injection. That is something we could do with. The question is, where are we going to get the money?

Let me help. I am no expert in the budgeting but the ministers who sit in the front row have departments they are responsible for. They know what their budgets are. I think they need to draw back a little and ask where their portfolios are in the list of priorities.

We know that with the tragic events on September 11 security is certainly one of them. Our defence is certainly another one. We have to take a good look at agriculture because food is pretty essential. We talk about air and water. We know what the essentials are, but food is very essential.

There has to be a cash injection. Maybe they need to wear down the erasers on their pencils when they start passing out money.

The public accounts are coming out and I find it amazing that the ministers are still keeping up to their commitments. Billions of dollars are going into different programs, most of which are nice things to do. When things are going well, I would support keeping those kind of things flowing in those areas that are nice things to do, but we are in a situation where the higher priority areas are suffering. Perhaps we could shuffle some of that money around in a different direction. Put it to an essential cause.

When we go further into the public accounts and see where they are spending the money, it gets to the point of ridiculousness. The absolute stupidity of spending millions of dollars in areas that we cannot understand what the devil they are even thinking about.

I suppose $165,000 sounds like peanuts but it is only a small example of the many projects the government spends money on. My pet one now that I am 65 years old is this wonderful committee on seniors and sexuality. Boy does that make me feel good that I now qualify as a senior and somebody is out there looking after my sex life with tax dollars. A good Liberal program. That is only one example. We could find hundreds of them in the public accounts.

Why do we not direct some of this money at places that deal with essential things? We cannot find anything more essential than food.

Along with that is another essential item. In order to produce food, we need moisture. We need to see what we can do about that. There are excellent irrigation programs. We can start working toward getting something into place in areas that are capable of handling that. I think we could improve on that. At the same time there is the cost of energy. We cannot produce food without energy. They are the two most important items; they go hand in hand.

When I farmed way back in the 1960s, I got as much for a bushel of barley then as they get today. I can guarantee the input cost for energy was not anywhere near what it is now.

Let us address the energy problem. Let us do what we can to relieve our farmers and producers of the headaches of where they are going to get the money to buy fertilizer, where they are going to get the money to pay for the power and how they are going to afford their fuel. What can we do?

I appreciate the two Liberals being here. However I am disappointed that in a crisis of this nature, faced with the essential task of feeding 31 million Canadians and keeping our commitment to the hungry in rest of the world, members are not all here demanding that we stay seated until we come up with resolutions that will solve the problem or at least head in that direction. I am afraid I will wake up tomorrow morning and ask myself what it was all worth because nothing will have changed.

I will make one last comment before I shut it down. Many do not want to diversify. They want value added goods and the wheat board is a hindrance to that possibility. Let us think about that and look at what we can do in those areas.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario


Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Chairman, as members well know, I am from an urban riding next to Toronto and am one of the two Liberals who happen to be in House right now. However members have been taking care of their work and making calls. I was working in my office watching the debate and I wanted to come here for a good reason: to show my support.