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House of Commons Hansard #6 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the amendment lost.

The next question is on Motion No. 2A under Government Business.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you were to seek it you would find consent in the House that those who voted on the immediately previous motion be recorded as voting on the motion now before the House with Liberal members voting yes.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there consent to proceed in this fashion?

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Canadian Alliance Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Canadian Alliance will vote no to this motion.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Quebecois vote no on this motion.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the members of the NDP vote no on this motion.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Progressive Conservative Party will vote no to this motion. I would also ask that the member for Fundy—Royal be included in this vote as no with his party.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Independent

Ghislain Lebel Independent Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to vote no on the motion, like the Bloc Quebecois.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Guy Carignan Liberal Québec East, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to vote in favour of this motion.

(The House divided on Motion 2A, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

The next question is on Motion No. 2B under Government Business.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you were to seek it that you would find consent in the House that this motion be deemed adopted on division.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed?

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion, 2B agreed to)

Committee Business and Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the farmers' situation in western Canada.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

moved:

That the House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, my party and I sought this emergency debate to raise the critical situation facing Canadian agriculture today.

I will be sharing my time in the debate with my colleague from Brandon—Souris.

In August, Statistics Canada indicated that wheat production in western Canada will be at its lowest level in 28 years. That is due in large part to the severe drought on the Prairies yet again this year. On many farms an infestation of grasshoppers further damaged what meagre crops did grow. My colleague from Brandon—Souris and I walked the fields in Allan, Saskatchewan in late July where the grasshoppers literally outnumbered the green peas and where weeks of relentless heat had shrivelled crops too low to combine.

Canadians across the country watched nightly news stories about cattle producers having to sell off their herds, often having to sell off their breeding stock because they did not have enough grass to graze the herds or forage to feed them.

In the best tradition of Canada, farmers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada organized the Hay West campaign and shipped hay out west. I commend those Canadians for their initiative and their generosity. I have to note that the government's participation in this effort was minimal and it was slow.

New figures released only last Friday by Statistics Canada show that crop conditions have continued to deteriorate in western Canada. The report states:

After struggling with one of the worst droughts on record, western farmers encountered heavy rains and freezing temperatures in August and September... Some seeds waiting to be harvested sprouted, rendering them useless for any purpose other than for animal feed. Other cereal grains were stained or bleached by the rain, making them less suitable for milling and decreasing their value. During this type of weather, plants do not dry, delaying harvest and increasing the probability of frost damage.

Canadians in cities might miss just how tragic this is and what it means. Total wheat production is expected to fall from 20.6 million tonnes to 15.5 million tonnes, that is down 25%; barley production will drop by 29% this year; canola by 33%; field peas by 30%; and rye by 50%. While production is down, prices are up. Unfortunately, many Canadian farmers do not have the quality to fetch the high prices that the falling global supply for wheat is demanding.

The federal government announced new bridge funding of $600 million last spring. Glacier funding would be a better term than bridge funding. By last week, months after the announcement, that money was not reaching the farmers who need it. Indeed, by sheer coincidence, the very date we applied for this emergency debate the government began to send out the cheques. Some producers who do not have NISA accounts will not be able to access the bridge funding in any event.

Since 1996, Canada has lost 30,000 farmers. The census on agriculture has confirmed that more and more producers are packing up their dreams and simply moving off the land. Farm debt has grown to $15 billion between 1993 and 2000. Over 4,000 Canadian farms have declared bankruptcy.

Support levels remain very high in competing countries. Over past years that drove prices down. Canadian farmers fight the weather, they fight pestilence and they fight high subsidies in other countries.

The federal government can do much better than it has. I am proud to have been part of a government that ensured agriculture was a priority department. In 1988, when there was a severe drought, we responded with over $900 million for livestock and grain producers. That funding would be over $1.2 billion in today's dollars. Between 1988 and 1993, $800 million was paid to Canadian farmers through the Canadian drought assistance program. In the 1991-92 fiscal year alone, federal assistance to agriculture for income support was over $3.4 billion. That is one year and federal support only. Compare that to the new agricultural framework policy that the Prime Minister announced last June, $5.2 billion over six years, including the minister's glacier funds.

Farmers need a reasonable and reliable basis on which to plan. The government needs a quick and supple program to help respond to the disasters and the emergencies that are becoming more commonplace.

We need a long term disaster relief program so farmers will know there is money in the bank when they need it. The hon. member for Brandon—Souris proposes an ongoing fund of $600 million for disaster relief alone.

There has been enough wasted money by the Liberal government to fund it: $500 million in cancellation charges of the EH-101 helicopters; $101 million in new, unnecessary Challenger jets; and $400 million in additional costs to split the contract to replace the Sea King helicopters. That is a billion dollars alone that could go to agriculture.

An independent form of disaster relief would allow farmers to recover lost inputs, such as the price of feed, when harvests are poor due to a natural disaster or disasters such as drought, which are not normally covered by crop insurance.

In addition to dealing with the initial effects of a crisis, disaster relief would also help in maintaining fields after a disaster, in order to renew their production capacity. Money is often needed to establish infrastructure that could help in preventing another disaster, or to mitigate its effects.

We also need to review how such an assistance program would be funded. Currently, federal program costs are shared equally with the provinces at a 60:40 ratio.

When a disaster hits, like the drought did this summer, often the provinces most affected are the ones whose chief revenue comes from agriculture. Is it fair to expect a province that is already being hit hard with declining revenues because of the disaster to pony up the 40% required for the disaster relief program? Should we not be looking at some type of an equalization program for agricultural disasters?

Farmers already do that. The Hay West program, sending from one part of the country where production was good to another part of the country where production was poor, happened whether the government was going to be involved or not. Can we not develop a disaster relief fund that does not further punish the provinces that are already hurting?

We should support agriculture in this country because a viable agriculture industry is one of Canada's great national assets. Maintaining a viable agriculture industry is about neither special interests nor nostalgia. It is about guaranteeing Canada's secure supplies of safe food and harnessing the innovation of an industry that brings vitality to rural Canada. It is very much about the future of the country.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the right hon. member for Calgary Centre for applying for this very important emergency debate in the House.

I have had the opportunity to travel across western Canada with the right hon. member for Calgary Centre. I find that he understands the issues and the seriousness of the issues. He understands how it affects people in communities far afield from Ottawa and urban centres. I do appreciate his assistance in bringing this issue forward to make sure there is a profile and that people do understand the seriousness of the issue.

I would also like to thank the Speaker who ruled in favour of having this emergency debate. In his jurisdiction he believes very strongly that there is a need to make sure that we put forward some positive ideas to the Minister of Agriculture who I appreciate is listening to the debate on these issues and opinions this evening.

I have been a member of the House since 1997 and nine emergency debates have been allowed. I can assure hon. members that every one of those debates were taken on the seriousness of the issue. Since 1997 six of the nine emergency debates in the House dealt with agriculture. Is that because of bad luck? Is it because of mismanagement? Or is it because there is no direction with this particular department?

The emergency debates were not about health. They were not about justice. They were not about immigration. There were about agriculture. One has to ask the question: Why is it that department particularly has not been able to deal with the issues? These issues continually come forward and yet nothing has been put into place to deal with it.

This debate is going on today for two reasons. First, it is to raise the profile and recognize that there is a serious issue in agriculture, particularly in those areas that have been affected by this severe drought, which some of my constituents have said, that has never been seen before in the history of the country. We succeeded in raising that profile.

Unfortunately, members who live outside my constituency or constituencies in western Canada, particularly in urban areas, believe that the problem has been fixed. The minister and the Prime Minister stood up and said that $5.2 billion would be going to agriculture. People came to me and asked me what the problem was. They said that the farmers received $5.2 billion in the APF fund and that should be enough to satisfy them.

What they did not tell us was that they played with numbers. It is a five year program. It is a program that has only $600 million that will be applied toward the drought assistance that is necessary in western Canada. Alberta alone put in $325 million for one province because that was needed in that particular area with drought assistance. That $600 million sounds like a lot of money but across the country it does not work.

Hay West did a wonderful job of bringing forward the profile of what was required in western Canada. The problem is that when people saw that on television they said that must fix the problem. An hon. member was very instrumental and involved in the Hay West program in Alberta. The fact of the matter is that is less than 1% of the problem is being repaired by Hay West. We thank them very much but where was the government with some sort of disaster assistance, with feed requirements and feed subsidies, so those people could feed their cattle and in fact look forward to maintaining their herds this year and perhaps into next year?

The major reason for this debate is so we can profile this and tell Canadians that the problem have not been fixed. The $600 million is not even a start to fixing the problem.

The second thing was NISA. We heard the minister say that he would put $600 million in the NISA accounts of producers and that would be the save all and be all. NISA will probably end up at about $6,500 to $8,000 per user, which is peanuts in the big scheme of things, particularly when Alberta put $325 million itself into one particular jurisdiction.

Let me tell hon. members what the stakeholders think about NISA accounts.

“There continue to be serious accessibility problems,” committee co-chair Bob Friesen said Sept. 28. “The government needs to respond to this”.

On September 28 the minister announced that he was still going ahead with an ill advised distribution of money into NISA accounts. I have a letter from a constituent in my area who says that because he had not shown a profit or had any income over the last three years he could not get a NISA account. If people cannot get a NISA account they cannot have part of the $600 million that the minister is so generously putting into the farm account. What we would like to do today other than bring profile to the issue is convince the government that there has to be a change in attitude.

My leader talked about a disaster relief program. There has been a disaster in agriculture every year for the last five years. Every year there has been an ad hoc program from the government that resolves nothing.

I would like to share something with the House which comes from a member of the minister's own staff. I hate to say it but I was a bit of a prophet back on April 30. I asked the staff member if the government was looking at the possibility of a mitigating program for the potential drought that could happen in western Canada. I told the staff member that there may not be a drought, but asked if we should not be proactive. I asked if there should not be a plan in case there was a drought. The answer was that crop insurance would look after everything.

I then asked the same staff member if he had approached the government to ask for more money in case there was a drought. His answer was no, there was enough in programs right now to satisfy the problems that would be created by a drought.

This year there will be in excess of $3 billion taken out of crop insurance. In Saskatchewan alone there has been an uptake of claims of $1 billion. Saskatchewan has, through reserves and through premiums, about $500 million. There will be a shortfall in Saskatchewan alone of $500 million this year in crop insurance. How is crop insurance going to cover off a $500 million shortfall? The last time there was a shortfall in the Saskatchewan crop insurance it took 13 years to pay it back. It was a loan from both the provincial and federal governments. There is a $500 million shortfall and it is not over yet, and there could well be more claims. In western Canada $3 billion will come out of crop insurance this year. Although there is no money in crop insurance this staff member says it can take care of everything.

The government has to think out of the box. We have had a serious problem in agriculture and it has not been resolved by the government or the ministry. The government needs to get a natural disaster program and make it available to the people who really need it on an annual basis. That is what we are talking about. Until that happens the government will continue with an ad hoc program that will not resolve any of the issues.

We need to have an affordable safety net program available to the provinces as was alluded to by my leader. Provinces, particularly Saskatchewan and Manitoba, cannot afford to put dollars into a program when they are not generating revenue from their agricultural economy. There has to be some thinking outside the box. There has to be some sort of an equalization program with provinces that cannot do that. Alberta gave $325 million because it can, and good for it. It recognizes the need to support its agriculture industry. Ontario did the same thing recently. It came up with $73 million to put into the hands of farmers because it can do it. Should we, as a government, not allow other provinces to support their agriculture industry even though they cannot financially support them right now? That is a responsibility of the government and the ministry.

I have to get a comment in from my good friend from St. John's West. There are issues not just in western Canada but issues across this country. The environment is a major one in my colleague's constituency as well as mine. There are also some issues with land costs, and I know we can deal with those. The real issue is to get the minister and his ministry on side so they can support agriculture like it has to be supported or we will not have it in this country in the very near future.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

8:50 p.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings Ontario

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I welcome the opportunity to make some comments tonight. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Erie--Lincoln.

I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the situation in agriculture today. The government has and will continue to build on that support for our industry. There is no question, when one is working in a risky and weather related industry such as agriculture, that there are weather stresses and other stresses from time to time.

The role of governments and the role of individual producers is to mitigate those and be as well prepared as we possibly can because we know that weather, in particular, changes. We had some large areas in western Canada this year that had shortages of moisture. We have had areas and still have areas in Canada this year that have too much moisture. We have some areas in Canada this year that are not too bad as far as moisture and temperature is concerned. It is a big country.

The right hon. member and his colleague from Brandon--Souris were talking about playing with numbers. They need to use all the numbers that are there. As far as the announcement that I made about the $600 million was part of the June announcement that the Prime Minister and I made. I said shortly after that money would flow to farmers in October. They did not believe me. They did not want it to happen because it would mean that I was telling them a fact. It started to flow on October 4 and about 25,000 cheques or deposits a day are going into accounts out there.

Farmers can access that money. It is based on their eligible net sales and, without question, by far the majority of farmers have eligible net sales. I would like every farmer to have a profit but those payments are based on eligible net sales and there is a formula that calculates that. That is on top of the crop insurance payments that will be going out this year across Canada.

There is over $2 billion in crop insurance payments. It is on top of the $500 million that is available, and will be, through the Canadian farm income program this year. We must realize that there is $1 billion available in the net income stabilization accounts for farmers that has been triggered. There is $3.4 billion in the accounts altogether, but about $1 billion has been triggered.

There are other programs such as the interest free loans with up to $700 million in total across the country this spring. These are interest free loans to help farmers put their crops in the ground. There is the advance payment for crops where farmers, in order to maintain and receive the best prices in marketing their products, are able to borrow and pay back on that as they sell their crops this year.

I could go on. There are a lot of approaches that we have taken. The right hon. member mentioned the amount of money that his government put forward to support farmers and I am glad. However I do not want to embarrass him again by reminding him of the annual deficits that that contributed to while his government was in power because I know he is embarrassed by that when he has to recognize it.

We must take the responsibility. When I look at the extra money we have received I want to put it into perspective. I want to tell the story as it really is. We now have, after the announcement in June, not $600 million available for crop insurance and NISA payments. It is now going to be more than double what that was. That is what it was up until that announcement. Now it will be $1.1 billion a year for those programs to work with the industry and the provinces.

We are in ongoing discussions, as the industry wanted us to be, on how we can make the crop insurance program work more effectively than in the past and how the NISA program can work more effectively as in the past as risk management. We are making investments, as we said in June of this year, in other areas to strengthen our industry as well.

These are areas such as the $54.5 million to address the concerns that the industry has for minor use pesticide registration; $100 million for environmental farm plans; $10 million into green cover programs; and an increase of $150 million in marketing support. Approximately 48% of the average farm gate dollar in this country comes to our farmers because of exports and we need to continue to work with the industry, the provinces and farmers to promote their products.

There was $80 million in national water projects and water expansion. There was $55 million put into rural partnership programs and even more money than that put into community development. We have been working, and will continue to work, with the industry to strengthen it and help to mitigate the challenges that are out there.

I want to thank the volunteers who instigated the Hay West program. I get a little upset when people say that it was not meaningful. It was certainly meaningful to those who received hay. Everybody did not receive hay. The federal government rented 377 cars and paid for the fumigation of the hay. This was a project and a result that showed how Canada can and really does work. Individual hay producers in this case as well as individuals who wanted to help gave money from their own pockets. There were corporate donations as well to give some relief to producers in western Canada who were suffering from drought.

We announced the tax deferral earlier than we ever have before to assist producers who had to sell off some of their breeding stock so they did not have to pay taxes. They could defer taxes on some of the sale from their breeding stock until a year when it was more applicable or more suitable for them to do so and they would not be penalized for doing so.

As we have already heard, we have had droughts before. We have had excess rains before. That will probably happen again. It will be repeated; that is agriculture. That is mother nature; it comes in cycles, unfortunately. That is why we will continue to work with the provinces and the industry.

Mention has been made that some provinces have put their money forward and other provinces cannot. I would ask the members to look at the way in which some of the provinces say they will not come forward with the 40% to go with the $600 million that the federal government has put forward in transition payment. By the way there will be another $600 million next year along with all the rest that is there.

I would ask members to take a look at the contribution and the investment that some of those provinces have made, one of them in particular that I do not think I have to name. Look at how they have made their contributions and support to agriculture over the last number of years and with very few blips. There is a percentage of investment into agriculture which has been on a steady downward decline. They then expect everybody else to do it. We are doing it the same across the country. The provinces are at liberty to do that. Some provinces have made the decision that they do not wish to support agriculture to the extent they did in the past. They have chosen to use the investments or the money in their budgets for things other than agriculture.

We will continue to work with the industry. I appreciate the opportunity to remind everybody that we are not done yet. We know that there is work to be done. We know that it takes the involvement of everybody. The determination is there to do so. The demonstration is clear and evident that we must continue.

As the hon. member was speaking a few minutes ago, I wrote down the different extra amounts of money, above and beyond what was budgeted since I became minister: $900 million, $240 million, $100-plus million, $500 million, $500 million, $500 million, $600 million and $600 million.

Then there was the program spending on top of that, which was announced this summer. It is a considerable sum of money. We will continue to work with the industry to place that in investment well to support the industry which it richly deserves.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk about what the government is doing to develop solid environmental programs which help support the sustainability of our natural resources and to mitigate the impact of unforeseen weather events such as drought. Governments cannot make it rain but they can help lessen the effects of drought. That is exactly what our government is doing.

Working together with all stakeholders, the Government of Canada is helping to enhance the agricultural sector's ability to better manage environmental resources, improve public access to secure supplies of quality water, adapt to climate change and support practices that will ensure good soil and water quality.

Good farming goes hand in hand with sound environmental practices. That is why environment is a key element of the agricultural policy framework. This new plan developed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments along with industry and other interested Canadians aims to secure the profitability and prosperity of the agriculture and agrifood sector for the 21st century.

On June 20 the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food committed $5.2 billion toward the agricultural policy framework.

Of this investment, $600 million in federal funding will be delivered this year through NISA. This money started flowing into producers' NISA accounts last Friday. The agricultural policy framework, which is now ratified by most of the provinces and territories, sets out integrated action around food safety and food quality, environment, science and innovation, and the renewal of the sector. It also calls for the development of a new generation of business risk management tools to help producers better manage risks like drought.

For the environment, the framework aims to increase the use of environmental farm plans and regional environmental management plans. It will also accelerate the management practices such as decreasing the number of bare soil days on farmland, increasing conservation tillage and improving management of riparian areas, grazing lands and water.

Simply put, it will result in action on the farm. By doing so the agricultural policy framework will help to increase the long term sustainability of our farm operations in both drought and non-drought years. This approach builds on the progress already being made through programs and practices that guard against drought and that incorporate weather conditions and other environmental considerations into farmers' day to day planning and risk management.

This summer our government announced a $110 million initiative for Greencover to assist farmers in converting economically marginal farmland to alternate uses, while improving the management of forage, rangeland and critical habitat areas. An additional $80 million will be allocated to support drought mitigation measures. This funding provides for water supply expansion programs to reduce the risk of future water shortages through the development of secure water resources. It also helps in the acceleration of a national land and water information service to provide analysis and interpretation of water data needed to make improved agricultural land and water management decisions.

Furthermore, in June the federal government announced $54.5 million in funding for minor use pesticides. The program will allow for faster registration of more environmentally friendly minor use pesticides, and improved availability of reduced risk products to help protect our environment, particularly water.

The tender fruit producers and horticulturalists in my riding of Erie--Lincoln, indeed growers throughout Ontario, were most appreciative of this announcement. In fact the chair of AGCare, Mary Lou Garr, one of my constituents, commented, “These changes are extremely important to the environmental and competitive sustainability of Canadian farmers”. They certainly are.

This followed the announcement in May of $7.3 million for risk reduction activities and the introduction of safer products under the new Pest Control Products Act. This fall the government will be consulting key stakeholders on the program details.

The Government of Canada is also working toward more environmentally friendly farms through environmental farm plan programs. In June we announced $100 million for farmers over a four year period to help increase implementation of environmental farm plans. This announcement is part of the bridge funding package to help accelerate the goals of the agricultural policy framework. All EFP programs will promote a holistic approach and will be implemented across Canada.

Since the dust bowl days of the 1930s, the work of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, or PFRA, has vastly improved farmers' ability to cope with the unexpected forces of nature. Through increased knowledge, advances in technology and better management practices, PFRA has been able to significantly lessen the effects of drought. On a practical level this means specifically designed dugouts that help farmers withstand two years of drought and irrigation systems of dams and reservoirs that supply water to farmers. When a drought occurs or reoccurs as it did this past summer, sound soil conservation practices become crucial.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is working with other stakeholders to develop and promote management practices such as conservation tillage, which keeps moisture in the ground and prevents soil from blowing away; chemical summerfallow, which lets the roots of the previous year's growth trap moisture; nutrient management plans; grassed waterways; grazing management of pastures; cross-slope cultivation; and contour cropping.

In addition to Greencover, the Government of Canada is also investing $4 million over five years for the shelterbelt enhancement program. This initiative is designed to reduce greenhouse gases through increased shelterbelt plantings on agricultural lands across the prairies. The shelterbelt enhancement program will also help fulfill Canada's commitment to the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gases by increasing the organic carbon stored in soil and vegetation. It can also mitigate the effects of drought by reducing wind erosion and trapping snow for water conservation. These practices also reduce soil disturbance, increase crop yield and enhance the efficiency of fertilizers.

Since the agri-food industry has the potential to be affected on a large scale by climate change caused by greenhouse gases, we are looking at ways the industry can be part of the solution. Therefore the federal government is also encouraging and helping producers to reduce greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane. They are admitted into the atmosphere from farming.

The Government of Canada, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, is taking active measures to provide Canadians with a healthier environment, higher quality of life and preservation of our natural resources.

In conclusion, the government will continue to support our farmers and the efforts they have made to reduce the impact of drought in our country. Through the efforts and good stewardship of farmers, through the programs we have established in the past and the promise of a new approach to our environmental responsibilities, we will successfully mitigate the effects of this drought.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9:10 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian AllianceLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address the House on this very serious issue facing Canada's farmers, the drought, the lack of adequate funding and the minimal response by the federal government to a sector in deep crisis.

Agriculture and agrifood is one of the leading contributors to Canada's trade surplus and our gross domestic product. These industries contribute over $26 billion in exports. Many of the commodities are returning a positive net income, but farm families are continuing to struggle with factors outside their control such as drought and foreign subsidies.

One would think with all the challenges facing Canadian farmers the Liberal government would be burning the midnight oil to come up with some solutions but this summer, other than giving contracts to their friends, it seems the Liberals spent the summer completely preoccupied with the power struggle over leadership within their party. There has been precious little sign of caring, compassion or concern for what farmers and ranchers have been facing over the past few months.

We in western Canada are all very appreciative that private citizens did show a lot of concern. The Hay West initiative from many parts of eastern Canada was a tremendous act of Canadians caring for other Canadians. It was genuinely appreciated in western Canada. Even if ultimately the amounts of hay are small in terms of the total problem, it really does go to show that farm families are a very special breed of Canadian.

This summer our members were travelling around the Prairies, the member for Selkirk—Interlake, our agriculture critic the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, the member for Crowfoot, and I could speak of many others. They have been overwhelmed, I think is the way to put it, by the emotional stories of worry, anxiety, anger, sadness and despair that they have found on the Prairies.

I must be honest in saying that I did not quite find the same thing everywhere I went. I had a strange summer in that wherever I spoke this summer on the Prairies, it rained, including in the drought-stricken areas. I was actually caught in a torrential downpour.

The government is claiming that with the Kyoto accord it can control the weather. I can assure it that we do not necessarily have to have Kyoto to do that.

The land this summer has been drier than it was in the dust bowl of the 1930s. This has affected farmers in areas that were not affected by drought. For instance, my brother-in-law had a cattle herd in an area not affected by drought, but because of the extreme effect the drought had on feed prices, he ultimately had to reduce his herd just the same, so it has affected all farmers.

Some 75% of Alberta's farmland suffered from drought, no grain, no barley, no hay. Farmers have been forced to sell their future by sending the breeding stock to auction. Thousands face for the first time in 100 years a fall without any harvest at all. Of course, farmers have been fighting to save the farms that have been in the family for over three generations.

How would our party be different if we had the chance to be government and take care of this? In the short time I have, I will go over a number of measures we would take.

First, we would put in place a meaningful plan for disaster relief. It seems that each time a natural disaster strikes, the federal government is completely unprepared to respond. Step one is to ensure there is a disaster component to the agricultural safety net.

In June the federal government announced the $600 million it was making available to farmers through the agriculture policy framework as bridge funding until the start of the safety nets in the APF slated for April 1. Not only did it take the government nearly two months to determine the method of distribution for this money, but it also completely ignored the advice of almost every farm group not to use NISA as the delivery vehicle.

Farmers who need to access the money may not be able to do so because they cannot trigger their accounts. The minister claims that NISA money began to flow to farmers on Friday. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of farm families will not have access to money until later this year, if at all.

The Canadian Alliance would ensure that every farmer would get a fair share. Under our plan of action farmers would receive the payments through a direct cheque within a couple of months of the announcement.

Second, the crop insurance program, while a useful risk management tool for farmers, is not meeting the needs of producers in drought areas. It must be improved to allow for greater flexibility and coverage for producers who are facing total crop failure.

The crop insurance program is facing a $2 billion payout this year. This is going to result in higher premiums, possibly as much as 50% higher. Farmers need this program but cannot afford these kinds of increased premiums.

Finally, the Canadian Alliance would extend the tax deferral program from one year to five years for farmers who are forced to sell their breeding stock because of the drought. As well, the one year tax deferral program should be extended to producers who are forced to sell two years of feeder calf production in a single year.

I will summarize those quickly: provide immediate aid by adding a disaster component to the agricultural safety net, improve crop insurance and extend the tax deferral program. Those are short term measures. We need to take an in the longer run view, though. In the longer term we need new approaches that the government simply has not been willing to pursue. We need to challenge our trading partners, we need to compensate producers fighting trade injury and we need to change harmful government practices. Those are the three C's, if I can call them that: challenge, compensate and change.

Many of the most important issues facing Canadian agriculture are related to international trade, especially trade with our closest partner, the United States. Canada should be leading the fight for free trade in agriculture. For example, we should have already begun the process of challenging aspects of the protectionist U.S. farm bill, such as the imposition of mandatory country of origin labelling. Instead, the federal government seems to take a wait and see approach.

We also need to be more innovative in resolving agricultural trade disputes between Canada and the U.S. While the NAFTA and the WTO lay out some binding dispute resolution processes to deal with trade disagreements, dispute resolution can take years to complete, costing farmers on both sides of the border. The lengthy processes raise the need for rapid procedures that would give an opinion to guide decision makers and industry. The Canadian Alliance has proposed a rapid response process that could resolve trade disputes between our two countries in 90 days.

A well functioning process would not only save the agricultural industry money, but it would foster a greater level of trade unity between Canada and the United States. All of this would improve the income of our struggling farmers. There is a clear and current example of why this is needed. The U.S. is threatening to impose a tariff on Canadian wheat. This is the last thing our farmers need right now. The issue could have been resolved months ago if there was a forum for resolving disputes. It is time for the government to try and act on this front.

In addition to providing leadership on the trade side, the Canadian Alliance believes we must compensate producers who are fighting against the current trade injury being caused by our trading partners. We must push forward with trade negotiations and move to an agricultural environment that is free from government interference. Our government needs to take a strong stand at the ongoing World Trade Organization talks. We need to work together with like-minded countries, like the Cairns Group, to give our farmers freer trade in agriculture. There have been questions regarding Canada's commitment to this group. It would be a mistake for Canada to walk away from the Cairns Group forum.

Our farm families are depending upon our trade negotiators and we cannot afford to have our bargaining position weakened. However, we realize there is no way we will convince the U.S. and the EU to reverse protectionist measures in the short term. Canadian farmers must have protection, direct protection, trade injury protection and responsibility of the federal government, from the damaging foreign policies today.

The third arm of our agriculture policy deals with the need to change existing government policies and legislation that are harmful to agriculture. Many of these changes would cost the federal government nothing to implement, but would go a long way to improving the competitiveness of Canadian agriculture.

Let me give several examples: the ongoing labour dispute with the grain handlers at the Port of Vancouver; modifying the triggers on farmers' NISA accounts; ending the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board; protection from those who want to use the new animal cruelty bill to stop livestock production; lack of guaranteed compensation in the species at risk bill; ending unreasonable fish habitat regulations in inland regions; reducing the added costs of user fees and taxes on farm families; addressing the issue of tuberculosis in the wild elk herd, which is a particular problem in Manitoba and does not bode well for the government's ability to deal with similar crises in the future; tackling the lack of commercial grain handling and transportation system in Canada; and extending the money available to the water assistance programs, as well as the regions it applies to under the PFRA.

It has been indicated to me that my time is nearly up. Let me say that there are lots of things that could be done if we had an active government that was focused on these problems. It is time the government stops sitting on the sidelines wishing the problems facing agriculture away and coming up with fanciful solutions, like passing the Kyoto accord that will somehow cause there to be more rain. Canada's farm families need some real action now.

AgricultureEmergency Debate

9:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, tonight we are debating on an emergency basis the drought situation in western Canada, Saskatchewan and Alberta in particular.

However, I would like to point out that it is not only in western Canada where we have a drought. In four out of the last six years there has been extremely dry conditions in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. Southern Ontario also has a drought. Never has there been any special help for these farmers stricken by this drought. This year was a little more dramatic I suppose in the sense that there were gigantic acreages involved, due to the size of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

However the evidence is clear. The government has never taken drought as a serious issue that needs special measures. That was demonstrated again this year with the inaction of the Liberal government. The available $600 million was for agriculture policy framework bridge funding for all farmers across the country. That has nothing to do with the drought. Farmers need that program money to offset the low prices they were receiving due to foreign subsidies which were depressing the prices because of overproduction in those competing countries. That was exactly what we needed for the drought, but it did not come.

This is an all Canada thing, not just simply western Canada.

If we look at the Statistics Canada statistics for the next year, New Brunswick is expected to be down 19%, Quebec 31%, Ontario 31%, Manitoba 28% and Saskatchewan 73% in realized net income. This drop in realized net income will not be compensated in any way by the federal government, except for the limited agriculture policy framework money it is putting forward.

I distinctly remember the Prime Minister announcing that it would be $5.2 billion over six years. If anybody can divide and come out with $1.1 billion, which is what we are currently getting in a safety net program, then I believe that there will be more money under the agriculture policy framework. However there will be less money under the agriculture policy framework for safety nets than there is now.

Let us talk about what is happening in western Canada in regard to agriculture. Right now warrants of committal are being prepared to send wheat and barley farmers to jail. Some say, “That cannot be true. Why would any government send a farmer to jail?”

The fact is, these farmers wanted to sell their own wheat and barley and when they did it, they were arrested and charged for failing to obtain an export permit from the Canadian Wheat Board. Farmers in the rest of the country can get an export permit for nothing. They just go in and ask for it. They get it and they export at no extra cost. Farmers in the designated region of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba have to sell that wheat to the Canadian Wheat Board, buy it back and then export it. That makes it uneconomical. As a result, western farmers cannot export outside the country. In fact they cannot even take a load of wheat, haul it from Manitoba into Ontario and sell it without the Wheat Board getting a piece of the action.

How do farms that have over $1 million in assets, where the families are trying to make a living, do it when the right to market their own crops to their own best advantage is taken away from them? They are told by the Liberal government that they have to believe in the big socialist mentality that everybody will get an average income and there will be nobody who will do better because of their abilities to do a better job of marketing.

New Brunswick is the province with the greatest value added in this whole country of all the produce that it makes. Why do we not have that in western Canada? Partially because of the socialist attitude that wheat and barley cannot be marketed except through the Canadian Wheat Board.

There has been a really big push in Ontario, and a lot of credit to the people in Ontario. They have decided that the Ontario Wheat Marketing Board should not be a monopoly. Why? Because they want to have value added. They know that they cannot just ship bulk crops out and make money at it.

We see that happening across the country, but our western Canadian farmers still suffer under the yoke of a monopoly that tells them they cannot use their own initiative to market their wheat and barley.

Is there some big conspiracy to keep western farmers down? I would not say that. However, when we look at the facts, it is mighty sad. I mentioned the 14 farmers from Alberta. They have to pay their fines by November 1. They are the farmers for justice who are protesting an unjust system which says they cannot market the fruits of their own labour. They took the chance putting those seeds in the ground. They took the chance that the rains would or would not come. With what did they end up? A government that told them they could not market their own wheat and barley. Not only that, if they did not do it the way they were told, they would be put in jail.

On November 1 these 14 farmers will refuse to pay those fines. It will be a sad day when the Liberal Government of Canada puts them in jail for trying to market their own wheat and barley.

The government is failing to do these kinds of things. We look at many of the other issues about which my leader from Calgary spoke. We look at the inaction of the heritage minister in regard to the tuberculosis problem in the Riding Mountain National Park. That has the potential to affect all livestock exports from Canada. It adds costs right now to the province of Manitoba, but it affects the credibility and status of all beef exported from Canada.

What has the heritage minister done? She talked about a scientific study. I found out this summer that they put collars around elk to see where they would go. Well, wherever they go, they will be spreading the TB. Why is the government not doing something about it?

The minister talked tonight about the minor use of pesticides. I had representatives of CropLife Canada in the other day. They said that they wanted me, my party and the other opposition parties to get into the House of Commons and tell government members that they were not making any progress on speeding up the authorization of the use of minor use pesticides. I told the association that they had appropriated money for that purpose. They said that the Liberals were spending the money, but nothing was happening quickly for the use of minor use pesticides.

Tonight we heard two great speeches by members from the Liberal side who talked about all the great things. As far as the government is concerned and as far as Canadians who are watching this on TV, those farmers must be rolling in cash. There are billions of dollars. We hear the government talk about all these programs. The fact of the matter is Statistics Canada has come out with statistics on the drop in incomes, particularly grain and oilseeds, and the negative margin incomes for farms.

Those negative incomes translate directly into farm families having trouble sending their children to school with the right books or buying clothes for them. We are talking about the direct impacts on farm families. We are not having some hypothetical argument in the House of Commons about too money much flowing around. That is the image the government would like to give.

This safety net money is insufficient for the hurt that is being caused, especially to the grain and oilseed farmers. The government plainly does not care.