Are you asking for a subsidy?
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.
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.
Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Are you asking for a subsidy?
Larry McCormick Liberal Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON
How much of a subsidy do you want?
Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB
Let us talk about how much money our competitors are receiving in the European Union and the United States. What is the matter with a commitment from the government of maybe a 75% or a 50% subsidy level. Why not come out with a position like that?
When I came to Parliament in 1998 as the chief agriculture critic, the Liberal government had cut farm support down to the grand total of $650 million for all Canada, including running the agriculture department.
During the drought, only pressure from the people of Saskatchewan, particularly the Lloydminster area, and the Reform Party at that time drove the government and the minister to bring in the AIDA program which finally gave some extra help. Until that time it was farmers be damned, they can do it on their own.
Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC
Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to say that we in the Bloc Quebecois feel a great deal for the situation that farmers in western Canada are experiencing.
Once again, agriculture in Canada is being threatened by the Liberal government's inertia. This is not hard to fathom, because since the current Prime Minister announced his retirement, there has not been any debate of substance on the economy, with the exception of the reply to the Speech from the Throne, an anemic document full of recycled promises and unfulfilled commitments from the Liberal Prime Minister.
I almost forgot. There was one little insignificant line about agriculture, which again demonstrates how important the sector is to the Liberals. To put it clearly, the Speech from the Throne on September 30 did not broach any of the problems affecting farmers. There was nothing on the protection of supply management. There was nothing on rural development. There was nothing on tax measures for agricultural cooperatives. There was nothing on GMOs. There was nothing on intergenerational transfers of farms and also nothing on natural disaster relief, such as what the people out west are currently experiencing. How unfortunate. All this explains why agriculture is currently in such rough shape.
In my brief career as a member of this House who was elected in June 1997, not one year has gone by when we have not had one or two emergency debates on agriculture. Are such debates brought about by the economic context? No, but rather by the irresponsibility of the Liberals, who have abdicated their responsibilities.
The federal Liberals—be it the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister for International Trade, the Minister of Finance or backbenchers—support the vision of the current Prime Minister, who treats agriculture as a second class industry in this country.
All the while this government is attempting to download part of the bill onto the provinces and acting behind dairy producers' backs, it is failing to take its responsibilities.
I would like to mention the drastic and dramatic cuts the Liberals have made to support to Canadian farmers. The current Minister of Agriculture has been played like a schoolboy by the Americans and the European Community, which obstinately refuse to lower their agricultural subsidies, as provided in the GATT agreements.
Let me give a few figures. Between 1993 and 1999, farm assistance programs were cut by $1 billion.
In this very place, we repeatedly and vigorously denounced the cuts made by the Liberals. We accused them, and rightly so, of having reduced the deficit on the backs of the provinces, the workers, the unemployed, the sick and—I say so unequivocally today—Canadian and Quebec farmers.
Last spring, during the umpteenth consultation tour by the Standing Committee on Agriculture, at the specific request of the Minister of Agriculture, we were able to size up the crisis in the agricultural industry.
This minister keeps consulting, but forgets to come up with a real plan for the future of agriculture. Moreover, bereft of ideas, the Liberals went on their own partisan tour before this one, but nothing concrete came of it. This lack of leadership has forced thousands of farms into bankruptcy in western Canada. This region is now faced with one of the worst droughts in its history.
I will tell you, if I may, what I saw and heard during my tour of the Canadian west. I saw people whose family farming heritage dated back for generations. These men and women came to tell us in anguish that, if the federal government did not come to their aid, things were over for them.
The Liberals have turned a deaf ear. They are not listening to the complaints from farmers in the west as well as many in Quebec.
After this extensive tour, the committee published a voluminous report last June on the agricultural sector's expectations of the Liberal government. We all were given copies of this wonderful report, and still we wait. The crisis has worsened in the meantime.
The Liberals' response is always the same. There is no concrete follow-up, despite the report recommendations. Our audience realizes that the end result of all this traipsing across the country once a year or so—and I have seen a number of these tours since 1997—is to disturb people, consult them, ask their opinion, tell them changes will be coming. Then none do, and so the government over there has no shred of credibility left. No credibility with the people of the maritimes, Quebec, Ontario or western Canada.
The Prime Minister delayed the beginning of the session of the House of Commons.
Some hon. members
Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC
It upsets members opposite when they hear the truth. But it is our hope that the more they hear the truth, the better are the chances that they will wake up some day and help farmers in Quebec and across the country, from coast to coast.
The Prime Minister delayed the beginning of the session and this evening, the opposition must bring the Liberal government to order. Again, we support farmers from western Canada who are facing problems.
However, in Quebec we are increasingly concerned about the behaviour of the Minister for International Trade and of his colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, who refuse to formally commit to maintaining the Quebec model of supply management. Officials from the Fédération des producteurs laitiers du Québec keep asking for a meeting, but the Minister for International Trade keeps postponing it, thus showing his incompetence and, more importantly, that he does not want to have anything to do with the agricultural sector. The Minister for International Trade does not know anything about agriculture.
I would now like to discuss the issue of supply management. Supply management is based on three pillars. It is the result of many years of efforts in Quebec and in the Canadian provinces that adopted this system. The three pillars of the supply management system in Canada are: the control of imports; the price paid to producers; and the planning of production. There are significant benefits to this supply management system. In Quebec, the Fédération des producteurs laitiers and the UPA worked very hard to build the dairy industry. These benefits are that supply management has given producers the possibility of earning a fair income on the market, without direct assistance from governments. A constant supply to processors has given consumers continued access to a wide variety of reasonably priced, high quality products.
Agricultural producers are so worried that they travelled to the Saguenay region during the caucus meeting held by the Liberals, in August. If nothing else, they put some life into it, because all that we were hearing during that caucus had nothing to do with politics or the economy: it was all about the infighting within the party opposite, a situation which is currently paralyzing everything in the House of Commons.
In the coming months, nothing will get done in Parliament because all efforts will be directed towards the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
We know that Liberals like to play hide and seek. A cabinet document confirmed farmers' fears that they were being betrayed. According to the document on the mandate for WTO trade negotiations, Canada is allegedly prepared to give up supply management.
The secret document, recently made public by the Council of Canadians—a few days ago—raised the ire of Quebec's 10,000 dairy, poultry and egg producers. I will read an extract and you will understand why Quebec's farmers no longer trust the members opposite. I used to work in negotiations. Modern society likes us to try for a win-win situation, but when you are negotiating with the members opposite, it is clearly a win-lose situation, because the centralizing policies of the federal Liberals kill any regional or provincial initiatives and threaten all of agriculture, be it in Quebec or Canada. The document reads as follows:
The problem: negotiations involve compromise.
I am sure the members opposite do not know anything about that.
Sectors of the economy benefiting from protection which shelters them from foreign competition will object to any change in the status quo, particularly if it comes during an economic downturn.
We have already seen that this government has laid a lot of blame on the events of September 11. It is incredible how much they blame on September 11. Imagine what the members opposite are going to be like in negotiations. What will they come up with in order to justify their behaviour and their decisions?
Supply-managed producers of eggs, poultry and dairy products, the textile and clothing industry, and certain service sectors will probably object to any changes that would lead to increased foreign competition.
Here is the grand strategy of this secret committee. The people on the payroll of International Trade have said:
The government will recognize that multilateral trade negotiations require Canada to consent to certain measures to open up markets to its trade partners. The government is working in close collaboration with the sectors most likely to be affected in order to define the priorities and objectives for negotiations.
So far, so good. But then:
A more thorough examination is also required of how to manage the ongoing transition to a more globally integrated economy and the related costs of adaptation.
Things are starting to head downhill. It goes on:
At the same time, we will emphasize the overall gains the new negotiations will bring for Canada's economy, businesses and consumers.
Clearly put, this means that this government is prepared, when it has to negotiate multilateral agreements, to sacrifice supply management, and I am convinced it is also prepared to sacrifice other important elements of the Canadian and Quebec agricultural sector. And we are going to trust them? This is unacceptable.
My colleague for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, the official agricultural critic for the Bloc Quebecois, is currently holding a series of meetings. People in just about all areas of Quebec have reacted to the disclosure of this document and now it is being discussed again in agricultural circles.
Do you know what they tell me? They say “How is it that you are coming back with this question? We appeared four times before the agriculture committee in Ottawa. Liberal members paraded through our office and they still do not understand”.
So I answered, “Listen, based on the document that was just released, I do not think that they did understand”.
Currently in Quebec and in agriculture across Canada, people are mobilizing, especially back home in the riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable, which is the most rural riding in Quebec. I have also begun meeting with the Fédération des producteurs laitiers du Québec and the Union des producteurs agricoles in order to fully identify their needs and more importantly, establish Quebec's strategy with them in preparation for the next round of negotiations between the World Trade Organization and Quebec.
They want to meet with the Minister for International Trade, but he is not available, he is not there, he is absent. I do not have to explain what a complete mess we are in with softwood lumber, which is also hitting the Canadian provinces hard. Nor do I have to tell you about the famous U.S. Farm Bill, which will create phenomenal distortions on Canadian and American markets. There is not a peep out of them. They are silent. We are waiting.
Meanwhile, the agricultural crisis is growing worse in Canada and Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois and all the stakeholders from the agricultural sector have already made their demands known to this government. We keep repeating them in the hope that some day it will understand. We will keep reminding the government. This is what opposition parties have done this evening, because what I have heard from the other side has not convinced me at all that they are sensitive to the problems that farmers are experiencing right now.
If this government has a hard time taking action, it should at least take the first step and start listening. Because the perception that members opposite have of the agricultural crisis is quite different from ours. Opposition members, including Bloc Quebecois members, have solutions. We are prepared to act. Since we were re-elected in November 2000, we have regularly asked questions on this issue in the House.
Voters who elected opposition members can be proud, because these members are looking after their best interests. Unfortunately, the members opposite regularly provide evasive answers and keep repeating that their obsolete program might solve the crisis. This government has no initiative, as we saw in the Speech from the Throne. The Liberals only have old ideas that they keep recycling, and they think that Canadians and Quebeckers will continue to believe them.
It is unacceptable to see how little this government cares about such an important issue as agriculture. Let me give an example. In some European countries, the Minister of Agriculture often also is responsible for international trade. This is also the case in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. Here, agriculture is treated as a secondary issue, and we what that has led us to.
I hope that all the efforts being made on this side of the House will make the government more receptive, so that solutions can be found to help these people and put an end to the agricultural crisis that is hurting hundreds of thousands of people so much all across the country.
Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating the Speaker for allowing this important debate to take place tonight. I especially want to pay tribute to the right hon. member for Calgary Centre for having proposed an emergency debate on agriculture.
I had the privilege of attending an Ontario Federation of Agriculture convention in Toronto in November 2000, just days before the last federal election. I had the privilege of sharing a platform with the member for Calgary Centre as well as the agriculture minister. I recall the right hon. member saying that in order to be successful any agriculture minister must have the support of the key members of cabinet, the support of the Prime Minister and the support of the finance minister.
This is not a comment on the agriculture minister but a comment on the inner sanctum of the cabinet: I think it has been very clear throughout the past number of years that this minister really does not have the full support of the main members of cabinet. That explains why Canadian farmers have in effect had it with the government. Despite the fact that farmers' backs are against the wall, foreign subsidies and the worst drought in memory having caused that, there was basically no mention in last Monday's throne speech of financial assistance for agriculture.
An hon. member
Didn't vote Liberal.
Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK
The member for Brandon--Souris said that six of the last nine emergency debates since 1997 have been on agriculture. Do members know that an emergency debate that we did not have was one after the ice storm in 1997-98? Why? Because the government moved and moved quickly to assist Ontario and Quebec farmers. That is not lost on people in western Canada and Atlantic Canada who are going through an extremely difficult time.
In Saskatchewan, as has perhaps been pointed out but bears repeating, farmers are harvesting the smallest crop that they have harvested in more than three decades. In short, it has been a summer from hell: drought, a frost on August 2, and grasshoppers. If I may be permitted black humour in this debate, and there is plenty of it out there, a friend of mine, Bob Long, who farms in west-central Saskatchewan, said that he and his neighbours were really worried about an infestation of grasshoppers in June but the fears proved to be groundless because the grasshoppers went out to the fields and promptly starved to death.
In late summer we did have some rainfall in the drought areas. Some farmers are now cutting crops for hay, crops that obviously did not mature, while others have simply abandoned their fields completely. We have lost 30,000 farmers over the past 5 years, 6,000 in Saskatchewan alone, where agriculture is and always has been number one. Employment in Saskatchewan agriculture has fallen by 30% over the past three years alone. In short, people are leaving agriculture in droves because, regardless of their sacrifices, they simply cannot make a living from farming. It is a combination of isolation, poor pay, long hours and constant financial worries. No wonder that parents would not want to have their child inherit all that difficulty.
The problems, the reality, that Canadian farmers have are in part the massive United States and European subsidies that are driving international prices. Farmers are simply walking away. This year alone there is $1.3 billion in trade injury, and farm income overall is off by 19%. The pain extends to rural community centres and the small towns and cities.
In a crisis like this, farmers who are self-reliant are looking to the federal government for help and unfortunately are looking in vain. As a result of the government inaction, Canadian farmers from eastern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes initiated a Hay West campaign to assist their western counterparts. It was a great initiative in nation building, as has been pointed out by virtually all the previous speakers. The media climbed all over it. It was an example of distant neighbours helping out. The generosity was extremely well received in western Canada, but who jumped shamelessly on board the Hay West campaign? Of course it was the government. Its financial commitment was to pay for some of the fumigation, and about 377 cars were donated to match what the railways had done and donated to the Hay West campaign.
However, as Senator Sparrow and others have said, the Hay West shipments from eastern Canada were never necessary and the cost was twice as much as that of what was readily available in southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. For all the ballyhoo that the Hay West campaign generated this summer, it amounted to less than 1% of the hay that is required to feed the livestock this winter. Whoever said it was like offering two pizzas to a city on the verge of starvation put it in the proper context, but it did serve the public relations purpose: a photo op of a government and a Prime Minister who really, really care. It had nothing to do with rolling up their sleeves and doing the right thing. Rather, it was to make the federal government look good in Ontario and elsewhere and to give the impression that the feed problem in western Canada had been solved. Hay West was a great initiative by some well-meaning and caring folks who gave hay, hard work and a lot of time and effort, and a cynical government tried to capitalize on that initiative.
In June the Prime Minister announced $5.2 billion for agriculture, a sleight of hand. It is like the old carny trick of trying to guess which of the three peanut shells the peanut is actually under. Half of the money had already been announced while much of the new money was earmarked for items in the agriculture policy framework, things such as improving water supplies, on-farm environment plans and export markets, but really nothing to help solve the drought and the cost-price squeeze that farmers are in. Just $1.2 billion of the $5.2 billion was actually for compensation against enormous subsidies, spread over two years. In Saskatchewan, which has 47% of the arable land, it works out to about $3 an acre.
That was the Prime Minister's big June announcement. The agriculture policy framework is a long-term plan for agriculture in Canada, but it is important to point out that without a short-term plan to find relief for farmers hurt by several consecutive years of low prices, high input costs and rising farm debt, a long-term plan will not be necessary at all. The government simply has to reassess the way it looks at agriculture. Its position is “if you can't make it on your own two feet, find another line of work”. In fact, the minister of agriculture personifies that approach and wears it like a badge of honour.
That attitude, I believe, is a hangover from the 1993 to 1997 era when the government was cutting the deficit and the Reform Party opposed any kind of government support to agriculture. We have heard those members change their minds on that. We have heard it as recently as this evening. The fact remains that if we look back over the 130-odd years of Confederation, federal governments, regardless of their political stripe, have always supported agriculture in this country. Hon. members should think back to the free or almost free land of 100-odd years ago in western Canada, to the Crowsnest Pass freight rate agreement of 1897, or to a two-price system for wheat. Only in the last 10 years has the federal government adopted this approach of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “my mind is made up so don't confuse me with facts”.
To make matters worse, the government refuses to accept any responsibility in the trade injury area, which affects so many farmers. The minister of agriculture has said that the money announced in June does not relate to trade injury, but the bulk of our agricultural products is indeed traded on world markets. How can the government promote an agricultural policy framework agreement and pretend that trade irritants and trade injury simply do not exist?
In the lead up to the agriculture policy framework endless consultations were held with stakeholders, as has been referred to previously. The promise is for a long-term plan for agriculture. The consultations seem to go on and on. Another round is planned and skepticism as well as frustration is growing. The fear is that this is another public relations smokescreen to create an allusion that there is genuine consultation while the government intends to go its own way on agricultural policy.
What is to be done? First, we must put money into sustainable agriculture. We need a food production system that allows Canadian farmers to earn a descent living and if we do not we will soon be buying our food from others. Incentives are required to ensure food production remains in the hands of farmers and not of agribusiness.
Our farmers are on the verge of becoming modern day serfs running businesses that will belong to the Cargill's, ConAgra's and the Archer Daniels Midland's of this world. We need policy and practices to protect the environment, to create economic stability and promote job creation and employment in rural Canada. We cannot allow an efficient, commercial farm sector to be permanently crippled or dismantled because of unfair international trade practices, or by a government that ignores that this country has helped farmers since the inception of the country. Make no mistake, we are on the verge of doing permanent damage to agriculture and the future of agriculture in the country.
In 1988 there was an election on free trade and while food exports have tripled since 1988 in the 14 years since, net farm income has dropped by 24% when adjusted for inflation. Farm debt has doubled. Our value added flour mills and malting plants that used to belong to Canadian companies have been taken over by large U.S. commercial operations.
Freight rates in western Canada have gone up by 500%. There are the Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan pools which have all gone the way of the dodo bird. They were once co-ops and now they have either merged or they are something else and simply are a shadow of their former selves.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food made great announcements about the government's commitment. The fact is that government spending is down more than $1 billion a year unadjusted for inflation.
Farmers have doubled and redoubled their exports over those past 14 years. They have diversified and adopted new techniques and technologies. They have invested billions of dollars in their farm operations. In short, they have done everything that they were told to do to adapt to the new world of free trade and globalization. The result is the worst farm crisis in more than 70 years.
There are two things that have to happen. The free trade agreement erases the economic borders between nations and forces one billion farmers around the world into what has been described as a single hyperactive market where they are all frantically competing. That is on the one hand but simultaneously with that, free trade agreements are creating waves of agricultural business mergers which reduce or eliminate competition and drive prices ever higher. The end result of all that is that there is a balance of power between farmers and agribusiness that has become totally distorted and the distribution of profits is tilted dramatically toward corporations and away from farmers.
The government must provide adequate assistance to farmers. The Prime Minister said he does not want a legacy. That is fine. Let us give a decent legacy to our farmers. Let us put the resources into sustainable agriculture and food safety.
We in this party will use every means to ensure the government pursues those policies and Canadian farm families deserve no less.
Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to say a few words on this important debate tonight which was started by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, our leader, stating again that the opposition party, which is supposed to be the fifth party in the House, has been the one to drive the agricultural issue. We are all very proud to be part of it.
I have been listening to the speeches from the various members, all of them undoubtedly speaking from the heart. Many of them come from the areas affected by the drought and grasshopper problem in western Canada this year.
Before I go on I wish to indicate that I will be splitting my time with the member for Dauphin—Swan River.
Those of us who live in the areas that do not have a large farming component may find it hard to understand how difficult it is. However, there are many comparisons. On a previous occasion when I was debating an agricultural issue which was asked for and granted to our party I asked why someone who comes primarily from a fishing area would talk about agriculture. There are similarities.
The devastation that we see facing the west because of the farming crisis is similar to the one that we have been trying to educate the House about as it relates to Atlantic Canada, particularly to Newfoundland and Labrador, in relation to the fishery. We also have a large farming component in our province. In my own district we have several large dairy farms. We have vegetable farmers and consequently they are affected by the elements of nature, but more affected by government policy.
I want to touch on a couple of issues that have not been raised directly tonight, but affect the people in the west who are facing this crisis the same way it affects our people in the east.
The first is in relation to land mass. One of the major problems facing our dairy farmers is the accessibility to land. Some time ago I wrote the minister with some suggestions and I must say his response, even though it was not directly to the questions raised, showed that he had some interest in the topic.
In Atlantic Canada and undoubtedly in the west, as has been mentioned by a number of the speakers, there are a number of people who want to get out of the farming business. In some cases it is because of frustration about the costs, the time and effort they have to put into it, the returns, and the lack of government assistance. Those of us who have been around for a while realize how important it is to have the food that is produced in areas of our country protected. If we do not protect our fish and agricultural areas, how will we feed the population of the country?
We know full well what it costs to buy products from outside the country, particularly if we find that they have problems in their own areas. Imagine if we had to buy the staples that we use everyday that are produced in our country what it would cost us to live. We should protect every single inch of agricultural land we have in this country. We should encourage the people who farm to continue to farm. When it reaches the stage that they no longer want to farm, then we should ensure that the land that is rich, developed and capable of yielding the new product be available to those who want to continue farming.
The example I was using was related to a number of young aggressive dairy farmers. One of the problems we find is that we do not have a lot of good, rich, agricultural land. Some farmers are travelling in excess of 100 miles from their home base to farm on small tracts of land that they acquired from people in different parts of the province. Yet right next to them, in many cases, we have farms not being used any more because the people who own them want to get out of the business. They are older, they are retiring, or for some other reason they do not want to continue farming.
Because the land is termed agricultural land it has a low value even though it is considered rich, prime real estate in an area or areas where the land could be used for development. The owners of the land could become wealthy people. However, because it is under a land freeze, as it should be, I have no argument with that, their hands are tied. We assist farmers to develop crown land, rocks, brush and whatever. It takes years to make that land profitable. Right next to them is this rich, fertile land ready for farming. Farmers cannot afford to buy the land at the price it should be worth. The government will not assist them. The land is not sold because it is the owner's only means of retirement, it is his or her lifetime investment. Thus we have a stalemate.
If we combine what the new, young aggressive farmer can offer with what the federal and provincial governments offer in different forms of subsidy and zero in on providing land that is readily available everybody would win. However, we are told that regulations do not permit us to do this; regulations do not permit us to do that.
I say regulations should be developed that put together a policy that makes sense and is practical so that people who want to get out of farming can do so, and yet have something to show for their lifelong investment in the land.
A fisherman who buys a fishing licence and eventually decides to give up fishing can now sell it for a high price. A groundfish licence can command anywhere from $100,000 up to $300,000 in some areas, with the government buying up many of them to get native people and so on into the fishery. The government justifies it by saying that individuals have to have something for their efforts as they retire.
I have no argument with that, but what about the farmers who invest their lifelong sweat equity into a piece of land that is theirs and when they want to sell they are told that this is only agricultural property. They are told it is of low value. They must sell it to the government at what it will offer them, which is very little, a pittance, or the government will charge them taxes if they do not rent it to somebody else.
The policies and programs are there. If properly moulded together to be able to buy that property at a reasonable price from the person who wants to get out, and deliver it to the person who is ready and willing to use it, he or she can move forward without any difficulty whatsoever.
The one other thing is an environmental problem that we face. Many of our farms are being surrounded by new developments. As cities expand they encroach upon the farming areas. The farms are there first but the city or the housing developments move in. In the old days we realized a farm was a farm and we put up with the smell, or a fish plant was a fish plant and we put up with the smell because it provided employment in our area. Times have changed.
Once they move too close to a farm people complain about the environmental conditions, whether it be the smell or the affluent that runs off the farmland because of the manure and the nutrients which affect the water supplies. This is becoming an extremely dangerous situation for the farmers because now the environmentalists, and people generally, are encroaching upon them saying that the farm is polluting the water system. They are told to stop using manure in their fields or they must stop using a certain type of nutrient. Basically what they are told is that they must stop farming.
There are challenges for the government above and beyond just providing financial subsidies. Unless government takes our resource sectors, our farming and our fisheries, seriously and develops sensible and sound policies, we are in for a rough ride. It is no wonder people are moving away from these industries. As I said, if they do, it is to our loss.
I will now turn the floor over to my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River.
Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague from St. John's West for sharing his time with me.
I am honoured to take part in this evening's emergency debate on agriculture, as proposed by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.
I represent a very large rural riding. In fact it is so large it is often compared to the country of Ireland. That is the size of Dauphin--Swan River. Agriculture is the lifeblood of Dauphin--Swan River. Unfortunately the government's approach to helping farmers is really choking the lifeblood out of the farmers.
Farmers are, to say the least, disappointed in the way the Liberal government has managed the agricultural portfolio.
I have been here for over five years. When it comes to farming and farming problems I ask the question: What has changed? Absolutely nothing has changed. The only change over the past five years has been that we have lost tens of thousands of farmers who could not afford to stay on the land and ensure that the country had a sound source of food.
The rural population base continues to shrink. Rural Canada depends on farmers. Canadians should know that all the little towns and villages in rural Canada depend on the farmer. Their survival depends on farm income. Farmers are the principal source of revenue for the economy of rural Canada. Basically at this time most of the rural regions are in the business of producing raw products, unlike that of central Canada which has the advantage of having the complete chain, both at the farm gate as well as the kitchen table.That is where all the jobs are created. Unfortunately, as I can certainly speak for the west, this is absent.
Farmers in Dauphin--Swan River are tired of listening to politicians, especially Liberal politicians. The Liberal government's promises are just that, promises. Farmers in Dauphin--Swan River have held protest rallies over the last five years, traffic slowdowns on Highway No. 1 and have even journeyed to Ottawa in protest, as well as to meet with government cabinet ministers and to lobby members of Parliament, but all of this was to no avail. In fact they have received very little benefit for all the work they have put into trying to get their issues on the table.
Why do we continue to debate farm emergencies in the House when the government has no solutions? It is quite obvious that if it had any solutions we would not be debating this matter.
I believe the member for Brandon—Souris said that this was the sixth time we have sat in the House in the evening to debate the emergency in agriculture. Are we going to keep doing this until there are no farmers left in this country?
The government continues to play politics with the farmers. The government proposals are all show and no substance. The big numbers that we hear from the agriculture minister, which come often, are just that, big numbers. Farmers want to know how these big numbers will help them stay in business. In fact, they are still waiting, the few who have successfully managed to stay in business despite all the challenges of not only debt but the weather.
Back in 1997-98 it was appalling that it took months and months of debate by the opposition before the government realized there was even a farm problem in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Again and again the government came out with big numbers. In fact I believe there was something like a $1.5 billion support program and two years down the road it still had something like $600 million or $800 million in the kitty. That is the problem. These numbers are just numbers. The government has no solutions and no idea how it can help the farmer in need. It comes out with all these fancy programs that are still in existence but that do not work.
If the government really is concerned about our food industry why is it neglecting the issue of international trade subsidies? We have heard that debated this evening as well. The Europeans get something like 56¢ on the dollar. I guess the Americans with the new farm bill will probably get about the same. Meanwhile the poor Canadian farmer I believe gets 9¢ on the dollar. It is worse than the health care system.
Farmers want to be paid a fair price for their hard work. The neglect we see on the part of the Liberal government has forced farmers to eat up the equity in their business just to stay in business. I have had farmers call and tell me that at no time in history have they even called a member of Parliament for assistance. These are farmers who have diversified farms of 2,500 to 3,000 acres along with a 150 to 200 cow operation. Basically it is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. At the same time as they are paying their bills they are going nowhere. They are eating up their equity. These farmers are at the age where they should be thinking about retirement.
As we have heard farmers always say, hopefully next year will be better. Since I have been here, which has been over five years, farmers are still waiting for next year. The only good thing about this year for the farmers in my constituency is that they have had a decent crop. Unfortunately the prices have risen only because of the deplorable weather conditions of our neighbouring provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta. However I am sure that will not last very long either.
NISA was also mentioned this evening. Many farmers do not even have a NISA account. Many farmers have told me that they will not use up their NISA account because they want to use that as a retirement fund. Unfortunately I do not think too many will have that option.
It is ironic that the minister created an advisory board many years ago. Through our travels back and forth we often encounter the board members coming to Ottawa. Surely the minister must be getting good advice. The board has representatives from national agricultural organizations. What has the advisory group been doing, or is the minister not listening to their good advice? So much for consultation on the part of the government.
Farmers in Dauphin--Swan River are also concerned about bovine TB because it will have a huge impact, not only on the cattle of Manitoba but perhaps on our neighbours as well. The government has to take a more proactive approach and deal with the problem. It cannot let it sit there, much like the American subsidy program. If it continues to do that we may find that we may not have a cattle industry in western Canada or Manitoba.
Let me close by saying that this country needs a new agriculture policy and it certainly needs a new safety net program. One of the problems I see is that we need to separate safety net from disaster programming. Will the government do the right thing before our food producers in Canada disappear altogether?
Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario
Andy Mitchell LiberalSecretary of State (Rural Development) (Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in debate on this emergency debate regarding agriculture. I should mention that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington who will be taking the second half of my time.
We have had an opportunity tonight to talk about the issues surrounding agriculture. I am a little bit concerned in hearing the debate as it has sort of unfolded over the last couple of hours. I suspect Canadians may be a little concerned over some of the things they have heard.
A large part of what the debate has been about is one member saying that another member did this, and another member saying, no, he did not do this. Another member says that so much has been spent and then another member says that nothing has been spent. The members then get off that particular type of debate and go into a philosophical debate.
Well, guess what? The Wheat Board is the worst thing that has ever happened to Canadian agriculture. This was said by the members over there. Then we have members over here and members over there saying that the Wheat Board is a necessary component of agriculture in western Canada. Then we have arguments about whether it should be in western Canada or in eastern Canada. And then we hear all the philosophical debates about money.
I hope the audience out there can hear the cackling that is going on in the House right now because that is the point I am trying to make. That is not the issue. That does not impress Canadians very much and I assure members that it does not impress producers at all.
The debate tonight has to be about some very basic and important things. Let me go over what I believe are some of the important issues.
First, let us be very clear, and I believe everybody in the House understands, that agricultural producers are critical to the future of this country. They are critical to the well-being of rural Canada. Rural Canada is critical to the well-being of this nation.
Rural Canada has 30% of our population. Twenty-five per cent of our gross domestic product, almost 25% of our employment and more than 40% of our trade surplus comes from rural Canada.
This is a nation that was founded upon and continues to depend upon our natural resource based industries, including agriculture. Our producers, as I said, are critical to this nation.
We understand as a government and we understand as members that if we are going to have a successful Canada then both component parts of this nation, both rural and urban Canada, need to be strong. We understand that and that is a basic tenet as to why we need to have a strong agricultural industry in this country. That is a basic understanding that we need to have and not the cackling that goes on from over there.
The second thing we understand to be important and critical is that although producers are critical to this nation, we also need to understand that our producers are indeed facing a range of significant challenges. Whether that has to do with issues surrounding climate, and the drought is an example of that; globalization, and the issues over trade are an example of that; the changing demographics that are occurring in our agricultural and rural communities; and the trend of urbanization.
However, beyond understanding those trends, what is important and what I believe Canadians want us to understand and what they want to hear from the House is that these are more than just theoretical problems and more than just ideas about what is causing the problem. These are challenges faced by real people and real families with real consequences.
Those individuals demand that we understand the impact they have not just on their businesses, although we need to understand that, but the impact they have on them as individuals and the impact on the communities that support them as individuals.
Third, I know that the opposition debates this, but the reality is there is action being taken. It is subject to debate as to whether it is the type of action everybody would agree to, but there is action being taken. There is money that is being put toward agriculture. I do not really think that Canadians care when or how it was announced so I will just recap what the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister announced in June in terms of what the agricultural budget is going to look like over the next five years.
The current base income budget, the money put toward income for the next five years, is $3 billion. The APF income measures announced is an additional $2.5 billion. The APF programs that go beyond simply the income measures is $900 million. Short term risk measures over the next two years announced is $1.2 billion. Other measures which the minister announced at that time is $590 million. Some $8.1 billion is being put toward agriculture because we understand the importance of that industry and we understand that producers are facing challenges today.
There is a fourth point that we understand very clearly which is, the work is not completed. This is a work in progress. I heard members on the other side talk about nothing being addressed in the Speech from the Throne, that there was no commitment, no understanding. The idea that this is a work in progress, that there are things being done for Canadian producers, that there need to be more things done for Canadian producers is clearly in the Speech from the Throne. I want to quote what it says in terms of agriculture:
The government will implement the recently announced agricultural policy framework and related measures to promote innovation in that key sector, which is vital to rural Canada and all Canadians.
In the Speech from the Throne there is a very clear commitment that we have begun a process with that announcement that was made in June with the dollars that we talked about that are being spent. There is no idea that we have completed the task and no pretending that all the problems are solved or that all the solutions have been developed. Rather, there is an understanding that we are making those investments that are critical to Canadian agriculture and that we are indeed developing and continue to develop responses to the issues that face Canadian producers.
I have heard the other side say on many occasions, in fact I was shocked when I heard an NDP member today actually say that we should not have a long term policy for agriculture. I could not believe that he said that. We heard for months and years from over there that we need a long term policy. Well, we have produced a long term policy, the agricultural policy framework.
Let me recap those four basic points. Agriculture is critical to this country. Producers do need help. Help is being provided but we do not intend to accept that the job is complete. There is work that continues to be done. I and my colleagues on this side, and I suspect colleagues on all sides, understand those basic tenets, understand those basic component parts of this debate.
Collectively, and this is what agriculture producers want to hear, we are committed to ensure that we continue to undertake measures that will address the issues that are facing our producers so that they continue to have a strong industry, that the rural communities that support them continue to be strong, and that this nation continues to benefit on what agricultural producers in this country have done since the founding of this nation.
Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington Ontario
Larry McCormick LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this critical debate tonight.
As my hon. colleague the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food previously mentioned, the government has implemented a number of immediate measures to support producers who are suffering from the effects of drought. As the minister also mentioned, the government is also committed to developing solutions to help secure the long term prosperity and profitability of Canada's farmers and the Canadian agrifood industry as a whole.
There is no question that farmers have to deal with any number of risks on a daily basis. Today we are talking about weather related risks. An equally critical long term challenge facing producers today comes from a changing marketplace, from consumers who are looking for even greater assurance about the safety and quality of their food and the environmental methods used to produce that food.
While a changing marketplace produces and presents a challenge, it also presents a tremendous opportunity because by working together we can lay the groundwork and provide the tools for this generation and future generations of farmers to compete in an increasingly tough world marketplace. It is for this very reason the government has committed, along with the provincial governments, to developing a national framework that is aimed at moving agriculture beyond crisis management to greater profitability and prosperity.
The agricultural policy framework is about meeting the challenges of the 21st century with a 21st century response. It is about securing success for the sector by giving the world's consumers what they want on the terms they want. It is about building on Canada's stellar reputation for agrifood excellence and making us the world leader in food safety and food quality, innovation and environmental responsibility.
As some members of the House will recall, the groundwork for the agricultural policy framework was laid in Whitehorse in June 2001. There federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture agreed on a comprehensive plan for integrated action around five key areas: business risk management, which is encouraging innovation and adaptation; food safety and food quality, the strengthening of on and off farm food systems; environment, allowing us to co-exist sustainably with the natural environment; innovation, ensuring our ability to succeed today and into the future; and renewal of the sector, contributing to farmers' success in the new century.
Over the past two years the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has been working very hard to develop the framework and achieve consensus among the provinces, the territories, farmers, other stakeholders in the industry and all Canadians.
Under the framework, long term integrated risk management programming is being designed to provide a stable and predictable business planning environment. Farmers will have access to the tools they need to meet challenges in food safety and the environment. Science will extend beyond traditional productivity applications and deal with emerging challenges and opportunities in a bio economy. The renewal element will ensure farmers have skills and services to accept opportunities and make choices for future success.
When it comes to business risk management, we want to ensure that programming is focused on growth and improving income prospects. We want to move from reacting to income support levels to a forward thinking approach that improves a farmer's ability to manage risk over time, leading to greater predictability and profitability in the operation.
On food safety, we need a more comprehensive system that begins with on farm food safety and goes right through the entire production chain. For example, we are working toward a nation-wide assurance system that shows the world that food in Canada is safe and of the highest quality, which will respond to consumer demands.
On the environmental side, the agricultural policy framework will enhance Canada's reputation for environmental responsibility. Working with governments and using science based tools like environmental farm plans and best management practices, the framework will establish national approaches, programs and objectives. It will also adopt better farming practices to ensure clean water and clean air, improve the quality of our soil and the living conditions of our wildlife.
The responsible use of science also plays an important part in this framework. Science has tremendous potential to help us deliver on farm food safety, strengthen environmental stewardship and create new products for the benefit of farmers and the public. Science can help Canadian farmers cope with drought and manage our water supply more effectively. Already, agriculture and agri-food scientists across Canada are working on various drought related projects and sharing their findings with farmers.
Finally, there is the renewal component to the policy framework. Knowledge is the key to making producers cooperative and competitive, and their businesses profitable in this rapidly changing and complex industry. Indeed there is a bright future for all producers in the country who already have or will develop the knowledge, tools, skills and the ability to adapt and to innovate.
In recognition of the work ahead of us and to achieve these goals, this past June the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced a historic investment in the Canadian agri-food industry: $5.2 billion over the next six years to build the profitability and the prosperity of our sector for the 21st century. This federal investment includes $3.4 billion to implement the agricultural policy framework, a task that will continue to involve governments, both federal and provincial, and the industry.
As the recent Speech from the Throne said, implementing the framework is a key priority for the government and the dollars are there to back up this commitment.
Over the past 18 months, governments have made tremendous progress toward achieving consensus on the path ahead. At this point the vast majority of provincial and territorial governments have signed an umbrella accord that sets out the common goals and the key policy directions of the framework. The agreement is open to signing by the remaining provinces. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food is confident that they will all sign and we welcome that.
Much hard work is ahead of us however. The detailed specifics of programs and measures now have to be finalized. Over the coming months the government will ensure through ongoing partnership and consultation with the industry and negotiations between governments that the program specifics help us to meet the framework's objectives.
In closing, in the context of this important debate on the drought, the agricultural policy framework will help Canadian farmers to better manage risks of all types to meet the demands of the marketplace and to be profitable and competitive on the world stage. By equipping our industry to be the number one producers of safe, innovative and environmentally responsible agricultural products, we are going to make Canada the first choice for buyers of food and agricultural products worldwide.
The agricultural policy framework will be a win-win solution for Canada. Canadian farmers will benefit, Canadian consumers will benefit and the Canadian economy will be stronger as a whole.
David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Yellowhead.
I would like to point out first of all that we did not wait until fall for the agriculture issue to become a priority for us. I would like to mention that on May 29 we applied for an emergency debate on this subject. I rose to raise an application for an emergency debate, made under Standing Order 52, concerning an important and urgent matter that we thought was affecting the agricultural industry. For the second consecutive year, most farmers in Saskatchewan, Alberta and many other areas of Canada were confronting the effects of another drought. The Department of Agriculture had been closely monitoring drought conditions but all indications were pointing to another hard summer for Prairie producers. Through the winter and spring the Prairies received very little precipitation. Spring runoff levels were non-existent in some areas. The South Saskatchewan River should have been teeming with water right then but because of low water levels it looked more like a creek.
Our livestock producers were also dreading this summer. They too rely on the land to feed their cattle. Local forage for cattle and other livestock was already very limited in May. Agriculture Canada was indicating that grass growth on pastures was going to be poor across the Prairies. If producers could not allow their cattle to graze on local pasture that meant they would be forced to either sell their cattle or buy feed at exorbitant prices. There was an added concern of an infestation of grasshoppers in Alberta, in Saskatchewan and in Manitoba as well. Agriculture Canada in fact listed a portion of my riding and three other areas in Alberta as having a very severe risk of a grasshopper outbreak.
Our point was that members needed to have the opportunity to draw to the attention of cabinet the serious conditions in western Canada and the importance of effective safety nets, unlike the current crop insurance program. If the minister had made these issues a priority as the Alliance did early on last spring, the government actually could have had an active role to play in the problems that we faced in western Canada this spring and summer.
I had a chance a while ago to watch the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? in which in one scene the three main characters, Everett, Pete and Delmar, sit around a fire discussing what they would do with the loot they dig up. They ask Delmar what he would do with it and he says “Visit those foreclosin' son of a guns down at the Indianola Savings and Loan and slap that cash down on the barrelhead and buy back the family farm...you ain't no kind of man if you ain't got land”. And farmers ain't nothing without a farm. The way the government is working, we are going to have a lot fewer people with land.
Farmers are under pressure. I will talk a little tonight about some of the pressures they are under. One of them is that farmers in this country are being intimidated and threatened by their own government.
In 1996 a group of farmers decided that they would take some wheat down to the U.S. border. Some of them took a load or two of wheat. A few of them actually took one bushel of grain across the border and donated it to a local 4-H club. When the courts began ruling in favour of the farmers, the government actually came to this place and changed the legislation so that those farmers would be guilty of an offence in Canada. They were arrested and charged. Since then, they have had at least four government departments, including the justice department, the CCRA, the RCMP and the Canadian Wheat Board, all working together to humiliate them. On November 1, these farmers will be jailed for from 23 to 125 days if they do not pay their fines. What kind of a system do we have here? We have farmers trapped, in six years of hell, trapped in a non-responsive judicial system, for taking a bushel of wheat across the border.
Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE
Did they break the law? They did. They tried to undermine the Wheat Board.
David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK
The response from the other side sickens me. They are agriculture-related people who are supposed to be defending farmers' interests and they stand over there and condemn western Canadian farmers for trying to make a living.
It appalls me that this continues to happen in the government. At least it is consistent. It has humiliated, threatened and harassed these people for six years and it sounds from the other side as if it will continue to do that, this at a time when sex offenders get $100 fines, or as for domestic abusers, this summer I read of a case where the man was sent home to house arrest after abusing his spouse. They will lock up these farmers and that is ridiculous.
It reminds me of another situation in that movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? , when the warden tells the guys he is going to hang them even though they have already been pardoned. What he says is “The law is a human institution. Perhaps you should start saying your prayers”. That is the situation these farmers find themselves in.
Farmers are under other pressures as well. In particular, as always, we find ourselves under the pressure of the environment. We live in a world and we work at a job where the environment is very important to us. I took great offence this spring at the suggestion of the Minister of the Environment that the reason there was a drought in western Canada was climate change. That is not the case. We have had droughts off and on over the years. One of the things we expect is that the government protect us from natural disasters. It is one of the few things that western Canadian farmers are asking for, other than the freedom to be able to make their own decisions and choices.
This summer was not the first drought we have seen, but the government response was typical of what we have seen in the past. That was virtually nothing. If it were not for some civic counsellors and some MPs in western Canada, and I think particularly of the hon. member for Crowfoot and my colleague from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar who allowed their offices to be used to take names, and other people like my hon. friend from Lakeland, if it had not been for them and the generosity of the individuals in Ontario, probably nothing would have happened to help out those farmers, because the government certainly was not responsive to them. If anything, the government hindered rather than helped in this situation.
I was in Ontario talking with some people and they said that they ship hay all over North America and have done for years. They said that they had never heard of the fact that they have to fumigate hay before shipping it out of this area. They have shipped to Pennsylvania, Florida and western Canada, but when there was a situation where people actually wanted to help other people, the government was, of all things, more of a hindrance than a help to farmers.
The money coming out to farmers, I should mention, is not drought money. The government talks about the money coming out. It is not a drought package. It is not any special assistance money. That money was put in the program last spring. We have had that money announced ten different times out on the Prairies. Different ministers have come to announce the same money, but it never comes out. I am glad to hear that some of it may be beginning to come out now. Perhaps we will have it by Christmas. The drought was last spring; the help comes many months later.
Has the government's support fixed the farm income crisis? As we get away from the summer of drought, the issue is not the drought any more. It is the farm income that farmers will not have through this winter and next summer. The question is, what has the government done to fix that farm income problem? It has left the farmers with AIDA and CFIP, which have been a total disaster up to now. It has left them with NISA, which is an okay program for the most part except that in this situation some people who have put money into it cannot access that money, for a couple of reasons. One is that they do not trigger the withdrawal. More serious than that, we have had constituents coming in who have said the government gave them the impression over the last couple of years that they should get out of NISA, that it was important to get out of it because the government was closing it down. Now the government is using it as the program to distribute the money. The farmers ask which is it? It cannot be both.
The Canadian Alliance is offering solutions to the problems facing agriculture, real solutions for a real world with real weather, not recycled and rehashed proposals. We have suggested some things like the emergency disaster relief fund, which needs to be in place permanently, enhanced crop insurance to take care of the situations when we need crop insurance, and enhanced NISA to give people the opportunity to access that money in those accounts. Also, in our trade negotiations, why do we not show some guts? We have another challenge against our wheat system in western Canada and the government has had no response at all. We would like to decide how we market our grain, but the government has a responsibility to respond to those trade challenges. It has not done that. As well, the government needs to reduce regulations, not increase them.
Another thing the government needs to do is take a serious look at Kyoto. Up to now it has not done anything on that. It has not examined the problems that Kyoto is going to cause for agriculture. We think and we know that they will be extensive.
Farmers are in a situation like the bar owner who had a contest in his bar. He was a strong fellow and set up a prize of $1,000 for anyone stronger than he was. The challenge went like this. He would squeeze all the juice out of a lemon and then turn it over to the challenger. If challengers could get another drop out of that lemon, they would win the money. One day a scrawny little guy walked in. He was wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit. He a squeaky voice and said “I'd like to take that bet”. Of course the laughter erupted around the bar and the bartender said “Okay. That's fine”. He grabbed the lemon, squeezed it and then handed the wrinkled rind to the little guy, who grabbed a hold of it and squeezed that lemon. Out came six more drops of lemon juice. Of course, the whole place cheered. The bartender was going to pay him his money and said to him “What is it that you do for a living?” The little guy replied “I work for the federal government”.
There is an ancient but applicable saying that without vision the people perish. This has never been more true than it is right now in the farming community. If the minister and his department would begin to put farmers ahead of this lemon-squeezing bureaucracy, we could have an effective, aggressive, progressive farm policy.
Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, we are here tonight to discuss in an emergency debate the disaster that has happened on the Prairies and what is going on in agriculture across the country. I think we need to take a very serious look at that. That is why it is an emergency debate. We asked for this emergency debate last spring. If it had happened last spring, we would actually have been talking about something that would have made a lot more sense in being able to deal then with the crisis that came along, which we could see was going to happen, rather than at this time. It is not too late but it is very late for some. Some have had a devastating summer. Some are in the situation where they have lost everything already.
We have seen this drought on the Prairies. I farm and am very close to the area that is most stricken with the drought. Some of the crops that came up were so pitiful that they were not harvestable. Some of the crops that came up were not harvestable because they were victimized by not only a lack of water or moisture to grow but because of the grasshoppers that ate up everything that did grow.
Actually, now we have another problem. It has started to rain in the last month. Some of the crops in the marginal areas that did get a little bit of rain are now being damaged because of rain and frost. It is an absolute devastation, beyond I think what the people in the House, from what I have heard here, understand. When one talks to some of these farmers, one gets a better picture of what really is happening. We need to do that. We need to understand that so we can help them most effectively.
People in agriculture learn to live with some hardships. It is sort of the way of life. Back in the twenties, 80% of population in Canada lived on farms and raised their families on farms. Now the population has shifted so dramatically that 82% of the population in Canada actually lives in large urban centres and the number of primary farmers is below 3%. Farmers learn to adapt. That is why they have survived to this point. They have lived through droughts before and through grasshoppers, low rainfall and situations where they could not harvest.
The biggest challenge that they face is not any of these. The biggest challenge they face is a government that does not understand, is unknowing and uncaring about what their situations are and has actually challenged them to the degree that they do not even believe that the government is there to support their industry at all. It is absolutely amazing.
This summer when I was in Leeds County and last week when I was in Lindsay, Ontario, I had an opportunity to talk to the people there who understood exactly what was going on. They were the first to rise up, send some of their hay to western Canada and take part in this Hay West project. The Hay West project was a wonderful thing in the sense that it was about farmers helping farmers. They were the first to rally to the cause. They understood the plight of the western farmer, what drought was and what the hardships of agriculture meant to them. They were prepared to give of their own so that others could be helped out in this crisis.
The frustration was that they could not get the product that they were willing to give out of their own livelihoods to the people who really needed it. It was very late in the game when the government finally decided almost out of embarrassment that it would fork over a few measly dollars, I think it was $3.8 million, to send 377 loads of hay to western Canada, which was very much appreciated. The frustrating thing is that this needs to be levered into action by a government that has the dollars to be able to really deal with the problem. The amount of hay on those trains is enough to be goodwill and is very much appreciated, but it is certainly not enough to address the problem in western Canada.
It is absolutely shameful to see the results of that, because we have a government that had the ability this summer to upset farmers on both ends of the country for different reasons, some farmers because they saw the need, wanted to help and had a government that was not willing to support them, and others who needed the help and saw a government that was not interested in stepping up to the plate. We can see that the family farm is threatened from one end of the country to other, but when we look at family farms in Canada we understand a lot better just how important they are.
They provide the highest quality food, the safest products and the cheapest food not only in the country, but in the world. It has been said that never before in the history of mankind have so few raised so much for so little. That is what describes very vividly the picture we see of agriculture and farmers in Canada today.
I was in Wainwright when the first load of hay came in. One had to be there to see the excitement on the faces of the farmers when they understood that somebody was finally there and able to help them. What did they get? They had a Prime Minister who wanted a photo op in eastern Canada. He did not have the nerve to come to western Canada to meet the trains, where he could have seen the same faces I did and understood the plight of those agriculture people. A photo op in eastern Canada was a little bit different and very unappreciated by the people who really needed the help.
I have to sit back and ask myself why a government would do that. Why would a government not understand the plight of agriculture? Maybe it just does not understand. Maybe that is the situation is here. Maybe when the cabinet members got together, they just did not understand.
I sent them a letter inviting them to come to Yellowhead. I said that I would take them around personally to a number of farmers to give them an idea of the plight of the western farmer and to show them how intense the problem really was. I got one phone call. The guy said that he was too busy to come. I had four or five letters. Two of them said that I should not worry about them because they understood the problem. I kind of doubt that. A few letters had lists of things the government was doing for the farmers, basically photo op situations. A few others were signed by staffers saying that their ministers were too busy to show up. That was the kind of reply I got from cabinet members with regard to my invitation.
It is absolutely frustrating when I see a government fail because it is not interested. Government members do not care. They have no plan and there is absolutely no leadership.
I then ask myself why they would do that. We have a government that does the math. It is not very good at helping farmers, but it is very good at math. It understands that 3% is not enough to help. What it fails to understand is that not helping agriculture will devastate our country because it is one of the economic drivers that is absolutely fundamental to the sovereignty of a nation. When a country fails to feed itself, then we have a major problem that drives right to the heart of the sovereignty of a nation.
The United States is one of the most free enterprise countries in the world and we can see what it has done. It has added $280 billion over the next 10 years to support their agricultural industry. We have $5.2 billion. When we compare that to the Americans, their support for their farmers is over 500 times more than ours. That is absolutely embarrassing. It shows us that the government has failed to understand what Europe learned a long time ago. When we go hungry as a nation, we will say to ourselves, “never again”. I would hate to see that happen in Canada. I would hate to see what this government's action will accomplish.
We need to look at cash injections to deal with the problems. We have to look at a five year extension to the tax deferral for ranchers. We have to look at rethinking the safety net programs to make them more versatile so they can deal with some of the problems we have seen in the intense drought area and there has to be flexibility within the program to do that.
We have to look at the dual marketing. We have heard others say that the idea of throwing farmers in jail is not the way to go. We have to understand what their plight is about and what is important for them to stay in their livelihood. We need a lot of these things and more.
It is frustrating for me to see a government that does not understand agriculture in the crisis as we have today. The proof of that is every time I see one of my Liberal colleagues stand up and try to explain to the House all the things the Liberals have done. That proves to me that they have no clue what they are talking about.
Gérard Binet Liberal Frontenac—Mégantic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Malpeque.
Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. We all know that drought is a natural phenomenon and unfortunately impossible to predict. With the help of the government, however, farmers are able to fight against Mother Nature.
As my hon. colleagues have said, the federal government is using a variety of means to try to lessen the effects of the drought, in the short and the long term. These range from direct financial assistance to farmers to the development of a new strategic framework for agriculture, in order to help Canadian farmers cope with the challenges they are up against.
For example, last August my hon. colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, announced that $10 million would be made available to farmers this year out of the $60 million committed to the National Water Supply Expansion Program. This measure will help lessen the risk of future water shortages due to drought and improve economic stability and prospects in Canada's agricultural regions. It is of course impossible to predict drought but, through research, farmers can be helped to compensate for its effects.
Some Prairie regions would no longer be workable today if it were not for research and science. In fact, it can be said that, without the considerable presence of federal research laboratories in the west, the face of Canada today would be entirely different.
Without this indispensable federal aid, western agriculture would not have thrived in those extremely difficult conditions, and would not have become the important economic force it is today. For example, federal government researchers have been helping farmers in the Palliser triangle to cope with drought for nearly a century.
The government set up an experimental station at Lethbridge in 1906, and others soon followed, including Swift Current, where researchers developed drought-resistant crops suitable for the arid southern prairies. This research continues to this day at Swift Current at the Semi-Arid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre.
Last year, $300,000 was also committed to the water shortage situation in Nova Scotia. This project was administered by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. The bulk of the funding will go to finance studies of catchbasins in the areas of Nova Scotia affected by drought and to better quantify and describe underground water resources in that province.
The Canadian agriculture sector is one that relies on innovation. Not only do the latest scientific advances help alleviate the impact of drought, but they also expand the range of Canadian made products, all the way from food with unique health benefits, to crops providing the pharmaceutical industry with chemical substances, biofuels, and other products.
In short, science and research are essential to the growth and sustainability of Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.
Rapid progress in fields like biology and chemistry, combined with the impact of information and telecommunication technologies, have resulted in a revolution in what is today called the bio-economy.
These scientific advances are producing a number of significant results: first, a shift from the consumption of non renewable resources towards renewable resources; second, environmental cleanup; third, improvement of food safety systems; fourth, an increase in farm income through the diversification of agricultural production.
This is why the federal and provincial governments have made science and technology a priority in the agricultural policy framework, the new national action plan to ensure that Canada is the world leader in terms of food quality and safety, environmental sustainability and innovation.
All levels of government across the country are striving to create a climate that fosters innovation so that consumers worldwide can have access to the products that best meet their needs.
The agricultural policy framework incorporates science and innovation in business risk management, food safety, food quality, the environment and agricultural renewal.
It takes science out of isolation and incorporates it strategically into the agriculture and agri-food sector in order to meet in an innovative manner the demands of consumers who want safe, high quality food produced in an environmentally friendly manner.
As far as drought is concerned, the Government of Canada is using science, research and technology to develop a more comprehensive approach that is better integrated and better coordinated so as to alleviate the impacts of drought through improved preparation, monitoring and forecasting, and risk management.
For example, researchers at the Saskatoon Research Centre, assisted by the Saskatoon Wheat Pool, recently developed a new variety of canola that will soon be certified. This new variety, called Brassica juncea, can grow in parts of the Prairies too dry for existing varieties.
In addition to this new variety of drought-resistant canola, the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre in Swift Current is developing cultivars and strains of hard red spring wheat, durum wheat and Canada Prairie spring wheat, which are suited for the dry southern Prairies.
Canadian farmers will also be pleased to hear that researchers in Lethbridge are examining various climate change scenarios with a view to forecasting droughts more accurately, which would give farmers time to prepare.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is also a leader in research on plant genomics.
Basically, genomics enables researchers to identify the genes responsible for major crop characteristics such as drought, cold and freeze tolerance, disease and insect resistance and seed quality, and to determine the gene sequence.
As we learned last Monday in the throne speech, the Government of Canada plans to build on past accomplishments to strengthen the science sector by integrating activities carried out in the various departments and disciplines and concentrating on what Canadians see as priorities.
The government is advocating a horizontal approach to research in all agencies, whether governmental or not.
Innovation requires a system of relations, partnerships that link the different levels of government, universities and the public and private sectors.
Obviously, science and research will continue to focus on more traditional areas, such as agricultural productivity, and livestock and crops that are better suited to our climate and better able to resist pests and disease, as well as increasing yields and reducing production costs thanks to improved agricultural practices.
As I already stated, research being carried out at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is also looking into drought-resistant crops and initiatives to mitigate the effects of drought.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is spending $5 million annually on research to improve land use and soil conservation. This work includes developing new crop irrigation technologies.
Among the methods being developed to offset water shortages are the following: automated micro-irrigation systems, which allow automatic irrigation based on plant needs; water-needs forecasting as crops develop over their life cycle so that farmers can accurately plan their water or irrigation needs; the use of mulch to reduce water loss through evaporation; and work on soil conservation and direct seeding to reduce erosion and conserve water.
To close, the challenge before us is to ensure that new scientific breakthroughs benefit all Canadians, particularly Canadian farmers.
Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE
Mr. Speaker, like others, I too welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I certainly thank the Speaker for allowing it.
This discussion must be held. We have heard many points of view all evening. There is much grumbling, much criticism, but there has been very little put forward as an absolute solution.
I will say that I am concerned in these important debates that for some reason, and we are no better on this side than they are on the other side, but we get into a we are right and they are wrong discussion. At the end of the day sometimes we are no farther ahead than when we started. I am concerned about that.
I want to try to put a human face on the issue. It is very serious for those farmers, families, communities and small businesses that are affected very personally by the drought and some of the serious weather patterns that have happened over the last number of years. Lives and livelihoods are being jeopardized. Some people are losing their farms.
It is not easy to lose one's life work. I have seen this happen in the farm movement over many years. Generally, people who have not lived on a farm, raised livestock or grown a crop cannot understand how it affects a farmer and his family when a herd is lost, or even to sell a few of the herd that a life's work or even generations before have put their life's work in terms of building the genetics of the herd. The same can be said for crops.
Simply put, it is like losing a member of the family. Their blood, sweat and tears are in that herd and in that crop. Their ancestry and previous generations in many cases have their life's work in that farming endeavour.
This debate is not just about an income loss. We have talked a lot tonight about money, but this is much more serious than about a few bucks, whether it is the government's dollars or somebody else's. This has a very serious personal impact on operations, on families and on communities. It is a loss of a part of their life.
To put it into perspective, I will use the example of a dairy herd. It may be four generations ago that some individual in a family decided to improve the genetics for milk production, for body type or whatever. That whole individual's life would have been spent trying to get the breeding right, improving it slowly generation after generation of cattle, and then generation after generation in the family. Then there is no feed and no money to buy feed. The banker calls and there is no option left but to sell the herd. Then it is not just an animal that is being sold, it is something that generations of the family put there. It is not just a simple sale. There is a tremendous human cost which cannot be measured in dollars.
Let us take a moment to look at the drought itself. Statistics Canada noted in a publication:
Crop receipts dropped to a seven year low, while livestock receipts fell after three consecutive years of increase.
This finding was released by Statistics Canada on August 26 this year. The report states that the findings released do not take into account the “extreme weather seen on farms during the 2002 growing season”. It is very serious in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the impact has been devastating.
For the 2001 season the Canadian Federation of Agriculture indicated that the impact of the drought was felt across the country. In my home province of P.E.I., potato yields were down between 20% and 60%. That was last year. In Ontario soybean yields were 50% to 60% of normal. In Alberta grain harvests were down from 20% to 80%.
The impact of the drought in 2002 on livestock producers has been estimated by the NFU. A farmer without access to hay will have to buy up to three tonnes of feed per cow. At an estimated cost of $150 per tonne, the cost per cow could over the coming year reach $450 or even higher. That figure does not include additional costs for water and other losses incurred from the selling of cattle in a depressed market.
The drought is certainly having a very serious impact. Yes, the Government of Canada, through the minister, spoke earlier. I believe the minister has been trying to do all that he can in the situation.
The Government of Canada has made some major strides in assisting agriculture: the $5.2 billion over six years announced in the spring; the NISA accounts; the agricultural policy framework; and crop insurance. The community, eventually assisted by the government, has come in with what has become known as the Hay West campaign. I think members from both sides of the House have worked very hard to try to get hay from surplus areas to areas where it is needed. I know there has been quite an effort in my home province in that regard. Certainly that has been helpful but it does not solve the problem.
The bottom line is does more need to be done? Absolutely. Certainly. We have to seriously look at a special disaster program or maybe change the methods of the current relief programs available. I heard some members speak tonight about the ice storm and the Red River floods. Yes, they received disaster relief out of the regular disaster relief fund. As I understand it, what happens in agriculture does not trigger that fund so perhaps we need to look at that definition. In any event, I really believe we have to look at a special disaster relief fund for these kinds of situations. The regular kind of programming just does not deal with the issue.
I want to very quickly look at what is happening south of the border. We have to understand where our neighbours are coming from. On September 19 the United States agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman, announced an assistance package of $752 million for livestock producers suffering from the current drought in the western states. The United States has several programs: a conservation reserve program; an emergency conservation program; emergency disaster loans; an environmental quality program; a wildlife habitat program; a non-insured assistance program; and a cattle feed assistance program. Certainly it is putting money into its industry and we have to recognize that.
The bottom line is that it is a very serious situation. The Government of Canada, the country as a whole and the citizens of the country have to take the issue seriously. We seriously have to look at a special disaster program that would accommodate these kinds of weather situations that the other programs do not look after.
The Deputy Speaker
Just to inform the members in the House, the next slot will be shared between a member from the New Democratic Party and one from the Progressive Conservative Party, 10 minutes each. I will come back in the final round to the official opposition.
Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I will let you know that my colleague from Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough and I are used to sharing our time in many other debates as well.
My colleague from Malpeque, Prince Edward Island said that there should be a program to help farmers. We on this side of the House say do it. Do it right away. Do not hesitate, do not talk about it, just do it.
Just sitting here thinking about what type of program we should have, a few years ago the government instituted something called the millennium scholarship fund. It put a couple of billion dollars into a fund and that fund generates revenues and those revenues are to help students. Unfortunately it only helps about 7% of the students in the country. However a program such as that would be much more effective to help all our farmers.
As was noted by my colleague from Brandon--Souris, this is the sixth emergency debate on agriculture we have had in the House since 1997. It is a telling sign when a member from the Bloc Québécois stands up for western Canadian farmers. The member from the Bloc deserves a real big hand for doing that. He and his party understand the difficulty western farmers are going through. It is too bad that although there are some backbench Liberals who understand it, the frontbench, the cabinet, still does not understand the devastation that is affecting our farmers.
A couple of years ago a farm lobby group came to Ottawa. We introduced it our NDP caucus. There was one young man who was about 12 years old. I think he was in grade six or grade seven. I asked him specifically if he was going to be a farmer like his daddy. He said no, absolutely not. I asked how many kids were in his school. He said about a couple of hundred. I asked him if any of the kids he knew were going to be farmers and he said, “Absolutely not. As soon as they can, they are gone”. When I asked him who he thought was going to feed us in the future, he just shrugged his shoulders.
That is the question I ask the government. Who will be the farmers of the future? Are we going to lose the capacity to feed ourselves? Very likely. We have heard reports of over 30,000 farm families leaving the farm over the last few years.
Coming from the east coast I know all too well the devastation we have in industry. We watched the 1992 cod collapse when John Crosbie shut down the industry and 40,000 fishermen were thrown out of work. The devastation to the farm families is just as real as what happened to the people on the east coast.
We have a crisis in our forestry industry. Those people who worked in the mills on Vancouver Island and elsewhere in British Columbia are feeling just as devastated as the fishermen on the east coast and the farmers in central Canada.
We have to ask ourselves, what does the Liberal government have against farming, fishing and forestry? I have not been able to figure that out. We would assume that these good people are well meaning and well intentioned. They must hear the same stories we hear. They must read the same newspapers we read. They must get the same phone calls that we get. Why are those traditional industries that helped build this country so devastated? I have a feeling I know why.
A former colleague of ours from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, John Solomon, was in France on an IPU tour. He met some agricultural ministers from the European Union. He asked the one from France about the subsidies to French farmers which were having a devastating effect on Canadian farmers. The man told my colleague, “John, don't even worry about it. If you think for one second that the French government is not going to support their farmers in any way, shape or form, you are kidding yourself. You are out to lunch. We are going to do everything we can every year to support our farmers. It does not matter about trade agreements, we are going to support our farmers. That is what the French government does”.
When John came back home he told us he could only imagine if that kind of spunk were in the Liberal government, that it would have the courage to support its farmers just as much, while at the same time working in the international community to reduce the international subsidies that hurt farmers around the world. It cannot be done alone. The United States farm bill has been completely devastating to our farmers.
Our government needs to act tougher and more unified with the provinces to stop that from happening. It is like Yogi Berra once said, “It's deja vu all over again.” I feel that I am repeating the same words we spoke last year on this.
While I am here I want to thank the member for Cumberland--Colchester and my Conservative colleagues in Nova Scotia for their effort in organizing and assisting, not only financially but manually, with the Hay West campaign in our area of Nova Scotia. I received a lot of calls from farmers within the Musquodoboit Valley and from the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. They did a great job of quickly organizing and working with colleagues across the country to get whatever hay we could at that time, but it took a long time for the federal government to understand. Even for a photo op government members should have moved more quickly. All the farmers wanted was to provide the hay, ship it out and have the federal government provide the transport. It took a mightly struggle to get the government to listen to that.
The government must ask itself who the farmers of tomorrow will be? Will it be the big corporate farms run by other countries, and we as citizens will have to pay whatever the market will bear, or will we stand up and support our family farmers so that when they wish to retire from a farm they will be able to turn it over to their sons or daughters with pride?
If we can do that then we will have a legacy for our people in the farming industry. I ask everyone watching, and anyone in the House, to stop for a second before consuming their breakfast tomorrow morning, to say a little prayer and to thank farmers who produced the food that nourishes us.
Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to follow my colleague from Nova Scotia who was very magnanimous in his remarks. He comes from a Dutch family background. Along with the many Scottish names that make up many of the big farms in Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough there is a huge Dutch community of farmers that do tremendous work, and have brought great productivity, great pride in agriculture, and a tremendous work ethic to my community back in Nova Scotia.
This emergency debate application, as everyone knows and as has been pointed out, was moved by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, seconded by my caucus colleague from Brandon--Souris who has been active on this file. It has been noted that this is the third agriculture debate that has come about as a result of prices in the industry in the country. It is the third of six agriculture debates moved by the Progressive Conservative Party. Out of a total of nine, five emergency debates have been moved by the Progressive Conservative Party, one by my colleague from St. John's East on the issue of overfishing and the other on the softwood lumber crisis facing the west coast and the country moved by the member for Cumberland--Colchester. The Progressive Conservative Party has always been and continues to be active in the natural resource sector, fighting for those who are making their living from the land the way that Canadians did from the very beginning.
I recall growing up in rural Nova Scotia as a young kid. Our farm was small by comparison but there were kids who would come to school, I will never forget, who smelled of the barn. There were other kids in school who would make fun of that, but these kids had great pride. These kids had gotten up early and had done their chores before they came to school. These kids were instilled with the principles that would serve them their whole lives, that work ethic, that commitment to the family industry, that commitment to do hard work and to put in a full day. It served them well throughout their lives because I remember those kids then and I have seen many of those kids recently who have grown up to be productive members of their communities.
This issue is as Canadian as it gets. This crisis is one which has gripped many families. It has huge social implications, life and death implications, people who have been forced to the brink of bankruptcy and many literally have taken their own lives. I have heard it said by many farmers that the loss of the family farm is like a death in the family, that is how critical the issue has become.
We have heard the statistics quoted with respect to the money that was put in in previous years, the money that has been coming, but the issue is the delivery. The issue is that it is not enough and it is not getting there soon enough to allow farmers in many instances to carry on, to get through the next season, or to make it one more year.
There were references by previous speakers, including my colleague from Nova Scotia, about the Hay West program. The Hay West program was a wonderful effort, again a truly pan-Canadian effort that saw farmers coming together from different parts of the country to help other farmers. It was done purely out of the goodness of their hearts and there is nothing that rekindles people's faith in the human spirit more than gratuitous acts of kindness. That is what the Hay West program was all about. I am proud that Nova Scotia took part in that.
I say to my colleagues in the west and other parts of the country, to those in need, there is more hay. There is more hay if we can get it to them. I have farmers coming to my office asking how they can get it there. A good friend of mine, Hector MacIsaac, suggested a novel idea. What if there was a way to get cattle to the east to pasture them there? This might be a way, rather than to have cattle starve, to pasture them over the winter or in barns where hay exists. This might be at least another way to prevent the starvation of animals.
These types of reciprocal arrangements and acts of kindness have been there for a long time. In the east, during the hungry 30s, fish, food and clothing were sent from eastern provinces to the west. I am sure that it would be reciprocated.
I know that there is a great empathy that exists in regions like ours in Atlantic Canada. We have been through the collapse of the fishery. We understand hard times.
This approach that has been taken to reach out to help people in need is one that truly has to be encouraged and applauded at times. Caring, compassionate people span all politics and regions. It is something that Canadians do and do well. We take care of our own. We are not, unfortunately, able to say that at this point in time because we are not doing enough to help the agriculture industry.
The statistics we have seen talk about the need for a more comprehensive safety net. The hon. member for Malpeque, who I also know has personal knowledge of the plight of the farmers because of his experience growing up on the island, has stated there is the willingness there. I am hoping he will be able to bring that type of pressure to bear on the government and the cabinet, to get that money there immediately, to put the resource support there where the need is greatest.
I could spend the brief time that I have attacking the Liberal record about the cuts that have been made in all sorts of sectors including agriculture. Between 1993-99 program payments to agriculture programs decreased by over $1 billion. We could all talk about the waste in other programs where money has been spent for frivolous purposes when one compares it to the importance of the agriculture sector, yet that is not productive. What we need to do is look for solutions right now. We can put the politics aside.
We need to look for a way to facilitate the continuation of farming, a way to save those who are hanging on by those hardworking hands, waiting for that money to get there. It has to get there right away before the season is over. We know that we are working with strict timelines.
The previous administration, the Progressive Conservative Party, by comparison when one looks at the record and the commitment to the agriculture sector, had a great deal in place. In one crop year, 1991-92, the GRIP and NISA programs delivered about $2 billion to farmers in a single year. That is an example that the government could learn from because in those years farmers similarly were facing terrible devastating conditions of pestilence, drought, and flood. We are talking about apocalyptic types of conditions that are like the horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping through western Canada at this time.
Members like to talk about the debt. It is always pointed about the $42 billion deficit that they inherited but let us get one thing straight. The previous administration inherited a $38 billion deficit, $12 billion of it that was racked up by the current Prime Minister when he was in the finance department. We can leave that record aside. We can talk about that another time.
What we need to do is talk about programs that will help farmers now. Fast effective programs that will get the money where it is needed, that will protect farmers, and then and only then can we put in place a long-term sustainable solution that will allow them to get the money for seed, for crops, for support, and for all of the various types of processes that take place.
There are many issues associated with farming. There are many ongoing crises that will continue unless the government steps up. We are calling upon it to do so. That is what this debate has been about in principle. We are hoping that the solutions and the concrete answers that farmers are looking for will be coming soon.
Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House tonight, although it is not a pleasure to speak to the topic of the emergency debate. Agriculture in Canada is in a dire situation and the 15 second sound bite from the throne speech last Monday did not do much to reassure Canadians and Canadian farm families that the Liberal government opposite will be of any help to them.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Lakeland.
This is the second year my area in Saskatchewan has suffered a severe drought. Some areas have experienced from five to eight years of extensive drought. This year it took our livestock herds. Up until now we had been able to keep our livestock herds but this was the final year of that whole thing.
My office in Saskatoon took over 4,000 calls for hay when the Hay West campaign was born. People phoned, faxed, cried on the telephone, told terrible stories of hardship and pleaded for hay and help. I wish I could have had a tape of every one of those calls to give to the Minister of Agriculture and his committees so they could listen to the stories of hardship that families were feeling.
I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the people of eastern Canada who gave so much to western Canada. We heard tonight that it was just a pittance but those bales and those rail cars that came to western Canada gave our people hope. There was a message of sincere sympathy from eastern producers saying that we do care. I wish the Government of Canada cared as much for our producers as the people in eastern Canada did.
On July 27 I received a letter that was addressed to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture and the minister of rural development in Canada. It reads, “Sir, I write this letter with much sadness and a very heavy heart. A short time ago a neighbour of mine committed suicide because of depression, a condition caused in large measure by frustration and hopelessness due to very poor grain, oilseed, specialty crop prices and declining livestock prices, drought and the added threat of a heavy grasshopper infestation. I spoke with him a few days before his death at which time he could see no way out of his situation because of huge input costs and a serious shortfall in income.
Last week we read in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix obituary column of a young farm lady who committed suicide also from depression.
The draught has been most severe. Last year, 2001, and this year too in this region, as it is in much of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Still, with all the information available to your government, no hint of any immediate relief assistance appears forthcoming. How many suicides will have to occur before there is a response in kind from the federal Government of Canada?
I find it very difficult to understand why a government would not have a disaster assistance plan in place that would take effect on short notice, especially when a situation such as drought is of such a magnitude as to affect most of Saskatchewan and Alberta. There always seems to be money for other segments of the economy but little or nothing for the most important human task of producing food for humankind.
At the July meeting of the Council of the Rural Municipality of Perdue the council declared the municipality a disaster area due to drought. In much of the municipality there will not be sufficient crop yield to cover municipal taxes, school unit taxes, fuel costs for operation, let alone other production costs. Hay yields are down 20% to 25% of 2001 yields, which was down significantly. Many livestock producers have reduced their herd by as much as 100% in some cases. Many though have reduced their herds by 50% to 60%.
In 1984, I, along with four others, sat in your office in Ottawa to discuss agricultural issues, but in particular the crow rate retention at that time. You indicated you understood our concerns in western Canada since you had relatives out there who were able to keep you informed.
I thank you for your attention in this matter of very great concern to myself and many others. We look forward to your early response”.
That is just one of the letters that I have on my desk.
The people of western Canada are very disappointed in the Liberal government and its lack of response to what has happened this year in western Canada.
The following is a letter from a young girl who, along with her husband, have just started farming. She writes, “My sister-in-law just phoned me to say that the news channel she was listening to said that we were to send our name and address in if we were in need of bales. In need of bales is the understatement as it ranks right up there with sure could use some rain. We are in desperate need of feed. We were hoping to bale some of the crop but it is too short, and what people are trying to bale for feed is coming out with extreme levels of nitrates. Our pastures for our buffalo are depleted and we cannot just go throw one wire around some crop land or there will be a rodeo unlike anything you have ever seen before. We actually brought some Hereford heifers too this spring, not the smartest move we have made but we were diversifying. Anyways, enough of the crying. If you have any resources we would appreciate your help”.
Dr. Alfred Ernst from Rosetown in my riding deals with the farm crisis in western Canada every day. He sees people in dire need. He sees children crying because their moms and dads are working two jobs to try to keep the family farm going. He visits with pensioners who are living on their pensions to keep their farm. All their savings have gone into the land and into the farm. Dr. Ernst collected a petition of over 4,000 names in less than a month's time from people who were asking for help.
I talked to a young woman in a store in one of the town's in my riding. She told me that yesterday was the worst day of 26 years in business. She and two of her staff were in the store and the only business they did that day was a gift return. We hear that over and over again.
A young woman with a business in the service industry said that it was the first time that her husband who is a farmer had to go to work. She works at her own business and with the farm they had been able to manage but that now her husband had to find a job to put food on the table.
Agri business across western Canada is suffering. We can no longer afford to not support our agriculture communities. We cannot allow western Canada to become a large, barren land. We cannot afford to lose the family farm. The way the Liberal government is going there is no other way of looking at it.
I received a pamphlet the other day in the mail from an agri business. A lot of our farmers have gone into the SFIP, NISA and other programs but they have phoned and told me they would not go into SFIP this year. I spoke to an accountant who has talked to over 30 of his clients. These people have had money clawed back because the government made mistakes when it sent out their cheques. The lowest amount was about $700. The government is telling farmers with no income that they have to pay back $30,000. There is not $30,000 to be paid back. The government made the mistake but it is telling farmers to give the money back. It says that it is not its problem.
The Liberal government is accountable for every farm and every farm family under the gun this fall. The Liberal government has not stood up for the Canadian family farm, and it is about time that it did.
Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in this debate tonight. I understand that I will be the last speaker. I want to take a bit of a different approach to this tonight and talk a bit about what has led to this situation, as I see it.
Before I do that, I just want to acknowledge that the situation on the farm today is the worst than I have seen in the last 30 or 35 years. The drought is certainly the worst drought in recorded history in western Canada. There is no doubt about that. It is much drier than it was in the thirties. The only thing that saved farmers until now is their aggressive changes over the past 10 years, direct seeding in particular, which allowed every drop of moisture to be saved so that there would be crops in following years, where there would not have been any 20 short years ago.
Farmers have made any changes they possibly could to help them farm in a way that would allow them to make a living. These changes have led them to be the most productive farmers in the world. The evidence of that is that Canadian consumers only pay something like 11% of their income on food. That is lower than any other country in the world.
Our farmers are doing their part and yet we are in another situation where many farmers will lose their farms. Many farmers have been forced to sell their livestock. Many simply will not rebuild their herds again. This hurts. It especially hurts someone who has grown up on a farm, as I have, and who has been raised on a farm with livestock and crops.
I studied agriculture in university. That was my chosen field. I bought a farm while I was still in university, 100% financed. It was not with the family. I had some very difficult times on it. It was not easy. I watched my neighbours as they struggled.
Because I had the training in agriculture, I worked as a farm economist for Alberta Agriculture and did private consulting with farmers over that time period as well. I will never forget as long as I live those years in the late eighties and early nineties when I sat at the kitchen table with dozens of farmers who were losing their farms. I knew there was no way to save the farm and they knew that also. In so many cases, a father, a mother and their children would be sitting at the kitchen table. The father would break down in tears as he realized there was just no way they could save the farm. Then the mother would break down and the children would sit there wondering what was going on.
That is what drove me into politics more than any other thing. I had seen the impact of government policies on farmers and I was determined to change that, at least to do my best to change it. I was determined that never again would I see farm families in that kind of a situation. However here we are 10, 12 or 15 years later and this situation has come back again.
It is important to look at what led us to this situation. There is no one point in time or one cause which could be pointed to as starting this mess, but I think there is one that probably lends itself to that more than any other of which I can think. That was an action taken by the current leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, when he was Prime Minister for six months in 1979. That member caused more devastation and hardship than any other political leader in the country by signing on to the trade embargo against the former Soviet Union. The then president of the United States signed on and decided to take this action and that member, as prime minister at that time, supported the United States. That has been the most devastating action taken by any politician in Canada, when it comes to the problems we now see in agriculture. I want to explain why.
I believe the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Part of the problems we see in Afghanistan now of course stem from that. Something had to be done. The mistake was when the United States and the Government of Canada decided to use food as a weapon. What was the response from our European friends? The Europeans said, “Never again will we go hungry”. They built subsidies and a common agricultural policy to the extent that they could be sure they would produce the food they needed so their people would never go hungry again, as they did during the second world war. The Europeans built their system of subsidies, including export subsidies, which drove world prices down.
The Americans to protect their farmers, then responded to those subsidies, including export subsidies, which further drove prices down.
What happened in Canada? Canadian farmers were left without the support that the Europeans and the United States farmers were receiving. They were not competing in a fair way. Our farmers remarkably did a lot of different things much faster than the Europeans or the Americans to help adapt to this very unfair trading environment. It is only due to their remarkable reaction that they have survived as long as they have, and many of them have done very well. Many Canadian farmers in fact are thriving.
I am here to say that I do not believe that subsidies are the solution to this problem in any way. That is not what we should be calling for. Subsidies are not the answer. Our farmers have done their part. They are producing the food more efficiently than any other farmers around the world.
We need compensation for trade injury absolutely, which is what we called for, and we need to improve the crop insurance program, which we certainly support. To portray farmers as charity cases is completely unfair because they have done their part. Governments have failed miserably.
First, we had the Conservative government with the member for Calgary Centre as prime minister and the tough, wrong-headed action which he took. Then successive governments since, Liberals, Conservatives and Liberals, again refused to deal with the base of the problem, which was unfair trade, particularly export subsidies on the part of Europe and the United States.
We have import restrictions in Asian countries, Japan, Korea and other wealthy Asian countries. They have refused to deal with these unfair trade practices and as a result have continued to keep our farmers in an unfair position where they simply cannot compete in an appropriate way.
I would like to close by saying that it is time for the government to finally do what it should have done all along, and that is to deal with some of the trade problems and high input costs that it has forced on our problems through high taxes, over regulation and red tape that is very expensive and takes a lot of time on the part of farmers.
It is time that the government gave farmers freedom to market their own grain, for Pete's say. It should not throw them in jail when they try to get a better price for it in the United States.
We have to allow competition in the transportation system so freight rates will drop. The government has to take action in all these areas. When it does that, our farmers will compete fine and there will be no need for subsidies in any way.
The Deputy Speaker
It being midnight, I declare the motion carried.
(Motion agreed to)