Mr. Speaker, I want to start by acknowledging a few people: my leader who gave a great speech on this whole issue a little earlier this evening and the member for Selkirk--Interlake who has done an outstanding job as the Canadian Alliance agriculture critic. He has done a great job of analyzing the situation and has had media interviews over the last week or so.
I also want to acknowledge my friend from Lethbridge who just spoke. He knows better than most people in the country about the impact this has having on especially the feeder industry. It is absolutely devastating, and I want to congratulate the member on the job he is doing representing the people of Lethbridge on this issue.
I also want to say there are people in the cattlemen's association in particular who have done an outstanding job. Neil Jahnke, head of the CCA, has been a great spokesman for the industry and has been forthright with the government and has worked cooperatively with officials on this issue. I get to work locally with Arno Doerksen who has done a great job on this.
I also want to pass on my congratulations to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that jumped on this issue as soon as it became public. It has done a very good job of assuring the public that it has the issue in hand. That is really important. I want people to understand the size of the problem in terms of risk to health first of all. There is a very small problem.
Let us go over the facts. In a 13.4 million cattle-cow herd in Canada, one cow was discovered with BSE. That herd was quarantined when it was discovered. It was sent to be slaughtered so the herd could be tested. The initial testing has been done and there is no indication of BSE in that herd. Any other herd that has been even remotely associated with that cow has been quarantined.Therefore there is no way that these cattle can enter the food chain.
I want to point out by the way that the first cow that was found never did enter the food chain. Right away people get concerned but that animal never got into the food chain. Since that time the trace out has continued. When there is even a remote association with that initial cow those herds are quarantined.
I think many people automatically want to compare this to what happened in the U.K. back 17 years ago when all of this first began. However there is no comparison. The numbers I have of the problem that hit the U.K. and Europe was 400,000 infected cattle. We have one infected cow. Out of that 400,000, about 100 people became ill. We have no one who is ill. There is a very tiny chance.
We also have to remember that in Europe the practice was to consume parts of that cow that we would not consume in Canada, and they are the ones that ultimately can cause some kinds of diseases. We do not even consume those organs in Canada. Therefore there is absolutely no risk in Canada. We should not be concerned about this.
Having said, we know there are protocols in place so if there is an incident of BSE that crops up of mad cow, right away the border is closed.
However now I want to drive home again the impact that has on Alberta and on western Canada in particular, but also the entire country. I can speak best of course about my riding.
My riding is the riding of Medicine Hat. We are an area that raises a tremendous amount of cattle. In additional to raising cattle, we also process cattle. We have a meat packing plant in my riding and we process a tremendous amount of beef every week. We have 2,400 people who work at the meat packing plant, Lakeside Packers in Brooks, Alberta. Those people incidentally come from all over the world. There are about 60 languages spoken on the floor of Lakeside. That reflects the fact that people come from all over the world to work there. They make good wages and they are a tremendous benefit to our community. It is impossible to overstate the positive economic benefit they have had in our community.
I want to point out also that through this time, even though the company cannot really process beef or not very much of it anyway, it has managed to come up with a way to provide its employees with 32 hours a week of pay even though there is not that much work for them.
To its credit, Cargill down the way in High River has done the same thing and should be recognized for that.
However they cannot do that forever. They will be in a situation where they will have to start to lay off folks. We urge the government to give the same consideration to people in Alberta and places affected by this, when it comes to employment insurance, as it did for the people in Toronto when the SARS epidemic hit. I think that is only fair.
I also want to emphasize a point that my friend just made a minute ago. I was talking with a friend of mine on Sunday morning, a guy I have known for quite a few years. There was a bunch of us standing around, talking about this whole issue. I told people what I had heard lately and my friend looked at me and said, “If this continues very much longer, a few more days, I will be done. I will be bankrupt.” He grows the feed to supply some of the big feeders in Rick's riding. Of course those guys are in no position right now to look after their payables. This man is close to losing everything he has worked for over many years, and I am afraid to say he is one of many.
We have talked a bit about the feeders but there are the guys who supply the feeders. Then there are the big packing plants like Lakeside and Cargill that could probably weather this for a while longer. Ultimately the cow-calf guys, although not immediately, will be in jeopardy if that border does not get open.
Therefore, what do we do now? There are a number of things we have to do. That trace out has to be finished as soon as possible. They have to track down all the cattle associated with that cow and all the cattle, or animals of any kind, associated in any way with that processed diseased animal. It did not end up in the human food chain but it did end up being rendered and that has to be traced now. We have to find out where all that went, those animals have to be quarantined and that all has to be done as fast as we can. I urge the government to take whatever resources it has to take to do that. It is just so critical.
The second thing is, and I already touched on this, the human resources minister has to prepare a package so that people who are affected by this do not have to go through the two week waiting period and that they get the same consideration the people in Toronto got when the SARS epidemic hit. Again, this is through no fault of their own.
Another important point, which my leader raised today in question period, is these supplemental permits that are issued to countries to bring beef into Canada over and above what they are allowed under their tariff rate quotas has to stop. That beef was allowed in because the understanding was that if Canada exported so much beef to the United States, we could not look after domestic processors. Guess what? We have a glut of beef now. There is no reason to allow this over-quota beef into Canada. It does not make a huge difference, but it does make a difference. I hope the trade minister will work right away to deal with that. It would mean the stopping of about 50,000 tonnes of overseas beef coming into Canada and would allow us to feed our own market.
There are two final points that I want to make. One thing that has to happen, as my friend said a minute ago and as I asked about in question period today, is we need to establish from the Americans what criteria have to be met if we are to open that border up and export our beef and our live cattle into the United States once again.
I understand the Americans are working with us, and I appreciate that. I think they want to get that border open. However we need to know, and the government has an obligation to tell producers, to give them confidence that the government is on the job. It has an obligation to tell them the criteria so producers and the government, the CFIA, can meet those standards. That is important.
The final point is, where is the Prime Minister on this file? It was great that he was eating a steak on TV. That is fine. That is good. He should have been on the phone to our closest ally, the President of the United States, but he has so burnt up that relationship that he is afraid to do it. That is a shame. At a time like this when we need the influence of the Prime Minister, we cannot count on it because of his own sorry record when it comes to Canada-United States relationships. Unfortunately, that burns a bridge that we vitally need at this time.