Madam Speaker, it is great to rise today and speak to the motion brought forward by the Conservatives.
In the north part of my riding we have over 600,000 head of feeder cattle. When the BSE outbreak occurred back on May 20 the entire number of cattle on feed in Canada at that time was 950,000, and 600,000 of those cattle were in my riding. Therefore, to say that I have been somewhat associated with this issue since it started, I suppose would not be giving it enough credit.
I want to mention a couple of things before I get into the debate on the motion. The first is the confidence that Canadian consumers have in the beef industry in this country. Beef consumption in Canada for July was up 62% over last July. That is incredible. That has never happened before in the world when a country has been faced with a BSE issue. Consumers should be congratulated on staying with the industry.
However the industry also did a pretty good job. I wish to mention two people from my riding who did an incredible job of keeping Canadians on side on this issue. One of them is Rick Paskal. Members might have seen him this past summer in Ontario selling truckloads of 10 pound tubes of ground beef for $1 a pound. I do not know how many tonnes of beef he moved all across the country but it was on his own initiative.
What he was trying to do was to make consumers realize that some of the prices they were paying at the retail level were a little too high. The fact is that the producer was getting so little for his animal that should have been reflected on the price at the retail sector.
Ever since Rick has been in the cattle industry he has been an activist. I have known Rick all my life. He has done a tremendous job. He has been in the United States lobbying for the industry. When the United States challenged the beef industry a few years ago he spent a lot of time down there educating those folks on how our business works. I congratulate him on that.
The other person I want to mention is Ed Fetting. Ed was recently appointed the economic development officer for the city of Lethbridge. He and others got together and came up with an idea for the great Canadian cattle drive. This was not the cattle liner that showed up here last week. This cattle drive brought employers together to allow their staff to buy beef on the payroll deduction plan. They moved hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef through this program. It spread out across the country. I have to hand it to him for doing it. The issue at that time was that we had a glut of beef in Canada that needed to be moved and all these initiatives helped.
The motion we are dealing with today on taking a delegation to the U.S. to lobby should already have been done. The Prime Minister should have been down there and stayed there until the issue was solved. It is unfortunate that he has not done that.
This summer the member for Medicine Hat, the member for Fraser Valley, our leader and I went to Capitol Hill in Washington to attend a great group of meetings. We met with congressmen and senators from all parties, and with bureaucrats, and we were able to talk to the person at the White House who had this file on his desk.
These people were very knowledgeable. They wanted to talk to us and they assured us that they were doing all they could. However the one thing they pointed out to us time after time was that the lack of communication between Capitol Hill and Parliament Hill was hurting the issue. We heard, not so much from the politicians but from the bureaucrats, that some of the comments that came from the government that went unreproached by the Prime Minister were hurting the issue.
When people tell us that everything is fine and that we are talking back and forth, maybe they are but it is not at the level that it needs to be nor the quality, because those lines of communication are not there.
As I have said, we had some incredibly good meetings and people were very sympathetic. I was very impressed with the people we met. It did not matter from what state or what party, whether they were a senator or a congressman, they were very knowledgeable on the issue. Everyone seemed to be aware of what was happening.
I think the thing that made them want to resolve this issue so quickly was the fact that they knew that with the 49th parallel beginning where it does this could be their problem and not ours.
That brings me to the issue I just raised with the health minister. As a country, we expect the United States to take our beef. We want that border open to live cattle, initially under 30 months because BSE does not exist in animals under that age. It is open an absolute fraction right now. There is a 3,500 mile fence between us and them as far as our cattle are concerned and there is a very small crack. We are trying to run a multibillion dollar business through that small gate and it is not working.
One of the issues that I mentioned was what Rick Paskal has fought for, which is to have access to the U.S. feeder cattle on a year-round basis. Right now they come in on what is called a vector season, from October to April. It is a non-fly season. The two diseases are anaplasmosis and blue tongue. Study after study has been done. When I asked the Minister of Agriculture about this yesterday, he indicated he wants the CFIA to look at it once again. The science is in on this. They do not have to look at it again. There are vets in the CFIA who will back this up and say that whatever health risks there are in these two diseases, they are manageable.
Harmonizing the health standards on both sides of the border is very critical. We have a continental market in beef right now, but if we did that, then the border would almost disappear and the situation we find ourselves in today because of one lousy, stumbling, sick cow that has cost our country and the industry $11 million a day every day since May 20, would not be happening.
The issue of Canada and the U.S. working with the OIE to come up with a different process to use when one of these diseases is found would be great. However, I think the reason the U.S. is so interested in that is the Americans know that this could very well happen to them and they do not want to have the ramifications that we had when it happened to us.
Year-round access is a critical issue. I believe that would send a clear message. I have been asking in the House since 1997 that we recognize the health of the U.S. herd and it has not happened yet. If we sent that one message, the Americans would understand that we are serious about having a level playing field and that we are serious about working with them on harmonizing the health standards. That would go a long way in helping us get the border open.
We heard the parliamentary secretary last week answer a question on this. He said that the problem is solved and the border is open. Until live cattle are going back and forth across that border, I do not want anybody to say that the border is open, because it is not. It is open like a crack in a long, long wall.
Madam Speaker, I would like to indicate that I will be splitting my time with the member for Peace River and he is on his way.
The other issue besides year-round access that I would like to mention is NAFTA. I have read in sections of NAFTA that if there is no scientific reason for trade to be discontinued, then it must be re-established. Ann Veneman, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, has said time after time that our beef is safe. They are taking boxed beef. They are taking that because they need it. Hopefully soon they will need our feeder cattle and they will open the border to them and at the same time to our cattle under 30 months.
Why has the trade minister not looked at this issue and said that under NAFTA rules, if there is no scientific reason for this trade to be stopped, then get it going? We have not heard that. It is right in the rules and regulations. People across the country who have looked at that and trade lawyers are saying the same thing. We have a legitimate case here to have a look at that. I think that discussions need to take place between us and the Americans. We need to say, “Look, it's right here”. We need to take the next step and enforce the challenge.
We have to do all of these things. It all lumps into working harder and being more aggressive. I firmly believe that as a nation we have not been aggressive enough at the negotiating table on trade issues. This is one clear example.
The beef industry is in trouble. We are going to lose it. We have lost a good portion of it already. I think people have lost confidence in it. Investors and others will say that they just will not take that chance again. We have to be very cautious. We have to work very hard to make sure that this issue is solved. I do not know how much good a delegation led by the Prime Minister would do with the way the relationships are right now, but a delegation of some kind certainly should be taken to the U.S.