Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to join in the debate after the hon. member for Lotbinière—L'Érable. Needless to say, my remarks will be along the same lines as his.
I do believe that the tragedy being experienced by many farmers, not only in Quebec but also across Canada, is being seriously underestimated by the government. I can speak for the Lanaudière area.
On September 7, the Union des producteurs agricoles held a Quebec-wide open door event called “Les portes ouvertes”. It was an opportunity for the public at large, and not just elected members, to visit a number of farms. I visited a cattle farm operated by the Ricard family in the Lanaudière area.
The Ricards had already come to see me in connection with the mad cow issue. We may appear to be relatively unscathed in Quebec, but that is not the case. After being made aware of the problem, I wrote the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. I am still waiting for an answer. That was several weeks ago.
In my opinion, the lack of such simple action is proof of the insensitivity of the minister and the government with regard to the reality of this problem. Certainly some attempt at action was made. It is normal for any government, including Canada's, to react to an embargo like that imposed by the Americans on Canadian beef. Any other reaction would have been absurd. But, once again, as the hon. member for Lotbinière—L'Érable said, more was expected, especially to help farmers face this crisis, which is not yet over. This is critical.
Mr. Ricard is also the President of the Syndicat des producteurs de bovins de Lanaudière, and he told me that this was also affecting the dairy industry. The price of cull cows sold by dairy farmers is also affected. This has an enormous effect on income, to the point that, in Quebec overall, losses are set at approximately $50 million. This is a great deal of money, especially when it comes to developing an agricultural industry based on family farms.
Multinationals are not the ones breeding cattle in Quebec, particularly in the Lanaudière region. It is small family farms where people invest a great deal of their energy and savings. When I visited Mr. Ricard's farm, I talked with another farmer. We were admiring the system he had installed. This other farmer told me that he would never raise cattle because the capitalization is too risky. Starting a cattle farm is extremely costly. As a result, these farmers are very vulnerable to crises such as this one.
Cattle farmers in Quebec are experiencing a 50% to 70% drop in their income. For these farmers, the price of meat has dropped from $1.80 to 50¢ per pound. It must be said, however, this drop has not been reflected in supermarkets prices in Quebec until recently. I do the shopping at home when Parliament is not in session. I was able to see that the retail price of beef did not drop substantially until quite recently. I am told that, in the rest of Canada, prices decreased much more substantially.
I think that there is another problem that is equally important. This leaves the people of Quebec with the impression that beef producers are doing all right because consumers are buying their beef at the same retail price as before the crisis. This gives them the impression that the beef producers must be getting some income, but that is not the case.
There are some very serious financial problems being experienced. I could make reference to an article that appeared very recently, September 21, in the Joliette newspaper l'Action . Not a month ago, but after the U.S. embargo was lifted, and of course after the end of the federal government assistance program. It was not extended, as the parliamentary secretary has said. The report quotes André Richard, President of the Syndicat des producteurs bovins de Lanaudière as follows:
If nothing is done between now and December, Quebec cattle producers will lose an additional $50 million plus.
There will be no compensation for these losses, because there will no longer be a program in place. He goes on to say:
Producers cannot afford these losses, and the only outcome will be that the future of this sector is in jeopardy.
In other words, a number of farm operations are at risk of closing down, not just in Lanaudière but all over Quebec. The member for Lotbinière—L'Érable spoke of problems in his area. I am sure that the same reality exists all over Quebec and Canada.
So there should have been pressure on the Americans. I have some doubts, moreover, as to whether the lifting of the embargo was really the result of Canadian pressure, or just the outcome of developments in the issue. We will give them the benefit of the doubt, however.
As far as the assistance program is concerned, that is however something that was controlled by the federal government. Not everyone got help from the program. Cattle farmers who sold stock to other farmers were not compensated for their losses under this program. The only ones compensated were those who sent their cattle to slaughter. Yet prices dropped for the entire herd.
As well, the assistance was inadequate. It was inadequate when it did exist and is even more so, now that it does not.
On Sunday, during open house, I was given the following example: a calf was normally purchased for $800 to $900 and could be sold for $1,400 to $1,500. As it stands now, farmers are happy if they get their $800 back. Federal government aid programs have not been able to compensate for the whole loss. Farmers have had to absorb hundreds of dollars of loss per animal sold. Since these are family farms—as I mentioned earlier, these are not multinationals—since these are people who have taken a great deal of risk with their farm's equity, they are financially weak. They need this aid. They needed it from the moment there was a total ban and still need it now that the ban has been partially lifted.
Furthermore, the program should have been extended. It was extended for a few days, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, because of a totally unpredictable event: the blackout in part of eastern North America. However, the extension should have continued until the crisis was totally resolved. That is not the case. Particularly for Mr. Ricard; most of his production was exported to the United States. He is reduced to looking for new opportunities and is at the mercy of the current situation. The program should have been extended until the end of the crisis.
That said, it is true we must continue to make efforts at all levels to be able to pull through this crisis. For instance, in the case of the Union des producteurs agricoles de Lanaudière, my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm and I have made many representations not only to the government, but also to the general public in the Lanaudière area in order to raise awareness. We are going to continue to do so.
The cattle farmers received support during an organized event to promote Canadian beef consumption, or Quebec beef consumption if you will, Mr. Speaker.
In this context, the motion put forward by the Progressive Conservative Party is a perfectly valid one. When I was the critic for international trade, I remember the suggestion being made repeatedly to the government, through it Minister of International Trade, that delegations be sent to the United States. Timid attempts were made. The government was content with thinking that the tribunals, under the World Trade Organization or NAFTA, would solve the problem for us, but the problem has yet to be solved.
It is important to understand that these kinds of problems are political in nature. Often, parliamentarians are in a better position than anyone else to convince not only American politicians but also the American people that Canadian beef and Quebec beef is of prime quality.
We do need the delegation referred to in the PC motion and this delegation must reflect the reality of all regions of Canada, and of Quebec in particular.
I am not surprised, however, by the Liberal government's attitude, its lack of sensitivity. Regardless of the issue, we never get solid answers from the government. This is not peculiar to the mad cow issue. The same is true for tobacco growers, also in the Lanaudière area. There is also the whole issue of supply management, in which the government systematically says the exact opposite of what we are saying. And then there is the movement of compromised animals, an issue about which nothing is being done and where farm producers are being penalized.
I hope that the approaching election will wake some people up and that we will actually get results. I hope we do, because what I am seeking is growth, agricultural growth, in Quebec and in the Lanaudière area. All farm producers, and cattle producers in particular, can count on the Bloc Quebecois to defend them both now and after the upcoming election.