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House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

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September 23rd, 2003 / 3 p.m.

The Speaker

Before we began question period, the hon. member for Peace River had the floor. The hon. member had four minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

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3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think where I left off in my speech was in regard to the all party delegation that should go to Washington to resolve the BSE issue in terms of opening up access for our beef cattle into the American market. In particular, it is in regard to live animals. That is where the pressure is these days.

This is vitally important to the people in my riding of Peace River. There have been many people who have diversified and switched over from cash crops and gone into the cattle sector. All of a sudden they find themselves on the wrong end of a border being closed which has the effect of depressing prices greatly.

In fact, I talked to someone shortly before I returned to Ottawa who shipped an animal and that individual received $88 for one cow. That is approximately 10% of what that animal was worth. It is like the Depression era where farmers would ship an animal and get a bill for freight. That would be their net loss in terms of income because there was no market there.

We have to remember that this is a very important issue for a lot of producers in the country. The request to have an all party delegation go to Washington was endorsed by the leader of the Canadian Alliance in question period. I think it is a good request. It means that more work must be done to put pressure on opening up that border for our products. We feel that this is a safe product. This has been clearly demonstrated. Canadian farmers rely on the government to make those kind of requests come true.

Before question period I was talking about the poor relationship that has developed as a result of an antagonistic Liberal party deliberately antagonizing the United States administration. It is not only the administration, but I would add the American people which is even worse.

We have the new Liberal leader who was basically all but elected on Saturday. He is on his grand tour, his royal tour across the country. He is out in Alberta and B.C. He is on his way to see the forest fires in British Columbia. He is about a month late though. Those fires have been put out by a lot of rain.

I can just imagine when he flies over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba at about 35,000 feet, and he says, “Oh, that is really nice scenery down there. Look at all those nice cows”.

A lot of those cattlemen would like to see their cattle moved into markets in the United States which represents a $4.8 billion export a year. We need a little bit more from the soon to be Liberal Prime Minister than just platitudes. We need him to make some clear statements on what he intends to do about this serious problem.

When the new Liberal leader is out there looking for ways to solve the western alienation problem, I suggest he make a few stops along the way and talk to some real people out there. The cattlemen are concerned about the loss of income and how that border will be opened up.

I suggest the new Liberal leader should spend a sizeable amount of his time talking to Canadians. He should suggest some real solutions to a serious problem.

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3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his statements. It is important for farmers to hear what kind of thought is going on at least from this party on this issue.

I would like to ask the member whether in fact this is one of the most difficult issues that he has seen farmers face since he has been a member of Parliament?

I would like to point out what has been truly remarkable when looking at this issue is the support that we have seen right across the country from consumers. They have truly supported our cattlemen in every way that they possibly could, from eating more beef, which is extremely important, to putting pressure on the government saying that this is an important issue.

We know that cattlemen are going through a completely unfair situation which is devastating to them. That kind of support that we have seen is truly remarkable. I would appreciate it if the member could comment on that support.

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3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, in regard to the question from my colleague from Lakeland, I think that has been one part of this whole sad business we have been through all summer that has been very rewarding. Canadians got behind our cattlemen to a very great degree. Beef consumption has gone up. The Canadian public is not scared by this issue. Canadians realize exactly what issue is: one problem animal in a herd of 15 million. They have reacted accordingly. They have responded accordingly and they have supported the cattlemen.

I just wish that the federal government would now find the resources. The government ended its support program at the end of August. That is not good enough. The Canadian public wants to see our cattlemen supported through this tough time.

It really means that the federal program is going to have to be continued, because there are many calves that normally come off pasture this time of year and would move to market. This is the time of year that farmers have income to pay their bills. If they do not have a chance to pay their bills, the farm equipment dealer does not get paid and the fertilizer dealer does not get paid. It ripples through the whole economy.

Even worse, there is an infrastructure built up for a certain size of cattle herd to be put through the winter. If cattlemen are going to have to carry that livestock over a longer period of time, they really do not have the resources for the extra numbers they need. They do not have the resources for the extra feed they need. It is a tremendous burden.

I think the federal government has to step up to the plate. It was not good enough to end its program at the end of August. This problem has not been resolved. The resolution of the problem will be when live cattle are allowed into the United States. Hopefully that is going to be sometime soon. In the meantime, in the interim I think the federal government has a responsibility and it would be supported by the Canadian public in doing just that.

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3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member a few questions.

This BSE crisis, with $11 million lost per day, impacts even my riding, which is only one of 301 ridings. It even impacts my grandson, whose stepfather cannot pay the hockey fees for this year because he cannot send his cattle to market.

It impacts the meat producers. It impacts the transportation industry, which has lost over two-thirds of its drivers and cannot continue in business as it was. The implement and equipment sales are lost. Sheep producers as well as cattle producers have gone out of business. Equipment manufacturers are suffering lower sales. This is all happening in my riding.

How can the government claim to be doing all it can when the Prime Minister continues to heap insults on the people whom we are asking for help?

First, does the hon. member believe that we could try harder by sending a delegation of neighbour-friendly people to encourage the complete opening of the border rather than the partial opening?

Second, does the member believe this is an emergency issue even if it is not called SARS and is not located in Toronto?

Third, does the hon. member believe that the government is being insensitive to the many needs of the people who are involved in this industry?

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3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre has raised the key aspect of the debate today. This really is a true emergency for an awful lot of people. It does not end at the farm gate, as he has just pointed out. It ripples right through the entire economy. I know many people who are feeling the effects of this, because if farmers do not have money they do not spend money and they cannot pay their bills.

I would have to say that I think the current Prime Minister has been part of the problem and is part of the reason the border has not been opened. I think it is really up to the prime minister in waiting to talk to Canadians about what he would do about this issue. He has said he feels that there is alienation in some parts of the country. I am sure we would like to hear his point of view on how he intends to resolve this issue. It is not good enough to fly over the country at 40,000 feet and say, “I'm doing my royal tour”. He has to get down on the ground and he has to find out from people what they need, how they are going to make it through the winter, what government support is going to be required, and how he intends to get the borders opened.

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey.

I am pleased to rise today and speak to the motion brought before the House by the member for Perth--Middlesex. Let me say from the outset that this motion calling upon the Prime Minister to lead a delegation to Washington in an effort to open the border to Canadian beef is sound. Recently the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food passed a similar motion. The only difference in that motion was that the committee also urged the Prime Minister to travel to Japan. The committee felt that both Japan and the United States must be lobbied at the highest levels so they would understand that our beef is truly safe and that our system really does work.

As members know, on May 20, Canada's world class beef industry was dealt a blow that would eventually cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars. With the discovery of a single case of BSE in an Alberta cow, Canada's beef industry was plunged into unparalleled uncertainty and chaos. The good news, however, is that due to Canada's active, targeted surveillance program, the single case was detected and a comprehensive investigation was immediately undertaken. The affected animal was condemned and did not enter the human food supply; again, proof that the system worked.

As chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, I have in the past three months met with countless individuals, businesses and organizations on this matter. We have met with farmers, with representatives of the packing industry, with grocery distributors and with most other components of the sector. I have also taken the liberty of addressing the matter with several Japanese and American politicians and diplomats at the recent WTO trade talks in Mexico. I would point out that while I was doing this, the CFIA and Department of Agriculture officials had been trying to allay the fear expressed by Tokyo and Washington.

Essentially, since May 20, the focus of the department and the committee has been primarily on the topic of BSE. The international team that reviewed Canada's investigation praised its thoroughness and quality as well as the effectiveness of measures already in place to protect our public.

As a result of the strong leadership demonstrated by the government and the Minister of Agriculture, today Canada is the only country that has experienced a case of BSE to be successful in negotiating access for its beef products into countries which have never reported the disease. In my opinion, this is a strong reaffirmation from our trading partners that they are confident that our inspection system works and that our beef products are safe.

I also believe it is safe to say that Canadian consumers share this confidence. The public has rushed to the aid of the beef industry by increasing their consumption of beef and beef products. This is also a Canadian first. For domestic consumption of beef to increase after a case of BSE has been identified is indeed a testament to all Canadians.

That being said, there is still much more to do.

Currently, as each member knows, the U.S. is permitting Canada to export the following: hunter-harvested wild ruminant products that are intended for personal use; caribou and muskox meat from Nunavut for commercial use; veal meat from calves that were 36 weeks of age or younger at slaughter; boneless meat from sheep or goats that were 12 months of age or younger at slaughter; meat from farm raised cervids such as deer and elk; boneless bovine meat from cattle that were 30 months of age or younger at slaughter; fresh or frozen bovine liver; finished pet chews that are made from bone, ligaments, hides or hooves; and calf milk replacer, pet food, and feed ingredients that contain processed animal protein and tallow of non-ruminant sources when produced in facilities with dedicated manufacturing lines.

Despite all of this, there are still serious problems facing the industry. First, the products being imported by the United States are being authorized through a system of permits. This is a cumbersome system at best. Second, and most important, our live cattle and cull cows are not being permitted to enter the United States for slaughter. This poses a serious problem for both the dairy and the beef industries. Come winter, farmers will have cattle that are normally gone which must be fed and sheltered even though there is no room in their farm feedlots.

All in all, we have come a great distance, but there is a long road ahead. In the past three months our beef industry has forever been changed. Canadian farmers are hurting more than most of us can appreciate. We are all hearing stories of farm notes being called and other similar instances of economic anguish. It is primarily for this reason that I am prepared to support this motion today.

I do not believe it is fair to say that this government does not understand the urgency of the problem. As the BSE crisis was unfolding, members of the committee were in regular conference calls with the minister and with departmental and CFIA officials. This was required almost daily, as the situation was developing and changing so rapidly. Every attempt was being made to keep members engaged and involved in departmental actions. I should point out that this was being done regardless of political affiliation.

I must say to my committee colleagues and those with whom I worked on this issue that they have been most indulgent in the experience that we have had together in trying to resolve this issue. I thank them for it. Moreover, the agriculture committee met three times over the summer at what we called and considered emergency meetings. Never in my 10 years of political life have I been involved in emergency meetings on any issue. During this time, we met with witnesses and representatives of the industry. Without exception, all cylinders of the government were firing in an effort to open the U.S. border to our beef.

Today I heard the member for Cumberland--Colchester invite government MPs to join the fight for the Canadian farmer. By way of reply to that member, I must say that I would suggest we are already there. As chair of the standing committee, I have felt from the beginning of this crisis that all parties were working cooperatively together in an effort to put this behind us as quickly as possible. Had we followed the normal protocol, we would probably be looking at seven years to resolve this issue. That is not going to be the case, as we have already seen with partial border openings.

Accordingly, I am completely supportive of the motion before us today. I could not imagine that anyone would be against it in principle. The Prime Minister is the leader of Canada and, as our leader, he should continue to pursue all avenues to resolve this situation.

In Canada we know that our beef is safe. The science is complete and conclusive. In fact our beef is more than safe; it is the best in the world. If a meeting of our Prime Minister, the U.S. president and perhaps even the Japanese prime minister would help to demonstrate that fact to foreign diplomats, I am fully prepared to support it. I trust that my colleagues and others in the House will do the same.

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3:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the expression of the support the member is giving to the Progressive Conservative Party's motion today, but I am concerned about the tenor that things are going well. I think his point is well taken that we have done better in terms of responding to this crisis than a number of other countries may have, but I am concerned that the tone of his comments and the image he is leaving us are more positive than the reality. I know from his background and expertise that he may be able to help the House with this.

I would ask him specifically about Ontario and about the volume of exports leaving Ontario now compared to what it was before we were faced with this crisis. Could he give us any sense of how far along we are in getting back to where we were before the incident arose?

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague has asked a fair question. Certainly when we look at the partial opening of borders, the hon. member understands quite clearly that this is simply cuts of meats under 30 months of age. It is boneless beef in most cases. It is boxed beef. They are of course entering the United States under permits required and asked for by the Americans.

As the minister has indicated today, something like 70 million or 80 million pounds have gone. Or is it 70,000 tonnes or 80,000 tonnes? I am not sure, but it is on the record today in the minister's statement in regard to how many tonnes have left the country. In excess of 170 permits have been applied for, so we are moving rather quickly given that we started off with only three or four and we have moved to that number in such a short time.

In an earlier conversation with the member I believe we discussed the matter of sheep, goats and those kinds of things. Of course the same thing applies for those animals as well, so we have another industry that is also hurting. We need to hope it will be resolved and it will be fully appreciated once we see the opening of borders to live cattle and sheep and goats as well.

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3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Progressive Conservative Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the support of the hon. member for Huron—Bruce on this motion. As we know, the compensation package ended on August 31. It did not cover a wide enough scope of the agriculture industry, as we have talked about on various occasions. For instance, the dairy issue is very strong in my riding, yet is has not been a part of the compensation package.

I have one particular incident. An auctioneer held an auction in eastern Ontario and 130 head dairy cattle were purchased by a person from Michigan. That was on May 19. On May 20, as these cattle were being taken to Michigan, the border closed. The individual still has some of them boarded out at various places but they are still in his domain.

Along with that, this person also is a big supplier of replacement heifers in the dairy industry. At that time he had a lot of springing heifers. Of course right now they have all sprung and this is a problem. He has a lot more calves and so on. However just to look after them he has had to hire more staff to feed them. It has been suggested that he dig a hole and get a gun, a registered gun.

We do not want those things to happen. However there should be more compensation, and it should not have stopped at the end of August. What would your remarks be in this regard?

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3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I am quite sure the hon. member was intending to address his remarks to the Chair. The hon. member for Huron--Bruce.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the riding of Perth—Middlesex shares a riding boundary with me so I understand quite clearly the predicament in which some of his constituents find themselves.

This is an industry which has somehow not been given compensation because of the fact that these animals are live. They are usually springing heifers, as he has said, but they are now calving in his ownership and of course he has to milk these heifers. He has no quota to sell that milk and therefore he is paying to ship the milk but is not getting any remuneration for it.

It is a double whammy for this gentleman. I know that there are contracts on heifers into Mexico, into various parts of the United States and even into South America which cannot be honoured because of the fact they are live cattle. We must open borders to live cattle to effectively help this gentleman. Certainly the method which he alluded to is not an alternative to which we can look. We need to look at opening borders.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the discovery of a single case of BSE in a cow on May 20 changed Canadian agriculture forever. It is also forcing us to re-examine the international system of food safety and its impact on trade relations.

The partial opening of the U.S. border in August was an important achievement, but this matter is far from settled. I am reminded daily by farmers in my constituency and across the country that their economic hardship remains desperate. Every day I hear heart-rending stories from farmers and others in my constituency about the impact this crisis has had on their families and their businesses. Just the other day I heard from Dean, a young farmer who had bought his farm five years ago and struggled to make a go of it. The weekly drop in cattle prices has forced him to sell off 36 heifers at just over half their cost and he cannot even find buyers for the remaining 23. He faces financial ruin and has had to work off the farm to cope with his payments.

I hear from cow and calf operators in the beef industry, backgrounders, who argue that they have not benefited from the compensation package and that their current need is critical. Compensation can help in the short term, as long as it does not trigger trade challenges, but it does not solve the problem. We must restore confidence in the system and re-open international borders. That takes time and I believe though that we are on the right track.

On one level, I welcome the intention of the opposition motion that the MPs should become more active in lobbying their counterparts in the U.S. Congress on important bilateral issues. I have believed this for some time. On another level, this motion seems to imply that the Canadian government has not done enough to try to open international borders to Canadian beef. I completely reject that implication. Instead, I praise my colleagues, especially the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister for International Trade for their hard work and for what they have accomplished so far.

I have previously advocated, and I will repeat it here today, that MPs should be allocated four travel points per year for trips to the United States. We have heard a lot about Canada-U.S. relations in the past year. I believe that more face to face contact between the legislators of our two countries would help improve relations and resolve problems. Canada and the United States are economically interdependent. The beef issue, more than many, shows just how true this is. If MPs could visit Congress periodically those trips would likely be reciprocated by American congressmen and congresswomen coming here.

In short, I support the intention of the motion, that there be more contact between Canadian MPs of all parties and their American counterparts, especially on issues such as BSE. However I see this as part of an ongoing process rather than a single delegation aimed more at scoring easy media points at home.

I would like to turn now to what has happened since May 20. Canada's market access strategy was to keep our trading partners fully informed of the BSE investigation. Transparency is essential for restoring confidence in the system. Through Canada's embassies, consulates and high commissions abroad, we have kept foreign governments fully informed from day one. As a result of the investigation that concluded in late June, Canada asked its trading partners to resume trade in a wide range of products including: veal calves less than 36 weeks old for immediate slaughter; bovine animals less than 30 months for immediate slaughter; bovine meat from animals less than 30 months of age; sheep and goats for immediate slaughter; and meat therefrom; wild caribou; muskox and non-ruminant pet food.

Over the past four months the level of Canadian engagement with the United States and other trading partners has quite frankly been unprecedented. The Prime Minister has spoken with President Bush and the prime ministers of Japan and Korea. The Minister of Agriculture has been in regular contact with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Veneman and agriculture ministers in other countries. The Minister for International Trade has raised the issue regularly with U.S. trade representative Zoellick and other trade ministers.

Other ministers have been taking every opportunity to raise the issue with their counterparts. Senior officials in Ottawa have been in constant contact with U.S. officials. There have been Canadian technical level delegations to the U.S., Mexico, Japan and Korea. Several foreign technical level delegations have come to Canada.

All of our missions around the world have been in regular contact with host government authorities, keeping them informed of developments and pressing for a resumption of trade. Canadian officials have briefed foreign missions in Ottawa. Multilaterally Canada has reported to the Office international des épizooties, the OIE, the international standard setting organization for animal health, and to the WTO committee on sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures.

This intensive international lobby has resulted in progress. On August 8 the United States announced it would reopen the border to a wide range of products. At the same time the Americans committed to a rule making process that should lead to the importation of live animals. Our next priority is resuming live animal trade.

Although the United States is by far our most important market, we have also had significant successes elsewhere. Mexico announced it will be opening its borders to products like those that can now be sent to the United States. Substantial progress has been made in discussions with other countries, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and several Caribbean countries, including Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago.

I would like to take this opportunity to praise our American friends for the flexible approach that they have taken. We need to face the reality that as a result of that one cow, Canada is now officially a BSE country and will be a BSE country for the next seven years. Other countries have the right to block livestock imports from Canada for health and safety reasons. The Americans have chosen to open the border in stages rather than waiting to do it all at once. They did not have to do this.

The fact that the border is open even partway is no small accomplishment. Canada is the only country with a confirmed case of BSE that has had its trade resumed with a non-BSE country. This partial opening speaks to the close and interdependent nature of the North American beef industry, as well as to the dedicated efforts of our officials and the livestock industry representatives to reopen the border. Let us celebrate this accomplishment while continuing to work harder for further opening.

The Canadian beef industry has in the past decade made enormous progress in improving its tracing and tracking system. We are now world leaders in this regard. We must keep being proactive. Convincing the world of the safety of Canadian products is the key to reopening borders. In light of these improved methods, it is time for a reassessment of the import standards established by the OIE.

Canada, like our friends in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere, believes that the OIE standards are unnecessarily strict. Our three countries have been lobbying the OIE to revise its standards to take into account today's realities and to exempt products that pose no risk. Until the OIE standards are revised, however, our trading partners are within their rights to exclude affected products from Canada. Our success in obtaining exemptions then is due to our hard work in convincing our international partners of the safety of the Canadian system.

In summary I welcome any move that would increase ongoing contacts between members of Parliament and members of the U.S. Congress. I believe that members of Parliament should be given the means to do this through changes to the travel point system. I believe, however, that the delegation called for in this motion might not be productive at this time and could be aimed more at scoring cheap media points than achieving real accomplishments. I would hope that this is not the case.

Our governments are working well together on this matter. While much remains to be done, a lot has been accomplished in a very short time.

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3:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member's remarks as he was turning himself into a pretzel to praise the government's performance on this. He will have to agree that in spite of this litany of wonderful interventions that the government purports to have made, the border is still only open a crack. Less than 30% of Canadian beef products are making it into the American market.

I would like the member to acknowledge publicly that in spite of these efforts, there are the previous comments by the government. There are the previous comments from individuals associated with the government, such as the press secretary to the Prime Minister making very antagonistic remarks against the president. Members of his own caucus have referred to the American people in less than complimentary terms. There is the Prime Minister's refusal to act quickly after September 11, including his recent visit to the United Nations where he provoked the United States with some very antagonistic remarks about what was going on in Iraq. Would the member acknowledge that this does not bode well for Canada?

This does not improve the goodwill necessary to bring about the opening of the Canadian border. This type of half-hearted effort that his Minister of Agriculture and his government is making is not cutting it. It is not happening.

This is the biggest agriculture crisis in the country since the Depression. This is an effort on behalf of parliamentarians to bring forward an all party delegation to go Washington, complete with members and stakeholders of the agriculture community. There is no money for that he said. But we should give money to individual members of Parliament to go off on parliamentary junkets. We should give the Governor General money to go touring around the north, but we cannot find money to save a multibillion dollar agriculture industry.

Why would the member not support this particular effort? If he really does embraces the Prime Minister's call for an all hands on deck approach, why would he back away from an effort that would bring together stakeholders and members of Parliament in a non-partisan effort to go to Washington and make the case, with the science, with the individuals affected, with the political will?

I know he is a chicken farmer, but he is behaving more like a weasel farmer with his words today.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has just verified what I was concerned about. I just laid this out. I said at the beginning of my speech that I support the motion. I said at the end of my speech that I was hoping he would not be over there trying to make cheap political points on the backs of farmers who right now are in dire straits financially because of BSE. What did he do? Exactly what I was worried about.

Now, the relations between us and the United States are very good. The United States had an option when it closed the border. It could have closed it in such a way that the only way we could open the border back up again would be all at once, which would be extremely difficult. We would have to have everything solved.

The United States is a good trading partner. The member across the way may not be aware of the fact because he does not have an agricultural background, but the beef industry is a highly integrated industry. It is just as important to people in the United States who are part of the U.S. beef industry to get the border open as it is for us. But unfortunately the member is wrapped up as usual in cheap, partisan, political shenanigans.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member could let us know some of the feedback on the government's work from agricultural organizations or those involved in agriculture.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, just last week when the beef farmers were on the Hill, they met with members of Parliament outside. The chair of the rural caucus and the rural caucus members went to the Minister of Agriculture and asked for a private meeting afterwards with the leaders of the CFA, the OFA and the OCA, which we had. It was a very productive meeting. We laid out the direction in which the government was going and basically how we were looking at solutions to the problem.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this important motion on what is commonly referred to as mad cow disease, an increasingly difficult situation for people in the west and people in Quebec.

The situation is becoming increasingly difficult because the initiatives taken by parliamentarians on either side of the House and by groups, breeders and the labour organizations that represent them, are addressed to the United States Government. The United States government is not necessarily paying attention to these complaints and no wonder, no decision has been taken in this House for the past few months.

The Prime Minister is much more interested in preparing for his farewell party than in Canada's current economic problems. Moreover, we have a new Liberal leader—he is not leader yet, but the delegates are saying he will be elected at the convention in November—and even though he is not officially the prime minister yet, he is running things.

When the Bush administration meets and talks directly with the people involved in bilateral negotiations, it must think that we in Canada have an odd way of running the country.

Consequently, we are faced with situations like the current mad cow crisis, which is dragging on and for which no decision is being made.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said he showed great leadership in resolving the mad cow problem. In actual fact, he is very good at announcing things, but they are always limited to the first phase, in other words, phase 1 when the federal government has money. When it comes to phase 2, we are told it is not ready and that it is being reviewed. The new Quebec minister of agriculture, Ms. Gauthier, was here yesterday for a meeting and asked the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food if there truly was a phase 2.

The minister is certainly a champion of consultation. I had the opportunity to sit on the committee for a few years and I can say that there is plenty of consultation and review, but nothing is ever really decided. When we are faced with a situation like mad cow, decisions are slow in coming. When negotiations between Canada and the United States drag on, the government should show leadership, since this is not provincial jurisdiction.

The market and international trade are federal responsibilities. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Prime Minister, the future prime minister or the Minister of Finance—who is also much more concerned with his personal future than his political future—would be the ones to examine this matter and make any decisions.

The government's behaviour with regard to the agricultural industry in Quebec, which is a fundamental and vital industry, is unbelievable. On the one hand, the UPA and all the unions are working together to ensure that this industry remains diverse and, on the other hand, we are dealing with a very unsupportive government.

This has direct consequences on central Quebec, which is where my riding is. The President of the Syndicat des producteurs de bovins du Centre du Québec, Alain Laroche, stated, on August 29, that, “the cattle industry, which generates 20% of the jobs in the central Quebec region, is on the verge of a catastrophe”. The farmers say that this situation is cause for concern for the next generation, iand a solution must be found in order to help them, otherwise it will be impossible for young farmers to buy a farm.

Currently, in Quebec, the industry is concentrated. Consider the problems faced by the hog farmers due to giant hog farms and mega-hog breeding operations which are taking over the market. There is no room for the next generation.

Mr. Laroche also said:

People must realize that we can no longer make ends meet.

There is no doubt about that.

Inverness is a small municipality in central Quebec. Its entire economy depends on the beef market, to the point that the beef festival is one of the most important events there. This social and economic activity attracts all the big cattle farmers in central Quebec. Along with various cultural activities, this festival helps to promote this industry.

Farming is the primary industry in central Quebec. Those on the other side of the House, the Liberal Party members, must pay more attention to what is happening in our regions.

We also have some statistics. We all know that the crisis has had a number of consequences. First, the slaughterhouses are no longer operating normally. As a result, producers incur higher costs to keep their herds. Another consequence is the reduced need for workers. The lack of production in the slaughterhouses means that, here, too, there is more unemployment.

Each time a crisis is brought on by the lack of leadership in the Liberal Party of Canada, the current Liberal government, it always affects the little people, the people who live on reasonable salaries but who cannot live very long on employment insurance benefits. It is not the same as earning $12 to $15 an hour. And first, one has to qualify for EI.

Right now, I know that representatives of the major central labour bodies in Quebec are going to knock on the doors of federal Liberal MPs to call them to account. With all that was said during the last election campaign, I am eager to get to the next one, because we will be able to call them a name I cannot say here because we are in the House and it would be called unparliamentary language. What we are saying is that these people are not telling the truth. That is a little better. We know that the Liberals made grand promises to make changes in employment insurance, but nothing has been done.

The mad cow crisis, the softwood lumber crisis, and the crisis in manufacturing are all factors with harsh effects on rural areas.

When people talk to me about the survival of rural communities, I know that the previous government in Quebec made incredible efforts to revitalize rural areas. We know that a province or country that finds itself with some weaker regions is not well balanced. Thus, if the rural regions are confronted with economic problems, it is because they were first up against the Employment Insurance Act, which really depopulated the rural areas. This legislation made it necessary for people to leave rural areas to move to large urban centres in order to regain their economic health.

All of that was to say that, of course, we shall vote in favour of the motion brought forward today by the Progressive Conservative Party. Any steps that can be taken to get us out of this blockage are important.

Before I close, I would like to say that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette. I had forgotten to mention that, but it is the hon. member for Joliette who will continue the efforts I began some 10 minutes ago to convince the Liberal government to wake up and solve the problem.

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3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member from the Bloc for his comments. He mentioned the survival of the regions in Quebec from an economic point of view. That is basically what we have talked about today. We have talked about the broad impact the mad cow disease issue has had across the whole country. Members from western Canada, from central Canada, from Quebec and from the Maritimes have spoken. We are all saying the same thing: do something about the problem. The people in the industry are crying for help.

One topic that has not been discussed has been the impact on the public school system. The fact of the matter is that many farmers across the country cannot pay the school taxes. The public school system relies on the collection of these taxes. What are we going to do, shut the schools down because the school boards cannot operate? That is a real fear.

I want to ask my Bloc colleague how this will play out in the province of Quebec.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, in reference to the situation I mentioned where farmers and breeders are faced with certain problems, I think there must be some who have difficulty paying their taxes.

When people lose a significant portion of their monthly or annual income, they have to make choices, and that is becoming increasingly difficult. That means when income decreases, the farmer or breeder has to make big decisions.

The mad cow issue started in May. The United States government is slow in responding and does not seem willing to show much openness. The federal Liberal government should show more leadership. It sometimes tends to intrude in our provincial jurisdictions. However, the international market is a federal jurisdiction. I just want the government to do its job.

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3:55 p.m.

Portneuf Québec

Liberal

Claude Duplain LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to make a few points concerning certain aspects of what the hon. member has said, particularly about the problems facing farmers.

Farmers are not being confronted by certain problems, but have certain problems that have to be solved, and which the government is in fact in the process of solving.

One hundred days after this extraordinary and harmful crisis began—one that makes no sense whatsoever—the minister succeeded in reopening the border. The government initially invested $460 million to help farmers, and then another $50 million or so. I think that an extension of some five or six days was given because of the power outages in Ontario.

We are currently negotiating protocols with Japan and Mexico. As for the agreements, we are involved in daily discussions with the United States with a view to fully reopening the border. It is partially open, I must point out, which has allowed 8 million tonnes of beef across so far.

The opposition must realize one thing: this is the first time in the world that borders have been successfully reopened within 100 days.

In this connection, I am curious to know whether the hon. member is in the least aware of the efforts that have been made. Judging from what he has said, he seems to be indicating that nothing at all has been done. I have, however, given some examples of efforts that have been made and could give dozens more.

Does he realize that efforts have been made by this government, with a view to fully reopening the border?

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3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, my point is that while some efforts were made, much remains to be done. Because this comes under federal jurisdiction, the government ought to put more effort into this.

This government is very good at always announcing a phase one that is on a very large scale, from coast to coast, as it were, and then, with phase 2, at scaling things down. When the time comes to take steps to save production, there is no money left. There are studies and consultations, but no decisions.

I agree that efforts have been made, but much remains to be done.

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3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

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.

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4:05 p.m.

Portneuf Québec

Liberal

Claude Duplain LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on his remarks. I found him to be rather optimistic, in contrast to what we had heard before. In any case, he understands the issues in Quebec very well.

At the same time, we might congratulate the UPA for organizing open house days on the farms. That made it possible for us to visit thousands of farms in Quebec and find out firsthand about the problems they face.

I would like to reassure the hon. member; the minister is entirely aware of the issues in question and he understands them. While not rushing to his defence with regard to the letter that was mentioned, I can say that the minister has received not just hundreds, but thousands and thousands of letters since the mad cow problem began. I am sure that the letter in question will be answered.

I would just like to make a little statement here. We must understand that the farmers of Canada have developed an incredible economy in collaboration with the federal government, regarding agriculture in Canada. We have lived through a problem, but it is through the farmers and the federal government working together that we will be able to solve the problem.

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to question the good faith of the parliamentary secretary. I have had discussions with him on many issues.

What I have seen is that we are not able to solve the problems. What I want is solutions. The mad cow problem is not the only issue; we have a whole series of problems that are not being resolved. I invite the parliamentary secretary to come to the Lanaudière area and meet the representatives of the UPA. I can assure him that he will be well received and that the farmers will be ready to ask him questions. They want answers, not just letters of acknowledgement.

That said, along with my hon. friend from Berthier—Montcalm, I extend a very friendly invitation to come and meet the UPA in the Lanaudière area.