House of Commons Hansard #6 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Chair, farmers are doing well. I am saying the government can step up what it does in general advertising, general programming. That is something the government could do without a lot of dollars and it is something the government is not doing. We can eat Canadian beef. Farmers know that. The government needs to promote that and promote it harder and faster.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

October 12th, 2004 / 10:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Chair, it was very important to me to participate in this take note debate on the mad cow crisis. The major issue for us in Quebec is for the federal government to provide an aid package that addresses Quebec's problem with cull, and also to move forward with the regionalization of the food inspection system.

I wanted to take part in this debate because the region I represent is largely rural. Agriculture is vital to the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska. The Arthabaska RCM is the largest milk and beef producer in Quebec. The region offers many exceptional cheeses, including one called Sir Laurier d'Arthabaska, for your information. There are also hog and poultry farms, and speciality crops such as cranberry, honey and maple syrup.

Centre-du-Québec is a major dairy region with more than 150,000 farms representing 16.3% of dairy production in Quebec. In the Eastern Townships, the other region that overlaps my riding, there are roughly 1,000 dairy farms.

The mad cow crisis affects all these dairy and beef farmers. Last week, I attended Expo-Boeuf in Victoriaville, the main city in my riding. It was a great success again this year, but I must admit that the morale of the producers is quite low these days. No wonder, prices have dropped by 30% to 70%.

The mad cow crisis has affected dairy farmers who sell their cull, in particular. My colleague, the Bloc Quebecois critic for agriculture and agri-food and member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, said it well at the beginning of this take note debate: the federal government did not consider Quebec's particular problem when it announced its recent aid package. Dairy farmers cull 25% of their cows a year, but the federal government is compensating them for only 16% of their herd.

I know that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was present at that time. I trust that he paid careful attention to what the hon. member said, since she herself is a farmer and was, moreover, once named Quebec's woman farmer of the year. It is praiseworthy, appreciated even, that the government is pressuring the United States to reopen the border to Canadian cattle and beef. We all realize, however, that the situation is likely to remain unchanged until the U.S. election is over.

So far, all efforts have been unsuccessful, and there are no indications that the situation will change in the near future. The steps taken to increase slaughter capacity and to develop new export markets are also welcome, but the basic issue has not been settled. Recently the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec, the Union des producteurs agricoles and the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec issued a press release—on September 10 to be precise—in which they stated that the announced assistance was inadequate and did not in any way meet the requirements of the beef and dairy producers.

The two federations and the UPA estimate the need in Quebec at over $141 million, while the transition support measures will total only $15 to $20 million. As I said, the minister was there for the first part of the debate, and I would also have liked him to have been with me in Chesterville a few weeks ago when I had supper with a beef producer. He would have understood that producers are on the verge of financial ruin because of this continuing crisis. He would have been asked by someone from the agricultural community whether his program was really tailored to the particularities of Quebec and the actual needs of producers. I made a promise to the farmer that I would pass on his message, which is why I am here before you this evening for this take-note debate.

A number of my Bloc Quebecois colleagues have, moreover, raised another glaring problem with the federal industry assistance plan, and rightly so: it totally ignores any regionalization of hygiene practices. The mad cow crisis ought never to have affected Quebec producers, who have been subject to more stringent rules than the Canadian ones for a long time. Not only the Bloc Quebecois but the entire industry is calling upon the federal government to recognize this other particularity of Quebec and to enter into discussions with Quebec in order to regionalize the food inspection system, dividing Canada into several regions.

That would make it possible for Quebec producers to be spared in a similar crisis in the future. Why should Quebec's producers be penalized because of one case of mad cow discovered 5,000 km from them, when Quebec has established a system that makes it possible to trace the animal from birth to death? We also banned animal meal four years before Ottawa did.

The former Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food maintained that it was impossible to impose territorial measures within a single country. I hope his successor will be more sensitive to the Quebec context, but unfortunately I have my doubts, based on this government's record.

Canada has , in fact, applied regionalization, less than a year ago in the case of the American chickens with Newcastle disease. Various American states were affected by this contagious viral disease that primarily attacks poultry. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency imposed restrictions only on the four states affected, California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas.

If such regionalization of public health measures had been in place, Quebec's producers would not have been suffering for over a year and a half. They would have been spared. The idea is not to have provinces confronting each other. The same thing would have happened if the case had been found somewhere other than Alberta.

It is obvious to me that if Quebec had been sovereign and in control of its borders and public health policies, it would not be subject to the American embargo today. In the meantime, we must continue to put pressure on the federal government to grant sufficient assistance to compensate for the drop in cattle prices.

Contrary to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said earlier this evening, we are not asking for a privilege. Quebec's producers are not asking for any privileges. They are asking for an assistance program that takes into account Quebec's cull cow problem, which is not found elsewhere. It is not complicated; there is no privilege involved; there is only justice.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Chair, I would ask the hon. member across the way if he could, in the spirit of federalism, convey to the House the reasons he believes the Government of Canada should divest its moneys to the province of Quebec in different ways than it does to the rest of the country, in other words, give special treatment to the province of Quebec.

What I heard in the member's speech was that had Quebec been alone on this issue, it would not have been subjected to the kind of retaliatory measures that the United States has imposed on the rest of Canada. Trust me, countries smaller than Quebec have been affected by the kind of isolationism that we see happening here. Could the member express to the House, in the spirit of federalism, how the government could in its wisdom deliver its funds to the province of Quebec in a different way and still remain in the spirit of federalism?

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Chair, in the spirit of federalism, I will leave that to my colleagues across the way. What I can say, however, is that there was never a question of giving Quebec privileges. I already said that and even added that to my speech earlier. The parliamentary secretary rose and got quite angry when my colleague from Compton—Stanstead was talking about some specific concerns in Quebec.

Cull is a big issue in Quebec. Regionalizing health practices across Canada would not only be beneficial to Quebec, but to other provinces as well. With such practices, if there had been a mad cow in the Maritimes, Alberta would not have been affected by this crisis.

It is not a privilege for Quebec. We do not want the Government of Canada to give money only to Quebec. We want it to take into account some specific concerns in Quebec. In this case, I am referring to cull; we want fair treatment.

The government recently announced an aid package of only $15 million to $20 million, when what farmers in Quebec really need is $141 million. That is a huge shortfall. I am talking on behalf of producers in Quebec, not just on behalf of sovereignists in Quebec.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Chair, in his speech the hon. member talked about the isolation, or that the Quebec cow herd should not have been roped into the same category as the rest of Canada since the BSE crisis broke out in Alberta. There is one thing I want to acknowledge. I want to thank the Quebec industry. Cattle feeders in Quebec have bought a lot of cattle in Manitoba, especially this fall and last fall. Thanks to the generosity of the provincial programs that Quebec has, that has enabled those producers to come to Manitoba, where we do not have a lot of support, and outbid local producers in Manitoba and the rest of the provinces for those animals and to take them back to Quebec.

With all these animals moving from western Canada into Quebec, we have a huge migration of animals back and forth. I would like to know how he feels this might have impacted the overall health status of their own herd.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Chair, that is exactly the reason behind the request for regionalization. It is to avoid any repetition of this experience in one or another province.

Taking Europe as an example, Italy, which is right next to France, has not been affected by the European mad cow crisis. Yet it is far closer to France than Alberta is to Quebec. The reason is quite simply because it and that region of Europe have regionalized practices. This is something that the federal government has not yet done, although it ought to.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Chair, the topic that we are dealing with tonight is an extremely emotional subject and for that reason from time to time partisan comments are made. I know from our side the reason is because we know our cattle industry is facing an extremely serious problem.

The government talks about what it has done, the programs it has announced, and the promises it has made. What we are interested in are the results of what the government has done. What has the government done to date that has actually made things better for our cow calf farmers right across the country, the dairy industry, the elk industry, the bison industry, and all the industries that have been hurt by what has happened here?

Before 2003 the beef industry was as close to a free market industry as could be found. The cattlemen did not depend on government for much. They developed the markets, produced their livestock and marketed it pretty much on their own. Things were good in the industry for the last 20 years. Most of the time it was a good industry.

Before I get too far along here, I want to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Wetaskiwin.

Then we had one case of BSE found in our herds. What happened? The result was the closing of the border. Was that right? That was wrong. The Americans were absolutely wrong in what they did to our industry. There is no doubt about that. American protectionism hurts us and it hurts us unfairly. It hurts our cattle industry unfairly. What the Americans did was wrong and let there be no doubt about that.

The problem of course was exacerbated by comments made by members of the government when it came to dealing with our closest trading partner, the United States. Comments they made hurt the relationship and tarnished the relationship so badly that when it came time for us to be negotiating with the Americans on this issue, they simply were not ready to listen.

I do blame the government for that. That has made this a very difficult issue to deal with. That has to change because those comments continue. As long as they do, we are not going to get results.

The parliamentary secretary today said that the Liberal government has worked hard on opening the U.S. border. What have the results been? In the past several months nothing has happened. Working hard does not solve the problem. It simply does not. There have to be results.

The parliamentary secretary talked about all the money the government has promised to the cattle industry through various programs. The fact is that money has not found its way to cattlemen, the primary producers. Much of it, in the first ill thought out program, went to the packers instead of going to cattlemen. That simply did not solve the problem.

We have heard a lot of promises for a lot of money since then. How much of it has actually gone to help our cattlemen? I would suggest that it is very little to date. The results are quite different from what the government says it is doing and that is very unfortunate.

The set aside program in the early stages is the one thing that really seems to have some good potential. We will see how long it works. We will see if the government is ready to adjust that program should adjustment be necessary along the way because that is going to be very important if this program starts to fail a little bit as we move along.

There are two issues which were dealt with, one quite a bit and one very little. The first is interprovincial trade in livestock. I have heard very little about this. In fact, the government has done almost nothing on interprovincial trade since it passed the agreement on internal trade back in 1996. As a result, we can have meat inspected in each province by capable inspectors and that meat cannot be moved across the border. That is killing our small plants that have a great opportunity to expand. They would expand if the government could find a way to move that meat across the border.

The second of course is more important than any other issue and it deals with increasing the capacity in packers and in processors. The government has simply not dealt effectively with this issue. The government's promise of $68 million is roughly $38 million.

Let us look at results again. How many packing plants are going to go on stream as a result of this program? There have been none to date and I would suggest that there will be none in the near future. That program must be modified.

I would welcome comments from members opposite and members of the government in their questions and comments. I would like to hear what they are going to do to make that program work, the program that will assist our producers in establishing new packing plants and new processing plants in our country.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Chair, in response to the member's question, we explained that earlier. I would ask the member to go back and look at Hansard rather than take the time tonight to give an explanation that has already been made.

It is an important area and we are certainly interested in seeing slaughter capacity increase and move ahead so that our slaughter industry has the ability to handle the full amount of cattle in Canada. At the moment it is estimated by the industry and the government that the current known expansion of slaughter capacity will increase slaughter from about 80,000 a week currently to 95,000 a week by the end of 2005.

That is down the road, yes, but if this happens there would no longer be a surplus of fed cattle. We would still have a surplus, though, if that was all the slaughter capacity we had of non-fed cattle, that being cull cows and bulls. Those are the estimates that we have on the table at the moment. We recognize that we have to deal with the cull cow issue as well and we are attempting to do that.

There has been much made by members here tonight of specific remarks made by certain members in the governing party relative to the United States. I think it is high time that rhetoric was laid aside. Does anybody paying attention here tonight really believe that President Bush or President Clinton before him or the administration of the United States is going to take the words of one or two comments of Canadians and leave the border closed as a result? Does anyone actually believe that? I am surprised to think anyone believes that.

I would ask the member to answer this question. If that is the reason for the border to have been closed, which is what members on the other side are saying tonight, then what was said to Japan or Korea for those countries to close their borders? Let us have arguments that make sense and not be foolish. The fact of the matter is that it has nothing to do with the issue and members know it.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Chair, first of all, I do not think any of us have said that the rhetoric from government members, including ministers, was the reason the border closed, but it was certainly the reason that we did not have an open channel to discuss this with the Americans and perhaps reach an early resolution. That is where the problem comes in. If we had maintained a reasonable relationship with our American friends and neighbours, then we could fight them hard on this issue and probably have some success. The way it is now, they are not listening. That is the position we have taken on that.

When it comes to the position of new packing capacity, the member is sleepwalking into a disaster if he believes that any new capacity is a sure thing. There have been some announcements that expansions might take place at the two big American plants in southern Alberta. It could happen. It is not a done deal. None of them are done deals.

I spoke with key players in two of the major proposed packing plants over the past few days and I have spoken to them as things have gone on. They said that when the government made the announcement of its so-called $68 million, which is really $38 million, that it caused their lenders to back off. That hurt them more than it has helped them. That is a fact. That is what they are saying and they know what they are talking about. These are the people putting their money into these plants trying to get the capacity we need so our cattlemen can sell their beef and make money.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dale Johnston Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Chair, let me first congratulate you on your position as Deputy Speaker.

I am sure there is nothing I can say here tonight that has not already been said, but I will not make any apologies for that because a lot of what has been said needs to be said over and over again.

One of the things I noticed in the debate in the last few minutes is the talk about the need for increased slaughter capacity and I heartily agree with that. We have a large herd of cattle in Canada and of course that does not just mean beef cattle. We have a lot of dairy cattle that have to go to slaughter once the dairy cow's productive life is finished. The only possible solution is to slaughter that animal and turn it into beef. We have the beef industry, the dairy industry, all of the cervids, the bison, the goats, and the sheep industry in Canada all affected by the border closure.

Just a mile up the road from where I live I have neighbours whose great-great grandparents immigrated to Canada. They are fifth generation farmers. The farmer, his son and their families are all employed off the farm in order to make ends meet. That is a ridiculous situation, particularly for people who have been in the industry for five generations.

When we talk about farmers going broke, it is not like a shoe store or a grocery store going broke. Oftentimes the grocer or the shoe clerk does not even own the building. They might own the business, but they do not own the building necessarily. They have a rented building. When they go broke, they lose their business and they have an opportunity to recoup, refinance and start up another business.

When farmers go broke, and we all know this, they not only lose all of the equity that they have built up in their land, the machinery and their livestock, but they lose their home and their business. It is a package deal. Agriculture is unique in that way. People say we should never take our work home with us at night. In agriculture we have no choice. When we get up in the morning, put our boots on and step out, we are at work, so we take our work home with us at night.

These people are desperate. These people are at the end of their rope, so to speak. We believe the programs, although I am sure they were well-meaning, were inadequate. As has been pointed out, a lot of the money wound up in the packer's pockets and now the people across the way are saying that they have to investigate these excessive profits that the plants make. I can tell the House where the excessive profits came from. They came from the government chequebook.

We need to search out more markets. The member for Huron--Bruce, in questioning one of my colleagues, wondered why the government should hunt up markets for these agricultural producers. The agricultural producers should be more innovative. They should be more aggressive. They should go out and hunt up more markets. They have hunted up the markets. They have been shipping cattle all over the world. Now that the borders are closed they cannot. They would be smuggling if they shipped these cattle anywhere else in the world.

I would like to remind members on the opposite side that it was not very long ago that an ex-Prime Minister of Canada led a trade delegation to China. He led a delegation, I believe, to Russia. He led trade delegations all over the world under the guise of securing new markets for Canadian products. Let me tell the members opposite, agricultural products, beef, bison, elk and all those products are Canadian products.

These producers are not saying to the government that they are hopeless, helpless people who need the government's help. That is not what they are saying. They are saying the government has hunted up markets for other sectors of Canadian society, manufacturing and so forth, so it should hunt up some markets for them. While the government is at it, why does it not tackle this, like it is a North American problem, with our best trading partner, as has already been pointed out, the group of people we would look to, to defend us, should we be set upon by some rogue nation. Those are the people that we would look to, to help defend us, and we would in turn, I am sure, help them.

This has to be approached as a North American problem with a North American solution. Let us get down to Washington with an all party delegation and make sure that those people are aware of what the problem is.

Canadian cattle producers are asking for a resumption in the U.S.-Canada cross-border trading, they are asking for new international markets to be found, and they are asking for more slaughter capacity. More slaughter capacity is being proposed in my riding, but the hoops that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is making people jump through are going to put the production of this plant about two years away from right now. In that length of time, the problem could resolve itself.

I look forward to questions from the opposition.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Chair, I have just one comment to make. The member opposite said that we should be out there hunting up markets. I was surprised that he did not mention in his remarks the fact that the minister of agriculture is doing that right now, with one of the members from the Conservative Party in the delegation with him as well.

This week the minister will be in Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong to talk about our livestock industry: cattle, sheep and beyond. He will be talking about the kinds of safety standards that we have through the CFIA, about the kind of traceability that we have in this country. He will be telling people over there that we do have the best product in the world, that it is a safe food supply and that we are open to doing business with those countries. The minister is acting. He is overseas right now. He is overseas right now trying to find markets and that should be noted.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dale Johnston Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Chair, all of that is very nice, but the border closed 18 months ago on May 20, 2003. As for the parliamentary secretary boasting about the minister being out there hunting for markets today, I am afraid that is just not going to cut it with producers where I come from. They are of course wondering why we were not at least working on the problem. Nobody expects the problem to be solved at the snap of a finger, but why were we not working on it earlier? Why all the delay? I am really at a loss about that. There have been three agriculture ministers and, to tell the truth, this is the first one who has made any effort whatsoever to secure other markets.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Chair, the member across the way raised the question of finding new markets. He was bragging about his government's efforts in Russia, China and most recently Japan in order to discover new markets for Canadian beef. That is generally good in the long, long term, but let us acknowledge the reality here.

Canadian beef is not going to go to Russia or Japan or anywhere else outside of North America unless it is in a box. Until such time as we can kill the cattle and pack the stuff, it is a red herring to say that we are solving the problem by looking for new markets in far-off lands. Our number one objective needs to be the continuation of providing killing capacity here at home, because right now there is a domestic demand that our cattle producers cannot even meet because they cannot get through the bottleneck that is the slaughterhouse capacity.

Does the hon. member agree that while this is a nice, long term objective and that it may be important 10 years from now, in the immediate term we need to acknowledge the fact that we scarcely have the slaughterhouse capacity to service even Canadian retail demand?

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dale Johnston Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Chair, of course I agree with my colleague. I believe that the opening of the U.S. border is or at least should be a short term solution. We should never get back to the situation where we are so dependent on the United States. Every producer I have spoken to has said that we could probably have seen this coming because we basically had all our eggs in one basket. And when we drop the basket, all the eggs get broken.

What we need now is more slaughter capacity. There are several proposals out there for a sort of modified co-op slaughtering plant, whereby producers could have equity in the plant. They could buy equity with cash, although probably none of them have cash, or they could buy equity in the plant with their livestock and actually have a share in the plant so that when prices do resume they would not all flee that plant. I think that has potential, but it is in the long term. If a shovel were to go into the ground today, it would be 18 months before the plant would be operating. Part of the reason for that delay, or part of the excuse, I should say, is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency makes these plants jump through so many hoops. That whole process should be and could be expedited.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the House on such an important issue. Without a doubt, BSE has affected every Canadian in one way or another.

Certainly once Canadians found out about a cow testing positive for BSE the public sought assurances that their food supply was still safe. It was, and the government has taken steps to make sure it stays that way. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the agency responsible for food safety in Canada, has been implementing BSE safeguards since 1989, well before the disease emerged in this part of the world. These proactive measures detected BSE and kept it out of our food supply.

Members may recall that after the infected animal was found the agency took immediate steps to quarantine locations and conduct detailed feed trace-backs and trace-forward investigations. No additional animals were found to be infected. This was very encouraging news. It told us that the investment we made in BSE safeguards over the years had worked as designed to protect Canadian food safety and animal health.

Last December, the CFIA worked very closely with its American counterpart to identify the origin of the cow in Washington State that was found to be infected. Again, the agency was quick and was able to trace the cow back to a farm in Alberta.

This discovery of the second case did not mean that the disease was spreading. It served to confirm our suspicions that there was probably a previously undetected low presence of BSE in North America.

After detecting this first case, the government's first priority was to protect public health. Within weeks, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada had developed a nationwide program to require that specified risk material, SRM, be removed from all animals slaughtered in Canada. SRMs are tissues that in infected cattle have the potential to harbour BSE agent. This action keeps BSE from entering our food supply and is internationally recognized as the most effective measure that can be taken to protect public health from BSE.

Once food safety was protected, the government focused its attention on animal health safeguards. We increased our surveillance activities, because if there are indeed animals in Canada with BSE, we want to find them. We expanded our capacity for doing more BSE tests. We are also enhancing measures for the national database that identifies cattle through ear tags.

In terms of eradicating BSE, the most important step Canada can take is to enhance animal feed controls. Feed controls are internationally recognized as critical measures to eliminate BSE from the animal population. That is why on July 9, 2004, the government announced that it intends to require the removal of bovine SRM from the animal feed chain.

Doing so will add an additional level of security to Canada's current feed ban, which has prohibited feeding cattle with ruminant materials such as SRM since 1997. All the evidence indicates that existing feed controls continue to limit BSE spread, but we recognize that measures are necessary to prevent human error, which could result in inadvertent exposure of cattle to prohibited materials. Doing so will diminish the effect of potential cross-contamination of ruminant animal feeds that could occur as feed is produced and distributed, as well as any inappropriate on-farm use.

Based on risk analyses, taking this action will more quickly eliminate the incidence of BSE in North America by preventing future disease development. Enhancing our feed ban aligns with the recommendation of an international panel of experts that reviewed our BSE situation last July. The agency, together with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Health Canada, has consulted with the feed industry, provincial and territorial representatives and counterparts from the Food and Drug Administration.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is moving ahead as quickly as possible with these changes, but this is not a minor adjustment that can be implemented overnight. The regulatory proposal must be practical and verifiable. Removal of SRMs from feed will impact numerous stakeholders and jurisdictions. A certain amount of time is needed to properly develop this complex measure.

When BSE emerged in Canada, it brought potential new threats to human and animal health. Today the food supply remains safe and measures are in place to keep Canadian cattle healthy. Nonetheless, we recognize that even the best systems can be strengthened and, based on our commitment to continuous improvement and enhancement, these are on the way. Canadians can be confident that the elimination of BSE remains key to government priorities.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Chair, the hon. member across the way was talking about SRMs and how it has become necessary for us to remove SRMs in our food processing systems.

Because of the SRM criteria, we essentially have had to go to designating plants as being either for youthful animals or for mature animals. In Manitoba, we have a lack of processing capabilities and we have a group of producers who want to take those initial steps toward setting up a plant to handle the higher risk cattle, the mature cattle. They are right now in the final stages of getting their plans off the ground, but unfortunately they have not been able to get an application to the loan loss reserve program, purportedly by the government.

I want to know where the application forms are and when we can expect to see them. We have some tight deadlines coming down on this operation. Rancher's Choice Beef Co-op needs to have its financial plans in place by the middle of the month. I just want to ask the hon. member from the government side where those forms are.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Chair, once again, as mentioned earlier, there are no loan applications. The government is working with lending institutions to help these organizations get off the ground. We are very willing to work with these institutions to get things going. This is a cooperative model.

What has to happen is that people have to work together and get this thing off the ground. It is not a matter of just putting a paper forward and thinking once the form is done they can go ahead. What has to happen is that we have to work together with the lending institutions so these organizations have their business plan and they get their money in place. Then they get them off the ground so they are a viable business.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Chair, just to follow up, the deadline is approaching, and not because they do not have their plan in place. They have a good plan. They have an opportunity to buy a plant in the U.S. and move it up here. The deadline is on the offer to purchase. If they do not have their financing in place, they will miss out on an excellent opportunity. Their lender agrees with the plan but wants the loan loss program. Since it has been announced, their lender says, “We want that loan loss to back it up”.

This operation needs to have this by the 15th of the month. We are only a few days away and still there is no application. We are going to miss out on an excellent opportunity to build a new plant in Manitoba.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Chair, from what I can understand the member from across the way is asking me to comment on a specific case that I have no knowledge of. He keeps asking for an application. There is no application. The loan is being worked on with a lending institution. I do not think the government is going to be in the business of lending the money or guaranteeing the loan.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brandon—Souris.

We have spent the last couple of days talking about BSE and all we have heard is one excuse after another, and we still have no answers. The fact remains that after all this talk our farmers are still hurting and something needs to be done about it.

On behalf of the cattle farmers with whom I have spoken, I need to express the lack of public confidence in the ability of the government to handle this BSE crisis. The tremendous cynicism out there is completely understandable and the facts, unfortunately, justify the loss of faith in the government's competence.

Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs have been lost since May 20, 2003, when BSE was found in one Alberta cow and the U.S. closed its border to all beef products and live cattle as a result. Thirty other countries followed suit.

Two facts bear repeating because they show how mishandled and neglected this issue has been by the Liberal government. Fact number one: there was only one cow. Fact number two: this happened back in May 2003. Here we are 17 months later and, while some cuts of beef are now being allowed to flow south, live cattle is still being banned.

Can anyone sitting on the government benches tell me with a straight face that they think the government's efforts to get our border reopened for exports of Canadian beef have been that effective?

A few weeks ago when I was at the Lincoln county fair in my hometown of Beamsville, a cattle farmer told me bluntly that too much time without any progress has passed for him and many others. He is getting out of the cattle business because the government has done absolutely nothing to deal with the terrible crisis.

From the outset the government had no real plan and, in its arrogance, it ignored the plan that the Conservative Party presented. This side of the House proposed strategies to increase domestic slaughter capacity, to diversify our export markets and to better manage the market capacity through methods such as using more funding to keep surplus cattle fed through the fall. Major industry groups echoed the plans put forward by our party.

What action did our beef and cattle industry get from the government? Seasons changed but nothing else did. The crisis has grown and, as the government trumpeted hollow words about reopening the borders, the fact remains that just because one wants it to happen does not mean it will happen. We need a realistic plan, and please, all partisanship aside, our party welcomes the Liberals to talk to our MPs on the BSE advisory panel so that we can implement this plan to lead to concrete results.

For the members on the opposite side, the so-called plan announced by the Minister of Agriculture on September 10 is too little, too late. This $488 million plan is less than half of what the Conservative Party determined was needed last February. The need has grown since that time because again the government did nothing to help with this industry. The dairy farmers of Canada say that there is nothing for them in the proposal. The money allocated to increase slaughter capacity is barely enough to support one plant, let alone stimulate the entire industry.

Where is the funding for those with practical plans to increase slaughter capacity? Time is running out to get the new plan initiatives started for this fall.

Perhaps the one component of the Liberals' BSE plan that has contributed the most to their lack of credibility was pretending that there was actually new money available under the transitional industrial support program to sustain the industry. The Minister of Agriculture knew the deadline for applications for payments was July 31, 2004, and applications are no longer being accepted. Reannouncing existing programs does nothing to help the struggling cattle industry. What was done was temporarily giving people false hope.

The final insult to producers who wanted to apply for some of the limited cash made available was that a month after the program announcement was made, there were no application forms available. It is fairly obvious that this was not so much a plan to help cattle producers as it was a communication strategy to give the appearance of government action.

If the Minister of Agriculture wants to focus on a communications plan, we would welcome some practical efforts on his part to effectively communicate to the U.S. government that science shows our beef is safe. This is a political problem that has been mismanaged for 17 months.

Our cattle industry cannot afford any further delays. Again I ask the members on the government side to listen and to cooperate with our party in resolving the BSE crisis.

If the government continues on the path it has been on for the last year and a half, we will be having the same debate again next spring and the livelihood of thousands of additional cattle producers will have disappeared forever. Do not let arrogance get in the way of doing what is right.

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11:10 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Chair, I can assure the member that we will not let arrogance get in the way of progress on this side of the House.

The member asked if any member could stand with a straight face and say that the government has made every effort to open the border. I certainly can and most members on this side can because I have been there. I have gone down and met with Attorney General Ashcroft when I was solicitor general. I met with many other people when I was down there with the Canada-U.S. parliamentary association, including the chair of the senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley.

Both the previous prime minister and the current Prime Minister have talked with their various counterparts. In a response to the Prime Minister, President Bush said that he would work to have the border opened as soon as possible.

Almost every cabinet minister has been involved on this file in trying to get the border open. Our ambassador has worked on it consistently. People within the ambassador's department and foreign affairs have worked on it consistently. The CFIA has consistently met with the regulator down there to get the border open.

We know for a fact that the Grocery Manufacturers Association is on side in the United States. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is on side in the United States. Yes, we have made every effort to open that border, but I do recognize that it is not open. It should be open because we have the science behind us that it should in fact be open. The evidence is there.

However a group of anti-free trade people have put their court case and all that that implies and there is the political situation that is happening in the United States as well. Every effort has been made. I wish it was open but it is not. We are taking every other measure that we can to assist producers in the meantime.

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11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Chair, we understand that at this point in time the government doing everything it can. The real answer here is that it has been reactive, not proactive.

Like so many other things that have happened with this government, what it is doing is reacting to issues that should have been dealt with 17 months ago and not recently.

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11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Chair, I certainly want to begin by thanking the people of Brandon—Souris for the encouragement, support and trust that they have put in me in representing them in Parliament.

I have had the opportunity to sit through several debates on the BSE crisis. It is something that has taken place in provincial legislatures for the past 17 years. In fact, many of the provincial legislatures have passed unanimous agreements supported by all members in support of the BSE crisis, in support of finding a resolution and in support of the producers.

As we have heard over the last few hours and on a previous evening, the issues are similar across the country. It does not matter what part of the country, the issues and concerns are the same and, in a lot of cases, the solutions are the same.

We have all heard people talk about the increased packing plant, the increased slaughter capabilities. We have heard about getting money into the hands of the producers at this point in time when they so desperately need it. We have heard the stories of how our producers are suffering, and it does not, as we know, just impact the cattle industry. It impacts several industries in the livestock industry.

We have to address this but the challenge for the government and where it has failed is its failure to act. I have been told that of the people who get their income tax done in Canada less than 60% of them require accountants, and yet I am told that of all the agriculture producers applying for any of the current government programs, about 98% of them need accountants to do it for them. That should send a clear message to this government right away that the programs are too cumbersome, too awkward, quite often the paperwork does not follow the announcements and people are left out in the cold wondering how to apply and how to access the programs.

We have heard it from all of the members on this side. I suspect the member opposite hears it from his colleagues when they are in private conversations. However when they stand in the House with the bravado and arrogance that they display, it only indicates to the producers in the rest of Canada that the government does not care about the issue.

I have a couple of solutions to put forward and I would hope that the member opposite would pay attention and perhaps present them. Throughout the entire campaign my issue with the current government was its failure to acknowledge that agriculture is an industry in Canada that needs the support of the government. The Liberals have neglected it and have ignored it. They ran on the fact that after 17 months the border still might open and, after listening to the comments and the rhetoric tonight, I still believe their only standing position is that the border may open some time in the future and all our problems will disappear. That is a complete neglect of its responsibility as a government.

In my mind, a government should identify the problem. We all have. We understand the BSE crisis and the impact that it has had on people. It is imperative that the government present options to the public to deal with the issue. That would be a plan and one which we could debate and improve. It would also give us the opportunity to present something that would work for all.

Finally, it is imperative that the government move forward and implement the plan, not just keep making announcements over and over, creating a frustration level with our producers that is far beyond what this member understands and would even be prepared to acknowledge. We have a government that after 17 months is still saying to the public that it is working on a solution and that it is working together with people to present a plan.

We cannot run an industry, a business or a government that way and it cannot be run on the hope that the border will open in the future.

I opened my comments by suggesting that the people of Brandon—Souris had put a lot of trust in me to be their representative, to speak on their behalf. What they are telling me right now and what they want to tell the government is to cut the crap, move forward, implement a plan and help resolve this issue. They do not want the government to go out and constantly promise the people of Canada that the border may open tomorrow.

Let us acknowledge that the border has not opened in the past 18 months. Let us have a plan that will resolve the issue. It will be a made in Canada solution. There is the option for a minority government to work with all parties to bring forward a resolution. I would encourage the government to do that.

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11:20 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Chair, the member opposite must be quoting from the minister's announcement on September 10 when he talked about a made in Canada solution. The minister said very specifically on September 10 that we cannot just sit back and wait for the border to open.

I will not go through all of the programs that have been in existence. They were put on the record earlier tonight and the member can go back and read those if he so wishes. On September 10 the minister clearly said that we had to move with a made in Canada approach, that we had to keep the pressure on the U.S., but we had to look to foreign markets as well. We have to increase our slaughter capacity within Canada and we have set in motion the program to do that. We are in fact acting.

The first reverse auction fed cattle set aside was yesterday and that will happen on a weekly basis. As I have said a number of times tonight, the intent is to try to make the market function as near normal as possible.

The other point I should make is that the CAIS program was put in place two or three years ago, which in normal boom and bust cycles should work, level out and assist farmers in terms of their income. The government has recognized that the program just will not do the job in terms of the disaster situation that was caused by the border closure. That is why we have added in the other four or five programs that have been announced over the last several months.

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11:20 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Chair, it is the arrogance of that statement that makes our producers angrier every day. The government wants to pay lip service to a problem that has been around for 17 months, and on September 10 of this year the government came forward with a made in Canada solution. Where was it last May 21? That is what the people of my constituency want to know. The government has failed to acknowledge that agriculture even exists in Canada. Until it does that we are not going to have a resolution to this problem.

The member talked about September 10 and these grandiose announcements. When people are dealt a severe blow such as the border closing, they want to deal with it immediately. What the government has laid out to those people are promises, promises that they do not even believe will happen. What has happened is that everybody is angry, everybody is waiting and now we see producers falling. Our neighbours and friends in our communities are collapsing under the wish of a government that says, “Give us 17 months to find a solution to a problem that is facing us now”. Even today all it has promised is rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric.