Mr. Chair, I cannot help but refer to the last comment where the member opposite was criticizing the Saskatchewan government for threatening to sue us. My golly, that member over there has threatened worse to us from time to time.
I too want to congratulate all the members on all sides of the House for their election to this place. This is a very important take note debate. It is sad in a way that we need to have this take note debate as a result of the BSE issue but it is extremely important and I thank the House for agreeing to allow it to be held tonight.
There is no question that the closing of the U.S. border and it remaining closed to our industry as a result of one case of BSE over a year and a half ago has caused economic severity to producers, to rural Canadians and to many businesses in this country. Yes, as has been said here earlier tonight, it has caused, in many instances, a tremendous loss of hope. We have been trying as a government to correct that situation.
There is no question that, yes, producers continue to face extreme financial and emotional hardship. I talk to these producers on a daily basis as well. Many of them are my neighbours and many of them are my friends. Even after the amount of programming and effort that the federal government and other levels of government have put forward, the problem still remains.
However I will give the Leader of the Opposition credit for his remark tonight when said that the basic problem was the closing of the border with the United States. There is no scientific reason for that border to remain closed.
The opposition does not want to talk about this too much but a lot of effort has been made by the current government and the past government in trying to convince the United States to re-open the border, right from both prime ministers and various cabinet ministers to the regulatory bodies. I have been down as a cabinet minister to the U.S. a number of times. The current Minister of Agriculture has talked to the secretary of agriculture a number of times. Parliamentary delegations have tried.
Earlier tonight the member for Yellowhead talked about the former member from Essex, the chair of the Canada--U.S. parliamentary association, who led a delegation to the United States capital where we as members of all parties tried our best to convince American congressmen and senators to get the border opened, yet to no avail.
However I want to underline the fact that every effort has been made. For members opposite in their rhetoric to try to leave the impression for political reasons that every effort has not been made is just purely wrong. Every effort has been made and, as the minister said earlier, we will continue to make efforts in that regard.
Most of us in the House, as I have already said, have seen the impact of BSE on families and on communities in many ways, whether it is dealerships or families themselves, even the credit unions and some of the banking institutions. My province is very dependent on agriculture. Our number one commodity is agriculture and we are certainly feeling the effect of BSE in our province.
I have tried to listen as closely as possible to the debate tonight. It was my hope that the discussion tonight would lead to some better solutions. The minister has outlined many solutions from this side of the House. Until just half an hour ago we really had not heard any from the other side of the House.
Sometimes as politicians we do let political partisanship get somewhat in the way. It does not happen with myself very often but it does happen with members opposite and we have heard some of that tonight. But I think we can all agree that the basic problem is the closing of the border with the United States. Whether our United States colleagues want to admit it or not, up until the border closed, the North American beef industry, and it is a North American beef industry, was the most integrated industry of any between our two countries in our trading relationships, with the flow of cattle down, stockers, feeders, calves and slaughter cattle back up and Canadian beef cattle and dairy cattle going to slaughter houses in the United States.
We would have liked to have seen Canadian capacity in terms of slaughter and we would have liked to have seen that in the past, but the way the market built up was the way it was working. It was the most integrated North American industry of all between our two countries. However because of the Americans not wanting to abide by the science, we have seen how quickly that can change. I mentioned in earlier remarks the situation with the dairy industry.
Some people in the United States have let politics get in the way and are trying to keep the border closed. Following the border closure I want to put some facts on the table because members opposite, again with political rhetoric, seem awfully confused tonight on what the facts really are in terms of what the government and the previous government have done.
The fact of the matter is that following the border closure the Government of Canada did move quickly. We put in place feed controls, CFIA and food safety, and the BSE surveillance program. Members opposite seem to have forgotten about those. We have to thank Canadian consumers for their efforts to help the beef industry last year by buying their product because they know Canadian beef is the safest product in the world and we have the system to back it up.
As the member for Bruce--Grey--Owen Sound stated, this is indeed a serious matter and it does affect more than beef. Because it is such a serious matter I have to put some facts on the table.
Quite a number of payments were made and I will outline them. With regard to payments made since May 2003, there have been efforts made by some over there to say the money was not put out. The money was put out but it was not enough. It is rather interesting to note that when the Standing Committee on Agriculture met on this issue to figure out where $500 million disappeared to and when we wanted to take on the packing industry, it was a member of the Conservative Party who denied the House the right to call those people in contempt and get a look at their books to see what had really happened and whether the packing industry had really bled off that $500 million. Let us look at the numbers.
For BSE recovery the budget was $520 million and to date $465 million has been paid. For the cull animal program, $120 million was budgeted and $110 has gone out. The transition industry support program was budgeted at $930 million and $568 million has gone out. As the minister has said, the rest will be out before the end of October. There is the repositioning that the minister announced on September 10 of $488 million, of which $385 million will be in direct payments to producers and that will eventually be paid out.
We want to continue to pressure the United States, increase the slaughter capacity with a made in Canada solution, work to try and make the market work through the set aside program. We want to bring the market in balance so producers can get paid out of the marketplace which they want to do.
We want to work to find new markets. As has already been mentioned, the minister will be travelling with some members of the opposition to work toward finding those new markets next week.
It also should be pointed out that the efforts to move product to the United States have in some ways been successful. We are now exporting in terms of beef products to the United States 213,849 pounds up until September 25, which is nearly at prior to BSE levels. The efforts are paying some dividends in some regard.
The bottom line is that yes, we want to see the border opened, but until it is opened we will try to build the Canadian industry with a made in Canada approach. We will try to find new markets. A lot has been done out there. We will look at the take note debates, the points that come across tonight and try to improve the program as the minister already mentioned.