Mr. Chair, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment. I know you will do a great job.
It is also the first opportunity for us as colleagues to collectively come together in committee of the whole. For some members who are new to the House and for viewers who are watching this tonight, this is intended to be more of an informal debate. I hope we can react accordingly. We have an opportunity as colleagues to share ideas about this important topic.
As is often the case, several fixed speaking notes were prepared for me but I do not intend to use those because this is an evening to be talking from the heart. It is an evening to be talking about the challenges being faced by our beef industry. It is an evening to be talking about the challenges being faced by producers, their families, and by the communities supporting those producers. This is what tonight should be all about.
It has been a difficult year and a half for Canadian producers. One of the things we need to do is recognize the challenges they face and to recognize how they have, day in and day out, week in and week out, month after month, risen to that challenge, showed the determination that their industry would survive and the determination to work under what has been very trying circumstances.
The existence of this industry in Canada and, for that matter, the broader agricultural industry across the country, is critical not just for producers, as important as it is for them, not just for rural Canadians, as important as it is for our rural economy from coast to coast, but critical to all Canadians. One of the realities is that even though the issues that face the industry are complex and difficult, when we push it all away it is fairly straightforward.
It is important that we in this place, working with the industry and our provincial counterparts, ensure that we create an environment that will allow producers to be successful and to operate profitably. If they do not have an opportunity to do that then they will not be there and if they are not there it will be difficult for this country and difficult for this country to do without them.
BSE has been a significant challenge for them. The government, working with members across the aisle over the last several months, has developed a number of programs to assist the industry. The reality is, with the most latest announcements, it is close to $2 billion of assistance. It is important and needed.
Working with the industry and working with our provincial counterparts has been a critical part of what we have been trying to do over the last few weeks. It was time to take a different approach than the one which we had taken before.
When BSE was first detected and the borders were closed there was an expectation and in fact an anticipation that we were dealing with a short term problem, something that would be corrected in a very short period of time. The programming that was designed and put in place worked under that supposition.
However as time moved on and the issues became more complex and more difficult, it became apparent to the industry, which made it clear to me in my role as Minister of Agriculture and to the government, that it was time to take a different approach. It was time to take a made in Canada approach.
The reality is that it was no longer appropriate for our producers to get up in the morning and realize that no matter how hard they worked, and no matter how much effort they put into what they were doing, their future was dependent upon decisions that were made in another country. The time had come for a made in Canada solution.
The announcement on September 10 was based on those ideas. It was based upon a collaborative effort with the industry and the provinces, and it was based upon repositioning Canada's beef industry.
First, it entails continuing to work on making or having the U.S. border open. Regardless of what we do--and those other things are important--having access to the U.S. market is important. I have worked with Secretary Veneman, my counterpart in the United States, urging her to open the border. Quite frankly, the scientific evidence indicates that it should be open.
Beyond that, we felt it was important to have made in Canada solutions, solutions that saw us balance our ability to produce beef with our ability to process beef. In that respect, we put in place two very important programs. The first was an initiative to build new slaughter capacity in this country. This is something that producers, no matter what part of the country they are from, have told me is absolutely essential. This program invests close to $66 million to do that, in providing both a loan loss reserve and the regulatory framework that will allow this to take place in an expeditious way.
At the same time, we also realize that slaughter capacity cannot be developed overnight, that it takes a period of time to be created, so at the same time we put in place set-aside programs. Cattle that were coming to the market, either fed or feeder, would be delayed so that we could balance our ability to process with the number of animals that were available to process, or in other words, to balance supply and demand. With that balance, the marketplace would begin to set the price, we would see the rational operation of the market, and that would allow producers to make good sound business decisions based upon a marketplace that was operating in an appropriate fashion.
We are working with the provinces as we speak to ensure that the details of this program are put in place collectively with the provinces, because they are critical partners in this, and we will soon be in a position to have these programs rolling out.
In addition, we felt it was also important to make sure that our foreign marketplace was not just the United States. We felt that it was important to open markets right around the world, particularly in the Far East. I know that there is a member of the party opposite who, along with me and members of the industry, will be travelling to the Far East next week to do just that: to work on developing new markets. This package pledged some $37 million to do that.
At the same time, we have developed a specific cash advance program to provide liquidity, to provide cash to producers in the short term, because it will take some time for this market to find its appropriate equilibrium.
In closing, I want to say one thing to Canadians, to producers and to the members in the House. We are politicians. We tend to use rhetoric. Across the way, I see the hon. member who is my critic and the hon. Leader of the Opposition. Their job is to be critical of the government. I know that, I understand that and I expect that, but I also will make a request.
I am going to be here tonight and I will be listening to the members across the way. I hope that along with the criticism we will also see suggestions and creative ideas on how we can move forward. Quite frankly, to do the job that we need to do as parliamentarians is going to require all of us from all sides of the House to work together, not in our own interests but in the interests of producers and in the interests of all Canadians. I pledge to members here tonight to give my very best effort to ensure that takes place.