Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to thank warmly all the voters in the riding of Montcalm who, in the June 28 election, re-elected me with the largest majority in Quebec. My thanks also to all the volunteers who made it possible for 71.2% of voters to vote for me. Thanks again.
Let us come back to tonight's debate. Agriculture is getting a rough ride from Ottawa. Few countries have let their farming sector down as badly as Canada has while the Prime Minister was the finance minister. Today, farm producers have less support than ever, even though they are in the middle of a crisis caused by the slump in prices and the mad cow crisis.
When Ottawa steps in, it is to implement national measures that do not meet the needs of producers in Quebec. The farming sector in Quebec is different from the farming sector in Canada. They are not structured the same way and do not have the same needs.
Quebec was affected in two ways by this crisis that should not have affected it at all.The discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Alberta in May 2003 and the American embargo that followed have resulted in a deep slump for Quebec's cattle industry. If Quebec were sovereign and had control over its borders and health policies, it would not be subject to the American embargo.
The situation is particularly frustrating for Quebec producers who have long been subjected to stricter rules than the Canadian ones, in order to ensure herd safety and irreproachable product quality.
We have been hearing about nothing but asymmetry for the past month. Ottawa, which claims to be open to special agreements with Quebec, ought to waste no time holding discussions with the Quebec authorities in order to decentralize the entire food inspection system and divide Canada into several different health regions. Regionalization of health practices would allow Quebec producers to be spared such a crisis in future and will allow Quebec to showcase its excellent practices.
Here is one conclusive example of the superiority of Quebec's system: cattle tagging. Implanting cattle with tags for tracing purposes was implemented in Canada and in Quebec at the same time. Quebec producers had until June 2002 to tag their cattle. The main differences between Canada and Quebec are as follows. Quebec has a centralized data base. In Canada, the tag distributors keep a record of the numbers assigned to each producer and they submit this information to the data base of the Canada Food Inspection Agency's national cattle identification program.
In Quebec the information is gathered every time the animal makes a move: birth, death, attendance at an agricultural fair, sale to a breeder and so on. In Canada, only birth and death information are gathered, nothing in between.
We can continue. There is the example of the American chicken with Newcastle disease. The territorial approach is good for everyone but Quebec? And yet, Canada itself used this approach less than a year ago.
Newcastle disease is a contagious and deadly viral disease affecting all species of birds, but more specifically poultry flocks. It is probably one of the most infectious diseases affecting poultry in the world. It can decimate an unvaccinated flock. Various American states were affected.
What did the CFIA do? In April 2003, it imposed restrictions on import and entrance into the country, but only the three states affected: California, Nevada and Arizona.
There is as well the case of PEI potatoes of October 31, 2000. The US agriculture secretary banned all imports of potatoes from Prince Edward Island because of potato scab. PEI alone was affected by the crisis.
Ottawa must quickly initiate discussions with Quebec and the other provinces in order to decentralize the food inspection system. If a regional approach to health practices had been in place last year, Quebec producers would have been spared the crisis.
The mad cow problem should have been regionalized and not spread across Canada for no reason. When the problem appeared in France, for example, Italy did not panic. The Italians, however, are much closer geographically to the French than Albertans are to Quebeckers.
Why make Quebec pay for a situation that, at first glance, does not concern it? When a single case of BSE was diagnosed in Canada, all the provinces were affected by the ban placed by our foreign partners. The American ban on all ruminants hit particularly hard, because the States is our only principal purchaser.
The Bloc Quebecois notes that, had Quebec been sovereign and controlled its own borders and health policies, it would not have been hit by the American ban.
The president of the UPA, Laurent Pellerin, came to the same conclusion during a press conference held on May 21, 2003, when he said:
If we were separate provinces each with its own distinct inspection system and if we had a more regional approach to product marketing systems, only one province would have to deal with this problem.
The current situation is especially frustrating for Quebec producers who, for a long time, have had a series of restrictions for the very purpose of ensuring the health of their livestock and the quality of their products.
Quebec has not imported any product from countries considered at risk for BSE contamination for years now. Moreover, BSE detection procedures were implemented and there has been mandatory reporting of the disease since 1990. Since 1993, well before the 1997 federal ban, Quebec cattle producers have been prohibited from using animal meal to feed their livestock.
The main problems that have confronted the agricultural sector in recent years are: the income crisis; the globalization of markets; the reviewing of joint plans at the World Trade Organization; and increasingly more stringent environmental regulations on food safety, which adversely affect Quebec producers who must face foreign competition.
The mad cow disease crisis encompasses all these problems. It reflects the drop in income for farmers, the impact of a globalization movement that creates instability, the need for national rules that would promote the harmonious management of agricultural markets and, finally, the gap between the strict demands imposed on Quebec producers regarding traceability and the less stringent ones imposed on foreign competitors.
This crisis particularly affects all the producers in Quebec. What the cattle breeding and cull industry wants the most is the implementation of a minimum price. The assistance programs are not adapted to the reality in Quebec. The federal government implemented programs to help producers survive the crisis. Producers who raise cattle for meat are concentrated in Alberta and receive compensation for all the animals they slaughter. In Quebec, most cattle producers are dairy producers who slaughter cows that do not produce enough milk. Those cows are called cull. Every year, producers renew 25% of their herd. Unfortunately, the federal program compensates them for only 16% of their herd. While the price of their cows has dropped by 70%, they receive compensation for only two-thirds of the cows they sell. The federal government has to improve its program for cull as soon as possible.
This morning, producers from Saguenay and Lac-Saint-Jean handed over two cows to the SPCA. This week, six Abitibi producers handed over their keys to their financial institutions. A month ago, another producer from the Beauce region sold everything at half price.
In the Speech from the Throne, there is only wishful thinking. What is needed is a slaughterhouse in Quebec to respond to the needs of producers, because stocks will be huge on December 31, 2004. This is no longer a scientific problem, it is a political one. We must ensure the opening of the American and foreign markets, that is Japan and South Korea. At the same time, we must think about softwood lumber and get the American border opened.
The government needs to make a commitment toward agricultural sectors. Agriculture contributes undeniably to the vitality of rural regions, both in Quebec and in other Canadian provinces. Being able to rely on a domestic and independent food supply contributes to the sovereignty of our nations. This is evident now more than ever and we must pay particular attention to the problems that Quebec and Canadian agriculture is facing. The government must commit to ensuring the harmonious development of agriculture and guarantee that agricultural activity will provide a fair remuneration for the work of men and women who make their living at it.
As the critic for agriculture, I would like to do everything I can to defend the interests of Quebec producers and farmers. We must not forget that, when agriculture is well, all is well in the best of all worlds.