Mr. Chair, I was told that I would be splitting my time tonight with the hon. member for Lethbridge, but I am at your disposal.
It is a great honour for me to have my first official get up in this great House that Macdonald built. Mr. Speaker, if you will indulge me, I would like to compare it to the Montreal Forum and my first game in the big leagues. I am on my first shift, I have a breakaway, I see an open net and I all I can hope for is that if I hit the boards, a Liberal will be there to cushion me. I throw in that sense of humour not to make light of the situation we are here to discuss, but to show the House that as a farmer I am fast losing my sense of humour.
I rise here tonight to address a very serious matter that is affecting not only my riding of Bruce--Grey--Owen Sound, but almost every rural riding in this great country, and that is the BSE crisis.
My riding is a very rural. It is the number one beef and lamb producing riding in Ontario. It also has a very large number of dairy farms as well as a number of elk, bison, deer, emu, hog, poultry and goat producers. We tend to focus our minds on beef farmers as being the only producers affected by this issue. That certainly is not the case, and it would have been remiss of me not to have pointed that out.
Another forgotten fact that should be pointed out to the government, especially after the curious but blatant absence of any mention of agriculture in Tuesday's throne speech, is what areas of Canada this crisis actually affects.
The government obviously needs a quick and valuable lesson in geography. Contrary to Liberal beliefs, there is life in rural Canada. There are hard-working Canadians who do live north of highway 401 in Ontario and outside the boundaries of our large cities. There is also a perception by the government that the BSE crisis is an Alberta or a western problem. It is time for the government to wake up and smell the beef. This fiasco is happening from coast to coast.
The minister's government is quickly filling up a library full of ineffective programs that have not helped in any way to solve this crisis, from the laughable program last summer that funnelled government money into packers pockets, which by the way the government could have saved a lot of administration costs if it had just asked the packers to pick their cheque up at the door, to the unworkable CAIS program that the minister admitted was not working. However, he also said that he would fix, but that is yet to happen. The government in essence has done nothing but stick its head in the proverbial sand, praying and hoping that the border will open or even that this problem will go away on its own.
While the minister stands idly by, producers in my riding are filing for bankruptcy. These people are not abstract numbers but fellow farmers and friends of mine, such as the Barfoots, the MacDonalds and the list goes on.
Just yesterday the national advisory committee established to set out the policies to get needed moneys to cash strapped farmers met in Calgary. This group consists of industry leaders and government staffers from Agriculture Canada. The group came away from that meeting yesterday totally disgusted in Agriculture Canada staff and with their lack of flexibility or willingness to come up with an agreement.
Will the minister take leadership and instruct his staff to come up with a suitable solution? Will he make the necessary changes to the CAIS program immediately so that it will do the job it should have been designed to do?