Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today in the House to an issue that is of great importance to my constituents in Fundy Royal, New Brunswick, as well as to many other Atlantic Canadians and Canadians from coast to coast. I also am pleased to speak to this motion because it shows solidarity with and support for farmers across Canada who are going through a difficult time.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the work of our agriculture critic with the Conservative Party and other members of the opposition who have done great work on behalf of the agricultural industry in this regard.
Our agriculture critic sought input from members across the country, which is important because this is an issue that affects Canadians from coast to coast. I was pleased when I was asked for my input from a New Brunswick perspective on how this crisis was affecting farmers in New Brunswick.
I want to speak specifically to that impact on New Brunswick farmers as the BSE crisis has developed. I will give a couple of facts. New Brunswick has approximately 1,000 beef farmers who were contributing $27 million to the provincial economy prior to the crisis. This has dropped to $19 million since the finding of BSE in 2003.
Over the last several months I have had the opportunity to meet with producers in and around my riding and around the province to hear how the BSE crisis has affected them. What I heard was that if no action is taken on this, there is a good possibility that they will not recover from this crisis. Many of the farmers with whom I spoke were facing the very real prospect of bankruptcy, including the loss of their farms.
The federal aid programs, although well intended, are, unfortunately, not reaching the people who need it most, our farmers. When we are debating and talking about various programs, it is important that these programs reach the farmers at the farm gate in order to be effective.
Our farmers are some of the hardest working people in Canada and when a crisis like this hits, they deserve our help. As I mentioned, the feedback that I have been receiving from some of the farmers in my riding is that the programs so far have been of little assistance.
When we deal with an issue that has a national impact and we talk about facts and figures, I think it is important from time to time to deal with some of the real life situations and the humanity of how a crisis like this can impact on individual Canadians. I want to give a couple of examples.
One of the farmers with whom I spoke said that this fall was 10 times worse than the previous year. He is selling feeder cattle for $300. Last year he sold heifers at $82 and this year they were selling at only $50. Last year steers were $92 and this year he was only getting $60. He told me that he had lost money last year at those higher prices and that he was due to lose much more this year.
I spoke with another young farming couple who run a dairy and beef farm with about 100 head of beef. They used to sell their cull cows for $600 and now they are only receiving $66. We have to remember that this is when, for producers in New Brunswick, it costs $70 to send a cull cow to Quebec for slaughter.
I spoke with another farmer who last year only received in aid an amount equal to what he normally would have received by selling two heifers. Clearly for him the aid package that he has received so far has not done enough.
I have also spoken to many producers who have had to take on not only a second but possibly a third job just to cover their cost of living and to support their families. It has created a tremendous personal burden on these individuals.
The other thing I have heard overwhelmingly is how confusing it is to apply for funding and even confusing to determine whether or not a person is eligible. I have been told by many farmers that they have had to talk to departmental officials or even have their own accountant or lawyer look at these forms in order to see that they are properly processed.
There has to be a better way of doing this so that we make these programs more accessible and farmers are not required to spend $100 or more an hour to have a lawyer or accountant look at the forms. Clearly, as we are debating today, farmers do require assistance, but what I find they do not need more of are more delays, red tape and hoops to jump through. They need help and, as I mentioned, they need it at the farm gate. That is where it is going to be most effective.
I also want to speak today about the impact that BSE has had on dairy farmers. There is a lot of talk about beef producers when we talk about the BSE crisis, but I do want to speak a bit about the impact that BSE has had on dairy farmers.
Dairy is a very important part of my riding of Fundy—Royal where, I am told, about 70% of the dairy production for New Brunswick comes from that riding. Some of the solutions we have seen come forward from the government clearly do not do enough to help dairy.
Specifically on the CAIS program, most of the dairy farmers I spoke to do not meet the requirements as set out. They are ineligible for funding. This has been somewhat typical of some of the programs we have seen. There is an announcement on aid, but as for the actual delivery, when we actually look at how this is going to work and how it is going to be delivered to farmers, it falls far short. I use as an example the fact farmers need a deposit to participate in the CAIS program. Many of the farmers in my riding are unable to borrow money for the deposit.
In Atlantic Canada our farmers are also in a particularly tough spot because there is not the infrastructure in place for them on the farms for other farming endeavours. That creates some difficulty when their primary source of income is completely cut out from under them.
I am encouraged that we are working to increase processing capacity in Atlantic Canada and that stakeholders have been working hard to find solutions, but as we know, debate and hard work can get us so far and then at some point we have to implement these things. I want to emphasize that when we do implement policies, the number one priority as I see it is that the money we are allocating gets to the people most in need and that is at the farm gate.
Of course we all know that this crisis will not be resolved until the border is fully open. We did have a recent visit from the President of the United States. We have seen in the past where having a negative relationship with our largest trading partner has affected our ability to resolve trade disputes and border issues. I believe it is time for politicians from all sides of the House to put some of the pettiness and bickering aside and to work together for solutions on behalf of our farmers and producers across the country.
I am very pleased that this motion was brought forward. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak to it. I hope that farmers across Canada who have the opportunity to find out what we spoke about today are encouraged that members of Parliament are taking their concerns seriously.