Mr. Speaker, as always, it is an honour to rise in the House to speak about the families of northern Ontario, particularly families across rural Canada. As we know, these families are living through the worst economic crisis in Canadian history, much worse than the dust bowl because it only hit one region of the country.
As I always do, I prepared for this speech by phoning home. I spoke with producers who I had not had a chance to talk to in a week or two to see if there had been any changes. What I heard was a very depressing and damning indictment of the September 10 BSE package. Perhaps the clearest response I got was from the wife of a cattle rancher, who I phone often. She said, “I don't think my husband is going to phone you back this time. He says all we hear is talk and nothing is changing”.
I spoke to another farm woman and asked if she could give me an update on what kind of CAIS program money was going into the region. She said four words, “Zero, zero, zero, zero”. There was none. It had not come into the region. The only thing people were receiving from CAIS were rejection letters.
Thinking maybe she was wrong, I phoned another woman, who is very connected in my region of Timmins—James Bay. She said that she had not met a single family in the region, who had applied under CAIS program, who had received anything more than a rejection letter. Yet day after day in the House the minister stands and spins a lot of great numbers about how great the CAIS program has been. Unfortunately, farm families cannot feed their cattle or their children on sound bytes. The CAIS program is not disaster relief. It is simply a disaster.
We have a situation now where farmers who have been forced to hold back cattle or who have been unable to pay for new cattle because of the financial losses they took in 2003 now have been ruled ineligible for CAIS because there has been a change in their inventory.
One producer told me that the CAIS officials told him that because his inventory in 2003 was so markedly different, they would have to affect his reference margins for the last five years. He took his hit from BSE, and what does CAIS have to offer? Zero, zero, zero, zero.
I have talked with dairy producers who have put up $35,000 to be in the program and they are ineligible for anything. In fact, the word among the dairy producers who I know is stay away from CAIS.
It has been nearly two months since I challenged the minister to meet first-hand with the Algoma cattle farmers who came the night of our emergency debate. I commend the minister for stepping out and meeting with them. At that time, there was a lot of talk about how we would make this work. In that time, they have heard nothing back. In fact, I just phoned Algoma this morning. Ten of the eleven farmers who were involved had not even received letters from CAIS. They know what they will get when it comes: more rejections.
For almost two months, I phoned the minister's office to speak with him, or with his staff or with CAIS program representatives with regard to a producer who had received a letter of rejection from CAIS. The bank is moving in on him now. After weeks of calling, we were finally told by the so-called MP's hotline that they were having logistical problems; logistical problems meaning that they do not have any staff to deal with the massive volume of rejection letters. In the last correspondence we received, we were told they would get to this file “as soon as we can”. We are talking about third and fourth generation farm families who are going under.
In terms of the set aside program that is being offered, I find it shocking that our buffalo ranchers are not eligible. We know the buffalo market is up to 240,000 head, most of it based in western Canada. They are not eligible for this program, yet they have taken serious hits from the border closing.
We are talking about trying to build our export markets overseas. Meanwhile, we are stuck with 240,000 head of bison, most of them in western Canada, and ranchers cannot even get their markets into eastern Canada. While we are talking about foreign markets, where are the incentive programs and the work to help restore the buffalo economy by getting sales into eastern Canada?
We have been talking a lot about slaughter capacity. I have heard the minister use the phrase “market distortion”. The only market distortion I see in terms of slaughter capacity is the market distortion that has been created by the giant packers. The money they are paying out is a disgrace.
We talk about loan guarantees. Loan guarantees will not build a plant because we are not in normal market times. Loan loss guarantees will not help the dairy producers who get 16¢ a pound for cull cows. They will not help the farm families who now have been told that they cannot ship to Levinoff. The packer is closing its plant rather than agreeing to a modest floor price. We have no action from the government on this issue.
One giant packer has made a move which is a major threat for cull producers across Canada, and we have heard nothing from the government. We have asked for direct action, but we are not getting it. Excuse me, the government has taken decisive action in one area. It shut down the plant in North Bay which dealt with cull and other cows that came out of northwestern Quebec. It shut that plant down to Quebec farmers.
We are in the middle of the greatest agricultural crisis in Canadian history and the CFIA is holding to the letter of the law. How do we tell that to the farmers in Abitibi—Témiscamingue? I know my colleague asked the question earlier. He did not get an answer and I doubt that I will get one either. The government is taking no efforts to stand up to the giant packers, which are squeezing our producers. The only action that has been taken is to shut down small regional plants that try to intervene to help the backlog, interprovincially.
I have tried to figure out why we have had such a small movement on implementation of these programs. Farmers I talk to say that they do not know where the programs are. They have not seen any money. It seems as though we have been stalling and delaying. I am very pleased the Bloc has brought forward its motion because it raises the issue of why we have seen so little concrete results on the ground.
If I were to look at this cynically, I would say that it would be in the interests of the government to gamble that the border would reopen, that we could delay these programs a little longer until they did, that Canadians would think the matter was settled and that it would just write-off that $5 billion loss to our farm families across the country.
We have heard a lot of talk in the House that there is a plan for dairy, but I have not seen it. We had a $200 million export business in breeding that has gone. If things do not change soon, we will lose that forever. We talk about the kind of money needed to support dairy. On paper, a dairy farmer might be worth $200,000, $150,000 or $400,000, but that money is continually flowing through. If he has to hold back inventory and if he does not get money for the cull cows, that is money that will not go to make payments. If payments are not made, the bankers will start to move. We are seeing the bankers moving on different operations now.
When we talk about emergency measures, one of the most important emergency measures we will have to see, given the absolute failure of CAIS, is debt and tax relief for the farmers who have to get out of the industry because they cannot hold on any longer. We know that the soonest these producers will see any realizable money is September of next year. Considering the loses they have taken, that is not good enough.
Another farmer gave me a very straightforward analysis of this crisis and the larger crisis of rural Canada. He told me that in 1972 the price of bread was 39¢, and there was 4¢ of wheat in the bread. Today, the price is $1.39 and he still only gets 4¢ for wheat on each loaf of bread. He said that his costs had gone up 400%. He does not have any other options, except he has a CAIS letter of rejection to take to the bank. That is four generations of equity gone in 16 months.
We can say that we have a long term and a medium term solution, but really we do not have any solution on the ground. It is not going to the producers. If the hon. minister wants to go to northern Ontario with me or wants to go anywhere else, we can knock on doors of farm families and see how CAIS is working for them. If I heard positive CAIS stories, believe me, I would stand up in the House and say it. I want to send a positive message because our farmers need to hear that,. However, they have not heard anything positive, and I cannot come in here and lie.
I invite the minister to come with me. Wherever the hon. minister wants to go, I will go. I will knock on whatever door the hon. minister tells me to knock on to meet producers who have received CAIS payments. I have not met any yet.
I will close with a little story. I was up in the great town of Cochrane, Ontario, which is in my riding. It used to be one of the largest agricultural regions in northern Ontario. Most of that agriculture is gone, except for beef. I was at the fall fair. Farmers told me that in the summer they had their farmers' markets, and all the tourists come to visit. However, there are no farmers at those markets anymore. They now sell the little Phentex booties and some other knick-knacks. A woman tourist said that she had come to farmers' market, but there were no farmers. She asked where they were, and one women said that people did not want farmers, so there were none.
We are here today to debate this. We have had more emergency debates on agriculture since 1999 than on any other single issue, and things continue to get worse. I do not want to hear other numbers from the minister. I want to know where the CAIS program dollars are going and who is receiving them.