House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


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12:05 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

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.

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12:15 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was hoping the minister might be willing to get up and answer a couple of the questions that the member for Timmins--James Bay put on the table this morning. They are very serious questions which have been put in a very sincere fashion.

There are people out there who know this debate is taking place. They are waiting for some answers. I asked some questions a couple of months ago, when we had the take note debate. I put some information and thoughts on the table from farmers with whom I had spoken. I do the same thing as the member for Timmins--James Bay. I phone my farmers, I talk to them and I have meetings with them. They send information with me to bring here and to ask questions about, which I did that night. They disagreed with information I received. They said that the minister was plain wrong when he described the new program and how it would work. He said that it would not be based on their case analyses and that the new money would not be factored into their case assessments. However, they are starting to find out that it is being factored into that.

The other day the member for Timmins--James Bay asked the minister a question. In his supplementary, he said that the minister had given him a super sized whopper of an answer. In light of what the member has shared this morning, could he explain what he meant by that comment?

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12:15 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is quite simple. We have been hearing amazing press communiqués about this fantastic package. Like the hon. member, when I phone home, I cannot find anybody who has benefited from this package.

I have been dealing with the minister's staff on cases and we have had no response. There is no response because the CAIS program will continue on as a program for which it was originally set out. I finally pushed one of the CAIS officials who said to me that it was not designed as disaster relief. If it was not designed as disaster relief, then why is it being applied to the biggest single disaster in Canadian agricultural history?

Every farmer who we know who has suffered a major loss from BSE, who has seen a major downturn in inventory, is being told they do not qualify for CAIS, yet they have put money into it. If these great moneys have gone out, I have not seen where they have gone nor has the hon. member. Therefore, all I can assume is what we have heard in the House since September 10 is the big whopper.

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12:15 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of producers from northeastern Ontario when I was in New Liskeard. We talked about the September 10 announcement and the component parts to that. There was enthusiasm about the component parts of the program.

Let us be honest, producers are facing difficulties. They have challenges and they want to see those challenges resolved. I would like to explain something and then ask the member a question.

The CAIS program was designed to deal with impacts. It deals at the back end of things. It has an important role to play in the sense that it deals with unexpected income declines for a whole series of issues, such as, frost, drought, a border closing or something like BSE.

A combination of things are necessary when we are facing something like BSE. We need to have programs in place. We have had four of them to deal with the structural issues on the front end and the CAIS program deals with the impact on the back end.

The hon. member said that he was uncomfortable with the programs. He mentioned that he does not believe they are working. I do not agree with him, but that is not surprising. We can debate that point. Does he have some concrete suggestions or some concrete program parameters that he believes would be more effective? I would appreciate hearing about that from the member.

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12:20 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not at the meeting when the minister was in a neighbouring riding, but all my farmers were in New Liskeard. Of course there was enthusiasm. Farmers wanted to believe this would work. I wanted to be as enthusiastic with them when I went back. I told them that a lot of things were on the table.

The problem with the CAIS program is that if farmers hold back their inventory, that completely changes their reference margins and so they are penalized. The vast majority of the most affected farmers could not sell. There is a major discrepancy in how the CAIS program values what is considered the inventory and costs, and how producers actually face costs.

At this point, the CAIS program cannot respond to the beef crisis. We are in desperate straits. If this were a year ago, we could redesign a whole program. At this point, we need to be looking at giving farmers the debt relief they need. I support the idea of $200 a head for a set aside. I support those motions. However, in terms of what farmers have suffered and in terms of their immediate losses, the CAIS program has not delivered.

How would I restructure it? We are going to have to look at farmers' overall debt and find a way to target what they should have made and respond. We need to have people answering the phones when farmers get their letters of rejection. There is nobody in Ontario to deal with this, not as far as I can tell. If there were staff somewhere out there to deal with these emergency cases and emergency rejections, maybe the program would begin to work. Right now, the only things going out to communities are rejection letters.

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12:20 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member. Earlier, the minister's parliamentary secretary said, concerning the crisis, that members of other parties should find specific ways of solving this crisis. My colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue spoke earlier. He is very familiar with the region of the NDP member who just made a speech about the slaughterhouse in North Bay. We learned, through my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue, that it is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that is interfering with the use of this slaughterhouse by northern Ontario and northern Quebec.

I would like to ask my colleague to tell us a little about this situation. To answer the minister's parliamentary secretary, this is an example where we found specific solutions, but the federal government, through one of its agencies, is throwing sand in the works when we are going though a real crisis. I would like to know why he thinks the federal government is acting in this way and what should be done to prevent this from happening again.

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12:25 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a fundamental question. I was surprised that when my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue asked the question, the minister never answered it.

In our region, northeastern Ontario, the Timiskaming side and the Témiscamingue side in Quebec are almost an integrated region in terms of agriculture. We have one plant that could deal with the backlog. It was supported by provincial inspectors in Quebec. There was no problem in Ontario. Yet, the federal government intervened and shut that plant down from dealing with Quebec producers.

That is the only concrete action I have seen the government take. Why did it shut that plant down? I do not know. It boggles my mind. This was meat that was going to be sold in a regional market. In addition, we have the situation with Colbex-Levinoff. We have the UPA standing up and saying that we need a basic cull price. That is a position that farmers across Canada would support because many of our farmers are dependent on Colbex-Levinoff. Colbex-Levinoff has shut its plant down and we are hearing nothing about this.

I do not even know what to say. I am sorry. I wish I could answer the hon. member in a more eloquent way, but it is such a bizarre situation. We have on the one hand, the shutting down of a plant to Quebec producers in a region where we are basically one, and on the other hand, we are allowing the giant packers to squeeze whatever money they can out of our cull producers who are getting sometimes as low as 9¢ a pound, maybe 16¢ a pound. When the UPA asks for 42¢ a pound as the basic floor price, that is considered outrageous. Our federal government is not standing up or even commenting about this. For once, I am absolutely at a loss for words.

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12:25 p.m.


Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

As long as the Government of Quebec does not take its place at the international negotiating tables and does not have control over agricultural policy, there will be a very high risk of Ottawa's putting Quebec's agriculture out of business by giving priority to grain producers of the west at the expense of Quebec.

One mad cow found in Alberta in 2003 resulted in an embargo by the Americans. Despite the American president's rhetoric, this week, the borders remain closed. The federal government was unable to convince the United States to reopen them.

Eighteen months after the closure of American frontiers, the federal government has still not been able to convince Washington to reopen them to live cattle. The Prime Minister who promised improved relations with the United States, has still not delivered one year after coming into power. Our cattlemen will remain in a precarious situation for many months to come.

The crisis caused in Quebec by this situation is a real tragedy for a whole generation of cattlemen, and many among them see the future with pessimism. Radio-Canada's Le Point had a report on suicides among cattle producers in Quebec. The support announced on September 10 was readily used to help cattlemen in Alberta, where the provincial government invested large amounts of money. However, Quebec's cattle producers are still waiting for support from the Liberal government.

Farmers and their representatives are watching us in this House and in various legislative assemblies, in particular the National Assembly. Christian Lacasse, first vice-president of the UPA, said that the solution to this crisis is a governmental responsibility. He declared earlier this week, and I quote: “Our society cannot tolerate those profiteers, like this individual, who is profiting from the situation at the expense of agricultural workers, who are almost starving”.

The mad cow crisis has affected Quebec. It should never have, because Quebec's cattlemen have long subjected themselves to rules more stringent that those of Canada, in order to keep herds healthy and have products of the highest quality. If Quebec controlled its own borders and health policy as a sovereign state, it would not be affected by the American embargo today.

What is more, since the majority of farmers affected are dairy producers who sell cull for meat, the federal program is inappropriate.

Dairy farmers are culling 25% of their herds annually, and only receiving compensation on 16% from the federal program, which is seriously inadequate. As we have said, the current situation is particularly frustrating for Quebec producers, who have had stricter rules for themselves than in the rest of Canada for a long time.

Last week, the minister introduced Bill C-27 to regulate and prohibit certain activities related to food inspection. This act seems to be at last moving Canada toward the adoption of practices along the same lines as those in place in Quebec for a long time, such strict practices that we were able to avoid the mad cow crisis. Yet the minister, who claims to have presented some long term solutions does nothing to protect our producers in the event of another discovery of a case of mad cow.

Quebec's cattle tagging system has long been superior to Canadian practices. Tagging cattle 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. In Quebec, every event is noted: 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.

If Canada had been divided into health areas, Quebec's animal hygiene practices would have enabled it to escape the U.S. ban on Canadian beef. We truly believe that. Moreover, Maple Leaf Foods President and CEO Michael McCain has recently spoken out in favour of dividing Canada into areas for animal health purposes.

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 principal purchaser.

You might say the lifting of the ban by Hong Kong this week is a sign that the federal government is finally doing something.

However, how many cattle farmers have been suffering for the more than a year and a half now? How many more will give up before our principal partner, our neighbour to the south, finally opens its borders to animals over 30 months of age—in other words to cull, which affects Quebec primarily?

Despite the minister's bill to prevent such a problem from happening again, the Bloc Québécois believes that Ottawa must soon talk to Quebec about decentralizing the entire food inspection system and dividing Canada into several health regions. This would spare Quebec farmers a similar crisis in the future. It would also allow Quebec to promote the excellence of its practices.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was supposed to address various UPA authorities gathered in Quebec City in a few minutes. However, rather than meet with the UPA members, he is here in Ottawa. A true captain never abandons his ship, but he has just abandoned all the farmers in Quebec, Ontario and the other provinces.

The minister recently took a 16-hour flight to Japan, but he cannot even go to Quebec City to announce solutions he intends to apply to this major crisis, which affects a large number of Quebec farmers and their families. It takes 55 minutes to get from Ottawa to Quebec City.

Perhaps he could have explained to them why Ottawa was so generous with farmers in Ontario and Alberta and gave nothing but crumbs to farmers in Quebec. I do not want to hear about the $366 million again. The government should go to Quebec and ask the farmers whether they have the $366 million in their pockets. For the farmers in Quebec, that kind of money is nothing.

The minister said several times that he provided $366 million in aid to Quebec farmers. According to the Fédération des producteurs de bovins, only $90 million has been received from Ottawa since the beginning of the crisis. If we add the federal compensation and the $60 million received from Quebec City, the farmers still assumed losses of $241 million after compensation.

That speech by the minister would have been the best possible opportunity to make an announcement that some of the demands of Quebec and Quebec farmers would be met. These farmers, who are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, are only asking for a fair price. What Quebec producers are asking for is to live, not just survive.

Observers at the 80th annual congress of the Union des producteurs agricoles, which has been going on since Tuesday in Quebec City, tell us that this annual meeting is taking place in a climate of negotiations—negotiations taking place outside the congress.

Our representatives are there, including our agriculture and agri-food critic, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant. We have heard that there is a lot of negotiating going on at the congress. The Quebec minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and her federal counterpart have had many meetings with the various stakeholders, trying to find solutions to the problems afflicting our farmers and breeders.

This is a serious enough crisis that the Premier of Quebec has intervened for the first time in the mad cow issue and its negative impact on the incomes of 25,000 Quebec producers.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday concerning his relations with Ottawa on this issue, the Premier of Quebec said, and I quote:

We will not wait forever, of course. When the time comes, the government will draw its own conclusions and we will not exclude any avenues that would help us achieve a sustainable solution.

He also added:

—the government would prefer a negotiated solution, with an agreement that is binding on the federal government, but we will act alone if necessary.

All indications are that by the end of the day we will have some news from the various levels of government regarding the solutions Ottawa is going to propose to assist Quebec producers.

Still, we are not looking for flashy solutions. The producers want real solutions to the real problems of this real crisis. It will take months to return to a fairly normal situation after everyone agrees what the solutions should be.

Let us remember that Alberta, together with the federal government, has injected large amounts of money to solve the problems of its beef cattle producers. Can the voters of Quebec expect the same largesse from Ottawa? We will soon find out.

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12:35 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, today is a sad day in the history of the federal Parliament. We knew that the successive federal agriculture ministers in recent years were all irresponsible. We also knew that they were incompetent. Now we know that they are also cowardly.

This is momentous day at the UPA convention. Having been the UPA's chief economist for seven years, I would say this is a first; never before has a federal agriculture minister backed away from his responsibilities. This minister is failing to take responsibilities which are his to take. If the mad cow crisis is continuing and nothing has been done in 18 months, it is the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

We are faced with a destabilized agricultural sector. This is the worst income crisis farm producers in Quebec, and even across Canada, have had to go through in 25 years. The negotiations with the Americans to reopen borders to cattle and cull have gone nowhere. Farm producers have not been supported appropriately by the federal government. Hundreds of millions of dollars were announced left and right, but the producers who testified this week said they received barely $90 million. Without Quebec City's assistance, they would have received compensation for approximately 20% of their losses, as compared to the current 50%. The crisis would be even worse than it is.

The federal government must get involved. It is not by shirking its responsibilities, as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is doing, that it will resolve the situation. In all the years I have been involved in agriculture, I have never seen anything like it. Looking back at what was done in the past 10 years, we can see that this government is the one responsible for the current crisis. Not just the Americans. This government is also responsible, because it did not take its responsibilities or took steps in the past which are wrong by today's standards.

I will give an example. The current Minister of Finance was responsible for the Canadian Dairy Commission a few years ago. He cut the dairy subsidy that was paid to Quebec and Canadian farmers. At the time, they were given $6.03 a hectolitre of milk, which provided Quebec dairy producers with $120 million a year. This subsidy was cut. Today, $120 million would not have solved all the problems stemming from cull that the dairy producers are facing, but at least it would have helped. The Minister of Finance had said he would raise prices accordingly to compensate for the losses, but he never did. This means that the farmers are already missing $120 million because of this government.

Today it is the same thing. We are asking for a Canada-wide floor price for cull. Do not forget that although the producers are receiving roughly 20% of what they were getting a year and a half ago, before the mad cow crisis, it is still possible to set a floor price. Furthermore, Ms. Gauthier, the minister of the department of agriculture, fisheries and food, has said so. She has asked the federal minister—who has done nothing with this request—to set a floor price.

Today, the packers have doubled their profits. Consumers were not aware that producers were getting paid less. Consumers are paying the same prices if not more than they did 18 months ago for beef from the supermarket. The packers are the ones pocketing the profits, particularly a cull cattle plant in the Drummondville region. It has doubled its profits and continues to siphon off what producers should be receiving as fair and equitable prices.

In the meantime, the Minister of Agriculture is shirking his responsibilities and not adequately responding to the demand to set a floor price. Dairy producers are going under.

Worse still, yesterday, ten Bloc Quebecois members went to Quebec City to support Quebec producers at the UPA convention. We talked with them. I know that some of them were happy a few years ago. They loved their jobs. They put their hearts and souls, as we know, into their jobs, working 120 hours a week to run their farms. Today, they are suffering and in distress. It is not surprising that, in the agricultural industry, the suicide rate is two times higher than that of the general public.

While producers are in distress, the minister is using the false pretext of a motion introduced by the Bloc Quebecois to say that he has to stay in the House all day, that he has no choice and that it is the Bloc's fault if he is unable to attend the UPA convention. People should not be treated like idiots. When there is a debate on an opposition motion, the minister can make a speech, but then it is his parliamentary secretary who takes over. This morning, the minister could have—I even suggested it to him—taken a plane and been in Quebec City in less than an hour to meet with the producers, if he had something to offer them. But what did he offer them? Nothing.

The mad cow crisis has dragged on for 18 months, the producers are all going under, and the minister is shirking his responsibilities and acting like a coward.

There is still time for him to go there if he has something to announce.The reason he is hiding out here is that he has not one penny to offer them. Nor is he offering an agreement to establish a cross-Canada floor price.

The mad cow crisis was set off by one mad cow in Alberta. I remember what the minister's predecessor said, when asked if animal health should be regionalized so that if there was one cow in Alberta it would not affect the Quebec market. He told us, “We are all Canadians. There is a mad cow in Alberta and everyone has to pay for it.” What pathetic reasoning.

It was that pathetic reasoning which led to the current crisis. The federal government did not live up to its responsibilities. Today the minister is sitting there, with a look of blissful contentment, while in Quebec City, the producers are protesting loudly and expressing their anger with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. I have never seen anything like it; I can tell you. I have been following the situation in the agricultural sector since 1982—I even started here in Ottawa at Agriculture Canada—and I have never seen a situation like this.

Agricultural producers are being attacked on all sides, not only by the Americans but by their own government. And the minister sits there looking contented. It does not make sense.

There is still time for him to go and meet with the producers and give them some good news. I do not think he will. And why? Because the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has no power in the cabinet. He has not tried to help the producers in any way. He is thinking; he has plans. To use my leader's word from this morning, he is “chicken”.

He is afraid to go and tell the farmers of Quebec that he has nothing to give them and that all he does is make plans. He is afraid to go and tell them that he has paid out $360 million, when they have only received $90 million. They are all declaring bankruptcy—at least, half of them are.

When I left the UPA in 1991, there were 14,000 dairy producers in Quebec. This year, the figure is around 8,000. How many will be left next year? This has been dragging on for 18 months. We have been presented with policies that are not even applicable to the Quebec agricultural sector, to the reality of dairy production. They have set the percentage of cull that can be compensated at 16%, when the actual figure is 25%. That is the percentage of a herd that is replaced every year. So why set the figure at 16%? Because Ottawa knows best.

The dairy subsidy is cut because of the need to be in line with international agreements. How dumb we can be sometimes. While farm subsidies were being halved here, the Americans were doubling theirs and the Europeans raising theirs by 75%, and here we were acting like good little boys and girls, slashing our subsidies in order to comply with WTO international agreements.

There is not one blessed country in the world, with the exception of Canada, that is respecting those agreements. In the meantime, do hon. members know where our Quebec and Canadian producers' competition is coming from? From those who are getting the US and European subsidies. Then we have our American competitors blocking the borders any time they have an excuse to do so.

This makes no sense. I appeal again to the minister. If he has an ounce of pride and courage left, I appeal to him to announce to the agricultural producers of Quebec and Canada that he is going to help them, going to cover the losses they have sustained over the past 18 months, all the equity they have had to absorb, the savings built up over years of work that have now been lost.

Whole farm families are being uprooted. This is unacceptable and it is also unacceptable to see the minister so comfortably ensconced in his seat in the House of Commons while the farmers are struggling to keep their heads above water. This is irresponsible. He is incompetent, and a coward to boot.

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December 2nd, 2004 / 12:45 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for his speech and especially for his knowledge of agriculture.

As you all know, my colleague started his career in agriculture as an economist. Therefore, I am curious to know why producers in other provinces do not want to agree to the floor price for meat from the type of cows that were affected by the mad cow disease.

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12:45 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

First, we would have to see if the provinces do not want to implement a floor price. We have so much difficulty getting information and the truth from this cowardly and incompetent minister.

Second, the problem is even more serious in Quebec, which has 50% of the Canadian dairy herd. In the case of cattle, the Liberals did quite a good job, since Western beef cattle producers are much better compensated than Quebec cull cow producers. When it comes to Quebec producers, the minister sits comfortably in his chair, even though they are in distress. However, when the time comes to help Ontario with the automobile industry, for example, he helps them immediately by giving them $500 million. It is the same for Western beef cattle producers.

In western Canada, there is also a grain problem. The price of grain has increased in the past year. The past four years have been difficult because of American subsidies. This is why, as I said earlier, that the Canadian agricultural policy is a total mess.

We cannot be more catholic than the pope. We cannot reduce our subsidies and expect our partners to do the same. It is not what happened. These days, the quality and quantity of products are not as important as the level of unfair subsidies in the United States and Europe. Meanwhile, we—and I will not say what we are, because it would be unparliamentary—cut subsidies. And then we tell our producers, “Try to be more competitive and develop your products.” Slaughter capacity is an issue, but it is just one problem among many others.

In fact, the main problem is that the government has let farmers down. After letting them down and cutting subsidies, it now tells them, “Fight this unfair competition from U.S. and European producers. Even if they get twice as much in subsidies, try to pull through.” That is the real problem. The cull cattle situation is even more serious in Quebec, because we have 50% of the Canadian dairy herd. We are the main producers of milk in Canada.

It is as though, when it comes to Quebec, it is not so easy to negotiate a floor price. It is not so easy to have a tailored program. It is easy to have one in western Canada, but not in Quebec. The government does not realize that it is out of touch. It is like when it proceeded with the Petro-Canada share offering; it only forgot the largest financial institution in Quebec, namely Desjardins, which would have been a very democratic vehicle for Quebeckers to buy shares in Petro-Canada. Quebec is always left out, anyway.

Once again, as I said, as far as I can remember, this is the first time that a federal agriculture minister has shirked his responsibilities in such a fashion, and the minister should be ashamed. Even in times of turbulence, the federal ministers would come and meet people in Quebec.

When I worked at Agriculture Canada, in 1982, I remember that Mr. Whelan was a courageous man. There was the whole debate about Crows Nest, which was hurting Quebec. Mr. Whelan was no coward, he was a responsible man. The current minister, however, is doing a very poor job. My wish is that he be replaced, because it makes no sense to let farm producers struggle this way, under the pretext that he has to stay put. We have been sitting in this Parliament for 11 years already. We know that, on opposition days, the parliamentary secretaries are the ones running the show. The minister is sitting back and saying, “I have to stay put”. Nonsense. Nobody believes him.

In fact, yesterday evening, ten of us from the Bloc Québécois discussed with farm producers. We were the only representatives from a federal party at the UPA convention. We talked with the producers, who know very well that all this, here, is a joke, a monumental joke, because the minister lacks courage and has nothing to announce to farm producers in Quebec. That is why he is sitting back. It is less tiring and scary, for a chicken.

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12:50 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Claude Drouin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Rural Communities)

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise concerning the most important challenge our producers are faced with. I thank the mover of the motion, who submitted this issue to the House. However, I cannot agree with the first part of this motion, because the money was there, but it was a new stabilization program. Provinces and territories as well as the people who deliver the program have had to adjust and that delayed the payments and affected the aid that was directed to the farming industry.

There is no question that the situation has been disastrous for the beef and ruminant animals producers in Canada. The figures recently received from Statistics Canada on revenue show that, in 2003, the net farm income dropped to its lowest. This situation is mainly attributable to a reduction in sales that followed the discovery of a single case of BSE.

This problem affects all Canadians, whether they live in a rural area, whether farming has always been part of their living or whether they live in an urban setting. All these people live in a country that produces food ranked among the best in the world.

However, BSE affects our producers first and foremost.

The government has not stood idly by. It has not left the producers to bear the entire burden of the situation that has existed since the case of BSE was discovered. The government has listened, responded and acted.

In response to this unprecedented challenge to this key sector of our economy, the federal government is working with the provinces and territories to help the producers cope with the pressures in the short term, while laying the foundations of a viable, profitable sector in the years to come.

I want to emphasize that the government has reacted vigorously and has kept its commitment to support the producers in these difficult times.

Last year, a record $4.8 billion was paid out through government programs. During the first nine months of this year, farmers have received more than $3.1 billion from the government.

In response to the BSE crisis, governments have invested at least $2.5 billion to help cattle and ruminant producers get through these difficult times.

In March, the Prime Minister announced $995 million in federal aid for 2004, mainly through the Transitional Industry Support Program. To date the producers have received some $821 million under this program.

On September 10, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced an additional $488 million to facilitate the increase in the domestic slaughter capacity. He had recognized the importance of acting in the medium and long terms to diversify slaughtering, help the producers cope with cash flow and liquidity problems, and expand access to beef export markets.

The minister also announced special cash advances for ruminant producers in 2004 through the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program.

With these new special advances, breeding cow and ruminant producers can obtain funds from the program quickly and easily. Under the program, eligible beef and ruminant producers receive up to $100 a head.

The government is determined to put this money in the hands of producers as soon as possible and I am pleased to announce that it has already started.

So far more than 10,300 producers have applied for a special advance. Applications are being processed. In total, more than $45.5 million in special advances have been granted to more than 7,000 producers.

I would also point out that the federal government has invested in business risk management, which includes CAIS and crop insurance. To help Canada's producers, including cattle farmers, to manage risk and deal with a drop in income, the federal government has allocated $5.5 billion over five years to business risk management.

It is important to mention that we no longer have an annual cap on the money set aside for business risk management. In fact, funding is subject to demand and varies according to the needs of producers.

For the 2003 program year, close to $355 million in interim or final payments were disbursed under CAIS. For the 2004 program year, over $105 million has already been paid out to producers.

CAIS is working well for cattle producers. According to our analysis, close to three quarters of cattle farmers who took part in CAIS in 2003 received payments.

I would like to remind the House of the steps the Government of Canada has taken to restore our reputation as exporters of top quality beef products.

We are making great strides at the international level, especially in Asia. Very few people realize that Japan, Korea and Taiwan were the third, fourth and fifth main export markets for our beef and beef products before the discovery of one case of BSE in Canada in May 2003.

Were are very pleased that Hong Kong agreed the day before yesterday to immediately reopen its border to Canadian beef.

This welcome news for Canadian beef producers was announced yesterday. Hong Kong will resume the importation of boneless meat from Canadian cattle under 30 months of age. Hong Kong inspectors are happy with the steps the Canadian government has taken to make sure beef products are safe.

This news comes in the aftermath of a recent visit by the Canadian agriculture and agri-food minister to Hong Kong where he energetically represented Canadian interests. Since the start of this crisis, he has been tireless in his advocacy of Canadian interests and the search for solutions. He deserves our congratulations.

At his invitation, a delegation of technical experts from Hong Kong will visit Canada to observe the security measures we have taken. We are making inroads in Japan as well. The Canada-Japan working group on BSE had its second meeting. Tokyo officials at this meeting confirmed their commitment to go on with technical discussions and the sharing of information in order to resume trade in beef and beef products with Canada.

More important, Japan again confirmed that, when a final decision is made on the resumption of the beef trade with the United States, the same conditions will apply to Canada. Technical consultations between Japan and Canada are ongoing. Canada offered to host the third meeting of the BSE working group.

The work done with Taiwan also reflect the efforts of the government to resume the Canadian beef trade, and increase its volume. We have made another big step in anticipation of the reopening of the border with the big Asian market.

Taiwan has confirmed its intention to allow, with certain conditions, access to its market for Canadian boneless beef products. It has undertaken to send a technical team to observe the measures taken by Canada to ensure food safety and animal health.

We have worked diligently with our Asian trade partners, but we have also made progress with other countries. Our experience with Mexico has turned out to be quite positive. That country has shown itself quite open to the idea of reopening its market to a wide range of ruminant products. As a matter of fact, Mexico has expressed its interest in accepting Canadian breeding cattle. We are very happy about that.

This being said, though, we are concerned by the fact that the United States is considering lowering the BSE risk rating for Mexico, should it decide to authorize Canadian live beef imports. In fact, Canada and Mexico have voiced their disagreement with the policies of the U.S. government, which prohibit the movement of certain bovine products on its territory. In effect, those policies prevent Mexico from authorizing breeding cattle imports from Canada.

Although the United States has not changed position, there was some progress at a recent meeting between our respective representatives. We are still working very hard to have the U.S. border reopened to Canadian beef and beef products. Last month a major step was taken towards the normalization of our trade with the United States.

On November 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forwarded a proposed rule on BSE to the Office of Management and Budget for final approval. It is the last step in the U.S. review of regulations. The review may take up to 90 days, but the process can be expedited. Once the review is completed, the rule is published in the U.S. federal register and it can come into effect after a 60-day period. The president of the United States told us that he would try to speed up the process.

We are making progress both in the United States and elsewhere in the world. The government has shown commitment and dynamism. We have made numerous representations in a number of markets. We sent eight missions to Asia. Our efforts are paying off for the Canadian beef industry. On top of the progress I just mentioned, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Israel, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Saudi Arabia have all partly opened their market to Canadian beef.

Macao's market is fully open. Other countries such as Chile, Russia, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates have reopened their markets to beef embryos or semen, or both.

We will keep on doing everything we can across the world to help the Canadian beef industry regain its major share of the market, as it should.

Also, we will keep on working very hard with our provincial and territorial partners as well as farmers to find solutions to this crisis.

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1 p.m.


Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question. I would like to know if he agrees with the idea of a floor price for cull cattle. If so, how should it be established? If not, what alternative does he have to propose to our farmers?

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1 p.m.


Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have said right from the beginning that we supported a floor price. However, the Government of Canada must first get the consent of the other provinces, which does not seem to have right now.

However, according to the information I have, and the member will tell me if it is correct, the Quebec government could do it for the province of Quebec and regulate the operation of slaughterhouses. Intensive negotiations are currently going on between the Minister of Agriculture, Mrs. Gauthier, the Colbex plant and the UPA to try and find a solution. We really hope that one will be found and we support them in their efforts.

We are keeping the doors open, but we are determined to help our agricultural industry get through this crisis as quickly as possible.

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1:05 p.m.


Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask another question of my colleague. In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, we have had our share of problems, especially with regard to softwood lumber. There have been massive job migrations towards the major centres, especially in sectors that once were the pride of our region. Now, it is the aluminum industry's turn. Today, farmers are badly hit by the mad cow crisis. It is one thing after the other. Right now, we are looking at an 18-month crisis.

We recently saw a producer from the upper Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area sell a 2,000 pound cow for seven cents.

What we need and what the producers are requesting immediately is an increase in the assistance plan. Indeed, even if the borders were to re-open in six months, there are serious problems right now. Many farmers are going under. Some are even being pushed to suicide.

Can the hon. member opposite convince the government to immediately finance an increase in the existing assistance plan?

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1:05 p.m.


Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to my colleague that I am a new member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and that, unfortunately, I do not have much of a green thumb. However, this is an area which is of great interest to me. My riding in particular, and all of Quebec and Canada, need the contribution of such an economic sector as agriculture and agri-food.

Having talked to several producers and UPA members, I know that what is needed is not necessarily aid in cash. The previous colleague had alluded to that in the form of a floor price. The Quebec government works very hard to find a solution. It is negotiating.

What has to be hoped for with all our hearts is that, together, we succeed in solving part of this problem so that when our borders are re-opened, our farmers are in a good financial situation and they are able face global competition.

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1:05 p.m.


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague of Jonquière—Alma. I also take this opportunity to thank my colleagues who are allowing me to take part in this debate.

I was raised on a farm and I am very proud of it. However, I must admit that I left so long ago that, today, I have to acknowledge that I am no longer on top of things, just like the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, by the way. Nonetheless, the difference, as far I am concerned, is that I have an interest in it and that I listen to the competent people, which, for me, means the farmers.

That being said, the government has no choice. We need to put in place right now a traceability system, whether it be beef animals, livestock, dairy cows and even hogs. Technology now makes it possible.

Quebec does not waste its time trying to take over Ottawa's jurisdictions. It is working very hard to find solutions to problems. It consults and, until most recently, it was listening to the people involved who, better than it, know the possible solutions to their problems. Ottawa would still be well advised today to copy Quebec in many respects.

Even more so, health practices will have to be regionalized. Today, a single case of BSE is diagnosed in Alberta, and the whole country is penalized, when Quebec is 5,000 kilometres away from Alberta. Quebec is not alone in being penalized, even though it is being more so than the other provinces when it comes to cull cows and cattle.

Few countries have abandoned their agricultural sector as much as Canada has, especially since the day the current Prime Minister became responsible for the Department of Finance in 1993. Today, as the Prime Minister, he does not seem to have been able to put the right minister in the right place. Producers have been asking for his help for the last 18 months proposing solutions, and this minister does not find any other means than to think about the situation. He has been thinking for the past 18 months. He has been applying the wrong medicine to the malady for the past 18 months. In other words, he has a remedy for a problem that is not the problem of Quebec producers.

He keeps saying that he invested $366 million, when it is not even a quarter of that. The Bloc had to put the real figures under his eyes for him to finally admit this.

There has to be a national floor price, whether some producers or some financial people in the Liberal Party like it or not. The mad cow is not Quebec's problem and, yet, its producers are the most penalized. It is not normal—and we will never say this enough—for Canada to be considered a single health region.

Quebec's regulations have been more effective than Canada's. There is among other things the traceability system, which makes it possible to follow the animal from birth to death, and a ban on meal from ruminants, which was established four years before Ottawa's.

In this case, if Quebec had been sovereign, and I repeat the words of my colleagues, and was controlling its borders and its health policies, it would not have been hit by the American embargo for the last 18 months. Even the president of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, made the same comment, and I quote him:

Recent experiences with avian flu, BSE...and other animal diseases around the world show gaps in our food safety system.

Given our recent experiences with the economic devastation that has resulted from animal disease, it is high time that the Canadian government take a leadership role in moving forward with regional zoning, with full co-operation and support of industry.

The current situation is disastrous 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.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, like his government, listens to nobody else but himself and acts on his own. If ridicule could kill, I wonder if we would be talking about him today. Do this minister and his government realize the despair they have inflicted on beef and dairy farmers?

In spite of all their fighting spirit, they are dying off and the government is just watching, although it could afford to help. As a matter of fact, many of them are dying, either physically or mentally. These people work very hard, between 100 and 120 hours a week, and make no money at it, or worse yet, are using up the little savings they had managed to set aside.

I would be curious to see one of those ministers who have completely lost touch with the people. I would be curious to see them go through the kind of anguish experienced by these farmers who spend long days in their tractor cabs thinking about all their losses, while their fellow citizens do not understand what they are going through and their government does not care. I would like to see these ministers all decked up forced to invest everything they have in a farm and see it all disappear.

All they had to do was help the various farming sectors manage their own affairs or guarantee a floor price. This government has spent billions of dollars on oil wells and continues to give them very favourable treatment through tax breaks that will put billions more dollars into the pockets of the Prime Minister's cronies this very year. This government is totally insensitive to the agony of the farming sector, which is a renewable resource and environmentally friendly.

Countries cannot do without farming. We only have to look south of the border at our neighbours, who are heavily subsidized. They are major employers. If they can do it there, I do not understand why we cannot do the same here. We cannot allow ourselves to depend on other countries for our food. And yet, this is what this government's policies will lead to.

I watched Bernard Derome's documentary again on the struggles of our farmers. I do not know if the minister watches French television programs, but it certainly was not about the life of the rich and famous, like that of the head of this government. Those who do not realize this must be blinded by all the money thrown at them by big holdings. Their work is better paid than the work of farmers, but is it as gratifying?

Farmers are major stakeholders in the United States because their government has made them major stakeholders through various hidden subsidies that any other smart government could have granted to its own producers.

I was listening this morning to the speech the Minister of Agriculture made in Red Deer, Alberta, on Monday evening I think it was. He said, among other things, that it was important to build strong rural communities based on different realities. I find that a bit ironic, since he has only recognized one reality so far, that of western Canada.

When he talks about understanding, maybe he should know how to listen, if he wants to understand. But he refuses to do so. He also talks about targeted actions by the government. But who is going to show him the target? He is voluntarily deaf and blind. He does not want to hear, nor see, nor learn anything. He even goes as far as to treat ironically a member of the opposition's urging him to pay attention to the pressing needs of the cattle and cull cow producers. Who does he think the member is speaking for?

And yet, producers have been repeating the same thing for months. They even showed their good faith with their project to acquire an abattoir. But given that it is not possible, the government could have met them halfway by helping them to build one and, above all, to break the monopoly in slaughtering. This is not beneficial to the producers, nor to the consumers. It is contrary to the common good. A floor price must be set, be it only temporary, to allow this very important and essential sector of the Canadian economy to recover. It might not suit some people in other regions, but does it suit the producers from Quebec to be caught in the chaos caused by this cow from Alberta?

The Quebec minister of agriculture has asked for this government's help in order to set a floor abattoir price. The government was given an opportunity to cooperate, but it refused.

This government must definitely recognize Quebec's unique nature. In fact, to show how much this is necessary, one can look at Alberta, where cattle producers are compensated for each animal being slaughtered. But in Quebec, where we find mostly dairy producers, when they sell the cows for meat, as the animals do not produce enough milk anymore, the government gives a compensation only for 16 % of the herd. Let me conclude by saying that this is unacceptable.

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1:15 p.m.


Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of esteem for my colleague from the Bloc Québécois, who just spoke. As in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, there are serious problems in the more rural regions in Quebec.

I would like him to explain to the minister and to the House the importance of improving an assistance plan and implementing new measures for producers, because Quebec regions are now headed toward a critical level of employability. Indeed, youth are leaving for urban areas. We badly need the government to listen to us so that it finally takes its responsibilities and agrees to help Quebec producers.

I would like my colleague to comment on this.

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1:15 p.m.


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, before, parents would leave their farm to their children and work for them or would hire their children to carry on.

Today, as soon as the children leave school, they think about doing something else because they have experienced their parents' misery and they do not see the possibility of making a decent living.

Some people have millions of dollars in milk quotas and they could not even sell their farm for the value of a single quota. This is deplorable. Moreover, if a producer considers all the money that he invested and finds himself alone, sitting in a tractor cabin for 10 or 12 hours, thinking about all his problems, he may commit suicide.

The minister should watch the Bernard Derome program, in French, of course. Certainly someone around him could translate it for him, perhaps his colleague next to him, who speaks French quite well.

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1:15 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, I did not catch all of the member's remarks but he did talk about some of the programming.

We have said a number of times that we recognize the difficulties on the farm, which is why the minister made the announcement on September 10 repositioning the livestock industry to manipulate the market so that farmers could get the price out of the marketplace, as well as continuing to work on opening the U.S. border. We have been doing our part.

It was interesting to listen to the Bloc Québécois members try to condemn government programs when they have failed to tell their own producers that the reason the dairy industry has survived in Quebec as well as it has is because of the Canadian milk supply management system that Canada implemented and has strongly maintained at the WTO.

Will the member opposite finally get up and tell his producers in Quebec that it is thanks to the strong efforts of the Government of Canada that we have a supply management system in place for the five industries, dairy, poultry and so on, which is why farmers get reasonable returns from the marketplace for the products they produce. It is that system which gives farmers marketing power in the system itself, and that is thanks to Canada.

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1:20 p.m.


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the member opposite that nothing is less certain than milk quotas. Today, producers do not know what to expect from one day to another.

If the government could not negotiate, it could at least protect the country's producers. The government should have supported them financially in order to get them through the crisis, since it cannot negotiate with the Americans. It has never managed to do so, whether it is about softwood lumber or about agriculture.

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1:20 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, if I heard the hon. member correctly, he is suggesting that the dairy farmers in Quebec do not like the supply managed system, that they do not want to be under supply management and that it is not serving their needs. That is the exact opposite of how members on this side feel. I am shocked to hear the hon. member suggest that supply management is not a positive thing for dairy producers in Quebec.

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1:20 p.m.


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I listen to the members opposite, I am not surprised that we have made such little progress to date. They have never understood anything and today, they do not understand any better than before.

This is not at all what I said. I said that producers are worried about the uncertainty surrounding the continuity of milk quotas. I do not know who is translating, but either the member makes sure he does not hear well, as he has always done, or there has been a mistranslation.

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1:20 p.m.


Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with pride that I speak in this House, but also with some anger, an anger that is equal only to the government's actions.

When I am talking about pride, it is because I represent a region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which has a high concentration of producers. I can tell you that I share and understand their disarray. Indeed, I had the chance to work on a farm for six years, the Aly Blackburn farm, in Métabetchouan. The owners are Claire and Yvon Blackburn. They are very nice people. They work very hard, day in and day out, as all milk producers in Quebec do.

I had the chance to really appreciate, to really understand the efforts they are making to put bread, butter and fresh quality products on our tables. Yesterday, following the parliamentary sitting, I took the opportunity, with my colleagues, to go and support them in Quebec City, in their negotiations with the minister and the Government of Quebec. It was a short return trip, but this had a lot of meaning and they appreciated it. One thing they did not appreciate was the absence of the minister, who, using all sorts of excuses, declined the invitation. When I am talking about anger, this is what I am referring to.

Right now, their fight is the fight of a whole generation. They are fighting to save not only their farms and their jobs, but also the jobs of their children, of a whole generation, mine and my children's.

They are fighting now for the very survival of farming. The problems farmers are facing are driving them to bankruptcy, which means nothing less than the end of farming. The minister across the way does not seem to be sensitive to that. The problems are very real though.

The Government of Quebec is currently negotiating. It is not easy for that government, but it showed up yesterday. I met the minister who was there at the meeting with farmers and deigned to speak with them. She is currently involved in very intense negotiations. At least you have to welcome that because, somewhere, there is a minister in Quebec courageous enough to go to them, talk with them, and negotiate with them.

I would like to remind the minister how important farming is in Quebec. Some 44,000 farmers work day after day to provide us with fresh products. They contribute to the Quebec economy to the tune of $5 billion. It is therefore a very important industry.

Moreover, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, farming is one of the six major exporters. It is key to our economy.

By not being there today, the minister is simply showing a total lack of respect for the 44,000 farmers who work day after day for our sake. His absence says a lot about the Liberal government's insensitivity.

On Monday, I went to a demonstration. I am not sure I should call it that. Politicians were invited to a field. Farmers dug a hole and are threatening to kill no less than 600 head of cattle in it, 600 cows. I cannot condone such an act but I do understand that they are desperate, close to bankruptcy and need help to overcome their problems. You can feel their despair when they talk and tell their story.

I went there to hear their message and convey it back to the House. This is what I am doing today, what I did last week, what I have been doing for the last 18 months while this government does not care, is incapable of hearing us and providing some concrete solutions.

I am taking this threat seriously. In 1974, they did something similar. They used cattle to make the government react. I am telling the minister right now that he will have to share responsibility should the situation end up with a carnage, as producers are threatening to do if no solution is found to this conflict.

The minister has the power to take concrete action, to make improvements and to implement solutions, but he does not do so. I do not understand why. The Liberals form a minority government and they could make some gains by providing concrete help to producers, but they do not. The minister stays put in Ottawa, under the pretext that he must absolutely listen to us all day long.

My colleagues offered to give him a ride to the airport. It is a one hour flight each way, plus one hour for discussions. The whole thing would have taken three hours. The minister could easily have showed up in Quebec City, out of respect for these people.

I also remind the minister, who seems to be ignoring the whole issue, that a producer from my region was paid 7¢ for a 2,000 pound cow.

When people buy meat, whether it is ground beef or whatever, they are all paying what they were paying one, two or three years ago. In fact, they are paying more, because of inflation. But these producers are getting 7¢ for a 2,000 pound cow. Members opposite cannot claim that there is no problem right now. Come on.

Animal health practices should have been regionalized a long time ago. Had this been done, the mad cow issue would be limited to Alberta, where it originated. The other provinces and regions would have been able to continue to export their products as usual. Moreover, we could have generated money, we could have continued to make profits to help Alberta, which has had its share of crises. Instead, the ban was imposed on cattle across the country, with the result that the whole Canadian industry is suffering.

Producers have made another very interesting request, which I submit to the minister once again, which is to set a floor price. Quebec's Minister of Agriculture has asked for this minister's cooperation to convince her provincial counterparts to work with them on setting a floor price. What was done? Her request was left unanswered. In Quebec, we at least have a minister who is trying hard and willing to work on this issue. I do hope that, by the end of the day, some solutions will have been provided. That is what I wish for everyone, for all our producers and farmers, who are waiting for the government to take action and specific measures.

We also need to improve the assistance program. I am told that millions of dollars were invested. True, some programs were set up, but they are ineffective. They are so ineffective that-- I remind the minister-- a farmer was paid 7¢ for a cull cow. Worse yet, some producers did not even get 7¢, but had to pay to send their cows to the slaughterhouse. We have a problem here. The government can cover its ears all it wants and refuse to hear about it, but we have a problem and something must be done. It has a duty to act.

I urge the government to stop shirking its responsibilities. I urge the minister once again to take a plane--the mode of transportation does not matter--and go to meet the farmers. I would like him to show some respect for the 40,000 producers who work hard day in and day out. They need us. I urge Parliament to support this proposal so that we can all work together to find a solution and finally resolve this situation.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I will make this point again about the absolutely ridiculous position of the Bloc. It comes into this House on the day its choosing, it is an opposition day, and puts a motion critical of the government in terms of its agricultural policy. It then rails against the fact that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is in the House to answer its questions. It is utterly and totally ridiculous.

I have travelled from one end of this country to the other to meet with producers and with farm leaders. I have met with them on an ongoing basis and will continue to meet with them. However, today I am here in this House at the behest of the Bloc who put this motion forward.

The hon. member says that there has been nothing done. I would like to ask him to define for me which of these nothings he is referring to. Is it the $90 million that is going to Quebec producers in respect of the CAIS program for 2003? Or perhaps it is the $102 million that will be going to Quebec producers in respect of 2004? Perhaps it is the $93 million that went to Quebec producers under the TIS program? Maybe it is the $18 million under the cull program? Or maybe it is the $55 million under the crop insurance program that the hon. member is referring to?

Which of these investments, which of these monies flowing to Quebec, and which of this assistance to producers in Quebec, in his mind, represent nothing?