Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. I thank him for agreeing to split his time with me. Like me, he comes from an area where there is a lot of agriculture, a lot of milk producers. We know that it is also in his area that a very unfortunate event occurred. Indeed, a cow was killed in front of television cameras. We do not agree with such a thing, but we understand it.
The situation is now very critical for farmers and milk producers in Quebec. The minister did not even deign to go meet them today in Quebec City, where the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec is holding its convention.
This is a truly important motion. Maybe they should listen to it on the other side. I come from the communications sector, so I know that through repetition we can get our messages across. Maybe if I read the motion once more, the government will do something about it. The motion reads as follows:
In light of the inadequacy of current federal assistance, that this House call upon the government to implement specific measures as soon as possible to help the cattle and cull cattle producers who are suffering the impact of the mad cow crisis.
It is as simple as that. The situation has not been resolved. Fortunately, the UPA and the Quebec government announced today an agreement with the Colbex meat packing plant so that cattle producers can finally own up to 80% of a plant, according to the information we obtained. We know, however, that the federal government is not part of this agreement. It is dragging its feet once again. Fortunately, Quebec worked things out. This does not mean that there is no demand or need for assistance.
Normally, we rise in the House to say that we are pleased to speak about or debate a certain subject. Since my election, that has been my practice. However, today, I am not pleased, far from it, to rise to debate the mad cow crisis yet again. I did so on October 12, in a take-note debate that began on October 5. At the time, I did it to demand assistance for producers in our regions and in Quebec. Over one month later, we are forced to demand once again this very important financial assistance.
What Quebec producers are asking for is more money for producers of cattle and cull cattle, targeted measures to compensate cull cattle producers and the extension of existing programs at least until the U.S. border re-opens. Despite President Bush's visit, this matter is yet to be resolved. He spent more time talking about the missile defence shield than the softwood lumber problem or the mad cow crisis, unfortunately.
Eighteen months after a single case of mad cow was identified in Alberta, we continue to debate it here today. However, just a few days ago, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food recognized that there was a problem with cull cattle. Subsequent to and despite such assistance packages, he repeated today, during his speech, that he recognized that the problem was ongoing. That is what he said during oral questions. So, why are we still here today discussing the problem, this crisis, and arguing?
While the minister is hiding behind false pretexts to avoid meeting the agricultural producers who are gathered today in Quebec City, the situation is about to explode. The producers, who are angry, and rightly so, are besieging the slaughterhouse of Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover. Perhaps that blockade will cease, now that the agreement in principle has just been signed, fortunately. That slaughterhouse is not located in my riding, but it is very close; it is in the Centre-du-Québec region where I come from. Let me remind you that the region is a very large dairy production area, counting more than 1,500 farms, or 16% of the dairy production in Quebec.
Those producers are asking for a minimum price. Incidentally, the Union des producteurs agricoles and the minister of agriculture of Quebec have asked that the federal government invoke the Agricultural Products Marketing Act and impose a minimum price of 42¢ a pound. The minister has refused, forcing the dairy and beef producers to fend for themselves. Nevertheless, they have all agreed on a minimum price to be reinstated, since the federal government has refused to do so. We managed on our own, as we often have to in Quebec, unfortunately.
Their lot: a price of 17¢. This is what we have known, from 15 to 20¢ a pound, until very recently. On the other hand, prior to the embargo imposed by the United States, producers could charge up to 60¢ a pound.
In the wake of the blockade, the slaughter of a cow, live on television—I mentioned it a moment ago—and of President Bush's fruitless visit, what is the federal government waiting for to institute real targeted aid measures?
Despite the minister's fine words, these programs will not take us to the day the border might reopen, that is six long months from now. Some of these support programs have already expired and the last of the federal programs will come to an end on February 28, 2005.
Where is the direct aid to make up for the drop in the price of cattle? Where is the interest free loan program? These are two measures Quebec producers have been waiting for. The president of the UPA Centre-du-Quebec, Mr. Denis Bilodeau, whom I know very well, has said that they were ready to spend the whole winter in front of the Colbex plant if they had to. That was before the agreement in principle we spoke about was reached. That shows how desperate these people were. They were so frustrated they were ready to do anything to be heard. Quebec listened to them, that is all. We wonder if anyone on the other side is listening. I do not think so.
Does the minister realize that there is a crisis and will he take his responsibilities?
Yesterday, I read an article on the Internet site of the L'Express/La Parole , a Drummondville newspaper, where a producer from Saint-Rosaire--that is also in my riding--drew a pretty alarming picture of the situation, and I quote:
We no longer sell our cows, we give them away. The income from cull cows can usually make the difference between a good year and a bad one. We are more than fed up.
I do not know if écoeurantite is translatable. It means we are totally fed up, that we have had it, that we can't take it any more, that we have had it up to the eyeballs. It should be obvious how fed up we are.
I am asking the minister to listen to this cry from the heart from the 25,000 agricultural operations affected in Quebec and thousands of others elsewhere in Canada. Regardless of what some may say, the sovereignists are fully aware of what goes on elsewhere, and the mad cow crisis did of course first hit Alberta and then all the other provinces. That was because Canada was not capable of regionalizing health practices, as in fact it still should today.
In Quebec, the losses add up to $241 million, even with the financial compensation that has been paid out so far. The minister is coming up with a figure of millions and millions, but what has to be kept in mind is that we in Quebec are still $241 million in the hole.
So we do not want to keep hearing from the minister about his plans. Laurent Pellerin, the head of the UPA, has said the following:
Ottawa keeps on dishing up one inappropriate program after the other, and these do not reflect the specific nature of agriculture in Quebec—
This is part of a November 30 press release from the UPA.
What the producers are calling for, in addition to a base price for cull, is an assistance package to compensate for the price drops for all classes of cattle and other ruminants, to be kept in place until the borders reopen.
Today, stock is selling at ridiculous prices, as has been said, up to 87% less than before the crisis. We have all heard of the case of the cow that went for 7¢, not 7¢ a pound but 7¢ for the whole 2,000-pound cow. My colleague from Montcalm has also shown me a cheque for just over 50¢, 56¢ I think it was—