Now, they just woke up. When we talk about cowardice, they recognize themselves.
The Quebec minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, Ms. Gauthier, asked the federal government to ensure that the Agricultural Products Marketing Act is implemented in order to have a floor price. This would have helped Quebec's whole agricultural sector, including producers. The federal government had the power to do that, but it did not, because some provinces were opposed to such a measure. When the time comes to help Quebec, if certain provinces are opposed, this government does not make a move. However, when Quebec has difficulties, it matters little that the solution also benefits others.
A series of assistance plans were proposed. A figure of $366 million was mentioned. According to Quebec's federation of beef cattle producers, only $90 million has been received from Ottawa since the beginning of the crisis, under the specific measures taken. The government cannot take all the budgets for agriculture and say “We gave x number of dollars”. This is an exceptional crisis and it requires exceptional measures.
If we add to the federal compensation the $60 million received from the Quebec government, producers have to absorb losses of some $241 million, after compensation. There is no direct aid to make up for the drop in the price of cattle, and there is no interest free loan program either.
Speaking of the centralizing vision of the federal government and the lack of recognition of Quebec's distinctiveness, Laurent Pellerin said:
The needs of Quebec's dairy farmers are neglected for the simple reason that the intervention model is based on a reality that does not exist in Quebec and which cannot be applied, especially in its final phase, to the cull cow and calf sectors.
Cull cows, bulls and calves all have four legs, but that does not mean they are one and the same. In his position, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food should at least understand that.
The producers who raise cattle for meat are concentrated in Alberta. They receive compensation for all the animals they slaughter. Fifty per cent of dairy production is in Quebec, where most cattle producers are dairy producers, who slaughter cows that do not produce enough milk. Those cows are called cull.
Each year, producers renew 25% of their herd. Unfortunately, the federal aid package compensates them for only 16% of their herd. This means that, since prices have dropped by 70%, they are getting compensation for only two-thirds of the cows they slaughter every year. The federal aid package has to be improved.
Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said he recognized the problem. After 18 months, he told us there was a problem with cull. We questioned him and, as usual, his answer was, and I quote:
“I have a plan”. It is a six-point plan or a seven-point plan. It is always a plan, but never a solution. That is the problem with the Liberals.
If the minister recognized the problem, why did he not do something 18 months ago? If he understands, why is he afraid to go to Quebec City and tell producers he understands and explain what he plans to do? He would rather not leave Ottawa, and it is a sign of cowardice.
We are told the border will open six months from now at best, because it will take 90 days to sort out the proposed settlement between the two countries so as to reflect the American legislation and the available budget. After that, there will be a 60 day public consultation period. Only then will we know if the proposal has been accepted. It will not be accepted any earlier than six months from now, if indeed it is accepted at all. But federal programs will not last that long. Most of them have already run out. Even the last one that was announced on September 10, 2004 will run out on February 29, 2005.
In the meantime, people are losing their farms. Some have committed suicide. But people across the floor are indifferent. For them, this is just a matter of figures, statistics, and neat six-point or seven-point plans with no solutions. They are bureaucrats to the core. We do not need them. What we need is specific steps. By that, I mean real direct assistance programs providing immediate help. We need action right now, not six months from now, and we do not need a plan dependent on another plan dependent on yet another. We do not need a process within a process within a process. We are fed up with this. Farmers need a solution now. That is what they were waiting for this morning in Quebec City. People in Ottawa keep hiding instead of talking with Quebec producers.
We want an interest-free loan program to be set up. This requires no federal funds. This would help people. We want the implementation of a real program for cull animals covering overall herd renewal, which is approximately 25% annually, and not a program covering only 16%.
We must also consider veal calves and finishing calves. We must improve the existing programs for producers of cattle and cull cows. The latest program covers only 15% of the needs of Quebec producers. As I mentioned earlier, barely $90 million was provided. The existing programs must be extended, at least until the borders re-open.
There is an alarming situation. People are losing their way of life, people are losing their farms, and we turn a cold shoulder here in Ottawa.
This is an extremely important industry in economic terms, but it is more than that. Every country needs a healthy agricultural industry. Every country needs to have an agricultural industry able to feed its own people. This is fundamental. The bureaucrats here do not understand that. We also do not like this unchanging attitude in Ottawa that Ottawa knows best. It is the same everywhere. Whether it works or not, the same rules apply across the board, instead of trying to adapt and take a humane approach in this crisis that is affecting human beings. These people have devoted their lives to this. They work seven days a week, like few others in our society. They are at the end of their ropes. They have no future; they will lose everything and they are desperate.
We must provide help with programs that meet their needs. I want to share a statistic. Last year, the annual income of producers across Canada was in the red. In other words, they worked 360 days a year—that is the reality—and they ended up with less money than they started. They paid to work. They generated negative incomes. That is the situation. In the meantime, the minister has a plan, another plan that never works.
Therefore, I urgently request that exceptional measures be taken in view of this extraordinary crisis. To refuse is simply irresponsible and cowardly. The refusal to take part this morning in the UPA convention is an irresponsible and cowardly act befitting a minister who can only be described as a wimp.