Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today on this important issue. For our part, we in this party believe in criticism of the government on programs when criticism is due and praise when it is warranted.
Notwithstanding that there are a lot of questions about the program that has been unveiled today, on balance it is praiseworthy and a step in the right direction for farmers who have been beleaguered in this country for far too many years.
What is significant about this program, as I understand it, is that it is not a 60:40 program. Let me explain what I mean by that. For the past 10 years, the Chrétien government had insisted that because there was a joint jurisdiction in agriculture between the provinces and the territories as well as the federal government, all of the programming had to be paid 40% by the provinces and territories and 60% by the government.
This was even when the issue was strictly on trade related items. As we know, provincial governments do not sit at the table when they are negotiating trade deals. We always thought it was a canard. It was an unsustainable argument. What is particularly encouraging, as I understand today's announcement, is that it will not be requiring the provincial governments to pony up 40% of the money that will flow to the farmers, particularly those in the cattle industry.
When we think of provinces like Saskatchewan, which has 40% of the arable land in this country, or the neighbouring Province of Manitoba, both of them have a large cattle herd and a small tax base. Both of them have indicated that if it were required, if 40% of the money were required from provincial governments, that they would not be in a position to pay their farmers or enter the program.
This is definitely a step in the right direction and welcome news for an industry that has been devastated since the border closed as a result of the single case of BSE that was discovered in Alberta on May 20, 2003.
On the 60:40 program, I hope that this is a signal that the government has backed away because previous governments had never taken this idea of joint jurisdiction and therefore 60:40 funding seriously. It was only when the previous government of Mr. Chrétien brought in those programs and insisted on it for more than a decade. We certainly hope it is a signal of improvements to come.
My colleague from Winnipeg North Centre said it is clear that farmers no longer pray simply for rain; they also pray for elections. To that extent I agree with the member from the Conservative Party who was noting the same point. With the federal election in the offing, all of a sudden the government is doing something for farmers whom they largely ignored, not just for the past couple of years as the statement said, but indeed for a long time before that.
The chair of the Treasury Board noted in his comments that the government wanted the border re-opened to live cattle exports as quickly as possible. I agree with that, but would qualify it by saying in the very short term. I think it is totally unsustainable that we should be shipping live cattle to packing plants in the United States instead of doing the slaughtering, and producing the boneless and boxed meat here in Canada and providing decent jobs for Canadians in the meat packing industry. It is akin to shipping raw logs to Japan or elsewhere in the world and buying back finished lumber. It is a crazy system.
The Canadian cattle industry is far too integrated with its American counterpart. We need to have some spaces in our togetherness. We need to do things a little bit differently.
We ought to be looking at eliminating bovine growth hormone and eliminating all animal feed to all animals, not just to ruminants in order that we can ship products to other countries that now do not take our products.
However, that is a debate for another day. Overall, this caucus is pleased with the announcement of today and particularly the fact that the provinces would not have to pony up that money. We hope that is a sign of future things to come.