House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

National DefenceOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, for a government that is trying so desperately to distance itself from Jean Chrétien, I do not know why this minister and this government keep re-announcing long overdue commitments that were made by the Chrétien administration last fall.

When he was chairman of the defence committee the minister said, and I quote, “...what is critically needed at this point is increases to that base budget so that funding will be sustained over the years to come”.

Now that he is minister, why has he failed so miserably to convince the Prime Minister to keep his promise to provide sufficient funds for our troops?

National DefenceOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Liberal

David Pratt LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, once again we have the opposition jumping to outlandish conclusions. The sorts of statements that I made as chairman of the defence committee are completely consistent with the statements that I have made as defence minister.

The important point to keep in mind here is as well that when I was chair of the defence committee I indicated very clearly the need for a new white paper, and the hon. member is a member of a party that supported the defence committee's report with respect to the need for a strategic plan. The hon. member cannot have it both ways.

World Water DayOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada is the only one out of the 53 member states of the Commission on Human Rights to speak out against the recognition of water as an essential human right.

How can Canada maintain that attitude when, today, World Water Day, four organizations, including Development and Peace, have tabled a petition bearing the signatures of 177,000 people in Quebec and Canada who denounce the government's refusal to recognize access to water as an essential human right?

World Water DayOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we examine all proposals from the Commission on Human Rights. It is very important to know what social and economic rights people have.

But, as for everyone having a right to water, we must acknowledge that we are neighbours with a country that has its own ideas about access to water. It is Canada's role to examine this very important concept of international law in conjunction with other states. We must work together with the international community to ensure this has an actual impact and does not remain mere rhetoric, as our colleague would have it.

Liberty Mutual Insurance CompanyOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of State for Financial Institutions.

Recently my constituents, Louise Brenneman, Fred Gaskin and Bob Sanders of the Canadian Association of Mutual Policyholders, expressed grave concerns about the protection of mutual policyholders' rights and entitlements with regard to the proposed sale of Liberty Mutual's insurance business.

What steps are being taken by the government to protect the rights of the 350,000-plus Canadian policyholders?

Liberty Mutual Insurance CompanyOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Brome—Missisquoi Québec

Liberal

Denis Paradis LiberalMinister of State (Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions has received an application regarding the transfer of Liberty Mutual's insurance business. The proposed transfer will require the approval of the Minister of Finance.

Let me add that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions in the assessment of the proposed transfer will analyze and will take into account the impact on Canadian policyholders.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the foreign affairs minister.

The European Union has condemned the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as an extra-judicial killing. It said that in this case, the condemnation has to be even stronger than usual.

Is that also the position of the Government of Canada and if so, what action is Canada intending beyond condemnation?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we recognize entirely the right of Israel to take steps to protect itself and its citizens against acts of terrorism. But we have condemned the death of Sheikh Yassin because, in our view, this is a matter that is contrary to international legal obligations on behalf of the state of Israel and will contribute to instability in the area and will make peace, which we all work for so hard, more difficult to achieve.

We call upon all parties to return to the road map. We call upon a return to a concept of peace in the area. We ask for restraint on behalf of all parties in this difficult time.

RAI InternationalOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, on April 7, 2003, the Italian-Canadian community made a request to the CRTC to obtain a broadcast licence for RAI International, an Italian public television channel for Italian communities abroad, which is available in 238 countries. According to Giovani Rapona, the project's promoter, the delay in the CRTC's decision can be attributed to an influential member of cabinet who would like to see this issue postponed until after the federal election.

Can the Minister of Canadian Heritage tell us whether the lack of a decision by the CRTC is linked to lobbying efforts by one of her colleagues?

RAI InternationalOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Louis-Hébert Québec

Liberal

Hélène Scherrer LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows full well that, before a foreign broadcaster such as RAI International can be distributed in Canada by cable or satellite, the CanadianRadio-television and Telecommunications Commission must first give its approval. After examining all the briefs submitted on such proposals, the CRTC will make its decision at an appropriate time.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of 11 boys and girls, the Children's Miracle Network 2004 Champions from across the country. These youngsters have overcome life-threatening illnesses or injuries and have been chosen to represent all of the children who are treated annually by the Children's Miracle Network hospitals and foundations across Canada.

These remarkable young people are real champions who have overcome some huge obstacles in order to be with us today.

I invite you to meet them in Room 216-N for a reception after oral question period.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Board of Internal EconomyOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that Mr. John Reynolds, member for the electoral district of West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast, has been appointed member of the Board of Internal Economy, replacing Mr. Loyola Hearn, member for the electoral district of St. John's West, for the purposes and under the provisions of an Act to Amend the Parliament of Canada Act, Chapter 32, Statutes of Canada 1997.

Board of Internal EconomyOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health during question period stated that my party did not have a website. I would like to inform him, and to make sure all Canadians are not misled, that we do. It is conservative.ca.

I can understand how he made the mistake because the other day I punched in Groupaction on the computer and up popped the Liberal Party of Canada.

Board of Internal EconomyOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast I note is the new House leader for the Conservative Party. I am sure he knows that this seems to be more of a debate rather than a genuine point of order.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre has given the Chair notice of a question of privilege.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, today I rise on a matter of parliamentary privilege. It is my request that the House hold Mr. Alfonso Gagliano in prima facie contempt of Parliament.

Mr. Gagliano testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts on March 18 and 19 of this year. During the course of his testimony Mr. Gagliano repeatedly evaded committee members' questions, refused to give complete accounts of events to which previous witnesses had testified and routinely made statements that can only be described as inaccurate.

The committee chair, the hon. member for St. Albert, reads the following statement to all witnesses prior to testimony, that:

--the refusal to answer questions or failure to reply truthfully may give rise to a charge of contempt of the House, whether the witness has been sworn in or not.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, despite any other reservations I have about her point of order, is referring to hon. members by name rather than constituency. I think she said the name of a member. I urge her to make sure she does not do that.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I referred to the hon. member for St. Albert and indicated that he reads the following statement to all witnesses prior to testimony:

--the refusal to answer questions or failure to reply truthfully may give rise to a charge of contempt of the House, whether the witness has been sworn in or not. In addition, witnesses who lie under oath may be charged with perjury.

That is on page 862 of Marleau and Montpetit, House of Commons Procedure and Practice .

In Mr. Gagliano's opening statement he said:

First of all, and please bear with me as I explain to you what a minister does in our system and what he does not do, a minister does not run his department. He has neither the time nor the freedom to do so.

I am certain the ministers opposite will agree with me when I say that the statement I have just read is just as misleading as it is false. This is but one example of the type of declaration Mr. Gagliano insisted on presenting our committee with.

In response to a question I asked on March 18 requesting the former minister to provide us with names of members of his staff who were involved in the operation of the sponsorship program, Mr. Gagliano gave no response. Instead, he stated that he would need to question his former chief of staff.

The next day, March 19, Mr. Gagliano indicated in response to a question from the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill that he in fact had been in contact with his former chief of staff.

Over the course of two days, Mr. Gagliano provided a series of strategic answers, most of which served to prevent me and my fellow committee members from truly being able to investigate and proffer solutions into the ongoing sponsorship scandal.

While I know, Mr. Speaker, that you often refer matters of this nature back to committee, I respectfully submit that this is a question which must be brought before the whole House. Mr. Gagliano's refusal to fully answer the committee members' questions is an affront to the entire parliamentary process and it is my opinion that Mr. Gagliano be found in contempt of the House.

Mr. Speaker, should you rule in my favour, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion and reference to the committee.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member I am sure has arguments to advance, but I think she knows, as I do, that what she needs to do is advance these arguments in committee. It is in the committee where the answers were given. It is acting on a committee report that the House could act, but it is not for the Speaker to determine the value or merits of questions and answers given in a committee until the committee has reported to the House and requested some kind of ruling from the Chair.

The hon. member can raise the matter in committee. The committee can decide whether the answers constitute contempt of the committee, and then make a report to the House. If the House wishes to find contempt of the House based on the report, that is not a problem. The House is free to do that. However, I do not think it is legitimate at this point for the House to make a determination when the committee is still hearing evidence, when it is still considering the matter and when it could consider the complaint raised by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre in the committee itself.

I would invite her to take her argument there for the time being, until we have a report from that committee.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I am ready to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 10 by the hon. member for St. John's West concerning the format of the main estimates for 2004-05.

I would like to thank the hon. member for St. John's West for having raised this important matter and I would also like to thank the hon. President of the Treasury Board, the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough and the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for their contributions on this point.

In raising the form in which the main estimates 2004-05 were tabled in the House, the hon. member for St. John's West asserted that by its own omission the government had tabled estimates which did not represent its real spending plans for the coming fiscal year. He made reference to a media release issued on February 24, 2004 which stated:

Due to the extent of the machinery of government changes announced in December 2003, it is the intention of the Government to table a revised set of Main Estimates later during the 2004-2005 fiscal year. This will allow new and restructured organizations sufficient time to finalize resource discussions as well as to develop their plans and priorities in time for Parliament to consider appropriation bills to authorize final spending. At the same time, it will allow the Government to seek additional spending authority for expenditures that were not sufficiently known in time for the Main Estimates and which are normally sought from Parliament through Supplementary Estimates later during the fiscal year.

In the view of the member for St. John's West, these statements represent an admission by the government that the main estimates, tabled on February 24, 2004, do not reflect the government's real spending plans and hence are invalid. He claimed, therefore, that committees to which the estimates have been referred will be unable accurately to assess the government's request for funds and cannot properly carry out what all members recognize as one of their most fundamental duties.

The President of Treasury Board pointed out that the government has an obligation under the Standing Orders to present the Main Estimates to the House by no later than March 1 each year. This obligation is set out in Standing Order 81(4) which reads:

In every session the main estimates to cover the incoming fiscal year for every department of government shall be deemed referred to standing committees on or before March 1 of the then expiring fiscal year. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than May 31 of the then current fiscal year.

He indicated that the main estimates were tabled in their current form in order to comply with that requirement in the standing orders. He also stated that, in addition to presenting the main estimates in their current form, the government had also provided additional information concerning its reorganization plans and its intention to present revised spending estimates following legislative approval of that reorganization.

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville pointed out that Standing Orders 81(4)(a) and (b) give the leader of the official opposition the responsibility both for selecting a set of estimates to receive extended study in committee and, in consultation with the other opposition leaders, to designate two sets of estimates for consideration in committee of the whole. He indicated that it would be difficult for the Leader of the Opposition to carry out these responsibilities if he were forced to base his decisions on estimates that are only provisional.

When this matter was raised, I undertook to examine the records of the House in order to ascertain what our practice had been during previous government reorganizations. I have done that and will outline for the House the results of my inquiries. First, however, I think it may be useful to set out two facts concerning our procedures with respect to the study of estimates.

First, as the President of the Treasury Board has pointed out, the requirement that the main estimates be tabled by March 1 each year is an obligation placed on the government by the House. There is an additional requirement that the government may request funds only for programs and activities that have already received parliamentary approval. It may not present in the estimates, requests for departments, agencies or activities which have not yet been granted the appropriate legislative authority by Parliament. Mr. Speaker Jerome, in a ruling given on this point, stated, and I quote from the Journals of March 22, 1977, page 607:

--(I)t is my view that the government receives from Parliament the authority to act through the passage of legislation and receives the money to finance such authorized action through the passage by Parliament of an appropriation act. A supply item in my opinion ought not, therefore, to be used to obtain authority which is the proper subject of legislation;...

The President of Treasury Board has indicated that the government intends to introduce legislation related to the division of assets and responsibilities among departments. No such legislation is yet before the House and the House has therefore not had the opportunity either to approve or reject the government's proposals. It would be unacceptable for those potential charges to be anticipated in the Main Estimates now before committees of the House.

The second point I wish to make is perhaps elementary, but it is pertinent to the issue before us. The main spending estimates for a given fiscal year are just that: estimates. Our rules recognize this fact by explicitly providing for the tabling and consideration of supplementary estimates throughout the fiscal year.

All hon. members understand that it is impossible to predict months in advance the exact amounts and destination of all government expenditures during the year to come. Nor would the House wish to deprive the government of the flexibility it may require to respond in the best interests of Canadians to emerging circumstances. At the same time, any changes to the amounts or the destination of funds which may be required over the course of the fiscal year must be submitted to the House for its approval.

I would now like to turn briefly to past practice with respect to changes to government organization. In 1983 the government introduced legislation, the Government Organization Act, 1983, which had as part of its purpose to replace the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce with the Department of Regional Industrial Expansion.

The main estimates tabled on February 22, 1983, and I refer to the Journals of that same date, at page 5628, contained votes under the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce. Although the government introduced legislation to replace that department on May 5, and that was Bill C-152, the Government Organization Act, 1983, the House nevertheless approved the main estimates without reference to the new department on June 14, 1983. I refer the hon. member to the Journals for that same date, at pages 6008 to 6028.

In another case, in 1978, as part of its reorganization, the government sought legislative approval for the creation of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In that instance, the government presented legislation to reorganize government departments on December 20, 1978, and that was Bill C-35, the Government Organization Act, 1979. I refer to the Journals of that same date, at page 274. I think hon. members will agree that the tabling of such a bill represents a clear intention to modify the administrative structure of the government.

Nevertheless, the main estimates for 1979-80, tabled two months later on February 19, 1979, contained no reference to a Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The estimates for fisheries programs remained under the Department of the Environment, which continued to be responsible for them until the Government Reorganization Act, 1979 came into force.

My examination of the records of the House found no deviation from this practice. The Main Estimates reflect the existing structure of government at the time that they are presented to the House.

I must conclude then, that the form of the main estimates 2004-05 not only respects the requirement of the Standing Orders and the principles set out by Mr. Speaker Jerome, but also conforms with what has been the practice of the House during previous reorganization exercises.

I therefore rule that there does not exist a prima facie breach of privilege in the present case.

I would like once again to thank the hon. member for St. John's West for raising this matter. Given the renewed importance that the scrutiny of the estimates has taken on both sides of the House, his close attention to questions of this kind is of benefit to all hon. members.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 240 petitions.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Bourassa Québec

Liberal

Denis Coderre LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-25, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)

AgricultureRoutine Proceedings

March 22nd, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate having this opportunity to address the House on a subject that directly affects every Canadian: our agriculture industry.

Starting with the farmer who produces our food right up to Canadians and others who consume what our farmers produce, food and its production deserve our highest attention.

From a consumer point of view, we want an industry that produces safe food of the highest quality and in a manner that respects the environment. From a producer point of view, we want to be able to satisfy those demands while running a profitable business, a business I might add that contributes to an industry worth over 8% of Canada's GDP.

Keeping agriculture strong in Canada has to be and is a government responsibility. Agriculture, unlike other industries, is subject to forces beyond its control that can have a devastating effect on production and therefore on the health of the industry.

We have recently gone through a few years of severe drought in the west. There are still pockets where drought conditions prevail. The last year has seen the BSE situation severely affect our cattle industry. In addition, in the normal course of a running a farm operation, responding to the demands of consumers and the markets means higher input costs.

To take the last point first, I remind my colleagues that the government, working with the provinces and territories and the industry, is in the process of implementing the agriculture policy framework. The programs rolling out across Canada are designed to assist Canadian producers to keep our industry number one at producing what consumers want. That is the best way to strengthen anyone's bottom line.

In the meantime, as I mentioned earlier, there are always unforeseen calamities that have to be dealt with as they arise. That is when we have to be ready to provide financial assistance. The new agriculture policy includes a provision for long term business risk management, one that is fair for producers and fair for Canadian taxpayers.

We are in the process of making the switch from previous ad hoc assistance programs to programs that can deal more efficiently with programs over the long term.

However, recognizing the very difficult circumstances producers are now facing, they need interim assistance until they can take full advantage of these new programs. That is why just a few short hours ago the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced almost $1 billion in new funding to assist producers at this difficult time.

The transitional industry support program has two components. The first will provide $680 million directly to producers of cattle and other ruminants who have faced prolonged closure of the Canada-U.S. border, which was related to two North American cases of BSE. The cattle portion of the investment will involve direct payments to cattle producers of $80 per eligible bovine animal on inventory as of December 31, 2003. This includes dairy heifers but excludes mature bulls and cows.

The second component provides general transition payments totalling $250 million to producers of all eligible commodities, including the cattle industry across Canada. This funding will be delivered as a direct payment to producers based on their past income information and will act as a bridge to the new Canadian agriculture income stabilization program. I will say a bit more about this program in a few moments.

This morning's announcement also included $65 million to cover the federal government's share of the shortfall for the 2002 claim year under the Canadian farm income program. This is in addition to the $435 million already allocated by the federal government, and will enable the program to respond to the record number of claims in 2002.

This latest investment should not come as any surprise because it is but one step in a series of measures the government has taken to respond to an industry that has been hit hard in the past couple of years.

Let me just remind my hon. colleagues of some recent measures that have helped the industry. During 2003, producers received almost $5 billion in financial assistance from governments. This includes over $3 billion through federal-provincial cost shared programs such as crop insurance, the net income stabilization account and the Canada farm income program. The federal-provincial BSE recovery program, which delivered some $426 million to cattle producers, and the federal funding of $445 million to help producers make the transition to new programs like CAIS were also part of this record amount of assistance.

We have also implemented the cull animal program which, with provincial participation, could see up to $200 million paid out to producers this year. With respect to this program, we removed the sale for slaughter requirements allowing producers to access funds even sooner. In addition, we moved the original deadline back to March 12, 2004, so that even more producers could register their herds to benefit from the program.

Producers are now in the process of signing up for the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, or CAISP. At this crucial time, they will be able to take advantage of the enhanced disaster coverage the program offers.

CAISP provides producers with protection from small and large declines in income, including disaster situations, such as the ones farmers are undergoing at the moment. Interim payments are now going out under CAISP and full payments will be going out beginning this summer.

With CAISP, for the first time ever, Canadian farmers will have permanent funding for disaster coverage. This allows the industry to know in advance what the support will be and to better plan for the future.

At the same time, we are working to make CAISP better. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced in February that we would be giving some more breathing room to producers by rolling back the deposit deadline to December 31 of this year. Farmers also now have until April 30 to select a protection level for both the 2003 and 2004 production years.

These changes apply to those provinces where CAISP is delivered federally.They are made with the expectation that all provinces will sign on to some new features that we are proposing to CAISP, namely coverage of negative margins, higher caps and simplified deposit.

I can assure the House that the government is fully committed to ensuring that CAISP and all programs under the agricultural policy framework continue to meet farmers' needs.

An annual review will look at business risk management programming and all other facets of the new policy framework.

Business risk management programming takes on particular significance at this time of financial hardship, but work continues around other chapters of the agricultural policy framework. Let me just mention, for example, a new initiative under the renewal chapter that will help Canadian producers capture opportunity and plan the future of their businesses.

Under specialized business planning services, a federal-provincial partnership, farmers can access funds to help pay for the services of a business planning professional to prepare detailed farm business plans focused on diversification, marketing, human resources, expansion, risk management or succession. Individual farmers can qualify for up to 50% of the eligible costs up to $8,000.

Financial assistance provided by the government to producers is essential, but the government's role goes much further than payouts.

We have seen this clearly with the current BSE situation that has kept borders closed to our beef and cattle. This is the most pressing trade issue facing our industry, and strenuous efforts have been made to get borders reopened to cattle and other affected animals because this affects more than cattle. It affects sheep, deer, llamas, alpacas and others.

Our efforts are bearing fruit. Since last May, a number of countries have moved to rescind some or all of their temporary measures, but clearly more must be done, and we are committed to doing everything necessary to get our trade relationships back on track.

Canada will continue to push for the trade of virtually all live cattle. We are also pressing for a full resumption of trade for other ruminants, including sheep, goats, cervids and camelids.

I share the optimism of my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, that the Americans will move soon to open their border to live animals. The BSE risk in Canada is exactly the same as in the United States and we have both taken equivalent measures to mitigate the risk for both human and animal health.

This argument has been carried south by a whole raft of people, starting with the Prime Minister and on down to the officials level. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will be in Washington, D.C. the day after tomorrow to meet with U.S. Secretary Veneman. I do not think we have to ponder very hard to know exactly what message he will be conveying to her.

Beyond the work we are doing with our trading partners to resolve this particular situation, there is Canada's participation in the agricultural negotiations at the WTO. Throughout the negotiations--and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was able to reiterate this message at a recent Cairns Group meeting in Costa Rica--Canada has stressed that a balanced, rules-based approach to the negotiations is the best way forward.

We continue to press for more movement on the question of cuts to trade distorting domestic subsidies and that the United States and the European Union need to send clear signals that they are willing to do more on this front.

I can assure the House and all Canadians that our commitment to moving forward on talks is as strong as it has ever been.

As the talks continue in Geneva, the Government of Canada and our trade team will continue to work with industry stakeholders to achieve a deal that is in the best interests of Canadian farmers.

Our efforts on behalf of Canada's agriculture industry, whether they involve financial assistance or programming or negotiations, must be made with the best interests of the industry at heart. Our level of dedication and commitment to the industry can be no less than the dedication and commitment shown by farmers across this land who carry on a tradition of excellence that all Canadians take pride in.

Our farmers set a high standard and I am proud to say that this government is living up to it.

AgricultureRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to reply to the minister's speech on what happened earlier today.

When I saw the photo op happening out in Lethbridge I thought it was very fitting that when the Prime Minister stepped up to the mic to begin speaking all the cattle behind him moved back. They seemed to sense what was coming.

It was quite a thing watching all those Liberal wannabes and a few who tried and were burned in the nomination process and so on, trying to somehow come to grips with ignoring the problem for 10 months, not really knowing what to do.

What have the Liberals done to date? They have made announcement after announcement. They have pledged cash that they have never delivered. They have talked about working with our trading partners but, of course, are afraid to go there because of a few things that have been said and done over the last little while.

It is great to see money being allocated to agriculture. It is the third largest contributor to the GDP in the country and it needs to be backstopped at this time. They are under severe stress and strain. However the government has just not been up to the task. It has fallen far short.

We finally get the hint that an election is in the air when the government starts to address agriculture. It ignores it always between election points. When we start to see it come around and talk about backstopping agriculture, what a great thing it is for the country and it talks about the primary producers of our safe, secure food, we know that an election is not too far off.

Members can call me a cynic but as a farmer I have seen it happen year after year and election term after election term.

Let us analyze what the Liberals have announced in the last little while or maybe we will start with what they announced but have never been able to deliver. We have been seized at the agricultural committee with going after somebody who took all the money. The Liberals announced all the cash going out to producers and so on but none of it got there. Somebody had to rip it off and those guys are the kings of rip-offs. They understand that concept so right away they tell us that somebody took advantage. Where did the money go?

When we had the agricultural bureaucrats before us at committee they told us that of the $5 billion the Liberals said went into agriculture last year, just over $1 billion actually went anywhere. The other $4 billion is still sitting in somebody's departmental allowance over there. That is the guy who is hanging on to the cash, not the packers, the producers or the feedlots. None of those folks who really needed it got it.

They announced another $50 million to clean out the freezers of the packers but even the Agriculture Canada numbers on that said that only $9.9 million of that went out, less than 20%.

We cannot say that the packers ripped us off. Sure they are enjoying some profits at this point but they certainly had none up until now. The government's meddling really did not help.

We saw a lot of the farm groups. The finance minister stood up and said that the head of the CFA was there. Just a minute. He is a Liberal nominee who did not make it. He talked about the beef export federation guy who was there, Ted Haney. Wonderful. He is going to run in Calgary. That is a suicide mission for a Liberal, and I welcome him to it.

I have little or no respect for those gentlemen any more in that they are not representing their farm groups because the farmers they supposedly represent call my office to say that they do not agree with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association on this issue. It says that it has 90,000 members. It is because it gets my check-off every time I sell an animal. It is not because I joined up.

There are not a lot of folks out there who belong to these organizations. Members should try to look for an actual list. It is probably about as secure as the Liberal one in a lot of these contested nominations.

There are problems with all of these announcements. Somehow the message gets out in the media in Toronto and to consumers across the country that all this big money is going into agriculture. There is not a farmer or rancher out there who has benefited from any of this. It just has not gone where it was supposed to go.

In the new announcement today the government talked about $65 million to top up CFIP. That is a 2002 program to cover the 2001-02 bad year we had out there. That program was announced two to three years ago and the government is just now sending out the money.

It is no wonder the banks and financial institutions are getting a little shaky. They cannot count on the government to deliver what it promised so it is finally topping that up. That is good news. That should have been done two years ago. It never should have been delayed.

There was the $250 million transition to the CAIS program. It is supposed to be workable in the fall of 2004. That sucker was supposed to be up and workable in April 2003. We are almost coming up to a year past on that one.

The $1.1 billion allocated to the APF for 2003 is still sitting on the shelves over there, so I am sure that some of that money is being recycled into this announcement.

The Liberals talk about $5 billion going out. It never went anywhere. If we were to look at the final numbers for 2003 we would see negative $13 million income for agriculture; all commodities, all sectors coast to coast. They lost $13 million and they supposedly put in $5 billion but it did not get out of the benches. That is the problem. Even the agriculture bureaucrats say “that only $1 billion left”. Is it creative accounting over there? Yes, at best.

This transition to the fall of 2004 is an advance on an advance. Someone will claw that back. It will come out of the money that was allocated in 2003-04, which is already a year out of date. A lot of my guys out there are starving for cash. What is hurting the whole agriculture enterprise is cashflow. This will not necessarily help, although I hope it does. I hope I am proven wrong that I am a cynic because I really hope it helps. I have farmer after farmer calling me day after day saying that they are done, that they cannot do it this year.

The government says that it can get some cheques out in April. How big will they be? We do not know. Who will qualify? We do not know. Until those details are published along with this, this is just another announcement long on political rhetoric and really short on details.

There are problems with all of these things. The federal component of crop insurance last year was $194 million. Saskatchewan, as a province, has a deficit in crop insurance of $500 million. We are a long way apart. The federal government is not paying its fair share, sort of like health care. The premiums in Saskatchewan are going up 30% on average and the coverage is going down 4% to 5% because the cashflow is not there. The federal commitment is not there. It is not sustainable.

We are seeing some announcements here that are tied to an upcoming election. It has very little to do with backstopping an industry in crisis from coast to coast. Members can call me a cynic, but I think it is political opportunism over on that side and I am really sorry to say that it will probably not help my producers who need it in a desperate way.

AgricultureRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would call the announcement by the minister very disappointing, because I think it is electoral manoeuvring. For many weeks now, agricultural producers, particularly those in Quebec, have been asking the federal government for substantial assistance that would enable them to get out of this black hole.

We must consider the importance of this industry in Canada. It represents 8% of the GDP. It involves men and women who make a living by farming and raise their children on the income generated by the land. Thus, it is very important.

Once again, the Liberal government has missed the target, especially in Quebec. Why? It is the same thing with regard to employment insurance. Programs are levelled horizontally, have very little effect in any region, and cause thousands of jobs to be lost. The same is true in the softwood lumber crisis. Once again, here is a program that has missed its target and is causing job losses in the regions of Quebec as well.

According to the minister, this is a $1 billion program, while the figures add up to $680 million. This sum will help cattle producers to survive but not to improve their lot or make up for losses. It will only enable them to survive.

Worse yet, according to Statistics Canada data on herds, Quebec will probably receive only 7.5% of this money, which is roughly $50 million and not nearly enough. However, the Prairies should receive nearly half a billion dollars, with $280 million going to Alberta alone.

The Liberal government has not improved its assistance for producers of cull, which is very important in Quebec. Furthermore, that was one of the major things Quebec had expected from such a plan.

Today, the announcement was indeed substantial for cattle farmers in western Canada. However, the problem is that Quebec dairy farmers are victims of the mad cow crisis and are not receiving a dime from the government today.

The existing program compensates only up to $80 a head of cull and covers roughly only a quarter of the estimated loss. This assistance should have been substantially increased to reach a reasonable level.

In addition, the program in place covers only 16% of the herd, while roughly 25% of the animals become cull each year and are sent to slaughter. In other words, only two-thirds of the animals are covered by protection that is already insufficient.

Quebec farmers who are victims of the discovery of mad cow in Alberta see farmers in the west being helped today by the federal government, yet they are not receiving reasonable compensation.

If Quebec were sovereign and had all its tax points, we could decide for ourselves the best way to support our farmers. Unfortunately, our taxes for the most part come from Ottawa. We have to fight to use our money the way we see fit and in a way that best suits our specific needs.

Farmers in Quebec never would have been penalized by the mad cow crisis that started in Alberta if Quebec had been sovereign, since that would have been a problem outside Quebec. In addition, farmers would be able to rely on their government, the Government of Quebec, to provide them with adequate support, if necessary.

Today Quebec farmers must be saying that the federal government does not serve them very well and that it must extend its assistance to include cull, since it has a duty to help Quebec farmers too.