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.