That this House do now adjourn.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the decision you made a couple of days ago to undertake this emergency debate. It is more than necessary considering the situation at hand. On behalf of my leader, the leader of the Conservative Party, and my colleagues, I thank the Speaker of the House of Commons for understanding the need for this debate.
The leader of the Conservative Party expresses his sincere disappointment for not being able to address this issue as he had previously committed to a function out of Ottawa and did not know the debate would come up this fast.
Everything I say here is meant as conservative and constructive criticism. I would like us all to keep the partisan politics out of this. I know many of the farmers across the country are watching the debate and listening for what will be said. What is necessary is that we take the high road on this issue. It is a serious debate and much will be said worth listening to.
I am going to talk about a number of issues to begin this debate. First, the non-economic impact of the avian flu to our farmers; second, the real economic impact of the flu; third, management by government, government practices; fourth, the small chicken farmer and the specialty bird farmers who are affected; and finally, our expectations of government.
I want to first address the need for this debate. Producers and processors need a clear definition of what is going to happen to them in the future.
Second, compensation is a serious issue and based upon my experience and our experience in the House here over the years in dealing with the government, we have watched many times where a crisis passed and many of those involved have been forgotten. I can refer to the hepatitis C crisis where victims have been forgotten for the moneys they should have received as victims; the cull of the elk herd in the BSE crisis and people are still waiting for funding for that; and the SARS flu victims as well.
We in the Fraser Valley I know are not prepared to wait for years and go hand and foot to the government, whichever government it will be, and wait for some form of funding compensation for our losses.
Third, we have an obligation to speak out for the small farmer and the specialty farmer whose voice has not been heard very much to date.
Fourth, we must ensure that the federal government ,through the CFIA, has a stable, effective plan for a future farm crisis in this industry.
Finally, Ottawa must understand that a serious issue has happened west of the Rockies in avian flu but that does not mean that it is not a national issue. It means that it happened in a locale but that it is still a national issue.
I am disturbed by the Prime Minister's comments about letting us understand that in British Columbia things should be a national issue but, on the other hand, recent comments suggesting that this is a problem that is west of the Rockies. It is irrelevant, quite frankly, where the problem is. This is a national crisis.
I just talked to the agriculture minister and I am glad he is in the House. In his response yesterday to my question about compensation to farmers and producers for neutralizing manure, shipping manure, down time, loss of production and other related costs, he basically said that I and my colleagues had waited for six weeks before bringing this to the House.
That, in effect, was quite true. Actually neither I nor my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster, our agriculture critic, brought this issue up in question period. The reason was that we wanted to give all governments, provincial and federal, time to work this thing out without making a national political issue out of it.
In fact, we watched what was happening and now is the time to discuss the issue. I have no intention of interfering with the good job John Van Dongen, our B.C. agriculture minister, is doing and that of the producers and processors. It had been, for me personally, a time to observe, a time to learn and a time to assess the problem itself.
Thus far, after five weeks, what I see in observation is that we are intent on killing everything with feathers, consulting with some people but not all people, committing very little by way of compensation and insisting that everything is under control with the CFIA but, in fact, the virus is continuing to expand even though drastic measures have been taken. We have some questions on whether or not this process is working and we intend to cover that.
I will go over my first issue, which is the non-economic impact. A lot of people across the country watching the debate tonight should understand that this loss of production time has a significant impact on our farmers. An idle farm is not what our farmers and their families are used to. They are used to working day and night, seven days a week. This idle time is not good because it creates worry for them. They are thinking about the time they have to restart and when the income will start coming in. Those kind of things are the non-monetary concerns that many of our farmers are having now, their families and, quite frankly, our whole community of Abbotsford, which is a support industry throughout the lower mainland for these farmers.
Another non-monetary impact of this issue is the image of chickens as a food.
I do receive all the materials that farmers send out and one of the documents, which they sent out recently, entitled “From our family to yours”, is a very good document. It explains a lot of the things that the chicken farmers are doing to promote chicken as a food, a sustenance, and all the activities that they undertake across the country.
I will just give some examples. They sponsor and present at agriculture and classroom meetings and events across Canada. They appear at and sponsor the Dieticians of Canada's annual conference. They create school kits and so on. This avian flu affects that image.
I will be directing some of my comments to the minister on how we can actually try to fix that image because it will be tarnished to some extent.
Those are the non-economic impacts. What I want to talk about, more importantly, is the economic impact of the avian flue: the cost of depopulating. The Government of Canada does reimburse for the cost of repopulating each chicken in an amount of anywhere from $3 to $33, which was the amount used by the CFIA, but $33 is far in excess of an upper limit that they will be giving. I suspect it will be around $3 or $4 but the minister can correct me on that, on breeders and so on.
However, I want to discuss the real additional costs, the costs that are not included in farm income programs or the costs that are not included to date or being considered by the government. What I really want to impress on the minister here tonight is that it is those costs that have to be considered, and not later but sooner.
There is also the cost of downtime and the loss of production. Some of these farms have to wait until the last farm is cleaned up and restarted again. This is going to be a long time and it will be unproductive time. That downtime is an actual cost to our farmers.
There is also the cost of start up time. The repopulation of the chickens and other birds is another cost that they will incur. It is not a normal cost. It is an additional cost.
There is the cost of neutralizing the manure and of shipping out the manure.
There is interest on idle revenue-producing equipment. The farmers have all the equipment sitting there but they cannot use it. So they are paying the bills and paying the interest to the bank.
They have to pay for feed when no product is eating. Chickens are not eating but they have the feed sitting there.
There is a cost for processors in unproductive operating time while plants are shut down. They still need the processing plant even though it is not being used.
Innovative unemployment programs: job sharing, health care, waiting periods for EI, and so on. Those are all additional costs of somebody out there and the government has to look at sharing in it.
Heightened biosecurity initiatives. There is no doubt that at the end of the day that will be something we do not want passed on to the farmers. We want the government to share in the cost of that. We also have industry public relations when all this is done.
Those are actual costs that the government has to commit to and commit to tonight, quite frankly.
Also, we have the cost of depopulating other specialty birds. I will talk more about that later, but the amount that is on the schedule for the specialty birds, ducks, geese, quail, pigeons and so on, is far too low for the amount of the actual costs of repopulating the birds. Those are the things we want to talk about tonight.
I want to talk about management by government. I am no expert in the management of this crisis but, from my observations and after discussions, some questions need to be asked. I hope the minister, who will be speaking after me, addresses these issues concretely. How exactly did this virus start? We are in a position to know that now. What control measures were in place? If effective control measures were put in place, then why is it still spreading? We have not had a new farm in three days but it is still spreading.
Rumour has it that the measures that the CFIA had and continue to have in place are part of the cause of the spread of the virus. We want to know if that is in fact so. Nobody is putting blame. We are just trying to get some answers.
Why kill all birds including specialty birds? Is there a national strategy in place to deal with these kinds of issues because, if this does go somewhere else, what will the strategy be? Do we continue to kill every bird everywhere or is there some strategy that the government has learned now that it must implement?
It appears that local specialists, and I know this is a fact, to some extent are not being consulted, and I would like to know why.
In addition to that, small chicken farmers and specialty bird farmers are really not being consulted. They are included in the large mass of farmers but specialty bird farmers have unique issues.
What mistakes made during the BSE crisis are being repeated here, if they are at all? I know there will be some talk tonight about the cull of the elk herds, for instance. It has been quite a long time since that happened and I do not think there has been reimbursement, and if there has, it has only been recently. Our farmers should not and cannot wait for a year or two down the road to be reimbursed.
Why is removal of the manure taking so long? Why is a company like JF BioEnergy not being considered? I want to talk a bit more about JF BioEnergy. I had an opportunity to visit the company this week. It has a very unique piece of equipment that can help but it has been pooh-poohed along the way.
Those are all legitimate questions given to me from various producers, processors and related industry people. I can assure everyone in the House of Commons tonight that there is an expectation of clear and concise answers. I can assure the farmers, the producers and the associated industries who may be watching the debate tonight, that we do expect an answer. In talking to the minister, he said that he would have some. The time for generalities is gone.
With regard to the small chicken farmer, I understand that not all farmers can be contacted at once but we must have the assurance that all farmers will be consulted as it is their livelihood that we are destroying. I must tell the minister that, as I understand it, a lot of specialty farmers were not consulted but have been thrown into the mix of this larger problem.
These farmers are asking for a voice to stop the massacre of all healthy fowl. I do not know why the CFIA wants to kill everything with feathers but if it does, I wonder why the virus continues to spread, not in sequence but from farm to farm, skipping geological areas. For instance, it moves from Abbotsford all of a sudden over to Cloverdale, a distance of maybe 30 kilometres. What is in between all that and why did it spread like that if we have such a great program in place?
Small farmers feel that their operations are being sacrificed and that they should be exempt from eradication unless their birds prove to be positively affected. In one case, CFIA officials have informed a small farmer that because he was within one kilometre of an infected barn, he must depopulate, yet his hearty outdoor birds are not ill and will not become ill unless they are in direct contact with the virus by means of people or equipment. They do not understand why, so someone should consult with them as to why.
In another case CFIA officials have admitted to a farmer, off the record that is, that they agree with all his arguments that their approach is heavy handed, but they have no idea what else to do. They told him the edict came from Ottawa and they are just following orders. If that is the case and if the orders must be followed, why tell the farmer they do not know what they are doing, that they are just following orders? It is time to go back and say to these people to stop creating this acrimony.
I want to talk about specialty birds, including pigeons, ducks and geese. This too is an area where a large amount of damage is being inflicted. These birds include, as I said, pigeons, ducks, geese and other fowl, such as quail. This area was overlooked in the time leading up to the eradication decision, yet the impact is most severe. These farmers are not supported by supply management and will suffer the loss of irreplaceable breeds, the loss of niche markets and the capital investment required to start over again.
Let me reflect what these specialty farmers are saying. This is coming from those specialty farmers. One, avian influenza is not a disease that infects ducks and geese to kill them, and therefore they should be exempt from this mass kill.
Two, Dr. Bruce Burton said, “There are significant genetic treasures in the Fraser Valley. They are isolated and totally unaffected by this curse. Once lost, they will be gone forever in a meaningful way, rare breeds of quail, chickens, racing pigeons, commercial ducks that are superior in growth, uniformity and egg production to any in the world. It is imperative that a way to preserve these species is found”.
Their third comment is that the Health of Animals Act states that specialty farmers will be paid a maximum of $30 for a duck or a goose, but how does this allow for the irreplaceable breeds they have? How is this reimbursement for years of investment in a particular breed? Without proper reimbursement the government will effectively legislate them out of business.
Fourth, specialty farmers risk having new entrants into the specialty bird industry, because they are not supply managed, upon repopulation. The existing industry will have lost their competitive advantage.
Finally, there are many other issues facing specialty farmers. I encourage the minister to contact their association or other specialty farmers and anybody else out there watching. It is different. They do have different needs.
Now the pigeons. This is an incredible story. I met with pigeon farmers who are very concerned. I note that I only have two minutes remaining so I will have to push this. The problem is that they have a very unique industry. To replace their pigeons would cost much more than the amount the government is prepared to give.
Let me get to our expectations of government. Act with confidence and in the interests of everyone. Make certain that the steps taken are the best options available. Do not walk away from those that will be bankrupt once the job is finished. Listen to all the people who should be involved, not just some. Declare what caused the virus. Admit what spread the virus. Complete a national strategy for such events that may occur in the future. Get the money in the hands of the producers and processors now, not when they go on hands and knees later. Implement tax deferrals on income received. Spend money on promotions for chickens and specialty birds. Involve our local experts; they do know what they are talking about. Ensure everything possible is being done to look after those who are becoming unemployed.
In summation, our farmers are the best in the world. They are innovative. They are, in the truest sense of the word, real entrepreneurs. Rules and bureaucracy and partisan politics cannot step in the way of assisting these business people. Let us agree here tonight to immediately fund the cost of eradication, advance funds on other related costs, defer taxes on funds received, develop a national strategy for such cases, consider specialty farmers as unique, and assist employees who are laid off.
As for the government, accept this submission here in the house of the common people as non-partisan constructive criticism, so together we do what is the responsibility of a national government and that is, assist those who genuinely need it.
I want to compliment those farmers, processors, producers and like industries who provided us the information which I put forward to the government.
God bless our farmers and God bless Canada.