Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.
I am pleased to speak today on agricultural supply management. I will also give a brief overview of the situation for farmers in my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, and in my region.
My congratulations to the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska for his excellent work for our party on this issue for which he is the critic: agriculture.
The context at this time is a difficult one. A number of Quebec farmers and producers are concerned with the federal government's attitude at the WTO. We sense a certain lack of resolve to defend supply management. The federal government needs to instruct its negotiators to adopt a firm position and to indicate that supply management is untouchable.
Given this lack of will on the part of the federal government, one can sense that the farmers and producers of Quebec are extremely worried about the future of our supply managed sectors.
In Quebec there are 14,600 men and women engaged in milk, egg and poultry operations generating an economic activity of $8.75 billion. This is not a trifling amount and the government needs to do everything it can to protect the agricultural sector.
For the Bloc Québécois, supply management is a fair model for agriculture, and one that it is important to maintain. The government must defend the people of this country.
Providing consumers with local products is vital. It allows us to preserve our heritage and our unique nature while employing locals. Agriculture is an inherent part of our values and our customs, to the same extent that language and culture are. That is why the Government of Canada must firmly reiterate its support for supply management, which we believe is an essential and equitable agricultural model.
Canada's agricultural supply management policy is essentially based on two main types of intervention by the state in the market. First, it involves the implementation of planning and administrative control over pricing, marketing, and the quantity of agricultural products available, particularly through quotas. Second, it is based on the existence of customs tariffs high enough to prevent imports of foreign products. With such measures, the state ultimately ensures a loyal clientele for Canadian and Quebec farmers.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about the problem facing the agricultural industry in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and give a brief overview of job cuts in other sectors of the economy.
Coming from a region where numerous producers and farmers are concerned about this, I can understand the importance of protecting supply management.
If the Government of Canada is willing to compromise on supply management during the upcoming negotiations, there will be significant job losses in my region and my riding. Already, there have been too many jobs lost in my region. Businesses have closed over the past year. There was the Port-Alfred plant, and Produits forestiers Saguenay closed in La Baie recently. In my region, too, Alcan closed a smelter and is threatening to cut more jobs in the short term. Jobs cuts throughout the forestry and softwood lumber industry are also hurting the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.
In my region alone, one in eight people works in agriculture. To be more specific, 15,800 people work in the bio-food industry. This is 12% of all jobs in the region.
Furthermore, the main livestock operations in the region are, in order, milk, beef, eggs and poultry. With the exception of beef, three of them are supply-managed sectors.
It goes without saying that the region would be greatly affected by a change in supply management. We cannot take any more. We have had enough of job losses in my region.
I would like to point out that the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region has a very large agricultural area. In August 2003, there were 1,222 farms with 135,673 hectares under cultivation that brought in $182 million in gross agricultural sales.
Take milk production, which is the mainstay. There are 420 farms with 23,000 milk cows producing 15,917 kilograms of milk a day, which generates $95 million in sales.
The government must therefore protect agriculture in the regions because it is a key social good and a major economic engine in many regions of Quebec and even of Canada.
Agriculture is a critical sector that cannot be subjected to the uncertainties of the pure free market. Supply management is a system that has proved itself, and the Government of Canada must not make any concessions on supply managed sectors.
The government must understand that fairer agriculture will have obvious effects on the development and vitality of agricultural regions.
Farmers are waiting. Some fear that the WTO's next international meeting in Hong Kong in December could result in compromises that undercut the supply management system in Quebec and Canada.
The federal government must stand up for our agriculture. The government is aware of the dangers that lower tariff barriers could pose to our farmers. It would be very difficult then for our farmers to compete with the heavily subsidized products from other countries, especially the United States.
For example, Quebec and Canadian producers of milk, poultry and eggs do not receive any income-support subsidies. If we had the American policies for our farmers, the average milk producer in Quebec would receive $76,000 in subsidies, while in France he or she would receive $54,000 in financial assistance under the new common agricultural policy. Our farmers in Quebec and Canada are not asking for subsidies. All they want is that we keep the supply management system.
The government must know that milk, poultry and egg producers create more than 60,000 jobs and account for nearly 40% of agricultural income in Quebec. They can be found everywhere in Quebec and contribute to the economic vitality of the region.
All groups in Quebec are united in saying that it is important to have a strong agricultural sector and a prosperous food industry. For this to happen, it is essential to keep the supply management system.
I am therefore asking the federal government to confirm as soon as possible a resolution unconditionally supporting supply management in order to reassure farmers in Quebec and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.