Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for sharing his time with me and I commend him on his excellent speech.
I am speaking to this motion because agriculture is a significant link in the economic life of the riding I represent. In the Centre-du-Québec region, 1,400 farms are subject to supply management. Of the 853 farms in the Drummond area, 236 dairy farms are subject to supply management as are 38 in the poultry and eggs sector.
What is supply management? It is a management model, which under the surveillance and regulation of the Régie des marchés agricoles du Québec helps keep production levels balanced for certain types of farm products in order to prevent the surpluses or shortages that can cause serious price fluctuations. In my region, dairy, poultry and egg production are affected by this system.
We learn that this model will again be disputed at the upcoming World Trade Organization meeting next month in Hong Kong. I want to remind the government that if it is as sensitive as it would have farmers believe, then it should respect the motion passed yesterday by the majority of parliamentarians in this House and call an election at the beginning of next year. Then we could all support our farming representatives at the WTO instead of being in the heat of an election campaign. It is up to the government to decide.
At the WTO negotiation tables the Canadian system is highly criticized and the Government of Canada seems inclined to give in to foreign pressure. A cabinet document obtained by the Bloc in spring 2003, indicates that Ottawa is prepared to drop supply management if this concession allows it to get a significant decrease in farm subsidies in other countries and better access to their market. Grain producers in the west would benefit from such a position, but it would cause the ruin of farming in Quebec, which is why our farmers are so deeply concerned. In fact, several demonstrations have been held on this over the past few weeks.
The Bloc Québécois vigorously defends supply management. Supply management is a model that has produced results. I, too, share the opinion of the regional president of the Quebec Union of Agricultural Producers, André Fortin, who recently lauded the effectiveness of the system, saying that “the principle of supply management has enabled family farms in Quebec to survive. It ensures that consumers pay a fair price for their products and that producers get a fair share”. Supply management is a major tool for the economic vitality of our industry, and it is cost-effective.
The Bloc motion proposes that, first of all, supply managed sectors be able to continue to provide producers with a fair and equitable income. In that regard, the motion affirms that products from supply managed sectors are on the Canadian list of sensitive products.
Second, the Bloc proposes that Canada accept no increase in tariff quotas, or in other words that the proportion of the market for supply managed products open to free trade, that is approximately 5%, must not be increased.
Third, the Bloc proposes that Canada refuse to negotiate a decrease in border tariffs for foreign supply managed agricultural products entering Canada.
Finally, the motion calls for results. It is not enough for the government to say in this House that it supports supply management. It has to adopt a strategy to defend supply management and promote it effectively abroad.
If the federal government respects the four requests made in this motion, supply management may be fully preserved. With the WTO meeting approaching, farmers are worried.
Could the government let them down?
We know that the United States, Europe and Australia, in particular, are pushing for these barriers to be eliminated. That would allow foreign products, some of them heavily subsidized by governments, to take over our markets. The agricultural industry is afraid that such measures will mean the end of small family farms.
Former Quebec premier Pierre-Marc Johnson, who is acting as a special advisor for the coalition defending the interests of Quebec producers, believes that “reducing these tariffs would have a devastating effect on the future of our farms. It would have an impact on society as a whole, not just on farmers”.
A similar message was conveyed by the president of the Union of Agricultural Producers, Laurent Pellerin, who contends that acting on the demands of several WTO members would a dangerous move.
In the name of eliminating trade barriers, several members of the WTO would like to put an end to supply managed production in countries where it exists. These free-traders also hope to reduce the customs tariffs that currently protect many products. Laurent Pellerin opposes that idea, arguing that “it will jeopardize the food self-sufficiency of Quebec and Canada. Consumers could also become dependent on foreign products, but would not get the lowest prices, even though those products are sold more cheaply on world markets”.
Producers from the Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec regions formed a coalition for a fair agricultural model, GO5, and are asking the federal government to maintain current supply management policies for certain farm products in Canada.
The coalition is fighting for the maintenance of these policies, which allow us to regulate prices based on producers expenses, and to control imports that are likely to compete with Canadian products. According to producers, abolishing these supply management policies would result in the closure of many farms in the region, without providing any benefit to consumers.
Because of these increasing concerns, and because of the government's timidity in making decisions, the Bloc Québécois did not want to take any chances. It is proposing a stronger motion, not just to protect supply management, but to define the mandate of Canadian negotiators, as they are preparing for the meeting of the World Trade Organization, in Hong Kong, where the opening of borders to farm products will be discussed.
The benefits of supply management are undisputed. In this regard, the editor of Le Devoir came to the following conclusion:
Because of the higher costs generated by maintaining reasonable size farms in a rigorous climate such as ours, the supply management system adequately meets our needs, while ensuring decent revenues to producers. To accept to abolish this system and replace it with a free trade initiative would result in thousands of farms being abandoned, and in thousands of others being consolidated under large size operations, and we would all lose. Nothing justifies such a dismantlement of the agricultural sector, which is already very affected by anarchic modernism, and the hog industry is a sad example of that.
The Bloc Québécois' motion reflects the change of approach made by WTO member countries which, in July 2004, signed a framework agreement recognizing the exceptional nature of agriculture as it relates to trade, and allowing for the protection of certain sensitive products.
The Government of Canada must give its negotiators the mandate to defend at all costs supply managed products in Canada, including milk, poultry and eggs, so that they can benefit from this exemption from now on. The numerous benefits they provide have everything to do with our unique nature and the values we hold dear in Quebec: feeding local consumers with local, fairly priced quality products, while guaranteeing a fair income for farmers and maintaining human size farms.
It is a matter of ensuring our food security. It is also about the socio-economic vitality of our agricultural industry. It is essential that the federal government, which alone has a spot at the negotiating table, take a firm stand. Supply management is not negotiable.