Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my debate by acknowledging the wonderful remarks of my colleague from Selkirk—Interlake and the practical hands-on knowledge he brings to this debate. As a rancher, as someone who grew up working in the ag sector, my hon. friend knows of what he speaks. He has put before the House and before Canadians via broadcast a very practical and common sense approach that we should be pursuing.
Sadly, that has not been the record of the government. Somehow, common sense does not enter into the equation. What we are seeing now is the shameless pre-election posturing that has had a detrimental impact not only on this issue, but on so many others.
I am pleased to take part in this debate because it is so timely. It speaks to the importance of our supply management sector and the negotiations that are under way at the World Trade Organization.
The motion unfortunately does not deal with the other agriculture sectors that also have a clear and a vested interest in the WTO negotiations. I should acknowledge as well the work of my colleague from Ontario, our critic in this area, who has done yeoman service in presenting the very legitimate concerns of the ag sector. There are differences. This is perhaps one of the most diverse areas of the economy and also one of the most challenged. This debate nor any debate on this subject should not pit one sector versus another.
Supply management as we all know is based on three pillars: market based pricing, production quotas and border controls. Producers only produce enough product to respond to the consumers' demands. This promotes stability in price and in the market. Prices are negotiated with buyers in order to receive fair market value, fair market returns.
Border controls which include high tariffs on supply managed products prevent imports above the agreed level of market access. The dairy, chicken, turkey, and egg producers under supply management provide Canadians with high quality and affordable food in an efficient manner. In many cases it is the envy of other sectors. Canada's supply managed farmers do not subsidize and 100% of the producers' revenues come from the marketplace. Canadian consumers have had access to high quality products at reasonable prices as a result.
Survey after survey has shown that Canadian dairy products are actually cheaper than those found in the United States. That points to the efficiency and the innovation of Canadian farmers. They deserve a great deal of credit. This is not about government policy or management; this is about a tribute to those farmers who are actually working the land, working with animals and producing high quality products for consumers.
Dairy, poultry and egg farmers contribute a net $12.3 billion to the Canadian GDP, generate more than $7 billion in farm cash receipts, sustain more than $39 billion of economic activity and employ more than 214,000 Canadians. Canada's 18,000 dairy farmers create 50,800 jobs directly on the farm. Another 25,200 jobs are created through the provision of goods and services to dairy farmers. According to the Dairy Farmers of Canada, their farms provide as many jobs on the farm, that is over 50,000, as Alcan, which is a very large employer in this country.
Central Nova is home to some of the hardest working and most efficient farmers in the country. Last November Bernie MacDougall, president of the Nova Scotia Dairy Farmers, and Jack Ferguson from Pictou County visited me here on the Hill to emphasize the need to push the federal government to protect the interests of the supply managed sector at the trade talks. Almost half of the farms in Nova Scotia are under the supply management system. They also briefed me on the challenges that are facing the dairy industry with respect to the use of modified milk ingredients and the problems facing dairy farmers with respect to the BSE crisis in culled cows.
I know from speaking to the McCarron family, and Mary McCarron in particular, that this remains a concern and has hurt the industry significantly. It was not just beef producers as my colleague would attest. Dairy farmers as well took a big hit as a result of the BSE crisis and the mismanagement the government displayed in how that was handled.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government over the past 12 years has not stood up for farmers and has had to be pushed each and every time when it came to a crisis. When a crisis hit the agriculture sector, the needs of farmers unfortunately did not seem to register with the government.
I recall one minister of agriculture who proudly stated that supporting our farmers meant no further cuts to the agriculture programs. Lo and behold, somehow, somewhere the Liberal government forgot that the ability to produce our own food in a safe and efficient manner is one of the very fundamentals of a safe and secure country.
The current WTO negotiations on agriculture could have a huge impact on the supply managed producers as well as our export oriented producers. Much of the debate at the WTO focuses on how to address the huge amounts of subsidies that are being paid to United States and European Union farmers. Canadian supply management does not receive government subsidies. It is vitally important that our government aggressively makes that point at these talks.
Canadian farmers have suffered from poor ministerial representation in the past at WTO negotiations and it appears that this year will be no exception. An example of Liberals shirking their duties to Canadian farmers was the absence of both the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of Agriculture at the mini ministerial meeting that took place in Kenya on March 2 to 4 this year.
At that meeting member countries discussed their commitments to the Doha round. The international trade minister and the agriculture and agri-food minister were not at the meeting at all, because they were attending the Liberal convention. That speaks volumes. Once again they were putting political partisan priorities ahead of the interests of farmers and Canada's national interests.
Under the rules of the mini ministerial meeting, without a minister present no other representative of the country was able to speak. They were not allowed to be officially present. My colleague from Macleod suggested that he would like to go in the place of the minister if the Prime Minister decides to opt out, but unfortunately that cannot happen.
The Liberals have done such a poor job of showing up and participating at other conferences that other countries are looking at Canada and beginning to seriously wonder about our commitment to supply management. Canada's supply managed sectors ought to be setting an example at the WTO negotiations. The proof is that many other countries believe that supply management is purely a government subsidy program. We have to show up and forcefully make the case that it is not.
The ministers' poor showings at the WTO imperils the livelihood of farmers in Canada. In an already volatile situation, their absence hurts our farmers directly.
Canada is the third largest agriculture exporter in the world. Given that two of the ministers have given mixed messages at the WTO in the past and other member countries as well, this breeds confusion. It is not surprising that Canada is losing credibility among WTO country participants. I do not know which is worse, showing up with a confused position or not showing up at all. Either way, the Canadian ag sector is paying the price for ministerial incompetence or absence.
Former Liberal international trade minister Roy MacLaren went on the record recently in a Globe and Mail article on November 8 saying, “Canada has mysteriously disappeared from the global trade arena”. That is a scathing condemnation from an individual who was once very prominent in Liberal circles. He also stated:
Canada's current policy of ambivalence--offering little in terms of liberalization, free-riding on what others negotiate, and implicitly protecting our preferential access to the U.S. market by not pushing for an ambitious global deal--may buy short-term political peace.
Former Canadian trade negotiator Bill Dymond, now with the Centre for Trade Policy and Law here in Ottawa, stated, “Canada has become essentially marginalized”.
Last Friday Nova Scotia Premier Hamm and agriculture minister Chris d'Entremont met with farm groups. Minister d'Entremont said, “We're looking at being caught out by the tide as certain decisions are made. We need to be very firm on what our stance is and have that plan put forward”. Premier Hamm also has committed to attend the WTO meetings in Hong Kong next month to remind the federal government and to push it to stay on course.
Producers have a right to worry. In the July 2004 WTO negotiations the Liberal government signed an agreement that threatens supply management in the egg, dairy and poultry sectors. That July 2004 WTO agreement commits Canada to reduce tariffs in proportion to the reductions made by other countries. The Conservative Party supports all sectors of farming, including supply management. We believe that one sector should not be pit against another which has been a common trend among the Liberal government. Rather than make a decision, it causes confusion and breeds seeds of dissent within the industry itself. This should not be pursued.
Last March at our policy convention in Montreal, we reaffirmed our traditional support for agriculture. Our policy statement is clear. It states:
The Conservative Party views the agriculture industry to be a key strategic economic sector of Canada. We recognize that various regions of Canada and sectors of the industry hold competitive advantages in the agricultural production. National agriculture policy will reflect our belief that one size does not fit all.
Agriculture policy must be developed only in consultation with the agricultural producers.
I conclude my remarks by reiterating the Conservative Party's support for supply management. We specifically passed a motion at that same convention in support of supply management. We are ready to stand up for Canadian farmers at the World Trade Organization when the Liberal government is replaced with a new Conservative government.
I seek the unanimous consent of the House to move the following amendment to the motion that is currently on the floor. Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find there is unanimous consent. There has been consultation among the parties.
The amendment reads as follows: “That the motion be amended by replacing all the words after 'quotas' with 'and also ensure an agreement that strengthens the international marketing position of Canada's agricultural exporters so that all sectors can continue to provide producers with a fair and equitable income'”.