Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to speak to the motion that seeks to make the intergenerational transfer of farms easier for everyone.
The statistics do not lie. In the past decade the number of farms has drastically declined. This is not because farm couples are not having children. It is because increasingly it is financially impossible for those couples to pass the farm on to their children.
For many families, the farm assets are the only savings they have. They do not have a pension plan. They do not have RRSPs. Their life savings are tied up in the farm. In order to retire, as most Canadians do and deserve to do, sadly, they must sell the farm and its assets to an outside party.
This motion addresses only one of the many challenges that face rural Canada. These challenges are only made worse by the Liberal urban-minded government. Ordinary goods and services that urban Canadians do not think about twice have become luxuries for too many rural Canadians. I am speaking of the availability of such things as health care, postal services, infrastructure and protection from crime.
Our rural communities are finding it tough to attract doctors and even tougher to attract specialists, especially when we do not have the sophisticated diagnostic tools to which these doctors have ready access in the big cities.
Postal service is something that most Canadians do not think twice about. This is not the case in my riding however where I am fighting to maintain or restore rural postal service in not one but three of our communities. Despite the government's pledge in 1994 not to close rural post offices, 50 of them have been closed in the last four years.
The minister responsible for Canada Post tried to convince the House on February 23 of this year that there was no such plan to close 750 rural post offices. However, as we know, they are being closed in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and they are being closed in Haldimand--Norfolk.
We should not be fooled. The same minister has been quoted defending the closures, the ones he says are not happening, because, as he sees it, “even grandmothers send birthday messages electronically”. Perhaps it is difficult for that urban member to understand that there are many homes in Canada that do not even have access to the Internet much less the skills to use it.
The government claims that there is a moratorium on post office closures while Canada Post says that it is in fact closing them. I am not going to stand by and believe the Liberal government when it says that something is not happening and it is in fact happening right before my very eyes.
It is no wonder that our farm families are having a hard time convincing their children to take over the farm. Aside from the fact that they cannot afford to, the quality of life in many of these communities is being degraded to the point where we have to wonder if the government is doing it on purpose.
When we talk about defending rural Canada, I am not talking just about the sustainability of individual farms and the succession of those farms to future generations. I am talking about the sustainability of the communities of which these farms are part. It is a task that the federal government must be willing to take on, one that a Conservative government will make a priority and achieve.
Rural Canadians deserve basics and necessities just like any other Canadian. They deserve infrastructure, safe communities and a healthy way of life. Anything less is a sign of inequality in this country and, in effect, is an insult to all Canadians.
Good roads are something that we see everywhere in the cities. They are, however, becoming a luxury in my neck of the woods. My rural riding of Haldimand--Norfolk is home to hard-working, innovative entrepreneurs but they need roads. They need four lane highways that will allow companies to bring in materials for manufacture or processing. They need those roads to ship out their finished goods. They need communications networks and adequate hydro transmission lines.
My constituents need an environment that is friendly toward business, not one that forces them to close up shop and move to Mexico, as my area is about to face with the withdrawal from this country of Imperial Tobacco.
Jobs are being lost and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The real challenge for my constituents will be the loss of the farms that this closure by Imperial Tobacco will result in and the negative spinoffs that will be created.
The tobacco farmers of Haldimand—Norfolk have only one more harvest assured to them and then they may be left without a buyer. Canadian smokers will not be smoking Canadian cigarettes. They will be smoking offshore tobacco with who knows what chemicals in it. Canadian tobacco farmers will be left with nothing but non-transferrable, heavily financed equipment.
There are crops that can be grown in this sandy soil but there is no assistance for these producers to transition into specialty crops or to transfer their farms to the children so that they may do so. For this reason and for other farmers across Canada facing similar challenges, I welcome this motion today and I support the goal it intends to achieve.
The average age of farmers is increasing and our young people cannot afford to get into this business. Many of them are having to leave the farm and our rural communities. Existing large farms and farming corporations are in much better financial positions to purchase the farm assets and quotas of retiring farmers.
Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with efficiency resulting from large economies of scale, but I do have some concerns about this bill. It is the family farm, not the corporate one, that will preserve traditions and values. It is the family farm, not the corporate one, that will participate in our communities and improve them for future generations.
While technology improves the efficiency of our farms, it is still a very labour intensive industry in many cases. Regardless of the size or ownership of a farm, our communities need the basics that I have talked about to sustain the workers needed to produce our food. After all, without our farmers who is going to feed us? Who in the world would Canadians trust to feed us if not our farmers, and I mean our farmers. We must do everything we can to help our farmers stay in business, especially our family farms.
Today's motion seeks to make the transfer of farm assets more affordable for our farm families. The Conservative Party of Canada supports some of the specifics of this motion. We recognize the need for the federal government to take concrete steps to promote the intergenerational transfer of farms. However, that being said, any actions taken by the federal government in this regard must be fiscally responsible and within the federal government's capacity.
I would now like to address the issue of RRSPs and farmers. It is known that most farmers do not have RRSPs for, as I mentioned earlier, the bulk of their savings are tied up on the farm. However there are some producers who do.
The Canadian home buyers' plan provides an option of using RRSPs to purchase a house if it is a first time buy. However farmers cannot use their RRSPs to acquire ownership of a residence on a farm because the residence is considered to be a farm asset and is part of an agricultural business.
This motion today seeks to give farmers the same option that other Canadians have, that is, using the capital that they have invested in their RRSPs to acquire a home that is now classified as a farm asset. This is only fair. For those producers who do not have RRSPs, the establishment of an agricultural savings plan is a novel idea, a tax friendly concept that a Conservative government would welcome discussion on.
Enabling farmers to accumulate tax sheltered retirement funds could have the greatest effect on farm successions. By promoting the accumulation of farmers' retirement savings in a fund that is independent of farm capital, farmers may have the ability to accumulate enough savings to retire.This would allow them to enter into more favourable financial arrangements with potential young successors without compromising their own financial security.
In regard to transferring funds to the provinces to promote the transfer of farms, we in the Conservative Party understand that agriculture is a shared jurisdiction of the federal government and the provinces. This section may require an amendment to the agricultural policy framework. Such amendments require the agreement of two-thirds of the provinces representing 50% of Canadian agricultural production.
I close by assuring all of Canada's hard-working resilient farm families that their next government, a Conservative government, will welcome discussion with the provinces to improve rural Canada and its way of life.