Mr. Speaker, my thanks to the House for permitting me to speak first.
I rise today to support the motion put forward by the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, which calls on the government to immediately drop the CAIS deposit requirement and honour all of the financial commitments it has made to Canadian agricultural producers.
Many who will speak are much more technically knowledgeable on this subject than I. Let me just put this debate in context. The context is that we have, for a dozen years now, a government that has been in power, and during the period of that government's rule, notwithstanding its constant bragging about its financial and economic achievements, we have seen disposable family income in this country that has barely improved at all.
Throughout that period, the more serious problem has often been, particularly through neglect, the declining disposable income we have seen throughout rural Canada and many sectors of the rural economy. Families have been hit hard and probably no families have been hit as hard as those who operate family farms.
The family farm, in our judgment, remains a critical institution not just in this country's past, but hopefully will remain so in its future, because no institution so thoroughly represents all of the values that built this country: hard work, enterprise, cooperation, community, and of course the family itself.
Now I know these are not Liberal values, they are not the real Liberal values, but they are the values of real people and I constantly remind the government of that.
For two years now our agricultural sector, on top of the backdrop of declining farm incomes, has been decimated by a series of unprecedented and far-reaching crises. Obviously, one is BSE in the cattle industry, the effects of which have spread not only to other ruminants but in particular to the dairy sector. We have had sustained and cruel drought through grains and oilseeds, not just in western Canada but in other parts of eastern Canada as well. Of course we continue to have an international subsidy war in which our farmers find comparatively little assistance.
Let us take the cattle industry. Cattle and grain producers have historically required very little government support. They thrived in unfettered markets, but through circumstances that are beyond their control they need help today.
The economic effects of BSE have been devastating. Unknown numbers of livestock producers have been foreclosed on. Some have completely pulled out, salvaging what they could. We have experienced this and I have experienced this even in my own family. Others are faced with low land values and cannot bear to cut their losses.
The entire farming industry in Canada has been hard hit by these crises, including the BSE crisis. All our farming communities in every region need help in one way or another.
Recently, the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles said that the BSE crisis has had a huge impact on Quebec, where 25,000 farms, or half the farms in the province, have been affected.
We currently have a government that thinks only about the big cities, where it believes it can get the most votes. It is a government that is insensitive to the problems in the regions. This was obvious in the disdainful refusal by the government, as represented by the Minister of Transport, to bring justice to the people of Mirabel whose land was expropriated, even after the complete closure of the airport to passengers and after 40 years of injustice, incompetence and insensitivity.
Everywhere I go in rural Canada I hear the same thing. I hear it over and over again. I do not know how the government can miss it. The CAIS program is not working.
There are all kinds of ways in which it does not work. It is complicated. It requires an army of accountants for people who can barely afford the normal burden of government paperwork. It is backlogged. The cheques never arrive. It does not pay out. It is like so many of the agricultural promises from this government.
But there is a more fundamental structural problem to CAIS. The problem is simple enough. We cannot effectively combine an income stabilization program with a disaster relief program. That is why this program has been so dysfunctional and why it has been getting more dysfunctional over the past two or three years and is fast approaching a crisis.
I say to the government members that they are going to have to find a better solution in the long term. This is not going to work. I know that there are some in the government who approve a review of this, but that is not good enough. We are going to have to take some action now.
I think this motion takes the action required. The motion calls for the elimination, for this year, of the deposit requirement contained in the CAIS program.
We are looking at severe problems on top of what we already have as we approach this year's planting and seeding. This problem has to be addressed now. This motion is the quickest way and the best way of addressing it.
Then we have to find a longer term solution. Members of our caucus, led by our agricultural critic from Haldimand—Norfolk, others such as our critic from Brandon, our critic from the Battlefords, the vice-chair of the committee, our members for Lethbridge and from Swift Current, all our members, have for some time been putting their minds to developing alternatives to this CAIS approach.
What we propose is that a Conservative government would implement a whole farm production insurance program based on a 10 year average of value and production costs for a commodity. The program would be funded on a tripartite basis one-third by the federal government, one-third by provincial governments and one-third by producers.
And we propose that a second level of support would exist, but would only be required in extraordinary circumstances such as that of BSE when normal markets and market access collapse. Our plan would include a bankable business risk program directed at primary producers and funded principally by the federal government. Unlike CAIS, this second level of support would not require producer cash on deposit.
For most producers, CAIS is not and certainly has not been a source of hope and comfort. In fact, it is becoming a supplementary cause of the anguish and uncertainty that exist in the agricultural community. The reliability and affordability of the program are primary concerns. CAIS is failing on both counts.
Frankly, having a program so dependent at critical junctures on producer pay-in, when there is so little payout, is hampering our producers as they try to compete worldwide with treasuries across the world that appear far more generous to their agricultural sectors than ours at home is.
As important as this motion is, let me end by saying there remains a lot to be done to restore predictability, stability and long term profitability to the Canadian agricultural industry. One need in particular is obviously the immediate needs of the cattle industry and the damages inflicted by the BSE crisis.
I will say what I have been saying repeatedly for the past few months: there remains a need, and it is not part of this motion, but there remains a need in my judgment for a cull cow program. It does not matter if the border finally does get opened; we all have our fingers crossed. It does not matter if it finally gets opened: we have an enormous older herd and that problem is going to have to be dealt with. I cannot believe the Liberals as recently as December voted against that notion.
Before Christmas, the Liberals voted against a cull reduction program. However, the problem still exists and the government has to assume its responsibilities.
What is needed most urgently and what has been lacking in so many rural sectors, not just in agriculture but in softwood and in the fisheries, what has been lacking, cruelly lacking, is political will and, frankly, a balanced political perspective from this government. Agriculture and agrifood, fisheries, mines, and forestry, these are economic sectors that sustain a large number of Canadians and a large number of Canadian communities. Rural Canada still contributes significantly to Canada's GDP and contributes 40% of our exports.
I remind the House that in rural Canada our most fundamental values are preserved and protected and passed from generation to generation, the values of solidarity, family and honest hard work. These industries and these communities have earned the respect and the admiration of Canadians. At this time they deserve the help of their Parliament and of their government. I urge all members, including government members, to support this motion.