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House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the Minister of Finance on both his election and his appointment as minister and welcome him to the House. I was looking forward to his comments when he entered the House because one notices when the Minister of Finance arrives and we especially notice it on budget day of course.

We are all looking forward to that, but in spite of the fact that it was not budget day, we did look for some more details and there were a lot of vague generalities. We are all anxious to have more details, anything really. We hope we have some soon. There was not much unfortunately in his comments today and I guess we have noted already that the plans of the Conservative government are in fact to raise income taxes.

I really question how the government can come in here and talk about tax relief when in fact its plan is to raise income taxes. We know the government's revenues are up. The Conservatives have been left in a very good situation with the strength of the price of oil, for example, and other factors across this country. The revenues of the Government of Canada are very strong.

If it were not for the fact that over the past 13 years the Liberal government has put the finances of this country on a solid footing and left the government in a very good basis, members would not be able to talk about doing any of these things. The fact is the government is in a very good position and there is no reason, whatever it does with the GST, why it should have to actually raise income taxes for lower and middle income people as it is planning to do. It is entirely irresponsible, so I hope the minister will assure us that this will not happen.

Second, I wish to comment on the point of eliminating the child care agreements across this country. The premier of Nova Scotia and the new Premier Rodney MacDonald were here not long ago and met with the Prime Minister and talked about the importance of maintaining those agreements. I wonder what his plans are in relation to those agreements, when the Conservative premier of Nova Scotia is saying to maintain those deals. What is he planning to do? Let us hear about that.

When he talks about job training and the importance of skills, he is right. Skilled workers are incredibly important in this country. There were a couple of words in the Speech from the Throne about competitiveness and productivity, but not the word “education”, not the words “job training”. He talks about incentives, but no direct support for apprenticeships, for real training. What is the government going to do for those crucial areas? So far we are seeing nothing from the government in these crucial areas.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of the member opposite. He talks about raising taxes and lowering taxes. One has to have a starting point, so I have looked for one. There was a traditional budget last year for 2005 which was one of the longest budgets ever with all the papers that went with it, but it did not last very long. All of a sudden there was another budget, the NDP budget. So now we have two budgets from one government in one year.

Then there were more announcements made after the second budget. This is all in one year by one government, the last government the members opposite were involved with. Then we have three sets of numbers. My friend says we would raise taxes, from where? From the first set of numbers, the second set of numbers, or the third set? But there is more. There was then a fourth set of numbers in the fall. And that is not enough. The numbers the member opposite is talking about I believe are election promises numbers. That is the fifth set of numbers that we have from the members opposite. The member suffers from the confusion that his election promises are the law of Canada.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

No, guess again. It's already passed.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

It wasn't passed here.

There is a fifth set of numbers that we hear from the Liberal members and they expect the people of Canada to figure out what they mean by raising or lowering taxes. I know there were tax reductions in budget 2005, but that was four sets of numbers ago.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Before leaving the chair, I want to thank hon. members. I will allow one more question by the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and a very short reply.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your new responsibilities.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the constituents of the riding of Durham for their confidence in enabling me to serve them in the 39th Parliament. I not only share the responsibility to serve my riding but also to work with the Minister of Finance as we both serve the people in the region of Durham.

As the Minister of Finance knows, the people in Durham are hard working, have a strong family heritage and have safe communities. I will continue to work with the minister and my colleagues on behalf of Durham and all Canadians. How will the families in Durham, particularly the youth, be better off under the new government?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. Minister of Finance, and my admonition remains.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I am always short but I will also try to be brief.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage and I share the honour of representing two of the ridings in the great Durham region, one of the fastest growing areas of Canada and the greater Toronto area in southern Ontario. We have had the opportunity to work together before on projects that are of great importance to our area and to our communities. I am honoured to serve in the House with her now.

We intend to keep the trust that Canadians have placed in us. Although not all Canadians voted for us in the last election, we intend to be a government serving all Canadians and all families which is why we intend to proceed with tax reductions that will serve, not just people who happen to have income tax to pay but all Canadians every time we can.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to cite Standing Order 16(2) in chapter II which states:

When a Member is speaking, no Member shall pass between that Member and the Chair....

When the last member was speaking the President of the Treasury Board took the opportunity to cross between the Chair and the speaker in violation of the Standing Orders. He tried to duck down while he was doing it but it is in our Standing Orders and I wanted to raise that point for the Chair.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely apologize to the Chair and in the interest of being able to debate the important issues which our constituents sent us here to do I look forward to hearing the next speaker.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

We will consider the matter settled and everyone properly chastized. The hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by congratulating you on your appointment to the Chair. I know you will serve us faithfully and well and I am pleased to see you there.

I also appreciate the opportunity to add my remarks to those of the Minister of Finance in support of the government's vision for the future of Canada. In particular, I would like to express my support for the promise made by the Prime Minister to reduce the GST.

However let me first speak about the government's clear plan for what we want to accomplish for Canadians. As the Minister of Finance has just said in the House, Canadians sent us to Ottawa to get things done, and that is exactly what we intend to do, and we will do it in a manner that is committed, focused and fiscally responsible.

We will also be respectful of the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians. Working families and business people make responsible decisions about their own budgets every single day. They expect governments to behave the same way: to be prudent, to be accountable and to make the tough but necessary choices.

The government is committed to this approach just as we are committed to keeping our word to Canadians from coast to coast to coast and that starts with our five priorities. They are as follows: cleaning up government by passing the federal accountability act; reducing the tax burden of Canadians by starting with a one percentage point cut to the GST; making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime and introducing mandatory minimum sentences; supporting families by providing parents with direct financial support to make the child care choices that meet their specific needs, while also working with stakeholders to create new child care spaces; and working with the provinces to improve health care by establishing a patient wait times guarantee.

These initiatives are important to Canadians and Canadians expect their government to deliver, not just talk. That is why they sent us to Ottawa. Canadians also expect and deserve real progress in reining in unnecessary government spending so that they receive good value for their money. That is why our government will ensure that the spending of taxpayer dollars will be limited only to those programs that are efficient and effective.

This approach to fiscal discipline will translate into substantial savings putting more money into the pockets of hard-working Canadians. Just imagine people being able to keep more of their own money to invest in the things that matter to them. What a wonderful thought.

As the Prime Minister has said, our new Conservative government will be one where we put the budgets of Canadian families first and the pet projects of politicians and bureaucrats last.

Tax relief is a vital part of our plan and delivering on our GST commitment is the first step in our plan. Why not? Let us consider the facts. Unlike any other tax reduction, the GST cut is a tax cut for everyone whether they earn enough money to pay personal income taxes or not. Canadians will see a GST cut in action every time they buy something, regardless of their age or income level. Everyone from a newspaper carrier to a senior on a fixed income will see a savings. Unlike other tax measures, as the Minister of Finance said, no future government will be able to take this tax cut away from Canadians by stealth.

The benefits of a GST cut for individuals can be significant. Just imagine the thousands of dollars in potential GST savings for young families that want to buy a new home or the hundreds saved on the purchase of a car. No matter how large or how small the purchase, Canadians will be saving money while at the same time contributing to economic growth. It is important to point out that this one percentage point cut in the GST is an important part of our tax relief plans but it is by no means the only one.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

6:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I regret having to interrupt the hon. member but pursuant to order made earlier today, the question on the subamendment is deemed put and deemed adopted.

(Amendment to the amendment agreed to)

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 3.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 3, Mr. Blaikie in the chair.)

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved:

That this committee take note of agricultural issues.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Bill Blaikie

Hon. members, I would like to open this session of committee of the whole by making a short statement about take note debates. This may be the first time some members have participated in such a debate so I want to explain how we will proceed.

This evening's debate is a general one on agricultural issues. As is the case for all proceedings of the committee of the whole, members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.

Each member will be allocated 10 minutes for debate and each speech is subject to a 10 minute question and comment period. Although members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.

During the 10 minute period for questions and comments there are no set time limits on each intervention. I will work to allow as many members as possible to participate in this part of the proceedings and ask for the cooperation of all members in keeping their interventions as succinct as possible.

As Chair, I will be guided by the rules of the committee of the whole. However, in the interest of a full exchange, I will exercise discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules.

In turn, I would ask all honourable members to exercise caution during this evening's debate. It is very important to respect the traditions of the House in terms of decorum. The members must exercise judgment in their comments and questions so that order is maintained.

May I also remind members that even in committee of the whole ministers and members should be referred to by their title or riding name and, of course, all remarks should be addressed through the Chair. I ask for everyone's cooperation in upholding all established standards of decorum, parliamentary language and behaviour.

The first round of speakers will be the usual all party round, namely, the government, the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. After that, we will follow the usual proportional rotation.

At the end of this evening's debate, the committee shall rise and the House shall adjourn until tomorrow.

We may now begin this evening's session.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Chair, I congratulate you on your appointment.

It is an honour for me to speak to this issue. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this evening's debate.

This is an issue of vital importance both to those who work in this critically important sector of our economy and to all Canadians. As one of the protest signs on Parliament Hill yesterday stated “farmer's feed cities”, so the future of Canadian agriculture is clearly a matter that impacts us all.

Yesterday, thousands of frustrated farmers gathered on Parliament Hill to tell the members of this House that the status quo that they have been forced to endure for too long is completely unacceptable. I would like to say to them, this evening, that the new Government of Canada agrees with them, and that in the weeks, months and years to come, we will take action to support the Canadian agriculture sector.

Our government cares deeply about agriculture and we have deep insight into the problems farmers face in part because so many of our caucus members are from rural Canada. In my own case, I have family connections to agriculture through both my mother and my wife, both of whom grew up on farms. In fact, members of our family still work in agriculture today.

My government's direction for agricultural policy will be shaped by our members of Parliament, people from rural areas across this country who have been deeply involved in farming for their entire lives. We are stronger because of this representation and frankly, have a better understanding of the difficult times facing many farm families today than the previous government did.

In the previous Parliament, almost every agriculture question raised in the House resulted from our efforts as the official opposition. We stood up for Canadian farmers because we are dedicated to maintaining what is best about Canada, our traditions. Nothing is more important than the family farm.

The family farm has been a critical element in the formation of our nation. We cannot really talk about sovereignty as a nation if we do not have a strong role in the production of our food. That is why the government will stand up for a strong, vibrant farm sector that provides security of income to families dependent on farming and food security for all other Canadians.

To this end, one of the first acts of the government was to begin getting the $750 million promised by the previous government, but never delivered, into the hands of struggling grains and oilseeds farmers.

In contrast to the previous government, with its negligence and inaction, Canada's new government has a tangible plan to support Canadian farmers. For example, we will overhaul the current inadequate agricultural income stabilization program and implement a special disaster assistance fund.

Quite simply, the existing CAIS program is not working, a fact that Canadian farmers in every province know very well. That is why the government wants to replace CAISP and urges the provinces to work with us to replace CAISP and introduce a simpler, much more responsive program. The new program should properly address the cost of production, market revenue and inventory evaluation.

We are also going to pitch in when the unexpected strikes by creating a fund for disaster relief assistance over and above income stabilization.

During the recent election we promised to commit at least an additional $500 million every year to farm support programs, a promise we will carry through on. Let me be clear, this will be new money on top of existing agricultural programs, not reallocation.

In addition, this government will stand up for farmers in supply managed sectors. We will ensure that agricultural industries that choose to work within a national supply managed system remain viable.

Our government will continue to support the three pillars of supply management and its objectives—to offer consumers high quality products at good prices with a reasonable return for the producer.

We are also going to address what has long been a sore point for many western grain farmers, not having the freedom to make their own marketing and transportation decisions. The government will empower producers by allowing them to have dual marketing options when it comes to the Wheat Board.

No discussion of agriculture in this country would be complete without the mention of diversification as in the longer run Canadian farmers will have to look for new opportunities. The government is committed to facilitating this necessary diversification. As those who make their living from the land already know, there is a fast growing market for agricultural products in the area of renewable fuel such as ethanol and biodiesel. Our government intends to merge environmental goals with those of agriculture by requiring an average 5% renewable fuel content in Canadian fuel by 2010.

Not only will this measure help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will also protect consumers against the rising cost of fuel. By encouraging the consumption of renewable fuels, we will create new incentives for much-needed investments in Canada's rural regions.

Lastly, my government will work hard to promote Canada's commercial interests internationally. We believe that our entire agricultural sector must be protected, not only by strong international free trade, but also by fair trade practices.

In order to secure free and fair trade, the government will continue to support rules based trading systems like the WTO which we believe are essential to the interests of countries like ours that depend on trade. The future of Canadian agricultural and agri-food products is also dependent on enhanced market access and to that end we will support the phased reduction of all trade distorting barriers and the elimination of all agricultural export subsidies. Simply put, Canada's new government will go to the wall on the issues that matter to our farmers and rural communities.

During the last election campaign, we committed to protecting the rights of Canadian communities, both urban and rural. Those in power have ignored the interests of rural communities for too long. Today, I want Canadians to know that the era of neglect ended on January 23.

No longer will the concerns of rural Canada fall on deaf ears. Rural Canadians from coast to coast to coast finally have an ally in Ottawa. I do not say that we can fix the neglect of a decade overnight, and I know that our producers do not expect that, but in the weeks, months and years ahead, our government will move ahead, not with mere words but with actions.

The government, with our agriculture minister leading the charge, will give Canadian farmers the respect that has been denied to them for too long. For the first time in 13 years Ottawa will listen to Canadian farmers and begin to deliver the results they deserve.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Chair, I would like to echo the Prime Minister's congratulations to you, sir, on assuming your new functions as our chairman tonight.

We said we want to make this Parliament work in a different way. A take note debate like tonight is an opportunity for us to exchange real ideas about how we can help Canadians arrive at real solutions to their problems.

I must say that I was a little disappointed in the Prime Minister's speech which really was not unlike his speech yesterday. He emphasized the fact that he is here because of change and then he tells everyone there are huge problems and they are all the fault of the old guys.

He said it himself. On January 23 he took power. When is he going to take responsibility for what he is going to do in the country? I do not think a lot of rhetoric helps by going back and saying they did this or did that.

I sat in our cabinet last year. Our party provided $5 billion to our farmers last year. The farmers know that. Our farmers know that the $750 million the Prime Minister is talking about giving them today is money that was promised by us and was there for them because we had booked it for them. Our farmers know that we were working at the WTO. Our farmers know that we put in an ethanol program.

Why do we not talk about how we are going to go forward? I would really like to hear from the Prime Minister and his agriculture minister tonight so they can tell the House when can farmers actually expect to receive cash in their pockets which will alleviate the problems they have to deal with.

The Prime Minister pointed out problems in the world that are caused by subsidies in Europe and the United States and many other problems that we have to work on together. When can farmers actually see some concrete results rather than just rhetoric attacking the previous government?

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, I can understand why the hon. member would not want to take responsibility for the last 13 years in the agricultural industry in this country.

To answer the question directly, as the member knows, the cheques from the first $750 million are arriving now. They have been arriving for the past few weeks because of the immediate action the government took. We will be taking further steps in the upcoming budget.

I would share in the view of the Leader of the Opposition that our government House leader has provided this take note debate as an opportunity to hear the ideas of the opposition as we formulate further agricultural policies, but I did not hear any of those ideas in the comments he just made.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Chair, we are in a terrible situation when it comes to farming in Canada right now. Farmer debt has doubled in the last decade. We have to look at where the responsibility lies here and I will take the point of the Leader of the Opposition that now is not the time to point fingers but to talk about the issues.

Many farmers today are producing the food that we eat at a loss in the big cities or anywhere else in the country. Their family members have to work off the farm in order to subsidize the food that we eat.

I met with farmers out here and I met with farmers during the election. They would take out their accounts. I remember one event during the campaign. A farmer came to us and this was a bit of a surprise. He showed up with the accounts of his farm. He showed that he and his family this year were going to lose $45,000 that had to be subsidized by his wife and by him taking another job and so on.

My question has to do with whether the government is really going to stand up for farmers. The Prime Minister mentioned the whole issue of the WTO. It happens that on January 31 of this year the government lost an appeal at the Canadian International Trade Tribunal that gave up a right that Canada had negotiated in the last round of the WTO and had to do with the dairy sector. The dairy sector is now open to uncontrolled imports of milk protein concentrates. This is going to hurt our farmers dramatically.

We heard yesterday from the President of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Jacques Laforge, that there was a meeting and an answer was promised in two weeks. That was two months ago.

My question is for the Prime Minister. When are we going to see action to protect dairy farmers before they go under and we will not be getting milk products produce by them here in this country because they simply will not have the funds to run their farms?

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, we are certainly aware of the WTO decision. The government vehemently disagrees with that decision and has fought it through all litigation available. We will continue to do so. We will look at every conceivable option that is available to protect our farmers if and when this rule comes into effect.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Chair, I thank the Prime Minister for being here this evening to kick off this debate.

One of the things we have to realize is that we are talking now of the three-quarters of a billion dollars that is going out into the agricultural community. It is being sopped up so quickly that it is not really making a huge difference. It is helping and of course the agricultural producers will take that money.

It seems to me that we have two issues. We have a continental market with which we can work. We can harmonize as much as we can with the huge customer we have to the south but there are also markets farther away. If we are going to work through the WTO, I believe that is the right angle and exactly what you said, but what are we going to do with our closest neighbour to the south? How are we going to enhance the prospects of our agricultural community by getting it more interested in the products that we have?

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, one of the many things the Minister of Agriculture is looking at is stronger marketing programs. At the same time we have to be frank here in saying that Canada is caught in the crossfire of an international subsidy war. It is not just going on overseas. It is also the case in the United States, which is one of the reasons that we want to look at every option available to better support our farmers as the battle continues.

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Chair, well there was really nothing new in the remarks from the Prime Minister, but I have information from a farmer in the Porcupine and district disaster area which would be in the riding of Yorkton—Melville. This individual, Lee Howse, said that the farmers in the rural municipality of Porcupine No. 395 in northeastern Saskatchewan find themselves in a catastrophic situation. He went to say in a letter to me and others that a request to the Minister of Agriculture and to the member for Yorkton—Melville for a disaster relief program to help the farmers in Porcupine has been unsuccessful. He said that they desperately need our assistance to pressure the government in power.

That farmer in the riding of Yorkton—Melville is saying that the member from that riding and the Minister of Agriculture are not coming forward with immediate funds. He wants pressure put on the government. There is no better person to pressure than the Prime Minister. Will he deal with this issue and immediately come forward with cash to help those cash-strapped farmers?

AgricultureGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, what a contrast. We have beside me the Minister of Agriculture who has been consulting farmers around the country and members here have been working hard on behalf of farmers for years. The member for Lethbridge just asked me a question about trade negotiations on the grain subsidy wars. Not only has he been throughout Canada but he was in the United States during the BSE crisis fighting on behalf of our industry and here is that member of Parliament who for 13 years was as quiet as--