Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the budget implementation act. I will begin by quoting the member for Markham—Unionville who, as finance critic for the official opposition, raised three key points on the budget and the budget implementation act in his remarks. I absolutely think they are right on target.
He said that the budget was dishonest, it was visionless and it was mean-spirited. There is no jurisdiction, no industry and no segment of Canadian society where those points ring more true than for farmers and for rural Canada, and I will explain why.
Dishonest the budget was in that the Minister of Finance portrayed the budget as having more money for farmers, implying that there was more money than what previous governments had put in place. Actually, when we compare all commitments last year and this year, we find that the budget falls short even with its additional money of $1.5 billion, which we welcome by the way, but let us not say that it is more than it is. It is short by $255 million than the commitments of the previous government.
It is further dishonest in that the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and even the Prime Minister have left the impression that the $755 million for the grains and oilseeds announced last November was money for this spring, but that is not the case at all.
The previous finance minister booked that $755 million for the grains and oilseeds industry as an ad hoc program and it was booked for the grains and oilseeds industry for the losses it incurred in 2005.
The new government through its budget has not put one dime of its own money toward the farm community as yet, although it is trying to leave the impression with the general public that it is doing something.
During the election and since that time, when there were 10,000 farmers on the Hill demanding immediate cash, when 21 farm organizations and farm leaders came together and made the point that they needed immediate cash for spring planting, members on the back bench over there indicated there would be immediate cash. The member for Essex even said so during the election but that is not what happened.
There is no immediate cash for spring planting coming from the government opposite, not a dime. Members laugh over on the other side. This is not a laughing matter.
I know that some of the farmers who were on the Hill started to plant wheat but had their credit cut off. They could not put fertilizer on it. They decided because they had the seed to continue to plant the grain believing what the members opposite said and what the Government of Canada said, that there would be cash there and that in the spring they would be able to top dress that crop with fertilizer.
They know now, although the government is trying to portray it as otherwise, that there will be no cash because the government is not coming through with cash. It is difficult to believe that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food missed what farmers were saying.
However, we must assume they heard what the member for Yorkton—Melville was saying when the headline in a news release on March 29, 2006, read, “Breitkreuz conveys farmers' distress to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food”. The news release quotes the member for Yorkton--Melville as telling the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food that, “We need to get money into the hands of our farmers right now”.
Clearly, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food knew what the farming community was calling for and stated in the House on April 6 that they understood. However what a difference a year makes.
Last year, the then minister of agriculture announced $1 billion in March, taking money out of the surplus to put into farmers' hands so they could get a crop in the ground. Then we announced the $755 million in November.
Let us go back to a year ago when the then leader of the opposition, now the Prime Minister, told the House:
We are looking at severe problems...as we approach this year's planting and seeding. This problem has to be addressed now.
That is from Hansard of February 3, 2005.
That is what the Prime Minister said then. That is what he demanded of the previous government: that it put money into the farmers' pockets “now”, in the spring. Now this very same Prime Minister has the Conservatives' propaganda machine operating, there is no question about it. They have that machine working and well oiled up, because the Conservatives are leaving the impression they are doing something when there is not a single dime of cash for farmers this spring.
Worse yet, the situation according to Agriculture Canada's own numbers is that farm incomes have been reduced by a 16% further decline, so the need is even greater. In fact, we have called for a $1.6 billion immediate payment for spring to assist farmers to get a crop in the ground. That matches what the Saskatchewan agriculture minister is saying. It is a little less than what the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is calling for, but that is really what is needed this spring.
Worse yet, and it is hard to believe that it can get worse, the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister would not answer questions in the House in a direct fashion and admit up front that there is indeed no money this spring. Farmers needed to be assured of support in a predictable and a bankable way and they did not get it from the government.
Still tied in with the budget, the Minister of Agriculture trumpeted his budgeted commitments in a press conference yesterday. The farm community understands what he said and did not say, but the general public does not. The general public is on side with the farm community. It wants something to be done for farmers, and because of the words missing from the government opposite, the public actually thinks something is being done when in fact it is not.
The Minister of Agriculture announced yesterday the $950 million that was part of the $1.5 billion in the budget, and we welcome that, but it does nothing for spring. It is moneys that are going into the CAIS program. If we recall correctly, those members opposite, even the Prime Minister himself, said the CAIS program was unacceptable. The Conservatives were going to can that program. They were going to cancel it. They were going to do away with it, saying that it was administratively difficult and did not get the money to farmers in a proper fashion. And this is the program that the government is going to put the $950 million out through?
Yes, there have to be changes to CAIS, but when will that $950 million get to farmers? They need the cash now. Farmers will be lucky to get the cash in September or November. Will that money deal with the problem of cash expenses this spring? Will that deal with the problem of assets and liability? No, it certainly will not.
As well, yesterday the minister announced the $100,000 interest-free cash advance. I welcome that program, but what he is doing is leaving the impression with the general public that there is $100,000 for farmers. I ask members if they have received those little envelopes in the mail from the credit card companies where they offer you $50,000 at a low interest rate, say, 6.6%. This is the same thing.
This is not $100,000 coming from the Government of Canada. This is farmers borrowing their own money with a little bit of an interest break. One cannot borrow oneself out of debt. It cannot be done. The interest break is welcome, but that is not $100,000 for farmers from the Government of Canada. It is a little break on the interest. It is money that has to be paid back. It adds to the farmers' debt. What they needed was compensation for the losses of selling product into the market at low prices as a result of the international subsidies that are going on all around the world.
Clearly the member for Markham—Unionville was right when he said as one of his key points that the budget was really dishonest. In agriculture, the government has clearly misrepresented what it is actually doing, because it is doing virtually nothing at all in the immediate term when farmers need the money the most.