Mr. Speaker, I am indeed pleased to speak on the motion by the member for the Bloc Québécois. The motion before the House calls upon the government to join with the opposition parties and stand behind our supply management producers.
I am really amazed by the government changing its tune from what it said it would do during the election. This is what the Conservative election platform said with respect to supply management. It stated:
A Conservative government will:
Ensure that agriculture industries that choose to operate under domestic supply management remain viable.
That sounds good. The platform went on to state:
Canada needs efficient production planning, market-based returns to producers, and predictable imports to operate domestic supply management systems.
Yet, and this is where the real concerns come in, there is another document by the Conservative Party, signed by the current Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in February 2004. It stated:
A Conservative government will ensure that any agreement which impacts supply management gives our producers guaranteed access to foreign markets, and that there will be a significant transition period in any move towards a market-driven environment.
That is really sliding away from protection of supply management and how the supply management system operates. That is really suggesting that the Conservatives would go to an open market marketing system and have a transition period so that the supply management system could figure out what to do with itself in that time. At the end of the day, though, producers would be in an open market marketing system at the mercy of the multinational corporate sector, which many of the other commodities are at the moment, and that is why they are in such great difficulty.
This statement clearly will result in the undermining and destruction of supply management. Neither the Prime Minister nor the foreign affairs minister repudiated this statement. There is an opportunity for members opposite, for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food or indeed his parliamentary secretary, to do that today. We will see if they will. We will give them the opportunity to come clean on where the Conservative Party of Canada really stands with respect to the supply management industry.
With respect to supply management, then, the system was the result of government and farm organizations realizing that to stabilize the Canadian industry, to ensure security of supply and quality, and to provide the basis upon which the primary producer would realize an adequate income, a system of supply controls, reflecting demand, would prove to be the best course of action. In other words, through the Canadian milk supply management system, it is effectively figured out what market demand will be in the country and then production is matched to meet demand.
That is why this discussion is so important. We allow, as I said earlier, 6% imports of dairy products. That is factored in. The opponents of supply management talk about supply management being absolutely protectionist. It is not. We allow 6% imports of dairy products into this country. The Americans allow only 2.75%. Canada is much more open in dairy than are the Americans, and far, far more open than are the Europeans.
However, with respect to the current motion before the House, with milk protein able to come in through other ways, we as an industry cannot really know how much of that market is going to be displaced or how much of the product is going to require disposal through the skim milk powder disposal system. It jeopardizes that supply management system.
That is why this motion, put forward in concurrence with what the committee did the other day, is so very important.
As for allowing this situation to continue, let us go back to when supply management first was brought in. We were not technologically advanced then. Milk was milk was milk. The quota system basically was based on butterfat. Now the technology is there to break milk down into various components. The industry breaks it down into various components and ingredients. Violating the intent of the system, it is imported and basically it is remanufactured it into cheese or ice cream or whatever. This has an impact on the original design of the supply management system.
Basically the system is one that I think we should be presenting to the rest of the world as a rural development policy. It is a system that makes sense for sensitive products, and every country has sensitive products. It is a system that provides reasonable returns for efficient producers and a high quality product to consumers at reasonable prices. Let us look at our prices for dairy products in Canada. Sometimes they are a little higher than those in the United States, but on average they are lower. As a result, our producers are able to invest capital in their industry because they know that if they are efficient they are going to have reasonable returns.
Why do we think Canada is recognized as having among the best breeding stock in the world in terms of the dairy industry? Because for decades dairy producers have been able to invest in the genetics and the breeding stock to build that herd, that is why. They knew they would make reasonable returns on the sale of their milk, so as a result, we built one of the best and high quality genetic breeding stocks in the world. That stock is in demand.
There is a problem with the United States at the moment, in that it will not take cattle over 30 months. The government has failed absolutely to address that problem with the U.S. Farmers are suffering as a result of that border restriction.
On the mad cow situation, the Americans said long ago that they would abide by the science, but then there was another animal with the disease found in B.C., just as there have been more animals with the disease found in the U.S. Then Congress puts a little pressure on the administration and it goes against the basic agreement that it would allow live cattle over 30 months in by June. As a result, Canadian dairy, beef and breeding stock producers suffer again and the government opposite sits on its hands because it does not want to challenge its good friend, George Bush. Who suffers? Producers suffer.
How important is the supply management sector? Supply management generates over $7 billion in farm cash receipts a year, accounting for 20% of Canada's total agriculture receipts. With an average age of 47, dairy, poultry and egg producers can see a future that allows them to raise their families and make a living in rural Canada.
The stability of supply management allows producers with young families to contribute to rural development. Canadian dairy, poultry and egg producers use over $3.1 billion worth of feed per year. Milk, chickens, turkeys and eggs produced in Canada support jobs in over 1,100 processing plants.
Again, the pressure from our trading partners is to move Canada further away from these institutional structures that have benefited consumers and producers to those that favour unfettered trade. We have seen the kind of money that we have had to put out as government in the last number of years to those commodities that trade in a so-called unfettered market, and it is anything but unfettered.
The fact of the matter is that producers in Canada are competitive and they are efficient, but they cannot compete against the treasuries of the United States and the European Community. It is very difficult to compete against trade law that allows Brazil and Argentina and other countries to use low wages, poor environmental standards and poor land policy in the production of their products.
The whole system at the WTO needs to be revamped, but it needs to go further than what is currently on the table, because if we really are going to have a level playing field, then we have to include labour, labour standards, safety of workers, environment and land use. If we had that and no competition in international subsidies from some of our trading partners, then there is no question about it, Canadian producers would be at the top of the line.
Recent surveys found that close to 90% of Canadians surveyed believe that we as a country should be producing food domestically to meet Canadian needs. The assumption by some is that to continue supporting supply management the consequences are that Canada prevents imports and prevents access to Canadian markets. I want to make a point on that. The fact of the matter is that this argument that Canada does not allow imports in its supply management sector is very, very faulty. I know that the government opposite has fallen for that argument. It believes that supply management is protectionist.
Let me read some figures for the members. Canada imports 6% of its market in dairy products, 5% for eggs and turkey, 7.5% for chicken and 21% in hatching eggs. The United States, as I said earlier, allows only 2.75% access for dairy. Europe allows only 0.5% for poultry. When we figure it out, if all countries provided the 5% access that we do, overall trade in the global community would increase by these figures: a 77.5% increase in cheese, a 114% increase in pork, a 152% increase in poultry, a 50% increase in wheat, and a 92% increase in beef.
The problem is not Canada and Canada's supply management system, even though some perceive it to be. It is not the problem. This clearly shows that the position the previous government had taken in negotiating a sensitive products category made absolute sense, because other countries have sensitive products.
As for the Conservative government, we wonder what it is doing. The parliamentary secretary said earlier today that the Conservatives are really standing on the fence. They are trying to leave the impression that they are doing something when they really are not doing much at all.
In testimony before the Senate agriculture committee on May 11, the president of UPA made the following observation with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board and the future of supply management. Mr. Pellerin said:
If you attack the Canadian Wheat Board, in the end you will attack those types of central selling desks. That is the final objective of the free marketers....
I make that statement because we know very well what this is all about. In fact, I believe the parliamentary secretary said that the Minister of Agriculture is going before the agriculture committee tomorrow to talk about why he wants to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. That is what it is all about.
The Conservatives talk about dual marketing but there is no such thing as dual marketing when it comes to single desk selling. We either have single desk selling or we do not. If we do not have single desk selling then the Canadian Wheat Board will not have the opportunity to maximize returns back to the primary producers.
In response to a question in the House on the government's position at the WTO on state trading enterprises and the Canadian Wheat Board, the Minister of Agriculture gave a very confusing answer and left unclear what its real position was. I mention that because if the government is sincere about the supply management system, which is what the motion is about, it should show us its unequivocal support for the motion and then we will see what happens at the end of the day. When we look at some of the other positions it is taking it is not really all that strongly on side.
Consumers have also consistently maintained a serious concern with respect to the quality of their food. A recent survey for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada found that 38% of consumers were concerned about the presence of GMOs in their food and that 49% were concerned about the presence of hormones in their food. An effort by the pharmaceutical company, Monsanto, in the mid-1990s to introduce the growth hormone RBST for use in dairy cattle to increase milk production was opposed by the dairy industry, and with good reason. One survey found at the time that if this hormone were introduced into Canada, 34% of consumers would lessen their purchases of milk and dairy products.
The point I am raising is the whole strategy at that time was to increase milk production when we did not need to increase milk production. We were meeting our domestic demand. The dairy industry strongly opposed it and the dairy industry, along with ourselves, won the day and prevented that system from coming forward. It shows the kind of support I think there is for the supply management system.
Support for the supply management system was again demonstrated in November 2005 with the unanimous passage of a motion in the House of Commons supporting the current supply management system at the WTO.
A prominent United States agriculture economist has found in a recent study,“Rethinking U.S. agriculture policy”, reported by the Agriculture Policy Analysis Centre in 2003 at page 15, that:
The traditional role of the federal government was to do for agriculture what it could not do for itself: manage productive capacity to provide sustainable and stable prices and incomes. Supply management policies have historically prevented chronic over production and depressed prices.
What that statement clearly shows is that many people understand that the supply management system prevents the manipulation of producers and countries one against the other. It empowers farmers to manage their own industry by matching supply to meet demand. The supply management system is under such attack at the WTO because the multinationals do not like that system. They want to be able to manipulate, manoeuvre and abuse and to buy cheap and sell high.
What worries me about the government's waffling on this motion and the fact that it is not taking a very clear stand at the WTO is that it will open up our supply management system to problems in this country and the ultimate losers will be our supply management producers and Canadians as a whole.
If we could gain the support of the government for the motion, although it would not be absolute that it is solid at the WTO in terms of its discussions and that it is absolutely solid in support of supply management, it would be an indication that it is moving ahead a wee bit.