Mr. Speaker, on November 2 I raised a very serious question with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food on why the new government is failing to respond to the income crisis facing beef producers and cow-calf operators across this country.
Farmers in the beef industry are taking historic income losses, with prices at the farm gate absolutely tumbling into negative levels for the last several months. Many are faced with no choice but to attempt to refinance or even close down their farm operations and many are taking that option, which is very serious. These farmers are watching in fear and frustration as their life's work disintegrates before their very eyes and the government does nothing.
After I asked the question, the response I received from the Secretary of State (Agriculture) was nothing short of idiotic. The secretary of state showed absolute disrespect on the government's part for struggling farmers, farmers losing their life's work because of events beyond their control, farmers who put high quality food on Canadian tables, farmers who are the key generators of wealth for all others in the food chain, and farmers who contribute to export dollars and Canada's positive balance of trade.
I would hope the parliamentary secretary tonight, on behalf of the government, has some positive program and financial dollars to announce for suffering beef and hog farmers in this country.
How serious is the crisis? As one producer in my riding told me, for several months now he has been losing $20,000 in equity every week as the dollar goes up in value. Another sold cattle for $1,400 per animal in April and in October for $900. We certainly have not seen prices come down on consumer shelves.
Fed steer prices in Alberta fell by 13% in the last eight months while costs rapidly escalated. It has been noted that 40% of the cow-calf herd operators in Alberta could be out of business by Christmas. Bred cows are being sold at disaster prices, if they can sell at all, at between $300 and $700. This is a nationwide disaster and the government has a responsibility to act.
These are not just numbers. These are people. These are farmers. These are people who live in communities and are in serious financial trouble while the Government of Canada sits on huge surpluses. In fact, many are saying that this income crisis is worse than that caused by the closing of the border when we were struck by BSE.
However, during the BSE crisis cattle producers had the support and understanding of the Canadian public. It is not the same today and there is a huge difference in Ottawa. During BSE farmers had a government that cared and acted while the new government seems struck by inaction at best and incompetence at worst.
Just to emphasize how governments can respond, let me draw a comparison when BSE happened. The previous government acted. Yes, there was CAIS, but it was inadequate to do the job and instead of using safety nets as a crutch for inaction as the new government is doing, the minister of the day, Andy Mitchell, acted with the following: $520 million for the BSE recovery program, $200 million for the cull animal program, $680 million for the transitional industry support program and 10 others--