Madam Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment as Acting Speaker, as well as our other colleagues who have been appointed to the Chair and, of course, the recent election of the Speaker.
Before I begin my reply to the Speech from the Throne, I want to thank everybody in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake for again putting their trust in me and returning me back to this fine House. It is a humbling experience to be the representative of such a fine group of people that we have in Selkirk—Interlake.
Of course, to do the job as a member of Parliament, we could not do it without the support of our families. I need to thank my wife, Kelly, and our three daughters, Cortney, Taylor and Cassidy, for their love and understanding through the time it takes to be a member of Parliament and carry out these great responsibilities in representing everyone in our ridings, not only those who vote for us but every person who resides in our ridings.
Getting elected is a tremendous undertaking and we could not do it without the support of volunteers. I need to thank my campaign team and the hundreds of volunteers who worked on my campaign to help get me re-elected.
Selkirk—Interlake is just a fantastic riding. I always say that I get to represent the best riding in all of Canada. I know everybody here thinks they represent the greatest riding in all of Canada but I can say that, aside from the fact that my rural riding is beautiful, I have the greatest people in all of Canada in my riding and that is what makes it the best riding in the nation.
My riding is a big riding with 91,000 people and 71 communities spread out over 56,000 kilometres. We have 10 first nation communities and 27 Métis locals. We have a real balance in European representation with Ukrainian and Icelandic descent, along with the original Selkirk settlers and the recent immigrants who have moved into our communities. It is a dynamic area that is always very exciting. Often, people do not realize that although it is a very large riding, a very agrarian riding with lots of ranching and farming, it also has the two great lakes of Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. We have some tremendous fishing on those lakes, both commercial fishing and sport fishing.
The Speech from the Throne did focus in on the tough global economic crisis that we are facing. The news always focuses in on how it is impacting the auto sector, the financial sector and the housing market but we often forget about the importance of rural Canada. I do want to talk about how important that is.
While we have this watchful eye on the manufacturing and service industries, we need to think about our agriculture industry, our fishing industry and other resource-based industries. Rural Canada is very important to the overall economic stability of this great nation. In 2006, there were 327,000 farm operators working on about 189,000 farms across the country. That is only 1% of the national population but that 1% makes a huge impact on the economy of Canada.
On top of that, there are more than 52,000 people who are directly involved in commercial fishing in Atlantic Canada, on the Pacific coast and in the inland freshwater fishery.
In Selkirk—Interlake, there are 2,500 cattle ranches, over 2,000 mixed grain operations and 1,200 commercial fishers who are actively involved in the fishery on both Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg.
The Canadian fishery was very productive in 2000. It generated over $4 billion in revenues for the country. It has been increasing at a rate of about 2.8%, which is significant growth. In terms of trade, the fishery exported over $3.9 billion of commodities in 2007. Canada is the seventh largest exporter of fish and seafood. The value of the catch of the commercial fishery out of Lake Winnipeg alone, and this is freshwater fish, is $18.2 million. It has a number of spinoffs because of its importance. The inland commercial fishery is something that is very near and dear to my heart as well as supporting that fishery.
We do have a small craft harbour program. The government, in the last session, increased the annual funding to the small craft harbour program to $20 million per year. Last year, we increased it another $10 million over the next two years to help deal with some of the small craft harbours that are in desperate need of repair and environmental cleanup.
In August of this year, I made a number of announcements for fishing harbours in my riding at Easterville, Arnes, Matheson Island and others to ensure that we deal with safety issues surrounding landing the catch and also ensuring that people have the facilities to get in and out without damaging their equipment.
We are also putting money into the Lake Winnipeg water stewardship fund. This is important because we must protect the overall viability of our lakes. Lake Winnipeg is not only a major source of the commercial fishery but it is also a major source of freshwater in our aquifers. It is a major recharge for most of Manitoba and it also supports a huge tourism industry. Some of the nicest beaches in Canada are located in my riding.
We have $18 million that has been put into the action plan for clean water just for Lake Winnipeg, to establish the Lake Winnipeg water stewardship fund. Out of that $18 million, a lot of that money is already starting to flow to help address the environmental issues that are surrounding the lake. We also established a $3.65 million fund to help community based organizations, industry organizations and municipalities to use those dollars to leverage against municipal dollars, provincial dollars and even other federal departments to look at reducing nutrient loading into Lake Winnipeg. This is for the entire basin, not just the inner lake. It is for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, parts of Ontario and Alberta that actually drain all the way into Lake Winnipeg. Over $1 million were set aside this year to deal with it.
The fund has five goals to reduce nutrient loading. First, we want to reduce the blue-green algae blooms. We want to ensure that there are fewer beach closings. We need to keep in place a sustainable fishery and provide a clean lake for all recreation and restore the ecological integrity of the lake.
As I mentioned earlier, agriculture is a key economic driver in the Canadian industry. Eight per cent of Canada's gross domestic product is generated from agriculture which is equivalent to $86 billion. In Canada, agriculture generates one out of every eight jobs, which means that agriculture employs directly and indirectly 2.1 million people. That is all generated by 327,000 farmers who generate 2.1 million in this economy. Agriculture and agri-food exports in 2007 was $31.7 billion representing 6.8% of total exports.
When we look at these spinoff benefits and job creation, we always have to ensure that we have strong agriculture policy. For every $1 of direct GDP created in primary agriculture, an additional $1.08 of GDP is indirectly created. For every job created in agriculture another, .91 indirect jobs are crated in the overall economy. We are talking truckers, people working in retail stores selling groceries and working in the food distribution system. For every $1 that we create in the GDP in the food processing industry, which is huge when we take a look at our packers and food processors, an additional $1.81 is created indirectly in the economy. Similarly, with food processing for every direct job created in the food processing it creates another 2.5 jobs in the economy.
Agriculture is a significant driver and one that we cannot ignore, which is why this government has revamped our entire agriculture policy programs with Growing Forward.
AgriInvest is a self-directed investment tool for farmers. It generates to help offset the top 15% of farm revenue. We provided over $400 million to kickstart those funds.
AgriStability will continue to work with producers and promises to address the need of dealing with these short-term ebbs and flows in the marketplace and the cost of inputs. There will always be a need to change and revamp the program but we have made significant improvements to the old CAIS program and most farmers are thankful for that.
We have AgriInsure, which is the old crop insurance program. We are looking at ways to improve crop insurance to make it more consistent across the country but also to deal with the challenges of trying to include the livestock industry under that.
We have the great new program AgriRecovery to help offset disasters, things that are completely unpredicted and things that we cannot manage through any type of program except through some sort of ad hoc relief and working with the provinces to develop programs that address those needs.
There will always be a need for improvement but I believe the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is well aware of what programs will be best to deal with each individual disaster as they occur across this wide country.
In the last election, Conservative Party's platform talked about making even more improvements to agriculture policy. One improvement is setting up over $500 million over the next four years to deal with agriculture flexibility programs. I know some producers in certain areas of the country will say that is for certain risk management programs they might have within their own provinces. However, I personally see these dollars not tilting the playing field from one province to the next, but actually reaching out to help those commodities that are falling through the cracks, that are not best served because of long-term market conditions and have not been well served by current programs. It will reach out to things like livestock and horticulture that need a few more dollars to get along.
We also announced that we will provide $50 million to increase processing and slaughter capacity in this country. That is especially important for areas where we do not see significant slaughter capabilities. If we look at packers in Manitoba, B.C. and Atlantic Canada, there is nobody to help support our livestock producers, especially under the current market conditions south of us. We need to have local packers and processors.
We promised in the last election to cut the federal excise tax on diesel fuel in half, which will generate $47 million in savings just for farmers, and that is significant. I would like to take a little credit for it because in the 38th and 39th Parliaments I had a private member's bill in the House to eliminate the federal excise tax on any diesel fuel that is used in farming or in the commercial fishery. Two cents is a great improvement and it extends to everybody in Canada. I know my trucking friends are very happy with that promise.
We also pledged to continue to work toward providing marketing choice to grain farmers across western Canada, which includes through the Canadian Wheat Board. We will continue to support and strengthen supply management in this country and carry its message strongly and clearly to any international discussions we have at the World Trade Organization.
Despite all this government support, the sad fact remains that not only are the taxpayers of Canada providing support and subsidies to farmers but farmers are subsidizing the cost of food. If we look at the stats that I got from Statistics Canada, it shows that for small farms earning under $100,000 of revenue, 90% of farm income is derived from off-farm sources. When we look at large farms, 55% of their income is derived from off-farm sources. If we look at very large farms, and I am talking of farms with sales of over $.5 million of gross farm revenue, even in those situations 35% of their revenue is generated from off-farm income.
Despite the support that is coming from the Government of Canada, to maintain a viable position somebody in the farm operation, and often it is both operators, must leave the farm and take jobs in town or generate some sort of other farm income through an in-home type businesses. Farmers are very entrepreneurial and resilient and they will look at whatever it takes to ensure they maintain their operations and land base.
Yes, farmers may be asset rich but they are always cash poor. We know that the biggest challenge for farmers these days is not just managing the marketplace, animal health or trade issues. It is being cashflow managers. With the tightening credit crunch that we are seeing across this country and around the world, farmers will be in even more need for access to equity and dollars to ensure their farms continue to operate on a day-to-day basis.
In the last Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food made significant movements and improvements to labelling in this country, especially when it comes to the issue of products of Canada. In the last session, I was pleased to chair the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and we did a lot of great work as well in looking at some of the shortfalls in product of Canada labelling.
Now we know that when people go into stores to buy a can of beans or processed food like pizza that says “product of Canada” on the label, it means that over 98% of the ingredients in that can or package is really from Canada. It is not just made in Canada, it is grown in Canada. Consumers can take a lot of refuge knowing that they are getting high quality and safe food because it is from right here in Canada.
We also know that in the instance where we process food here that is imported from other countries, they can still make use of the made in Canada label, which is important. We still want to create those jobs here and recognize that this food was processed under our inspection regulations and our environmental and labour standards. We know it has created jobs and opportunities in our country. We have to recognize that.
We have also moved forward with biofuels, which is very important not only in helping the environment but also in helping our farmers, improving the market opportunity for our agriculture producers for selling some of their lower value grain stuffs, now also with cellulosic ethanol, being able to move some of our byproducts and biodiesel using some animal waste. That really creates extra revenue flows in farm operations and it is something that we will continue to support.
I am disappointed that not all parties in the House support biofuels under the guise of the argument that it increases food prices. As a farmer, I will not stand here and advocate for cheap food policy. I want to ensure farmers can generate the revenues out of the marketplace so they do not have to get off-farm income nor rely on government subsidies to maintain their operations.
That is why we have to continue to concentrate on trade expansion, ensuring that we have access to markets especially in these uncertain times with the World Trade Organization and not knowing whether we are ever going to get a final deal. Canada will go out and aggressively search out new markets to open the door for our agriculture producers and the entire Canadian economy for greater opportunity to market in higher valued markets around the world.
As the Minister of Trade and Minister of Agriculture have said, we will pursue the European common market. We will also pursue countries in Asia and ensure that we have as many doors open to us as possible.
One of the challenges we have right now is the country of origin labelling from the United States. There is no question that COOL is a program that is in violation of both NAFTA and WTO. It is creating a great deal of uncertainty in the marketplace here, but more important, it is already driving down the market price. We are seeing cattle and hog prices plummet. We are seeing opportunities to sell in certain areas of the United States diminishing. We have to ensure that we take aggressive action against the United States on this very protectionist policy.
The Minister of Agriculture has already stated publicly that we will take trade action to ensure that the NAFTA rules are respected as it comes down to marketing product in the United States. When it is processed in the United States, it is a product of the United States. We also know it is in violation of WTO under the whole country of origin rules.
I want to go back to the importance of our rural economy, our rural communities and our small towns in our ridings that so many of us represent. The percentage of people living in rural Canada continues to decline. In 2001, 20.3% of all Canadians lived in rural areas. That is only 6.1 million people. In contrast, 80% of Canadians now live in large urban centres.
These small communities are supported by agriculture, the fisheries, forestry, the energy industry and the mining industry. We have to ensure we continue to support those communities.
There has been a lot of rhetoric floating around House about our cuts to corporate Canada. We have to remember that 98% of Canadian corporations are small and medium-sized businesses. These are the businesses are on our main streets. These are the cafés, the grocery stores, the pharmacies that are up and down our main streets, supporting our people who live in rural areas. They employ over 5 million people, just in small businesses. When we add in self-employed and the medium-sized businesses, two-thirds of Canadians are employed by small and medium-sized businesses. In 2007, 100,000 jobs were created by small business, accounting for over 40% of all jobs created in Canada. Despite all the rhetoric about cutting taxes, those tax cuts benefit our local communities.
I look forward to this time in the House. It is always great to be back here. I am proud of the work we have done as a government in bringing forward the issues of rural Canada. In developing policies in the 40th Parliament, we need to ensure that we do not forget rural Canadians, our farmers, our fishers and everybody who lives in the rural areas.
I looking to improve decorum in the House, maintain a mutual respect and a higher level of debate.