Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, for requesting this emergency debate. I would also like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the debate this evening. It is extremely important. Why? Because there is a crisis, the rising dollar and rising input costs, and the additional costs for managing and disposing of specified risk materials.
At the committee meetings, we hear that there is a crisis and that families and people are suffering. We also hear that no one is doing anything. That is the problem. Something must be done. And so we tabled a report in December, after listening to and hearing the testimony of the pork and livestock producers. We were all in agreement, and we made unanimous recommendations.
I will give you an example of those recommendations.
Before I speak to the recommendations by the all party committee, let us look at the chain of events. We had an urgent meeting with the cattle and pork producers last fall in November. Our committee worked hard and came out with a report containing six recommendations. In the next meeting we had with the pork and cattle producers, we were told that if those recommendations had been followed there would have been no need for us to be here today and no need for them even to be at that meeting in January.
What kind of recommendations were they? Recommendation 1 reads:
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada deploy, before the end of 2007, a special transitional measure that will provide cash-flow in the form of interest-free loans to be paid back over a period of three to five years, and bankable cash advances to hog and cattle producers.
That seems to be a reasonable request, which, once again, was agreed to by all members of our committee.
Our producers are, I would say, the best in the world. They do not want handouts. They want a bit of assistance in the form of loans so they can get through what we call la tempête, the storm, the perfect storm for farmers right now.
What was the second recommendation. Recommendation 2 reads:
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in partnership with the provinces and territories, payout the remaining percentage owed to producers under the CAIS Inventory Transition Initiative...and respect the federal-provincial funding agreement.
I could go on and list the other recommendations but most people in this area have read them.
The problem is that when approached with our recommendations or with a request, the answer from the minister and the government is that we should look at the billions of dollars that it has put into agriculture and look at all the good programs that have been renamed. It tells us that everything is fine but it is not fine.
Let us go back a bit to November 27. As a result of the first meeting we had with the producers, I wrote a letter to the minister and personally delivered it to him. In the letter, I very politely told him what we in the committee had gone over and that everybody would like his help to move the file forward. At that committee, I was able to pinpoint three things that at that time we thought were the key: first, the elimination of inspections at slaughterhouses and at the border; second, immediate loan guarantees; and third, additional specified risk material funding to assist rendering facilities with disposal.
To my knowledge, those have not yet been implemented nor put into place.
The theme that we heard at that meeting in November was that our producers wanted a level playing field to compete, not with other producers, but with foreign governments that give subsidies and that help their farmers and their producers, the kind of assistance that we do not have here.
My November letter continues to state:
As we continue to play by trade rules our producers continue to get hammered. Somehow we have to give them the support they need to be able to compete fairly.
A couple of months went by and we were contacted by our friends, the producers, in all provinces. We had been contacted before. This was not a crisis that all of a sudden appeared. It was a crisis that had been growing due to the high dollar, the costs and other factors involved.
We had another meeting. As a result of the meeting in January, I again wrote a letter to the minister, as I always try to do, in a courteous way, as a follow up to our meeting, and told him that this was for his information and told him what we had here hoping there would be some action.
My letter reads:
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food heard today from witnesses representing the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council. The main message we received in regard to the current crisis in the pork and cattle industry is that there has been enough talking. Action is urgently needed immediately.
Our cattle and pork producers have reached their limit and feel abandoned by the lack of a positive response from this government. It will interest you to know that the announcement on December 19, 2008 to deliver federal aid to farmers is being widely perceived as a “cruel joke”.
This was something that was told to us by people in the committee. My letter continues to state:
In fact, they are saying February 01, 2008 will forever be remembered as “Black Friday” by the pork industry in Canada.
Those are the words of the producers. In other words, the announcements that were made in December and all the good things that the government was supposed to be doing still have not had any effect because farms are being foreclosed, they are not able to continue, our rural communities are in danger of dying and we hear talk.
My letter further states:
As you know, our all-party committee made a number of recommendations that if implemented would bring immediate assistance to those affected. We have been repeatedly told that guaranteed loans would be able to keep our producers alive until long-term programs are in place and producers have had the opportunity to adjust to the new market forces.
As we work on long-term solutions and new business risk programs....
I am not saying that what the government is proposing is bad. There is good intention. After all, there are farmers on the government side as well as on the opposition side. However, as we look at these long term solutions, we must not overlook the fact that urgent help is needed now.
When I was first elected in 2006, I recall a crisis in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. I believe it was a drought or flooding. The farmers were hurting so we approached the federal government. It said that it was a provincial government responsibility and the provincial government said that it was a federal government responsibility. As the governments could not seem to get together, farmers were hurting and suffering. I have personal accounts of farmers saying that their phone lines have been cut, their credit has gone and yet there has not been any immediate aid.
Let us look at what is happening. In this case, it is an industry in crisis. It did not happen recently. Representatives met with the committee and there is a report. There was another meeting with the committee and still no action. When this is discussed among members of Parliament we often say that it is the bureaucrats.
I have a high regard for the professionals in our public civil service. Civil servants do their jobs. The ones I have met in the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food and those who have taken time to come to my office know their jobs. If they are given a direction, they will take it. I have come to the conclusion that if nothing is happening, then obviously there is no political will.
Why would I say that? Let us look at what the government is trying to do in regard to the Canadian Wheat Board: to move fast, the sham task force, names off the voter list, the firing of the CEO, the gag orders and the ambiguous plebiscite. Had it not been for a farmers' coalition, a court ruling and the opposition in committee and in the House, we would not have a single desk. We would not have a Wheat Board and the Wheat Board would be going the way of other grain companies in Canada controlled by the multinationals.
What I am saying is that governments can move fast and, in that instance, it was trying to move and it was moving fast but we had to stop them. If it can move fast on that issue, why can it not move to get some loan guarantees for our pork and cattle producers now? I do not quite understand what is happening.
Let us look at some of the things that were said at the committee meeting. Mr. Stephen Moffett, director of the Canadian Pork Council, stated:
To carry on, then, to answer the second question—how we think the government has responded to our requests and to this very severe situation—I can tell you that we are pretty disappointed at this point by the response from the government. Clare indicated that the major problem is liquidity in our industry and the fact that this downturn is much more severe than a normal downturn because of the ethanol and corn issue--
That is another issue that has been raised recently.
He went on to say:
--and because of the Canadian dollar and just the normal price swings in hogs. This has been a much more severe downturn.
It goes on and on. We have heard many testimonies.
The same gentleman goes on to state:
What have we heard from government? Certainly, right from the very start they have been saying that we need to deal with the existing programs: “Let's do what we can with existing programs.” I can tell you, we don't think that's enough.”
The message that seems to be coming from our producers is that nothing is happening immediately to stop the small farms from going under or the producers from losing money even though they have had promises of a lot of big programs. The point is that the industry is in crisis and we must get moving.
I would like to read from a press release put out by the National Farmers Union. The headline reads, “LIVESTOCK PRICE CRASH A RESULT OF DYSFUNCTIONAL MARKETPLACE”. The press release is about the overall livestock industry and it states that it is not a good one, if the information is correct.
The president of the National Farmers Union said:
...the dysfunctional livestock marketplace is the result of a situation where a handful of large corporations dominate the industry. In fact, a single company, Cargill, owns half the packing capacity in Canada and is able to heavily influence prices at both the farm gate and at the wholesale/retail level. A rising Canadian dollar is just a small factor in this larger equation.
My colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, has undertaken a mission to expose the whole security and prosperity partnership in Canada. Hearings have been held in my riding where over 400 people showed up in Nelson to hear him speak on this proposed integration of Canada with its partners Mexico and the U.S. driven by the corporate agenda.
What we see here in this press release and what we see in the agriculture sector is the consolidation of big companies driving us in this direction. Therefore, we need to be careful. We need to keep our food security issues in our own hands. If we allow the takeover of our livestock industry by multinational corporations, influenced by other governments, our producers will lose a say in what is happening.
I would like to applaud the minister for his push on cooperatives in the biofuel sector. We are holding committee hearings on the biofuel sector but that is not enough. We need a firm commitment by government to help our pork and cattle producers.
In the same press release, Stewart Wells, from the National Farmers Union, said:
The long-term solution to the livestock crisis is to restore farmers’ market power and limit the economic power of the big companies, stated Wells. In the meantime, short-term emergency measures are needed to get farmers through this period and allow them to stay in business. He noted that this investment needs to be targeted to farmers, in particular family cow-calf and sow barn operations. “If we lose the foundation of these sectors, we’ll lose the whole industry eventually,” he noted.
I am new to this area. I have been on the agriculture committee for a couple of years. I have an idea of what is happening. I see an industry that is struggling. We have an upswing in the grains and oilseeds, thanks to many different factors, but we also have a downswing in the pork and cattle industry.
The other thing I have observed is that more and more Canadians are looking at this whole area of food security and food sovereignty. In my opinion, if we do not support our producers, if we do not allow our family farms to survive and if we do not give them help right now to weather the storm, we will not have an industry. We will not be able to feed ourselves. As we go further on in this century, as we realize the cost of fossil fuels and transportation is increasing, we need to somehow ensure that Canada, first and foremost, can feed itself and, at the same time, have a fair say in the whole export market.
At this point in time, I would once again like to thank my hon. colleague for having asked for this debate. I think it is vital and crucial. Emergency debates do not just happen all the time.
I note, Mr. Speaker, that you said yes to this debate because you believe it is important. You saw the proposal, you read the letter from my colleague and you decided that this debate is very important.
We are here not to just bat words back and forth, we are here to raise the issues, to talk to each other, and hopefully we will come out of this tomorrow and decisions will be made to do something.
As I mentioned, we have a civil service of capable people. We have a government that says it cares. We hear this all the time. I do not doubt the sincerity, but we need action. Actions, as we know, speak louder than words.