Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this emergency debate tonight. I congratulate my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska for forcing the issue. I just wish that as we approach the middle of February we did not still have to speak on this issue.
The government has absolutely failed to act in a decisive and constructive way to deal with the hog and beef crisis. Farmers, fellow Liberals, other opposition parties and I have been raising the seriousness of the hog and beef crisis since last fall, but the government failed to act.
I know that most economists are saying that the government has failed to act prudently in its fiscal management and that its financial reserves are basically blown, but governments, even though they manage the finances of the nation incompetently, have a responsibility to act in a time of crisis, as the previous government did with SARS, with 9/11 and with BSE. The government should not deny farmers their rightful assistance in time of need just because the government itself has been incompetent in its fiscal management.
In fact, governments at all levels have encouraged farmers to increase production, to become more efficient, to invest in technology and to export. Farmers lived up to that responsibility. They produced, and they produced efficiently, to the point that last fall producers were really exporting about 60% of the hogs, or pork, and 50% of beef, or meat.
The bottom line is that the producers lived up to their end of the bargain. It is time that the federal government lived up to its responsibility.
I know that a lot of the previous minister's time was spent attacking and undermining the Canadian Wheat Board. It seems the current minister is spending a lot of time on it as well. Some people are telling me that the Conservative government is better at destroying than it is at building. Certainly in regard to the Wheat Board issue it is trying to destroy the Wheat Board. It is even in the process of trying to destroy the Canadian Grain Commission.
But for heaven's sake, let us not allow the government to destroy the beef and hog industry by neglect. The minister has a responsibility to spend some time on this issue, regardless of the ideology of the Prime Minister in his wont to kill the Canadian Wheat Board.
To its credit, the all party standing committee did recognize the crisis and did in fact act. We held hearings. I will get to some of those points in a minute, but I want put on the record a couple of things that were said at committee and the dates on which they were said.
On November 26, 2007, Brad Wildeman, chair of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said:
There truly is a crisis occurring at this moment in the livestock industry. It's both an income crisis and an input cost crisis. Both pressures are occurring at the same time.
There are many factors creating this situation, and thus there needs to be a combination of actions forming a solution. I would also add that I sense a crisis of confidence in the industry.
At that same hearing on that same date, Mr. Curtiss Littlejohn, director, Canadian Pork Council, stated:
The Canadian hog producers are facing a financial crisis that is unprecedented in terms of cause and unparalleled in terms of negative outlook. Simply put, prices are collapsing, input costs have increased dramatically and cash losses are mounting at such astonishing rates that entire communities, including producers and their input suppliers, face financial ruin. Most disturbing is the observation that no positive market correction in the foreseeable future seems apparent.
We now know there will be a market correction by the summer or late fall, so it is not hopeless. However, the industry needs assistance in its liquidity capital to get through this period of crisis so it can seize the opportunity again.
There are a number of recommendations in this report, and I will not go into them. They are available. They are in the December report, which was, as my colleague said earlier, a unanimous report by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. I congratulate all members of that committee because they did their work in a non-partisan way and came up with solutions.
The farm leadership was speaking in those quotes. Farm leadership tries to be diplomatic, but I have talked to members on this side of House who received calls directly from producers and they were not so diplomatic, and understandably so.
People are calling in tears. People are seeing their life's work go down the drain. All the parliamentary secretary can talk about is political rhetoric. People are losing their homes. Generations that have served on those farms are losing their life's work. That is unacceptable.
In a community close to home, in a five mile circle, 13 hog producers have gone out of business. That is the situation. People are losing from $40 to $70 a hog. Some of them are losing up to $3,000 a day. Every day that goes by, they lose more and the government fails to act.
The beef industry is in very serious trouble as well. One producer told me that in the spring he sold cattle for $1,400. Last fall he sold them for $900, a $500 loss. Again, the government fails to act. We are seeing fourth, fifth and sixth generation farmers go under, family farms. As I said, it is a loss of heritage and it is unacceptable.
Farmers in the hog and beef industry have done the honourable thing. They are producing food for Canadian society and others around the world. They are the price takers in the industry. Everybody else in the industry is doing not too badly, but farmers are price takers and are losing their shirts. They are the generators of wealth in this industry. If we lose them, we virtually lose the industry, and we could lose our food security as a nation.
What does the government do as this tragedy gets worse day by day? It does absolutely nothing. Conservatives can use talking points that come out of the Prime Minister's office, but talking points do not put cash in the pockets of producers. It is time the minister acted and acted responsibly.
Yes, we recognize the rise in the dollar had some impact. So do higher feed costs, as the parliamentary secretary said. It is a positive sign that grains and oilseed producers are getting fair returns. We want to see that, but there has to be balance in the industry. It has to be complementary to one another. We want to see them continue to earn profits.
Part of the reason for the higher costs and the escalation in prices is the push for ethanol. We support the push for ethanol but, for heaven's sake, as politicians we also have to accept responsibility. If government policy of doing the right thing for the environment and greenhouse gases is pushing up the prices of inputs for one sector in the livestock industry, then this place, and especially the government, has a responsibility of assisting farmers in their time of need.
Again, it is time the government started to act and act responsibly. It is a matter not just of farmers and their families; it is a matter over the longer term of food security for people who live in the cities and urban centres of this country. Do they want to depend on imported food for their tables? I think not.
Canadians want Canadians to produce their food, to have the quality food, the safe food that goes on our table. I want urbanites to understand that because of the government's lack of action, we are losing our right to food sovereignty every day.
The report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture was tabled in the House in December. However, as I said, the government failed to act on the recommendations. All farmers, all organizations stated that they needed a solution before Christmas.
Why has the minister failed to act? Is it because the Prime Minister does not care? Is that the reason? Is it because there is no political will to support farmers? The parliamentary secretary said that the Conservative caucus was full of farmers. Where are they? Why are they not speaking up? Has the Prime Minister got a gag order on them like he put on the Canadian Wheat Board and like he now has tried to put on the Canadian Grain Commission? Are those backbenchers in the Conservative Party voiceless? We want to hear them speak up. We hear them talk at committee, but we do not hear them say something has to be done immediately.
Is there no money there producers because the Conservative Minister of Finance has managed the finances of the nation so incompetently? Is that the reason? Or is it because the minister just wants rationalization in the industry? Let the market do its thing. Let us lose producers and the big and the strong will survive. Is that the position of the Conservative government? It sounds like the economic theory that the Prime Minister used talk about when he was head of a former organization.
We are talking about rural Canada. These are the lives of people and it is time the government acted.
We heard the parliamentary secretary's words earlier. He said that the minister made an announcement. He announced money at Christmas time. He raised expectations, but the money did not flow.
One producer wrote me a letter about that money. Cindy Duncan McMillan said this:
I find it interesting to read [the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's] assurance that his government is doing a great job of looking after producers. Tell me, if it's such a great job, why does it hurt so much?
That is the reality. If the government will not act, then this financial liquidity problem will rebound right through society as a whole.
I said earlier that there was tremendous potential for this industry down the road, but the industry had to survive between last fall and probably next fall.
I watched in January, hoping against hope that the minister would come through. He did make four announcement. He announced the $600 million agri-invest program four times, but that does not do any good to hog and beef producers. Why can the Conservatives not understand that? Taking money out of one pocket from the government and paying the government back on the other is not putting money in the pockets of producers.
What did we do as a committee? We called the Canadian Pork Council and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association into a meeting on January 29 to hear what they thought of the program. Was it working?
I will deal with the pork side. Here is what they had to say. The parliamentary secretary said things were working? Let us hear what they had to say on January 31. Mr. Stephen Moffett, director of the Canada Pork Council said:
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.
The president of the Canada Pork Council said:
Let me be clear that the December 19th response was a cruel joke to many of our producers. There were false hopes and false assumptions and false expectations that simply weren't deliverable.
There is the answer on what the government has done. Those are the folks who understand what is happening on the ground, and the talking points by the PMO just do not cut it.
On January 31, I believe the minister in response to a question in the House, two days after the pork council said that, said that he met “this morning and with the Canadian Pork Council. They are quite happy with the direction we are going”.
When for heaven's sake is the minister and the government going to listen? When are they going to try to stop baffling us with baloney? Enough of this malarkey. People are hurting out there. They need cash. They need it now. They needed it in December. It is time the government delivered.
There are though some things that can be done. I said it earlier and I will say it again. I wonder if the government, the minister and the parliamentary secretary are living in la-la land or wherever these days.
Let me give them some suggestions. I could read letter after letter, as could any member, of hurt, pain and tears. Farmers are seeing their life's work go down the drain and unnecessarily so. There are all kinds of ways the government could act. I will raise a few.
The government could put cash in the hands of beef producers immediately by making a special 2007 CAIS advance payment of up to $100 per cow and $150 for feeder cattle. The parliamentary secretary talked earlier about doing away with CAIS. Changing the name of CAIS to agristability does not change the program. He should understand that.
It could put cash in the hands of hog producers and implement an immediate short term loan for Canadian hog farmers to improve cashflow as markets adjust. The government could put on an immediate priority basis on 2006 CAIS payments and 2007 CAIS payments targeted and interim advance payments for all hog and beef producers.
The government could amend the security require so farmers did not have this money drawn back. It could delink CAIS payment offsets with advances given. It could extend time restrictions on advances. It could allow hog and beef producers to be given the option of having the top 15% of CAIS or the new agri-investment program for at least 2007 and 2008 and maintain the $600 million agri-investment kick-start already announced. In other words, give them the option of what would work best for them.
Why does the government not consider those suggestions? It could defer not only interest payments, but also clawback on all CAIS overpayments to hog and beef producers until December 2008.
The federal government has a duty and a responsibility to act, as the previous Liberal governments understood. We acted on potatoes, PVYn. BSE, poultry and on ad hoc payments for the grain and oilseeds industry when the safety nets did not do the job. Using the safety nets as an excuse is just unacceptable.
Simply put, the current government has not demonstrated any intent to respond to the farm crisis and this is absolutely unacceptable. We ask the government tonight, in this emergency debate, to take from this discussion the responsibility to act and get money out to producers now.