The member opposite asks if this is the Easter report. If the government would just take the Easter report, read it and enact it, farmers would be much more profitable, but the government continues to ignore the farm community.
This was a unanimous report by committee members and it was undertaken out of the dire and unprecedented income crisis suffered by the beef and hog farmers in this country.
Canadian farmers, who are among the most efficient farmers in the world, were then, and still are now, finding themselves facing serious financial trouble and, in many cases, financial ruin. Third, fourth and fifth generation farmers have all done what provincial and federal governments have asked, which was to increase production, increase efficiency and increase exports, and now, in their time of need, the Canadian government is basically leaving them in a lurch.
Believe it or not, the farm community has always been at the cutting edge of technological change. In fact, agriculture leads all sectors in annual production growth, better than manufacturing, construction, transportation, trade, finance and many other sectors. However, farmers are not retaining the income and the benefits of all that productivity growth and all that efficiency. The government, although it talks about acting, has failed to act in their interest.
The real reason for this concurrence motion is that the committee wrote a very good report and it was done in a non-partisan sense. I think government backbenchers on the committee felt that the government might actually do something but we now have before us the government's response.
I am sorry to say this but the Minister of Agriculture's response is absolutely pathetic. Actions speak louder than words. The minister talks about putting farmers first but actions speak, not words. I hate to think what would happen if the minister were to ever say that we would put farmers second, because his first is very far down the line.
The minister talks about putting farmers first but let us look at some of the facts. It is really just an illusion. We know that the Prime Minister and the governing party are very good at creating illusions. Everything from transparency and accountability is just an illusion.
However, it was not an illusion when we saw the police raid the Conservative Party of Canada's office. It was not an illusion yesterday when I raised the fact that the minister was trying to violate the Privacy Act in terms of getting information on individuals so he could attack them over his ideological drive against the Canadian Wheat Board.
I will now turn to the Department of Agriculture's own estimates. The government has been spinning a line that it is putting money out there for farmers. The cost of the production program that the Prime Minister announced has no relationship with the cost of production whatsoever. In fact, I have letters from farmers who have indicated that they have received as little as $1.28 an animal. It has no relationship with cost of production. It is just an illusion.
The previous minister of agriculture announced the family farm options program, which was going to help farmers in financial trouble. What did the government do a few months later? Without notice, after the fact, it withdrew the program, taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of farmers' pockets. However, the Canadian public actually thought the government was doing something. The government gave it and then took it away.
Let us look at the department's estimates. What really matters is what the government is putting out there in terms of actual cash to the farm community in program payments. I will go to the estimates. On program payments, from the minister's own documents, it states:
Overall, program payments are forecast at $4.0 billion in 2007, compared to the record level of $4.9 billion reached in 2005 and a drop of 12% from 2006.
Those are the real numbers. The government tries to leave the impression that it is doing more for farmers than the Liberals did but who was in government in 2005? The Liberals were. When we really look at the numbers, comparing 2005 to 2008, the current government is $1.2 billion short of where the previous government was.
The hog and beef industry has never faced the kind of crisis that it is facing right now. The tobacco industry is in crisis. The government broke its promises in that regard as well.
What we get from the government are illusions, smoke and mirrors, and no real actions.
It is no illusion that in the last election the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, who is heckling, and his cohort, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, promised tobacco producers an exit strategy. I met with tobacco producers last weekend and they are in disarray. They are discouraged and disgusted that the government broke its promise to them. However, that is not unusual for the government. It is pretty good at breaking promises.
The bottom line is that the government should shed its illusions and actually do something about the farm income crisis. In other words, the government talks but does not act.
I will go back to the first report that we are moving concurrence in today. The introduction reads:
The beef and pork industries are currently buffeted by what could be considered a “perfect storm”. Decreasing prices, increasing input costs, a strengthened Canadian dollar and regulatory compliance costs are all elements of this storm.... Although both the production and processing sectors are affected, the crisis became acute this fall for hog and cattle producers, who are struggling to meet even their immediate financial obligations.
Let us look at what some of the witnesses had to say. Mr. Curtiss Littlejohn from the Canadian Pork Council had this to say:
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.
I will turn to another statement by Jim Laws, the executive director of the Canadian Meat Council. He stated:
Canada's federally inspected meat processing industry is the most regulated of all food processing sectors. It's estimated that federally inspected meat processors collectively pay over $20 million per year in fees--fees such as inspection services, export certificates, label approvals, etc. This constitutes a major disadvantage to Canadian processors. ...and Canadian provincially inspected processors, who are not subject to these same additional costs. To create a level field internationally, the fees should be removed immediately.
That was said in November 2007 and the committee asked that those fees be removed.
As well, when I was in Ontario last weekend, on Saturday I met with the president of Gencor Foods, a company that was processing older cattle. It has just gone broke and is in bankruptcy, which now denies Canadian producers a market for about 700 cows a week. There were 120 people laid off. Since the government came to power, there have never been as many plants shut down, not in a long time, whether it is in manufacturing or agriculture, because the government is failing absolutely to act.
There were a lot of good points in this report, a lot of background data, and good recommendations. I just cannot understand how backbenchers over there can sit on their hands when this tragedy at the farm level, this loss, is occurring as it is, but they continue to sit on their hands. They take the speaking notes from the Prime Minister's Office and away they go.
Do those government backbenchers not realize that they were elected to represent their constituents and that they should be speaking out? They should stand up to thePrime Minister. They should stand up to the Minister of Finance, who has basically made bare the financial cupboards of the country.
The government uses the excuse that there is no money to do what ought to be done. There are only two people who are responsible if there is no money available in this country to do things for manufacturing, agriculture, the tobacco industry and many others. Those two people are the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister.
It is hard to believe that in two short years the Conservative government has taken a country that was seen as the financial envy of the western industrialized world and recklessly spent 2% of the GST on basically nothing, taking away the ability of the federal government to do what it ought to be doing. Thus, the minister is doing very little.
Let me go to the response. As I said, the response of the government to this report is just absolutely pathetic. The government starts by saying:
The Government agrees with the spirit of the report and shares the Committee's commitment to addressing the needs of the beef and pork sector facing serious pressures on its short-term liquidity and long-term competitiveness challenges.
The “spirit” is not going to keep Canadian farmers in business. The minister and the government have the power and the authority to act, but they are failing to act.
As I mentioned a moment ago, yes, the Conservative government has the treasury of the country basically broke, but that excuse is not good enough. We are losing rural Canadians. We are losing productive farms. We are losing our ability to have food sovereignty in this country. As for the minister, he basically sits on his hands.
The government goes on regarding a number of other areas in this report. Let me come to a key point it makes. It states:
The Government recognizes the need to support industry in dealing with serious pressures, but--
There is the big word “but”.
--is also conscious of the need to do so in ways that do not mask market signals and are consistent with our international trade obligations.
There is one thing I will say about our major competitor, the United States. It does not put its primary producers second to international trade obligations. It does not put its primary producers second to its financial reserves. It puts its primary producers first.
I talked about the Gencor plant going under. The real reason why that plant went under was the specified risk material fee, which put that plant at a competitive disadvantage to those in the United States. When the United States did not come along with its international obligations as it was supposed to, the Government of Canada should have recognized that it needed to act with financial resources and assist those plants so they could stay in business.
The report covers a number of areas, but here is the worst statement in the government's response. It says that those sectors, the beef and hog sectors, “will need to adjust to the realities of higher feed grain prices and a stronger dollar”.
One of the reasons why there are higher feed grain prices in this country is due to the government's policies in a number of other areas. We support an ethanol and biodiesel policy, but the fact of the matter is that if government subsidies to one area are going to distort the feed costs for another area, then the government has a responsibility to assist in that regard.
Before I run out of time, I will make a number of recommendations that the government should listen to. If the government would like, I could table them.
We had the opportunity in the Liberal Party of Canada to have a task force that put out a report entitled “Canadian Farmers: Targeted Action for Results”. This report went to a real leader, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, the leader of the Liberal Party. In that report, there are a number of recommendations on how to deal with this immediate crisis facing the livestock industry. I will run through a few of them, but I want to emphasize that these are recommendations the government needs to act on now.
The government did come out with a $3.3 billion loan and advance payment program, which was announced by the minister on December 19. The parliamentary secretary said in early February that “the money is flowing as we speak”. That was not the truth. It was not flowing as we spoke.
Action from our party in March forced the government to finally move the legislation through this House so the money would actually flow. Primary producers lost three months while the minister had this $3.3 billion loan program. One cannot borrow oneself out of debt. It cannot be done. The government had the loan program, but it just did not work. After the legislation passed, that program went into effect.
However, let us look at the cost to the government. Before committee, officials from the Department of Agriculture admitted that the additional costs in that program are only $22 million a year. The Government of Canada and the minister, although they use these huge figures, are really just putting in a pittance. The government is not supporting the industry to the extent it should.
Let me go through some recommendations.
First, the government should put cash in the hands of beef producers immediately by making a special 2007 cash advance payment of up to $100 and up to $150 for feeder cattle.
Second, the government should put cash in the hands of hog producers and immediately implement a short term loan for Canadian hog producers to improve cashflows as markets adjust. However, now we have to go well beyond that recommendation.
Third, the government should put on an immediate priority basis the 2006 CAIS payments and 2007 CAIS targeted and interim advance payments for all hog and beef producers.
Fourth, the government should work with all parties to determine how the advance payment program could be improved and accessed by hog and beef producers, including amending the security requirements, unlinking CAIS payment offsets with advances given, and extending time restrictions on advances. There I would add, although I personally have favoured caps on the CAIS payments, a suggestion that we could suspend those caps over the next interim period so that some of the larger operators can get that funding out of CAIS as well. That is how serious the crisis is.
Fifth, we need to also allow all hog and beef producers to be given the option of having the top 15% of CAIS, or the new AgriInvest program for at least 2007 and 2008, and maintain the $600 million AgriInvest kickstart already announced.
Sixth, we need to defer the interest payments, but also the clawbacks, on CAIS overpayments to hog and beef producers.
There is a number of recommendations--