Mr. Speaker, as agriculture critic, it is actually with a great deal of sadness that I speak on this budget implementation bill.
Why would I be disheartened about speaking on this? It is simple. This initially new and now scandal-ridden Conservative government basically has forgotten primary producers in Canada.
Worse, as we saw here during question period today, the parliamentary secretary, the minister and the Conservative propaganda machine go to great lengths to misrepresent what they are really doing and not doing for Canadian farmers in this country.
Agriculture Canada documents show clearly that program spending is down by $1.2 billion from the last year that the Liberal Party was in power. This program spending reduction is at a time when the hog and beef industry is in the greatest crisis that it has ever faced in this country.
I will say this. On the positive side, thank goodness, prices in the marketplace are up for grains and oilseeds, but there is no question that costs are up very substantially as well. If there were a hailstorm, a flood or a disaster, it would be extremely difficult given the cost structure those farmers face.
However, on the positive side, prices are up in those industries. I say thank goodness, because if prices were not up in those industries, those farmers, just like hog and beef producers and some in the tender fruit industries, would be left to suffer financially and wave in the wind. These are people who are losing their life's work while the government basically sits on its hands and offers virtually nothing to the industry that has fed this country ever since this country was born.
The fact is, as I said, program spending is down. The fact is that the government had a family farm options program that would assist farmers in financial trouble and cancelled the program in midstream. As for those who could remain in the program, who were in the first year, this year it has paid them out at only 50¢ on the dollar.
In fact, the government said during the election that it would cancel the CAIS program and all it did was change the name. The government will not even allow hog and beef producers, after all their financial difficulties, the option of choosing between the CAIS program or the agri-invest program, whichever would suit them better.
That is why I am saddened to a great extent.
In terms of the hog and beef industry, the government talks about the loans it has put out there, and yes, it has put out loans. It has put out loans on the advance payment and general loans and has backed them up. However, officials who were before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food said that will cost the government only an additional $22 million.
I do not know about you, Mr. Speaker, but I know it is very difficult to borrow yourself out of debt. There those farmers are, trying to survive and trying to feed the world, and the government leaves them in the lurch.
I will outline what I believe could be done for the hog and beef industry yet. Hog and beef producers need the option of having the top 15% of CAIS or the new agri-invest program for at least 2007 and 2008, deferring not only interest payments but also clawbacks of all CAIS overpayments until December 2008.
The government needs to adjust the reference margin for disease, suspend the cap on safety net programs for two years, and realign Canada's inspection fees, cost recovery rates and other regulatory measures in order to be competitive with Canada's major trading partner. That is what needs to be done. It is not in this budget bill. That is very sad.
Let us take a moment and look at what is happening south of the border. The government south of the border seems to care about its primary producers in rural areas, while this government just lets ours wave in the wind.
The $285 billion United States farm bill places American farmers as a first priority and trade agreements as a distant second, which is the direct opposite of what the Canadian farm policy is under the Conservative government. Yet our producers must compete against United States farmers, both in our domestic market and in the international marketplace. We cannot continue to allow Canadian regulatory policy and agriculture policy to put our own producers at a disadvantage.
Let me give members but one example. There are many, but time is short. One example relates to Canadian agri-retailers. In both the United States and Canada, agri-retailers are asked to provide greater security for fertilizer and chemicals against terrorists. They are both requested by governments to put in security measures, including fences et cetera.
The difference is that in the United States farm bill, the United States government is offering $100,000 in assistance per unit up to a maximum of $2 million for multiple units. What is the Canadian government doing in return? It says it is not going to help.
As the headline in one of the papers in Winnipeg said, “Canadian Agri-Retailers at Competitive Disadvantage after U.S. Passes $290B Farm Bill”. The U.S. farm bill will provide U.S. agri-retailers substantial tax credits and grants for security of essential crop nutrients and protection products, while our government does nothing.
It does nothing, and that cost has to be passed on to primary producers. That is what I mean when I say the government is ignoring the reality of what is happening in rural Canada and is not there to provide assistance. This bill shorts the farm community in that regard.
Sadly, the bottom line for the farm community is much like that for the industrial sector. The government has failed to support most agriculture processing, leaving canning plants and others in difficulty due to cheap product coming in from other countries that do not follow the same environmental and labour standards as Canadians do.
As a result, the tender fruit industry in southern Ontario lost its canning plant. Many producers have now torn out their tender fruit orchards, with a tremendous loss of investment. Investments made five years ago are being torn out today. They would have provided food security for tender fruits in this country and those orchards are being torn out while the government sits on its hands and this bill ignores their concerns.
As well, beef plants and hog plants have gone under. Where capacity was built up by the previous government, the current government sits on its hands while that processing capacity closes. It has failed to act in terms of specified risk materials and the extra costs that government regulations put on those processing plants, therefore making them non-competitive.
I am running out of time, so I will conclude this way. Producers are facing challenging times and the Government of Canada must step up to the plate to be there for producers when required. As program spending shows, the government's words are cheap but its action is basically nil.
Given the discussions about global food shortages, Canada's agriculture policy becomes all the more important in ensuring we can do our part, not only in providing food for the world but also in ensuring that we have food sovereignty and a profitable farming sector at home. Government has a responsibility to do no less.
The Conservative government has absolutely failed to meet the needs of primary producers in rural Canada. It is good at messaging, but it is terrible at providing the kind of action necessary to ensure primary producers in this country have a long term future.