Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to this important motion from the Bloc Québécois, tabled this morning by the member for Joliette.
We note that the Speech from the Throne and the budget do not meet the needs of Quebec. We heard several speeches today both from members of the Bloc Québécois and members of the other opposition parties, outlining the deficiencies of the throne speech and budget.
When the members of the party in power cite a few quotes on a few points that may have seemed positive to some, it is always the same thing: one can never say that a budget is entirely bad, just as one can never say that a budget is entirely good. However, the Conservative Party has puts its blinders on and is pretending that everything is just fine. But that is far from the case.
Some have been forgotten in the throne speech and budget who desperately needed attention. When we rise in the House, it is not to talk about things we have pulled out of thin air. We consult people and we meet with them, and they are probably the same people that our colleagues from the Conservative Party meet with, but they do not necessarily hear the same things as we do concerning the demands made by certain groups.
Like my colleague from Compton—Stanstead who sits with me on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, I think that we could have expected much more sweeping measures in the last budget to come to the assistance of the agricultural sector.
Even before tabling the previous budget, the minister had announced with great pomp and ceremony the setting up of a real program, AgriFlex. As its name implies, this was a program designed to be flexible in order to meet the needs of Quebec and the provinces. But the government had set a little trap.
When we read the budget and saw exactly what the AgriFlex program announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food contained, we realized that they had left out income support. And there is the rub. In the final analysis it appears they set up a program that is strictly window dressing. It was not at all what the agricultural sector had asked for.
So we always have to be careful. It is not because the government says it will do something that it will introduce a measure that truly meets the needs of people in a real and concrete way.
The government quoted someone as saying that this or that was great or wonderful. I, too, found some statements about agriculture. These ones demonstrate that neither the Speech from the Throne nor the budget respond to Quebec's agriculture needs.
In a press release most likely sent out the day after the budget, Quebec's farmers' union, the Union des producteurs agricoles, said:
Time will tell if the new budget contained anything useful for the agriculture sector. During Minister Flaherty's pre-budget consultations, the UPA had spoken with him about specific requests, which the federal budget has not currently addressed. Quebec's agriculture sector is disappointed.
They are cautious, and they have every reason to be. One only has to think about the AgriFlex program that I mentioned earlier to remember that you cannot count your chickens before they hatch.
This press release spoke specifically about private woodlots, which my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques spoke of. The UPA stated:
The same goes for the lack of a registered silvicultural savings and investment plan for the 425,00 woodlot owners in Canada. There are 130,000 in Quebec and 35,000 of them are forestry producers. There is nothing in the budget about this. The automobile industry got help and the oil industry as well, but the hundreds of thousands of forestry producers who have endured years of crisis are still waiting...
The UPA is also disappointed that there was no follow-up to the request for funding it put forth in partnership with the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to go ahead with development plans for various sectors of Quebec's agricultural production.
Pierre Lemieux, senior vice-president of UPA, was quoted in the press release, not the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture. I do not think that the latter would have had such sensible things to say about agriculture.
We cannot say that the government has satisfied all the requests, which were totally reasonable in this period of economic recovery, to help a sector that creates thousands and thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars both in Quebec and in Canada.
The UPA fears cuts. The UPA has grave concerns about the intentions of the federal Minister of Finance who is looking to reduce program spending by $1.3 billion in order to balance the budget within the next five years. “It would be sad to see the agricultural sector take another hit”, warns the union, which also pointed to the structured nature and the importance of agricultural investment, especially for regional economies.
A number of requests were made by the Union des producteurs agricoles and the various agricultural sectors in Quebec when the government launched its prebudget consultations. We do not rely on the government's prebudget consultations alone. We hit the ground to meet with people and talk to them about their concerns.
I had the honour of welcoming the hon. member for Hochelaga in my riding. We talked to people not only from the agricultural sector, but also from the community, business and municipal sectors. This is the same approach I used throughout Quebec with my colleague, the finance critic, in order to understand precisely what people wanted. Three recommendations from the agricultural sector had already been made to the federal government, and the government has not acted on them.
As I was saying earlier, there was a request for an AgriFlex program worthy of the name to allow Quebec to use money allocated to the AgriFlex program to finance its own income security programs.
A second recommendation had to do with improving the AgriRecovery program to have it cover losses on a specific basis in the short, medium and long terms and to allow the recovery of businesses affected by crises like the golden nematode crisis in Saint-Amable. My colleague from that riding and I have worked hard on that issue in order to get the government to listen to reason. The government completely abandoned potato farmers who were dealing with golden nematode a few years ago.
Finally, there was a recommendation on assistance for the meat sector. In the budget, monies were allocated to help slaughterhouses. That is not new money. The money will be taken from existing programs.
If we just look at what is written in the budget, we might think that there is good news. We have to give credit where credit is due. However, as I mentioned earlier, there is the matter of AgriFlex. We must read between the lines and know the exact details of this program to ensure that American producers and Quebec producers are placed on a level playing field. Quebec producers have to respect Canadian rules regarding specified risk materials. However, American producers do not, giving them the advantage. There is a difference of almost $32 per head, which means that, for one year, $24 million are needed to deal with this problem in Canada. An amount of money was allocated in the budget. We have to see whether the criteria will enable our slaughterhouses—especially the Levinoff-Colbex facility in Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover, which is very close to my riding—to access the program and help them to survive. It is a question of survival.
I will continue by sharing the reactions to the budget of others in the agriculture sector. Here is one from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. This time, the Conservatives cannot accuse the evil sovereignists of speaking against the budget. The title is quite eloquent and telling: “Not much new for Canadian Agriculture in Federal Budget”. That is the title. I will read from the press release. “Dubbed a ‘Jobs and Growth Budget,’ we had hoped the budget would show increased investment in the agri-food sector--a sector which was recognized in the Speech from the Throne as an industry that is the foundation for Canada’s prosperity and supports thousands of communities, both rural and urban, and provides one out of every eight jobs in 2008—”
Laurent Pellerin, CFA president, said: “We had hoped to see some initiatives that would encourage and assist new entrants to provide the needed growth and increased stability within the sector.”
These types of comments are an indication that the budget does not have unanimous approval of the agriculture sector. The CFA was also surprised.