Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to take part in this debate on the protection of our dairy producers. I am delighted with the proposal by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, who has worked her heart out for our dairy producers for years. It is thanks to her that we can talk about the problem of diafiltered milk crossing our borders. We are asking the Liberal government to stand tall, do something, or simply enforce its own laws. It is a simple solution that the Liberals do not want to apply. That is what we are talking about today.
The Liberals are saying nice things. For weeks and months, they have been telling us that they are going to do something, but the producers are still waiting. Hundreds of producers are out there on Parliament Hill, and they are prepared to speak with every member of the House to explain their situation. I am very happy to be able to rise in the House and defend the producers in my riding and producers all across Canada as well.
This is an extremely important issue. As I said, it affects tens of thousands of people across the country, and it is costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of diafiltered milk. It is especially damaging since the dairy industry pays $3.6 billion in taxes to the three levels of government every year. It provides the equivalent of about 215,000 full-time jobs. Quebec is a major player in the industry, with nearly 40% of the dairy cow herd.
As I said, there is a very simple solution to this problem: the government simply needs to enforce its own cheese compositional standards.
When milk comes out of a cow’s udder, it contains about 3% protein. The diafiltered milk from the United States goes through a technological process that increases the proportion of protein to about 15%. As a result, with diafiltered milk, dairy products can be made at a much lower cost than the costs of Canadian producers.
Currently, the Canada Border Services Agency considers diafiltered milk to be a milk protein concentrate. As such, it is not subject to customs duties, which is why it is financially advantageous for processors. On the other hand, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency considers diafiltered milk to be milk for inspection purposes.
Within one government, two departments categorize diafiltered milk in two different ways. It is completely inconsistent. In fact, it’s scandalous and crazy. This has many harmful and indeed catastrophic consequences for producers and for employment in the country, and also for the consumers who buy the products without knowing where their components come from.
In other words, diafiltered milk from the United States, where the standards are different, is mixed with Canadian milk to reduce production costs. That is a harsh blow to dairy producers. In 2015, losses to Canadian producers were estimated at over $220 million. In my region of Montérégie alone, producers are losing an average of $15,000 a year because of the diafiltered milk crossing our borders.
Throughout the election campaign and to this day, hundreds of producers have come to meet with me. During the campaign there was a huge demonstration at the Herdman border crossing, precisely to show the magnitude of the impact this was having on their production. Farmers came to my office or called me in tears to say they would have to close down their operations if this continued. They told me that farm work with their cows was their whole life. They had thought they would be able to continue and hand down their farm to their children, but that would no longer be possible because they had their backs against the wall.
The federal government has to act. Producers are wondering when it is going to do so, because the Minister of Agriculture just keeps saying that he is listening and he is abreast of the situation. He even went to meet with producers to tell them that the government was going to take action, but nothing has been done.
In my riding, Mr. Montpetit has written to me about the problem of diafiltered milk, and I quote: “I am beginning to see our dream of having a prosperous dairy farm vanish into thin air”.
I am a defender of buying local. Indeed, I tabled a bill to that effect in the last parliament. Diafiltered milk is totally at odds with the buy-local principle.
What is more, the Liberals had all voted in favour of buying local. This truly contradicts the convictions they held when they were in opposition. Now that they are in power, things have changed. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I want to be able to buy Canadian cheese, made in Canada from Canadian milk, not cheese made from dairy proteins that come from the United States. This issue is having real consequences for producers, for our workers, and for the diet of Canadians. The minister has to understand the magnitude of this problem and consider the consequences of his inaction. This is urgent.
The dairy industry accounts for nearly 5,000 direct, indirect or related jobs in Montérégie alone. If the federal government does nothing, it is going to have job losses on its conscience.
There is talk of the decline of the regions, where the land is. The agri-food sector contributes to one job in eight in Canada. This is one of the most important sectors in the Canadian economy. The Liberal government does not seem to understand this.
However, the Minister of Agriculture ackonwledges the problem. I quote: “...diafiltered milk was never meant to be allowed to be used as milk.”
During the election campaign, the Liberals committed to solving the diafiltered milk problem, which is costing our dairy producers millions of dollars. However, the Liberals are dragging their feet.
I want to share a quote from a Liberal candidate during the last election, as reported in the media. He said that:
...if the Liberals are elected, he would bring all the stakeholders together within 90 days of the election, without exception. They would have six months to find a solution, bringing to bear their respective skills.
If this group did not produce results, “the federal government would take responsibility and would solve the problem for the next 20 years”.
So far, as far as I know, the Liberals have completely broken their promise. It is starting to look like smoke and mirrors. The solution is simple: enforce the existing cheese compositional standards.
If the Liberals truly care about supply management, our family farms and our regions, they will support our motion and resolve this problem once and for all. This is why I am asking my colleagues opposite, who come from Montérégie, Mauricie, the Outaouais and anywhere else in Canada, to vote in favour of our motion, and then immediately take action and enforce the rules. The minister must be compelled to act, or else to justify his decision to abandon dairy producers all over the country.
The other stumbling block is the anxiety about free trade agreements. Not only is Canada signing trade agreements that are opening a breach in supply management, but it is also putting the compensation into question.
Whether the party in power is the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party, it must be said that things are much the same. The new agreements pose the risk of other dairy proteins entering the Canadian market without tariffs being imposed, as is currently the case for dairy proteins from the United States.
According to one study commissioned by Agropur, 4,500 to 6,000 farms could disappear and 40% of processing could move to other countries if supply management were to be sacrificed under free trade agreements.
We are going to repeat it all day long, and the producers who may be listening to this will repeat it as well: it is very important to enforce the standards for cheese within our own country, to give the inspectors of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency the necessary resources, and to stand up to ensure that border services officers are given the necessary resources as well, since they too conduct inspections and allow the milk in, since the government has not adjusted its criteria for the diafiltered milk that is crossing the border.
This is urgent, because it involves jobs and our economy. It involves the consumption of products by Canadians.
It is time that the Liberals opened their eyes. It is time that they acted on behalf of all the dairy producers of Canada.