Mr. Speaker, not long ago we all saw pictures of farmers dumping milk, and it was a lot of milk. I was quite shocked when I saw those pictures, and I am sure many other Canadians were as well. I have learned that this waste of Canadian milk is one of the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our economy and our agriculture sector.
Because restaurants and other retail vendors have had to close their doors, or have seen a dramatic decrease in sales, the overall demand for milk and milk products has been greatly reduced. This is why 30 million litres of milk had to be dumped over the last few months. What a waste, and what a huge impact the loss of sales must be having on the Canadian dairy sector.
I would like to recognize the hard work of my colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. My hon. colleague, a farmer himself, has worked tirelessly for years not only to represent his constituents but also to fight for the needs of the Canadian agriculture sector and farmers right across the country. He has also been a vocal advocate for the protection of the dairy industry and the needs of dairy farmers, especially in the face of the constant attacks on this sector during the negotiations of the most recent international trade deals.
It is from my hon. colleague that I learned of the importance of protecting this vital sector. It is also from him that I learned how slow the government has been to respond to the pressing needs of dairy farmers and their families. Five weeks ago the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture supporting an appeal from the Dairy Processors Association of Canada to the government to take the very action proposed in the very short bill that is before us today.
While the numbers may be slightly different, as the original request involved slightly higher numbers, the idea was exactly the same. We also know that Mathieu Frigon, president and CEO of the Dairy Processors Association of Canada, made the same request last month.
Why did it take the government so long to respond and finally come forward with a bill that would provide the necessary assistance? That is the question on the minds of many Canadians.
Why does it take so long for the government to respond to the needs of Canadians during COVID-19? How on earth did it take over five weeks to produce this very simple bill, a bill that would provide critical assistance not only to the entire dairy industry but also to the dairy farmers and their families? Canadians must wonder just how much damage dairy farmers have had to suffer because the government was too slow to respond.
Of course this is just one example of the government dragging its feet. The government's response to the COVID-19 crisis has been characterized as a patchwork of initiatives and programs designed largely to cut people out instead of making sure no one is left behind. Announcements are made with no or only sketchy details to back them up, and the resulting programs end up being so complicated and chaotic that the people who need them have a hard time figuring out how to access them.
I am sure I am not the only member whose office has been overwhelmed with just trying to get the proper information about the eligibility criteria of various assistance programs so we can help the many desperate constituents calling our offices for help.
Yesterday's announcement was a series of initiatives to help Canadian seniors, and it is a good case in point. Many members in the chamber have been getting a barrage of calls and emails from seniors describing the hardships they are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis, and they are imploring the government to help.
As the NDP critic for seniors, I have been working non-stop since the very first week of the crisis to persuade the government to pay attention to the needs of seniors and to take action. It took eight full weeks to get the government to respond. We all know that only happened because we negotiated an agreement on our last unanimous consent motion and we put the government's back to the wall. What a shame it took that kind of effort to get the government to pay attention to the desperate needs of Canadian seniors.
That being said, while we are happy the government has finally recognized Canadian seniors need help during the pandemic, it is too little after the government had committed to help seniors without delay. On support for persons with disabilities, the government has been silent so far.
Again, the government has come up with a program short on details and missing the mark on what is needed. By offering a one-time payment, the government is ignoring the shortfalls seniors were dealing with before the pandemic, and the needs of Canadian seniors that will still be there next month.
What happens next month? Will all Canadians get assistance next month when they face the same increased costs for groceries, transportation and medication, just to name a few?
When asked yesterday, both the Minister of Seniors and the President of the Treasury Board basically threw up their hands and said they would have to figure that one out. How does that make any sense? How are Canadian seniors supposed to feel assured when the federal ministers responsible admit the assistance being provided is too low?
Let me get back to the bill at hand. The bill is about increasing the credit limit threshold for the Canadian Dairy Commission, from the existing $300 million per year to $500 million per year, in the existing buyback agreement the CDC has with producers to manage storage. This will allow the already struggling dairy industry, which has been hit hard by successive trade deals in recent years, some breathing space in the form of certain products like butter, various types of cheese and milk powder. Those products with a longer shelf life can be purchased by the CDC in larger quantities, then bought back under the existing agreement by producers when market fluctuations normalize within a set period of time once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Pierre Lampron, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, is quoted as saying:
Never have we seen such fluctuation in demand for milk from one week to another, and despite the best efforts to manage production to align with consumer needs, bottlenecks resulted in milk having to be disposed at the farm, something no dairy farmer wants to see.
New Democrats are glad to see the government finally take this step. Farmers have been waiting weeks for this support. After everything the government has done to dairy farmers, it is the least it can do to support them during a pandemic. Instead of investing more to help our agricultural producers during this crisis, the government is letting them down. Many still are not eligible for support programs.
If it were not for the concessions being made through successive trade deals like CETA, CPTPP and now CUSMA, we would not have a surplus of American milk flooding Canadian borders, leading to the current Canadian supply glut and necessitating the recent dumping of 30 million litres of liquid milk. We have a supply management system in Canada, and this unprecedented supply glut in Canada speaks to the need for negotiations to take our food sovereignty seriously when engaging in future trade talks.
That is why the agreement the NDP negotiated with the Deputy Prime Minister regarding future trade deals is so important. Parliament will, for the first time ever, be able to review future trade deals in advance of ratification instead of merely providing a yea or nay vote after the deal is done. However, it is important to discuss the concessions that were made because of CUSMA to our supply-managed dairy sector. We are giving up a few percentages of our market, as we did under CPTPP and CETA.
The Liberals constantly say in the House that they are the party that defends supply management and are the ones who brought it in. However, now we have started to see more cuts. The problem is that when we were negotiating CUSMA and opening up parts of our markets to the United States, especially in supply management, in a sense what the government asked dairy farmers to do was pay the price for another jurisdiction's overproduction problems.
When I say that, I mean that I am really baffled when I see corporations and businesses in Canada that make material or produce milk, do our farming or do anything, and taxpayers have to pay them a subsidy not to do their maximum production.
I find it baffling that we have to allow other countries to bring their products in so that our farmers, such as the ones we are discussing today, cannot produce to their maximum.
I would like to make an illustration by using this as an example. The state of Wisconsin produces more milk than the entire country of Canada. As it does not have supply management, it has wild fluctuations in price and many farmers have been experiencing bankruptcy down there. There are serious concerns about mental health. They do not have the protection there, and in a sense we are trying to open up our market because of the U.S. demands. We are trying to pay the price for their over-production.
It goes further. Under clause 3.A.3 of CUSMA, we have now agreed to establish threshold limits on exports. We have put those threshold limits on things like infant formula, milk protein concentrates and skim milk powder. This means that Canada has agreed to absolutely limit exports in those categories. Furthermore, if we exceed those thresholds, we are subject to a punitive tariff, which would essentially price us out of the market.
Currently, we know that the dairy industry is pleased to get this support, but I understand there is anxiety about events set to occur this summer. The implementation of the new CUSMA on July 1 is expected to cause difficulties for the dairy industry unrelated to COVID-19, and are certain to add to difficulties caused by the pandemic. The difficulty arises because the implementation date of July 1 does not coincide with the start date of the dairy industry's fiscal year, which is August 1. Export limits on certain dairy products such as skim milk and new tariff-free market access to foreign dairy products are supposed to have been phased in over several years. Effectively, this all means that the first year of that process will only be one month long, between July 1 and August 1, and Canadian dairy producers will lose about 11 months of transition. It has been estimated that the situation will cost the dairy industry tens of millions of dollars on top of the costs of the other concessions.
Talks are under way to have the government provide some sort of compensation package to help the agriculture sector affected by the new CUSMA, but those talks have been stalled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What baffles me is that taxpayers are going to be paying for something that our Canadian farmers can produce, but we have to ask farmers to dump that and we will pick up that cost. This is not acceptable. The government needs to focus on providing relief to our agriculture sector and our farmers and their families, and not delay any further talks to provide compensation.
Of course, we support quick passage of this bill. It is important that we provide assistance to our dairy farmers and those in the dairy industry as soon as possible. It is my hope that there will be no delays in getting this aid out of the door as soon as possible.
Let me also say that it is critical for the government not only to develop programs to help all Canadians through this COVID-19 crisis, but also that this assistance be provided in a manner that is accessible and available. Too often, we have seen critical delays in the development of programs, even after they have been announced, and confusion about the availability criteria and difficulties for people easily accessing the programs. The government needs to do a better job thinking about how its programs are constructed. Canadians in need are paying the price for the government's disorganization.
Later today, I will be meeting with some representatives from the labour movement whose members are experiencing just such a problem. Unionized workers across Canada who had negotiated supplementary unemployment benefits are unable to access those top-up funds because of the risk of being cut off from the CERB program. This makes no sense, and is unacceptable. So far, appeals to fix the crack in the CERB program have fallen on deaf ears. The government needs to fix this problem and any other similar problems that have been identified with eligibility for CERB.
I am glad that we are moving today to help those in the dairy sector, but there is much more work to be done. I do not think anyone assumes that this pandemic crisis is going to end any time soon. The government needs to act now and to act quickly to make it clear what assistance will be available in the coming months. Canadians are depending on it.
I thank everybody for listening.