moved that Bill C‑282, An Act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act (supply management), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise in the House to speak on behalf of supply-managed producers. I will present the main reasons why we, as lawmakers, should guarantee our producers a sustainable future by passing Bill C‑282.
I just want to take a moment to thank farmers in the riding of Montcalm who operate 87 supply-managed farms. Over 70% of the riding is agricultural. Its main industry is agriculture and agri-food.
Given that a number of Bloc Québécois motions to protect the integrity of supply management have been adopted unanimously, some members think it would be inconsistent not to pass this bill in principle and refer it to a committee for study. I thank them for that.
It is also a privilege for me to sponsor this bill, which I should note is identical to Bill C‑216. If memory serves, that bill won the support of a significant majority of 250 MPs in the previous Parliament thanks to my colleagues' amazing work.
I want to mention the work done by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, a brilliant and staunch defender of the interests of the agricultural sector. I also salute the contribution of my young and eloquent colleague from Saint‑Hyacinthe—Bagot, the Bloc Québécois critic for international trade. Not to mention the member for Bécancour—Nicolet—Saurel, who sponsored Bill C‑216 in the last Parliament, a bill that would already be in effect if not for the useless election in August 2021. He is the dean of the House, the one who has seen the flood of good intentions in the ocean of promises to protect supply management.
These promises resulted in irreversible breaches in three major free trade agreements that unfortunately did permanent damage because the supply management system wrongly became a bargaining chip, as Gérard Bérubé wrote in Le Devoir on August 30, 2018:
Canada's supply management system has found itself in the crosshairs many times in the context of free trade and, unfortunately, has become a bargaining chip for Ottawa in the the past three major negotiations. From breach to fault, the crack continues to grow dangerously bigger.
I believe in parliamentary democracy and refuse to become a cynic, although I hold no naive beliefs about the ability of the legislative power to not let itself be subordinate to the executive, especially for those on the government benches.
As MPs, we are representatives of the people and we are legislators. We are the ones who must make the voice of the people heard and defend their interests against an executive power that all too often governs like a supreme ruler and that sometimes breaks its promises and goes against the unanimous will of the House, as expressed in the motions it adopts.
Some might think that Bill C‑282 is not necessary. They will swear, hand on heart, that they will protect supply management from now on. However, history tends to repeat itself, so I would humbly point out, by way of example, that, in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the Bloc Québécois moved a motion on February 7, 2018, which said, and I quote: “That the House call on the government to ensure that there is no breach in supply management as part of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership.” This motion was unanimously adopted.
A month later, on March 8, 2018, the Liberal government went back on its word by signing the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In the context of the renegotiation of NAFTA, the Bloc also moved a motion on September 26, 2017, for the government to protect supply-managed markets. I will read it:
That the House reiterate its desire to fully preserve supply management during the NAFTA renegotiations.
One month later, on November 30, 2018, the Liberal government went back on its word by signing CUSMA, an agreement meant to replace NAFTA. Unfortunately, despite the promise made to Parliament, several concessions were made, putting the financial stability of Quebec's agricultural businesses in jeopardy. Four times the House unanimously expressed its desire to fully protect the supply management system. However, both Liberal and Conservative governments clearly did not feel bound by that commitment when they signed the last three free trade agreements.
These agreements have been disastrous when it comes to the concessions that were made at the expense of supply-managed agricultural producers and processors. Without the guarantee that Bill C‑282 offers to exclude supply management from free trade agreements, many are now questioning their future.
Bill C‑282 is very simple. It amends the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act to expand the minister's list of responsibilities to include protecting the supply management system. Section 10 of the act would be amended to add supply management to the list of directives that the minister must take into account when conducting Canada's external affairs, including international trade. Once this bill is fully implemented, the minister responsible for international trade will have to defend supply-managed farmers to our trading partners. It will now be part of the minister's mandate to negotiate without creating loopholes in the system, as has been the case with the last three agreements. Bill C‑282 has become necessary because the loopholes that have been created are preventing the system from working effectively. They undermine the integrity of the principles that make up the system: price, production and border controls.
Supply management is an essential strategic tool in preserving our food autonomy, regional development and land use. It is also a pan-Canadian risk management tool designed to protect agricultural markets against price fluctuations. This system is based on three main principles, on three pillars.
The first pillar is supply management via a production quota system derived from research on consumption, that is, consumer demand for dairy products. The Canadian Dairy Commission distributes quota to each province. The provinces' marketing boards, also known as producer associations, sell quota to their own farmers to ensure that production is aligned with domestic demand.
The second pillar is price controls. A floor price and a ceiling price are set to ensure that each link in the supply chain gets its fair share.
The third pillar is border control.
Supply management is a model envied around the world, especially in countries that have abolished it. Dairy producers in countries that dropped supply management are lobbying to have it reinstated. Increasingly, American dairy producers are questioning their government's decision to abolish supply management for their sector in the early 1990s. For almost a decade now, the price of milk has been plummeting, and small farms are no longer able to cover production costs.
This price level is generally attributed to overproduction. Every year, millions of gallons of milk are dumped in ditches. In 2016, it was over 100 million gallons. In the state of Wisconsin, for example, nearly 500 farms per week were shutting down in 2018.
Producers can simply no longer afford to produce for so little income. One of the problems is that the dairy sector is organized around overproduction, particularly with the aim of exporting surplus production at low prices. As a former U.S. secretary of agriculture himself admitted, when you overproduce, only the biggest can survive.
Of course, there is another possible argument. Some people might think that, since producers and processors have finally been compensated, although four years later in some cases, and they are satisfied, small breaches can continue from one agreement to another by compensating people afterwards.
Of course, no amount of compensation, no temporary one-off cheque, will cover the permanent structural damage and losses caused by the breaches in the agreements with Europe, the Pacific countries, the U.S. and Mexico. Supply management is not perfect, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, especially in allowing all links in the chain to produce and to have fair and equitable incomes for everyone in the entire production chain.
In closing, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Do we want to protect certain segments of our agricultural industry from foreign competition while abiding by the rules of the WTO agreements?
The answer to that question should be yes, especially since the supply management system follows those rules. We have the right to do so, and many countries avail themselves of those provisions. We are not the only ones that protect certain products. Everyone does it, even the countries that are criticizing us for doing so.
It is important to remember that Canada has signed 16 free trade agreements that do not affect supply management in any way. It is therefore possible to discuss and negotiate without touching supply management.
We cannot allow the United States or other countries to force us to abandon our agricultural policies and practices. What are we really trying to protect our production from? We want to protect it from unfair competition.
Our main partner, the United States, is breaking many international trade rules while constantly asking us to give them more access. The U.S. is providing its agricultural industry with billions of dollars in illegal subsidies a year, which cuts production costs for farmers and enables them to resell their products locally or elsewhere at a lower cost. That is strictly prohibited by the WTO.
There is no question that Quebec and Canada are exporting nations. This is not about increasing protectionism. What we want is to maintain a system that has proven its worth for almost 50 years.
Since 2015, I have had the opportunity to introduce two bills, which were rejected. This is my third attempt. If the House were to adopt Bill C‑282, I would share my pride with all parliamentarians from all parties, and with all those who care about protecting an agricultural model that provides our producers with the predictability required to look to the future with dignity, to grow their businesses in the hope of proudly passing on their passion to the next generation with human-scale farms, while always ensuring that they produce high-quality products ethically. This model ensures that everyone wins, from producers to processors to consumers.
By adopting Bill C‑282, we will ensure that never again will supply management be sacrificed on the altar of free trade.