Mr. Chair, as I rise for the first time in the House of Commons, I would like to thank the voters of Palliser for the faith they have bestowed in me. I would also like to congratulate all members on being elected to this great House. I also thank those candidates who were not successful for participating in that most important process.
It is my privilege to rise tonight to address the BSE crisis which has been devastating to many citizens of Palliser. The BSE crisis impacts my constituency of Palliser as much as any area in this great country. Palliser is home to XL Beef, a slaughter plant that employs 250 employees. Palliser has two of western Canada's largest order buying firms. We have large feedlots, major livestock trucking firms and hundreds of producers.
The beef industry is a huge economic driver in my riding and not just in the rural area. The spin-off is definitely felt in Moose Jaw and Regina. People have felt incredible stress since the border closed in 2003.
I know that the member opposite, the Minister of Agriculture and a number of members from whom we heard tonight are aware of some of the human costs of the crisis. Producers are really worried about how they are going to stay in business and pay their bills this fall and winter. I hope to hear something tonight that will enable me to go home for Thanksgiving with a message of hope and optimism for the producers in Palliser.
On September 10 the Minister of Agriculture was in Regina. My colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle and I were present for that announcement. After the announcement I talked to a number of producers who were present. The basic refrain was that they were glad to see that the federal government was finally doing something on the issue, but the problem was that the devil is always in the details.
They wanted to make sure that Saskatchewan producers did not get the short end of the stick since the provincial NDP government has a habit of not living up to its commitments. Producers do not want a bunch of paperwork. They want cash. It was an odd press conference. The Minister of Agriculture and the representative from the provincial government did not seem to be singing from the same song sheet.
That brings us to today in the House. I talked to some of these same producers before rising this evening. Where are we today? Their refrain today is that livestock producers in western Canada are heading into the most crucial time of the year, the fall calf sales when producers sell their calves and hopefully receive a fair return for their efforts. The sales have started and so far no one knows what the rules are regarding the recent government announcement.
I have questions for the member opposite. When will producers be able to get the application forms for the available assistance? How can they access funds from the program in time to make wise sale decisions? Why has the government not moved to assure the industry as a whole that money will be available immediately? Only that assurance will strengthen prices and put them where they need to be.
Instead of committing funds to the agriculture policy framework, why was that money not provided to our cattle producers who are in such desperate need of immediate relief? My producers are asking for meat and potatoes and the government is serving up hors d'oeuvres.