Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in the House to speak to the motion brought forward by the Bloc Québécois, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should give its negotiators a mandate during the negotiations at the World Trade Organization so that, at the end of the current round of negotiations, Canada obtains results that ensure that the supply management sectors are subject to no reduction in over-quota tariffs and no increase in tariff quotas, so that these sectors can continue to provide producers with a fair and equitable income.
As I was saying, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to this motion because it shows once again how much we, the members of the Bloc Québécois, care about agricultural producers and about the regions of Quebec. Indeed, one of our priorities is to defend full use of the land in Quebec so that our regions cease to disintegrate. This can be done through various means, including by addressing major issues such as this one and by protecting certain industries.
Allow me first of all to salute the work of the men and women who, day after day, by their work on the farm or in businesses, provide us with this produce, this high quality food that adorns our tables every day. These people work very hard. Farming is not an easy profession, because it keeps people busy on the job 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
I know what I am talking about, as I had the good fortune—and I do say the good fortune—to work for six years on a farm in my home town of Métabetchouan.
I would also like to take this opportunity of congratulating these farmers who work on their farms every day, in addition to making us, as members and parliamentarians, aware of these major issues through their representations.
I would like to mention by name in this House the people whom I have had the good fortune to meet recently, who have once again made us aware of this issue of protecting supply management: Daniel Côté, Réjean Maltais and Yves Lapointe. Mr. Lapointe is a young man around the same age as myself. He is not naive. He has chosen to work, day after day, at this noble calling, even though he has grasped all its inherent demands in terms of work and commitment, particularly in the current context, despite the major crises of recent weeks and years.
The aim of their representation was to raise our awareness of this supply management protection system. Allow me, for the benefit of our listeners, to remind us what supply management consists of.
The lion’s share of farm incomes in Quebec are generated by supply managed sectors, especially the dairy industry. This system offers the dual advantage of generating decent incomes for our producers and not causing distortion in world markets. In fact, it deserves to be better known abroad and could even constitute one element of a response to the world farm crisis.
Here again it is essential that Ottawa believe in it, as Ottawa is the player that is responsible for the negotiations. It is basic.
I will also address the concern that exists on the part of these producers. Why? First of all, because my own region, and probably several regions in Quebec, have experienced ups and downs related to the declining economy.
Let me explain. In Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, the softwood lumber industry has experienced serious problems. As we know, the Americans are imposing export duties which prevent us from exporting to our full potential to the United States: the countervailing duties. This region, which derives its living from three major sectors, lumber, aluminum and agriculture, has seen two of these industries hit hard: softwood lumber and specifically agriculture. As a result, people are right to worry about the problems to which they are exposed.
Let us look at the importance of agriculture in our region: there are 3,000 indirect jobs that depend on agriculture, meaning about 16,000 indirect jobs in this sector of activity. This is important for Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean: it represents some 12% of jobs.
It is interesting to see the producers who want to do more and who opt for other market openings, such as the cheese dairies and other agri-food sectors. We see a lot of vitality there. Yet this is not easy. These people need help in developing their farms. It is precisely through strong stands taken here, in this House, that these farmers can be given the confidence to engage in this industry and to pursue their activities with peace of mind.
But at present, that is not the case; they are worried, for all sorts of reasons. There are certain signs that are keeping them worried, and forcing them to take up this fight and intervene.
I cite the example of butter oils. The Ontario chemical ice cream industry wanted to stop using cream to make its ice cream, to reduce its production costs. It wanted to be able to buy an American blend of milk by-products and sugar, known as butter oil, as a raw material. Bowing to the industry lobby but abandoning Quebec dairy producers, the federal government decreed that these butter oils were not dairy products, thereby opening the border to these imports. The result was that in five years, between 1997 and 2002, imports soared 557%, representing a loss of a half billion dollars for Quebec’s dairy producers. That is a substantial loss of revenue.
A similar fiasco has also occurred with the importing of cheese sticks.
These are not our only concerns, concerns which the government has left hanging. I am referring here to a memorandum to cabinet which has galvanized the fears of producers, who felt betrayed. According to this memorandum, which dealt with the mandate for the WTO negotiations, Canada was prepared to get rid of supply management. That was the drift of certain of its comments. The secret document, made public by the Council of Canadians in September 2002, raised the ire of 10,000 Quebec producers of milk, poultry, hatching eggs and table eggs, four supply managed sectors.
Another concern has been raised by Mr. Steve Verheul, director of the International Trade Policy Directorate at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Mr. Verheul spoke at a special general meeting of the UPA for Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. His presentation was in no way reassuring to the diary and farm producers of that region, even though he seemed to be softening the blow of the coming WTO negotiations in saying that they would try to minimize the losses that Canada might incur in that forum.
What this government has to do is to stand up once and for all and make sure that in no case does it give in to any compromise on the supply management issue. It has the chance to do this, and this is crucial. In fact, in this sort of negotiation, when you lose something, it is lost for a long time. The government therefore has the opportunity to report for the negotiations, be firm in its demands and positions, and show leadership. That is what we in the Bloc Québécois want for the farmers, and what they themselves want.
Today, in this House, I ask this government not only to support the motion of the Bloc Québécois, but to move from words to action and ensure that the protection of supply management is maintained.