Mr. Speaker, I thank all members who have attended this evening to make this debate a meaningful one. I believe we all bring a sentiment and a feeling to this debate because it is something that is very near and dear to us.
I also want to thank my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska for having the courage to seek the approval of the House for a debate this evening.
Far too many times we have been called together on emergency debates on the issues surrounding agriculture, not only on the livestock sector, but on grains and oilseeds in the recent past. We need to find some long term solutions for an industry that we all love so dearly and also depend upon. Surely all of us as consumers know that we must have a consistent supply of food, and we know that in our country we have a consistent, constant, safe supply of food for our consuming public.
The issues have been addressed a number of times this evening. There are many reasons why we have depressed prices in the cattle industry and the pork industry.
For those who do not know, I must tell members that I come from a long line of farmers. My history in agriculture goes back many generations. I have spent almost all of my years in Ottawa on the agriculture committee and I have worked with some very fine people on both sides of the House during those years.
Most of us share a great deal of passion for what we believe is a very important industry. I have heard some very passionate statements this evening. If some of this evening's statements had some real meaning to them and we could believe them, we probably would not be here tonight.
When I heard the parliamentary secretary this evening, for whom I have a great deal of respect, speak about the way money is being delivered, I would have to think that the farmers would be pretty much involved in carrying cheques to the bank, but that is not what I am hearing.
Farmers are indeed in trouble. I could list a whole series of situations that have occurred in my community over the past number of weeks, particularly in the last couple of days. People I have known all my life, people who have farmed all their lives, are turning the key.
Tonight there may be some farmers watching us. I am interested in seeing what kinds of messages we get tomorrow morning from that community of people we are representing tonight. I will be interested to see whether they will be telling us tomorrow morning, yes, they received the cheque, or no, they have not received the cheque, or they have been given notice that there is money coming.
I think our programs have failed us. However, as we talked about hearing in the 2006 election, we were told that the CAIS program was going to be abandoned, that the government would get rid of it. We did get rid of the name for some parts of it. Occasionally that name crops up again, but I see some wordsmithing being done there. Basically not a lot has changed in terms of the way money is delivered. A CAIS program in part that used to be 6% is now 3% and only 50% of the margin. It is not quite exactly what we used to know as the CAIS program, which was a very good program.
Ontario used to have a program called GRIP, or the market revenue program, as we know it. Colleagues from across the way who are from Ontario know what I am talking about. They were good programs. Those programs delivered. They were constant. They were there. Not only was government involved in the changing of those programs, but so were farmers. Farmers were very much involved in that period.
What has happened in the beef industry particularly, and to some degree also in the hog industry, is the concentration and the balkanization of ownership of the packing facilities for the animals. Not only do they own the packing facilities, but the fact is that they also own the animals going into the slaughterhouse. Basically what we have now are employed feeders of these animals. They may wear a Cargill coverall. They may wear something that reads Smithfield in some parts, although not in Ontario, of course. It might be Tyson if they are in the poultry business. If they are in the hog industry, they might have a maple leaf ensign on their coveralls.
This is where we have gone. This is where we are once we have the concentration. In Ontario we had one major beef packing plant that was sold out to a multinational, which is now the Cargill plant, and there are rumours in my part of Ontario that the plant may eventually be gone.
To suggest that because they have a short supply of animals going into the plant, it would cause them to raise the price, it does not work that way. They have plants in the west and they have plants in the United States, and therefore they can send a lot of the animals, which is already happening, to the United States of America.
Last week the plant in Kitchener was short 500 animals on Friday, but it did not raise the price. It did not go out looking for anymore. How can small time farmers compete with that? They just cannot compete with that.
We have those kinds of concentrations that are taking place, and ultimately, we will find an industry that is no longer farmer-controlled and owned. It will be controlled by the multinationals, as I said before.
I know that in the past, we have looked at what the packers did. We do not have to go back very far, to May 1993, and think about the experience of BSE striking our industry. The committee did a lot of work and we did a lot of work in trying to get money to farmers.
The way that money was delivered, in hindsight, was not done in a way that was most effective because a lot of that money was clawed back by the packers, but we in turn, as a committee of the day, went after the packers because we wanted to know what was going on in that industry.
We knew what was going on, but we had to have the facts, so when we asked for these kinds of statements to be provided, there were three packing companies which would not provide the books.
Those three packing companies were found in contempt of Parliament and therefore, as a penalty for being found in contempt, we decided that we should maybe fine these people a substantial amount of money. We in committee agreed unanimously that we would come to the House the following day, which was four days before the election of 2006 was called, and ask the House for unanimous support to fine these packers.
The gentleman who is now the Minister of Agriculture met me at the corridor outside this room and told me that his members had withdrawn their support for that, and they were not going to go forward with that.
I think as people in government, we have to have the courage of our convictions to go against some of these large corporations. I also believe that if we want to go forward, we have to start thinking outside of the box. I believe food security is as important to this country as is our military security.
If we believe in a foreign policy that we should be in Afghanistan, and I believe we rightfully are there and we should stay there for awhile, we should also understand that we need food security to feed our people in this country.
We have, in this country, 10 provinces and one federal government competing as to how we can best deliver programs. If we look to the south for some direction, we find that the U.S. has one farm plan. We have to start looking at other ways.
When we are talking about looking at new ways of doing things, we have to look at possibly the federal government being responsible for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for the Canadian people. I really believe that and sometime in the near future we are going to have to look at those things.
I have neighbours who have resorted to driving a truck. One guy told me just a few days ago that his farm is now for sale. I could not believe it, but his farm is for sale. We have a desperate situation and that is why we are here this evening.
I trust that after we conclude our discussions this evening, we will go down in history as having been a group of politicians who gathered this evening to find and make changes for our industry because we believe it is important. I trust that all of us will forget our partisan ways and move forward in trying to do what is right for the industry because I believe it matters for all Canadians.