House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was farmers.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Huron—Bruce (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I suppose that question could be asked of the Liberals on many occasions, but certainly on the matter of article XXVIII as it relates to the milk protein supplements.

This is something the Liberals were asked to address eight or nine months ago. The dairy industry came to us and we gave the same reasons as are being given today. We felt it was premature at that time. We still had some time to go. There was a time element that had to be expended and we felt we should address that. We have now gone beyond that time and there appears to be a greater urgency for doing so.

I do not believe we can bring every element of the debate into the House in terms of the negotiations in Geneva, but I believe this is one that we need to. We did not deal with this matter very effectively with butter. We know what happened in that industry. We lost the ice cream industry. How long are we going to stand by and let the importers bring in product? The processors are involved in this too, obviously. They are the reason we have this problem.

Do we really care about Canada? Do we really care about what goes on in rural Canada today? We could import everything we want. There is very little we cannot import from other countries, but I believe it is very important as a country to stand behind our rural industry. It is time for us to move and time to take action.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. For the next 10 minutes, I will tell the House why I feel we must stand up for the rural community, for the farm community that is supported and works within the supply management sector.

The debate is very timely in the sense of the urgency, given that we are now in the WTO discussions. We need to remain at the table. I think all parties in the House would agree we cannot abandon the issue.

It is also important to recognize that farmers need to have an ally. If farmers do not have the government in their corner, pray tell, who else can they go to? Who else is there fighting for them? We know the volume of trade Canada does in agriculture has doubled over the last 13 years. We have gone from $12.5 billion to about $26 billion today. Who has become rich? I believe the multinationals, the large corporations and traders in agriculture have made money. The farm gate has seen very little of those dollars.

When farmers continually buy at retail prices and continually sell at wholesale prices, it is very difficult for me to understand why society cannot realize why farmers are in difficulty today. The supply management sector depends upon this protection, but I see it as no more protection than what the auto industry or the pharmaceutical industry have in how they operate their business. Many industries today simply do not produce a product if they cannot sell it at a profit.

For the most part, farmers cannot put a price on their product, a price that will give them a profit. Within the supply managed sector, they can receive a return which guarantees them some element of protection because the cost of production is included.

It is interesting that we should talk about this today. The dairy industry has recently concluded a study which shows that it costs less to produce a litre of milk than it did seven years ago. What other industries today show those kinds of efficiencies, more milk per cow, butter fat at levels that we have not known before, doing things we have been unable to do in previous times, the genetics in our country? It is unfortunate for those who have developed those genetics in their breeding lines. At this moment, they are unable to sell their breeding stock because of the embargo against us from the United States.

However, those farmers are still surviving and have a lot of optimism. I think they constantly wonder whether the government will be there for them and whether there will be a supply management sector after this round of negotiations has concluded?

We know there is a lot of pressure from the government side, from the free traders, those who believe we should trade away everything we have as a raw product. It does not matter about the farm gate because there will always be farmers and people who produce product that will in the end fill the coffers of big business.

I would like to think that we are here, all parties of all stripes, to defend those people who do things they feel are important, and that is to feed the people of this nation. I am a farmer and I represent a purely agricultural riding. Not only do we have dairy and poultry producers, and a great many of them, we also have grains and oilseeds producers and other commodities.

I am not here defending supply management at the expense of another industry. I simply want to let my constituents and people across the country know that some members in the House who understand agriculture.

I have done a considerable amount of questioning, as I go around the country. I have asked people what they believe is the real cause and essence of our problem today. I have not heard consumer groups say that they pay too much for milk or eggs, or that farmers get rich at the expense of the consumer.

People today have choice and we have allowed them that choice. We have those who choose to buy organic products. They have the ability to buy those products from the shelves of our large stores. I believe it is important that we encourage this industry. We also have people who want to buy organic milk, and we have that commodities.

If we want to understand where we need to go in the future, we need to understand that, as a nation, we have a responsibility to feed our people. If we want to continue to feed our people, then we must do it in such a way that everyone understands who puts the effort into this food product available.

Even though there may be some differences, from time to time, on matters of political principles, it is important that together we, in the House of Commons, stand with Canadians. It is important that we support the motion that we go to the WTO and be prepared to put forward article 28. This is something we have hesitated to do for a long time, but the hour is late and we must move rather quickly. We need to move now to ensure that those farmers in the dairy and poultry businesses know we support them. We need to protect our farmers, particularly those in the supply management sector.

I would encourage everyone to take note of this. We know this is serious. We know butter oils created a tremendous problem in the manufacturing of ice cream in our country. Now milk protein supplements are causing great problems with the manufacturing of cheese, replacing what would be normally milk products with other products, which allow them to make these products. It is all done in the name of the almighty dollar.

I would encourage all of us to stand together and support this matter, which is of the utmost importance to our supply management sector.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this is a timely debate on a timely motion, certainly one that has a lot of farmers sitting on the edge of their seats as they anticipate the outcome at the WTO. We are constantly hearing the same refrain that we must not enter into this territory because we might somehow jeopardize the ongoing talks.

It is incumbent upon the government to act on behalf of these farmers. The supply managed sector in this country, both the dairy and the poultry sectors, have been very cooperative in allowing their product into this country, as the hon. member for Malpeque has already stated. If this product were allowed into other foreign countries, we would hear a great deal of unnecessary argument put forward for not allowing us this debate today.

How do we find the balance between what we want for the supply managed sector? We know what happened with butter and the impact it had on the manufacturing of ice cream in this country, and now we have milk protein supplements and their impact on other dairy products.

How are we going to mesh this difference between what CAFTA wants, what the trade alliance people of this country want, and what the supply managed sector wants? Who is going to win? How do we manage to find a common ground where both of these areas can be winners when this is all said and done? We are looking for long term benefits for farmers in this country, not short term benefits.

National Defence April 26th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I presented a motion calling for the Peace Tower flag to be lowered to half-staff for a single day to honour Canadian Forces personnel who are killed while serving on active duty.

Sadly, with the typical commotion that followed question period, I fear the Prime Minister did not hear the wording of that motion. As the Prime Minister has now had time to review Hansard, is his government prepared to return to the practice, unanimously endorsed by the House less than two years ago, and lower our flag as a demonstration of national grief?

Points of Order April 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a point of order.

Earlier this day I read a letter that had been sent to the Prime Minister by the father of the late Corporal Dinning, one of our fallen soldiers. While he wrote the letter prior to the recent tragic death of his own son, his words are certainly poignant and I believe warrant action in the House.

Accordingly, I am seeking unanimous consent for the following motion: “That this House direct, in order to show respect and honour to Canadian Forces and other Canadian government personnel who are killed while serving in overseas peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian missions, that the flag on the Peace Tower be lowered to half-staff for one day as a remembrance of their important service to Canada and Canadians”.

National Defence April 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, under the previous Liberal governments, the Peace Tower flag was lowered when Canada suffered the loss of a soldier. Why does the defence minister think that recognizing the supreme sacrifice in this manner is inappropriate, given that just last evening Mr. Dinning appropriately said to me that he felt the media should be there? I am sure that he was not consulted before he made that statement.

National Defence April 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I trust that the response to my question will be in response to the families and the request that they have made for what I am going to read. A few moments ago I read a letter to this House that was delivered to me by the father of the late Corporal Dinning. In that letter he asked the Prime Minister:

For all the support and respect that you say publicly, why do you choose not to fly the flag on Parliament Hill at half mast when one of our soldiers is killed?

I wonder if the Prime Minister would answer Lincoln Dinning's question here today and do the honourable thing.

Canadian Forces April 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I recently received a letter from the father of the late Corporal Dinning. The letter was sent to the Prime Minister on April 7. As per Mr. Dinning's request, I will now read it to the House. He said:

As a proud Dad of a Canadian soldier currently serving in Afghanistan, I was glad to see that you made your first foreign trip to that country. You have said publicly many times that you support our troops and respect the job they're doing in Afghanistan. You even invited some of them to your Throne Speech this week. For all that I applaud you.

My question is simple. For all the support and respect that you say publicly why do you choose not to fly the flag on Parliament Hill at half mast when one of our soldiers is killed?

When I called your Heritage Minister's office this week to inquire as to why it hadn't been lowered for the death of Private Robert Costall, I was told it's usually only done for politicians and VIPs. I would suggest to you that there is no more important VIP than a Canadian soldier who gave his life in the service of his country.

Please correct this wrong and show that actions speak louder than words and fly the flags at half mast the next time a Canadian soldier is killed...

P.S—I hope and pray that you won't have to lower the flag but since Afghanistan is a war zone the likelihood exists that more soldiers could die.

This letter is even more poignant as the next Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan was Mr. Dinning's own son.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply April 11th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has been a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for the last year or so, and in fact maybe for a couple of years, and I thank him for his efforts and his work on behalf of Canadian farmers.

I must point out at the outset that this issue of addressing agriculture is something that is long overdue. We have done it ad hoc for many years because in past recent history we have not had consistently bad years four or five years in a row, but we now are in an unparalleled time in history in terms of disaster.

Therefore, when the CAIS program was initially designed, it was to take over from the NISA program, of course, as all members know. The NISA program was designed for a certain time and it supported certain elements of the agriculture sector, but it did not do a full job. What was wanted was a program that basically looked after all aspects of agriculture, all facets of the industry, and it was to be a one size fits all program. It did not.

As we now understand, given that we have had three or four years of difficulty in the farming sector, we cannot sustain three or four years in a row when a program pays only 70% of the losses. We need to reinstate the third leg of the stool. Of course, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario at one time had the market revenue program, or GRIP, which did exactly that.

We need to return to a program similar to that, perhaps similar to what they have in Quebec in the ASRA program. We believe in the risk management program proposed by the industry here in Ontario and somewhat endorsed by Manitoba farmers. Just today I was given the assurance from Saskatchewan farmers that they felt it was a viable program. I would encourage the government to look at that program because it is one that can be implemented reasonably and--

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply April 11th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ajax—Pickering.

I also want to extend to you my congratulations for your appointment to the chair. I look forward to working with you. I hope we can have conciliatory relationships over the next number of months and perhaps even years.

I would like to preface my comments tonight by congratulating the government on its first throne speech. It is hard to do that sometimes, but I am going to do it tonight. While it is never easy to draft such a document, I commend the government for its efforts.

With that aside, as I said last Thursday in the take note debate on agriculture, while I am now an opposition MP, I cannot accept that my job is simply to criticize government and its plans and priorities. Contrarily, I believe that in addition to putting forth an alternative position on certain issues, the role of an opposition MP is also to propose workable and constructive solutions to problems facing Canada.

I intend that statement to be my guiding principle with respect to how I conduct myself in the House. I will criticize when I feel it is warranted and I will congratulate when I feel it is deserved. In instances when I feel that the government is moving in a direction that is not in the best interest of the people of Huron—Bruce, I will attempt to suggest options to redirect.

We talk of the need for improved decorum in the House. This manifesto is my contribution to that effort.

With the above in mind, I would like to confine my comments tonight to the following key areas.

The first one is primary agriculture. My riding of Huron--Bruce is largely dependent on agriculture and that industry is in crisis. I intend to reiterate some of my comments of last Thursday. I believe they bear repeating as they were predominantly crafted as a result of consultation and input from farmers directly.

The second is rural infrastructure. Rural Canada represents only a small portion of the national population but is home to the vast majority of our geography. In short, due to the small tax base on which they draw, rural municipalities are struggling to maintain safe roads, sewers, and water delivery and purification systems while property taxes are higher and overall services are fewer and more scattered than would be available in large urban centres.

The third one is rural health care. With an aging population, this is perhaps one of the areas of greatest concern facing all rural Canadians. Our hospitals are suffering from a serious doctor shortage. That, coupled with an aging infrastructure, technological limitations and various demographic and geographic challenges, has placed an increasing strain on rural health care systems and providers.

The fourth area is economic development. If rural Canada is to survive, new and innovative industries must be fostered. In my opinion, certain national environmental demands can fit hand in glove with the unique attributes of rural Canada. Wind energy production, ethanol, biodiesel and carbon sinks all require substantial geography.

As already mentioned, rural Canada has considerable space that could be harnessed for these initiatives. In addition to sparking serious economic development in the region, these technologies would deliver high end job opportunities that would go a long way to encouraging young people to stay in rural Canada after completing their post-secondary education. This would in turn help to grow the economies of rural Canada, which would also assist with things like renewing infrastructure, recruiting new doctors and increasing the overall standard of living and household incomes of those who call rural Canada home.

I would like to elaborate on those issues, but before I do I will express my disappointment that the throne speech did not focus more attention on these matters. I believe that these four topics represent the spheres of most concern for those whom I represent. That is not to say that other matters are of little importance, but rather, I am suggesting that these are the most fundamental to the long term survival of rural Canada. I would strongly urge the government to give these priorities the attention they deserve.

At this time, I would again like to underscore the message I delivered last Thursday night in the take note debate on agriculture. Our farmers are facing their single greatest economic challenge in the past two decades. We are bleeding farmers at an astounding rate and that is adversely impacting on the whole of rural Canada. Hospitals, schools, churches, and small town main streets are all deteriorating as a result of the farm income crisis.

Last Thursday, most of the members agreed that the problems are grave. Furthermore, most agreed that immediate and decisive action is required if we have any hope of resolving the crisis in the short term and preventing further loss in the future. The problem is that most are unclear on what is needed to put the industry back on the rails. To that, I offer the following points.

First, I unreservedly support the risk management program that was designed and proposed by grains and oilseeds producer groups from Ontario. When challenged to provide an actual working policy item that would help their industry, these groups exceeded expectations.

This producer-designed program would go a long way toward initiating a safety net that would provide real assistance when farmers' backs are to the wall. My party has indicated our support for the proposal and I would urgently call upon the government and the other political parties in the House to affirm their support for the same.

A fully funded RMP is essential. The Province of Ontario is on the record as supporting the RMP. The federal Liberal Party is on the record as supporting the RMP. Farm groups are on the record as supporting the RMP. Numerous backbenchers from all political parties are on the record as supporting the RMP. Let us move forward with the implementation of a fully funded risk management program without delay.

Second, last November, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture met with industry stakeholders in Regina. They struck an accord that proposed, among other measures, to establish a national agricultural policy that leads to growth in profitability, not just volume. According to the proposal, the solution should be enclosed in a Canadian farm bill. I would urge the minister to adopt such measures.

Let us equip our industry with tools that focus on building the industry long term. There will always be a place for ad hoc programing; however, if substantial and longer term programing is available, the need for ad hoc injections will be reduced.

As a continuation of my second point, we must move to immediately develop a long term national agricultural policy. We have never had a national direction for agriculture and our industry is suffering as a result. Ad hoc programing is cumbersome and has proven inadequate in overcoming many of the challenges facing our farmers. Farmers need support and investment that they can count on and plan for.

Fourth, Canada is a trading nation. With a small population and a resource based economy, Canada must trade with our neighbours in the international community. That said, when it comes to issues such as the WTO and NAFTA, Canada must work to protect our agricultural sector. Marketing systems such as supply management are domestic structures that must be shielded from foreign attacks. The current system has consistently provided supply managed farmers with a fair return for a quality product. This must continue.

Next is the issue of food security. In my opinion, national sovereignty cannot be claimed without a safe and reliable food supply. If Canada cannot feed its population, then our national security is tenuous at best. Canada has never been hungry and, as a result, we have failed to grasp that food security is paramount. That must end if we are to ensure that Canada never goes hungry in the future.

If governments would adopt these measures, I truly believe that we would put in place a climate that would lend itself to fostering our agricultural industry. This would have spillover effects for the balance of rural Canada and, by extension, for Canada as a whole.

Next is the issue of rural infrastructure. Rural Canada faces serious challenges with respect to an aging infrastructure. With the loss of the railway comes an increased demand on our highways. Stress on the sewage and water treatment and management systems of our smaller communities has been intensified in the post-Walkerton climate.

These matters, when compounded with the deterioration of the physical structures required for the delivery of health care and education, pose perhaps the most serious threat ever faced by rural municipalities.

Governments have a tremendous role to play in rural infrastructure renewal. I would urge the government to continue with and to expand upon the infrastructure programing of the past administrations. All Canadians benefit from the spoils of rural Canada, and if we are to continue to enjoy that bounty, we must ensure that rural infrastructure is maintained and improved.

My next area of concern, which is rural health care, falls naturally from rural infrastructure and leads easily into economic development. In short, there is an interconnectivity of these matters that cannot and should not be ignored.

Rural health care needs are very different from those in urban Canada. The distance between residences and the hospital, fewer doctors, technological limitations, costs associated with transferring to larger centres for treatment, an aging population, and certain lifestyle choices all complicate the delivery of effective rural health care. We need to develop and implement policies that take these distinctive challenges into account.

Localized specialization, public education campaigns, increased incentives for new doctors and equipment updates all represent positive direction with respect to rural health care. I urge the government to consider such measures and I offer my assistance with any of the above.

Last, as I mentioned, if rural Canada is to survive and thrive, new and innovative industries must be created and fostered. In the age of green energy and Kyoto, I believe we can find a way to have the environment and the economy of rural Canada symbiotically win. Again, technology such as wind energy production requires large plots of land to build and sustain. Moreover, it requires a skilled workforce to maintain. Rural Canada has an abundance of both.

Effective integration of these environmental sciences into rural Canada will help to grow the local economies, which also would assist with the other areas I noted tonight.

Last week most members agreed that rural Canada is the foundation on which the rest of Canada is perched. A cracked foundation spells obvious trouble for the rest of the structure. As such, I would strongly urge the government to consider what I have said here this evening.