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

Agriculture April 6th, 2006

Mr. Chair, that was a very good question and I am not sure if even farmers would have the answer to that question.

However when we look back and look at the level of income expected from agriculture this year which is another 16% reduction, it will take a considerable amount of money.

I want to go back to the statement I made a few moments ago. I am very passionate in my belief that food security is as important to this nation, that a nation that has the ability to feed itself, as what it is to have a military. We know that Russia had a strong military but ultimately it could not feed itself, so it had no strength in their economy.

We have to take a different approach. We have never had an agricultural policy in this country. We have never had a policy where we have really said that we will make a commitment to agriculture in the long term. If we believe that, then I believe agriculture has to become a federal department, as it is now, but where it takes responsibility for the whole of agriculture in Canada with some association of course with the provinces, but I think we have to take the responsibility.

Agriculture April 6th, 2006

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for his passionate consideration of the comments I made this evening and certainly as he relates to his constituents. I, too, have farmed for well over 30 years. I still own the farm, I will continue to own it and my sons will own it some day.

The question the hon. member put to me in terms of have we been listening to the bureaucrats, I have not been at the level where I really dealt with bureaucrats. I can only attest to what I have been told which is that bureaucrats do have a large voice in the direction of government. I suppose it will be up to the hon. member's government to determine whether or not it will listen to the bureaucrats and whether or not they will give his government better information. If we got bad information, I hope his government will get better information.

I would like to say that farmers truly should be listened to when it comes to creating programs. The risk management program that was put forward by the farmer organizations in Ontario has been unanimously supported by all of these organizations where farmers choose an entry level in which they want to support the realized net return on a commodity. Those farmers will make a choice when they pay the premium whether they pay in at $3.50 for corn, $3.75 or $4, as an example. That is a program that is ready to be accepted.

I have talked to the minister about this and he has a copy of it . I hope he takes this very seriously. It is a program that can be applied. It runs somewhat similarly to the ASRA program in Quebec. The Quebec farmers today are much better served by their programs and by the Province of Quebec than are a lot of provinces in this country. I think we need to learn from those who have tried and tested. Where there have been failures, we need to avoid those. We need to look at the successes of others and try to apply them to best suit our case.

Agriculture April 6th, 2006

Mr. Chair, in some sense the member's question was directed toward the minister. Even though she is a sovereignist, I believe she would have the interest of all Canadians in mind when she speaks about what the minister would do for a part or all parts of Canada. I trust that the intent of her comments were that all Canadians should be equally treated and that farmers should receive and deserve immediate attention to these issues raised this evening and in days previous.

Agriculture April 6th, 2006

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to lend my voice to this important debate this evening. I sincerely regret that there continues to be a need for such a debate in the first place. The matter of declining farm incomes is an issue that is not new. In fact, the problem is growing and while debate is important, talk is always cheap.

I know that each of my colleagues here in this House join with farmers from across Canada in wishing that the problems facing our agriculture industry would be resolved in a way that would permit farmers to concentrate on farming, not on lobbying governments.

Unfortunately, world economic trends, international trading considerations and various government policies have helped to transform our agriculture sector from a fiscal powerhouse into the only industry in the world that buys retail and sells wholesale. I may not be an economist, but I know full well that this strategy is a recipe for disaster.

Do members know that when we buy a $2 box of crackers at the grocery store the farmers receive only 8¢ for their work? That is right, the farmer who is responsible for providing 100% of product, excluding the packaging, receives less than 4% of the spoils from the sale of that product. Likewise on a box of cornflakes, as has already been mentioned this evening, that would cost us $3.50, the farmer would reap only 3% of that. My number was 11¢. My colleague tells me 7¢. So, so somewhere in between. Is it any wonder that farmers are having difficulty paying their inputs?

Our farmers are facing the single greatest economic challenge in the past two decades and they are in dire financial straits. In just two years, many farmers have lost more than a generation's worth of equity in their business and for many of these men and women, the wolves are at the door.

In my riding, families that have been working on a specific plot of land for almost a century are being forced off of that irreplaceable piece of their heritage by foreign subsidies, low commodity prices and skyrocketing input costs. As someone who continues to live on the farm in which he was born, I can only imagine the terrible anguish that a loss like that would represent.

The toll is being felt not just by farmers and farm families but by the whole of rural Canada. Hospitals, schools, churches and small town main streets are all deteriorating as a result of the farm income crisis.

Yesterday we witnessed a tangible manifestation of that frustration when thousands of farmers and members of farm families gathered peacefully on the front lawn to tell each of us, regardless of our political affiliation, that they need our help and they need it now.

Before I continue I need to be clear. I am not seeking to play those partisan games that can often permeate our debates in this place. It is true that the Liberals were in government between 1993 and 2006. It is also true that the Conservatives were in government prior to that, and the Liberals before that. Regardless of who is in power today and who was in power last year, we need to focus our attention on the men, women and children who were out front yesterday. Canadians should expect no less from their elected officials.

I have never been afraid to criticize Liberal ministers, the agriculture minister included, when I felt that the criticism was justified. While I believe that this minister is also genuine in his desire for positive change, I promise him the same candour.

Tonight we have a choice. We can talk about the past, we can talk about blame, we can talk about who did or did not do something years gone by, or we can talk about the problems facing farmers today and we can earnestly work together to resolve them.

On February 6, I sent a letter to the Prime Minister. The letter was not intended to be critical. In that letter I said that while I am now an opposition MP, I cannot accept that my job is simply to criticize government 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.

It is from that perspective that I intend to frame my remarks this evening.

Since the installation of the new cabinet, I have also forwarded two letters to the Minister of Agriculture in which I suggested a range of options for consideration. I would like to take a few moments to place those suggestions on the record tonight.

First, I unreservedly support the risk management program that was designed and proposed by the Ontario White Bean Producers' Marketing Board; the Ontario Canola Growers' Association; the Ontario Coloured Bean Growers' Association; the Ontario Corn Producers' Association; the Ontario Soybean Growers; the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board; and, finally, the Seed Corn Growers of Ontario.

My party has indicated our solid support for this proposal and I would urgently call upon the government and the other political parties in this House to affirm their support for the same. A fully funded risk management program is essential. The province of Ontario is on the record as supporting the risk management program. 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 various political parties are on the record as supporting RMP.

The time for discussion on this matter has passed. Let us move forward with the implementation of a fully funded RMP without further delay.

Second, I would urge the government to move forward with the plan of November 25, 2005, agreed upon as a result of the tripartite industry-federal-provincial round table meeting held in Regina, Saskatchewan. Among other measures, stakeholders and governments agreed that Canadian agriculture needs policy that leads to growth and profitability, not just volume. As outlined by the CFA, there are already solutions on the table. According to the proposal, the said solutions should be enclosed in a Canadian farm bill and I would encourage the minister to adopt such measures.

Third, and as a continuation of my second point, we must move to immediately develop a long term national agriculture policy. Simply put, we do not have a national direction for agriculture and our industry is suffering as a result. Ad hoc programming is cumbersome and has proven inadequate when it comes to 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 relatively small population and a large resource-based economy, Canada must trade with our neighbours in the international community. That said, when it comes to issues like 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. I believe that this must continue. Attacks on our supply managed system can take many forms. Government must be vigilant on issues like butter, oil, sugar blends and milk protein concentrates as they represent serious and calculated challenges to the industry.

Next is the issue of food security, perhaps the most important. This is perhaps the most holistic subject that I can raise. In my opinion, national sovereignty cannot be boasted or preserved without a safe and reliable food supply. A nation that cannot feed its population has a fictitious sense on national security 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.

Lastly, we hear much discussion about the 60-40 federal-provincial split in responsibility when it comes to agriculture. To me that seems like we are fighting over who must spend money on agriculture. I would suggest that governments should not be racing to meet minimum requirements but we should be giving agriculture the profile that it truly deserves.

Farmers feed cities. More accurately, farmers feed Canada.

It may not be technically possible, given certain constitutional realities, but I believe that ownership of domestic food production should be federalized. Food production is of national importance and as such I believe that the federal government has a moral duty to foster and preserve the long term strength and viability of the industry.

I would never suggest that the provinces should abdicate their responsibility to the industry. I simply believe that we, at the federal level, should be leading the charge.

As an aside, I believe that it is also worth mentioning that farmers must finally unite. The industry continues to be seriously fragmented and that divide has not served farmers well. I applaud any real efforts to attain an actual unified voice for agriculture, but I fear that the unity that is required to prompt actual change and progress is still beyond the immediate grasp of our farm leadership. So long as that is the case, governments will struggle to ascertain the best tools and delivery methods that the industry requires.

I have just articulated six specific points that I believe would be of benefit to Canada's farmers and I would call upon the government to move swiftly to implement such policies. I would also call upon the opposition parties, mine included, to move with equal speed to ensure that such initiatives are brought about. Farmers do not care what party we are with. They want, need and deserve immediate action.

I met with the Minister of Agriculture earlier today and I thank him for taking the time to meet with me. I believe him to be a sincere man and I would ask him on behalf of the farmers of my riding of Huron—Bruce to see that these matters receive the attention they deserve within the House and at the cabinet table. Farmers are counting on us. They are the foundation on which this nation was built and they are the lifeblood of rural Canada. If our agricultural economy fails, then so does the rest of the national economy. The 39th Parliament represents a clean slate for government. Politics aside, I stand ready to offer whatever assistance I can.

Agriculture April 6th, 2006

Mr. Chair, the topic that is under discussion this evening is a very complex one and no one would disagree with that. The answers are not easy. I have had many conversations with the parliamentary secretary. I have had many conversations with the minister himself and we all agree that the answers are very complex.

We also know that in Quebec there is a program which the province has had for some considerable years, ASRA. We also know that in Ontario the various commodity groups have agreed that a program of risk management has been put on notice to the minister and to the former minister as a formula for disaster relief. I do not know whether the parliamentary secretary has seen that or not, but I am wondering whether he would find that a program that might become acceptable for his government to move forward. I think tonight the farmers who are watching this debate are going to want a little more than $500 million.

The $500 million is going to trigger about $14 relative to the $755 million at $21, so that is not going to do it. I am wondering whether he can go beyond that, and I realize we will not get numbers out of the budget. However, can we be told clearly tonight and can farmers be assured, after we have had this debate tonight, that there will be money going forward, so that they can go to the banker in order to put seeds in the ground this spring?

Agriculture April 6th, 2006

Mr. Chair, I listened attentively to what the gentleman across the way had to say. I find most of what he had to say to be the kind of thinking I support.

He is a well travelled gentleman. I think he has spoken to a lot of people across this country, to consumers and producers, and I am wondering what his concept is of what consumers believe they are paying relative to what the farmer gets at the farm gate. Do consumers really understand the reality that is taking place out there? Do they understand that farmers are getting only a very small pittance of the cost of the product ultimately received at the counter in the stores?

Would he agree that in this country we should possibly be considering a food tax, or whatever it would be, so that consumers are ready to pay more in some form for the product, given the fact they could be assured that in the future they would have a safe and reliable food supply? Because I believe that unless we have this, we do not really have a food policy in this country.

Agriculture April 5th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, yesterday's throne speech outlining the government's priorities contained 2,449 words. Agriculture, Canada's second largest industry, was allocated a meagre 72. That constitutes a paltry 3% of the government's focus, and that level was only attained when pooled with aquaculture.

Clearly, 3% is unacceptable. Agriculture was already excluded from the Prime Minister's five top priorities list and now it has been relegated to less than 3% of the total agenda. Our farmers are in dire straits and they need our help. To survive, farmers need more than 3% of the government's attention.

Regardless of the amount of ink used in the throne speech, farmers are here in Ottawa today to tell the government that the ink they see is red. They are asking for a public investment in food security, risk management programs that protect against income loss. Most of all, they are asking the government to give to farmers what farmers give to Canadians each and every day: 100%.

Committees of the House November 28th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour this afternoon to present to this House, in both official languages, the final report “Financial analysis relative to meat packing companies in the context of the BSE crisis of 2003”.

This is the 10th report from this committee. I believe this report will verify what Canadians have long come to believe, that the packers made exorbitant profit on the backs of Canadians, not only the primary producers but certainly the consumers of Canada. We are glad that this report has been presented before this House adjourns.

Committees of the House November 2nd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

In accordance with its order of reference of Friday, October 7, your committee has considered Bill S-38, an act respecting the implementation of international trade commitments by Canada regarding spirit drinks of foreign countries, and agreed on Thursday, October 27, to report it without amendment.

I am also pleased to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food entitled, “Follow-up Study on Bovine Tuberculosis Monitoring and Eradication Programs in the Vicinity of Riding Mountain National Park”.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee requests that the government provide a comprehensive response to this report. As a result of our findings in this eighth report, we are pleased to put forward two recommendations which, if acted upon, will serve to remediate the concerns raised by the affected parties.

Agriculture and Agri-Food June 22nd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

In accordance with its order of reference of Friday, December 10, 2004, your committee has considered Bill C-27, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, and agreed on Tuesday, June 21 to report it with amendments.