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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 October 12th, 2004

Mr. Chair, the whole issue of capacity is a major issue this evening. We at one time had capacity. Some of those plants are still there but they are sitting idle. What would the member's view be toward borders opening in the future? How do we ensure that those who now guarantee supply to that plant which is building for this capacity are assured of supply down the road when the border opens? How would the member deal with that issue at that time? They need our over age animals. That is where they have been going for a long time. How would the member propose we deal with that issue to ensure that those plants can keep operating?

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

I would like to make it a point of order, Mr. Chair.

A few moments ago the hon. member across the way said that when the throne speech was delivered, Her Excellency the Governor General did not use the word “agriculture”.

On this side of the House the book which gives the notes on the throne speech on page 5, chapter 6, the word “agriculture” is indeed--

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

Give credit where credit is due.

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

Mr. Chair, I listened with attentive ears to what the hon. member had to say.

It is fair to say that we have a right to pass judgment but judgment should be passed on fact. I heard the member say that there was next to no help from the government. If $1 billion is next to no help, then we should be prepared to ask our farmers to give it back and we will give it to the small industries, the small companies and businesses that are going bankrupt every day. There is no government help whatsoever for the farm machinery dealer who goes down as a result of this industry. People in my area are going bankrupt.

The Huron portion of my riding probably represents the largest in terms of dollar revenue return in agriculture than any riding in Canada east of Winnipeg. When the Bruce portion is taken in, it becomes considerably larger. I know what I am talking about. People in my riding are hurting. Their loans are being called in by the banks.

On no consultation, I can assure the member that there has been a lot of consultation. I can assure her that every member in the House has done some consultation. It is not only fair to pass judgment on this side of the House but perhaps on hon. members of the other opposition parties as well. I am sure they would agree with me.

The member said that we do not know what farmers want. I think we know what they want. If the results of going to the United States would be as positive as what we are being led to believe by some of the members tonight, then what are the results of the visits of the premier of Alberta to the United States? He has been there at least twice that I know of. It has been well publicized and is well known throughout this country that he has gone to make those kinds of requests to the United States and the politicians south of the border that would open the doors, but the doors have not yet been opened. There has been a lot of effort made by a lot of people, all sincere I am sure, but the result is exactly the same.

As my hon. colleague mentioned a few moments ago, there are those in elected office in the United States who want to see the borders remain closed. In the United States the organization R-CALF wants the borders kept closed. These are farmers. Convince our farmers that we have not done anything. The member had better talk to some of the farmers in the Huron--Bruce riding.

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

Madam Chair, if I ever said that government by itself made all the decisions in terms of program then I was wrong, but I did not say that.

What I said had to do with the way that we delivered the program, but let me tell him that it was done with the concurrence of the primary sector, the beef producers themselves and our farm organization. We did not walk alone.

The first program, as he will recall, was a program where we talked about loan guarantees. That never even came to the table before it was taken off. We ended up with cash to the farmers, which ended up being a bad plan. Nevertheless, that is what we put forward.

I think it is also fair to say that no one in their wildest dreams ever thought that 17 or 18 months later this problem would still not be resolved. We should have known. The protocol, if taken to its ultimate limit, would be seven years. We are just nicely into the seven year period. That does not make it any easier to swallow.

Having said that, there is now money for the packing houses. Some people have said that we should have gone to chapter 11 and had a challenge on that. If we had told the people then that it would take two or three years they would have said that was not acceptable.

We have to understand that there was a farming community that thought there was an imminent end to this issue but they needed money quickly. The government, therefore, had to respond quickly or we would have heard from the member's side, from other opposition members and perhaps even from our own side that we were not delivering quickly enough.

It was a case of delivery and then we found out that it was not working quite the way we figured it would work, but is that not often the way it goes, even the way we do our own business sometimes? I think we responded rather quickly and I think we responded favourably to those who were helping us design programs. I think in fairness to all, there is enough blame to go around for all.

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

Madam Chair, my colleague is absolutely correct. The reflection of price at the farm gate does not reflect on the price over the counter. I would be remiss if I did not also add my words of commendation to the Canadian consumers who have supported our industry. They have very sincerely bought our Canadian beef, no matter what the price is or has been at the counter.

The problem we have had, and many of us know this because we have had the wholesalers coming and telling us that the price they are paying to the packer when they order beef in boxes or quarters or whatever form, they are still buying that beef at the price they were paying prior to May 2003. No savings have been passed along, which is one of the reflective issues that has caused us to come to the conclusion that the packers have made huge profits. There is no doubt about that. They have admitted that. However somehow this country sees nothing wrong with making huge profits on the backs of those who are going bankrupt. There is a moral issue here and I take exception to that.

It is time consumers, producers and everyone else understood what has been happening. Surely we will learn from this situation some of the lessons that we have not learned very well in history and that is that in the past there has been a culture in the packing house industry that when a program is put forward by government, whether it is 7¢ as it was in the 1960s, it will make every effort to claw that back if at all possible, and that is wrong.

Unfortunately we should have taken a different route with that program but we did not. I know there are people in this world, including Russia where our Prime Minister is currently visiting, that are looking at buying product from Canada. If it means that we have to test every animal and go to identification systems where we are already way ahead of the game in terms of the United States, then let us go there. Let us take ruminants out of all kinds of feeds. Let us take that route and make sure that our product is far and beyond anything that anyone else in the world could offer. That is my submission to Canadians and to the House. I will support the things I have said this evening.

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

Madam Chair, the implications of more capacity and building for more capacity, whether it is through government assistance, through loan guarantees or through whatever measure the government or private industry choose, one thing remains certain, following the opening of the borders in the future, whenever that might be, we need to ensure that the guarantee of supply to those packers is assured. If we do not do that we will fall back into the same trap that got us into this problem in the first place.

One of the plants in this country that slaughters over-aged animals is located in Quebec. Ontario has one plant that slaughters the under 30 month old animals. Those plants are dominant in the field. They control the marketplace. In fact, a high percentage of the market goes to one particular plant in Ontario. It not only controls the cattle coming in but it controls the cattle in the feedlot and the calves that will go into the feedlots this fall.

Unless we can ensure that some mechanism will be in place for those left in the industry, whether it is a self-imposed tariff on the benefit that would be derived by going outside of our country in the export of that product, live animals in all likelihood, we need to face those kinds of situations down the road. I am certainly prepared to support that kind of thing. If there is a $50 benefit in going outside the country to ship an animal to the United States, I am prepared to support imposing a tariff of some sort to take that back to support the industry which we have helped to create and which we need for the future.

We also need to ensure that we create a marketplace for our product, which we know is the best in the world. We need to go into the Pacific rim and other countries that have an interest in our product and create a market there so we do not become reliant on the United States of America. That is the way we have to go. As we go down that road we will see a lot of issues addressing that issue going forward.

Agriculture October 12th, 2004

Madam Chair, I want to begin this evening by congratulating you on your appointment as one of our Speakers. I trust that you, like all the others who have either been elected or appointed, will govern this House in the way that you oversee the procedures on a day to day basis in a fashion which we all find acceptable. I congratulate you once again.

On the same note, I would also like to extend my profound thanks to the people of Huron--Bruce, my riding. Their support in the recent election is truly gratifying and I pledge to do my best to ensure that their trust is rewarded with effective representation.

Lastly, I would also like to thank my family, most particular my children, Cam and Brian, and particularly my wife Kathy. Without them and their unending support and confidence, I could not do my job as an MP effectively.

Now to the matter at hand. I find it fitting that one of the first issues tackled by this Parliament is BSE. This matter is one that has already sparked a crisis in the agriculture sector across the nation and, if left unchecked, promises to continue to decimate the future of our primary producers.

That being said, as the recently re-elected chair of the commons agriculture committee, and on behalf of all members of the committee, we need to turn words into actions. Time is of the essence and our farmers are looking to us for help and leadership. We must not let them down as the price of failure is much too high.

Prior to May 20, 2003, most Canadians did not know what BSE stood for. In fact most did not know what bovine spongiform encephalopathy was or how it could potentially devastate our domestic cattle industry and adversely impact upon our national economy as a whole. We may have been vaguely familiar with the term “mad cow” from Hollywood movies and doomsday television plots, but we had no idea how dangerous BSE really was. In short, we had no concept of what was to come.

Canada had a brief bout with BSE a few years back. However, that animal was found to have been a British import. Consequently, we were able to escape from the full effects of a BSE discovery, but this time the animal was unmistakably Canadian in its origin.

Unfortunately, as this House and our Canadian beef farmers know all too well, on May 20, 2003, our naivety was forever ended. Canadian farmers, and for that matter all of rural Canada, have spent the past 17 months coming to terms with the sad reality of BSE. More important, we have been trying to move past it.

I will not rehash yesterday's news. Nor will I attempt to explain to the House what the root problem is. We already know. We have debated this issue at length and to pretend there are new consequences is disingenuous at best. Members know that we cannot fix the past or turn back the clock. The problem is imminent, it is here and it requires our immediate attention and action. Debate is fine, but Hansard cannot be deposited into a bank account.

Today the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to live Canadian cattle. All of our other international trading partners refuse to buy our cull cows, and live beef and domestic cattle prices remain severely depressed as a result. During the recent election, the Conservative candidate in Huron—Bruce put up signs demanding that the Canadian government open the border immediately. I agree that this would be a fantastic idea. However, if we could open the border, we would have done it months ago. How can one open a locked door when the key is on the other side?

We need to deal in realities and not in wishful thinking. Our farmers deserve at least that much.

As an aside, I would like to extend my personal congratulations and appreciation to the Department of Agriculture and to the CFIA. Both have done tremendous work with respect to this matter. It is worth mentioning that, prior to Canada, there has never been a reopening of an international boundary so quickly following the discovery of a BSE incident. I am of course referring to the fact that the U.S. is again accepting our boxed beef. Agriculture Canada and the CFIA deserve a pat on the back for this.

Furthermore, I would be remiss if I failed to again remind consumers that the affected beef did not make it into our food supply. To put it plainly, our system did exactly what it was set up to do; to protect Canadians and our international customers. Again, Canadian beef is completely safe.

Despite all these achievements, this is all in the past and while we should be pleased with all of these successes, we must do more. Money is a vital first step. In my opinion governments must continue to work to stabilize our industry. To date, more than $1 billion has been invested in the sector. However, to an industry that generates ten times that amount in direct annual economic activity, that is a drop in the bucket. We need to continue to work with industry leaders like the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Ontario Cattlemen's Association, the CFA and the OFA, to ensure that the help reaches those who are most in need.

That brings me to my next point. How do we make certain that money gets to our primary producers and is not diverted into the hands of corporate giants? Prior to the last election, the standing committee had launched an investigation designed to explore this issue. In fact the House even went so far as to unanimously hold certain packing houses in contempt for failing to cooperate with the committee's investigation. That was a concrete example of turning words into action, where there was cooperation in the House on all sides.

Regretfully, the clock ran out on the process when Parliament was dissolved for the election. However, I am pleased to report that the committee planned for that and provided provisions to permit this study to be continued when the House resumed and the committees were reconstituted. It is every bit my intention to continue in that direction. I do not say this because I have a vendetta against the packing houses in question. No, I say it because in the past couple of months alone evidence has surfaced indicating that packing houses are making record profits at a time when our primary producers are facing the greatest economic challenge ever. This seems suspect to me.

As evidence of this, I cite the June 15, 2004 CBC story reporting that 10% of the BSE aid package intended for Alberta farmers was distributed to two specific meat packing companies. The Alberta government stated that while the two packers in question received a combined total of $42 million, 22,000 Alberta farmers were forced to share $158 million left after corporations received their portion. Now I am not an economist, but this does not seem fair to me and I would suggest that Canadian farmers would agree.

What I am saying is our farmers need for us, all members of the House, to help them to help us. Rural Canada is the foundation upon which Canada rests. BSE represents a serious threat, not just to our beef industry but to all rural Canada. Aside from the fact that BSE negatively impacts on sheep and lamb markets, the dairy sector, pet food manufacturers and farm equipment dealers, to name just a few, it also undermines all of rural Canada.

When I urge members to turn words into actions, I am sincere. In the past I have supported motions in the House regardless of the partisan origin. I completely accept that good ideas may not have an exclusive political affiliation. One example is the motion that was brought forward by the member for Perth--Wellington. I supported it because it was worth supporting, something that I would urge all colleagues to do in the future.

In the months prior to the last election, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food presented two specific and unanimous reports on this matter. These reports contained recommendations that were agreed upon by all parties because they did not represent any specific partisan agenda but rather, they were designed to help farmers.

Today I would again lend my support to those reports and the recommendations contained therein. I would like to thank committee members and staff for their work on the recommendations. Again, I call upon this House to adopt the suggested measures.

Increasing domestic slaughter capacity, instructing the commissioner of competition to conduct an inquiry into the pricing of slaughter cattle and beef at the wholesale level, intensifying diplomatic efforts with the U.S. aimed at implementing the world organization for animal health code and repealing both countries' import embargoes, while continuing to negotiate other modalities of an implementation plan that would improve the free flow of livestock and meat are all attainable measures that could actually help our farmers at the farm gate.

We know what the problems are. Now is the time to concentrate on securing and implementing real solutions. We need to take immediate actions aimed at increasing our domestic slaughter capacity and put in place a safety net that will truly stabilize the industry until such time as trade is normalized. Moreover, we must ensure that diplomatic efforts are strengthened, not just south of the border but around the globe.

Canadians know our beef is the best in the world. We must work to remind our trading partners of this reality. In the meantime, Canadian farmers have every right to expect that this Parliament will offer support in a time of need. I for one intend to work toward this goal and I call upon each and every member of the House to do the same.

Committees of the House May 13th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On behalf of Agriculture Canada and the farmers in Canada I regret to have been rejected on the motion for concurrence. I would wish that we could have--

Committees of the House May 13th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I wish to seek the unanimous consent of the House to concur in the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food tabled earlier this day.