Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to address the House on the budget. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Lanark—Carleton.
I suppose I could talk a lot about what is missing in the budget and the problems that the government has with credibility and integrity on the sponsorship program and moneys that were inappropriately spent, but I have a much higher priority right now, and that is the issue of the avian flu in my riding.
The avian flu will cost individuals thousands and thousands of dollars and thousands of jobs will be lost. I just came from the agricultural committee where I had initiated a meeting on the avian flu. We have talked to a number of officials from the Canadian Farm Inspection Agency but I am still not satisfied that we have addressed the problem. Therefore, if I were to say that anything is missing out of the budget it would be attention to that particular issue and, since it is not there, we must find other ways to address the issue.
I want to give Canadians some facts on the impact of the avian flu. The poultry industry is in excess of a $1.5 billion industry in British Columbia. The current trade restrictions are costing the industry in excess of $15 million per week in lost revenue. Retailers, who have been traditional customers for the B.C. industry, are looking for alternate sources of supply which may require a long term commitment.
In addition, the B.C. poultry industry has now created the potential liability, in excess of $30 million by the end of March, as it has placed product in freezers on the lower mainland that cannot be shipped outside of the control area. In addition to the lost revenue, the B.C. industry is now facing incremental costs of over $10 million for the month of April. That is $2.6 million per week in costs associated with the culling of 600,000 to 800,000 healthy birds and hatching eggs per week. It is $400,000 per week in carrying costs associated with product now in freezers. With the pending reduction in production, in excess of 1,000 jobs will be lost in the processing industry commencing next week as production levels are scaled back to 50% of traditional levels.
Many farmers will face significant financial hardship as owners will be unable to service the debt on their farms and equipment. This, to say the least, is an extremely serious issue in my riding which depends a great deal on farm income, and it will be hit hard by this. The people involved certainly deserve some concrete answers and some hope that this issue will be dealt with rapidly.
I am very concerned about the amount of compensation that producers and processors will get. I know that CFIA talks about $33 a bird but that is really not the case. In most cases it is much less than that, likely $3 or so.
I therefore am asking the House of Commons to look at disaster relief for economic disasters and employment insurance relief for farmers, special measures. It would be ordinary to provide tax relief on the compensation dollars that farmers get. We could defer the tax on those dollars for some time, for years in fact. We can talk about the many ways for providing relief to these farmers. I am asking the House to do that.
I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to officials in British Columbia, the minister of agriculture, the provincial veterinarian, Ron Lewis, and the CFIA control centre. I have listened to producers and processors. I have had conference calls and we have initiated a parliamentary committee. However having the knowledge is one thing, but having the gift of Parliament to respond to these farmers well in advance of the situation hitting the hardest is paramount.
Rather than talk about the budget, I would like to place a request before the House of Commons for a concrete proposal to compensate those farmers, who have worked hard all their lives to make Canada a better place, for having to remove infected birds and for the downtime as a result of avian flu.