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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was dairy.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as Bloc MP for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant (Québec)

Won her last election, in 2004, with 57% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply February 3rd, 2005

Madam Speaker, do we have to say it again for the government finally to understand: Quebec farmers are facing a major income crisis.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, in 2003, under the reign of the Liberals, agricultural income reached its lowest point in 25 years.

In 2003, net income, i.e. the difference between farm revenues and operating expenses, fell by 39.1% from the figure for 2002 to $4.44 billion.

According to the UPA, farm debt has increased on average by 207% since 1993. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of farms declined by 10% in Quebec to 32,000. Every week two farms disappear in Quebec.

The problem is that farmers are left on their own by Ottawa, that is to say, by the party in power.

Few countries neglected their farm sectors as much as Canada did when the current Prime Minister was Minister of Finance. Now more than ever, producers have less support, and at a time when agriculture is in a full-blown crisis caused by the collapse of prices and the mad cow crisis. In addition, when Ottawa does take action, it is to adopt Canada-wide measures, which fail to meet the needs of Quebec producers. We cannot say it enough: agriculture in Quebec and agriculture in Canada are different, they are organized differently, and they do not have the same needs.

According to OECD data, government support for farm incomes in Canada was US$182 per capita in 2000. The equivalent per capita figure for the same period was US$378 in the United States, US$276 in Europe, and US$289 on average in the OECD countries.

The parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture has been consulting recently in order to find out about the problems facing farmers. He needed only to listen to us. We have been telling him over and over since the House convened. I am well situated to tell you: I went through my own baptism of fire last October at the time of the famous emergency debate on the mad cow disaster.

Our party and the entire agricultural community have been telling the Liberals for months. The problems and solutions are well known. But they are not listening. All they need is to show a little public will.

The Liberals tell us over and over about their budget surpluses. The money is there, but what good is it doing? Who is benefiting? If the farmers of this country numbered among the Liberals' pals, maybe there would be some money for them, who knows?

Last year, the government accumulated a surplus of $9 billion. I remember that and our farmers remember too.

The CAIS program does not work very well. Farmers are not very enthusiastic about it. On January 22, 2004, the president of the UPA said on La Terre de chez nous : “CAIS, you will remember, was imposed on us by the federal government, which threatened to cut Quebec off if it did not sign.” What great solidarity! Despite the federal government's rigidity, the Bloc Québécois managed to get this program administered by La Financière agricole.

That makes it possible at least to harmonize this program with the other risk management programs administered by La Financière.

The CAIS program provides minimal coverage, which does not include all kinds of risks, which can vary considerably from one farm to another or one region to another.

If CAIS were doing the job, why were seven different programs created to deal with various crises? The program would seem poorly designed.

CAIS was useless for the cull cattle problem. It did not do anything.

Let me quote the president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec for you:

I would like to point out as well that milk producers are not eligible for CAIS. In order for a milk producer to be eligible, he or she must have losses of at least 30% over the last three selected base years. In our case, even if our cull cattle were sold for $0.00, we would not even qualify for the part of the CAIS program covering catastrophes, the only one for which we are eligible.

Let me give just one example. According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, managing the deposits costs $14 million in administrative expenses, while they only bring in $34 million. Assuming an interest rate of 6%, the administrative costs are high.

Let us now look at the motion put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada this morning.

On February 8, the agriculture ministers will be meeting to discuss the CAIS program, among other things. We would hope that the federal government will not show up empty-handed. It was for just that reason that it did not make an appearance at the last UPA congress. This week the Canadian Federation of Agriculture asked once again for the initial deposit requirement to be abolished. This is the measure that is the subject of the present motion. It is supported by the UPA and by various agricultural organizations.

Ultimately, this is a marginal measure, for it represents only $34 million in annual lost profits in Canada. My colleagues and I support this measure, which should however be funded in its entirety by the federal government.

Let us fact facts. The deposit requirement is a major irritant for agricultural producers. It is not right for hard-pressed farmers to be obliged to borrow in order to make their deposit. The basic question with the CAIS program is this: who do we want to help? The agricultural producers or the bankers?

Time is short. We have to go much further. We acknowledge that the Conservative Party's motion would give farmers a bit more time, but it does not go far enough. It seems to us essential to promptly launch a debate on the effectiveness of the CAIS program. The committee that was supposed to be studying the effectiveness and management of this program has still not convened, and there will be no major change until 2006.

The minister should also be worried about the low number of Quebec producers enrolled in this program, even in a period of crisis. That speaks volumes. This low enrolment rate is explained by the simple fact that the program does not meet their needs, period.

Let me now cite the latest brief from the UPA, which recently submitted four proposals to the federal government. First, the government has to substantially increase its budget for the income security program. Second, it should offer Quebec and the provinces more flexibility in managing the funds earmarked for income security. Federal and provincial assistance has to be decompartmentalized to meet the specific needs of each of the regions and types of production. Third, ways of reducing the program's red tape have to be proposed, particularly as regards establishment of the reference margins. Finally, the impact of international subsidies must be assessed annually in order to adjust the reference margins in a fair and equitable manner.

So this is what the Bloc Québécois believes must be done to improve the Canadian Agricultural income Stabilization program. I want to reiterate that this government, led by its former Minister of Finance, has been constantly coming upon budget surpluses as if by magic, year after year, for ages now. If this government really wanted to make itself some new and genuine friends, it would turn to those who provide us with our daily bread and who now find themselves in a situation which has for some time now been well past the crisis point.

Our people have faced some serious problems since this party came back to power. Consider the fiscal imbalance, which has imposed a terrible burden on those who want to receive real health care, both in Quebec and in the Canadian provinces.

Think of the farmers who are forced to sell their farm because they have lost hope, because of mismanagement of public funds by this government, because of deficient sanitary practices by supposedly responsible persons, who would do well to model themselves on the sanitary methods used in Quebec.

There is still time to help those who provide us with our daily bread. All we have to do is listen to them, stop trying to find solutions in ivory towers in Ottawa or elsewhere, roll up our sleeves, and really move things forward. It is doable. But is this government capable? Up to now in Quebec, it has not proven much of anything.

Petitions December 14th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition signed by 1,300 people. This petition is calling for an amendment to the sentence of second degree murder for crimes involving spousal abuse.

2004 Farm Family of the Year December 10th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, as part of the recent annual assembly of the Union des producteurs agricoles, the family of Jean-Louis Charbonneau and Alice Cyr from Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines was named the 2004 farm family of the year. The title is awarded by the Fondation de la famille terrienne.

Jean-Louis Charbonneau represents the 10th consecutive generation of farmers who settled in New France. He was born on his parents' property near the village of Sainte-Thérèse on the north shore of Montreal, a property that has been farmed by his family since the early 1800s. The farm has 200 head of cattle, including 97 dairy cows, and 350 hectares of crop land. The property also has a 20-hectare artificial forest. Over the years, the farm has earned many awards for the quality of its production.

This award is presented annually to a Quebec family that has preserved and inspired values unique to farming in Quebec. From generation to generation in family, social, economic and professional terms. Without question, the family—

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement Act December 7th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-27 as a goat farmer and producer of raw milk goat cheese.

As you know, Quebec has its own food inspection agency, the Centre québécois d'inspection des aliments et de santé animale, which for a number of years has been imposing much more stringent standards than those found elsewhere in Canada. I want to mention this centre particularly to illustrate the rigorous quality of sanitary inspections in Quebec and the lessons that Canada could learn.

In my work with goats, the herd management process is very stringent, well supervised and very well regulated. In my case, I have a herd of purebred goats for which I have health insurance certificates. My goats have been treated against worms and eat no animal meal. There has never been a case of tuberculosis or brucellosis. They are examined by a veterinarian twice a year.

Monitoring of the dairy operation is essential and is carried out by agents of Macdonald College, McGill University, within the Quebec Dairy Herd Analysis Service, or PATLQ.Inspections of this quality make it possible for us to produce excellent goat cheese, which I hope to offer to you some day. Milk is a living raw material. We must take all the precautions necessary to ensure its quality. Quality is essential to making a highly appreciated local product, raw milk cheese.

Just to provide some history, on March 30, 1996, Health Canada, in theory to improve the level of public health protection, proposed amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations. The proposed amendments dealt with unpasteurized cheeses made from raw milk. It would require all cheese being sold to be pasteurized. That would mean the disappearance of fine cheeses from the grocery shelves.

According to Health Canada, this measure was going to improve the protection of public health. There was nothing to justify such a measure, since the last case of food poisoning related to unpasteurized cheese in Canada goes back 61 years.

I would like to point out that there are—and always have been—many plans for new cheese factories using raw milk. If they go ahead, they will involve merchants, restaurants, distributors and possibly exporters.

Had it not been for the Bloc's intervention both inside and outside the House of Commons, defending our methods and our producers, the measures contemplated by Health Canada would have no doubt put an end to this burgeoning market sector. In part to develop these new markets, Quebec adopted inspection measures a long time ago, measures that Ottawa is in the process of copying.

The bill we are debating today aims primarily to streamline and update federal legislation and clarify the mandate of inspectors. The Bloc Québécois supports this principle, especially since the bill allows the government to get its own house in order. The bill also aims to facilitate trade between Canada and its major trading partners. Specifically, it aims to bring certain practices in line with those recently adopted in the United States.

I would now like to talk about respecting areas of jurisdiction. The governments of Quebec and the provinces have been working with the federal government for some time now to try to harmonize health practices. In 1998, the Parti Québécois government signed the framework agreement governing the division of responsibilities with the federal government.

That said, food security is still a complex practice, involving multiple laws, regulations, government agencies and non-government organizations. This is a prime example of how much easier things would be if there were one level of government in Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois will ensure that the bill does not weaken the scope of the 1998 framework agreement. The Bloc Québécois will also ensure that the federal government does not try to interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, especially in establishing policies and standards. Even with the framework, the Bloc Québécois will continue to be vigilant so that Ottawa does not force Quebec and the other provinces to take over federal inspections as a way of saving money or try to play a greater role in establishing policies and standards.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has contradictory duties. The preamble to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act sets out the agency's fundamental problem. It has three contradictory duties: access to markets, food safety and consumer protection.

Genetically modified foods are a perfect illustration of the perpetual conflicts of interest faced by the CFIA at a time when consumers and producers are becoming increasingly concerned with the effects of genetically modified foods on their lives. The CFIA is refusing to apply the principle of precaution.

I want to also point out certain flaws in the CFIA appointment process. Section 5 of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act states that the president and executive vice-president shall be appointed by order of the governor-in-council. The Bloc Québécois condemned this situation when the CFIA was established. Since the government has committed to consulting the partners on important appointments, it should set out in the legislation the requirement to consult Parliament when appointing a president or executive vice-president.

For example, we can consider the appointment of the current CFIA president. He was appointed by the former Prime Minister in September 2000. He is a career civil servant who worked mainly for the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. He was deputy clerk of the Privy Council, where he was counsel and coordinator, security and intelligence.

We believe that the individuals appointed to this position must have prior experience so they can fully develop their expertise, as well as have an intimate knowledge of this area.

There is one other point we consider important. We must adopt a regional approach to health practices. When a single case of BSE was detected in Canada, all the provinces were affected by the embargo imposed by our foreign partners. The American embargo applies to all ruminants. I am a goat breeder and, along with the sheep farmers, we have been hard hit by this situation, because that country is our main customer. Quebec producers are paying for a single case of mad cow in Alberta, 5,000 kilometres away.

It is not normal for Canada to be considered as one single health region. The UPA president, Laurent Pellerin, came to the same conclusion at a press conference on May 21, 2003, when he said, and I quote:

If we were separate provinces each with its own distinct inspection system and if we had a more regional approach to product marketing systems, only one province would have to deal with this problem.

The president of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, recently spoke out in favour of dividing Canada into regional zones from the point of view of animal health. We believe that Ottawa should quickly enter into discussions with Quebec to decentralize certain elements of the food inspection system.

Had such a regional approach to health practices been taken in the past, Quebec's producers would have been spared the crisis. The predecessor of the current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food took a regional approach in response to the crisis caused by Newcastle disease in poultry.

It would appear that the territorial approach is good for everyone but Quebec. During oral question period, on September 22, 2003, in response to a question by the hon. member for Drummond, the former agriculture minister said, “When a reportable disease takes place in a country, unfortunately the whole country is recognized as having that. We are a country, and this country is Canada”.

Yet Canada itself applied this territorial approach less than a year ago.

As was said earlier, Newcastle disease is a contagious and fatal viral diseaseaffecting all species of poultry. It can kill entire unvaccinated flocks. When various American states were affected, what did CFIA do? In April 2003, it imposed restrictions on poultry import and entry into Canada, but only for the four states affected: California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas.

If Canada was able to recognize that only certain American states were at risk, it could have done the same during the mad cow crisis and spare Quebec the horrible crisis we are facing.

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has suggested that the American border will open to Canadian beef gradually over a six month period.

Does the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food understand that the farmers of Quebec cannot sustain financial losses for yet another six long months, and that he must, urgently, announce a special aid package for cull cattle?

The farmers are calling out for help and they need it right now.

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Michael McCain, a leader in the food industry, recently declared with reference to the mad cow crisis that it was high time the Canadian government took a leadership role and set up regional zones with the full cooperation and support of the industry.

Will the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food admit that if animal health monitoring practices had been regionalized, as we have been asking for a very long time, Quebec's farmers would not have had to sustain huge losses because of one solitary case of mad cow in Alberta?

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 29th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the Minister for International Trade has confirmed that the American President may announce the end of the American embargo on Canadian beef within a six month period. Announcing a timeline is all very well, but the farmers have to live in the meantime.

In addition to this timeline, will the Prime Minister be announcing temporary aid measures to help farmers get through this crisis?

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 29th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the mad cow crisis is hurting Quebec farmers. After 18 months of the U.S. ban on our cattle, it is high time this matter was resolved.

Does the Prime Minister intend to take the opportunity of President Bush's visit to Canada to tell him that we consider it completely unwarranted to close the border to all cattle because of one cow in Alberta 18 months ago?

World Trade Organization November 23rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, as the critic of the Bloc Québécois for agriculture and agri-food, it is with enthusiasm that I support my colleague from Montcalm concerning the motion to maintain supply management. The government must not do away with supply management.

The largest part of farm income in Quebec comes from sectors organized under the supply management system, particularly the milk sector. This system has the double benefit of providing decent income to our producers and skewing world markets.

In fact, the supply management system deserves to be better known in other countries and might even be part of the solution to the world farm crisis. The federal government, which is responsible for trade negotiations, should believe it.

Supply management is based on three pillars.

Production is restricted through a quota system. A milk producer buys a quota, that is, the right to market a certain quantity of milk, to ensure that it meets domestic demand, but does not result in overproduction, which would cause prices to fall.

With production restricted to need, prices are regulated to prevent excessive fluctuations. Prices are established to ensure producers can cover their costs and feed their family.

In order to maintain the balance between supply and demand, the borders are closed through the imposition of high tariffs on imported poultry, eggs and dairy products. Thus, imports cannot upset the balance.

It is essential to maintain all three pillars. If one of them falls, the whole system crumbles. For years, the federal Liberals have pretended to support supply management. But each time the system has been attacked, the government has helped to weaken it.

Ottawa is a poor defender of supply management. Take butter oil, for example. Ontario's chemical ice cream industry wanted to stop using cream in manufacturing its ice cream in order to reduce production costs. It wanted instead to purchase as a raw material an American mixture of milk by-products and sugar called butter oil. Giving in to the industry lobby and abandoning Quebec's dairy producers, the federal government ruled that butter oil is not a dairy product, which made it possible to open the border to imports. In the five years from 1997 to 2002 imports of butter oil rose by 557%, representing a loss of half a billion dollars for Quebec dairy producers.

A similar tangle ensued over imported cheese sticks. Only the Bloc Québécois's vigilance in bringing this issue before the public forced the government to go back on its decision to issue additional import permits.

Let us take a moment to analyze Canada's role in the World Trade Organization; once again, let us repeat that supply management is not negotiable in this context.

Ottawa hesitates to support supply management in WTO negotiations. The agricultural issue is at the heart of the current round of WTO negotiations. The supply management system has been criticized by a number of member countries which want Canada to abandon it and open its borders. The United States and New Zealand have already taken the issue to the WTO's arbitration tribunals.

The worst thing in this story is that Canada has been a member of the Cairns group for many years, in order to influence WTO negotiations, even though all these countries object to the continuation of supply management.

A cabinet memorandum obtained by the Bloc Québécois in the spring of 2003 indicated that Ottawa would be ready to abandon supply management if that doing so enabled it to obtain a significant reduction in other countries' agricultural subsidies and better access to their markets.

That is the position Canada took at the last WTO ministerial meeting held in Cancun in September 2003. Ottawa indicated its willingness to let the WTO set limits on its ability to charge import duties. But we know that supply management involves borders being kept closed through high duties.

Had an agreement been reached in Cancun, that would have been the end of supply management. Fortunately for Quebec's producers, the meeting ended in failure. But it is not over, because negotiations between officials are ongoing, and another ministerial meeting will soon be held.

In this context, we in the Bloc Québécois believe that the Liberal government is prepared to let Quebec down in order to please western Canada. We can see the role played by Canada among its allies in the Cairns group, and it is easy to conclude that Ottawa is prepared to ruin Quebec's agriculture in exchange for growth in grain exports in western Canada. In cooperation with Quebec's agricultural community, the Bloc Québécois intends to fight to prevent this from happening.

The thing is that western Canada and Quebec have different agricultural bases. In western Canada, agriculture is characterized by monoculture farming with a large proportion of GMOs grown in export oriented megafarms. Grain producers are calling for total free trade in agriculture to stimulate their exports, and the elimination of agricultural production subsidies worldwide, because these subsidies have caused prices to collapse, which affected their incomes.

They have a very active lobby in Ottawa, which has succeeded in convincing the federal government to support their position. This is no surprise in light of the fact the agricultural system in Quebec is different from that of the majority in Canada.

Conversely, the supply management system governs the production of poultry, eggs and dairy in Canada. In Quebec, which accounts for 47% of Canada's dairy quotas, supply management production account for 61% of agricultural income in Quebec.

The prosperity of rural Quebec depends in large part on maintaining the system of supply management, a system with many advantages.

Despite the present crisis in agriculture characterized by price decreases triggered by foreign subsidies and, in the case of beef, by the mad cow crisis, dairy revenues did not go down in 2003. As a result, Quebec fared less badly than Canada last year. This indicates the advantages of supply management. On the other hand, supply management, unlike subsidies which enable farmers to sell their crop below cost price, does not skew world prices.

The current government is attracting a lot of criticism. Jean Grégoire, past president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, has said “Governmental inaction will destroy dairy production.”

On September 16, 2003, Laurent Pellerin also said in connection with the WTO conference at Cancun:

We have understood that, if Canada had had to make the choice between concessions unfavourable to producers under supply management and not signing the agreement on the table, it would have opted for concessions—let us be up front about this, great vigilance will have to be exercised.

This is why I support the bill introduced by my colleague this evening without reservation. The financial and personal situation of our Quebec farmers is of the utmost concern to us and I feel that this will ensure them of a better future without the fear of losing income they have worked so hard to earn.

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 23rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, other provinces were prepared to give Quebec's agriculture minister their consent to cooperate in setting a floor price for cull cows.

Since Quebec is clearly prepared to act and other provinces are prepared to cooperate, what is the minister waiting for to show not only an interest in this issue but also a firm desire to act and, in so doing, to help the producers?