Madam Speaker, I cannot say that it is a pleasure to stand in this House tonight to speak to this issue.
I want to congratulate my colleague from Selkirk—Interlake for bringing this debate to the House to try and impress upon this government that there is an emergency in the farm community. What bothers me even more is that when I look at the government today, there is not just an emergency, there is a crisis, a real crisis.
This government was elected in 1993 to run the affairs of the country, to govern 28 million inhabitants, and it is not capable of addressing the problems of 70 weighmen who look after grain weighing in Vancouver.
I cannot understand how it even considers that it should be sitting on that side of the House when a little crisis like this emergency cannot be addressed.
These people have been in a legal strike position for 90 days. I would like to see what these members of parliament would do if for 90 days nobody sent them their cheques, put food on their table or kept things the way they should be. The crisis is on that side. The emergency is in Vancouver. Something has to happen.
I remember back almost five years ago when we were debating the railway strike. I happened to go through Hansard and I picked up a question that was put to the government by my colleague on this side of the House, the hon. member for Wetaskiwin. This is what the member asked of the international trade minister:
Mr. Speaker, the week long rail stoppage has cost Canada dearly. Canada has lost over $5 billion, of which farmers have lost $100 million, exporters have lost $1 billion and $2 billion has been added to the public debt. These are just the short term costs. The total will climb even higher because our clients have lost confidence in our transportation system.
My question is for the Minister for International Trade. What plan does this minister have to address these long term costs?
This was the reply: “Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I understood the question”.
Five years later I do not think they understand the question. I was astounded when my colleague from Yorkton—Melville read the letter and expected government members to understand what it meant. When they cannot understand a verbal question, how could they read a letter and decipher what it means? That is the problem. It astounds me that these things can continue. This is a prime example of why other countries have lost confidence in the affairs of this country. That is why we have a 65 cent dollar.
When I started farming in 1957 through 1972 I remember that the dollar was always pretty well par with the U.S. dollar. In 1976 it started falling. It had climbed to a height of 110 cents to the U.S. dollar. It was 10% over par. The assets that I gained up to 1976 are now only worth 65 cents of that value. How can a country remain stable? How can a country be productive? How can we protect the living standards of future generations if this is what we are experiencing?
In the 26 years that I farmed we had at least 16 or 17 work stoppages in the grain handling system. Every time we farmers thought of harvesting a crop to get compensation for the input costs we had for our labour, somebody along the line knew that we were held hostage and they could force government or industry to increase wages or do less work. We were supposed to become more competitive and more productive. We were supposed to keep on surviving. It has reached the point today that it is impossible.
I just happened to pick up one of the householders that my staff was preparing. It says “Foreclosure”. I wondered what they were talking about. I saw the costs that this government spent on golf balls and tees during the last year. I looked down the line and I saw that foreign affairs spent $2,500 on golf balls and tees.
Go to the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, zero for balls and $192 for tees. How can we can have a golf game when we only have tees? That is the attitude the government takes toward agriculture. It is astounding. That is the fact. How can we deal and maintain an industry with that type of attitude?
When I hear my hon. colleague from Peace River saying he wonders what has happened to the government and what it is doing, I cannot help but think it is sleeping tonight. What else could it be doing? Is there nobody here? The House should be full, should it not? I think the spirits are there. We awoke one from the dead. Isn't that a friendly disposition.
When we hear of 2,700 rail cars not being unloaded every day it does not mean that it is just those workers at the port who are not working. It means there are another couple of thousand workers down the line, on the railroad, on the elevator, in the trucking company who also are not working. Who will pay those wages? Businesses have to keep these people on staff because they are under contract. It all comes finally out of the farmers' pockets. They are killing the industry completely.
For five years we have been in the House and we have seen it continue year after year. We have come to the point now where it is almost a sin to produce food because somebody will be in trouble.
Young farmers today cannot survive. Even with either the husband or the wife working outside the farm, they continue to pay input costs. Taxes on farms have gone up on average from 8%, 9% to 10%.
I was in Regina two weeks ago at a farm rally and I started talking to some of the Saskatchewan farmers. It is sad. It is disastrous. Saskatchewan farmers have not paid at least 50% of their property taxes for last year. We talked to one fuel dealer who had 10 bankruptcies since Christmas.
Farmers are waiting for the aid promised by the Liberal government. For almost a year we warned this government there was a crisis. Maybe in June they will get some money. Maybe there will not be any money because many people have had losses over three years and will not qualify for that program.
One of the fuel dealers told me he had a fuel bill of $350,000 from one of the big operators. We have come to the point where a 10,000 acre farm is not big anymore. One of the farmers just west of Regina was telling me that he put in 11,000 acres last spring. He could have had another 7,000 acres from neighbours if he had picked it up to farm it. He said “We have worked hard. We have been entrepreneurs. We have a trucking company that my daughter manages”. They run 17 Peterbilt trucks on the highway. They have two private fertilizer companies. One of them is run by the wife and the other one is run by the daughter-in-law. This is a multimillion dollar operation. The gentleman told me “If we do not get out of farming in the next year or two, we will have lost all the assets that we worked for all our life”.
That is a disaster. That is not just an emergency. It is a crime when people who produce the most important product in the world cannot have a viable operation. This reminds me of a country I was in in 1981; 20,000 hectares in a communal farm and people are starving.
One third of their food was produced on the little quarter acre plots where the workers lived, not on the farms. We are becoming a country with huge corporate farms that are so inefficient but so productive that they are killing themselves. That has to change.
This government has to start realizing that if we are supposed to import our food instead of producing it ourselves, we will not have a 65 cent dollar. We will probably have a Mexican peso. I do not want to see that.
I go back about four years when I rose in the House on one of my first speeches. I compared this government to the first self-propelled red combine that I bought. I do not know how many people remember that combine.
Today I see a big semi-truck sitting on that side, a government that should be able to govern this country like nobody's business. For some reason I see that semi-truck sitting there and it is not moving. It is not doing what it was built for.
What has gone wrong with that truck? It ran out of gas. I have seen it sitting for five years. The motor has ceased. It cannot move. It cannot even be dragged out of there.
I see grass over the wheels. There are tires on that big semi but they are all rotten. There is no rubber at the bottom. It could not roll even if it were pulled. That is what I see across the aisle today as far as the government is concerned.
I look a little further. There should be some value in that big semi-truck. There is some value. The rats and the mice are in it. They have been using the cushion seat for housing. If someone wanted to get into that truck and drive it, those springs would be very hard in some places, not to mention the smell.
The combine was a bad example but this truck really scares me. If we have to get rid of that animal, there is sure going to be some smell around this place.
How will we handle it? Will we have enough gas masks? Will we have enough equipment to remove it? The job will have to be done. It cannot continue like this. It may be comical but there is a lot of truth to it.
We have one of the greatest countries in the world. We have gone from zero debt to $600 billion. Tell me why. In 30 years, three decades, this debt has built up not because this country was not great but because the management by previous governments during those three decades did not do their job.
They let the future generations of this country down. Someday they will have to pay for it. They will have to give account of what has happened. The pay day is coming.
I can see in the 21st century a change where we will forget what type of politics was performed in the House for three decades. We will try to bury it and start all over again. We will give future generations hope, something to trust in, something they can build on, a place where they can raise their families and be proud of where they are.
Today when I see 70 workers shutting down the whole country and a government sitting on that side not doing its job, it is disastrous. It is criminal.
I do not know how this change will come but I can guarantee it will come. It has come in every other country where this type of situation has developed. I know we will not like it when it comes. If we are not prepared to tackle a little problem where 70 people can stop a whole nation, what will we ever do if we have a problem that is huge, a problem that needs courage and a problem like our past generation had to deal with when foreign nations attacked their freedom and their democracy?
I hope government members will wake up tomorrow morning, take the sleep out of their eyes, get to work and finally show this country they were elected to do a job and do it.