Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the agriculture critic for the Conservative Party of Canada put forward this supply motion today to talk about agriculture and in particular to talk about BSE. The devastation that cattle farmers find themselves in at this point is really tragic and it is a situation that should be determined a full disaster and dealt with as such.
I would like to talk for just a minute about the income situation on our farms and ranches across the country. This applies to non-beef farmers as well. The realized net income on farms has hit a negative dollar figure. This is the first time since 1920 when statistics were first kept that Canadian agriculture as a whole has been in such a serious negative financial situation.
This is not a day to go hammering on the government too badly. Liberals have been in charge of this agricultural policy and the regulations since 1993, and we find that not totally through the government's fault we have gone from crisis to crisis to crisis in agriculture. The government in power, just like a company president or CEO, has to have responsibility and this government is holding the bag for what has gone wrong. It is certainly quick to take on what has gone right, but in this case things have gone wrong.
In 2003, BSE did not occur until approximately May 20. Before that, many cattle had been sold so those incomes were there. Between May and December, prices were deep in the tank and some farm programs were brought in.
When I say farm programs, we have to be careful with our definitions. There are the packing plants, the feedlots and the farmers, or what most people would call the producers. All three of those entities produce meat or beef for the table.
When the government puts out the fact that it has spent so many millions of dollars on the beef producer, what it is really talking about is putting money into the packing plants and into the feedlots. While that is helpful, I would like to point out that the majority of cow-calf producers, which is the basic farm that provides the raw material for the rest of the people up the chain, has not received a cent to this point. That has been a major problem for the cow-calf operator: not having this cashflow.
As for the cull cow program, or cull animal program, which is what it is supposed to be, brought out by the federal government, what it tried to do was say that herds had to be culled, which is true. It is a natural process; so many are done every year. Somehow a dairy herd would be culled at 16% and a beef herd would be culled at 8%.
This is a fairness issue. The dairy farmer fortunately still has the income from the sale of milk from those animals whereas the beef farmer does not have any of that additional income.
As a result, this application of a percentage of the cull should have been at least equal, whether it was 16%--and maybe it would have been the ideal if that would have been given to the beef producer also--or the government could have split the difference and said that everyone gets 10%. That would have actually made the beef producer, someone who is strictly beef and not dairy production, feel a lot better. That kind of unfairness leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many people who are in just the beef operations.
Another part of the cull program which is wrong is that bulls and animals under 30 months of age should have been included if they were breeding stock. I know one case where there are about 75 bred heifers. Of that 75, by the time they calve out this spring, 15 or 20 of them that will not have a calf and will have to be sold. However, they will already be 30 months of age by the time that happens, but they are not counted as part of the cull program. Therefore, there are some deficiencies in the program.
We have yet to see how the CAIS program will play out. It is supposed to pick up some of the slack. There is some expectation that there will be a substantial amount of money coming from that. However, remember what I said. In 2003 many farms will not have a real claim under CAIS. When BSE hit, they made their sales before or in December when the prices were good, before the Americans had their case. As a result, we will not see a lot of CAIS money move in 2003.
However, in 2004 we will see a drain on that CAIS program like we have never seen. We will be drawing ahead. Who knows, it could be one, two or three years ahead that we will be sucking money back out of that budget to pay the claims that will come up in 2004. I say that because feeder calves that were selling in December 2003 for anywhere from $1.06 to $1.15 for a 700 pounder are now down around 50¢ to 60¢. That kind of drop means that it will be reflected in the income figure for farms and they will have a large drop down into the disaster component of the CAIS program.
We might as well talk about the CAIS program in general because it will be around for a few years. If farmers have $400,000 reference margins, they will have to put $90,000 into a bank account. That is an awful lot of their cash flow tied up in a bank account that they cannot access because the government says that it has to be on deposit in order to participate in the program. Any business will tell us that they cannot afford to have that much money tied up in a non-productive bank account, but that is what the government is forcing them to do, and it is really unfortunate.
I was speaking with young farmers who were on the Hill today. I know of many cases in my own area, but one young farmer said that he had a structural change in his farm. He is obviously only in his thirties, but has been in business about seven or eight years. Now he has expanded it. His reference margin is very low. I told him that I thought there were structural change forms that he could submit. He said that he tried to put them in, but he could not because they were not available.
Why the government would bring out a program and not have the details worked out and agreed to with the provinces before it is actually releases and announces it just does not seem to make a lot of sense.
Getting the U.S. border open is of course our main issue. Earlier on today we heard members from the NDP say how they wanted to play hardball with the U.S. I gave a dissertation at that time as to why that would not make a lot of sense and why it would not help the issue by slamming a border shutdown.
However, the member for Malpeque also has this idea that somehow we can kick the stuffing out of the American elephant. We are pretty small to be doing that. I am surprised he said that because Prince Edward Island is a great beef producing place. The people of Prince Edward Island are great beef eaters. They also live by trade, whether it is on the beef side within the Atlantic region or in the American northwest.
The member said that we had science on our side, yes, but that he firmly believed that we had to play hardball on this issue with the U.S. and that we had to restrict American imports here the same as they were restricting our exports into the U.S. He said that he knew that was not based on science.
What the government and the agriculture minister's position has been all along is that based on science, the borders of other countries should be open to Canadian exports. As soon as we in Canada, the agriculture minister in particular and the Prime Minister, make decisions that are not based on science, then we are shown up for what we are on the world scene. We are a country that is saying one thing and doing another. That is what is wrong with threatening the Americans, saying that we are going to close our border to them.
I have an example of how this is negatively impacting our producers. The Subway food chain has what it calls a steak sandwich. I have not actually had one, but Subway is a great company. It uses 100% Canadian beef. That is great for our farmers and the company. It takes the beef, ships it down to a central processing place in the United States where it is cut to the exact size. This is a value added technical thing about the food sold out of their Subway franchises. That same Canadian beef is processed to Subway's specifications, then brought back up to Canada. Science says that there is nothing wrong with that steak which is going back to Canada for those sandwiches.
However, what does our CFIA do on the advice and instructions of the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister, and people like the member for Malpeque? They shut the border and do not let any of that steak come in. What happens at the Subways? People who go to a Subway franchise are unable to order and buy Canadian beef because our government made decisions, not based on science, but based on politics. That is exactly what is wrong. Canada should be showing leadership.
In regard to the world situation, up until we had our first case of BSE, Canada was the most hard-nosed country in the world on other countries that had one case of BSE. I use Denmark as an example. We even slapped a ban on Brazil that did not have an official case of BSE. Again, our Liberal government is saying one thing and doing another. It is basing decisions, not on science but on politics. We as beef producers are trying to get away from that and the Canadian cattlemen would like to see us get away from that.
Therefore, we have this terrible situation where our government of the day has such little rapport in the United States, Japan or Korea to get those borders opened up. It is partly because relationships cannot be built at the last minute.
You know yourself, Mr. Speaker, where you live you are known as a great friendly fellow around the area, but there is always a neighbour that tends to be the one that irritates the other neighbours and does not really get along. Then all of a sudden his garage gets blown down in the wind and he cannot fix it himself. He needs a hand. When he goes around to his neighbours, who he has kind of ticked off over the years, they say that they are busy and cannot help him fix the garage. That is exactly what the they Americans have been telling us, in essence. They have said that Canada wants to be so hard-nosed, that it wants to abuse their President and be anti-American in a lot of ways. That has been a negative influence in getting the borders open.
Another example is that for years, particularly in western Canada where this is more of an issue, but I have also heard it in Ontario, we have been trying to get year round access for feeder calves from the United States so we in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta could buy American feeder cattle and bring them up to Canada year round. We could fatten them. They would never leave the feedlot. They would go from the feedlot to the packing plant or maybe even be shipped back to the United States to be slaughtered.
Science has said that there is nothing the matter with these cattle coming up from the States. The anaplasmosis and blue tongue, which are the two diseases that are of concern from some parts of the United States, are very easily handled. If an animal happens to have that in a feedlot, it can be treated with antibiotics. It is a non-issue.
What we have here is another case of a government not using science to make decisions. What the government wants to do is keep those feeder cattle out so we can feed our own, et cetera.
The government has to realize that we are in a continental market of livestock and farm products. We are also in a global market. A global market is making Canada richer. A global market pays for health care, education and many other things that we as Canadians enjoy.
I hope the other parties in the House follow the lead of the Conservative Party and myself in becoming better world citizens.