Mr. Speaker, farmers are prepared to meet the challenge of globalization, despite the loss of protection with respect to the marketing of products on which quotas apply and the mandatory elimination of certain government subsidies as a result of the GATT agreement. Like all good entrepreneurs, they want to know what kind of support they can expect to receive from the government.
Producers recall the inertia of the federal government which failed, during the signing of the GATT agreement last November 15, to obtain assurances that the numerous trade disputes pitting Canada against its main trading partner, the United States, would be resolved. Canada therefore finds itself in the position of having to negotiate under pressure in an effort to resolve numerous trade disputes in the agricultural sector. The government has left itself in a tenuous position and must now adopt a defensive posture in order to limit the damage.
The negotiations currently under way with our neighbour to the south are going nowhere. The dispute, you may recall, centres on our main products, that is ice cream, yogurt, Western wheat and the new Canadian tariffs on poultry, milk and eggs. The government must not cave in to pressure from the United
States. It must stand its ground and think first about the future of Quebecers and Canadians.
In addition, the government must reduce the inequities between east and west. If past practices are any indication of what lies ahead and if inequities increase, producers will come to expect a double standard in the case of eastern and western farmers. The competitive position of Quebec farmers is directly affected by this practice.
In the past, producers disciplined themselves and worked together to ensure that production levels were geared to the needs of Canadian consumers.
Quebec farmers fell for it. Take chicken production for example. Each province would have to produce chickens to meet the provincial demand. In 1990, taking advantage of its geographic location and the impending abolition of quotas, British Columbia decided to go it alone to get ahead of the other provinces and increased its production capacity. Now Ontario would be prepared to follow suit and saturate the market in Quebec.
In parallel with this trade liberalization on the Canadian market is the concentration of enterprises within the industry, which unfortunately will take place at the expense of producers. Certain processors also own hatcheries and flour mills, thereby controlling the price of farming inputs as well as prices paid to producers when poultry is sold. Producers are wondering how long this little game will go on and what the government intends to do in its role as partner in this changing environment?
This turmoil created uncertainty among Quebec producers who have seen the share of the federal budget for agriculture allocated to western Canada increase from 42 per cent to 64 per cent since 1980, while Quebec's share dropped from 30 per cent to 10 per cent during the same period. In spite of this inequity, our producers are working enthusiastically and manage to keep agriculture in Quebec profitable and this, even though their indebtedness ratio is the highest in Canada.
The government should do whatever is necessary to stabilize the farmers' economic environment. After all, the agricultural industry accounts for 15 per cent of jobs and over 8 per cent of the GDP in Canada.
The government should start by reducing the number of assistance programs. Agriculture Canada is administering approximately fourty, another 22 are co-managed with the provinces and 286 more are administered by the provinces alone.
In the area of agricultural finance, the federal government intervenes through the Farm Credit Corporation and the Quebec government through the Société du financement agricole. The terms of reference of these two organizations are amazingly similar, yet both are maintained. In terms of visibility in Quebec, it is in the interest of the government to maintain an organization of its own, but in terms of customer service, it will prefer a single-window approach to agricultural financing. You can be sure this would be the approach preferred by Quebec producers.
Meanwhile, the Quebec government is contributing 20 times more than the federal government to agricultural financing. Furthermore, only 16.7 per cent of the Farm Credit Corporation has gone to farms in Quebec, as compared to 35 per cent in Western Canada.
In their agriculture policy statement, the Liberals promised to create for farmers a long-term mortgage, with two thirds of the interest sheltered from fluctuating rates, a guarantee plan for farmers whereby the government would guarantee the loan made by a farmer selling his farm, thus ensuring a stable retirement for sellers and helping established farmers and newcomers obtain capital at reasonable rates, and thirdly, a farm leasing plan whereby farmers whose property had been seized or who were starting out could rent land under long term leases from the FCC, with the rent credited toward possible future purchase.
But what has become of these good intentions? Is it only pious wishes? We may well ask, the farmers are still waiting.
I am not calling for the abolition of standards but for an adjustment to the new agri-food environment where companies will have two choices: to compete on international markets or to serve specific niches in local and regional markets. Our small businesses must be allowed to develop and our entrepreneurs must be given an opportunity to carry out their business ideas and thus develop our regions, all this without threatening food quality.
However, we find on our grocery shelves beef from Nicaragua with no identification of origin on the package. As a result, consumers cannot encourage our own producers and buy a better quality product.
Although the government says in its agricultural policy that it intends to apply Canadian standards to imported food, it has no control over sanitary conditions where the food is produced and processed and over environmental standards on foreign farms.
Quebec has developed a seal of quality, "Qualité Québec", that is placed on products to encourage people to buy local products.
I therefore call for the strict application of present regulations on the identification of the origin of agricultural products; this is another measure that could maintain and even create jobs at no great cost.
Our farmers and processors must not only adjust to the various standards but above all meet consumers' needs and requirements. Again, through its policy statement on agriculture, the government wants to promote and reinforce our marketing strategies under GATT and any other trade agreement in order to preserve a system beneficial to consumers and producers alike.
Producers are still waiting for these great principles to be applied and in the meantime most of them, especially in Quebec, must deal with a crumbling quota system and the opening-up of our markets to foreigners knocking on our door.
Along with the many changes occurring in the Canadian and Quebec agricultural environment, the profile of consumers is evolving. Families are smaller. People are looking for more refined products with less fat and added value whose quality sets them apart from the competition. All businesses are based on consumption and Agriculture Canada seems to spend a great deal of energy on applying standards and not enough on advertising and marketing.
If the government is a partner of the agri-food sector players, it must do its job by adjusting quickly to the new realities and making its presence felt instead of keeping a very low profile as it does now.
Producers must face another reality: the protection of natural resources that has become necessary because resources are not inexhaustible and because of their apparent degradation. Producers are determined to promote and adopt sustainable agricultural practices combining resource preservation with farm performance.
It is up to all the stakeholders in the agricultural sector to take the necessary measures to pursue sustainable development while minimizing output losses for producers. The government's role in the quest for a sustainable agriculture should be to support the changes decided by producers, and not impose such changes through regulations.
Although the Canada-Quebec subsidiary agreement on sustainable agricultural development provides for the implementation of several research and technical innovation projects over the next four years, the results do not benefit those who are primarily concerned. The government must ensure that research conducted by the Department of Agriculture in Canada is shown to producers and-