Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise and speak today to further the interests of farmers in Quebec and Canada, and more particularly in my riding of Champlain.
It is all the more pleasant to do so since Bill C-86, an act to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission, shows that, for once, the government has understood how important it is for our agricultural producers to adjust to the new international trade rules.
We all know that agriculture is an industry that cannot be compared with any other, especially in Quebec. For example, virtually all farm production in Quebec comes from family farms. Agricultural performance depends on the weather and, for most products, marketing is done jointly by producers. Those few points illustrate the distinctive features of this local industry that has to compete on world markets.
With GATT and NAFTA, farmers are thrown onto a free market and have no other choice but to succeed. To do so, they must prepare, and we must set up systems that are allowed under those agreements and provide independent producers with a framework that is both flexible and competitive.
Bill C-86 is a step in the right direction, but the government should keep in mind that producers must constantly adjust and keep their production costs as low as possible, to be able to meet the challenge of world competition. Farmers have realized as much in the last few years, and they do whatever is needed to succeed. In Quebec, let us just mention the establishment, in 1992, of the Quebec dairy industry recovery fund, which has, as one of its prime missions, the funding of research projects on dairy products or of marketing projects aimed to increase sales.
This recovery fund is partially financed through a levy on each hectolitre of milk produced and on processed products. The fund was set up by the Quebec milk producers federation, Agropur and its subsidiaries, the Lactel Group and a number of associated co-operatives, as well as a company belonging to private manufacturers members of the Dairy Council.
This example shows the innovative spirit of producers and others involved in the Quebec agri-food system and, in addition, it reflects their capacity and willingness to work together to face common challenges. It is no longer possible to ask producers alone to constantly reduce their production costs without asking the other people involved in the agri-food system to do the same.
This reality is the basis of our collective approach and competitiveness on the world markets. Emphasis is now put on total quality and the implementation of research results not only throughout the Quebec and Canadian agri-food systems, but also by all the stakeholders involved, including the federal government.
As for the government, it must make the legislative framework more flexible and maintain the assistance measures allowed under the international trade agreements, as requested by the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture during the last general assembly of his organization. The government and the Minister of Agriculture must constantly ensure that their action does not harm the agricultural industry.
The budget recently tabled by the Minister of Finance took away some of the basic resources our farmers need and undermined the growth of our agricultural industry. Under the February budget, Agriculture Canada stands to lose 2,000 jobs, including 900 in the research sector, one of the most important sectors in agriculture, and the farm support programs will be
reduced by 30 per cent. More specifically, milk producers will sustain over a two-year period a 30 per cent cut in the subsidies for industrial milk. These producers live for the most part in eastern Canada, which includes Quebec, and the government has made no provision to compensate these producers, although it plans to compensate western farmers for the elimination of the Crow benefit. The producers will have no other choice but to pass part of the bill on to consumers. And producers will again be accused of having increased the price of dairy products.
As the president of a farmers association, Laurent Pellerin, said in an article which appeared in the weekly La terre de chez nous : ``The Martin budget singles out rural regions''.
The government cannot, on the one hand, change the rules applying to the dairy industry and, on the other, gradually withdraw its support. I would hope that both measures are carried out with the same outlook on our agricultural future and that the Minister of Finance has consulted the Minister of Agriculture before proceeding with these cuts. I would also hope that they have assessed the impact because it would be a shame for the farmers to see the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture wiped out by his colleague, the Minister of Finance, year after year, budget after budget.
Bill C-86 is a very praiseworthy initiative of the Minister of Agriculture, who wishes to establish a national pooling system of market returns which will help sustain dairy product exports. This new system is consistent with international trade agreements and gives producers the same advantages as a deduction system. However, I hope that the minister has thought of a reply for the American government, which has the habit of challenging Canadian agricultural policy and could be tempted to accuse Canada of dumping, since this system favours a lower price for milk used in export products.
We must not forget that the bill before us has been introduced right after six provinces, including Quebec, signed an agreement in principle on the pooling of their milk supply systems. That means that, in these six provinces, producers will get the same price for their milk and that the provinces will administer a common quota. Put together, these six provinces account for 85 per cent of all the industrial milk produced in Canada. That consolidation will allow them to implement a single milk marketing system under which interprovincial barriers to milk supply will be phased out in the medium term.
Moreover, the consolidation of the milk supply system will help these provinces make the adjustment to competition from further-processed foreign dairy products. The agreement is the culmination of lengthy negotiations in which Quebec played a leadership role.
Quebec is the main stakeholder in the dairy products supply management system. Without Quebec, the Canadian dairy policy collapses. The Canadian dairy producers understood that. This agreement proves indeed that, even in the middle of a referendum campaign, dairy producers from the other provinces have recognized the importance of economically integrating their industry with that of Quebec in order to protect their interests.
By their actions, dairy producers have shown that economic reality prevails over emotional debates. This is proof once again that all the dire scenarios that federalists spread about will simply not materialize once Quebec becomes sovereign.
Quebec will not lose its present share of quotas. On the contrary, like the other provinces, it will maintain the supply management system in the interest of all dairy producers in Quebec and in Canada. Quebec's success in dairy production is an economic reality hard won by producers, not a gift from Canadian federalism.
I wanted to mention these facts because they are important in order to explain the role of each player, to understand fully the economic dynamics of the dairy industry and to clarify the role of the government, which must follow suit and work with producers toward a shared vision of tomorrow's agriculture and the actions needed to get there.
The government's contribution to the development of our agricultural economy is mainly through the creation of a favourable environment. It must act as a guide and help all those who want to consolidate their markets or to develop new ones.
Let us hope that Bill C-86 is only the beginning and, as the member of this House for the riding of Champlain, where agriculture is very important to our economy, I must support such initiatives.