Mr. Speaker, like my hon. colleagues, I support Bill C-15. I will not reiterate what has already been said by my hon. colleagues about what we need to do for our farmers. The main thing is they are now getting some help, and that is good. One concern is that it will increase the debt load. We will have to watch for that.
I am encouraged by the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture and his staff to help the primary producer.
I was contacted again last week by farmers of Porcupine Plain, who are concerned. They seem to be falling through the cracks. In spite of the $15 per acre available to help them with respect to disaster relief, they do not know if they will have access to the money now or if they will have to wait until the fall.
This area was hit by flooding in 2005 and 2006. Last week another three inches of rain fell. Riverbanks are overflowing and seeds are rotting in the ground. Prior to this, farmers had seen two years of drought, frost and other flooding. The majority of farmers in rural municipality 395 have no equity left against which to borrow.
I have heard gut-wrenching stories. I have been told, and I have the documentation here, that some farmers will have their lights turned off by the middle of June. One person has a remaining credit of $5,000 on his credit card. That is not enough to fix the transmission on his tractor let alone to buy fuel and food for his family. Another person had his credit card revoked on May 29, and his lights will also be turned off. Two farmers have deserted their large farms and have gone to Alberta to work in logging operations.
This morning, at a press conference, I alluded to the point that these people had real problems. Although I am encouraged by the budget and by what has been offered by the government, there must be some way that we can help these people today to get back on track so they can produce and continue to make a living in our rural municipality.
Cattle producers in my riding of British Columbia Southern Interior believe that a free flow of cattle over 30 months old is necessary. In talking with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the idea is that our government should take the initiative in this regard. They are willing to help as far as blue tongue and other problems that arise.
Another situation that local producers in the Slocan Valley face is the decision of our provincial government to close many local slaughter house facilities because of new legislation. They will have to move one or two animals to Kelowna or Kamloops, if there is room for them, to get them slaughtered, thereby putting themselves out of business. I know this is not a federal issue, but I wonder if there might be some guidelines through the federal CFIA with regard to flexibility so we can somehow help, working through the provincial government, our local producers to continue producing, specifically in the Slocan Valley and other areas of British Columbia.
Our fruit growers have some comments with regard to the legislation. Marketing of their 2004 fall crop was severely impacted by excess production in Washington state, which saw a substantial increase in the volume of U.S. apples entering our Canadian market, literally being dumped into our province. B.C. apple growers saw their returns plummet from a previous three year average of 22.3¢ a pound to a mere 12.4¢ per pound, a 44% drop.
There are many serious concerns on the proposed methodology of how money will flow to farmers and how or if the apple industry will be included in the current plans. In B.C. the majority of apple growers belong to cooperatives, where the products they grow are pooled. Because of this, they view the current distribution model of retroactive inventory valuation adjustments as not working for apple growers as it excludes them from the main body of the $900 million CAIS fund. It would be terribly wrong and unfair to apple growers to pay $1 billion of emergency funding based on inventory valuations.
Pressure is being brought to bear at the WTO to have us change our supply management system. We must protect our milk producers in Quebec and the rest of Canada at all costs. I find it encouraging when the minister says that he is going to do what is necessary to maintain our supply management system. We know that, today, discussions are under way between milk producers and processors about milk protein concentrates. Let us hope that we find a solution shortly.
Another important issue confronting our producers especially in the west is that of the Canadian Wheat Board. Many of the producers are worried that the government wants to make it into a dual marketing agency. According to a study and a survey, 88% of the farmers themselves want to make the decision. It is important that we allow them to make the decision based on their board of directors and their members. The government should not impose its will.
We have to be careful because these issues are tied together. Whether it is the Canadian Wheat Board or the supply management system, once we erode one, the other follows. We can cite the New Zealand experience in the 1990s where the apple industry voted to get rid of single desk selling. Since then everything has gone downhill. Quality is worse. Apples are being picked early in the rush to export. Shelf life is much shorter. Ships carrying identical crops are arriving in market ports at the same time and end up competing for lowest prices. There is a move in New Zealand to get back to a single desk model.
After talking with the New Zealand High Commission, it has been learned that the New Zealand kiwi fruit marketing authority voted to go back to the single desk after getting rid of it because those producers all too soon found themselves competing for lower prices.
We have to be very careful before the government starts to play with an institution that is governed and controlled by the farmers. We must look at examples in other parts of the world, such as New Zealand, where people are saying that maybe the single desk solution is the best.
The farmers' rail coalition is looking to the government to recognize that the farmers are prepared to support the federal plan for the hopper car fleet if the government can ensure that farmers' interests are best served. Once again, I appeal to the minister, as I have done during our committee meeting, that the time is right to involve these people. They represent farmers in western Canada. They are willing to work with the minister and with the government to ensure that we get the very best possible deal and the very lowest maintenance costs for our farmers so they can make some money and continue to produce.
In closing, I support Bill C-15 as outlined by the minister. It is a start. It is a step in the right direction. The government must do all it can.
We have to do all we can to support farmers. It is time for a vision for Canada, a vision that says yes, we must support primary producers.
It is very important to look at the primary producers when we look at Bill C-15.
Whether we are talking about supply management, the Canadian Wheat Board or whatever, we need to keep in mind that we must support primary producers.
I thank the minister once again for his hard work in pushing Bill C-15 through.