Mr. Chair, it is an honour to be here with my esteemed and experienced colleagues who have spoken. I am hoping to add a few words to this debate.
Our rural way of life is under threat.
Agriculture in Canada is facing a crisis. And that crisis has a negative effect on rural lifestyles. Indeed, if we do not support our farmers and their families, we will soon see our rural communities disappear.
The NDP places people first. If a farmer is able to earn a living, he can then contribute to his local economy, which ensures the survival of the rural lifestyle in Canada.
Unfortunately, we in Canada stumbled along for many years without a clear vision for Canadian agriculture. What is the situation out there in Essex County with those farmers I spoke to yesterday, or those in the southern Okanagan or, for that matter, right across this vast country of ours?
I have had the opportunity to live in each of the main regions of Canada and I have seen tiny villages surrounded by thousands of kilometres of farm land. We have no right to contribute to the disappearance of this very vital part of our immense country. Lastly, we are losing our ability to feed ourselves, which means that, little by little, we are also losing our self-sufficiency in the agricultural sector.
What is happening out there?
In my riding, for example, our fruit growers, especially apple growers, are not able to compete with the cheap, subsidized apples from Washington state being dumped in our markets. Orchards are having to apply for a replanting program to introduce other varieties that might be more profitable--and that is “might be”--or growers will be faced with giving up their farms altogether.
As was mentioned, in the Porcupine district in Saskatchewan, farmers are in a disaster situation due to the 2005 flood. This area was declared a disaster area in both 2005 and 2006 and as yet there is no program to address the problem.
According to the report put out by the hon. member for Malpeque, the per farm basic average income, which was $21,000 in the 1970s, has now dropped to minus $10,000 or minus $20,000. The farmer's share of retail beef prices between 1981 and 2002 was dismal, according to the report, with $5.67 a kilogram at the counter for beef bringing the primary producer only 14¢. This is totally unacceptable.
The farm income situation is unprecedented, particularly in the grains and oilseeds and horticulture industries. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada predicts that the realized net income for farmers could fall as much as 54% in 2006.
So, what are they doing? The government has to act, obviously. It is our job to express our vision for Canadian agriculture in the clearest of terms.
Farmers need an immediate financial infusion now as an initial payment on long term program solutions. The two gentlemen I was talking with today said that Ontario alone needs $1.5 billion to cover 2005, let alone thinking about 2006 and other parts of the country.
According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the $500 million committed in the Conservative election campaign is needed to improve current business risk management programs but will do little in addressing the farm income deficiency.
Any ad hoc money must not be an offset to the CAIS program and should include farm fed grain.
Our primary producers are competing against heavily subsidized farmers in the U.S. and the European Union. One of our priorities at the WTO is to push for an eventual reduction of these subsidies. However, in the meantime, our primary producers need a level playing field.
It is not logical to push for something in the future and not support our farmers now. There must be a long term risk management plan put into place to guarantee our producers a floor price. If Americans want to dump apples into Canada, let us have a minimum floor price they have to charge so our apple growers can compete fairly.
To guarantee the survival of our agriculture industry, we have to stand up for our policies at the WTO negotiations. Under no circumstances should we allow American multinationals or other countries to dictate what we do with our Canadian Wheat Board. I strongly urge the hon. Minister of Agriculture to let it be known that our Canadian Wheat Board single desk seller is not up for discussion at the WTO. It is our farmers who will decide what happens, and nobody else.
What is more, the survival of supply management depends on success in the sensitive products category. We are seeing proposals that would require Canada to abandon up to half of some domestic markets under supply management. This is unacceptable. Supply management interests are top priority in WTO negotiations.
Our supply and demand system is efficient. It provides our primary producers with income stability. It does not cost the taxpayer one cent. In fact, the supply management system that currently exists in our dairy and poultry industries could be a model for other segments of agriculture that are suffering.
Let us not forget that under the last 12 years of Liberal government, farm incomes set record lows, while multinational agribusinesses made record profits. Between 1996 and 2001, farm employment dropped 26% and Canada lost 29,625 family farms forever.
When the two-year U.S. ban on our beef bled 75,000 Canadian jobs and wiped out farm equity, Liberal support was late and often inadequate, but $40 million went to multinational meat packers whose profits were soaring.
Today, as they have over the past decade, corporate agribusinesses are squeezing family farmers. They are pushing up input costs, for everything from herbicides to equipment, and paying less for product at the gate as they tighten their grip on the whole market chain.
We have a blueprint for agriculture in Canada, put out by the hon. member for Malpeque. This report can serve as a basis for a national agriculture policy. Frankly, I am surprised it was not done five, six or seven years ago, not just in 2005.
The time to act is now. I promise to work hard with all members of the House of Commons to develop our policy on agriculture in Canada.
Our Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has toured the country listening to what farmers have to say. He is very aware of what needs to be done. We must support him in his work.
Let us work to ensure the survival of agriculture and our rural way of life. This will benefit not only those who live in rural Canada but all citizens of this great country.