Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
I will quickly deal with three questions today: Why are we here, where are we going with agriculture, and what are we doing with it? We are faced with a desperate situation in agriculture today. This morning I heard people criticize the Alliance for its agriculture policy. I want to read it to them to assure them it has not changed.
Our agriculture policy reads:
To ensure a self-reliant and economically viable agricultural sector, we will vigorously seek free entry of Canadian products into foreign markets. We support and will advocate the phased reduction and elimination of all subsidies, support programs and trade restrictions in conjunction with other countries.
We further go on to state:
We believe it is in the best interest of Canada and Canadian agriculture that the industries under the protection of Supply Management remain viable.
Our agriculture policy has not changed. It continues to be compassionate and based on common sense. We are in a situation now that requires some common sense and we do not seem to be getting any direction from the government. We are stuck in a subsidy war with the European Union and the United States, and Canada is the third and smallest partner in those trade wars.
Our grain and oilseed prices have crumbled to the point where farmers cannot compete. Why do we need to help? When incomes have fallen to 20% of the five year averages, something needs to be done. We either let our farmers go down the drain or we help out. We are not prepared to let them go down the drain.
We must expect changes in agriculture as the industry goes along, but seeing 23,000 people per year leaving the industry is far too many. We have a problem.
The second question is this: Where are we with agriculture and what are the specific problems?
The first problem to which I have already referred is financial viability. People put many years into their farms. We heard the member for Brandon—Souris talk about that. At a young age they begin trying to build equity in an operation. They make the best decisions they can. They try to raise their families on the farms.
Farming is not just a living. It is a way of life that contributes $95 billion to the Canadian economy. A farmer's decisions can be absolutely right but in the end the results can be wrong. They must make their crop selections and guess their incomes far ahead of production. When incomes go down and costs go up, as we have seen with the price of diesel and fertilizer, grains and oilseeds are no longer viable.
We have other problems in our agricultural sector, one of which is political interference. I have talked a little about subsidization. According to reports, U.S. farmers are asking for $14 billion more in subsidies on top of the approximately $28 billion they already get.
Farmers cannot afford to be involved in trade wars. Last week we had a discussion on softwood lumber. It is the small people who are affected by trade wars and disputes. Wheat and cattle have begun to get dragged into the softwood lumber dispute. Farmers cannot afford that.
We see trade problems in the area of P.E.I. potatoes. We feel for the people who have produced their product and then are not allowed to take it to market.
Another concern for farmers is transportation. Our system continues to be very expensive, particularly in western Canada, and not all that efficient.
Producers are separated from legislation which seems to be made far away from them and into which they have no input. Two examples are the firearms legislation in western Canada, which is still a big issue, and the endangered species act that producers look at with suspicion because they realize they do not have a big say in how it is being put together.
Farmers have concerns over GMOs. Many have grown them. They are unsure whether they can continue to grow them or even whether they should. The government needs to give some direction and regulation in that area.
There are food safety issues. Producers are concerned about food safety but they also need to be protected from overreaction. Producers have issues over seed patents. We put public money into seed research and then turn around and sell the new varieties to private companies, and farmers in turn must deal with those companies. It is one more expense for the farmer and for the taxpayer. Those kinds of things make farmers and producers feel marginalized.
Perhaps my biggest long term concern, and the concern of many people to whom I have talked, is that there seems to be no leadership or coherent direction in Canadian agriculture. I have farmed for 25 years. For decades we have seen ad hoc programs. I would sum up what I have seen over the years by saying that policies are often too little, too late.
The federal and provincial governments need to sit down and accept responsibility for the sector, negotiate what they will do and begin to develop long term plans. Uncertainty in this business kills. We have enough of it without the government providing more.
I talked a little about why we are here and where we are with agriculture. I will now talk about where we are going. I have some suggestions.
I suggest we begin by building on the positives. Specialty crops have been a real success story in Canada in the last few years. Organic crops like kamut and the chick pea industry which has developed out of nowhere in western Canada are examples of this.
The second success story is the development of the pulse industry. It has seen a 2,500% increase in productivity in the past 20 years. It is now a $1 billion industry and within the next five years it is expected to be a $2 billion industry. That is a success story.
A third success story has been our livestock industry. Infrastructure is being developed and has been developed to support that industry. We need to protect it.
These are three sectors where we have had limited government involvement and have had success. We need to give the Food Inspection Agency the power to keep our cattle industry safe.
I suggest that we need emergency aid at this point. People have been criticizing the Alliance for what they see as a change in policy. As I have explained, it is not a change in policy at all. Farmers need compensation. We are prepared to deal with that and we want to deal with it.
We need an emergency structure for natural disasters. People come into our offices on a fairly regular basis who have not had satisfaction in dealing with natural disasters such as floods. We need long term planning for those kinds of situations.
We need to strengthen our insurance programs. Those programs have worked for the most part. Producers and the government contribute to them, and with adjustments as we go along they seem to be working not too badly. It was mentioned earlier that we need transition programs. I would echo that as well.
We need a long term safety net program with producer participation that works better than AIDA. We also need good trade negotiations to reduce foreign subsidization. We need to reduce our involvement in that regard. We need our trade negotiators to sit down and do serious business in that area.
As our motion says, we need $400 million of short term aid to farmers. I would call on the government to do more than just criticize the opposition. In the last two weeks it has changed its tactics. Last week members such as the member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey expressed the opinion that it is the opposition's fault the government has not responded to the crisis. I reject that.
This week there has been a very expensive Canada-wide media campaign to convince Canadians that farmers are well off as it is now. The government still does not understand that driving a wedge between people is not good agricultural policy. Perhaps again its agriculture policy is being driven by poll.
I cannot believe the lack of planning and commitment we see in the government. Liberal backbenchers today need to stand and show their influence. The opposition has done its work. We have tried to bring the issue to the forefront and we have done so today.
Many opposition members agree with the Liberal member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex who said, in response to the government's last announcement of new agricultural funding:
It was one of my darkest days in politics so far. I had really honestly thought the Prime Minister understood the plight of the grain and oilseed farmers...I just really felt my knees were cut out.
We call on members opposite to support our motion today to get involved, take care and do their part in correcting the emergency situation we have on the farm.