Mr. Speaker, debate on farm income is near and dear to my heart. I have farmed for 25 years and I have been in situations where I thought we were doing pretty well. I have also been in situations where I wondered if we would be able to make it through.
My home area of Cypress Hills—Grasslands, and particularly Frontier, was settled in the early 1900s by people who came mainly from Scandinavia looking for new opportunities. From the beginning some succeeded at farming and some did not.
Over the decades, particularly through the dirty thirties, people left our area. Depopulation took place a long time ago in southwestern Saskatchewan. We have already gone through what many other areas are only beginning to go through. To farm means that farmers will face obstacles.
Farmers have always faced and are willing to fight through disasters. All of us who have farmed have fought drought, floods, insects and heat. We were willing to do that, but this problem is different. This is a problem that does not come from the weather or from farmers themselves. Income crisis is not the fault of farmers. It has come about by circumstances totally outside our control.
Trade negotiations far away and unfair foreign subsidy programs have reduced our incomes to disastrous levels. Our income once again is dictated to us by the government.
The problems of the WTO talks and foreign subsidization programs have several results. One of them is that income drops for farmers. One of the newspapers in my constituency printed a notice that kitty litter now costs seven times as much as wheat. It is wrong when cat litter is worth more than our food.
On one side the income drops and on the other side the costs increase. If inputs skyrocket and income dives, it cannot work. A second result is that it is destroying people personally. People's willingness to continue farming is being taken away from them. Some of them are giving up. They cannot make it on their own. They do not want to be dependent on the government. They are proud people who want to be proud of what they do.
These people are self-employed. They are the ones who pay in but do not receive a lot back. They do not have fancy health plans, or in some cases even decent health care. They cannot take sick leave. They do not have big pension plans, but they are still the heart and the soul of our country.
We need a new framework. How could things be different? I would like members to come to my area of Cypress Hill—Grasslands and in particular to the Claydon, Frontier and Climax area with me. It has been home for nearly 100 years now to people who have been willing to take a chance. When people moved there it was a new opportunity for them.
People have continued to look for opportunity there and they have found it. Through the years they have established businesses. In the early seventies our community had agricultural implement manufacturers, primarily Friggstad. In the 1990s we had Honey Bee Manufacturing which makes swathing equipment and combining equipment. We have had processors move in that began to process our products and sell them themselves. We have diversified into specialty crops. People are interested in retailing in fuel, fertilizers and chemicals. Now people in our community are looking to the future. This is an area with only hundreds of people, not thousands of them. How does success happen in an area like that? There are two things that strike me about that area. First, the people desire to be free from government. They do not want to be dependent on government. They know that the government cannot sustain them long term. Second, they have an attitude that they will survive. They are going to survive and they will do what it takes to survive. We are doing that.
Does the government want some direction? Tonight we heard it ask for solutions and have heard some suggested by different people. I do not know if it wants specific solutions or not. It never initiated this debate and agriculture has never seemed to be a real priority for it.
I am going to make some suggestions anyway. As a producer, I would like to suggest first that the government strengthen what remains. I can think of two things, in particular the crop insurance programs that are in place and the NISA plan. Why not use NISA, tune it up, make it work and make it work better? As well, I would suggest, as we have heard tonight from my party and also from one of the parties on the opposition side, that we need stronger tax cuts and a reduction of government fees.
One program that worked last summer was the Canada-Saskatchewan adjustment program. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba were recipients of that. It was easily administered. The money was out there very quickly. It got to where it was needed and it was used to do what had to be done.
Second, we should eliminate the failures. I can think of two of them. They are the AIDA and the CFIP. These have been poorly administered and ineffective. They are dangerous because people get their hopes built up on what they are going to get out of the programs and then it is taken away from them.
We all know examples of where people have received money and have had it clawed back from them. I have constituents who have come to me and told me that they have been asked for the money back before they had even received it.
The second thing that needs to be dealt with is our trade positions, which must be a lot more aggressively pursued. The trade positions we end up with leave agriculture in a very bad situation.
The government needs also to give hope for tomorrow. We need to get emergency aid out there right now. We have half, or $800 million, of the AIDA money left. We are calling on the government to deliver another $1 billion before seeding time. That has to get out if we want farming to work successfully in the grain and oilseed sector.
The government needs to look to create incentives to change. One of the problems with AIDA is that it has rewarded people for staying the same. If I have grown a product and it has gone downhill, there is no incentive for me to change it because I can continue to try to collect from that program. We must look to create incentives to change.
The pulse growers are a good example of people who have gone into specialization diversification and have done a good job without a lot of government help. We can look to them for an example of people who are making agriculture work.
I would suggest we need to open access. We need to open it to the railways so we can get access to move some of our own products on the railways. I would also suggest, as we have heard earlier tonight, that we need to open access to marketing, particularly for grain. We need to allow freedom and open it up so people have choice in what they are marketing and can deal with their own product. We can market other crops worldwide and we can certainly do it with grain.
If the government will not address these solutions, I have another suggestion. It had better come up with some quick and effective transition programs for those who cannot continue to farm. We heard earlier that 6,400 people moved off their farms last year. That is going to accelerate very rapidly. These people know how to work. They want to work on their farms. However, if we are not prepared to help them, we had better be prepared to help them go on to something else.
In conclusion, I want to ask the question: is agriculture a necessary industry? If not, what is? If it is, the government needs to move. For three years it has failed to effectively address the situation in grains and oilseeds. It is time that it starts to mind the company store by addressing this immediate need.
Our ancestors came here for the opportunity. Let us try to make sure that there is one for our children as well.