Mr. Speaker, this is also my first time speaking in the House. I would like to thank my constituents, the people from Souris--Moose Mountain, for their trust and confidence in me, and I thank the many volunteers for their hard work. I would like to thank my wife and family for being part of the process that brought me here. Parliament is quite an institution, and I am certainly proud to be here.
I knew some of the members. I knew the hon. member for Wascana. He and I went through law school in 1971-73. I was curious as to what he might be doing in the House. Not very much, I find after being here for a week, and that incrementally.
It is an honour to be here. I can say I am heartened that one of the issues of the throne speech will deal with equalization payments, because my province of Saskatchewan has been very much affected by the formula that was changed in the 1980s and 1990s. For every dollar of oil we produce in Saskatchewan, we lose $1.08 or more in equalization payments. It is time for that to change.
I am heartened to see that the government also will be dealing with work skills and apprenticeship programs and literacy programs, but more important than that is the creation of jobs. We need to have the jobs that will require the skills, which will take some tax reduction, not only for large business but for small business, and also for individuals, to ensure that we have the climate for the creation of the jobs we need in this country.
The government boasts about its labour management abilities; it talks about working in collaboration with labour. Yet this week we saw evidence of the fact that the government was not prepared to negotiate with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and it put everything on hold because it was politically expedient to do so. It was not until there was pressure put upon the government by third parties and by our party and myself as critic that it decided to go back to the table as it should have. The government says one thing, but it does another. If this government respects employees it should not be garnering large surpluses in the EI account and using them for purposes for which they are not intended. Those accounts and that surplus must go for employees.
I am also encouraged that the government has made shelter and housing a high priority and is addressing homelessness. Home and shelter are very important to every individual. The manner in which these goals are attained is very important. We must have adequate housing with the least investment. We must have affordable rental accommodations. We must encourage the market by the building of further rental accommodation and utility shelters.
We must address the plight of our aboriginal people in this area and, in particular, provide education and skills training. Yesterday I met with the White Bear aboriginal leaders. I am encouraged with what I have seen in the initiative they intend to take. They simply need to be freed up to do it, as my colleague just before me suggested in his speech.
The main issue I wish to address relates to the constituency of Souris--Moose Mountain, which is largely comprised of grain farmers and cattle farmers. I have been in the business for some 30 years in that constituency and I have not seen as great a challenge as these farmers are facing at this time. The circumstances are dire. They are actually at the crossroads of existence. They may or may not exist in the condition that we know them. The situation is so dire and the time is so short that if there is no action taken now it may change forever.
In spite of all of that, in spite of the fact that they are the backbone of our communities and if they are shut down our communities are shut down, we find that the Prime Minister has not had the courtesy to address that issue in the budget speech except incidentally by saying that agriculture is a significant industry.
It is one thing to make a promise. It is another thing to break a promise. It is one thing to talk about something, but this government has not even talked about agriculture when it is facing the greatest crisis it has ever faced in the history of our country.
As someone who comes from western Canada, I find it appalling that there was barely a reference to the farmers of Saskatchewan and no plan as to what will happen: no plan, no vision, not even an inkling of what the government is going to do.
Not only will people perish without a vision, as my learned colleague said, but our farmers will perish if there is no vision, and this government is devoid of vision. We need bold vision. We need bold steps that must be taken now. Our party will see to it that we will continue to press the government until it sees the picture and does something about it.
The Prime Minister has made a few flybys in Saskatchewan. In fact, he dropped into the Regina-Wascana area, but he could not possibly have attended at the various farms in Saskatchewan for he would have seen the frustration, and in fact the desperation, of some farmers. If he had seen that, there would be some programs directed specifically to meet that situation.
I am not talking about $800 million or $1.6 million. I am talking about an investment of billions. Our finance minister has said, previous to the various announcements of the billions of dollars, that there was no money to be found and there was no wiggle room, yet the government came up with billions of dollars. We are having a national catastrophe on the prairies and there is not even a mention of a plan that would take care of the situation.
It is easy to understand that western alienation continues to grow. From my Estevan constituency, from my Weyburn constituency, in my Ottawa office and personally, I have received calls time and time again in the last number of weeks in respect to the situation farmers find themselves in, and particularly with the CAIS program. Some of them have expected dollars and have been told they are receiving very little. Some have said they will be receiving nothing. These farmers have bills to pay. They have fuel bills and fertilizer bills and there is no money.
The programs for farmers require the help of accountants and lawyers. It is time we made the programs simple enough such that farmers can figure them out at their kitchen tables and understand what they will be receiving at the end of the day.
Saskatchewan farmers have suffered poor yields, frost and grasshoppers. They have suffered not only in that area but also in the political realm, with the BSE border closing and with low commodity prices, and the government has done nothing. People on the farm maintain two jobs and they do not maintain two jobs because they want to work more than 12 hours a day. They do it because they have to.
I recently received a letter from the Rural Municipality of Benson No. 35. It portrays what all of the RMs in my constituency are concerned with. At a meeting they held, they discussed the crisis facing agriculture “due to the failure of the federal and [provincial] government[s] to properly address the BSE outbreak and the low income of grain farmers”. They said the agricultural crisis facing producers today “requires immediate action on behalf of [both] government[s] if agriculture is to remain a viable way of life in the province and this country”.
In the middle of all of that, there was nothing in the throne speech.
The crisis facing agriculture producers is not limited to livestock producers but extends to grain farmers as well. With the elimination of grain transportation subsidies by the federal government, there was a direct impact on grain farmers due to the dramatic rise in costs for transporting their commodities to the market. Furthermore, they have continued to be hit with low commodity prices as well as frost.
I have here the grain ticket of a farmer, in the amount of $719. After deducting cleaning charges, elevation and handling charges, Canadian Wheat Board freight charge, trucking premium and weighing and inspection, the net cheque is $270. The rest is taken up by one cost or another, and the government is not concerned that the farmers are not earning enough to pay their costs of operation.
The administrator of the RM says in closing that council urges both the federal government and the provincial government to “step up to the plate and assist agriculture producers before it's too late”.
I think they have capsulized what is important. The window of time is short. It is time for the government to act now. It has failed in the throne speech to indicate what it is going to do. It is important that it do so.