Mr. Chair, it is a great honour for me to stand before you this morning, as it is after midnight here in Ottawa. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Leeds--Grenville for the confidence that they have shown in me.
In my first address to Parliament, it is fitting that I am standing here on the BSE crisis. It is something that has had a major effect on my riding.
Earlier this evening I was in my riding helping some folks because the bank is closing in one of our small communities. It is just another one of the things that is causing the deterioration of the rural way of life in ridings like mine.
We are here this morning to talk about the BSE crisis. It is not some abstract problem for bureaucrats, diplomats or industry commentators. It affects men and women and families, not just in my riding of Leeds--Grenville where it is a large part of the economy, but across Canada.
All of us who represent rural ridings know exactly what I am talking about. Our beef farmers are in real trouble through no fault of their own. What started as a legitimate medical concern has been permitted to evolve into a full-blown industry meltdown by an unprepared, irresponsible Liberal government that thought calling Americans morons was a solution. Planet earth to you, Mr. Prime Minister, it was not the answer.
Beef farmers in my riding, like others, are among the most stoic of all Canadians. They work hard and pay their taxes. They do not complain and they do not look to government to solve all their problems. They are strong, resourceful and resilient people. Now in these dark times, they need our help. Beef farmers in my riding are stretched to the breaking point. They have used most of their resources and this winter may be the end for many.
BSE is a political crisis that requires political action on several fronts. It requires this action if we are to find a solution.
Like myself, others here tonight will raise concerns that are on the minds of beef farmers and the agricultural industry all across the nation. These issues are a part of the problem and their resolution must be part of the solution.
Relief should focus on farmers, not packers. Let me remind the government that we cannot pack what we do not grow. The fact is that the CAIS program is not right for small family farms because the cost of entry is too high and the rewards are too low after a year of depressed prices. CAIS must be restructured to help small family farms.
It is time now for blunt talk with the Americans and the Japanese to remind them that the unjustifiably closed borders for Canadian beef can result in reciprocal actions.
We need to restructure and rebuild the entire industry in light of this crisis so that we have new markets, new domestic slaughter and packing capacity and are never again prey to political protectionism.
These are issues that concern the producers in Leeds--Grenville.
I note and commend the seven solutions offered by the member for Lethbridge during last Thursday's start to this debate. I am attending a regional meeting of cattlemen later this month and I guarantee that the ideas he presented will be discussed.
In order to illustrate the breadth of this problem, I would like to bring to the House the facts of the terrible price that is being paid in my riding as a result of this crisis. Over the past number of weeks I have been talking with farmers involved in and affected by the BSE crisis and other affected businesses. The picture that has been painted has not been pretty.
To put this in a perspective that all Canadians will understand, it is like going to work every day of one's life and several years before retiring, one is told that one must return all the money made and everything that has been put away for retirement just to keep working.
In my riding and in the area that is serviced by the farm industries, this is what has happened since the beginning of the BSE crisis. This is how we have to deal with those who are affected.
A sale barn is closed down. Farmers in Leeds--Grenville and neighbouring Frontenac County now have additional costs in getting their cattle to market, or they have to make additional costly arrangements to have their cattle shipped elsewhere to do so.
Dairy farms that used to sell their steers into the meat market are no longer doing so which is another hit on their income. That ripples through to other businesses.
Older farmers who have been saving for retirement or who should be enjoying their retirement are cashing in their RRSPs to help the younger members of their families keep their farms operating. This is money that they will never recover. Somehow I doubt this is what we intended when the RRSP program was started.
Those farmers who are being forced out of business are selling out at fire sale prices because there is no other option. Equipment dealers are in trouble. Fertilizer and feed dealers are in trouble. Veterinarians have had to cut back on staff and hours. Commodity prices have dropped and the wet weather that we had through most of the summer in our area has led to poor crops. All of these factors lead to a truly frightening trend.
The ability to sustain the family farm is reaching a critical point. Farmers are leaving the business. There are no young farmers to take their place and there are no financial institutions willing to finance them even if there were. Being able to feed ourselves is a matter of national security. If we cannot feed ourselves, we cannot control our future. However, we can do something.
I ask the government to take time out from advising the Russians on democracy or tap dancing on ethics to pay real attention to these real problems and to work with members of the House. We heard the member for Brandon—Souris say that we have to recognize there is a minority government and it is time that all sides of the House worked together to help solve this problem.
Let me offer just a few suggestions that I think could go a long way toward solving this problem. We need to empower our international negotiators to make clear that it is time that science trumped politics. Open the borders or face the consequences. Do not think for a moment that Canada is powerless in all of this. All we require is a government with the political will and the courage to stand up for Canadian beef producers.
We need to aggressively seek new markets for the best beef in the world, Canadian beef. We need to commit resources to redesign the entire beef industry in Canada in light of this experience so we are not caught at the bottom of the production chain again.
In fairness, the original BSE outbreak was not the exclusive responsibility of the government. The half-hearted, ineffective, unimaginative, defeatist response to it by the preceding Liberal government, however, is directly responsible for the continuing crisis in my riding and others from coast to coast.
Let us now with this debate and this Parliament resolve that together we craft a solution. Let us get the applications out there. Let us get the money out through the CAIS program. Let us help expand the slaughter capacity. Let us get it done now. Let us work together to solve this crisis.