Madam Speaker, let me extend my congratulations to you on your appointment to the chair and to the hon. member for Welland-St. Catharines-Thorold on his election as Speaker of the House. I sincerely believe that both of you will be just and wise in conducting the business of the House. I also congratulate all members of the House on their election victories.
I am very pleased to take this opportunity to thank the people of Vegreville constituency for their strong show of support on October 25 and for their communication with me since then. I understand well that I represent all constituents and each must have equal access to my ears, my effort and my voice.
The greatest strengths of this area are resourceful and highly motivated people and an abundance of natural resources including oil, natural gas and rich agricultural land. Through living and working with the people of this area I have learned there are common threads that bind them. They are kind, generous and forgiving to a point. They are hard working, treat people fairly and expect to be treated fairly. They like to face problems head on and are frustrated that their governments refuse to do the same. They are a way ahead of government in recognizing the problems and the solutions to the problems the country faces.
These people have told me what they expect of this government. They want democratic and parliamentary reforms which will make me and the Government of Canada more accountable to them. They want reform of the justice system to restore the balance between the rights of victims and society as a whole and the rights and rehabilitation of criminals.
They want government to spend less, much less. My constituents have sent me here to ask these questions of each spending proposal. Is it necessary? How much will it cost? Can it be done for less? The Canadian public and members of the House have heard and will continue to hear Reform MPs ask: Can we spend less?
As I listened to the throne speech I was disappointed that agriculture was not mentioned. However my concerns were somewhat alleviated by the hon. Minister of Agriculture in his response to the throne speech. I was pleased with some of the objectives the minister outlined and will be thrilled, as will my constituents, if my interpretation of what he said and what he actually meant are the same.
I will list briefly what I see as the major problems in agriculture today and outline some of the Reform solutions. My colleague from Fraser Valley East will discuss the supply managed sector.
The problems then are subsidies both domestic and foreign which encourage overproduction and lead to unfair competition, a lack of co-ordination of programs further distorting market signals and causing inappropriate production, and programs which threaten access to markets. For example, the national tripartite stabilization program for beef and hogs has caused export problems to the United States. Then there are problem which encourage environmental damage. An example is the gross revenue insurance plan which encourages crop production on marginal and easily degradable land.
The Crow benefit costs taxpayers approximately $700 million a year and leads to the exports of value added in industries and jobs. The future of grain farming may very well depend on keeping those value added industries in Canada.
Next would be marketing agencies which prohibit competition. For example, the Canadian Wheat Board controls all sales of wheat, barley exports and domestic milling wheat sales. I am not suggesting that we eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board but rather that we reform it.
Another problem is very poor anti-combines and fair competition legislation and even poorer enforcement. Finally are interprovincial trade barriers.
All these problems and others must be dealt with in a co-ordinated way. Are farmers ready to accept the necessary change? I believe they are. Farmers are astute business people who do not want to depend on subsidies which prolong the problem. They want to depend on less subsidies and more on the marketplace. Although the new GATT agreement may open the gate it will not solve the problem. It is up to Parliament, in consultation with farmers, to make the necessary changes.
I will outline briefly the vision of the Reform Party for agricultural reform: more specifically reform of safety net programs, the transportation system, research, education and training, government regulations, and the Canadian Wheat Board.
Concerning safety net programs, our plan is to consolidate the mess of over a dozen unco-ordinated programs into three programs to protect farmers from natural hazards, unfair foreign trade practices and other income fluctuations which are beyond their control.
First, there is the creation of a trade distortion adjustment program to compensate farmers for unfair trade practices in other countries.
Second, an income stabilization program will help protect farmers against price fluctuations and cycles which occur in an open market environment. This program will ensure a minimum of interference in the marketplace by using the whole farm approach. That means all commodities would be eligible and all commodities produced on a particular farm would be included in the plan.
Third, an improved crop insurance program would help protect farmers against natural hazards but not encourage overproduction.
This package of three safety net programs will be better for farmers and less expensive for taxpayers.
Concerning transportation reform, agricultural products should move to markets by any route, any mode of transportation and in any state of processing that farmers and their customers agree on. Transportation subsidies should be eliminated and the money put into the safety net program. The
railway system should be deregulated and options such as privatizing CN Rail rolling stock to enhance competition in the system should be considered. Grain handlers should be deemed an essential service during labour disputes if alternate routes which are cost effective cannot be found.
A policy environment which encourages private sector participation in research, education and job training must be developed. Research funds should be better targeted to meet the goals set out by farmers and agribusiness.
In the area of government regulation we must ensure that imported products meet the same safety and environmental standards as those produced in Canada. We must strengthen and rigorously enforce anti-dumping laws and dispute settlement mechanisms. We must protect against unfair business practices by strengthening and enforcing anti-combine legislation and by creating stronger licensing and arbitration regulations.
Finally, a priority of this Parliament must be reforming the Canadian Wheat Board. Allowing a continental barley market, though certainly a move in the right direction, is only tinkering with a system that needs major reform. Let us make the following improvements. Make the Canadian Wheat Board accountable to the people who pay the bills and they are western Canadian grain farmers. Allow the wheat board to handle any crop it wants but permit farmers and grain companies the right to compete with the board. Continue loan guarantees as long as other countries do and give farmers the right to choose between a pool price and a daily cash price.
These changes will provide a win-win situation for farmers, taxpayers and for us in this House. We have strong support, as in no Parliament before, to make these positive and substantial changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. The farmers of this country are way ahead of us politicians in being ready for and demanding these changes. Let us catch up. Let us lead. Thank you.