Mr. Chair, it is a privilege for me to rise this morning in the House to speak to an issue of great importance to the constituents of Fundy Royal as well as other Atlantic Canadians.
The BSE crisis is affecting farmers from coast to coast. There is, however, a misconception out there that this is a western issue. It is more than that. It is a Canada wide crisis. For example, there are approximately 1,000 beef farmers in New Brunswick. They contributed $27 million to the provincial economy prior to this crisis. This has dropped to $19 million since the finding of BSE in 2003.
I had the privilege of working with our party's agricultural critic on this issue, and I commend her on her leadership. I have also met with producers in and around my riding to hear how this issue is affecting them in Atlantic Canada. What I have heard is that Atlantic farmers are in crisis. Many of my constituents are faced with the real prospect of bankruptcy and the loss of their farms. Federal aid programs are not helping because they are not reaching the people most in need, and that is our farmers.
Our farmers are some of the hardest working people in Canada and when a crisis like this hits they deserve our help. However, the farmers I have met with tell me that the Liberal program has been of little assistance to them in their time of need. I have heard, for example, from a young farming couple who run a dairy and beef farm with 80 to 100 head of beef. They used to sell their cull cows for $600. Now they are only receiving $66 for a cull cow.
I spoke to another farmer who last year only received in aid an amount equal to what he would normally have gotten by selling two heifers. Another farmer in my riding is now driving a school bus to make ends meet on what was once a successful farming business.
I heard from beef farmers who are confused about how to apply for funding or whether they are even eligible for funding. Forms are so confusing that even departmental officials cannot give straight answers to Canadian farmers.
Clearly, farmers require assistance. What they do not need is more delays, red tape and hoops to jump through. They need help, but they need it at the farm gate. Any assistance that is provided must reach those that require it. Our farmers cannot afford for the Liberals to get it wrong once again.
Another misconception is that the BSE crisis is one that affects only beef farmers. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. For example, dairy farming is a vital part of the economy in my riding of Fundy Royal. As a matter of fact, approximately 70% of New Brunswick's dairy production comes from my riding. The proposed solution by the Liberals to this crisis does not help dairy farmers. Often the CAISP does not benefit dairy since many dairy farmers do not meet the program's requirements. Besides, farmers need a deposit to participate in the CAISP and many of the farmers in my riding are unable to borrow enough money for a deposit.
In Atlantic Canada our farmers are in a particularly tough spot since there is little infrastructure in place for other farming endeavours. I am encouraged that we are working to increase processing capacity in Atlantic Canada. I am also encouraged by the hard work of stakeholders in my region to come up with solutions to this problem. What is discouraging though is the failure of the Liberals to deliver aid to the farm gate. If we are going to have aid programs, an overriding priority must be ensuring that the help arrives in time for those in need.
This crisis will only be resolved when we have an open border with our neighbours to the south, the United States. Again, the previous Liberal government had a dismal relationship with the United States and our farmers have suffered for it. It is time for politicians to put aside pettiness and act in the best interests of farmers and in the best interests of our country.
I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House, no matter what part of Canada they are from, to work together on solutions that will save our farms.