Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to support Motion No. 108. I am also very proud to represent the constituency of Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, a major farming and ranching constituency. In fact, my constituency produces the most canola in Canada of any constituency.
Canada is a very large country; 10 million square kilometres. Within our 10 million square kilometres, there are just over 200,000 farms. They farm a very small part of Canada. They farm 680,000 square kilometres, or 6.8% of Canada's landmass. However, these 200,000 family farms, on 6.8% of the land area in Canada, provide a disproportionate contribution to Canadian society and the Canadian economy. They are also a repository of cultural and traditional ecological knowledge and values.
This constituency also has a very strong stewardship ethic and is blanketed with organizations known as conservation districts, where local people have gotten together to develop and promote conservation programming.
Right now, agriculture counts for about 8% of Canada's GDP and 12% of all employment. The food and beverage processing industry is the largest of all manufacturing industries in Canada. Overall, about 50% of Canada's agricultural production is exported, but in the west, where I come from, the number is 80%. Therefore, agriculture not only helps our Canadian economy, but it contributes very strongly to the balance of trade as well.
It is very clear that the relatively small number of primary agricultural producers in Canada sets off an enormous chain reaction of jobs, growth and employment that ripples throughout the entire Canadian economy. Not only that, but Canadian farmers produce the world's highest quality food and deliver extremely affordable food to Canadians.
In Canada, we spend about 10% of our disposable income on food. It is among the lowest in the entire world. The fact that low-income people can afford to eat well is one of the best social programs a country could ever have. In other words, we are all part of the culture of agriculture. Not only that, Canada's major cities are largely located within the agricultural regions of Canada, reflecting our country's settlement patterns.
However, we tend to take agriculture for granted and we all expect this flow of high quality, abundant, and low cost food to continue indefinitely, which is a good thing. However, society is now placing new environmental demands on farmers and ranchers and they have responded, utilizing techniques that were described earlier, such as zero tillage, where crops are grown without disturbing the soil.
I recall during the dry 1980s in Canada's Prairies when there were horrific dust storms in the spring. Much of the land was bare and high winds developed. These dust storms are no more, thanks to conservation farming techniques.
I know modern agriculture has been criticized in some corners, but I am a strong proponent of high-tech modern agriculture as an environmental benefit to all of society. The fact that we can grow more food on less land means we can also reserve certain lands for conservation purposes.
Let us look at ranchers like my colleague did. Ranchers have developed grazing techniques such as rest rotational grazing and remote watering that improve cattle weight gain, enhance water quality, and conserve biodiversity.
Regarding cattle ranching, I vehemently disagree with those who criticize the environmental performance of the beef cattle industry. Quite frankly, if we care about the environment, we should eat beef.
Well-managed grazing not only conserves and protects vital grasslands, but is critical to the survival of many endangered prairie birds. In fact, the Audubon Society, undoubtedly North America's most prestigious bird conservation organization, has launched the conservation ranching program. It works with ranchers to improve conservation outcomes. I will quote from one of its documents:
To combat these negative impacts and to keep grass on the landscape throughout North America, Audubon has developed the Conservation Ranching Program. This program is a collaboration with local ranchers within the North American Grasslands, ensuring that grazing regimes produce healthy habitats for target grassland bird species....cattle are an essential management tool for the prairie which led to Audubon's decision to promote their presence on grasslands.
Again, those of us who strongly support the cattle industry should speak loudly and proudly about the conservation benefits of the cattle industry.
The NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation essentially said the same thing. The CEC is a commission of Canada, Mexico, and the United States created under NAFTA. It has released a series of reports underlining the importance of sustainable ranching and beef cattle trade to the grasslands and to the societies and economies of North America.
The crux of the issue, when it comes to conservation programming on private land, is that there is a mix of property rights on private land. The soil is privately owned, but the wildlife belongs to the crown. These rights often come into conflict. Farmers and ranchers by necessity change the landscape to continue agricultural operations, but quite frankly, the public has a legitimate interest in the management and conservation of public resources, such as wildlife, on private land.
The big question is how to manage the public interest while at the same time maintaining farm and ranch profitability. We can emphasize the enforcement approach or the incentive approach. Motion No. 108 talks about the incentive approach.
In most cases, the enforcement approach, which is telling farmers and ranchers how they must run their operations, has been a dismal failure. I recall the actions under the pre-2012 Fisheries Act and the current Species at Risk Act.
I am a member of the fisheries committee. In testimony before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, when we were reviewing changes the government wants to make to the 2012 Fisheries Act, which our government brought in, there was testimony from Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. On November 21, 2016, he said:
The experience that many farmers had with the Fisheries Act, unfortunately, was not a positive one. It was characterized by lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, and a focus on enforcement and compliance measures taken by officials coupled with a lack of guidance or outreach on the purpose of these measures or information on how to navigate through the process.
Many farmers were then relieved when the changes that were made just a few years ago drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement activities to their farms as well as lifting the threat of being deemed out of compliance. That being said, I think we could find ourselves with an important opportunity to look at how protection can be enhanced in a way that works on the ground for those who earn their livelihood from productive natural resources.
The Species at Risk Act is problematic as well. It has a very strong enforcement role. Currently, it is actually a disincentive to have an endangered species on one's farm.
On the other hand, the incentive approach to dealing with conservation on private land has delivered real conservation outcomes. Again, from Mr. Bonnett's testimony:
I'd like to take this opportunity to share just a few examples from my own farm of growing stewardship actions that have improved fish habitat outcomes. Through Growing Forward 2 and species at risk funding, we were able to access incentive programs that contributed to the improvement of fish habitat. More specifically, through the provincially delivered environmental farm plan and the Species at Risk Act, we put fencing in to keep our livestock sufficiently away from water courses, which has increased water quality and fish population.
In order to provide fresh water for our cattle, we installed a solar powered off-stream watering system. This has led to the rehabilitation of the stream that runs through our pasture areas. These are just two examples from a single farm in northern Ontario that illustrate how stewardship approaches have improved fish habitat in agricultural landscapes through means other than a regulatory-based approach under the Fisheries Act.
When the committee reviewed the Fisheries Act, it unanimously approved recommendations 8 and 9. Recommendation 8 stated:
That Fisheries and Oceans Canada put sufficient protection provisions into the Fisheries Act that act as safeguards for farmers and agriculturalists, and municipalities.
Recommendation 9 stated:
That Fisheries and Oceans Canada work with the farm community and rural municipalities to provide incentives and expert advice to conserve and enhance fish habitat and populations and utilize the enforcement approach as a last resort.
It was made clear to the fisheries committee by the farm community that the enforcement approach simply does not work and that the incentive approach is the one we must take.
Under the Species at Risk Act, there is a really good program in place called the species at risk partnerships on agricultural lands program, or SARPAL. In Manitoba right now, the Manitoba Beef Producers are delivering the SARPAL program, which is as it should be, with the people who know what is going on on the land delivering actual programs.
However, Canada lags far behind the United States and Europe in terms of incentive-based agricultural programs. I hope Motion No. 108 will go a way toward changing that. I strongly urge all members to approve Motion. No. 108, which would not only improve the environment but also improve the lives of Canada's farm and ranch communities.