Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food with respect to the beef and pork sector income crisis, presented to the House on Wednesday, December 12, 2007, be concurred in.
Hon. Chuck Strahl: Is this the Easter report?
Hon. Wayne Easter: The member opposite asks if this is the Easter report. If the government would just take the Easter report, read it and enact it, farmers would be much more profitable, but the government continues to ignore the farm community.
This was a unanimous report by committee members and it was undertaken out of the dire and unprecedented income crisis suffered by the beef and hog farmers in this country.
Canadian farmers, who are among the most efficient farmers in the world, were then, and still are now, finding themselves facing serious financial trouble and, in many cases, financial ruin. Third, fourth and fifth generation farmers have all done what provincial and federal governments have asked, which was to increase production, increase efficiency and increase exports, and now, in their time of need, the Canadian government is basically leaving them in a lurch.
Believe it or not, the farm community has always been at the cutting edge of technological change. In fact, agriculture leads all sectors in annual production growth, better than manufacturing, construction, transportation, trade, finance and many other sectors. However, farmers are not retaining the income and the benefits of all that productivity growth and all that efficiency. The government, although it talks about acting, has failed to act in their interest.
The real reason for this concurrence motion is that the committee wrote a very good report and it was done in a non-partisan sense. I think government backbenchers on the committee felt that the government might actually do something but we now have before us the government's response.
I am sorry to say this but the 's response is absolutely pathetic. Actions speak louder than words. The minister talks about putting farmers first but actions speak, not words. I hate to think what would happen if the minister were to ever say that we would put farmers second, because his first is very far down the line.
The minister talks about putting farmers first but let us look at some of the facts. It is really just an illusion. We know that the and the governing party are very good at creating illusions. Everything from transparency and accountability is just an illusion.
However, it was not an illusion when we saw the police raid the Conservative Party of Canada's office. It was not an illusion yesterday when I raised the fact that the minister was trying to violate the Privacy Act in terms of getting information on individuals so he could attack them over his ideological drive against the Canadian Wheat Board.
I will now turn to the Department of Agriculture's own estimates. The government has been spinning a line that it is putting money out there for farmers. The cost of the production program that the announced has no relationship with the cost of production whatsoever. In fact, I have letters from farmers who have indicated that they have received as little as $1.28 an animal. It has no relationship with cost of production. It is just an illusion.
The previous minister of agriculture announced the family farm options program, which was going to help farmers in financial trouble. What did the government do a few months later? Without notice, after the fact, it withdrew the program, taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of farmers' pockets. However, the Canadian public actually thought the government was doing something. The government gave it and then took it away.
Let us look at the department's estimates. What really matters is what the government is putting out there in terms of actual cash to the farm community in program payments. I will go to the estimates. On program payments, from the minister's own documents, it states:
|| Overall, program payments are forecast at $4.0 billion in 2007, compared to the record level of $4.9 billion reached in 2005 and a drop of 12% from 2006.
Those are the real numbers. The government tries to leave the impression that it is doing more for farmers than the Liberals did but who was in government in 2005? The Liberals were. When we really look at the numbers, comparing 2005 to 2008, the current government is $1.2 billion short of where the previous government was.
The hog and beef industry has never faced the kind of crisis that it is facing right now. The tobacco industry is in crisis. The government broke its promises in that regard as well.
What we get from the government are illusions, smoke and mirrors, and no real actions.
It is no illusion that in the last election the , who is heckling, and his cohort, the , promised tobacco producers an exit strategy. I met with tobacco producers last weekend and they are in disarray. They are discouraged and disgusted that the government broke its promise to them. However, that is not unusual for the government. It is pretty good at breaking promises.
The bottom line is that the government should shed its illusions and actually do something about the farm income crisis. In other words, the government talks but does not act.
I will go back to the first report that we are moving concurrence in today. The introduction reads:
|| The beef and pork industries are currently buffeted by what could be considered a “perfect storm”. Decreasing prices, increasing input costs, a strengthened Canadian dollar and regulatory compliance costs are all elements of this storm.... Although both the production and processing sectors are affected, the crisis became acute this fall for hog and cattle producers, who are struggling to meet even their immediate financial obligations.
Let us look at what some of the witnesses had to say. Mr. Curtiss Littlejohn from the Canadian Pork Council had this to say:
|| Simply put, prices are collapsing, input costs have increased dramatically, and cash losses are mounting at such astonishing rates that entire communities, including producers and their input suppliers, face financial ruin.
I will turn to another statement by Jim Laws, the executive director of the Canadian Meat Council. He stated:
|| Canada's federally inspected meat processing industry is the most regulated of all food processing sectors. It's estimated that federally inspected meat processors collectively pay over $20 million per year in fees--fees such as inspection services, export certificates, label approvals, etc. This constitutes a major disadvantage to Canadian processors. ...and Canadian provincially inspected processors, who are not subject to these same additional costs. To create a level field internationally, the fees should be removed immediately.
That was said in November 2007 and the committee asked that those fees be removed.
As well, when I was in Ontario last weekend, on Saturday I met with the president of Gencor Foods, a company that was processing older cattle. It has just gone broke and is in bankruptcy, which now denies Canadian producers a market for about 700 cows a week. There were 120 people laid off. Since the government came to power, there have never been as many plants shut down, not in a long time, whether it is in manufacturing or agriculture, because the government is failing absolutely to act.
There were a lot of good points in this report, a lot of background data, and good recommendations. I just cannot understand how backbenchers over there can sit on their hands when this tragedy at the farm level, this loss, is occurring as it is, but they continue to sit on their hands. They take the speaking notes from the Prime Minister's Office and away they go.
Do those government backbenchers not realize that they were elected to represent their constituents and that they should be speaking out? They should stand up to the. They should stand up to the , who has basically made bare the financial cupboards of the country.
The government uses the excuse that there is no money to do what ought to be done. There are only two people who are responsible if there is no money available in this country to do things for manufacturing, agriculture, the tobacco industry and many others. Those two people are the and the .
It is hard to believe that in two short years the Conservative government has taken a country that was seen as the financial envy of the western industrialized world and recklessly spent 2% of the GST on basically nothing, taking away the ability of the federal government to do what it ought to be doing. Thus, the minister is doing very little.
Let me go to the response. As I said, the response of the government to this report is just absolutely pathetic. The government starts by saying:
|| The Government agrees with the spirit of the report and shares the Committee's commitment to addressing the needs of the beef and pork sector facing serious pressures on its short-term liquidity and long-term competitiveness challenges.
The “spirit” is not going to keep Canadian farmers in business. The minister and the government have the power and the authority to act, but they are failing to act.
As I mentioned a moment ago, yes, the Conservative government has the treasury of the country basically broke, but that excuse is not good enough. We are losing rural Canadians. We are losing productive farms. We are losing our ability to have food sovereignty in this country. As for the minister, he basically sits on his hands.
The government goes on regarding a number of other areas in this report. Let me come to a key point it makes. It states:
|The Government recognizes the need to support industry in dealing with serious pressures, but--
There is the big word “but”.
|--is also conscious of the need to do so in ways that do not mask market signals and are consistent with our international trade obligations.
There is one thing I will say about our major competitor, the United States. It does not put its primary producers second to international trade obligations. It does not put its primary producers second to its financial reserves. It puts its primary producers first.
I talked about the Gencor plant going under. The real reason why that plant went under was the specified risk material fee, which put that plant at a competitive disadvantage to those in the United States. When the United States did not come along with its international obligations as it was supposed to, the Government of Canada should have recognized that it needed to act with financial resources and assist those plants so they could stay in business.
The report covers a number of areas, but here is the worst statement in the government's response. It says that those sectors, the beef and hog sectors, “will need to adjust to the realities of higher feed grain prices and a stronger dollar”.
One of the reasons why there are higher feed grain prices in this country is due to the government's policies in a number of other areas. We support an ethanol and biodiesel policy, but the fact of the matter is that if government subsidies to one area are going to distort the feed costs for another area, then the government has a responsibility to assist in that regard.
Before I run out of time, I will make a number of recommendations that the government should listen to. If the government would like, I could table them.
We had the opportunity in the Liberal Party of Canada to have a task force that put out a report entitled “Canadian Farmers: Targeted Action for Results”. This report went to a real leader, the hon. member for , the leader of the Liberal Party. In that report, there are a number of recommendations on how to deal with this immediate crisis facing the livestock industry. I will run through a few of them, but I want to emphasize that these are recommendations the government needs to act on now.
The government did come out with a $3.3 billion loan and advance payment program, which was announced by the on December 19. The parliamentary secretary said in early February that “the money is flowing as we speak”. That was not the truth. It was not flowing as we spoke.
Action from our party in March forced the government to finally move the legislation through this House so the money would actually flow. Primary producers lost three months while the minister had this $3.3 billion loan program. One cannot borrow oneself out of debt. It cannot be done. The government had the loan program, but it just did not work. After the legislation passed, that program went into effect.
However, let us look at the cost to the government. Before committee, officials from the Department of Agriculture admitted that the additional costs in that program are only $22 million a year. The Government of Canada and the minister, although they use these huge figures, are really just putting in a pittance. The government is not supporting the industry to the extent it should.
Let me go through some recommendations.
First, the government should put cash in the hands of beef producers immediately by making a special 2007 cash advance payment of up to $100 and up to $150 for feeder cattle.
Second, the government should put cash in the hands of hog producers and immediately implement a short term loan for Canadian hog producers to improve cashflows as markets adjust. However, now we have to go well beyond that recommendation.
Third, the government should put on an immediate priority basis the 2006 CAIS payments and 2007 CAIS targeted and interim advance payments for all hog and beef producers.
Fourth, the government should work with all parties to determine how the advance payment program could be improved and accessed by hog and beef producers, including amending the security requirements, unlinking CAIS payment offsets with advances given, and extending time restrictions on advances. There I would add, although I personally have favoured caps on the CAIS payments, a suggestion that we could suspend those caps over the next interim period so that some of the larger operators can get that funding out of CAIS as well. That is how serious the crisis is.
Fifth, we need to also allow all hog and beef producers to be given the option of having the top 15% of CAIS, or the new AgriInvest program for at least 2007 and 2008, and maintain the $600 million AgriInvest kickstart already announced.
Sixth, we need to defer the interest payments, but also the clawbacks, on CAIS overpayments to hog and beef producers.
There is a number of recommendations--
Mr. Speaker, listening to that tireless rant that we hear constantly, I am not sure where to begin. I do know where to end.
I know to end with producers and the direction that they have given us over the last months as we formed government. The member for spoke glowingly of his own report. His own party actually put that in, with the cobwebs and the dust, in the bowels of this operation somewhere, and right away they commissioned him to run out and do another one.
While the member for and a few of his sidekicks go out there and waste time with study after study, we actually acted. I am proud to stand here and say that we do have the support of primary producers.
If the member for and his colleagues over there decide that we do not, there is a little thing called an election. We can sort this out on the ground. We can go out there and actually consult with producers on the ground and find out exactly who they think is in their camp and on their side.
I will work through a few of the points that the member opposite made.
I did read this report as the former chair because some of this work began under my chairmanship and of course before that while the Liberals were still in power. The biggest difference is that there has always been a lack of respect for the primary producer over the years. We have turned that around.
The member talked about the inadequacies of the CAIS program. I think anybody checking the historical documents does not have to go back very far to find out which party put that in place, which party blackmailed provinces to come on board with that, and which party would not address the shortfalls of the CAIS program for over a decade when producers kept telling them they needed something different.
We have addressed that. We have actually gone beyond this report. We have actually taken that as a challenge and moved beyond that on so many other fronts. I believe we have gone point by point and addressed that.
The member opposite brought up a few of them. He talks about the regulatory regime. We have moved beyond that. We did a study. He also knows that under the government--
You did a study?
Hon. Gerry Ritz: Wait a minute. We took that study and gave it to the industry and said, “You decide which parts of this you want to harmonize with the U.S., our major trading partner in red meats, which parts you want to change, and how we involve food safety at the border”. They are in the process of giving us some tremendous response on that.
The first thing we found is there is not a smoking gun when it comes to differences. Certainly, we do things differently than the U.S. but it is a different system. We have a little thing called sovereignty here, but we are more than willing to harmonize our systems back and forth across the border.
We found a couple of instances, mostly on the export and importation of live animals and genetics, where our regulatory regime might be a little bit prohibitive. We are addressing that and we will adjust it.
The CFIA has been under a cost recovery moratorium for a number of years and it is capped at 15% recovery. We are actually at 11% cost recovery with the CFIA and if we have to go to zero, we will, in order facilitate that trade. We will take a look at it. That work is ongoing and is ready to go. The member said it has to be done this month. We are already way past that. While he fiddled, we got out there and did the job.
These political rants that I constantly hear might be crowd pleasers but the unfortunate part is, we keep track of where the member is because we always go in and gain a lot of votes afterwards. The crowds that he draws are very small and disgruntled groups, usually the same folks.
I was at a meeting last night with 250 producers sitting in a room. We had a great meal together that farmers produced on the ground. It was a fantastic meal of beef and pork, and all the trimmings that go with it. I had a great dialogue with them for about an hour, taking questions from the floor. They are pleased with the role of this government.
Whether we are talking supply management or producers in beef and pork, and the grains and oilseeds sector, they are happy with what this government is doing, because they are involved. They are helping us to develop the new programs. We did not arbitrarily go out and hammer on them and say, “This is what you get”. We went out and said, “How can we best serve you?”
We did that with the livestock sector. As they plummeted down into this crisis, we went to them and said, “How do we best serve you?” They came back and said, “Let us look at some practical solutions. Let us make sure this is not countervailable and that it gives us the liquidity to carry forward”.
The member for says we cannot borrow our way out of trouble, but then he lists his own recommendations where he talks about loans. It is pretty shortsighted. He has a pretty short memory. We did that. We took a loan and we created it into a situation where it gives them the liquidity. We took second chair when it came to security, keeping the financial institutions on line.
We have created a cash flow situation that will see them through this downward cycle and if we have to adjust, we will do more. They know that. We are in discussions with the livestock sector constantly as to what is happening and how it is working.
Band-aid solutions will not solve the problem. Ad hoc programs that the Liberals were famous for announcing but never really delivering only really reinforce the status quo. With their programming over the years, all they did was mass market signals. They did not allow the market to adjust. The Liberals have maintained a certain rigid focus. They wanted them farming the mailbox but we do not.
We want them drawing their moneys from the marketplace. That is why we are seeing differences in the money out there from the government. The money is still there, but we have not had to deliver it because grains and oilseeds are finally getting their return out of the marketplace.
That is a wonderful thing. That gives us the freedom to move over and help the livestock sector in a more fulsome way and we have done that. We have made unprecedented amounts of money available to them. I do have the power and I have done that. The member said that we should not claw back the money. We made those changes. We did not just think about it or talk about it or rant about it. We did it.
As the minister I have the power, in conjunction with the , to absolve people of their repayments for up to a year where they are looking at just paying the interest. We can even take that away and give them time to get back on their feet. We did it. The Liberals did not even have that in their plan.
We are making changes to the farm improvement loan so that more people can qualify. We have changed the disaster component under the Agricultural Marketing Products Act. Where it used to be capped at $25,000, it has now been changed to $400,000, with the first $100,000 interest free. That is tremendous liquidity. That provides a tremendous opportunity for the sector to move ahead, and it is. The market is going to drive it. Producers are adapting to it. We are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
The member went on and on about a number of different things that really are not pertinent to this. It was more of a political rant. I am happy to have a debate any time those members want to go to the polls.
The member brought up the issue of Gencor. While we do feel for the company, it is alive and well in certain other sectors. It is a big multinational company. We certainly feel for the people who have lost their jobs and the producers who do not have access to it.
The good news is that this government rebuilt the trade situation in the U.S., and rule 2 is in place which means live animals and animals over 30 months can cross over the border. Cull animals, and cows and bulls have seen unprecedented value, more than ever seen since BSE. That is what drove Gencor out of business.
The member opposite talked also about the SRM removal and the feed ban and so on. Guess when that started? That happened on the Liberal watch. The industry asked for those types of things to get the border back open. We are now looking at every issue listed under SRM and removing them as we get agreement with our import nations.
We have since made some tremendous moves on getting some of those SRMs out of the system. We have taken away a lot of the regulatory costs on the feed ban. We are looking at on farm mixed feed, which is regulated by the time it gets there, so why would we do it again?
We are listening to producers. We are getting the job done. The opposition cannot seem to get it through its head that we are doing the right things and producers are accepting that.
The member for talked about CAIS and how bad it was. He said it did not do this or it did not do that. Guess whose program that was? It was a Liberal program. In 2006 we campaigned on getting rid of it. We have done that because it did not serve producers in any way, shape or form.
And you are using it Gerry.
Don't sound angry.
You're using it Gerry. You didn't scrap it.
Hon. Gerry Ritz: Listen to the hollering over there, Mr. Speaker. I must have hit a nerve. I am going to hit a few more and continue to do that right through the next election until there is less than a dirty dozen over there, and you are going to help us do that, Mr. Speaker. I know you are.
The CAIS program never delivered for livestock.
You just look so intense up there, Mr. Speaker, I knew you were hanging on every word and agreeing.
The CAIS program never delivered for livestock. It never really delivered in any way for grains and oilseeds. In the new programs that we have delivered and are going forward, we are working with our counterparts at the provincial and territorial levels in an unprecedented collaborative way, and we have also included industry. There has been a fulsome discussion on what is needed to be in the new programs to make them user friendly. There is no sense developing programs as we did for years under the previous government that missed the mark, that never sent the money where it needed to go. It was eaten up in administration as it went out, was clawed back and changes were done.
We have made changes in the new program. We actually altered the last year of CAIS as much as we could without provincial collaboration. The provinces wanted to hold it as it was; so be it, that is their decision. At the end of the day, we delivered more money in a different way through the old CAIS program than ever would have been thought of because we listened to producers, and we did it without using ad hoc and band-aid solutions that mask the market signals.
Certainly producers are going to have to adjust, but they have to have time to do that. They have to come to grips with the dollar that is up, which this government does not control. They have to look at the instances of input costs going up. There are a lot of things driving that, right back to the cost of fuel in delivering the grain to the elevator.
We have made unprecedented moves to deliver different livestock feeds. There is a biofuels program. The member opposite says he agrees with that, and I welcome that, but his old colleagues from the NFU are going coast to coast on a government grant--figure that one out--saying how bad that is.
Biofuels are the best thing that has been announced for rural Canada in a generation. They are going to reinvigorate rural Canada. They are going to bring communities back onside with the extra jobs. It gives farmers a different place to deliver their product, which helps bring the price up on their products. It is a good news story all around, because it is also very good for the environment to start moving away from fossil fuels and getting into green energy. There are major changes coming on that as we move to cellulosic as opposed to feed grain stocks.
There are a lot of stories out there, and the NFU has fallen for this, that somehow we cannot do both food and fuel. Maybe the way its members farm from the 1940s they cannot, but it will only take 5% of our production to cover off the three billion litres of ethanol that we are calling for with our program, only 5%. The other 95% stays in the food line, in the export line and everything else. Weather systems account for more than 5% in variables, Mr. Speaker. You know that, I know that, everybody in this place knows that. It is a good news story and the crazy stories out there saying that we cannot do both are ridiculous, to say the least and stay polite within the political language that is allowed here.
On trade, my seatmate, the hon. , is doing yeoman service. We are out there making bilateral agreements with countries that are looking for the quality that we have in our dairy, our beef, our genetics, and our grains and oilseeds sectors. They are clamouring for them around the globe.
I have had the great opportunity to travel to some of those countries, and I will be doing some more over the break week coming up, to reinvigorate the trade that those guys let slide. The Liberals slagged our major trading partner to the point where we were losing out to the Americans. The Americans did bilateral trade agreements with a lot of the countries that we used to deal with. They are now eating our lunch because those guys looked the other way and did not get it done. On so many levels, the Liberals did not get it done. We have reinvigorated trade.
I have made a move as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to get rid of KVD, kernel visual distinguishability. The only jurisdiction left on the globe that uses KVD is the Canadian Wheat Board area of western Canada, the only one. What that has done has stopped us from developing innovative varieties of grains that would feed the livestock sector in a better way than they are doing now.
There are grains and so on available to producers in North Dakota and Montana that were developed at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon because they could not do the ground testing in western Canada because of KVD. That is gone. We are not going to allow those types of things to stymie trade.
The member quoted a few articles from the paper but he did it in a cut and paste editorialized way that those members like to do. The reality out there is there are other good news stories. The value of farmland in Canada is up almost 8%. The only jurisdiction where it is down is in the member's own province. People should talk to him about that. Maybe he should get on board with some of our programs.
I have an excellent working relationship with Neil LeClair, the minister of agriculture there. We have done some great things for livestock on the island.
An hon. member: Name one.
Hon. Gerry Ritz: We have reinvigorated ABP, Atlantic Beef Products, to the point where it can stay open and keep the feedlot industry in Prince Edward Island. That is unprecedented. It was built at the end of the Liberals' reign of terror and was faltering. We have made it last. We are helping those farmers out. A member said to name one. That is a shining example.
Even the Premier of Prince Edward Island is happy with that one. We know that. I have talked with Premier Ghiz personally. I know the member for got his wrist slapped because he was pushing that one too hard.
We are also talking about major changes to the labelling system in this country. For years under the Liberals, labelling was perverted to the point where it was all based on cost, not on content. We saw product of Canada perverted to the point where as long as it was 51% of the costs, including the packaging, labelling, or whatever else they wanted to add in, made it a product of Canada.
We are changing that. Right now we are in the consultative phase with industry. Producers are thrilled with this. The horticultural industry that has faced imports from around the world that may not be safe or secure as ours are is ecstatic about this. The product of Canada label will only be applied to content that is virtually all Canadian. That is a good news story. That gets a round of applause from every producer out there, because the producers know they can compete on a level playing field with anybody in the world. We are the best, bar none. This will give them the opportunity to maintain that level playing field when it is based on content, not on cost.
I would point to any number of things that we have done to fulfill that report. I would point to other issues where we have gone beyond that report. I could read quote after quote from the cattlemen's and livestock associations about how they like what we are doing, how they support what we are doing. They are ready to march in droves behind this government. They have had enough of the promises and empty rhetoric from that side.
Mr. Speaker, I am amazed that the member for said that our meetings are those of exclusion, but he was there. We have higher standards than that. I am not sure how he snuck in. I guess anything is possible in Wayne's world.
We did not see a lot of help from the members opposite when we were talking about scrapping CAIS. We have had instances where we have been happy to see them sit on their hands so that we can stand up for agricultural producers and I know they will continue to do that. It is great that they, rather than producers, are taking it on the chin and I love to see that.
The member opposite talked about our scrapping CAIS. Yes, we campaigned on that and we gained a lot of credibility because we wanted to get rid of it. It was seen as a situation where the producers could never see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have done that. We have adjusted reference margins. The member opposite knows that. This is a brand new program. It is a new day. We are starting over. We have made changes to negative margins so that we can flow cash to people who are in trouble. We have adjusted inventory values as they go along on a case by case basis.
I am more than happy to deliver what the sector needs, within reasonable parameters. We cannot open the floodgates because then we start looking at countervailable situations, and industry does not want that.
As I said before, producers do not want to farm the mailbox. They want a decent return from the marketplace. They do not want to see government programs that restrict their ability to read market signals.
We have taken all that into consideration. We have changed agri-stability, the old CAIS reference margin situation. We have a top tier that the government kicked off with $600 million. We will continue to top that up with an extra $100 million over the life of the program. If there are changes that need to be made, we have a deal with the provinces that we will look at, adjust and re-evaluate as the program moves along to make sure that it does what we said it was going to do.
We have to stay within cost-cutting parameters. This is a cost shared jurisdiction with the provinces, 60% federal, 40% provincial. The only change to that is on the agri-recovery side, on the disaster component. As the disaster grows, so does the federal component of money and that is the right thing to do. We are not going to shortchange anyone because it ends up at the farm gate with less returns. We have made those changes.
The member opposite said he would like to change the caps. Why did he sit on them in CAIS for all those years when that was one of the problems? We are happy to change the caps. We have actually expanded those. We are happy to see them double. That is the message I am taking to the provinces when I meet them at the end of May in our next face to face meeting.
We have gone back into programs that have been around. We have gone into new programs. We are not scared to take a step back and ask if there is a better way to do this.
Many times what is designed here in the Ottawa bubble does not quite hit the target out there. That is one of the things that drove me into this place. It was that disconnect between what is happening in the real world and what happens here.
The Liberals want to maintain this idea of a bubble here in Ottawa, that bureaucrats can design a program. We will never do that. We will use the bureaucrats to facilitate a farmer directed initiative and make it work for them.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that no one will question the relevance of this debate today, despite the fact, as I mentioned earlier when I asked a question, that the Bloc Québécois was able to get an emergency debate on the crisis in the hog and beef sectors not too long ago on February 13.
Nevertheless, I am pleased that the member for has reopened this very important debate, because of the government's response to the unanimous report tabled by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
The committee's study was not exhaustive—that would perhaps be going too far—but it was still quite detailed on the crisis in the livestock sector. If only the responses had been completely satisfactory. Earlier, we heard the minister make an optimistic speech about how everyone is happy and all is well. But if that were the case, we would not be here today still talking about the situation. The reason is simple; we are talking about it because the government's responses to the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food are largely unsatisfactory.
We know that this crisis is due in large part to the increase in the value of the Canadian dollar. The soaring prices of animal feed and the decline in the international hog market have also led to huge losses for producers.
A few moments ago, I spoke about the costs of conforming to specified risk material regulations for beef producers. To this day, I do not understand how the Canadian government came up with such regulations, knowing full well that the Americans would not abide by them. The government has almost deliberately created unfair competition against our producers.
Yet these producers are by no means refusing to comply with the regulations. No one wants a repeat of the mad cow crisis. They are well aware that specified risk materials must be disposed of. The regulations are here to stay.
However, the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec asked for $50 million in aid over two years. Just now, the minister trivialized the situation and rejected this request out of hand. He gave the excuse that producers have been requesting such assistance for four or five years and that the Bloc Québécois has done nothing. The Bloc Québécois is rising in this House, we are asking for and demanding this aid because we support our farmers. We stand up for Quebeckers, as we have always done so well, and often we get results. In this case, the government is asleep at the wheel. Nothing has been done about specified risk materials.
The producers are asking for $50 million over two years. The minister finds that somewhat ridiculous because producers have been making this request for four or five years. If it is so ridiculous, if it is not so serious or so complicated as all that, then I do not understand why the money is not already in the federation's coffers. This money would be used for a very simple purpose: to allow beef producers to conform to these regulations.
At present, producers must pay for the removal of specified risk materials from carcasses, and for their collection and burial. They are not sure what to do with the materials. We could invest in the biodiesel plants in Quebec so these materials could be used for biofuel. This waste would no longer be buried and they would know what to do with it. This might be worth investing in.
I did not know that specified risk materials would become a symbol of Canadian unity. The minister reaffirmed Canada's sovereignty when he stated that we are different from the United States. Big deal. SRMs are not going to become a symbol of Canadian sovereignty.
Naturally, standards must be harmonized to the greatest extent possible. If the Americans are not interest, Canada, even if it continues to regulate this area, should help our producers and processors so that they are not penalized by these regulations. For their part, American producers do not have to worry about disposing of specified risk materials as do our producers.
So now, back to pork producers, since they were the main reason we asked for an emergency debate in February. We heard a lot of testimony in committee, but also in our offices, because there had been a campaign.
I simply want to point out that this industry is very important in Quebec. Total agricultural revenue is $6.198 billion dollars. Of this, 13.6%, or $844.9 million, is from pork production.
That is the economic impact of the pork industry in Quebec. It accounts for 28,200 jobs and $1.3 billion in value added. This industry is present in several different regions of Quebec. There are perhaps 400 pork producers in my riding. And the president of the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec, Jean-Guy Vincent, lives in my riding.
It is the leading bio-food export product in Quebec and ranks twelfth among products exported from Quebec. Pork production provides a trade surplus of $890.5 million, thus producing a positive agri-food trade balance of $289.2 million, a significant amount. Pork production also generates over $225 million in government revenue, which is one of reasons that the pork industry is important economically. And it shows why, even today, we need to talk about the crisis in this sector.
I mentioned the emergency debate that was held here in February. The reasons we asked for that debate are just as relevant today, because of the unsatisfactory responses the government has given to the committee's recommendations. We asked for the emergency debate because the livestock industry was going through a crisis caused by the rise in the value of the dollar and the costs of inputs, combined with a major drop in meat prices in the case of pork and additional costs to manage and dispose of specified risk materials in the case of beef producers. This is still true today.
Pork producers want an immediate program to guarantee loans—they got something that I mentioned earlier, but it is not exactly what they wanted—or take over the interest currently assumed by producers, while beef producers want emergency measures such as a $50 million assistance program over two years, as I just explained.
There were several reasons why this emergency debate was needed, including the silence of the and the in the face of all the letters sent to them by producers, in addition to the first report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Entitled “Study on the Collapse of the Beef and Pork Sector Revenues”, the unanimous report recommended transitional measures to alleviate the crisis as well as more long-term measures to improve the competitiveness of the industry.
When I said earlier that some good had come from the emergency debate, I was referring to the fact that, after the debate, the minister contacted the opposition critics to tell us that he wanted to move ahead on Bill . All the parties agreed to fast-track the bill so that producers would have some cash flow.
Is has to be said that this is not exactly what producers wanted. It is also important to understand that this is still a debt. Agricultural producers will get loans, but they are still going into debt. Clearly, this is not a magic bullet, but in the short term, we could not disagree with such a measure.
Another program also just came into effect a few days ago, on April 14 I believe, with a view to ensuring that those producers who wanted to get out of the business could receive compensation for shutting down. Of course, the Bloc Québécois would prefer not to see our farms close down, one after the other. We will not solve the problem by simply paying them to shut down.
We need an agricultural sector that is strong, one that contributes to the Quebec and Canadian economy, instead of simply closing down our farms and ultimately being forced to import the products we need, which, incidentally, is already all too often the case. I would like people to become more aware of the importance of buying products from Quebec and Canada.
It is still a problem, despite Bill and despite the measures to allow farmers to get out. The government's responses are especially unsatisfactory over the long term. In that respect, the committee made some very specific recommendations concerning long-term measures. I will come back to this a little later.
I would like to quote from a letter that was distributed to all hon. members by the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec, expressing just how serious the situation has become:
|| Given the seriousness of the crisis currently facing the pork industry, the assistance announced on December 19, 2007, the action plan to support Canada's livestock sector, is woefully inadequate.
|| Bearing in mind these concerns and others, to the effect that aid for producers must come through existing programs, the requests made by the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec are, for the most part, being made within the framework of existing programs. The federation is asking for improvements and changes in the business risk management programs. They want the $1.5 million ceiling in the AgriStability and AgriInvest programs and the $3 million ceiling in the AgriInvest Kickstart program to be raised.
The federation also asked that the reference margins to provide appropriate support to producers be adjusted in light of the unique nature of the crisis and the persistently poor market conditions. It asked that the Canadian product labelling rules, designed to ensure that consumers can clearly identify where products come from, be tightened up.
Something was handed out in committee today. Was it the hon. member for who brought that? I think he is in the middle of reading, but today in committee someone handed out pork loins. We looked at all the labels from all the angles and still wondered where that pork really came from. It is hard for the consumer to know, let alone those of us who are truly in the process of studying Canadian products in committee. It is even more difficult for the consumer to know whether he or she is buying pork loin from Canada, the United States or elsewhere, since that is not very clear on the label. It was rather difficult to know where the pork came from. The minister said that he is in the process of preparing a policy. I hope that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is not in the process of working for nothing and that our recommendations will be heard by the minister, because he says he is doing his share of the work. We cannot spend all this time and energy for nothing. Either way, I think the work of the committee is very important and that the minister should listen to its recommendations.
Creating a new fiscal envelope to support shared cost programs would allow for regional flexibility in the next generation of agricultural policies, the famous Flexi-Farm policies, which do not exist because there is AgriInvest, AgriStability and so on. In the end, the government did not think of introducing flexible measures, which we called for after the committee crossed Canada. Producers were unanimous about the need for such measures and made a point of telling us that it was important to put flexible measures and programs in place instead of very rigid national programs applying from coast to coast. When the provinces already had similar sorts of programs, they could no longer adapt or do anything. They were trapped. They could either get on board and duplicate federal initiatives or do nothing and not get any money.
I want to remind the government that all agricultural producers pay taxes. Every province has programs that are more or less effective, more or less good. Whenever a federal program is set up, it should be flexible. I am talking in particular about programs for pork producers. However, in the case of grain producers, the lack of flexibility is even more blatant, because they never receive CAIS payments. For the past 10 years, they have been in serious trouble, and they are the farmers who have suffered the most. Fortunately for them, prices have begun to rise recently, but they are calling for a program that could be called Flexi-Farm. The government can put that in its pipe and smoke it.
The letter ends as follows:
|| The advance payments program which has just been improved to include stock production, should not use the business risk management program as a collateral since that forces producers to pay back advances when they receive a payment.
This letter gave a good summary of pork producers' demands. I have also spoken at length about beef producers' demands, to make the point that even though some measures have been announced, the crisis is not over. Despite the cheery speech the minister gave earlier, the crisis in the livestock industry has not been solved.
That is why I congratulate the hon. member for for bringing this issue back to the House today so that we can get the machinery working again and make not only the government but also the general public see that this problem has not been resolved.
The problem is that the programs I spoke about earlier do not work. We have been trying for a long time to figure out where to place the blame for the CAIS program. The Liberals and the Conservatives established it; we know that. But everyone agrees that it does not work.
Coming to power and simply changing the name of the program will not solve the problem. Blaming the former government will not solve the problem either. The minister must realize that changing the program's name did nothing to increase the producers' access to it.
They invest and say that there is $600 million available. Show me agricultural producers that have succeeded in getting any money. When they do manage to get advance payments, or some other kind of payment, there will be something else they have to fork out money for. It is quite ironic to say that money has been invested, but it is basically being put into one pocket and taken out of the other. That is often what governments do, and it is unfortunate.
The Conservative government made grand announcements, but the money is not getting to those who need it. AgriInvest, AgriStability and the advance payments program are simply CAIS programs under other names. On one hand, the government is putting money into a program, but they get it back through a different one. They have made some grand announcements, but the fact remains that farmers are not recouping anything. At the end of the day, the reality is that the government is paying itself.
We must always be cautious about these grand announcements and pay attention to the amounts that are announced. Unfortunately, they are often announced two to six times, but they should not be added up. Canadians would think there was an investment of billions and billions of dollars, when in reality, it is always the same $600 million program. Earlier, we heard some comments that gave me the impression that the problems in the agricultural sector were over, that there was no longer anything to be done or anything to be demanded, and that the producers were happy. The minister was patting himself on the back about everything that had been done.
We must give credit where credit is due. Some measures have been well received. That does not mean that the government should stop there and no longer make any effort. On the contrary, it must continue to find long-term measures to ensure that Quebec and Canadian producers remain active on the national and international markets. We are talking about exporters.
Not too long ago we had a clear advantage. The Canadian dollar was lower and productivity was higher than in the United States. When everything aligns so that our producers can, with all the necessary work, perform well nationally and internationally, things go well. But no matter what they want or how competent they are, there are times when the economy causes producers to face stiffer and more effective competition than before. I am referring to the United States, of course. The Americans have improved their productivity, and in some cases, the quality of their products. However, it is especially the rising Canadian dollar that is hurting us.
When the government simply watches what is going on and acknowledges that this is how it is and that we must wait, that is clearly not enough to get this entire industry back on track. There are two choices: the government can abandon the industry or support it. The Bloc Québécois would obviously choose to support it.
I was talking about the long-term measures people have been asking for. That is why I would like the government to take a more serious look at the committee's report. The report did a very good job of explaining long-term measures, especially in recommendations 3 and 4. The government's response to these recommendations did not satisfy the opposition parties, nor did it satisfy agricultural producers, who are not as happy as the minister would have us believe.
This is not about being happy or unhappy; this is about survival. In the livestock sector, this is about survival. If we do not come up with long-term measures and implement them right away—it should have been done the day before yesterday—that means we will no longer be supporting our agricultural producers.
Without support, we will lose our livestock industry.
Slaughterhouses are closing. One closed in Ontario and another in Quebec. The only one that is still open is the Levinoff-Colbex abattoir. People have been asking the federal government for help with this for years, but the government has not given them a penny. The government has to wake up and invest in our slaughterhouses so that this part of the production process happens here at home.
The government says it wants Canadian products, but soon, our products will not even be slaughtered here at home. How will we be able to talk about Canadian products when slaughtering and processing no longer happen here at home? We have to take a close look at this issue too.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for for bringing this topic forward for discussion today. I also want to thank my Bloc colleague on the agriculture committee for his eloquent speech a few minutes ago.
Three samples of frozen pork were brought to the agriculture committee today by the hon. member for where we were discussing the product of Canada labelling. The member had randomly bought the pork samples at a supermarket here in the Ottawa area. Two of the samples had a product of U.S. label and one had no label on it.
That triggered in me a thought. Here in Canada we have a crisis in the pork industry and animals are being slaughtered, not for consumption but because there are too many of them, and yet at a supermarket, randomly selected by a member of this House, produce can be found that came from the United States. We are not sure where the third sample came from but it was probably from the United States.
Canada has a trade agreement with the United States that allows for the free flow of goods across the border. I suppose, when times are favourable, when our dollar is not that strong and when other conditions are favourable, that is a good idea. However, it seems kind of ironic that we would allow continuing access to products from another country when our own producers are suffering.
Some of the protection measures used by the United States were discussed this morning. It seems to me that when their producers are in a crisis, the American government does not hesitate to assist and ensure help goes to the producers when they are in a crisis. In its farm bill, money has been set aside not only for agricultural producers but for food programs and the environment. The U.S. seems to be able to do that, but here, even with all our good intentions, we always seem to be reacting to certain crises. Now we have a crisis on which we need to react.
I would like to review the recommendations our committee made last December. The first recommendation was this:
|| The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada deploy, before the end of 2007, a special transitional measure that will provide cash-flow in the form of interest-free loans to be paid back over a period of three to five years, and bankable cash advances to hog and cattle producers.
The second recommendation was this:
|| The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in partnership with the provinces and territories, pay out the remaining percentage owed to producers under the CAIS Inventory Transition Initiative (CITI), and respect the federal-provincial funding agreement.
I will also read the third recommendation.
|| The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) hold formal discussions with the Minister of Finance to show the impact of the strengthening Canadian dollar on the food producing and processing industry in Canada and to examine ways to relieve the pressure on the industry from the rising Canadian dollar. AAFC officials should report back to the Committee on the result of these discussions.
There were also other recommendations.
The sad thing is that we held our committee meetings, we had our discussions, and we made recommendations, but we had to have another committee meeting to talk about the problems in the pork industry.
Then, as someone already mentioned, there was some activity on the minister's end of things. He consulted my colleagues and me, and then we tried to set something up to help producers, mostly through loans. I congratulate him on that.
However, pork producers are facing impending disaster as we speak.
The government, as have other governments, has attempted to address the situation. When a crisis happens, we do not seem to have anything in place to deal with it. We are always reacting. We need to have a hard look at how we deal with agriculture in our country. Are we going in the right direction?
These days we are talking about the whole idea of food security and food sovereignty. We know many issues can be addressed and should be looked at, as more and more Canadians realize it is important that we are able to feed ourselves as a country, as world feedstocks go down, and as there is a push for the biofuels industry. People are finally realizing the movement across the country for the need to put more emphasis on buying local. I do not think we will get any disagreement from anybody in the House about that issue.
As I mentioned, we are now debating the issue of the product of Canada. I think there is agreement that we have to look at this and improve what we designate a product of Canada so we do not have processors, and the example was used this morning, importing apples from different countries, making them into concentrated juice and then labelling that carton of juice as “product of Canada”. There is something not quite right about that.
When we talk about labelling, in my opinion, labelling a product of Canada should be compulsory. It should not be left up to industry. After 2004, we asked the industry to voluntarily label GM foods, but this has not happened.
As we move on, a number of issues have to be addressed in the area of food sovereignty. Next week, for example, I will be in the small community in my riding of Princeton with a group of people who work on the issue of food security in their community. We will show a film called, TABLELAND, and have a discussion on what this means to that community.
When we get back on April 30, there is going to be an evening in Ottawa, where people will be coming together to talk about the wrong direction the world is going in regard to biofuels and the fallacy of that whole argument.
If we look at Canada's food sovereignty and security and, for example, if we look at the question of peak oil, the industrial agricultural model in Canada was built on, and is heavily dependent on it, our low dollar, as well as the abundant and cheap energy for transportation to market, fertilizer and chemical inputs. These conditions no longer exist and are likely to get worse, making this system unsustainable.
What we are now facing in the pork industry is partly as a result of this. The fact is input costs have gone up, the dollar is low and we have had this free market model to produce with free trade, moving it back and forth as much as possible. Yet the European Union has a quota of 0.5%. Over that, our producers have to pay a tariff to get into that market. At the same, as an aside, at the World Trade negotiations we are being pushed to increase the quota so we can allow more products imported into our country.
Clearly something is not right in the direction we are going. It is time for all of us to look at the idea of our food sovereignty, food security and safety, as we address the crisises that keep come up. Hopefully we can have a plan in place to avert this when they come up. The strong dollar makes our exports too expensive for others to buy. More purchasing power to import food makes us dependent on others for our food supply.
The whole issue of climate change, which we are all aware of and on which we all agree, is increasing drought conditions. We have refugees and resource wars because of this. We have rising commodity prices, which are disproportionately affecting the poor. On top of this, we have the biofuel industry in North America and in other parts of the world, which is not the main reason but one of the reasons that prices of food commodities are going up.
As an example, in the United States farmers are taking away land from soybean production and increasing the land on which they are cultivating corn for biofuels. This means that the effect in Brazil is farmers are planting more soybeans to keep the quota in the world, displacing cattle ranchers from their land to get more land for soybean production. The cattle ranchers are moving into the rain forests and cutting down the forests so they can have land for cattle grazing.
We are getting this spin off effect happening. This in turn is displacing poor people who have been subsistence farmers, in Brazil for example, into the cities. We then have the whole effect of urbanization and migration into the cities.
We see the effect with the NAFTA among Mexico, Canada and the United States. As of January of this year, there has been a free flow of corn across the border. Mexican farmers are not able to compete. They are going broke, so they are leaving their farms, going to the bigger cities and migrating to the United States to work for menial jobs, probably on the black market somewhere, to make a living.
It is time now that we look at the whole industrial model of agriculture. It is time we look at a way of having sustainable communities.
I was in Saskatchewan a few weeks ago and met with some folks who were concerned about the state of agriculture in their province and in Canada. They are saying that they need a policy that looks at not only how they can make the farm more efficient and larger to compete, regardless of our dollar, and keep it moving in that direction. They also need a policy that looks at each community and how they can attract people into the community who can farm, who can have a farm on the outskirts of a small community, for example like Blaine Lake, where my family members grew up.
As well, we need to not only have that community there for farmers, but we need to have affordable housing and a community that is sustainable and able, within the parameters of the community, to feed itself and also feed people in that province and in Canada.
As we move on and look at the way the whole agricultural industrial model is developing, I predict that we will see, and we see it now, more people moving back to rural Canada and who want to work on sustainable farms.
In my area of the West Kootenays, we have an area just across the mountains, called the Creston Valley, wherein folks are now going to start growing wheat again because there is a demand for it in cities like Nelson and in the West Kootenays, keeping in mind the whole idea of food sovereignty and the 100 mile diet. We see this as a model.
I had mentioned also the whole area of biofuel production. I have many concerns in regard to the current legislation before us. I regret that the amendments I had for Bill in committee were not passed.
I will read the amendments because I think that had they been passed by our committee and approved by Parliament, we could have more of a sustainable direction in the area of biofuel production.
The first amendment rejected was:
||—prohibiting the use of genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees for biofuel production, except for those genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees that were used for biofuel production in Canada before 2008...
In other words, what I wanted to have put in with this amendment was that we are not going to give a green light to genetically modified wheat, which in turn would have that contamination effect, would lower the quality and would lower our prestige in the world.
The second amendment I wanted to have put in was:
|| --prohibiting the use of lands protected by federal legislation and other sensitive biodiverse lands for biofuel production;...
The third one rejected was:
|| --preserving the biodiversity of lands used in biofuel production;...
The fourth one rejected was:
|| --prohibiting the importation of grains or oils for use in biofuel production;...
Last week, an editorial in the Manitoba Co-operator stated that Husky Oil in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, and in Minnedosa, initially was going to rely upon locally grown wheat, second quality wheat, which fits in with the Manitoba government's policy of 10% of land devoted to biofuels. However, because of the prices in the grain industry, farmers are not taking the company up on this. The article said that the company is going to be using corn exclusively, because it is complicated to go back and forth between wheat and corn for ethanol production.
The corn now is grown in eastern Canada, of course, but there is also a biofuel industry initiative in eastern Canada. The fact is that the corn now will have to be imported into Manitoba to sustain Husky Oil. Our farmers really will not be taking part in this industry initiative unless they happen to work at that plant.
The other amendment I wanted to put in was this one: establishing criteria in relation to the environmental sustainability of biofuel production to ensure compliance with internationally recognized best practices that promote the biodiversity and sustainability of land, air and water, and also to establish restrictions on the use of arable land in Canada for biofuel production to ensure that biofuel production does not have a detrimental impact on food supply in Canada and in foreign countries.
Now we come to the argument about food for fuel. I think it is a very logical statement that there is land in the world today that is being taken out of food production to sustain a biofuels industry. Recent research, not only here in North America but in the world, shows that taken in a general context biofuel production does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By the time we have taken the input energy, the transportation energy and the energy to power the biofuel plants, it becomes unsustainable when we look at it from the point of view of the environment.
I am not sure if members are aware of this, but the hon. member for and others of us on the committee went to Washington. We were told by the Americans that they are pushing the biofuels industry in the United States because they have a cap on their imports. They are pushing it because they need more fuel to “fuel” that rising demand. That will come from biofuels produced in their country at the expense of farming.
In summary, I think now is the time for us to take another look at this and to have a new direction in the area of agriculture. I believe that the whole issue of food sovereignty and food security tied in with sustainable farming communities is the direction we should be taking.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the recommendations contained in the first report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on the beef and pork income crisis.
As others have said, this is a thoughtful and considered report and the government agrees with the overall spirit of the recommendations. As usual, the standing committee has left no stone unturned in its research. The members of the agriculture committee work very well together.
Witnesses were consulted from right across the value chain. Representing producers, there were the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Pork Council, la Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec and la Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec. Representing processors, there were the Canadian Meat Council and Maple Leaf Foods. This sector-wide approach is appropriate because agriculture is such an integrated industry. No one link is affected without reverberations across the whole value chain.
I agree with this very much. This is why the mantra of the is farmers first, because if farmers prosper, then processors prosper, retailers prosper and consumers benefit. It all starts with a prosperous, vibrant farm gate.
There is no single factor behind the current crisis in the pork and beef industry. Rather, it is a combination of changes to the economic environment under which the sector is operating today. A strong and rapid appreciation of the Canadian dollar, a cyclical drop in hog prices, a rise in costs for inputs such as feed, fuel and regulatory compliance, labour shortages, wage increases and market access challenges related to the BSE crisis have all come together in what has been called a perfect storm battering our sector both at and beyond the farm gate.
Clearly, a sectoral approach is needed to meet a sectoral challenge. This is the only way forward. It is the way the committee took. It is the way the government is delivering short term assistance to the sector through measures such as the enhanced advance payments program and the sow cull program.
Amendments to the Agricultural Products Marketing Act to enhance the advance payments program were made in full consultation with producers. We spent a lot of time working directly with the Canadian Pork Council and Canadian cattlemen. We looked at a lot of very good ideas.
At the same time, everyone at the table is conscious of the need to ensure that our actions do not mask market signals or attract countervail action from our trading partners. Those good ideas delivered results. These amendments are delivering exactly what producers asked for: easier access to cash advances. In fact, as a result of the changes made to the act and emergency advances, this government is making up to $3.3 billion available to struggling livestock producers.
Producers will now have access to that support without having to use other programs as security. Producers will also be able to trigger emergency advances under the amended program. We have grown these emergency advances from $25,000 to $400,000. The first $100,000 is interest free.
The government listened to farmers. The bottom line result is that producers now have quicker and easier access to the cash they need to weather the current storm. But weathering the storm is not enough. This government is committed to helping to build a better future for Canadian farm families.
That is why we also announced a $50 million cull breeding swine program. We built this program in close consultation with the Canadian Pork Council. The council itself will deliver the program. It is a program that will help the Canadian hog industry become leaner and more competitive in a new and tighter market.
Producers are in the best position to determine the way forward for their industry. They have expressed their appreciation for the collaborative approach that this government and the minister have taken.
For example, Bob Friesen, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said:
|| These measures give our hard-hit livestock producers more tools for overcoming the obstacles they face and getting through this difficult time. I want to thank [the Minister of Agriculture] and his government for consulting with industry and delivering this much-needed boost.
Beef producers also expressed their appreciation to the government's inclusive response to their needs. Hugh Lynch-Staunton, past president of the Canada Cattlemen's Association, said that the changes to the APP “are consistent with a CCA recommendation and will improve Canadian producers' ability to deal with their liquidity costs”. He also said, “We're very pleased with this because it does provide liquidity for individuals to make more sensible decisions than they would in a forced situation”. He also said, “It will provide the much needed cash flow for producers at a critical time”.
They said they were very pleased.
“We are very satisfied”, said Claude Viel of the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec. Meanwhile, pork producers were also supportive.
This will be of great assistance given the current difficulties.
“This will be of great assistance given the serious difficulties we are facing”, said Jean-Guy Vincent, president of Fédération des producteurs de porc du Québec.
Clare Schlegel, president of the Canadian Pork Council, said that the measures provide the breathing room they have been asking for. The measures in the package go a long way to giving producers the tools they need to manage through this terrible crisis.
The bottom line is that we have delivered for producers. We are not stopping there. We will continue to work shoulder to shoulder with the industry to monitor the situation, to identify gaps in programming and to assess the need for further action.
We will work through the beef and pork value chain round tables with producers, processors, retailers and others to make our regulations more responsive, to increase market access for beef and pork, to help industry implement the enhanced feed ban and to help build a sector that can compete and win in the global marketplace.
I happen to know that we are on the right track. I have been across the country making a few visits, but last night in my home riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, there were over 200 actual producers who met with the . As he entered the room, 250 farmers got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation for the actions the minister is taking.
To go on further, during the question and answer period, he answered the questions. We got very positive comments for the types of actions we have taken. They told us that after 13 years of getting false promises, finally they have gotten some action. I was so proud to be a member of this government last night.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to speak to this afternoon's debate on the income crisis in the pork and beef industry.
It is important for me to rise in this House and speak to this matter, as I did in the emergency debate a few weeks ago. Why is it important? Because this situation is so important to my riding of Madawaska—Restigouche. This is a harsh reality for the producers and farmers there.
Often we think this crisis only affects those who live in rural areas, but it affects the entire country. People in my riding and across the country provide very high quality food for the Canadian consumer.
We also have to realize that these farmers and producers are going through a major crisis that can prevent them from providing that very high quality food for the Canadian consumer. For them this crisis is so significant that a number of them are considering simply leaving agriculture, in a wide range of sectors, but mainly in the beef sector.
Why is this happening? People are feeling abandoned by the federal government. They know they have to provide high quality food to the public, but they are facing a number of challenges. One of those challenges is foreign competition. Take the beef industry for example. Beef can be imported into any region of the country, from almost anywhere.
Before I go on, I would like to point out that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for , who will certainly have the chance to explain what kind of support people from urban centres would like to see given to producers in rural areas.
As I mentioned, producers are facing a number of challenges. One of those challenges is certainly competition, but there are others. We must help our producers. The wealth of rural areas began with agriculture. The settlement of Canada and all our regions began with agriculture. We must be able to continue to support producers and show them that their federal government will support them not only today, but also in the future. They are currently going through tough times.
Federal government support is so piecemeal that we wonder why the government is acting this way.
Various factors are behind the crisis these people are going through. We know that feed costs are on the rise. Beef producers have to feed their animals and fatten them up. The cost of feed has gone up. The price of gasoline and diesel has also risen.
As I mentioned in the emergency debate, the sky is the limit. We know that the Conservative government is singing the same tune as when it was in opposition. The Conservatives believe that the market should take care of everything. But we need to look closely at the situation. Consumers are not the only ones paying the price. The people at the grassroots level, our farmers, are the most affected by the crisis.
Gasoline is certainly another factor, but there are also energy costs. These are significant costs for producers. For a farmer who heats with oil in winter, costs are going up steadily. It is incredible.
Another factor we have to consider is the rise in value of the Canadian dollar, which is having a detrimental impact on our farmers. At present, the higher Canadian dollar and competition from foreign products are two of the things that are hurting our farmers the most.
Here is the government's response to the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. I will read it in English, if that is all right, because I have the English version here:
|| In order to return to profitability, the beef and pork sectors will need to adjust to the realities of higher feed grain prices and a stronger dollar.
That is easy to say. Everyone agrees that there would be no problem if producers were able to get better prices for their animals, because of the rising price of grain, the rising prise of gas and the strength of the Canadian dollar. However, that is not the reality.
The government made its response public on April 9, 2008. It was not surprising to hear such remarks. But what was even worse were the comments made by the a few weeks prior to that, specifically because of the strength of the Canadian dollar. The made the comments during a forum he was attending in Toronto. He said that, unlike the opposition parties, he does not believe that every problem that arises requires immediate financial intervention from the government. The maintained that it is a mistake to believe that every problem demands high-cost intervention or subsidization.
How can the parliamentary secretary and the rise in this House and tell us they are here to support Canadian farmers who are facing a crisis at this time for a number of reasons, including the strong Canadian dollar? Yet only a few weeks ago, rather than saying that things are not going well for the economy, and that the Canadian dollar is one of the problems affecting our economy and our farmers, the turned around and said that the government would not automatically be there to help our citizens and our industries through subsidies.
What is the message? Once again, we are hearing mixed messages, as I said recently. The government stands up in front of Parliament and in front of the cameras and says one thing, but when it comes time to act, it does the opposite.
The proof is that since the Conservatives came to power, we have seen them implement programs here and there and make hasty announcements for farmers because they realize that they have made a mistake. They make another hasty announcement because they realize that they have not necessarily targeted the right group, and they are not actually helping the people who need it in the current circumstances. And yet this has changed nothing. I recently participated in the emergency debate, and afterwards farmers told me that what I said is true—they are in the middle of a crisis, but there is no help for them.
I remember the program that was announced by the on March 9, 2007, again, at the eleventh hour. He said that he would help farmers. During the emergency debate, I gave the example that producers in my area were receiving 26¢ per year for each head of cattle they owned. Does that seem like assistance that will offset the increase in feed costs and the rising Canadian dollar? In any case, with 26¢, these farmers could not even think about putting a litre of gas or diesel in their vehicle.
How do you think they will survive? It is not a matter of coping but of surviving. That is the challenge farmers face today. If we do not want to lose them, as has happened in other industries, we must ensure that the Conservative government finally wakes up and gives our farmers the money they need to make it through this crisis. This will also reassure Canadians about the quality of food they put on the table for their children. This food will be of excellent quality and will meet Canadian standards, compared to foreign products that meet foreign standards, which are often inferior to ours.
Let us help our farmers once and for all. Had the government done its job, we would not be debating this issue, we would not have needed an emergency debate and farmers would not be telling me that they earn 26¢ per head of livestock per year in times of crisis.
The has spoken. He has said that the government does not intervene in a major crisis. He does not believe in subsidies. Yet other countries heavily subsidize their industries and send us goods of inferior quality. Why are our farmers not receiving the help they deserve today from the federal government?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion today.
I do not pretend to be an expert on agriculture. I realize there are people on both sides of the House who are either from farming communities or are farmers themselves who probably know a lot more, and my colleague from Malpeque is one of those people. I have seen him in action as he has gone across the country. He has been to Manitoba and has spoken to people to get better informed on what is going on.
This is not a fixed industry. New changes are always happening. I have heard my colleague from Malpeque offer encouraging support to a lot of these producers, which is why I thought it was important for me to be here today and express my opinion.
Even if I am not from a farming community, I do understand the importance of the agricultural sector to Canada. Members would be surprised at how many people call us in the city of Winnipeg telling us that we should be supporting our agricultural producers. I am sure it is the same thing right across western Canada and probably right across the country. It is important for people to hear from urban members of Parliament on these issues and it is important that we debate these issues in the House.
We all have relatives who have tried to eke out a living in the farming industry over the years. My father-in-law, who was a dairy farmer in Manitoba, worked 18-hour days, like most farmers probably. It is not easy work but, if we were to ask farmers, most farmers would tell us that they enjoy every minute of what they do. They have no regrets despite the hardships, the ridiculous hours and all the worries they go through. It is a way of life for them.
If we were to ask farmers the same question today, I am not sure we would get the same answer. Young people can no longer afford to take over the family farm or they simply do not want to go through what their parents have gone through. Should we blame them? They might actually have a point.
Cattle producers suffered through an absolutely brutal time with the BSE crisis in 2003. They were just starting to recover when the Canadian dollar strengthened and feed prices increased and once again they are facing extremely difficult times.
The cattle and pork industries are in crisis and, unfortunately, what the government is doing is too little too late.
Once farmers lose the will to continue to do something they have loved all their lives, what do we do? I think we are at the point where farmers are starting to give up on a livelihood they have enjoyed for centuries. How many farmers do we know who have kept on doing what they are doing because they love it, even though they just barely make a living?
I think farmers feel they deserve better. They are feeding the world and they deserve to be recognized for the contribution they make. They deserve to do better than just eke out a meagre living and hope to survive until the next year. We are in a crisis because farmers and producers have decided they have had enough. There is no doubt that some very serious structural changes need to take place soon.
Pork producers have been coming to us over the last two years begging for our support. They came to the industry committee and spoke to us about what was happening to them on a daily basis. Producers are losing their farms. They are not able to move their product. They cannot pay their bills. They needed help immediately, not in two months, not in three months, not in six months and not in a year. Farmers needed help when they came to us some time ago.
During the prebudget debates, I argued aggressively that once a hog producer lost his farm, he or she would not come back. People cannot go to their bank looking to start over after they have given everything up. It is not that simple. Once we have lost them, they will not come back, which is something the government has forgotten.
I have been told, but it has not been confirmed, that over 50% of the industry in P.E.I. is already gone. Fifty per cent of a very vibrant industry is gone and will not be coming back.
Yesterday I heard a heart-wrenching story about a family I know very well in rural Manitoba. After generations in the hog producing business, the family went out of business. It was not for lack of trying because they were very smart business people, but they did what they had to do to survive.
I ran into one of the owners a couple of months ago who told me that his family had bought a store in Winnipeg in order to move some of their product. Talk about vertical integration. They were trying everything they could to survive. They are not people who are in the store business, but this is the extent to which they had to go to survive. We just heard this week that the business, which was a huge successful business some years ago in a small community in Manitoba, is closing down.
Those people are not beginners. They have been around for a long time. One can just imagine what will happen to any of the new businesses that may have started in this industry. There are hundreds if not thousands of examples like this across the country and they are not coming back.
The government has allowed a whole industry to be devastated because it did not take it seriously when it said that it needed help. I know the does not like to intervene and thinks that everything will fix itself. He says that we should let the market rule. We have seen the results of that flawed ideology in the manufacturing and forestry industries. W are now picking up the pieces of what is left of the forestry industry and anticipating a further hundreds of thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector.
It is important to see that our grain sector is holding its own after many years of difficult times. Farmers have been selling their grain product at the same price for years. One of the major reasons they are now able to sell their product at a more reasonable price is because of the demand for biofuels. Unfortunately, this same demand is one of the reasons that the input costs of pork and cattle producers are increasing.
The time has come to analyze the whole structure of the agricultural industry. We cannot continue offering piecemeal solutions. As we have seen so clearly in the biofuels situation, they are interrelated. We cannot deal with one without analyzing the impacts on the whole industry. I believe that over the years we have failed to look at the big picture and, in fact, we have not given the agricultural industry the respect that it deserves. We have not recognized it for the contribution that it makes to our society as a whole.
Another reason that this motion is important is because it also impacts on the whole rural infrastructure. When farmers and producers are going out of business, guess what happens to the small grocery store, the garage, the hotel and the truck dealership in our small towns? The farmers are their lifeblood, so, yes, there is a crisis in the agricultural sector, but there is a very real risk that this crisis expands to the total destruction of our rural infrastructure.
How many small businesses have closed down because farmers are not buying their products? How many young people have moved to the larger urban centres for work? How many rural schools are having a difficult time attracting good school teachers because the towns are no longer interesting or dynamic places to live?
A small town in rural Manitoba has a pork producer who hires over 300 people. We never used to have towns that were, basically, one industry towns, but it is happening to some extent. We can just imagine what will happen to this small town if that producer is forced to close down.
I am not sure if the government has realized the extent of this crisis. We have farmers who no longer want to farm. We have pork and cattle producers going out of business on a daily basis. We have a rural infrastructure already very fragile and unstable because its youth are heading to large urban cities. I am not sure they can take much more.
We should be immediately reviewing and analyzing the agricultural industry as a whole and the impacts on the rural infrastructure. We should take farmers seriously when they say that they need assistance. They are some of the most independent business people in the country and, therefore, a cry for help should be taken seriously.
This new program proposed by the government is, for many farmers, including my friends in rural Manitoba, too little too late.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad we are here today again talking about the crisis facing our livestock industry. We are talking about the cattle and hogs, although the member for was talking about poultry. I think he got a little confused because “pork” does refer to itself as “the other white meat”. He has used the term “pigs fly”. Maybe that is why he decided to look at the feather industry.
We are talking about the great difficulties our facing ranchers, cattle feeders, hog producers and everybody in that whole chain. Not only is it hurting these producers, and we have seen people in my riding and across the country close their doors and walk away from their businesses, which are often multi-generational family farms, but it is hurting the local communities and the feed mills. There is no doubt that the entire support system and infrastructure, which is tied to the livestock sector, are going through the same pains and throws. It could actually change the face of agriculture across the country.
My riding has well over 2,500 ranches and a number of hog barns. The provincial government in Manitoba has put a moratorium on more barns being built in our area. This is unfortunate because there are still a lot of advantages, in the right environmental circumstances, to expand the hog industry. However, there is no doubt that its announcement and decision was made at a time when our hog industry was going through some very difficult times.
We have to remember that what has happened has accumulated over a number of years. On the cattle side, it all started off in 2003 with the BSE crisis. My family and operation felt that hurt severely. We seemed to be getting out of that in the last couple of years, when all of a sudden prices started to plummet on our cattle and hogs and grain prices started to increase, which was great news for our grain and oilseed producers across the country.
However, people are trying to make all sorts of excuses on why grain prices are going up. We hear all these concerns raised around the world about the price of food. We have to realize that the whole global marketplace on world grain has changed. We have growing economies in India and China. They definitely are more affluent now and want to buy higher quality foodstuffs. They are buying it up at record levels. On top of that, we have had some very difficult growing conditions across most of the major growing countries.
We know that this year the U.S. wheat crop had a lot of winter wheat killed. They are rating a lot of those fields down there at only 50% good, which is a terrible situation, and that is helping push wheat prices up again. Feed wheat, a major ingredient in hog feeding, is being pushed higher as well.
For three years in a row, there were major droughts in Australia and very difficult harvesting conditions last year in Europe. Even western Canada came in with less than 78% of a normal crop. Therefore, there was not enough grain out there, and these prices are pushed higher.
I do not see grain prices getting softer. World carry-over stocks are at all-time lows. Since they have been calculating how much coarse grains are in the world on inventory, that number has consistently fallen over the last 10 years, and the grain trade, for the most part, ignored it. Now all of a sudden they realize there is increased demand for food products out there and that has pushed the value of these grains through the roof.
People have made the biofuel argument that we have taken food for fuel. As was just pointed out by my colleague, there is a lot of ethanol production in the U.S. The Americans are increasing their output of corn production and exporting more of it. This has been good news for countries that are buying food. They can get more corn from the United States and other countries that have made some major gains in their research and development of new varieties and have enhanced their productivity.
When we look at other products such as rice, and this is the big concern in Asia where prices have more than doubled, people say that it is biofuel. We know rice is not used in biofuel production. We know the land base and the paddock system they have with the rice paddies cannot grow anything else but rice. It is not competition for land; it is that the world population is growing, people are more affluent and they are buying more and more grain.
We also know that in Canada, the big kick in the teeth for us has been the dollar exchange rate. I guess we all have to wait to see how this will play out. As long as the U.S. economy is slumping, as long as commodity-rich countries like Canada are exporting oil, grain and even our beef and pork, we are going to see a lot of people buying Canadian dollars rather than U.S. dollars, and that is really what is driving this exchange rate.
Ideally I would love to see the dollar come back down under 90¢. We are going to have to wait and see if that is ever going to happen.
As chair of the agriculture committee, we have a great group of people from all parties who are sincere and want to ensure we do the right things for agriculture. We put together a great report. We received a response on the impact of the crisis on the livestock sector, and now a really good response from the minister.
One of the things we are looking at and studying right now is high input costs. That is really addressing some of the concerns raised by producers across the country. We are doing the research and hearing from witnesses about why fertilizer prices and fuel prices are going so high. We also want to find out if there has been any price gouging or unnecessary profit-taking in certain areas of the country. We are doing a comparison on what is happening in western Canada versus eastern Canada and the corresponding areas along the Canada-U.S. border, in the U.S. Midwest and in the eastern U.S. as well. We want to find out what is happening so we can make proper policy recommendations to the government.
I hear from producers all the time in my riding. I am meeting with farm organizations and producers from right across the country. One of the things I hear from producers, the ones who are committed to being in the industry and who are hurting, is that they are in it for the long haul and they want to know what the future will be. They all realize we will have to change our status quo.
We may not be able to conduct business the way we have for the last 25 or 30 years, building up our reputation as quality beef and pork producers. which is recognized worldwide.
I have been fortunate in that I have been able to go out and make some announcements on behalf of the government, trying to help the industry along, looking at new opportunities. The beef value chain is one. There is a great round table discussion about how they do a better job marketing, not only in Canada but around the world.
We gave some money to the beef value chain to look at developing an omega-3 beef. It has been very successful in the egg industry and in the fish industry, especially with salmon. Now it is time to look at whether we can take those same good fatty acids, those omega-3s and high linoleic acid, identify them and get them increased in the content of beef. People then would not only buy beef for its great taste and ability to enhance their nourishment at the kitchen table, but because a really good claim could be made on the health side of it. Not only is beef and pork high in iron and B12, but there is also an opportunity here to add omega-3.
We are also looking at different rations. At the Brandon Research Centre, we have put together a project with industry and the provincial government to look at different ways of feeding cattle, trying to cheapen up the rations that we are dependent upon, which right now are really grain-based, and moving away to more forages. Maybe there are other crop residues. There is all the distillers' grains coming out of the ethanol industry as well as all the canola meal and soya meal coming out of the biodiesel industry.
How do we take these new feedstuffs, which are being produced on a larger scale, and cheapen our rations so the rancher who has a cow calf operation and sells his calves on the marketplace can get a good price for his calves that come out of the auction market, as well as improve profitability for the feedlots that finish the calves and bring them to the consumer?
I have been fortunate over the last few years to ensure that I have always been in U.S. courts when R-CALF has tried to shut down the border on Canadian beef. I was at the latest one in February in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. One thing I found interesting was the lawyer for R-CALF, the judge and the USDA lawyers all stated publicly on the record that Canada had a better system for the mitigation and monitoring of BSE than the U.S. has.
One of the reasons R-CALF talks about shutting down the border is because it does not have a good system compared to Canada. It often mentions the enhanced feed ban on our SRM removal techniques and the program we have here as being far superior to what is done in the United States.
R-CALF also talks about the traceability of our animals because we have good animal identification, with radio frequency ear tags, that has helped to improve the entire industry to monitor and move forward with the protection of the consumer, as well as the health of our livestock industry.
We have been talking about the next big challenge, and one is coming up that is going to be incredibly difficult for the cattle and hog industries. It is the country of origin labelling requirements that are coming into effect in the United States. It has created a pile of confusion within the United States market. It is unsure of how it is going to deal with Canadian product, whether it was born here and raised in the United States, or bought here as a market ready animal and taken there to be processed into meat cuts or just buying Canadian product directly from our packers.
There are different terminologies surrounding how it is going to be labelled. I think the U.S. is coming to some decisions on how those labels are going to work. However, because it has taken them so long to define how it will move forward, it has put the whole industry in the lurch. Now we hear from packers and hog finishers in the United States that they will not buy any more Canadian hogs, or piglets or feeder calves. They are concerned that this will not allow them to market their product effectively when they try to sell it to local packers and when it ends up on the retail level in the United States. That segregation and segmentation of the industry is going to be incredibly difficult and detrimental.
I wrote a letter on behalf of the agriculture committee to my counterparts in the United States, the chair of the U.S. agriculture committee, as well as the chair of the U.S. Senate agriculture committee. We also contacted both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We said that we expected the new U.S. farm bill to include that the country of origin labelling had to be trade compliant under NAFTA and the WTO. We wanted to ensure the entire U.S. farm bill, as it ties to subsidies for farmers, would not distort production or the marketplace. We expect the new U.S. farm bill to be WTO and NAFTA compliant as well.
We have taken that stand as a committee. I know the minister, in discussions with his counterpart in the U.S., has carried the same message, that the United States had better ensure that any policies it develops will be compliant. If they are not, when they come into effect, when we can start to take trade action against it, there will be a strong response from the Government of Canada. I can assure everyone of that.
I have had discussions with the hog and cattle producers who have come to my office, who I meet in coffee shops or who are at the various events I attend across my riding. They need some help and they recognize that. The government has provided that help through some of the things we have done through the kickstart program, the previous CITI funding and the changes made to the cash advance program, as well the advances to the old CAIS program and the new agristability program. They have been helpful.
They are still asking for more measures but, at the same time, they want the measures to be trade compliant as well. They do not want to have subsidies thrown at them only to have countervail actions created by the United States, the Europeans, the Australians or the Japanese. I have heard from the other countries that they are watching what we do here in relation to our farm programs and how we help the struggling livestock sector.
The farmers are telling me that they want to make sure they have a future. That future has to be based upon the marketplace and they want that assistance moving forward in developing the marketplace.
I am glad to be part of a government that is signing trade agreements around the world and negotiating more trade agreements, so that we can get that market penetration in countries where they keep their tariffs extremely high on Canadian goods. We want to bring those down, so that we can enhance the opportunity for our hog and cattle producers as well as the packing industry to make money in those more lucrative markets, whether they be in Europe or the Pacific Rim. We are looking at those alternative markets.
We also know that we need to work with industry in developing their market enhancement and brand naming, and taking those things forward.
We are looking forward to all the proposals that have been put forward by the cattle and hog industries, as well as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. We will try to capitalize on some of these ideas and make sure that those types of initiatives will generate the revenues back to the farm gate.
There has been a lot of work done on this report. It took us quite a bit of time through the fall to put it together. It has been one that was well received in the industry. It is one where I believe the actions taken by the government have largely addressed the concerns that we have raised.
We have to remember that in our actions that we take here that they are often related to not only our partnership with producers but also our partnership with the provinces. Any changes that we make to farm programs impact upon the provinces. Of course, they have a say in how we move forward with the overall agriculture policy framework, with the major one being the AgriStability program.