[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, May 6, 1999

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The Chairman (Mr. John Harvard (Charleswood St. James—Assiniboia, Lib.)): Members, we'll bring this meeting together, and I will ask the minister to take his chair. We have just over an hour to have the minister here, so I want us to start this meeting right on time. I want everyone to stick to their schedules so that as many members as possible are in a position to participate in this discussion.

I gather, Mr. Minister, that you will have a short opening statement. I hope you can keep it as short as possible so that we have as much room—

Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Mr. Chairman, if I may, on a point of order, did I hear you say we would have the minister here for only an hour?

The Chairman: For just a little over an hour... you know how it is with ministers.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: From 12 to 1.30 is what I have on my agenda.

The Chairman: I know that's what the schedule says. I'm going to see if I can push him as hard as I can, but—

Mr. Rick Borotsik: We'll all push him as hard as we can, Mr. Chairman.

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture, Lib.): You don't need an hour to do that.

The Chairman: Anyway, welcome, Mr. Minister.

The sooner we start the more we get in.

Will you introduce your sidekicks or do you want me to do that?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: It's quality that counts, Rick.

I'll do that, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon to committee members and everyone. It is a pleasure to be here today. I will spend as much time as I can here and, as usual, I will return to the committee as often as I can fit it into the schedule in order to continue the positive relationship that is important to all of us in the duties we have.

I have an opportunity to discuss a number of issues with you and, as well, I'm sure you have some issues you wish to discuss as far as the coming year's plans and priorities are concerned for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency .

I have two officials with me today: associate deputy minister Michelle Comeau, for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ron Doering.

The main estimates and the report on plans and priorities for the coming year for both the department and the agency were tabled in the House in March. You have all probably had an opportunity to look at them, so I will keep my opening remarks brief to allow more time for questions.

Over the last half decade, Canada's agriculture and food sector has been transforming itself, galvanized by the massive forces of change sweeping the whole planet and the ever-shrinking globe. More liberalized international trade, new technology, and more sophisticated and demanding consumers are all part of that. The sector has grown and its fundamentals are strong. Our government is committed to working hand in hand with industry to ensure that it is well positioned, both to overcome challenges as well as to seize emerging opportunities.

One of the current challenges we are addressing is how to work effectively with farmers, primary producers, to help them better manage their risks. All of us who are so knowledgeable—like everyone around the table—about primary production in particular but about agriculture in general realize the incredible risks there.

We continue to make progress on renewed, long-term safety net agreements, and over the winter we worked closely with industry and the provinces to design and implement the agriculture income disaster assistance program.

At the same time, we are helping both the sector and rural communities position themselves to take advantage of new opportunities, both at home and abroad, through initiatives like Canadian rural partnership program and the Canadian adaptation and rural development program, better known as the CARD fund. The CARD fund has been extended for another four years and, following consultations with industry, we've increased the funding earmarked for food safety initiatives and research. These are two areas where we know increased investment today will pay off in spades down the road.

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The federal government continues to be the country's largest single investor in agriculture and agri-food research. The basic research done by government in areas like health and safety and environmental sustainability are certainly crucial to the well-being not just of the sector but of all Canadians.

We're also seeing increased collaboration with the private sector, as government and industry take on more joint projects under the matching investment initiative program. In addition, this year's federal budget allocated additional money for biotechnology research and development: $55 million over three years. Nearly one-third of that was designated for agriculture and food.

As members of this committee, you know that Canada is already a world leader in researching and developing applications involving biotechnology—and in regulating them. Working in collaboration with our partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has put in place a risk-based inspection system. This leading-edge system contributes to the health and safety of Canadians, of animals and plants, and of our environment. Food safety is and will remain a top priority of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

We are continuing to modernize this system by adapting new and better methods of identifying and evaluating risks at an early stage. The Canadian food safety and inspection bill, which is currently before the House, is an important part of this initiative. It proposes to consolidate and modernize the acts the agency administers.

Our solid food safety reputation and our emphasis on innovation are two good reasons why the agriculture and food sector accounts for almost one-tenth of Canada's gross domestic product, but I can tell you that there is still a lot of room for growth. The world food market is expanding and our industry has set an aggressive agenda to grab a larger share of that pie. The department is working closely with farmers, food companies, and exporters to develop new markets and expand existing ones, particularly for higher-value processed food products.

The agency also plays a vital role in our export success, not only because it is a cornerstone of our reputation as a supplier of safe, high-quality products, but also through its work in the international arena to help ensure that our trading partners' technical requirements are science-based and are not simply barriers to trade.

The World Trade Organization negotiations, set to begin, as we know, at the end of this year, are the next step in further improving the rules that govern the international agriculture trade. The department has carried out extensive consultations to ensure that we have a solid negotiating position going into the WTO talks.

I again want to express my appreciation for the work you people on the committee did in the “Take Note” hearings. I want to thank you all for your interest and input—not only there but in other ways as well. I also want to thank you for taking the time to travel to Washington during your recent parliamentary break. Those types of opportunities are ones that we don't want to miss, in order to learn more about how the industry is supported and conducts itself south of the border. Equally as important there is to explain the truth and dispel the myths about how we do business here.

As you know, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman was in Ottawa at the WTO conference a number of days ago and addressed the Canadian industry at that conference. That also gave the two of us another opportunity to further discuss Canada-U.S. trade situations and the issues that are involved around that. I'm pleased to say that both the meeting with Mr. Glickman and his presentation at the conference were very productive.

Before I wrap up, Mr. Chairman, I want to mention one other pressing priority that we must not become complacent about, not just for this sector but for all Canadians, and that is the Y2K challenge. Every member of my portfolio is working diligently to ensure that internal systems are Y2K compliant. They are also working with the industry to raise awareness of potential problems, to assess the sector's preparedness, to provide information whenever and wherever requested, and to disseminate information regularly. We don't expect any major disruptions come the turn of the millennium.

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In closing, I would just like to say that despite the challenges that the industry currently faces, there are tremendous opportunities on the horizon for the Canadian agriculture and food sector. Our work with the provinces to renew the safety net system and our work with other countries at the WTO talks will mean greater security for our producers and our total industry over the longer term.

At the same time, the industry is already well positioned to grow through profitable trade as it capitalizes on new applications of biotechnology, as it draws on its experience serving our domestic market—a market that is one of the most sophisticated and diverse in the world—as it uses Canada's hallmark of food safety and quality, the red maple leaf, the best trademark in the world, and as we use all of these together to propel ourselves to greater gains in the global and domestic markets, creating jobs and wealth for Canadians in the process.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to make a few opening comments. Now we'll take questions or comments from the honourable members.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Minister.

I just want to remind the members that we can squeeze in about ten members in one hour of questioning, so I would ask that you follow the time schedule very carefully. I'll ride herd as well.

We'll start with Mr. Hilstrom for seven minutes.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We'll get right to the nuts and bolts of this thing. The three components are farmers-producers, processors, and consumers or export-buying countries. Processors and export-buying countries are doing just fine off our farmers, so we have to worry about the farmers. That's where I'm going to direct my questions here: the primary producer. Value-added is certainly the way to go, but in order to keep that farmer on the ground we first have to ask a couple of questions here.

In regard to AIDA, why didn't you accept the provision of the AIDA program put forward by members of the safety net committee in the fall of 1998, specifically including covering negative margins?

My second question is in regard to what is in your 1999-2000 estimate report: that realized net income is expected to decline 40% in Manitoba and 80% in Saskatchewan during 1999, as compared to 1998. What are you doing to help those farmers when it is clear that there will be an ongoing farm income crisis that will not be alleviated by the current AIDA program? The bankers across the country have already said that.

Last, why do you and your government not remove the financial disincentives forcing farmers, for instance, to go through the Canadian Wheat Board when they want to produce a value-added product for export, like the prairie pasta producers, who would process their own wheat without the disincentive of going through the wheat board?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Thank you very much, Mr. Hilstrom.

There's no question that too many Canadian farmers are under pressure of insufficient income and return on their labour risk and their investment. We began to address that a number of years ago when a safety net system was put in place. In July 1998, the ministers, at the federal-provincial agreement, again emphasized the fact that we had to continually review that. The termination of the federal-provincial agreements was approaching quickly. It was the feeling that, for example, there needed to be further consideration given to what I'll refer to as the “third leg of the stool”, our national disaster program, and the effectiveness of programs such as NISA, along with the concern in the horticultural industry in particular for programs such as self-directed risk management. That review is there.

You've made reference to some predictions that were made about the realized net farm income for producers. Those were exactly the facts that were factored into all of this discussion and were used, in my view very effectively, I might say, to go to cabinet before the budgetary process was anywhere near complete and to obtain up to $900 million from the federal government to assist in the support of farmers under financial stress. In conjunction with that, we got agreements from the provinces to put up a total of $600 million. So as you've heard me say before, on December 10 last year there was up to $1.5 billion more available to Canadian farmers over the next two years than there was on December 9—a significant amount of money.

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With respect to your comments about the negative margin, yes, there were a number of recommendations, some of which you have forwarded to me yourself, things such as covering on acreage, on per animal, on per bushel. You have sent the information to me in reference to that. We had those kinds of discussions. The safety net advisory committee worked very hard, and they came forward with some recommendations. For example, they didn't think the caps were high enough. We raised the level of caps upon their recommendation.

We took everything into consideration. We had to take into consideration what might trigger countervail and the other in regard to negative margins and some of those other things. Everybody said right from the beginning not to do anything with another program that endangers farmers' use of risk management tools or discourages farmers from using both the risk management tools in safety nets and the other risk management tools that are there for the farmers to use at the present time. I'm not laying blame, but all of this had to be taken into consideration, Mr. Hilstrom. There were discussions with provinces as well. A number of the provinces said, for example, that they weren't going to participate in a program if negative margins were included.

We had to weigh all of these things, do the best job we possibly could, and put a new program in place in a very short period of time. I wish we could have done it more quickly, but it is not an easy task. It was not until this morning that we got approval from the last province in Canada to take part in the program with us. We were going to go ahead federally, but I'm pleased to say that as of 10 o'clock this morning I got confirmation from the minister and the premier in the province of Nova Scotia that they are now on side as well. So we just got there today.

An hon. member: There's an election coming up.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: As you know, the Wheat Board is under the jurisdiction of Minister Goodale. In my view, with the change in the governance of the Wheat Board, the Wheat Board now will have the opportunity, if they wish, to discuss how they can approach this type of marketing tool—if I could refer to it like that—on behalf of the producers; they will have that opportunity. Changes that come forward in the Wheat Board should now come from the Wheat Board to the government, not from the government to the Wheat Board, because the Wheat Board is now managed by a board of directors that has a majority of producers.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Madame Alarie, seven minutes.


Ms. Hélène Alarie (Louis-Hébert, BQ): Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. My first question has to do with departmental controlled capital spending, which is shown in table 4.5 on page 33. Over the next three fiscal years, the government is planning to spend $84.9 million, approximately $28 million per year, in controlled capital spending. During the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the government expects to spend $1 out the $28 million in Quebec, while for the subsequent fiscal years, namely 2000-01 and 2001-02, nothing is recorded.

I fully realize that sometimes certain calculation methods are to our advantage, while others are not, but how can you explain why we will receive less than 1% of all departmental controlled capital spending over the next three years?


Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I will ask Dr. Brian Morrissey, the assistant deputy minister for research, to come forward to answer that specifically, but before he answers, I will make a comment.

If you look at the recent past, there have been some major investments in facilities in the province of Quebec. When we make capital investments and improvements to facilities in the centres of excellence across Canada, we make them over a long period of time, and it doesn't mean that we necessarily have the requirement to have exactly the same or close to the same number of dollars in investments in every province every year. As I say, if you look at the recent past, there were some major investments made in the province of Quebec, for which, I can tell you, I took a lot of flak from a member from the province of Ontario. I was not minister at the time, but I took a lot of flak, because people in Ontario were asking why we were making these investments in Quebec in the dairy research, in the swine research, and so on.

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Ms. Hélène Alarie: Some people will be happy about that.


The Chairman: Dr. Morrissey.

Mr. Brian Morrissey (Assistant Deputy Minister, Research Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food): Thank you very much, Minister.

The money for major capital adds up to about $28 million a year and is not distributed evenly by province. It's distributed based on the needs of the buildings. Quebec got the bulk of that money a number of years back, when Lennoxville, Sainte-Foy, St-Hyacinthe and St-Jean were all essentially rebuilt from scratch, so if you had looked at the funds about 15 or 20 years ago, you would have found that Quebec pretty well got it all. Once the buildings were built, there was no point in building them a second time.

More recently, we put the country's centre for food research into St-Hyacinthe, in about 1984-85, so again, during that year or perhaps two years, most of the money would have gone into Quebec.


Ms. Hélène Alarie: That was 15 years ago.


Dr. Brian Morrissey: Yes, but they're still relatively new buildings. Their life cycle for a mid-life refit is about 20 years—and about 40 years before you have to rebuild them. Quebec is pretty well self-sufficient in all four areas of research we do and the labs are in very good shape.

The reason we're putting $6.3 million into Lennoxville is that despite the fact that the Lennoxville laboratory is itself in good shape, the pig research buildings there were in poor shape and the industry said that we really should rebuild that piece.


Ms. Hélène Alarie: Those renovations in Saint-Hyacinthe were done 15 years ago, so I think we can say that they have been amortized. The renovations at the La Pocatière research centre, which has since closed down, were the result of bad planning; consequently, we shouldn't put them on the right side of the balance sheet.

My second question has to do with the agencies. This time, I won't be referring to tables. When agencies such as the PMRA or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency appear before us, they tell us quite often that errors occur along the way, that they could move more quickly and do a better job, but they don't have enough money. Would it be possible to provide more funding so as to meet their needs? I believe that in the future, we are going to need these agencies, and we are going to have to ensure that they are very modern and at the forefront if we want to maintain our international trade.


Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I'll be the first to say that we could use more money in the agriculture and agri-food industry, in the department, and in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but we have a responsibility in government to prioritize things between departments, within departments, and within agencies, to the best of our ability.

You've heard me say before, for example, that there will never be enough money in our society for education and there will never be enough money in our society for research and development, but what we have to do is to take the money that we are able to obtain in the whole scheme of things and do the best that we can. We have to be as efficient and as effective as we possibly can in doing that, so that's the only answer—a realistic answer—that I can give to you.

If there were no limit to the amount of money available, I'm sure we could do great, fantastic, wonderful things, whether that would be in your own member's operating budget or in somebody's own business or on their own farm, but we have to deal with the amount of resources that we have, be they bricks and mortar or financial resources, and we have to lever them in every possible way that we can in order to get the best return.

The Chairman: One minute.


Ms. Hélène Alarie: I think one minute is a very short amount of time to get an answer to my next question, which has to do with the Rural Secretariat, whose mandate is to strengthen rural communities. I don't believe there is a definition of "rural communities" and that's a real pity. In practice, in Quebec it has meant quite often funding was provided to areas that in no way were rural areas. This has made the program look like a patronage program. I know you, so I realize this isn't at all what you're trying to do, and I would like you to take a closer look at the problem, Mr. Minister.


Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Well, I guess—and I'm not being flippant with this—I look at a rural community as being everything that isn't urban, and if somebody can give me a definition of what “urban” is, then everything else left over after that is rural.

Rural Canada is not like it was a number of years ago in my lifetime. Rural Canada is much more a mix of people who are involved there, be they in forestry, fisheries, mining, agriculture, or tourism, or people who have chosen the lifestyle in—can I say it in quotation marks?—“rural” parts of Canada and commute from there to the urban area.

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You mentioned patronage. I don't know what you're referring to, but I'd be more than pleased to forward to you, if you're referring to the 68 pilot projects, copies of them. I don't have a list of them in front of me. I think that has been circulated to the committee. I think you will see that Quebec, if you want to look at things that way, has been treated very fairly and equitably with respect to the pilot projects there. The people who chose them—I gave final approval—were an independent group of people selected from across this country, not connected to the bureaucracy and not connected to any politician, and they made the selection after the Rural Secretariat put the criteria to them. They made the selection from several hundred projects and came forward with 68 of them for a total, I think, of about $3.8 million for the projects.

The Chairman: Speaking of fairness, we have to go on to Mr. Bonwick.

Mr. Paul Bonwick (Simcoe—Grey, Lib.): Thank you very much for the briefing, Mr. Minister.

You spoke about Canada, as food needs increase, moving towards capturing a larger portion of not only the international market but the Canadian market. As we maintain and expand our farms and our ability to produce, farmers experience things that are beyond their control from time to time, whether it be severely depressed international pricing or natural disasters, like drought, flooding, hail, or whatever the case may be.

My question is in that area, and it's a two-part question. First of all, what long-term assistance or support do you see the Government of Canada providing for these unforeseen natural disasters or for the depressed pricing, both of which are going to happen not simply over the next 18 months but over the next five years? This is about long-term planning.

Secondly, as part of that, as we offer assistance to regions that are experiencing difficulties beyond their control... I could cite one in particular in the Grey-Bruce area, which is in my riding and which experienced some severe drought conditions last year. It appears as though they're going to experience some severe drought conditions again this year if the trends continue. We came to support them last year... At the same time, what we have is a situation in which the province is considering allowance of bulk export of water from those same aquifers. That's just one specific example, but when the provinces appear to be directly impacting in a negative way the ability of farmers or producers to exist, are there things that we're prepared to do or are there things that we can do to try to resolve those kinds of issues?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Thank you for that question, Mr. Bonwick. I want to go back to what I quickly commented on before and stress the importance of the discussion and the dialogue that is going on now as far as our safety net program is concerned. The federal government puts $600 million a year into safety net programs in Canada, and the provincial governments add another $400 million per year.

What we have to do and what we are taking a look at... Everybody is involved in this: the industry, the provinces, and the federal government. We have to look at whether we are spending those dollars in such a way that they are most effective for the producers who need support to take out the ups and downs. Is crop insurance doing the job that it can? Now, the specifics of crop insurance are dictated by the provinces; they set the criteria with the industry in the province, like, for example, the NISA program.

Quite frankly, I have a major concern with NISA. Even though to date there are more people... because we changed the system over a year ago so that they can get interims and early withdrawals, there are more people taking it out this year and they're taking out larger amounts than they did in the past year. That's for obvious reasons: they need the money and they have triggered it. But what we have is $2.8 billion in NISA accounts in this country today, and unfortunately...

I constantly hear that when people phone in to the 1-800 number on AIDA to get information, many of them are asked, “Are you taking a look at your NISA to see if you're enrolled?” The most prominent answer that comes back is, “Oh, that's my retirement fund. That's not a net income stabilization account.”

Well, I'm sorry: it is a net income stabilization account that was put in place.

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Now, does it need to be pushed and poked and adjusted? Maybe it does. But in too many cases today... There are a number of things. Young farmers may not be able to avail themselves of the program for financial reasons if they are beginning farmers or whatever. We need to take a look at that, for example. Maybe it will stay the way it is or maybe it needs to be changed.

The other thing is that there's no question that the need is there for a long-term disaster fund, if I can say it that way. If we can put something in place, do we have to adjust something that we already have in some way so that we can do something else with it? Would a new program be one that would only be called upon if a certain set of criteria were called upon? If it became automatic every year whether it was needed or not, it would not be a disaster assistance type of program.

Those are the things that we have to look at. That is why this whole thing will be another major discussion at this year's federal-provincial ministers' meeting in July and as we go on with the safety nets advisory committee and everyone else.

In regard to assistance in regions, there is always this... I don't know the answer to this; it seems that for different reasons at different times, a part of a province may go through a series of droughts—or excess rain, like the Peace River had for a number of years. I don't know how we address this, unless we take the approach—and I've suggested this to provincial colleagues and they say, no, minister, we can't go that way—where we say, well, if you want to be in business in that area, whether there's something that dictates that you shouldn't be or should be, we will provide you a level of income that you think you require. We can't go that way—in any form of business.

The best thing we can do... It was a bad way for us to learn it, but I can tell you, for example, that I know that a lot more pork producers in Canada are using forward selling than they did at this time last year. There are a lot of risk-management tools out there, so it behoves all of us to work with the industry to say, look, we have to use these risk-management tools and if we can get a better... We'll never take all the risk out, absolutely never, so that's what we have to keep working on, Paul.

An hon. member: Mr. Chairman...

[Editor's Note: Inaudible]

The Chairman: We have only about 25 seconds, so I'll see if I can find it for you later.

Mr. Proctor.

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Welcome. How would you characterize the U.S. aid program last year? Is it whole farm or is it commodity specific?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I think the fair answer to that, Mr. Proctor, is that it's commodity specific. If I can go on from that—I'm not defending it in any way, shape or form—it is within their WTO commitments; they are still well within their WTO commitments, but it is somewhat commodity specific. Now to get into the nitty-gritty of how and why they can do that, Suzanne Vinet is here if we want to discuss it further now, within the time. It is commodity specific.

Mr. Dick Proctor: But we can't do that.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Yes, we could. If what they're doing, I believe, Suzanne...

Yes, we could do that, if we could find the money.

Mr. Dick Proctor: It comes down to a question of finding the money, then.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Yes, I would say that's a big part, no question about it.

Mr. Dick Proctor: There are some who suggest that if we attempted to do that on this side of the border, we would be in countervail and all the rest of it.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Yes, and so is the United States. They are opening themselves up somewhat to that risk if they do that—definitely.

Mr. Dick Proctor: But we haven't taken that action as a country.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: No, we haven't.

Mr. Dick Proctor: You don't envisage us doing that?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: We will see the effect of it, and that is always under consideration as to whether we take that approach or not.

Mr. Dick Proctor: On the AIDA program itself, Mr. Minister, you said a number of things in the lead-up to the program. You said, for example, in regard to NISA, that you hope farmers don't have to use it, but of course they are using it. You said it had to be a long-term program, and we have a two-year program. You said it's bankable, and a lot of people are saying it's not bankable. Negative margins, and some of the other things that you've heard...

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You must be very disappointed in the program that eventually emerged. Maybe there were disputes in the cabinet. Maybe there were disputes with the provinces. Who knows where? But overall, certainly, farmers in my part of the world are not jumping up and down in excitement about this program, and I suspect you know that.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I've heard that, but what I'm more disappointed about is that farmers aren't filling out the forms and sending them in. To date, we've only had 850 forms from the province of Saskatchewan. There are over 25,000 forms out there in Saskatchewan and Manitoba right now. I know it's a busy time of year, but I get very concerned about the fact that they aren't filling them out and sending them in. Accounting firms have indicated—I've seen advertisements from accounting firms—that for as little as $125 they'll fill out the forms.

I remember the times when my wife and I were farming and we filled out forms. We thought they were a nuisance, but it was very seldom that we could make $200 or $300 an hour even if we were outside the office, and we sure could make it when were inside the office filling out forms. Certainly there is the opportunity here for them to fill out for a lot more.

You said that I wanted a long-term program. At no time did I say that this program would be a long-term program. I said that we needed a program—and so did the industry—to get us to address 1998 and 1999 and that we would use as a base the experience of that program and that situation in trying to put in place a longer-term program of what I'll refer to again as the third leg of the stool: a national disaster program to go on from there.

Mr. Dick Proctor: I have one final question in my time, sir. At this point, do you foresee making changes in AIDA in the second year?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: We have said all along that we'll go with the experience of the first year of the AIDA program, and if we can push it and poke it to make it more effective going into 1999, we will. But I think we can't give ourselves any illusions—for example, with the serious concern that a lot of people have with such things as negative margin—that this type of thing will likely change. There may be other ways in which we can address it, and I'm fully open to looking at them. I've said that all along.

The Chairman: You still have under a minute, if want 50 seconds.

Mr. Dick Proctor: No, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Mr. Borotsik.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First, welcome to the minister.

I have a forwarded a letter to the committee asking that the minister attend this committee more often than just simply the one time. I extend that invitation and I would certainly like to see the minister here on perhaps another two or three occasions.

There are so many issues that we would like to talk about—on a non-partisan platform—and we would like to have your opinions.

I have a couple of issues. I won't touch on the AIDA program. I think my colleague has done that fairly well.

Mr. Minister, I know that you are a proponent of agriculture and producers and I also know that you're a strong proponent of value-added. I've heard this many times.

A comment was made earlier about the prairie pasta. You said that it's an issue with the Canadian Wheat Board, but you are the Minister of Agriculture, and you do, I know, fight for agriculture and its producers.

With respect to prairie pasta and the type of arrangement they're trying to make with durum wheat, what would you say if I told you that an elected member of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board had said, “Why do you not move the plant to the United States, because you would cause a lot less aggravation to the Canadian Wheat Board if it were located in the United States as opposed to Canada?” What would you as the Minister of Agriculture say about not being able to develop those jobs, that use, and that value-added for durum?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: The first thing I would say is that the people who elected that member should probably raise questions about how he's representing them. But that's among those who elected him. I think I can say “him”; I think all the directors that were elected were men.

An hon. member: Five appointed—

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Actually, the five appointed—and I will say that right now—are probably more progressive, perhaps, than the 10 that were elected, and I'll give Mr. Goodale his—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: It was a democratic process.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: But as the Minister of Agriculture, do you not find that offensive?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: There's no question about it. I would like to see those jobs here in Canada, and—

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Would you—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: —I'm hoping that the Wheat Board, for example, and the governance of the Wheat Board, can put programs in, if I can say that, or can make that happen.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Has the Minister of Agriculture—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: What they have to do make that happen, Mr. Borotsik, I don't know.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Mr. Minister, though, as the Minister of Agriculture, would you not want to be more proactive in working with the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board to make sure that our agriculture producers are better served by that organization?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: The legislation is there for the Canadian Wheat Board to exist. The Canadian Wheat Board is director of its own actions at this time, more so than it ever has been in the history of the Canadian Wheat Board. As I said to the press a couple of days ago, if the Canadian Wheat Board wants changes to its legislation, the changes should come from the Wheat Board to the government for request, and not from the government to the Wheat Board—

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Okay. All right. Mr. Minister—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: —as dictator and that's what the producers—

Mr. Rick Borotsik: —I have to get some more questions in here. I know you're—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: —wanted to change, and we changed it.

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Mr. Rick Borotsik: I have to get more questions in here, Mr. Chairman.

The other one is about the Rural Secretariat. Mr. Chairman, through you to the Minister of Agriculture, I see the Rural Secretariat as tokenism. I know you and I may disagree on that one. There are a number of initiatives right now that are taking place in other departments... As an example, there are the automated border crossings that are now being proposed. That, Mr. Minister, directly affects rural Canada; it affects it in tourism access, in commercial access, and in agricultural access—and I'm talking about my own specific experience right now.

I've asked the Rural Secretariat why they would not try to do an analysis of that impact. Their answer to me is that they can't do that until they are asked to do it by the other department.

Mr. Minister, as the Minister of Agriculture, do you not feel that the Rural Secretariat should be involved in those types of issues before these types of things are implemented? Or should it be after the fact?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Mr. Borotsik, in the Rural Secretariat there is a technical working group involving 26 ministries and agencies, and the specific topic to which you are referring right now has been discussed with the customs department. My role at the cabinet table is co-ordinating, and that is why we do that. All of the money that is spent “in the Rural Secretariat”, if I can say it in quotation marks... yes, there is $5 million a year specifically for that, but a lot of money comes in to those types of activities through the technical working group. That is done in rural Canada and for rural Canada through different ministries, whether it's the Department of Public Works or whether it's the customs department.

Eighteen months ago, we didn't have a Rural Secretariat and we didn't have a technical working group, so we had the strong possibility—and probably and in all reality it was happening—that too many departments and agencies were working in what we refer to as their own “silos”. There may still be some of that; I'm not saying there is and I'm not saying there isn't. But what I'm telling you is that there's a lot less likelihood of that happening now than there was before we put a Rural Secretariat in place.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Fine.

I have another question. Let's go back to the AIDA program, Mr. Chairman. You say you didn't want an ad hoc program initially—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Yes.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: —and that it wasn't to be an ad hoc program. We have two years' funding shown in the estimates right now. There is no funding extended beyond 2000-01. If it's not an ad hoc program, what is it? Also, how do you budget for something that's a long-term program when there's nothing in the budget line for it?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: My statements that the industry feels that and that we need to work towards a long-term, third-leg-of-the-stool, national disaster program means that hopefully this is an interim program until we get—

[Editor's Note: Inaudible]

Mr. Rick Borotsik:

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: No, there isn't, because I don't have permission from cabinet to do it. We have to build on the experience of this and go back to cabinet as an industry and as a minister to say that we build on it.

There's nothing in the national defence budget for anything that hasn't already had approval at cabinet. There isn't anything in the industry budget or in the health budget that hasn't had approval in cabinet. You just can't pick a number out of the air and put it in estimates and say, “Well, three years down the road, we'd like to add $500,000 or $500 million for this.” There's an approval process, and we have a responsibility to that. But the important thing is that we've all signalled the direction in which we want to go, so we work collectively in order to get there.

The Chairman: Okay. Let's leave it there.

Five minutes, Mr. Calder.

Mr. Murray Calder (Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Minister, this morning we had the Confederation of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine appear in front of us. We were looking ahead to the year 2050, when we will have 10 billion people on the face of the earth. They were telling us that over the next 50 years we are going to have to increase our productivity by at least two and a half times what it is right now.

So I'm curious about having you comment on one thing. Within the global economic community that we're trying to put together right now at the WTO, it seems very apparent to me that we're going to have to come to some sort of agreement on international standards for biotechnology. The reason why I say that is... I'll use the European Economic Community as an example. For instance, the deadline for the EU lifting its ban on beef using growth hormones will be the middle of this month. If they tend to go against the WTO decision, do we have any sanctions in place that will reinforce the fact that the WTO said it does not comply? That's the first thing.

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The second thing follows along with what Rick was talking about. Right now the U.S. Senate is looking at adding another $4.3 billion to the agriculture omnibus act, and that'll be on top of the $5.9 billion that was added last year, to the farm aid bill, I believe. We're into this subsidy business again. If they're going to do that, how are our farmers going compete?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Thank you very much, Mr. Calder.

There's no question that there's going to be a challenge but also an opportunity in feeding the world as we go forward, not only because of the increase in the population but also probably because of the increases in the demand, in the volume of the food that's eaten by individuals, and in the diversity of the food that's eaten by people around the world. Biotechnology may very well play a role in providing that amount of food. Number one, I want to make it very clear that biotechnology and the results of biotechnology must be and can only be based on sound science, on the best science that's available today.

That brings me to the next aspect. There's no question, in my view, that a set of international standards—rules—for trade and exchange of products that are a result of biotechnology will be a major part of the next WTO round, so that there are rules, so that, as I referred to in my original comments, countries can't base rejection or ejection of product from their country on emotion—if I could take “emotion” to mean the opposite to what I see as science.

The European Union, even though... with the beef produced with hormones... They have denied the WTO ruling. They do have until the middle of this month. If they come forward with sound science before that time, naturally the scientific community will review that and make the decision on whether it's sound and credible science.

If they do not, the rules are already in place, and that's why it's good that we do have rules. We can negotiate compensation with them. We've told our officials very clearly that our first choice is access to the market, which we feel we deserve because there's no science to say otherwise. If not, the next choice is compensation.

If we can't negotiate a compensation package with them that is satisfactory to us, the final choice is retaliation. Already, a couple of weeks ago or more, a big long list of possible products that we could retaliate against has been gazetted for input from the public. If we go that route, there will have to be a decision made on the amount, dollar-wise, of the products that there would be retaliation against, and a decision would have to be made on what actual products they would be.

The Chairman: You may have to take Lyle aside and ask him about the American subsidies, Murray.

Mr. Breitkreuz, five minutes.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Ref.): Thank you very much.

Welcome, Mr. Minister, to the friendly agriculture committee.

The agriculture income disaster assistance project is itself becoming a disaster, as you know. You yourself indicated that 850 forms have been filled out in Saskatchewan. That should make it absolutely clear that there's something wrong with the program.

I just want to make two comments before I go into some of the earlier answers you gave. An acreage-based payment such as a property tax refund would not have affected cropping decisions. You wanted to design a program that wouldn't do that; that would not have affected it.

In another answer that you gave, you said that you “hoped” that the Wheat Board would do this and do that. Remember that the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board is not to provide jobs in Canada; we must not forget that.

• 1250

Now I have to go to some of the problems with the AIDA program. Many of them are broken promises. Producers are finding the forms excessively complicated. It's costing them much more in accountants' fees to fill them out than they're probably going to get in return. The forms were too late in coming out and they hit right in the middle of tax season, which further delayed any possibility of getting them filled out in a timely fashion. They're not bankable, and it's the banks that are telling us that.

I want to go to a specific example, because the suggestion was made that if income dropped 30% it would trigger an AIDA payment. Now we find that's false: because of the way the program is structured, it has to go down about 40% in order for farmers to get any kind of compensation. In fact, income has to drop 37.5% to qualify for even a tiny bit of the program, and it's all because it's tied to NISA and the way the program is structured. In the brief time allotted me here, I don't have time to get into that, but that's another broken promise that has come to light since farmers have tried to fill out the forms—that income has to drop.

Now I'd like to quote Agriculture Canada's own statistics. In 1998, net farm income in Manitoba and in Saskatchewan fell—this is from 1997 levels—by 34% and 40% respectively. In 1999, Agriculture Canada is forecasting a fall of 40% to 80% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. On average, incomes are falling 40% and can't trigger any payment. If a farmer in Saskatchewan made $20,000 in 1997, and $12,000 in 1998, and is expected to make $2,400 in 1999, that's an 88% reduction from 1997 income. So my question is this: given these facts, how can farmers have any confidence in this program?

Do I have time for a second...

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I'll try to go through them quickly.

The Chairman: Mr. Minister, there are a lot of points there. You're going to have to highlight one or two, because you only have about two minutes. Go ahead.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: If—

Mr. Joe McGuire (Egmont, Lib.): Mr. Chairman, could we have all-party agreement to give the minister the time to answer those questions?

The Chairman: Well, I don't think it's fair, because if someone packs in four minutes of questions, the Minister is automatically going to take nine or ten himself. That's not fair to other members.

You have about two minutes, Lyle.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: If the farmers in a province want a property tax rebate, they had better go to their provincial governments, because that's not a federal jurisdiction.

With respect to the complicated forms, I've been through those before. I read them out to you page by page. There are only seven pages. The first page is your name, address and phone number; the second page is your beginning inventory; the third page is your ending inventory; the fourth page is a summary; and then you go into your receipts, your expenses, your receivables, and your outstanding accounts. Seven pages, Mr. Breitkreuz—not too complicated.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: But to fill them out, it costs them...

[Editor's Note: Inaudible]

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: No, it doesn't, and I'll show you ads in which accounting firms are saying “$125”, and they're running quarter-page ads in western newspapers in order to tell producers that they're doing it.

In regard to the lateness of the forms, it took a long time, as I said earlier, to get agreement from 10 provinces on how this should be.

Also, they can't fill it out until the tax season is finished.

With respect to the tie to linkage, let me put it this way. I said earlier that I was pleased that we got this amount of money made available for producers in the next two years, but I also stated that there is $2.8 billion in NISA accounts. In the province of Saskatchewan alone, there is $1.2 billion in NISA accounts. The Minister of Agriculture in Saskatchewan said to me at that time that it wasn't available to producers who needed it, so that flags us that there may be a problem. When that province had $75 million in companion program money left over—which they hadn't spent in the last number of years to support agriculture—after saying that NISA didn't work to help hard-pressed farmers, that province wanted to add $10 million and top up NISA. Now, you tell me where there is any soundness in that... rather than doing something with that $85 million within the province.

There had to be a linkage or people would have said, “Why would I belong to NISA?” They would get rid of all the rest of it, just wait for a disaster program, and not take the other management-of-risk tools that are in play. There were a lot of things to bring into the circle.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Mrs. Ur.

Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur (Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Minister, as you probably are aware, this week the Ottawa Citizen has run quite a few articles on the dairy producers and has described how some farmers and milk processors are unhappy with the strict limits of the quota system. Yesterday, three of the biggest farm organizations sprang to the defence of quotas. Then we had Terry Otto, an executive of the OFA and a farmer, who also argued in defence of the quota system, saying that it protects farmers from themselves. Do you want to expand on that?

• 1255

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Mr. Otto needs to explain what he said. I'm not going to speak on Mr. Otto's behalf. Somebody, I'm sure, will ask him to more clearly explain what he meant.

Without question, the supply-managed system in Canada is one that has served, very well, not only the primary producers and all of those they're connected with in the agriculture and agri-food business community, for over a period of well over two decades now—

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: —but has provided to the consumers a continuing supply of high-quality product in a very cost-effective way for those types of products. They have probably had less fluctuations in prices than many other consumer goods that are out there. It has been good for absolutely everybody in it.

If I could give you an example—and maybe some of you heard me say it before—in a conversation I had with Secretary Dan Glickman a couple of days before Christmas, I happened to have the information on my desk that day that six times over the last three years... That was the reference, but it has been done longer than that; there's a basket of consumer goods—in Canada, these were dairy goods—and the comparative shopping is done. They're bought in the U.S. and they're bought in Canada. The currency is equal. At no time over those three years and six surveys were those goods cheaper in the United States.

In November 1998, that basket of consumer dairy products cost 36.95% more in the United States than it did in Canada. I reminded Mr. Glickman of that, the phone kind of went quiet, and I said, “And we have supply management.”

Supply management has treated everyone very well. It is evolving. It is evolving in the industry itself, with a tremendous evolution in the last number of years. I'm confident that it will continue to evolve and that supply management has a future far beyond what I can be involved with, that's for sure.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur: Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Madame Alarie.


Ms. Hélène Alarie: In the estimates you have provided us with, you say that the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood will become the best performing organization in the Public Service. I would like to know in what way the department will be the best performing organization, how you are going to measure this, and what criteria you are going to use.


Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I'm not going to hold other departments up, but I'll put it this way: there's no question that the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food has done exceptionally well with respect to the effectiveness and efficiency with which we have carried out our mandate. In any business, in any organization, you have to constantly keep looking within yourself to see whether there are any other ways and continuing ways of doing that.

Maybe Madame Comeau, as associate deputy, will make some comments as well.


Ms. Michelle Comeau (Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agrifood): Ms. Alarie, on page 28, where you find the small diagram, and on the following pages, we explain how we will ensure that our department becomes the best performing organization in the Public Service, by means of our employees and by means of our tools, and by the way we obtain feedback from our clients and the way we measure our performance.

I am very proud of what we have achieved and of the fact that we are at the head of the pack within the federal government in this field. We are one of the first departments that has simplified its approach, identified very specific results that we are aiming for in these various areas, and established how we are going to measure our achievements. You can find this information in each section where the key results have been highlighted in little insets.

Ms. Hélène Alarie: I see.


The Chairman: Is that it?

Now we'll go to Mr. Steckle.

• 1300

Mr. Paul Steckle (Huron—Bruce, Lib.): Mr. Minister, I have two questions. First of all, I have a short question on the AIDA program. Just in the last week, we had an inquiry from a constituent who claimed that the province wasn't paying because the claim was less than $1,000. They wondered what the criteria was from the federal perspective. I didn't realize there was a minimum criteria.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Number one, there is no minimum criteria.

The Province of Ontario is administering it there and I'm proud to say that we just sent them, yesterday, $30 million from the federal government for our beginning contribution towards Ontario.

The province put an interim program in place in January, at which time, I understood, farmers could send in their forms, based on their predicted financial income. Payments on that were made. Then, once they get their taxes done, they're apparently asked to fill in two more to bring it up to the actual numbers. Then the next process will take... If the Province of Ontario has made a determination that they're not going to write an initial cheque for less than $1,000, I'm not aware of that. It must be a decision that they've made. They have been sending out their 40% until now. Next week, they start sending out the 60% federal government part.

Mr. Paul Steckle: The other question has to do with the water issue.

In the north part of my riding, Huron—Bruce, and also affecting parts of Grey-Bruce, the intent is now underway to move fairly large volumes of water, bulk from our area into the United States. It's already happening. I'm just wondering what engagements you have on this issue with the environment and natural resources departments. It's something that I know those departments are working on in terms of our exports, but we're taking water from the underground aquifers right now, water that is needed in that area. We're already short of water and we're lowering the water table. I think it's a very serious issue. It's one of the most valued resources we have. I think we need to deal with this thing immediately.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Paul, I'll follow up on that. As you know, there is discussion going on in regard to bulk removal from the Great Lakes. I don't know whether that discussion moves to bulk removal from aquifers. I'm not sure. I'll follow up on that with the Ministry of the Environment and, in the west, with PFRA, for example. I don't know with what others, but we'll follow up on that.

Mr. Chairman, we'll get as much information as we can back to the committee, if you'd like us to handle it that way.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Minister. You've been here an hour. I'm hoping that we can squeeze in a few more minutes.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: About five minutes, please.

The Chairman: Mr. Hoeppner.

Mr. Jake E. Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, Mr. Minister.

I want to make a quick comment on the pasta plant issue. I don't want to blame either the minister for the Wheat Board or yourself, Mr. Minister, but here's a situation that should have been addressed in the last couple of months, because farmers are putting in the crop and, the way I see it, they're going to lose this value-added industry. It's only going to be another negative characteristic of the Wheat Board and it's not going help us generally.

The other thing I want to quickly address is the issue of the AIDA program. When we talked about it originally, it was supposed to be bankable by December, if possible. I'm hearing now from a lot of farmers who are saying that it isn't bankable yet. The other issue is that banks are not coming across in carrying these farmers with their operating loans. They can't buy fertilizers and they can't buy their fuel. That's a real handicap for farmers in regard to putting in this crop so that they can get a decent return next fall. I think it's very important, Mr. Minister, that you go back to the banks and address this, because, as you know, we're behind schedule with this AIDA program and we need more co-operation. We're going to be in a worse position if that doesn't happen.

The other quick question, Mr. Minister, is on the PFRA. I get a number of complaints from farmers who cannot upgrade their water wells or their dugouts because a lot of the PFRA money is going to community projects, to rural development areas. The individual farmers who are in remote areas or who are not able to connect are really suffering because of this. I would like you to take a look at that, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: All right.

• 1305

On the AIDA, Mr. Hoeppner, I go back to the fact that prior to December 9 last year, the farmers wanted it, but they didn't expect anything, no matter what it was. There was a program put in place, which is there. The biggest problem we have now—and I know farmers are busy—is that we can't deal with any more of those 25,000 forms out there until they're sent in. Cheques started going out last Friday.

I know farmers are busy and I know their accountants are busy, but the bottom line is this: you can't do anything based on your last year's records until your taxes are done, your tax forms are done, etc. Get them sent in and then we can deal with them.

I have met with the banks and I've had discussions with the Farm Credit Corporation. I'm not defending either one of them, but I can tell you for a fact that they are being very understanding of the situation that farmers are in. We may have heard of farmers that have gone out of business, and maybe the last three months... If they were in the hog industry last year or in grain last year, maybe that was the straw that broke the camel's back. If that's the case, that's unfortunate. This type of program is unfortunately not going to save all of those people.

I've said it a hundred times: it's not the be-all and end-all in regard to providing a situation whereby anybody who wanted to farm, wherever they wanted to farm, would always be able to farm, but it is a big piece of filling some dirt into the ditch, which a number of people need in order to help them over what we hope is a short-term situation as we review how we can better provide things over a longer term.

Mr. Jake Hoeppner: Well, what I see, Mr. Minister, is that the farmers that really should be helped, that should be there for next year, are the younger farmers who don't have the NISA program to draw on—or if they can, it's very small... Also, they don't have the credit at the banks, so they were depending on this AIDA program. Now it's not doing the job for them. The older farmers will survive, those who are 50 to 55 years old, but it's the younger generation that we desperately need to keep on the farm that is not getting the help it needs. I think you have to somehow look at that and make special provisions for them or else we're going to lose them.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: We started sending out cheques last Friday in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. As fast as we can deal with them, they're going out. We had to get—and I'm not blaming anybody—the federal-provincial agreements finally in place. It wasn't easy. Not that anybody was being miserable on it, but I can tell you that one province wouldn't sign until they saw what everybody else was going to sign, and if somebody crossed a “T” differently over here, all the other nine wanted to see whether you slanted the “T” to the left or to the right. I'm not being silly over it. That's what it was. I understand that. Everybody wanted to know that everybody was getting treated fairly. I said that we would be equitable from the beginning, and we have been.

On the PFRA, Jake, I think you spoke to Mr. Peter Fehr when he was here. He's looking into that—

Mr. Jake Hoeppner: I haven't had a response yet, though.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I know you haven't yet, but he will be getting back to you very shortly.

The Chairman: I will allow one question from Mr. Proctor, one from Mr. Borotsik, and that's it.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Okay.

Mr. Dick Proctor: Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Minister, the $1.2 billion on the NISA accounts in Saskatchewan sounds impressive. It's a big number. I've seen a bit of a breakdown on that, and I'm working from recollection. It seems to me that something in the order of 60% of farmers in Saskatchewan have between zero and $10,000 in their NISA accounts, so we're not talking about a whole lot of money there, especially with rising costs of farm inputs and other things.

My question really is about the following. A month ago today, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said that it was disappointed with the AIDA program and disillusioned with the process that led to the development, and that as a result of that they're taking a sober second look at how they work with the federal government on farm safety nets. How are you responding to that charge by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I have a long meeting planned for the beginning of next week with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in order to discuss that and a number of other issues. I respect their views. They have been and will continue to be part of the process as we go forward on this. It's interesting that up until we made the announcement, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said that all that was needed from the federal government was $500 million. We made $900 million available from the federal government.

The average account, I think... You had a percentage of those below $10,000. I do know that 80% of farmers in Saskatchewan belong to NISA—

Mr. Dick Proctor: Yes.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: —at varying levels of accounts. I think that Saskatchewan, without question, has the highest percentage of farmers—Tom, is that right?—enrolled in NISA.

• 1310

I guess what that says is, do we need to take a better look at NISA so that it works better than maybe it has at the present time—other than being seen by too many as a retirement fund and not as a stabilization account?

Mr. Dick Proctor: Just to remind you, a year ago when you were before this committee, you said that you hoped that farmers wouldn't have to dip into their NISA accounts. I just want to remind you of that—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Well, yes, and the only reason they have to dip into their NISA accounts is the income situation that was there; it's a tool that they can use, if it works properly.

The Chairman: Mr. Borotsik, last question.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to be put on the record right now as saying that I'm terribly disappointed that the minister will not stay until 1.30. It was scheduled—certainly in our committee meeting—such that it would be until 1.30. I feel that we put forward enough time for the minister to allocate his time properly, so I am disappointed.

In saying that, I did extend the invitation for the minister to come back. There are too many issues that are political and that have to be dealt with by the minister, and for any accountability of the department, Mr. Chairman, we must have the minister here, before the committee. In fact, if he's not here before the committee, then, I suspect, the committee really doesn't have a function to perform in this area.

I would just like to say one thing. There have been estimates that less than one-half of the dollars budgeted to AIDA will be expended. Will the minister use this as an excuse to say that in fact there wasn't a problem in the agricultural industry, in the farm economy? If, in fact, less than $900 million dollars over the two years is utilized, will that be the position of the federal government and the minister politically? Will the position be that no, there wasn't a problem, so we didn't have to spend the money, see?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Anybody that makes an estimate on what is going to be spent on the AIDA program is making a hypothetical estimate. We will not know what is going to be spent until the program is nearing completion.

Mr. Rick Borotsik: If we don't spend the money that has been budgeted, is the minister prepared to say now that there wasn't a problem with the economy and the farm commodity prices?

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: No. I told you that I'm prepared to look at the program for 1999 and to use as a base our experience of 1998 and 1999 in building a stronger safety net program for the future.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: In an hour and 14 minutes, we heard from every member. We covered some ground.

Mr. Breitkreuz.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Can I just have 30 seconds to raise an issue with the minister?

Mr. Minister, I have to alert you to another issue that has just developed. Farmers are really trying to diversify their crops. One of those crops is hemp, which is now a possibility. Three hundred applications have been made. Only 70 have been approved. It's taking much too—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Applications for what?

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: To grow hemp.

Can you do something to urge the bureaucracy to get off their you know whats and get processing...

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: I'm not dodging the bullet, Garry. That's done by the health department, but I will speak to the Minister of Health—

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: It's an agriculture-related—

Mr. Lyle Vanclief: Yes, I agree. I'll speak to the Minister of Health today. I guess they have to do the registration of the licence.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Hemp is a crop that has to be put in early.

The Chairman: Thanks to all the members for their co-operation.

This meeting is over.