Mr. Speaker, my thanks to the House for permitting me to speak first.
I rise today to support the motion put forward by the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, which calls on the government to immediately drop the CAIS deposit requirement and honour all of the financial commitments it has made to Canadian agricultural producers.
Many who will speak are much more technically knowledgeable on this subject than I. Let me just put this debate in context. The context is that we have, for a dozen years now, a government that has been in power, and during the period of that government's rule, notwithstanding its constant bragging about its financial and economic achievements, we have seen disposable family income in this country that has barely improved at all.
Throughout that period, the more serious problem has often been, particularly through neglect, the declining disposable income we have seen throughout rural Canada and many sectors of the rural economy. Families have been hit hard and probably no families have been hit as hard as those who operate family farms.
The family farm, in our judgment, remains a critical institution not just in this country's past, but hopefully will remain so in its future, because no institution so thoroughly represents all of the values that built this country: hard work, enterprise, cooperation, community, and of course the family itself.
Now I know these are not Liberal values, they are not the real Liberal values, but they are the values of real people and I constantly remind the government of that.
For two years now our agricultural sector, on top of the backdrop of declining farm incomes, has been decimated by a series of unprecedented and far-reaching crises. Obviously, one is BSE in the cattle industry, the effects of which have spread not only to other ruminants but in particular to the dairy sector. We have had sustained and cruel drought through grains and oilseeds, not just in western Canada but in other parts of eastern Canada as well. Of course we continue to have an international subsidy war in which our farmers find comparatively little assistance.
Let us take the cattle industry. Cattle and grain producers have historically required very little government support. They thrived in unfettered markets, but through circumstances that are beyond their control they need help today.
The economic effects of BSE have been devastating. Unknown numbers of livestock producers have been foreclosed on. Some have completely pulled out, salvaging what they could. We have experienced this and I have experienced this even in my own family. Others are faced with low land values and cannot bear to cut their losses.
The entire farming industry in Canada has been hard hit by these crises, including the BSE crisis. All our farming communities in every region need help in one way or another.
Recently, the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles said that the BSE crisis has had a huge impact on Quebec, where 25,000 farms, or half the farms in the province, have been affected.
We currently have a government that thinks only about the big cities, where it believes it can get the most votes. It is a government that is insensitive to the problems in the regions. This was obvious in the disdainful refusal by the government, as represented by the Minister of Transport, to bring justice to the people of Mirabel whose land was expropriated, even after the complete closure of the airport to passengers and after 40 years of injustice, incompetence and insensitivity.
Everywhere I go in rural Canada I hear the same thing. I hear it over and over again. I do not know how the government can miss it. The CAIS program is not working.
There are all kinds of ways in which it does not work. It is complicated. It requires an army of accountants for people who can barely afford the normal burden of government paperwork. It is backlogged. The cheques never arrive. It does not pay out. It is like so many of the agricultural promises from this government.
But there is a more fundamental structural problem to CAIS. The problem is simple enough. We cannot effectively combine an income stabilization program with a disaster relief program. That is why this program has been so dysfunctional and why it has been getting more dysfunctional over the past two or three years and is fast approaching a crisis.
I say to the government members that they are going to have to find a better solution in the long term. This is not going to work. I know that there are some in the government who approve a review of this, but that is not good enough. We are going to have to take some action now.
I think this motion takes the action required. The motion calls for the elimination, for this year, of the deposit requirement contained in the CAIS program.
We are looking at severe problems on top of what we already have as we approach this year's planting and seeding. This problem has to be addressed now. This motion is the quickest way and the best way of addressing it.
Then we have to find a longer term solution. Members of our caucus, led by our agricultural critic from Haldimand—Norfolk, others such as our critic from Brandon, our critic from the Battlefords, the vice-chair of the committee, our members for Lethbridge and from Swift Current, all our members, have for some time been putting their minds to developing alternatives to this CAIS approach.
What we propose is that a Conservative government would implement a whole farm production insurance program based on a 10 year average of value and production costs for a commodity. The program would be funded on a tripartite basis one-third by the federal government, one-third by provincial governments and one-third by producers.
And we propose that a second level of support would exist, but would only be required in extraordinary circumstances such as that of BSE when normal markets and market access collapse. Our plan would include a bankable business risk program directed at primary producers and funded principally by the federal government. Unlike CAIS, this second level of support would not require producer cash on deposit.
For most producers, CAIS is not and certainly has not been a source of hope and comfort. In fact, it is becoming a supplementary cause of the anguish and uncertainty that exist in the agricultural community. The reliability and affordability of the program are primary concerns. CAIS is failing on both counts.
Frankly, having a program so dependent at critical junctures on producer pay-in, when there is so little payout, is hampering our producers as they try to compete worldwide with treasuries across the world that appear far more generous to their agricultural sectors than ours at home is.
As important as this motion is, let me end by saying there remains a lot to be done to restore predictability, stability and long term profitability to the Canadian agricultural industry. One need in particular is obviously the immediate needs of the cattle industry and the damages inflicted by the BSE crisis.
I will say what I have been saying repeatedly for the past few months: there remains a need, and it is not part of this motion, but there remains a need in my judgment for a cull cow program. It does not matter if the border finally does get opened; we all have our fingers crossed. It does not matter if it finally gets opened: we have an enormous older herd and that problem is going to have to be dealt with. I cannot believe the Liberals as recently as December voted against that notion.
Before Christmas, the Liberals voted against a cull reduction program. However, the problem still exists and the government has to assume its responsibilities.
What is needed most urgently and what has been lacking in so many rural sectors, not just in agriculture but in softwood and in the fisheries, what has been lacking, cruelly lacking, is political will and, frankly, a balanced political perspective from this government. Agriculture and agrifood, fisheries, mines, and forestry, these are economic sectors that sustain a large number of Canadians and a large number of Canadian communities. Rural Canada still contributes significantly to Canada's GDP and contributes 40% of our exports.
I remind the House that in rural Canada our most fundamental values are preserved and protected and passed from generation to generation, the values of solidarity, family and honest hard work. These industries and these communities have earned the respect and the admiration of Canadians. At this time they deserve the help of their Parliament and of their government. I urge all members, including government members, to support this motion.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the fact that we are going to have an opportunity to debate agriculture today. I look forward to that.
I have a couple of questions, though, for the Leader of the Opposition, because there are some issues that I think we should have right up front.
The Leader of the Opposition, since this Parliament commenced as a minority Parliament, has made the point, particularly in the debate on the Speech from the Throne, of the importance of working in a collaborative and collective way. He made the point particularly in the wording of the amendments to the Speech from the Throne itself, and how it would have been nice from his perspective if those discussions had been able to take place beforehand and we had had a collective agreement.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. He wants to talk about agriculture and put forward a motion that we can deal with, but there was no consultation to see if we could arrive at a collective agreement.
An hon. member: We have been asking you for months.
An hon. member: A few years.
Hon. Andy Mitchell: They are cackling over there because I am pointing out to them that they do not do what they call for in one case or another.
Let us get to the nub of this. As the Leader of the Opposition said when he began, and I appreciate this, there were others who had a better technical knowledge. I understand and appreciate that, but what he fails to point out in putting forward this motion as some sort of solution is that the CAIS program is not a federal program but a federal-provincial program and that making changes to it does not happen through a resolution in the House. It happens when 7 out of 10 provinces representing 50% of farm gate receipts make a collective decision to do it, and even beyond that, because this is a three-legged stool, it also requires federal government, provincial governments and producers, not that top-down directive approach that the Leader of the Opposition is suggesting.
If the Leader of the Opposition could provide some reasons as to why we have a motion in front of the House that purports to deal with the issue but does not present the issue in a way that is actionable, I am sure all Canadians and producers would like to hear how he intends for that to happen.
Madam Speaker, as the official opposition agriculture critic, I am pleased to rise today to speak to our party's motion that calls on the Liberal government to get rid of the Canadian agricultural income stabilization, or CAIS, program cash deposit requirement as well as to honour the commitments that it has already made to Canadian farmers.
However, before I continue, I would like to thank our leader, the member for Calgary Southwest, and my colleagues in the Conservative caucus for supporting me in recognizing the magnitude of this issue and tabling the very important motion that we have before us today.
I must admit that it may seem a little odd to ask the Liberal government to vote on a motion that among other things asks it to honour its commitments, as we know that honouring commitments is not something the Liberals are very good at. Think NAFTA, think GST, think of their commitment to defend the traditional definition of marriage. The list of broken promises could take up all my time today. Suffice it to say, agricultural producers who have suffered through difficult circumstances such as BSE, avian flu, drought or prairie frost are fed up with empty government promises that aid is finally coming their way.
Just this week I received a letter from yet another farmer saying that he was still waiting his CAIS cash advance payment for 2003. This is simply unacceptable. How can producers who have creditors banging on their door assure them that money will be coming when the government can give them no guarantees as to when they can expect the funds?
We have recently learned that many grain and oilseed farmers may have to wait until January 2006 to receive anything for the losses due to their price collapse of 2004. As if the unending delay in receiving funds through the CAIS program were not enough, the government continues to insist that producers enrolled in the CAIS program provide an onerous cash deposit to trigger payments from the program.
Many banks are even refusing to lend money to farmers who offer their future cash payments as security because the banks have no confidence in how much money will actually be paid or when.
The CAIS deposit requirement has been universally rejected by producers across the country as a policy that unfairly hurts our farmers. It ties up producers money and deposits that could otherwise be used to invest in much needed farm equipment or to pay off other farm expenses.
Agriculture producers across the country, struggling with extreme conditions outside their control, do not need yet another financial burden to ensure that relief payments make their way to them. That is why I am calling on the Minister of Agriculture to immediately drop the cash deposit program required by CAIS.
This is a very serious situation. I am sure that many Canadians would be appalled to learn that the realized net farm income for Canadian producers in 2003 was a negative number nationally. That is right: negative income. Furthermore, although our country's agricultural exports have steadily increased, farm incomes are dropping rapidly.
One example is, according to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, in 1981 our farmers received just 5¢ for every $1 of cornflakes sold to the consumer. Now, over 20 years later with a lot of inflation in between, our farmers are only getting 3¢ on $1. This is unacceptable.
Canadian producers compete with treasuries around the world. Many of our global competitors have significantly richer domestic subsidies that give direct payments, actually improving farmer income, not simply supporting producers when losses occur. Most important, their programs are free and do not demand upfront costs, deposits or fees. The deposit or any other upfront cost for safety net programming only further disadvantages Canadian producers on the international stage.
Even the parliamentary secretary for agriculture has acknowledged that the CAIS program was never designed to deal with disasters or trade injury. It was just supposed to provide income support within the normal flux and flow of business. That is fair enough. The problem is that there are not any programs at all to deal with disasters, trade or otherwise. Everything is ad hoc. There is no plan. There is no standard. There is no money. Even when the money is promised, it does not get delivered.
Take for example the money promised for the federal cattle set-aside program that was announced in Calgary last September. As of last week, we had reports that the Alberta government had not yet received a nickel from the federal government. This is unacceptable.
With regard the much touted loan loss reserve program to stimulate investment in desperately needed slaughterhouse capacity, we were told that the application forms would not be available for three months. It is five months later and there are still no forms. There are no funds. This is unacceptable.
What about the tobacco farmers of Ontario and Quebec, two-thirds of whom are in my home riding of Haldimand—Norfolk? Three days before the election was called last spring, they were promised an aid package that would have seen cheques in their hands by October at the latest. They have not received a penny yet. Now the government has changed the rules, lowered the funding and said, “take it or leave it”. This, too, is totally unacceptable.
I have heard a lot of people complain and say, “farmers always keep whining. What are they complaining about. The governments keep announcing more money for them, but the farmers are never happy”. What these people do not realize is that the same money gets announced time and again. It gets announced, it gets promised, but it does not get delivered.
I can say with confidence that our agricultural products are among the best in the world. They are safe and they are reliable. However, they are becoming more expensive to produce because the farmers have to spend an amazing amount of time and money on complying with increased government legislation, regulation and applications for safety nets.
I have spoken with several farm accountants over the last while. Even the brightest of them admit that they have a really hard time understanding the CAIS program and the calculations. If, with all their experience, they find the program a shemozzle of a bamboozle, how could independent farmers be expected to cope with the challenge? The answer is simple: they cannot.
The unnecessary and unproductive complexity of CAIS demands that farmers who need the program most, those facing tough times, have to spend money that they can ill afford, not only on the deposit requirement, but also on accountants and lawyers just to make their application. The system is so bad that I know of one farmer who completely retired from farming, saying, “This CAIS program is just the last straw”.
It is abundantly clear that in the face of declining farm income, this government continues to fail farmers by providing inadequate income support programs for producers struggling with circumstances and conditions outside their control. Our farmers are fighting foreign tariffs and subsidies on the world market. They are fighting disease and frost from Mother Nature. Now they are fighting for survival. They should not have to fight their own government.
The status quo is not acceptable. I call on the Minister of Agriculture to ensure that our farmers receive responsive relief in real time, not phantom farm aid, not phantom funds.
Getting rid of the CAIS deposit requirement would provide immediate relief to thousands of producers at a time when relief is most needed. I urge the Minister of Agriculture to heed the call of producers from coast to coast and immediately drop the CAIS cash deposit requirement. I urge all members of this House to vote in favour of our motion today.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to reply to the supply motion brought forward by the opposition.
As I said in my question to the Leader of the Opposition, I do not agree with a large part of the motion for a number of reasons. However there is a portion of the motion that I feel is important, which is that we should be dealing with farm income programs and that we should be dealing with the support we provide to producers on an ongoing basis, to refine it and to make it as effective as we possibly can. I have been doing that since I became the minister last July. I am not doing it in the way suggested by the hon. member, to just, by a fiat, have something changed, but rather by doing it according to the Constitution.
Agriculture is a federal-provincial responsibility and, of course, I work with my provincial colleagues, as well as, and this is very critical, working with members of the industry.
However let us try to understand what the motion is all about. It is not about the opposition trying to help producers. If it were about that, there would be solutions in it, but they are not there. It is not about trying to actually get something done, because if it were the opposition would have suggested a process that would need to be employed to get it done. But no, it has not made that suggestion. It has suggested something that is not possible to do.
Why would the opposition suggest that? It is because this is not about helping producers, not about the commitment that the government has to help producers in this country, which we demonstrate day in and day out, no, it is about pure, unadulterated politics. First, not helping producers, that is simply not factually correct. I will demonstrate clearly that we do that.
In terms of dealing with the options around CAIS, trying to purport that nothing has been done on that, that all of a sudden one day the opposition walked into the House and for the first time wanted to have it discussed and dealt with and that this had to do with the fact that the opposition one day woke up, that is rubbish. The reality is that on this side of the House we have been dealing with these issues that are important to our producers on an ongoing basis day in and day out. That is the absolute reality.
Mr. Gary Goodyear: How is it working? It is not working. Lead or be led.
Hon. Andy Mitchell: Listen to them cackling over there, Madam Speaker. They are obviously pretty excited.
The reality is that 2003 and 2004 were difficult years for Canadian producers and they deserve more than the political games that the opposition is playing here today.
The basic problem here is that the opposition just does not get it. As important as it is, and it is important, to provide support to our producers, in 2003 the government provided producers with $4.8 billion. Never in the history of this country has that kind of support been provided to our producers. The opposition members do not want to admit that. They do not want to talk about that. They do not want to deal with that because it demonstrates clearly that the government does in fact support producers.
In this current fiscal year we have provided to date well over $3 billion, but again they do not want to admit that. They do not want to talk about that because it does not fit into what their main objective is here today, which is not to help producers but to score cheap political points, which is their normal process.
The point is that opposition members do not get it. Success cannot be measured by how much the support payments are. That is important and we need to be there, but that is not the measure of success. The measure of success is what we do to create the environment that allows producers to receive from the marketplace a fair return for their labour and their investment. That is the point they miss and the point on which they make absolutely no suggestions on how to deal with it.
I have to compliment my parliamentary secretary for the work he has done. Rather than dealing with the important work the parliamentary secretary has done in respect of dealing with the long term decline in farm income in certain commodity sectors, what did the House leader deal with regarding the parliamentary secretary? He was only concerned about where he was sitting in the House, with great glee and laughter over there. Well, it is not a laughing matter. Helping producers and providing them with support is not a laughing matter. I am totally disgusted with the approach the opposition takes on that.
Let us talk a little bit about the support that producers have received. The opposition members talk specifically about the CAIS program. They say that no money has been paid out in CAIS, that no producer has been helped in CAIS and that nothing is going on in CAIS.
The reality to date is that more than $700 million have gone to producers, payments for the 2003 year will reach close to $1.5 billion and there will be similar amounts in 2004. This clearly reflects the challenges that producers faced in those years.
The opposition members then said that there was no other specific program, nothing to deal with the specific problem taking place. I want to remind the House and producers of some of the programs that have been put in place and the amounts that have been paid out. Canadians have an interest in this and I am glad that we have a chance to speak to Canadians, although I realize the opposition would prefer not to.
We paid out $830 million under the TISP, $444 million under the BSE recovery program and $106 million under the cull animal program. Our spring and fall advances are providing literally millions of dollars in assistance for our producers to operate. Our production insurance program provided $1.7 billion of coverage on those commodities covered under production insurance.
I will not disagree that it is important to continually evaluate and look at what we do and to make every attempt to do it better and as well as we can. I know opposition members would like to think that they always get it right but they do not. All of us need to constantly re-evaluate things. However to suggest that there is not a strong commitment to producers, to suggest that they are not receiving financial assistance, and most important, to suggest that we are not focused on the long term issues that face farmers is totally ludicrous and totally wrong.
There is something else the opposition forgets and something that is absolutely critical. When dealing with agriculture it is important to understand that it is a three-legged stool, that it is not just simply the federal government. And that is not to shirk the responsibility of the federal government. We take that onto our shoulders, as well we should, but in order to make this work it is a three-legged stool and if one of those legs is missing, it will not stand. This is something that needs to be done, yes, by the federal government, by the provincial government and by producers. We have been engaged with all of those parties over the last seven months to continually develop and enhance the programming that we put in place.
The hon. member talked for a minute about the announcement of the BSE recovery program back in September which was designed among other things to see a price recovery in both feeder and fed animals. What the hon. member did not say is that in fact the price for feeder animals and the price for fed animals have recovered from their lows in July as we said the program was designed to do. Are the levels at what we would like them to be? No, but they have recovered.
Producers are the best of business people in the world. Our Canadian producers produce the best in the world. They are not going to buy what the opposition is saying, that everything is wrong, that nothing works, that there is no support. What they will buy is a government that understands the challenges, a government that provides them with the assistance, and a government that works with them to enhance it even beyond the current levels.
I have said on many occasions that the CAIS program is one that provides support to producers. It is one that has been put in place in recent times. It is one that we will work on in order to ensure that there are things that will be changed. It is not as if nothing has been done since CAIS has been put in place. We saw a change with the coverage of negative margins. The opposition members are saying that nothing has been done. I would assume that means they are opposed to the coverage of negative margins.
Mr. Gary Goodyear: We are opposed to the failure of the program.
Hon. Andy Mitchell: The hon. member has just said that he is opposed to negative margins.
We have increased the cap. We have increased the total amount that can be paid under the CAIS program. We are responsive. Their deposit has been changed since the CAIS program was brought into place and yes, there is a need to deal with that particular part of the program.
Last September a member of the opposition said that the special cash advance that we were putting in place for beef producers would never work because it was tied to the CAIS program, that producers would not see a penny and nothing would ever happen. That is what the opposition said. The reality is that today $115 million has gone in the short term to cattle producers under those special CAIS advances.
I say that to point out that when the opposition members say that something is not happening, it just is not so. The reality is different. I say that with respect because, as I have said on numerous occasions, I also believe in the importance of continually evaluating what we do and continually being willing to change beyond where we have gone.
During the debate today in the House we are going to talk a lot about various components of agriculture. I look forward to engaging in that debate because there are important broad based issues that we need to deal with. However, from my perspective there are some realities we need to accept and we need to understand.
The first one is that the government is committed to producers. It has always been committed to producers. The proof is in a number of different areas, including the type of programming that we have put in place and the types of measures that we will be putting in place as we move forward. That is a reality.
Playing political games with opposition day motions is of little value. I agree with the hon. member across the way that there is work that needs to be done. Yes, it will be important that we have these discussions in the House. As I was saying to the Leader of the Opposition when he was making his earlier interventions, if he honestly believed his rhetoric that he wants to see a minority Parliament work with all parties coming together on critical issues, then he would have followed his own advice that he was providing to the government earlier in this session, which was that parties would come together and jointly develop proposals that would be put to the House so that they could gain widespread support.
The fact is they are unwilling to do that. The fact that they are unwilling to engage in those discussions with the government indicates clearly that this is about pure unadulterated politics. They are trying to score cheap political points at a time when it is totally unwarranted.
This needs to be a time about assisting producers. This has to be a time about understanding that this is all about people. It is about the men and women who go out there every day and make significant sacrifices on behalf of all Canadians. The work that our producers do is critical for Canadians whether they live in rural Canada or urban Canada. The work our producers do is critical to people whether they live in this country or whether they live in literally dozens of countries around the globe who depend on Canada's ability to grow food and to export it around the world.
That is what is critical in this debate. That is what the government is committed to. Our record clearly demonstrates that we have been doing that in the last several years. It is what we will continue to do as we move forward working with the provinces, working with the industry, working with individual producers, and working with Canadians.
Madam Speaker, do we have to say it again for the government finally to understand: Quebec farmers are facing a major income crisis.
According to the latest Statistics Canada data, in 2003, under the reign of the Liberals, agricultural income reached its lowest point in 25 years.
In 2003, net income, i.e. the difference between farm revenues and operating expenses, fell by 39.1% from the figure for 2002 to $4.44 billion.
According to the UPA, farm debt has increased on average by 207% since 1993. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of farms declined by 10% in Quebec to 32,000. Every week two farms disappear in Quebec.
The problem is that farmers are left on their own by Ottawa, that is to say, by the party in power.
Few countries neglected their farm sectors as much as Canada did when the current Prime Minister was Minister of Finance. Now more than ever, producers have less support, and at a time when agriculture is in a full-blown crisis caused by the collapse of prices and the mad cow crisis. In addition, when Ottawa does take action, it is to adopt Canada-wide measures, which fail to meet the needs of Quebec producers. We cannot say it enough: agriculture in Quebec and agriculture in Canada are different, they are organized differently, and they do not have the same needs.
According to OECD data, government support for farm incomes in Canada was US$182 per capita in 2000. The equivalent per capita figure for the same period was US$378 in the United States, US$276 in Europe, and US$289 on average in the OECD countries.
The parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture has been consulting recently in order to find out about the problems facing farmers. He needed only to listen to us. We have been telling him over and over since the House convened. I am well situated to tell you: I went through my own baptism of fire last October at the time of the famous emergency debate on the mad cow disaster.
Our party and the entire agricultural community have been telling the Liberals for months. The problems and solutions are well known. But they are not listening. All they need is to show a little public will.
The Liberals tell us over and over about their budget surpluses. The money is there, but what good is it doing? Who is benefiting? If the farmers of this country numbered among the Liberals' pals, maybe there would be some money for them, who knows?
Last year, the government accumulated a surplus of $9 billion. I remember that and our farmers remember too.
The CAIS program does not work very well. Farmers are not very enthusiastic about it. On January 22, 2004, the president of the UPA said on La Terre de chez nous: “CAIS, you will remember, was imposed on us by the federal government, which threatened to cut Quebec off if it did not sign.” What great solidarity! Despite the federal government's rigidity, the Bloc Québécois managed to get this program administered by La Financière agricole.
That makes it possible at least to harmonize this program with the other risk management programs administered by La Financière.
The CAIS program provides minimal coverage, which does not include all kinds of risks, which can vary considerably from one farm to another or one region to another.
If CAIS were doing the job, why were seven different programs created to deal with various crises? The program would seem poorly designed.
CAIS was useless for the cull cattle problem. It did not do anything.
Let me quote the president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec for you:
I would like to point out as well that milk producers are not eligible for CAIS. In order for a milk producer to be eligible, he or she must have losses of at least 30% over the last three selected base years. In our case, even if our cull cattle were sold for $0.00, we would not even qualify for the part of the CAIS program covering catastrophes, the only one for which we are eligible.
Let me give just one example. According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, managing the deposits costs $14 million in administrative expenses, while they only bring in $34 million. Assuming an interest rate of 6%, the administrative costs are high.
Let us now look at the motion put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada this morning.
On February 8, the agriculture ministers will be meeting to discuss the CAIS program, among other things. We would hope that the federal government will not show up empty-handed. It was for just that reason that it did not make an appearance at the last UPA congress. This week the Canadian Federation of Agriculture asked once again for the initial deposit requirement to be abolished. This is the measure that is the subject of the present motion. It is supported by the UPA and by various agricultural organizations.
Ultimately, this is a marginal measure, for it represents only $34 million in annual lost profits in Canada. My colleagues and I support this measure, which should however be funded in its entirety by the federal government.
Let us fact facts. The deposit requirement is a major irritant for agricultural producers. It is not right for hard-pressed farmers to be obliged to borrow in order to make their deposit. The basic question with the CAIS program is this: who do we want to help? The agricultural producers or the bankers?
Time is short. We have to go much further. We acknowledge that the Conservative Party's motion would give farmers a bit more time, but it does not go far enough. It seems to us essential to promptly launch a debate on the effectiveness of the CAIS program. The committee that was supposed to be studying the effectiveness and management of this program has still not convened, and there will be no major change until 2006.
The minister should also be worried about the low number of Quebec producers enrolled in this program, even in a period of crisis. That speaks volumes. This low enrolment rate is explained by the simple fact that the program does not meet their needs, period.
Let me now cite the latest brief from the UPA, which recently submitted four proposals to the federal government. First, the government has to substantially increase its budget for the income security program. Second, it should offer Quebec and the provinces more flexibility in managing the funds earmarked for income security. Federal and provincial assistance has to be decompartmentalized to meet the specific needs of each of the regions and types of production. Third, ways of reducing the program's red tape have to be proposed, particularly as regards establishment of the reference margins. Finally, the impact of international subsidies must be assessed annually in order to adjust the reference margins in a fair and equitable manner.
So this is what the Bloc Québécois believes must be done to improve the Canadian Agricultural income Stabilization program. I want to reiterate that this government, led by its former Minister of Finance, has been constantly coming upon budget surpluses as if by magic, year after year, for ages now. If this government really wanted to make itself some new and genuine friends, it would turn to those who provide us with our daily bread and who now find themselves in a situation which has for some time now been well past the crisis point.
Our people have faced some serious problems since this party came back to power. Consider the fiscal imbalance, which has imposed a terrible burden on those who want to receive real health care, both in Quebec and in the Canadian provinces.
Think of the farmers who are forced to sell their farm because they have lost hope, because of mismanagement of public funds by this government, because of deficient sanitary practices by supposedly responsible persons, who would do well to model themselves on the sanitary methods used in Quebec.
There is still time to help those who provide us with our daily bread. All we have to do is listen to them, stop trying to find solutions in ivory towers in Ottawa or elsewhere, roll up our sleeves, and really move things forward. It is doable. But is this government capable? Up to now in Quebec, it has not proven much of anything.
Madam Speaker, as always, it is an honour to rise in the House. I am beginning to feel like I am an extra in a movie. The movie is Bill Murray's Groundhog Day
. Every time I wake up, I am in the House with the hon. minister across from me, talking about the same issue. Just as in that movie, at the end of the day, nothing has changed.
We have been at this issue for too long. Every day we ask the same questions and every day we get the same answers. Nothing changes except one thing. Every day the government does not act or put a proper plan in place, farmers go under.
I brought forward the case of a farmer and I spoke to the minister and his staff about it. The farmer had 1,000 head of cattle, one of the largest ranch operations in my riding. He had been completely turned down by CAIS. He received a blanket letter thanking him for putting in his money for deposit, for having to borrow the money and for having to pay his accountant, but he did not qualify for CAIS.
I approached the minister on this. He referred me to his staff, for which I thank him. His staff referred me to the CAIS specialist. Just like in the Groundhog Day scenario, day after day I phoned and nothing changed until Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve I was sitting in a banker's office with the rancher, pleading for his farm. The bank was foreclosing on a $70,000 loan on his farm. He was only three months behind, but the bank figured it was time to shut down a million dollar farm operation. I begged that bank to hold off. What could I say? The fact is he never got a CAIS cheque. If he had, he would not have been in that disgraceful situation.
When we about CAIS and the deposit, it is important that we put this discussion into a much larger framework. The Conservatives have done us a favour by bringing forward the question on the CAIS deposit. The minister knows well what farmers think of the CAIS deposit. This issue has come up again and again. When we talk to the CAIS officials, they say that yes, they are hearing from farmers, that yes, they are taking farmers' concerns seriously, that yes, they are doing a review and that yes, they are having a review completed. Then we ask the punch-line question, which is when will the review be done, and they say that it will be done in June or July. That is well past the date when farmers have to borrow money to get back into CAIS if they want to keep going. The motion before us is very timely, but it is indicative of the bigger problem.
The CAIS program may or may not have succeeded in normal times, but it has been an absolute failure in the beef economy. There is no disputing that. It has not been disaster relief, but a disaster. Some farmers I know have put in $10,000. Some of them have received cheques for $900, despite the fact that they are almost bankrupt now. They tell me that they probably will have to raise more money to get their CAIS back up. Whatever they have received, the government takes back in the new round of deposits.
It is not just beef. If we look across the agricultural sectors of Canada at grain, our cash crop farmers are going under. This is industry is on the brink. I spoke with a farmer last night. He told me that agriculture in Ontario is now past the point of no return. I think I could fairly say that this is the situation right across Canada. He told me that he did not know how he could ever be viable again as a farmer. He said that if someone gave him $500 for each of his cows, he would be gone from agriculture today and that every farmer on his range road would be gone as well. That is a disgraceful situation.
When we talk about the CAIS deposits, I see that the minister has a difficult position. I do not think it is a matter of him saying to cabinet that we need another $1 billion for our farmers. We need an indication of whether the government and cabinet will say that it is committed to a plan to save rural Canada, not just agriculture, That is what this discussion is about now.
If the government does not have a plan, then be honest about it and say that it has promoted a race to the bottom. If people can buy their food cheaper than a farmer can make it, so be it. I do not think that is just and I do not think that is right, but maybe that is the position of the government. I would rather hear farmers being told to tell their sons and daughters to get out of farming now. Do not lead them along. We need a clear definition. Are we going to put the necessary funds into restoring rural Canada or are we going to let it go down the tubes?
Another farmer I spoke to said, “We are completely on our own. We are competing against everybody in the world and we have no support. We know that the Europeans completely support their farmers. The Americans completely support theirs. We do not have nearly the level of support. We are competitive in good times, but the good times are becoming fewer and fewer”. And that brings us to the CAIS program and the whole margins issue.
The problem with it now, particularly with beef, is that with our farmers having had two disastrous years in a row their margins have been wiped out. Most of them are not going to be able to apply for CAIS in the coming year. Most of them could not get CAIS because they do not have the funds left. So the $10,000 or the $30,000 they had to borrow to get into CAIS, which they cannot get back, could have been the money that would have kept their farms going. That could have been money that they could have used to pay their loans so that the banks would not foreclose on them. Unfortunately, the money is locked up. It has not served its purpose.
I asked the minister the last time we met to take me anywhere in Canada, to take me down any rural road, to take me to any house he wanted and ask me to knock on the door and see if the CAIS program had worked there. We do not have anything yet. I am still knocking on those rural doors, saying, “Tell me I am wrong. Tell me that CAIS works”. I would love to be proven wrong. I would love to sit down here and say, “What a fantastic program. Thank God our government did something for farmers”. But I have not found that yet.
If any of the hon. members across the floor in Quebec have rural roads that they would want me to walk down to knock on doors, I will do it, because CAIS has not worked and it is time we just admitted it. What we have done is that we have gone on week after week, month after month, passing on this charade that somehow this crisis we are in--and it is not just the crisis in beef but the entire crisis in agriculture--is going to pass and everything is going to be bonny and rosy again. We know that is not the case. Because of the debt that has accumulated, particularly in the beef industry in the last two years, those farmers have no ability to get out from under that debt load.
I think we have to look at the pressure that is on agriculture across Canada. In Ontario, with the nutrient farm management programs that have been brought in place, we saw numerous small operations go under. They just cannot continue with the regulations they are facing. I do not say that I am against good, strong, safe regulations for drinking water and meat. That is very important, but I will tell the minister that I have serious concerns about how we are applying these regulations.
In terms of what we have been talking about, the slaughter capacity, we go over this again and again. I have small abattoirs in my riding that have been trying to help the farmers of Abitibi—Témiscamingue because they are neighbouring communities. They are neighbouring farms, they are relatives of each other and they cannot even slaughter the cows from Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Two abattoirs that I know of are being shut down over this. Who is shutting them down? It is our federal government that is saying they cannot do that, that they cannot help in a time of dire crisis. This is the biggest crisis we have had in the history of Canadian agriculture and we have the CFIA coming into our provincial plants saying, “You cannot help your Quebec neighbours. Let them be on their own”. I think that is a travesty.
When we sit in hearings and talk about how we are going to address this crisis, it seems to me that again it is like Groundhog Day. Day after day we talk with the CFIA officials or day after day we talk with the minister's staff and it never seems to be about the fact that this is a crisis. This is a crisis. People are losing their farms. Rural Canada is going under.
So I will put it to the minister today: let us be honest here. We can talk in this debate about the CAIS deposit, and it is a good debate, but are we willing to do what is necessary? Or are we going to continue on the road of a race to the bottom?
This morning I was reading my papers from home and there was a wonderful letter in the Kirkland Lake newspaper from Tom Petricevic, who wrote a letter to Ontario farmers. He wrote that it was hard for him to believe that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture would expect any help from the government in 2005. He wrote:
Hasn't it dawned on them yet that they have been abandoned by the Government of Canada to the “Global Market”...Unless Canadians elect a government that will reclaim sovereignty, the race to the bottom will go on and we are all out of luck....
We saw the race to the bottom with the fact that we are now sending our own flags overseas to be made, so I suppose we should find it hard to expect the government to stand up and say, “Yes, Canadian farmers have a right to get a fair wage for their animals and for their crops”. We have a right to expect that our government is going to say that rural Canada has a value, that there is an infrastructure in rural Canada that is worth protecting, and that it is not just some widget that we can ship overseas, although I know some in trade probably think that would be a wonderful solution.
There is a value to having a strong rural identity. It is an identity that is articulated in the United States and the United States fights for its farmers. It is an identity that is articulated all over Europe and Europe fights for its farmers. It is an identity that is articulated very clearly in our Province of Quebec and Quebec fights very strongly for its farmers. But our federal government continues on this path of saying, “Let us hope for the best. Let us hope that the border will reopen”.
My biggest fear is that by saying “let us hope for the best, let us hope for the border reopening”, our government will be able to walk away from the fact that we have billions of dollars of debt sitting there in the farm community which the farm community will never be able to pay back. I think that is an unacceptable situation.
Therefore, does the New Democratic Party support the ending of the CAIS deposit immediately? Yes, we do. We support any of the parties that are continuing to fight to make rural Canada viable again, but our party is saying that we need to have a bigger plan. We need to move this beyond just the minister here. I know we have been beating him up all morning; we beat him up about once every two weeks.
But the hon. minister is in an impossible position, because it is no longer just about the agriculture department. We need a clear vision from the Government of Canada that it will take the steps necessary to restore the vitality of rural Canada and that we will stand on the international stage against the WTO if it comes after our farmers or against NAFTA if it comes after our farmers, because other governments do it and ours does not.
The question is whether eliminating this CAIS deposit is going to change the box colours that we are in under the WTO. It does not matter, because for any changes that we make to protect our farmers, the WTO will come after us. We should be expecting that. So be it, but we need to be able to say that we have to do what it takes to restore our rural economy and to support our farmers. If we have to fight on trade issues, then let us fight on them. The WTO uses trade against us time and time again and what we see is continuing damage, particularly in our wheat. We are seeing it in our hogs. We have seen this capricious attack on us over beef. It is time we stood up on this.
Madam Speaker, I welcome the suggestions in the discussion. I am very pleased to know that there is a horizontal plan for rural Canada, but the horizontal plan I have seen has been one that is laid out on the kitchen table with all the relatives going by apologizing for not having come to see the corpse before he died. That seems to be the situation with our horizontal plan for rural Canada.
In fact, over Christmas I met with a lot of beef producers back home, and let me tell members, they do not even want to talk about it anymore. There is despair. It is a fundamental despair.
We are talking about the money that has been put in. We talked about the big announcements that were made this September in terms of money that was going to be put immediately into the hands of the farmers. There must be some pretty wealthy farmers out there, because all the farmers I know never saw any of that money.
Then we talk about how we are going to revitalize the rural economy of Canada and we talk about slaughter capacity. Every time we talk about the increasing numbers it seems to me they are coming from two or three giant packers who continue to grow and expand their control over the beef economy of Canada. Meanwhile, there is not a single dollar, not a single one, going toward actually putting concrete into the ground in smaller rural regional plants. There are loan loss guarantees; money is not being put forward. It is money that is in the air but it is not money that is reaching into these communities.
In terms of the CAIS deposit, I think there are a number of problems with it. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, CAIS might have worked. It might have worked in a different set of times and it might have worked if we had had more people actually on the ground to administer it and respond. We have not had responses to problems. What we have had is nobody home; we did not have anybody in Ontario, as far as I could tell, who could even answer farmers' problems. That was our sense. When I had the MPs' hotline for CAIS, there was no one there.
I would throw out this question to the minister. When he is in a bureaucratic situation and suddenly has 13,000 applications and is only set to deal with 5,000 or 6,000, what does he do? He sends out 100% rejections and hopes that maybe 30% or 40% will appeal. That seems to be what has happened with CAIS.
What would the New Democratic Party do? We would have had people on the ground to respond to these issues. Farmers brought forward very serious problems with CAIS and they have not been addressed. They had questions about their inventory, questions about how the government continues to overvalue inventory the farmers cannot get rid of and then uses it against their margins.
We need some very clear long term goals in terms of a program. NISA was not a bad program. CAIS does not do the job for the beef industry. I think the minister's own CAIS staff will support us on that; at the agriculture committee they finally said that CAIS was not designed for an emergency like beef. Then why are they using it?
We are almost two years into this crisis. It is not over yet and we still do not have an action plan for dealing with it.
Madam Speaker, I know that there is a big push within our agriculture department to start looking at genetically modified crops. Maybe we could discuss genetically modified members of Parliament as perhaps a way of putting a little bit of passion into this.
I thank the member for mentioning passion. We are talking about lives here. We are literally talking in some cases about life and death, but we are talking about a way of life. We have three and four generation farms that are going under.
When I sit in at agriculture hearings and talk to the CAIS staff and, in fact, when I talk to any of the staff from agriculture, I have a sense that everything is okay in Ottawa. I get the feeling that among our farmers who live on Parliament Hill, or among our cash croppers in the Wellington Building things are okay. Even where the minister has the main agriculture office on Carling Avenue, among all the dairy producers who live there, things are okay. We have a few problems and we are tinkering.
However, it is a completely different reality in the communities. Northern Ontario has the same problem as does western Canada. Our families are going under and they are crying out. Some of them do not want to even talk about it any more. They are so filled with despair.
In fact, I phoned one of my ranchers at home, someone I talk with all the time, to get a sense of what is happening now. I said that I was going into a debate. His wife said to me that he is not going to phone back. He is tired of all this. This gentleman is a third generation rancher. She said that he is not going to phone me back because nothing ever changes. It has all been said again and again.
I feel like a fool phoning and saying, “Hey, what's new with the farmers going under?” I know the situation was the same three months ago. It was the same six months ago. It was the same a year ago. We knew what the problem was and nothing has been done to fix it.
Therefore, could there be a little bit of passion about this? We need passion or we should just be saying that the government will cut the farmers off and forget rural Canada all together.
Madam Speaker, here we go again. The minister is here today and I welcome his presence. He is quite upset though that we sprung this on him. I would like to remind the minister that this has been going on for the last 12 to 15 years.
The first meetings that I attended when I started farming in the early 1970s were on this same issue. Farmers cannot get a fair share of the market, if that is the way they want to phrase it, but the bottom line is that our input costs are choking us. Freight is killing us. There are a number of things that the government can do tomorrow to help alleviate some of the pressure instead of all these studies and ongoing crisis management that it seems to be under.
Madam Speaker, I would also like to mention that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.
There are a couple of things that never really enter into the government side debate on agriculture. What is the reality out there? The last member talked about passion. He is absolutely right. Every minister that I have been head to head with over there talks about files and numbers and programs and so on. We deal with faces. We deal with families. There is a big difference. We start to get into the passion that the member from Quebec talked about. I have been accused of being very strident in my language condemning the government but I am not alone.
As a former producer, now a parliamentarian who is supposed to come up with some of the answers, it is a frustrating time. The parliamentary secretary led the charge thirty-some years ago. He was the same person who threw wheat at Prime Minister Trudeau and threw chickens off the balcony of the Alberta legislature to prove his point. He was far more effective then than he is now when it comes to the farm lobby. Certainly, he is a strong voice, but his voice is one that is defending the lack of positive action by the government.
All the promises in the world can be made. The minister stood up and gave us a litany of dollars here and dollars there, promising $10 billion or $100 billion. However, if he never intends to deliver it, the numbers are inconsequential. The Liberals have to understand that. The numbers do not matter here. The only number that really matters out of 2003, the worst year in history, is that 11,000 primary producers left agriculture. That is the only number that matters. The numbers in these programs are inconsequential because they can never make them work.
Everything is based on this compliance with WTO. We are compliancing our farmers right out of business. By the time we step up or the other countries finally come on board with the WTO list, where we are always the Boy Scouts and get there first, there are no Canadian producers left to defend.
Let us start to defend our guys and our women as opposed to the producers from Brazil. We talk about this burgeoning market but one farm there has 490,000 acres. They have a beef herd of 170 million cattle. That is well over 10 times ours and we are going to compete with them? We cannot begin to and it is not that our folks are not up to the challenge. It is that our folks are overtaxed and over-regulated in complying with the wish list of the government. They cannot compete with someone who does not have that regulatory burden. That is part of the problem.
The government is looking for long term solutions. We heard this morning that the minister has been looking at the CAIS deposit since last July. The committee was supposed to be struck in December. It is now February and it has not happened. Some of the provinces have not come forward with a list or whatever. Let us get on with it.
I have records here. I asked for access to information on the safety nets advisory committee that three of the ministers have last used. They have been on the record since the start of CAIS with all of these questions that we are raising today saying that this is not going to make a bankable program. They have been on the record for almost four years and they are still not being listened to. These are the folks that represent the producers out there.
The minister hides behind the fact that he has to have provincial approval. He should show some leadership. All the provinces want is for the minister to pony up his share of the bucks. They are not really concerned about the criteria of the program. They want to support their farmers. I have talked to those provincial ministers. They just want the federal government to show the leadership that it should. We have not seen it at all.
It is frustrating. There is a lot of passion involved here. The CAIS program was supposed to be successful. Third time is the charm for the Liberal government because the first two programs, AIDA and CFIP, were a washout.
The government built the CAIS program on that same flawed foundation. Instead of the third time being the charm, we got strike three. The people who are being affected are the faces and families we deal with, not the files and numbers that the minister hides behind. That is not going to make it happen. He has to get out there and make things go.
There has been a lot of talk lately in the media about the increase in the price of milk for the dairy industry. Good for it if it was able to pass its costs on. The rest of us have not been able to find that magic bullet. The bottom line as to why that happened is because the CAIS program failed the industry as well. It has the option with its supply managed sector to move in another way.
It made a difference of maybe 4% or 5% in pricing and the market is going to absorb that. I have not had one phone call complaining about that other than the restaurant association, which would never pass it on to consumers anyway. The consumers certainly do not get their fair share. If someone goes to a restaurant and buys breakfast for $10, the farmer gets less than what the tip would be to the waitress. Good for the waitress and the restaurant for getting their fair share, but where is the producer's share?
The minister says it will take a long term solution, we have to have a list, and he is looking to us for positive suggestions. Here are a few. Input costs are roughly half tax. That includes fuel, fertilizer, chemical, farm machinery parts and so on. Fuel, fertilizer and chemical are half tax. Problems arise in cash crunch situations. The government has linked crop insurance or production insurance, it changed the name to make it more palatable because crop insurance did not work, with the CAISP under a little thing called best farming practices.
If I do not put in my historical average of fertilizer, spray on the chemical and all that type of thing, when I ask for a payout under production insurance or CAIS program, the government is going to send me a letter saying, “Under best farming practices, you didn't do it according to our rules, so we are only going to pay you half”, which means I do not have the cash to pay for the inputs that I should.
Last year again we were frozen out in my neck of the woods after two years of drought, so cash is a commodity we do not have. We cannot even go back to the banks and talk about lines of credit because these guys laugh at us when we say we have a certain amount coming from CAIS program. They know it will never be delivered.
Credit lines and cashflow are non-existent. When I go to my suppliers and say I have to charge this or that, they say no, they are still carrying $1 million, $2 million, $3 million from last year. If we think 2003 was bad, wait until we see the numbers from 2004 and then 2005. It is only going to get worse. We have to start to do something today, not next July when we want these guys to report, not next January when grain producers will finally see some money out of CAIS program. We have to start today. It could be cash advances. We have to do whatever it takes.
We talk about a whole different program using 10 year averages, working in the cost of production, looking at market value of product, and a combination of some of the programs that worked over the years, but there was never the political will or the cashflow to carry it through.
It was said earlier today and I have said often that agriculture accounts for 250,000 to 300,000 jobs in this country. The ripple effect is unbelievable. We saw that with the BSE crisis.
In response to somebody else a while ago I heard the minister speak glowingly about $115 million that went out to cattle producers. It is big money. The industry lost $2 billion. A 5% solution is not going to measure up. It is not going to get the job done. The money was there. We saw it in announcement after announcement. The Liberals get an “A” for announcement and a “D” for delivery, a failing grade by anybody's standards.
They are not changing anything. They are saying that they will address this and that, and they will conduct a study and have a look at it. People are going broke while they dither and dally on the other side. They have to start the process yesterday. We cannot wait.
Producers are on a very slippery slope. We are competing on a global market. The European Union now is talking about re-subsidizing and the minister says that is not fair. Everybody knows that.
An hon. member: What are you doing about it?
Mr. Gerry Ritz: What is the government going to do about it? That is the question.
We have a market that may or may not open on March 7. Mike Johanns, the new American agricultural secretary, is before a Senate committee right now defending that border opening. Where is the support from Canada? We are the ones paying the price here and we are relying on him to make the argument for us. We have allies down there we are not even making use of. We sit here wringing our hands saying, “Boy, we hope that border opens”.
Where is the processing capacity we need, especially for the cull animals, and the loan loss reserve? We have to go broke to collect 40% back. That is never going to stimulate any processing.
The government has made announcements and pledged money that it never expects to deliver. That is the worst sort of hypocrisy. It is called faith and hope that farmers used to have. Farmers do not have faith in the government any more and are quickly losing their hope.
Mr. Speaker, I want to express my appreciation for the good job my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster is doing and for the points he made here. Not only did the Reform Alliance party at the time conduct a series of hearings across the country, but the agriculture committee did as well in the last Parliament. We presented a report that we thought was balanced. It had all party support. The report contained a number of solutions to the agriculture situation. We never heard anything more about it. The report was stored away somewhere.
This morning I was disappointed yet again. I have only been in Ottawa since 2000, but already there have been three agriculture ministers. It seems that for some reason the Liberals think that the more volume and the more noise they create the more that impresses farmers. They do not understand that farmers are not impressed by that. Farmers are impressed by production and they just are not getting it from the government.
Twenty minutes ago I was on the phone to a producer who had called me about the CAIS program. He was really worked up. He said that he had sent in his application. He paid a lot of money to an accountant to get the application done correctly. He sent it in and it was sent back to him. He told me that it was missing a third of the payment that should have been there.
He told me what was done. He said that they took a look at some of the cheques. The Canadian Wheat Board issues interim payments and final payments and they got them confused. The final payments are what should have been figured in and he had included that. He had an explanation for it. They sent it back and said that they did not apply, that they were not applicable.
The producer said that they obviously fit. The accountant had fit them in. They made it work. They sent him a cheque with money missing. He said it was so frustrating. He said that when he calls and tries to talk to someone about this program, he reaches a different person every time. No one works on one file. He said that not only that, but they do not know what they are talking about. They have no understanding of agriculture.
He asked when this problem could be looked at. There are no deadlines on when they are going to do what it is that they want to do. He said that it was very difficult to get any explanation from them about what is going on with this program.
This is a program that is actually into its third year of development. If the government were honest about it, we are supposed to be reviewing it. When that topic was raised at the agriculture committee, we were told that the review will begin next summer. According to the guidelines of the program we are supposed to be in the review. The program is not even working properly yet. There is a lot of trouble out there.
Producers are calling me saying that they sent in their deposits and applications and they are not getting anything back, but a neighbour who did not even put in his deposit has already received a cheque from the program.
Some people have paid up to $4,000 in accountants' fees trying to straighten out what needs to be done in order to apply for this program. The program is convoluted and complicated. As I have said before, there are employees who do not seem to understand the program. The farmers are caught in a bureaucratic hell. The farmers are waiting for their money. The program is supposed to pay the money out and it just does not come.
As was so aptly said this morning by our agriculture critic, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, farmers should not have to fight their own government. That seems to be what they are doing with this program. It seems to be what they have had to do from the beginning. As my colleague has just said, we knew from the beginning that there were major flaws in the program. The government would not listen to the people who are telling them that.
To be honest, I do not think that even our call today to set aside the producer deposit is going to go far enough to fix this program. For those farmers who are not able to qualify, that does not change the criteria by which they fail to qualify when many of them should qualify.
It is not only the CAIS program that has been a problem for these farmers. As was mentioned earlier, BSE has been a problem as well. The government has failed to deal with producers. It has failed particularly to deal with the United States.
The minister said that there have been dozens of meetings and that they spend a lot of time talking with the Americans. The Canadian producers know nothing about this. There has been no public presentation by the Liberal government in Washington.
In fact, one of the biggest places the government fell down was when R-CALF was able to get an injunction the first time. The government never even responded. Interestingly enough, R-CALF apparently has been able to schedule a hearing for an injunction at the beginning of March. I would be interested to know if the government is even considering being there and seeing what is going on and making an application and defending the interests of western Canadian producers and Canadian producers in general at those hearings.
We have no strength at the border and it is not just BSE; it shows up in other places. I would like to bring a different dimension to this issue.
Just last week the European Union announced that it is considering putting export subsidies on their grain sales. For the first time in two years the EU has approved the use of those export subsidies. The last time the EU did it was in 2002. At that time it subsidized 10 million tonnes of wheat at an average of 11 euros per tonne. My understanding is it was about $17 per tonne.
Now traders are again being invited to tender up to two million tonnes that will be eligible for these export subsidies. I do not know if anyone else has heard the government say anything about that but I heard absolutely no response from it. One more time in that trade area it has fallen down.
The United Kingdom Home-Grown Cereals Authority said that the reason it was doing this was because the wheat from the Ukraine and some of the Soviet Union countries was going into North Africa at prices of $10 and $15 below what the world market prices were supposed to have been.
However the government does not respond at any time to these actions that are taking place. I do not think there is a legitimate reason why the European Union should be able to get away with this. If there is overproduction, it being allowed to additionally subsidize those sales only creates more production. It makes the problem worse, not better. Where is our government on this? It is silent as usual. Why is it not saying anything?
I want to talk a little about how subsidization works in the United States. A report came out about a month ago which mentioned the top organizations that were actually being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. In 2003, U.S. taxpayers doled out $16.4 billion in direct farm subsidies. That is a 27% increase over 2002. Once again, our farmers are being left out of the loop.
I want to point out where some of those subsidies are going because I think is important to understand. Riceland Foods based in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the biggest U.S. rice producer, collected almost $70 million in subsidization. The second producer, Rice Mill, collected $51 million. Farmers' Rice Co-op collected $17 million. Pilgrim's Pride, the biggest poultry producer in the United States, collected $11 million. Interestingly enough, the fifth on the list was Ducks Unlimited, a real agricultural producer organization, received $7.1 million in direct U.S. taxpayer subsidies.
The government has been dead silent about any of those issues. Violations of trade regulations must be going on in that U.S. farm bill but our government has never yet addressed or challenged those issues. It leaves our producers hanging. It brings us to the point where our producers are begging for support and help but cannot get it from the government. I know farmers are getting sick and tired of this. Why is the government silent all the time?
I am thankful that the opposition today has come forward with some good solutions to the problems.
I heard earlier that we have a two tier suggestion for helping with the problems but I think it is actually three tier. The member for Battlefords—Lloydminster spoke earlier about the whole farm production insurance program that we would like to put in place. That is the first tier. That is a production insurance program that would be based on things like a 10 year average of value and production costs figured into it.
The second tier would be a disaster program. That actually was recommended by the House of Commons committee in the last Parliament. I see my colleague across the way who was the chair at the time, the member for Miramichi, who did a good job in leading that committee which came forward with that recommendation. I do not know if he ever heard anything from the government in response to that recommendation but we certainly did not. We called for an emergency disaster fund to be set up to protect agriculture.
The third tier we are suggesting and one which we have been suggesting for years is that the federal government should be responsible for mitigating the trade pressures that agriculture producers feel. It is an important thing and it is something that we feel needs to be done.
We have come forth with three good suggestions for the government. The minister said earlier that he wanted to hear a process but we are going to come with solutions instead of a process for fixing things. First, we are suggesting a farm insurance program in which producers can participate. Second, we are suggesting a second level of support be available through an emergency assistance fund for the real disasters that take place. Third, it is important that the trade injury that is experienced by producers be taken care of by the federal government.
Agriculture is an absolutely crucial industry to this country and to my riding. I am glad to see that we are debating it today. The opposition is once again standing up for producers, trying to get the government to listen to what producers are saying and trying to put programs in place that will actually work for them. We are also trying to get the government motivated on the international scene so that it will begin to protect our producers at that level as well.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Haldimand--Norfolk for raising the question of agricultural support. It gives me the opportunity to stand up once again to summarize the programs and the assistance that the government has delivered to farmers in Canada.
The riding I represent in northern Ontario includes quite a bit of agriculture, maybe not as much as southern Ontario or western Canada, but it is significant nonetheless. In Manitoulin Island, in the Thessalon, North Shore area and even in the highway 11 area between Smooth Rock Falls, Kapuskasing and Hearst, there are beef farmers and some dairy farmers. The clay belt area of northern Ontario, which has produced a number of our farm leaders both in Ontario and Canada, is very productive. The farmers there, like farmers everywhere in the country, are worried about their future. They worry about the level of U.S. and European subsidies. They worry about disasters, like we all do in whatever industry we happen to be. They worry about the future of their family farms and what their legacy will be.
The government is absolutely committed to creating an environment that allows our producers to earn a profitable living. That is a priority. That is why we have helped farmers get through these past few years by providing unprecedented amounts of government assistance. The government has delivered a record $4.8 billion to agriculture producers in 2003, and while all the cheques have not yet gone out, the government payments have topped $3 billion for 2004.
The members opposite want to talk about CAIS. Why do we not just do that. To date more than 31,000 producers have received over $563 million for the 2003 program year. Another nearly $152 million in interim payments and about $150 million in special advances to cattle producers have been paid to more than 25,000 producers for the 2004 program year.
However, why stop at CAIS? Let us look at the other programs and payments the government has delivered to producers during these past few years. CAIS is just one example of the government's commitment to the farming community, to the family farm and to the appropriate evolution in agriculture in Canada so that it is sustainable.
The government has acted decisively to help our ruminant industry deal with the BSE crisis. Last March the Prime Minister announced nearly $1 billion in assistance to be delivered in 2004 alone.
I wish to commend the minister for his tremendous support of the industry, his willingness to meet farmers and farm organizations wherever and whenever possible, his openness and frankness on the challenges and difficulties that face the industry and his message that the government cares and will make the right decisions as problems arise.
In September the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced a new $488 million strategy to reposition the country's beef and cattle industry by addressing cash flow and liquidity issues faced by producers and to expand access to beef export markets.
The members opposite like to complain, but they should listen to what those in the industry had to say about that program.
The first quote is by Stan Eby, the president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. He says:
The four-point strategy announced by [the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food] today aligns closely with our proposals... This demonstrates a significant commitment to a comprehensive long term plan consistent with the new industry strategy approved and put forth by the CCA...
That sounds to me like a pretty strong endorsement of our program and our efforts by the very group of people we are trying to help.
What did the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the largest farm organization in the country by the way, have to say about the repositioning strategy for our cattle industry? A press release from the CFA said it:
--commends the federal government for listening to industry groups and recognizing the immediate need for a strategy to support the beef and ruminant industry...
Bob Friesen, who is the president of the CFA, said:
We are very encouraged to hear [the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food] commit to continuing to work with industry to ensure the effectiveness of these programs and make adjustments as necessary.
It sounds like we are on track. Let us look a few other programs.
How about the transitional industry support program, TISP? Over $830 million in federal funding has been paid to producers under TISP, most of that in the 2004 calendar year. Nearly $600 million was paid out under the direct cattle payment component and nearly $230 million under the general payment component.
What about the cull animal program? More than $106 million in federal money has been paid out to producers, again mainly in 2004. Then there are the production insurance payments. We are estimating that total indemnities for the 2004 crop year will top $734 million. In 2003 producers received more than $1.7 billion in indemnity payments.
I do not want to get into a long recitation of facts and figures. They can seem dry and cause us to lose sight of the fact that we are talking about human beings and families and the communities in which they live. Farming, as our Minister of Agriculture frequently reminds us, is first and foremost about people. It is about the men and women, their families and the people who live in the communities who support those families and producers. It is about the people of Canada who depend on what the producers do and what they produce. That certainly includes thousands of small businesses.
Therefore, it is essential that we understand what producers want, why they feel the way they do about certain programs, and we should work to address these concerns. Sometimes it means breaking away from the old ways of doing things, and the government has done that.
The CAIS program is an example. For the first time ever Canadian farmers have stable permanent programming for disaster coverage and programming that is based on need. Provinces, territories and stakeholders have all been involved in the development of CAIS. Is it perfect? No, not yet. Maybe indeed never, but we wish as a government to continue to make it better and better for the farmers that it serves. we are working on that. The program has been enhanced since its introduction to include a simplified deposit requirement and an increased payment cap, negative margin coverage and a linkage between CAIS and production insurance. It is a much better program than it was when it was first introduced, and a program with more funds. We are still working on that.
We are committed to our farmers to find solutions that work. If our programs are not working to the benefit of our producers, we are going to take another look at them. We are going to look at them collaboratively and in consultation with provinces and stakeholders. As the minister says, federal, provincial and industry cooperation is the three-legged stool upon which success rests. If one of the legs is missing, the whole thing topples over.
While responding decisively to immediate pressures, as was the case with the development our BSE program, we are continuing as a government to implement a vision and strategy for long term profitability and sustainability with a fully integrated federal-provincial industry national strategy for the agriculture and agrifood sector.
Our record speaks for itself. We have come up with a record amount of assistance to deal with an unprecedented agricultural challenge. We have been there for Canadian farmers in the past and we are there now, and we will most certainly be there in the future.
In Whitehorse in June 2001 the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture agreed to a new framework for agriculture that would help our agriculture and agrifood sector deal effectively with the pressures of trying to farm in the 21st century and ensure its future profitability and prosperity.
The agriculture policy framework is helping to move our agriculture and agrifood sector away from a cycle of crisis management and make Canada a world leader in producing safe, quality, innovative and varied agrifood products in an environmentally sustainable way. That framework is also flexible enough that when policies have to be changed, they can be changed so that the sector can adapt to new challenges and seize the opportunities presented by the increasingly knowledge intensive 21st century economy. Let us remember, that framework is there to serve the needs of the producers.
Crises like BSE and avian influenza have proven just how effective the APF can be. With the APF in place, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, in collaboration with provincial and territorial partners and the industry, was able to devise rapid, coordinated and effective responses to these crises.
It is important to point out that we should be tackling the challenges of agriculture as we should tackle the problems of the country in a larger context and in a planned and consistent way. It is through the APF that we can advance the interests of our agricultural communities and of farmers and their families across the country.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having the agricultural policy framework in place. Our agriculture and agrifood sector is one of the pistons of Canada's economic engine. It is the fifth largest sector in the economy and makes significant contributions to the gross domestic product. It accounts for one in eight jobs across Canada. It also contributes to the quality of life of all Canadians while ensuring stewardship of the environment.
The agricultural sector generates annual sales of about $130 billion, including $30 billion in exports. This contributes an average of $7 billion annually to Canada's positive balance of payments. Canada, with a population of just over 30 million, is fourth in the world in agriculture and agrifood exports after the U.S., the European Union and Brazil. This sector on which it is worth spending time, money and attention.
An historic $5.2 billion was committed to ensure that the agricultural policy framework would be a success. With this investment, the five elements of the APF, business risk management, food safety and quality, environment, renewal, and science and innovation, have come to life through programs that have been implemented across Canada and are achieving results of which to be proud.
The global nature of agriculture cannot be underestimated. For that reason, along with the five elements I named earlier, we also have an international component so that we can address world markets and trade issues.
Over the past three years we have made great strides in meeting our goals for Canada's agriculture and agrifood sector. Whether it is a case of refining business risk management programs to ensure our farmers stay solvent on the one hand or our dollars are used wisely on the other hand or to ensure farmers and farm families are able to stay on top of new developments and technology in farming practices or whether it is a case of science taking this sector into new territory, we have worked to create a sector that is at the forefront of global agriculture. As always, that work is done in concert with our provincial counterparts and with industry stakeholders so together we can ensure a profitable, secure and stable agriculture and agrifood industry for the future. That work will continue. As long as the world does not stand still, farming cannot stand still.
To look as far ahead as is practical, over the next three years Agriculture and Agri-food Canada will build on its experiences to date in implementing the agriculture policy framework and to refine APF policies and programming.
Canada's agriculture and agrifood sector is a success story. It makes significant contributions to Canadian society and to the quality of life of all Canadians. It has a reputation worldwide for contributing to the security of the food system and meeting consumer expectations regarding food safety, food quality and environmental standards. Canadian farmers produce the best food and the safest food in the world.
The sector faces pressure from a host of natural risks. I have already mentioned BSE and avian influenza. Market conditions and the complexity of the trading system create additional pressure. In the face of such pressures, our sector remains resilient because Canadian producers are committed to sustainable practices and because the government for one is committed to providing an environment through the APF for the stability and success of this sector.
The APF was developed by governments and industry to respond to unprecedented challenges to the industry. It is doing just that and will continue to do so. The challenges we face are difficult but not insurmountable. The key to its success is the continuing commitment from producers and from government to make it work, a commitment that has been demonstrated most recently by the meetings my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, has held with farmers across the country, and in partnership with the great efforts that our minister is making as well with stakeholders to ensure the best level of cooperation possible as we go forward.
I have no doubt that we can look confidently ahead to a strong and vibrant Canadian agriculture and agrifood sector.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member asked how the government intends to deal with that issue. He raised a number of points, so I guess he is allowing me to comment on all the points he raised.
I will advise the member that I do have farmers in my riding; I mentioned that at the outset. Maybe the member was in the lobby or listening to the TV. I have a northern Ontario riding. There are some dairy farmers, a small number of poultry farmers and quite a number of beef farmers. I would have no problem making those same comments at a meeting in my riding, with great respect to my colleague across the way.
Maybe the adage “the truth hurts” is what should apply in this case, because when I think back to my campaigns in 1993, 1997 and 2000 and looking first at the Reform, then the Alliance, then later the Conservative campaign platforms, it was antithetical to the right wing party or parties of this country to do anything to support communities. As a party, they are against supply management. I have--
An hon. member: We are not.
Mr. Brent St. Denis: I can show members, in black and white, statements that the Conservatives, then the Alliance and earlier the Reform, would cancel regional economic development programs for Canada, and these are programs that help rural Canada, including our farming communities.
I know that FedNor in northern Ontario--and in fact the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was the minister for FedNor at the time--supported the Algoma and Manitoulin federations of agriculture in some research on the state of agriculture in the future. They did some excellent research work which has allowed those farmers to do some very good planning.
In fact, northern Ontario, and I mentioned this in my remarks, has produced a disproportionately high share of leaders for Canadian agriculture, going back to Ron Bonnett, who is the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture now, and the former CFA president, who is also from the Claybelt area of northern Ontario, and others.
As a government we do understand that agriculture is an integral part of rural Canada. I will underline that I think the point here is that the truth hurts: that we have responded significantly. Our minister, his parliamentary secretary and his team, along with the entire government and the Prime Minister, shoulder to shoulder, have taken the time to try to understand and to look to the future. We have to get out of this going from crisis to crisis. Farmers know that going from crisis to crisis is not the way to live, not the way to live properly and to live a happy life.
We need to deal with things like the levels of U.S. subsidization. I hope that the Conservatives, who feel they are so well aligned with the conservatives in the U.S., might at least pretend to have some influence on those conservatives south of the border, to have them ease up a bit, to bring some sense to the American approach to agriculture. It is so balkanized in the U.S., so parochial, that the system is almost dysfunctional. It is very politicized. At least in our country it is not politicized. At least in this country we respond to the realities of the challenges facing the agricultural sector.
There is tremendous pressure on the U.S. to deal with subsidies. In fact, when people send troops off to a war in Iraq and spend how many hundreds of billions of dollars doing what they claim is the right thing to do in Iraq, that is only going to lead to the need to deal with their own budget deficit, a budget deficit which I think may be in the neighbourhood of $400 billion a year and which in fact may end up, by the back door, causing downward pressure on U.S. subsidies. So I suppose we could thank the U.S. administration for that much anyway; it may need to deal with farm subsidies because of the money wasted on an unnecessary war in Iraq.
I will conclude my comments by saying that I am very proud of what this government has done in support of agriculture. No government is perfect, but I can say that we are intent and this minister is intent on day by day, week by week and problem by problem improving this government and Canada's response and supports for Canadian agriculture.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Lethbridge.
I want to thank the Leader of the Official Opposition for giving us the opportunity today to debate agriculture, which far too often is missed out in the banter that exists in the House as we go through our speeches. In all the issues that we debate for Canada, we often lose sight of how important agriculture is to Canada. I want to thank our agriculture critic for bringing forward the motion which gives us the opportunity to debate the CAIS program and how it has not functioned well for producers across the country.
I am a farmer. The riding I represent is agriculture based. Our constituency office has been overrun with complaints. Producers are looking for solutions to all the problems they are experiencing with the CAIS program. There have been nothing but delays since the program was announced. People are still waiting for their cash advances going back to 2003.
We know by talking to administrators of the program that they were originally trying to get forms completed within 60 days. That stretched out to 90 days. Now we are hearing that new clients are still looking at a turnaround of 120 days if there are no problems. If there are problems, if there are any questions or things do not quite line up or reconcile with the producer's income tax filing, the whole thing is delayed even further. That is completely unacceptable.
Producers are extremely frustrated with the program. When they talk to people in the CAIS administration on the phone, they continually get different answers. The misinformation is creating so much confusion, producers do not know which way to turn. Producers have similar problems when they phone CAIS and get different answers. It just does not seem to line up. That is why the program has not been working. It is dysfunctional.
The other complaint we hear is that it is too complicated. The process is complicated. It requires expert accounting advice to get the forms done. Producers are taking out money to pay accountants to file their CAIS applications. They are paying fees in the $500 to $2,000 range, depending upon the size of the farm, money which would have been better left in the hands of the farmers. The joke around town is that CAIS actually stands for the Canadian chartered accountant income stabilization program. The accountants are being well-served by the program.
At the same time it costs the government a lot of money to administer the program because of the lengthy time it takes to process applications and the extra administrators required, which takes money out of the program. That money could have been better used to service the producers.
The other problem we hear about is inventory evaluations. The inventories are set at the end of the year by a very standard level that does not reflect what is the actual value on the farm. I know producers who have livestock and those mandatory values that are put in place do not represent the actual value of the animals they have on hand. We have even had problems with some of those numbers.
An example is that at the end of the year, the steer and heifer prices for 2003 were mixed up. The heifer price was at the steer price and the steer price was down at the heifer price and it screwed up the evaluations of those inventories for the eight-weights. That has created quite a problem. At least it got acknowledged, but it had already affected a lot of producers, and if they did not pick up on the discrepancy, they got shortchanged because of it.
There is also the complication for producers who have year ends that do not coincide with the calendar year. If their year ends occur in the middle of the crop year, crop on hand and crop in the ground mess up inventories again. Producers are really struggling with that, especially when farmers have cattle on feed and heifers on grass, and again, not having a true evaluation of how those inventories are working.
We are here to talk about the removal of the deposit program, which makes a lot of sense. Ever since the program was announced, the deposit requirements and the rules have changed continually. First producers had to put their money up front. They could take their NISA funds and transfer them over to match their deposits into the CAIS program. Then they were told that they only had to put a third in and they would get two-thirds back. These rules continually changed.
The cleanest thing to do especially for the individuals who put in NISA money and wanted to get that money back to pay taxes at the end of the year when the two-thirds refund was available is to cancel the deposit requirement completely. Let us make it a lot simpler.
We should allow producers to keep that money in their own hands. It is not giving them any benefit by having it in the CAIS program. With the dire needs today in agriculture, let the producers keep that money on hand to pay off some bills, to invest in next year's crops, to buy fertilizer, to buy fuel, to be better prepared for next year.
It is not just the opposition that is suggesting this. Keystone Agricultural Producers and the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture have also announced that they would like to see an end to the deposit. It is something that does not make a lot of sense anymore considering the situation in agriculture today.
One of the things the Leader of the Opposition announced today is that we do not believe the disaster assistance part of CAIS should have been put into the whole farm approach. CAIS was meant to be there to average income over the whole farm aspect. When there are disasters such as BSE, such as dramatic falls in commodity prices because of trade actions, we need to take those problems out and not lump them into the CAIS program. The delivery is too slow. Producers need help quickly. Disaster programs should be set up as a third tier and should be available from the government standpoint to support the industry. That is something we believe in dramatically.
I realize that when BSE compensation was being bantered about in trying to figure out how to best deliver it, there was advice from the industry to the government that it should be delivered through CAIS. As a member of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and as a producer, I am thoroughly disappointed that the recommendation ever came forward. It was poor planning.
I realize that the Minister of Agriculture has only been in his job for the past seven months. I realize that he inherited these problems from past ministers. However he has the power to make the changes necessary to implement the program that would work for the agriculture industry, that would support the family farm. As the House has heard today there has been a great amount of hurt on the family farm.
My family loves farming. My children and my brother and his kids all want to have a future in agriculture. We need to make sure that we build programs and support an industry so that it can grow and prosper and be an industry that we can continue to be proud of. As a farm family we are going to fight to make sure that opportunity exists for future generations. This is the time for the government to take action, to take the bull by the horns, as is said, and make the necessary changes.
There have been many comments made about how many government dollars have gone into the industry and how much support has been there. I have said in the House before that I know through the BSE crisis the losses that I have suffered on our farm have come close to $400 per head. The total government support available to me so far has been $45 a head.
It is a huge disproportionate loss over things that are not at all related to management or markets. It is about a complete reshift in what has happened through trade action because of one cow, although it is now up to three cows, with a disease that is not necessarily being evaluated on science. Hopefully we are getting there and we are making the strides necessary to make sure that all decisions and rules that are being brought together will be reflective of the science and the true problem of the disease.
In conclusion, it is great that we are able to debate such an important topic as the Canadian agriculture industry today.
Mr. Speaker, we are here today debating a motion brought forward by the official opposition to deal with the requirements of CAIS to provide farmers upfront with some money to get involved. I want to switch a bit and bring forward some other issues that have been brought to my attention over the last number of months and deal with the grain and oilseed section of our agricultural community.
The facts are there for all of us to see. Over the last 30 years there has been a steady decline in returns to agriculture. Agriculture has gone from a high of approximately 30 years ago of over $4 billion in a year of returns to farmers at a time when the accumulated debt of the agriculture community was very small, to last year when the entire agriculture community actually lost money and the accumulated debt in the agriculture sector has become absolutely huge.
This indication of rising debt and lower returns clearly indicates that there is a problem, which has been going on for some time, and that nothing that has been brought forward to date has helped to reverse that.
I would like to mention the BSE issue. The BSE crisis in the cattle industry has taken hundreds of millions of dollars out of Canada and out of the pockets of primary producers and that is money that we will never get back. From the time the border opens to the time we get back to a normal cattle industry, it will be business as usual, but those lost revenues over the last two years are forever lost.
I want to mention the CFIA. CFIA officials gave us a briefing yesterday on their actions to date on the BSE investigations and trace outs. However I believe they must be very cautious in how they proceed. Every word they say is listened to by producers in Canada because it affects the markets. It is also listened to by producers across the border in the United States, producers working to keep the border closed. I indicated to CFIA officials yesterday that they should be very cautious in what they say and the timing of it.
This week the National Cattlemen's Beef Association is holding its annual meeting in San Antonio. It will be addressing the issue of opening the border to Canadian cattle on March 7. So far the NCBA has stayed on side and I hope it stays that way. It has been in Canada and has looked at our systems. It has been on our farms. It realizes what we have done up here as far as our feed ban is concerned, how we are processing our cattle, how we are tracing our cattle and the fact that our health regulations have been top notch, and therefore there is no scientific reason to keep the border closed. I hope it stays on science.
One of the issues that was brought to me, which I was not completely aware of beforehand, has to do with the Canadian Grain Commission. We are all familiar with the issue of bonding but the other issue of grading is the one I wish to get into.
When producers sell their grain through a licensed and bonded grain dealer, it is the responsibility of the Canadian Grain Commission to make sure that business has enough bonding in place to cover the exposure that the primary producer has when he sells his grain. That is not happening.
A couple of grain companies in my riding have gone broke and, as a result, the producer has been stuck for the value of his commodity. Recently some were paid 25¢ on the $1 for what they were owed. One-quarter of what they thought they had coming to them does not do it. This is just another problem facing producers. They felt they were covered with respect to this bonding issue because the Canadian Grain Commission was supposed to monitor it but they now find out they are not covered.
The other issue I want to mention is grading. I understand there is a difference in the way grain is being graded today as compared to the way it was traditionally done. This is called falling numbers, which actually deals with how wheat is processed and then baked into bread. As this transition takes place, somewhere in the middle the producer is stuck with a lower grade than his grain actually is. In some cases, we could be talking 80¢ to a $1 a bushel. In any operation that is a difference between making it and not making it. That issue needs to be addressed and can be addressed quite easily.
I understand the grain commission is looking at changing the way it bonds licensed grain sellers and buyers. That is a positive move but it has to be done quickly. The people who are presently being stuck by not getting their paycheques for their grain are out of luck. We should move quickly to change that so producers are protected.
On the grading issue, if a producer is losing revenue because of a grading change then that should be stopped immediately and the producer should automatically be given the highest grading possible.
Another issue I mentioned to the minister this morning was the issue of the European Union going back to heavily subsidizing its grain production. Two million tonnes of wheat will receive export subsidies, plus it will be giving subsidies for internal growth. That distorts production, distorts the world market and will further drive commodity prices down for our producers.
When these people come to us as members of Parliament expressing their concern that they do not see any way out of this issue, that is where they are. They have looked at all the options. They have looked at futures, at different commodities and at different farming practices. They have tried everything but returns to the agricultural community continue to decline. The numbers are there to indicate that is happening and nothing that has been done to date has helped to change that.
The other issue is the European Union and the U.S. making bilateral agreements between the two of them. If they continue to do that, this puts Canada out on the edge and not involved. The WTO's Doha round was one of the hopes that we had in the agriculture community, that if this did go through, if countries were forced to give up their export subsidies and their production distorting domestic subsidies then we would start to see some sanity come back to the grain market, but that is not happening. With the EU and the U.S. working against what is going on in the WTO, the chances of our producers seeing any more returns for their commodities is non-existent. Any hope that we had in that avenue as far as the WTO is concerned in my mind is gone because it is starting to fall apart.
Our government, our negotiators and the ag minister have to be very forceful when we are dealing with these big trade organizations so that we get what we need to keep our producers going. So far we have not done that. I think being more forceful at the negotiating table is a big part of where we need to go to help stabilize the industry.
The minister talked about the APF, the agricultural policy framework, and how that is supposed to help the agriculture community down the road. We have heard talk about repositioning the cattle industry. Discussions are ongoing and the parliamentary secretary has been across Canada to receive input. I see that as just more talk and that has not been delivering the results needed.
I believe the suggestion we brought forward today is a concrete step that can be taken to immediately put some infusion of cash into an area that is badly needed. It is the farmers' own money that we are saying should not be taken from them. The money should be left with them.
Some of these issues may seem trivial to many but they are not trivial to the six or seven young grain and oil seed farmers with whom I spoke. They were in the 40 to 50 year old range, and in our farming community those are young farmers. They told me that the revenue cap was exceeded by the CPR this year by some $300,000, and somewhere along the line the CPR has to give that money back and they have to pay a penalty on it, but it goes to the Western Grains Research Foundation. These folks told to me that that money should go back to the producers, and when they sell their grain, in order for them not to have an automatic deduction on their grain sales that goes to the grain research foundation, it is a negative option billing that exists. They have to notify the grain commissioner or the Canadian Wheat Board that they do not want to pay that, and if they do not notify them they pay it. These are not huge dollars but this is the point to which these people are trying to operate and the pennies they are chasing to keep them on the farm.
The other issue is the initial payment and trying to increase the initial payment from the Canadian Wheat Board when they sell their grain through the board. They want the payments to get out quicker and the percentages to be higher so they have more cash.
The producers are also worried about the freight charges. When anybody who sells grain on the Prairies through the Canadian Wheat Board receives that cheque and a deduction is made for the freight to get it to the coast, it takes over one- third of that cheque just to pay it. They are talking about the Crow rate again. The Crow rate is gone but maybe there is something else that we need to look at? Is there another way to keep more money where it belongs?
The producers are not asking for government programs or handouts. They are asking that they be allowed to keep more of what they have earned, that more of the value of the grain can end up in their pockets. The value of the grain certainly needs to be higher in order for this to be sustainable. Right now, if grain is selling for $3 a bushel, the producers are saying that they need more of that $3 in their pocket at the end of the sale so they can keep operating.
I look forward to the rest of the debate today and I appreciate the opportunity that the Leader of the Opposition and our agriculture critic has given the House to debate agriculture.
Mr. Speaker, I will point out before I begin that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle.
The Conservatives have launched the debate on the federal government's inability to deliver financial relief to struggling farmers.
My colleague, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant and Bloc Québécois agriculture critic, spoke this morning about the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program and the urgency of abolishing the mandatory deposit.
Producers are in fact obliged to use their operating credits for this deposit and some of them are left wondering whether they will have enough money to keep their farm in operation. This is just one more proof of the federal government's abandonment of the agricultural sector. Now more than ever, the producers are under-supported when they are in the midst of an agricultural crisis caused by plummeting prices and the mad cow crisis.
The Liberal government ought to abolish this deposit requirement and put emergency measures in place in Quebec to help all the farmers who are crying out for help. As the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, I represent a riding in which agriculture plays an important role. There is a very broad range of agricultural operations. Dairy, swine, beef, cereal crops and tobacco account for 75% of agricultural incomes, but there are no fewer than 28 different types of animal or crop operations.
Many new farm products are emerging, often in response to changes in consumer tastes or new requirements for production methods, such as organic farming. Still, the number of farmers in Quebec has dropped dramatically.
For example, in the regional municipality of Maskinongé, part of my riding, in 1957 there were over 955 working farms. Today there are only 788. Of course, shrinking farm incomes and the aging of the farming population explain this drop. Furthermore, there are no young people coming into this sector. In fact, according to the 2002 analysis, Profil de la relève agricole au Québec, on more than 200 farms there is no family member ready to take over and these farms are likely to be handed over to someone who is not related.
The Bloc Québécois is proposing practical solutions to improve the situation of agricultural succession in Quebec. For example, in order to make it more attractive to transfer a farm than to dismantle it, the Bloc Québécois proposes increasing the allowable capital gain for farm property from $500,000 to $1 million, but only for transactions where the farming operation continues.
We also propose extending the rollover rule to transfers other than those between parent and child. The Bloc Québécois suggests extending the transfer rule to other immediate family members under 40 years of age: brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, for example.
In addition, we encourage the establishment of an agricultural savings transfer system to enable farmers to build up a tax-sheltered retirement fund. Governments could make a contribution as they do for registered education savings plans. This contribution would be conditional on maintaining the farm after a transfer.
The third proposal from the Bloc Québécois is to relax the rules of the home buyers' plan to enable young farmers to acquire, in whole or in part, a larger share of a residence held by a company, and to use their RRSPs to purchase a business.
Finally, we suggest that the federal government transfer recurring funding to Quebec to encourage agricultural renewal.
For example, the Government of Quebec could extend eligibility for start-up subsidies, improve interest rate protection and increase eligibility ceilings.
As you can see, we have interesting proposals that are suited to farmers' needs in Quebec and sometimes in Canada. All we need is the political will, but the Liberal government is not budging.
I want to talk about another area where the government is lacking political will, and that is the federal program for tobacco farmers in Quebec. I agree with my colleague, the member for Joliette and Bloc Québécois critic for international trade, globalization and international financial institutions, that this industry is very important to our region.
On November 23, 2004, the federal government announced with great pride the conditions and deadlines for the aid package for tobacco farmers that would provide them with compensation for the decline in tobacco production in Quebec and Ontario. However, a week later we learn that the program for the public sale of quotas was delayed and no new deadline was set. According to the flue-cured tobacco farmers in Quebec, the situation in Ontario suggests there will be no agreement on this. Accordingly, an already difficult situation for Quebec farmers just might get worse.
In conclusion, this file, like many others, shows how the Liberal government's inaction and wait and see attitude threatens the survival of Quebec farms. When this government does intervene, it is to implement Canada-wide measures that do not respond to farmers' needs in Quebec. Farming in Quebec is organized differently than in Canada and does not have the same needs.
Mr. Speaker, allow me first of all to salute the entire agricultural community of my riding of Laurentides—Labelle. It is on its behalf and in a spirit of solidarity that I join with my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois in denouncing the inertia and insensitivity of this government. I would also like to take this opportunity to denounce the minister's incompetence vis-à-vis the alarming crisis that Quebec farmers tragically are going through.
We are deeply distressed to learn that two farms disappear every week in Quebec because of the minister's failure to do anything. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of farms in Quebec fell by 10% to 32,000.
Farmers are facing a major income crisis. According to Statistics Canada, farm income fell in 2003 to its lowest level in 25 years. Net cash income, i.e. the difference between a farmer's revenues and operating expenses, fell by 39.1% in 2003 from the figure for 2002. According to the UPA, farm debt has increased on average 207% since 1993.
I am ashamed and saddened to see how farmers are being left on their own by Ottawa. Few countries neglected their agricultural sector as much as Canada did while the current Prime Minister was Minister of Finance.
Farmers have even less support today than ever, and this in the midst of the mad cow crisis caused by collapsing prices. We cannot say it enough: agriculture in Quebec and agriculture in Canada are different, they are organized differently, and they do not have the same needs. When Ottawa takes action and adopts Canada-wide measures, it is frustrating to see that they fail to meet the needs of Quebec producers.
We are told that the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture is consulting in order to discover the challenges facing farmers. It is obvious that some people in this government have problems tuning in to the real world, because farmers and people in the agricultural sector have been aware of the problems and the solutions for a long time now.
The government accumulated a surplus of more than $9 billion last year. The money is there; all that is needed is political will.
A motion tabled by our colleagues in the Conservative Party, and which the Bloc Québécois views more than favourably, asks:
That, in light of the numerous recent disasters affecting agricultural communities across Canada and the government's failure to deliver timely financial relief to struggling farmers, whether by the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization (CAIS) program or other programs, the House call on the government to immediately drop the CAIS deposit requirement and honour the commitments it has already made to [Quebec] producers.
In order to participate in this program, the deposit in question is obligatory and therefore a major irritant for farmers. Farmers who are struggling to survive should not be forced to borrow as well in order to make this deposit.
In addition, the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program is poorly suited to the needs and realities of the agricultural sector. It is also not very popular with farmers. I would like, in this regard, to quote the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, who said on January 22, 2004 in the magazine La terre de chez nous: “The Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program, you will remember, was imposed on us by the federal government, which threatened to cut Quebec off if it did not sign.”
Here is another fine example of the federal government's incompetence. The problem with this program is that it provides only basic minimal coverage, which does not include all types of risks, which vary can considerably from one farm to another or one region to another.
The Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program was useless for the cull cattle problem. Let me quote again from the president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec:
I also want to point out that dairy producers are not eligible for the CAIS program... To be eligible, a producer has to incur at least a 30% loss over the three years in the reference period. Even if all our cull was sold for zero dollars, we could not qualify for the disaster protection component of the CAIS program, which is the only one available to us.—
We will agree that the program has become a bureaucratic nightmare. Let me give just one example. According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the administrative costs of managing the deposits may be as high as $14 million, when the return on these is only $34 million, based on a 6% interest rate.
On February 8, the agriculture ministers will be meeting to discuss, among other things, the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program. We do hope that the federal government will not come to that meeting empty-handed, as it would have had it deigned to show up at the last UPA convention.
This week, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture once again asked that mandatory deposits be abolished. The UPA and various farm organizations support this initiative. Will the government continue to be insensitive and to turn a deaf ear to these demands? My colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and I support this initiative, which should be fully funded by the federal government.
In closing, my main concern is undoubtedly with the attitude of the government, its lack of will and inability to act on this issue. My question is simple: Who is the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program intended to help? The producers or the bankers?
Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure, after much preparation, to contribute to this debate this afternoon. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, who has been working full out to help Canada's farmers ever since he took the job. We know this minister's intentions and we know he is a hard worker. Personally—as I mentioned two days ago—I wish him all the luck in the world in getting more assistance from the Minister of Finance in the upcoming budget so that he can continue to help farmers and even provide more.
I should add that I listened attentively to what the Bloc members had to say. We often hear them say that our approach should be a collaborative effort with the provincial governments. Even if certain members of the Bloc enjoy making up some new truths once in a while, claiming that the Government of Canada does not always cooperate with the provinces when, of course, it always—or nearly always—does.
That said, the members of the Bloc are supporting a Conservative motion today that would provide unilateral assistance and replace a program that was constructed together with the provinces. It is not entirely clear to me why the Bloc Québécois, all of a sudden, have become proponents of centralization like the Conservatives. Perhaps that makes them centralizing separatists, in a way. Still, we will probably see, in later statements by the Bloc members, that they will clarify their position on this centralization they are supporting by supporting this motion, which wants us to replace collaboratively-constructed programs, the kind we usually have, by a unilateral program the Conservative Party wants us to impose today.
Now, as for the Conservative Party, I think it will be worthwhile if I take the few moments remaining to me to explain to the House the origins of this party and its agricultural platform.
Mr. Speaker, you and I remember quite well when the present Leader of the Opposition led the infamous so-called National Citizens' Coalition, which of course is not national, and is not a citizens' coalition, but it is just called that. When he led that organization, in February 1998 in the Bulldog magazine, which really describes the sensitive nature of that organization, he called the supply management system, which we all support on our side of the House, a “government sponsored price fixing cartel”.
What I am curious to find out and no doubt when we get into questions and answers later, a Conservative MP will rise and tell us on precisely what day the Leader of the Opposition changed his mind from calling supply management a “government sponsored price fixing cartel” to supporting supply management which he spontaneously discovered the day he became the Leader of the Opposition.
We want to know if that occurred at the same moment, weeks before, perhaps a little later, or when these kinds of changes of opinion occurred in the mind of the hon. Leader of the Opposition? The Leader of the Opposition was elected as a member of the Reform Party in 1993 and that party, predecessor of a number of MPs in the House, wanted to reduce assistance to agriculture. It is very important for all of us to know a little bit of truth about Conservative Party positions.