Given that we come from Quebec and that our mother tongue is French, I will make my opening remarks in French, if that is not a problem for you. I will start by describing the situation of the bee-keeping industry in Quebec. I will also make some recommendations.
The Fédération des apiculteurs du Québec was established in 1979, its mission is to advocate for the economic and social interests of its members. The federation is in fact the main lever of the bee-keeping sector in Quebec. Its goals consist in providing support and assistance to producers in Quebec in order to sustain and develop a bee-keeping industry that has the tools it needs to face current and future challenges within its environment and its sector.
In 2003, we suffered losses due to the varroa parasite. Since then, beekeepers have had to continue to adapt to new work methods in order to remain competitive. In 2007, there was another very significant loss of bees due to the varroa parasite and other factors that further aggravated an already precarious situation, which led to a decrease in our stocks. The difficult task of constantly rebuilding our stocks of bees undermines the development of bee-keeping and its ability to flourish. These problems have occurred in Quebec and throughout Canada. This is a major problem for the whole country.
In the spring of 2008, there was better news about bee losses than the past few years. Despite a rather hard winter, the colonies were relatively healthy in the spring. We hope that this will continue, with mother nature's permission.
The colony collapse disorder (CCD), has caused enormous losses in the United States. We don't think it is in Quebec or in Ontario. However, veterinarians are strongly advising us to report any suspicious diseases. In Quebec, we have about 30,000 bee colonies. Normally, our potential would be around 50,000 and 60,000 colonies. There is a very strong demand for pollination, for example, for blueberries in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, as well as for other small fruits, vegetables and cranberries.
Approximately 40% of the food supply is linked to bees, directly or indirectly. If one extrapolates, one could even include dairy producers who provide their animals with legumes that have been pollinated by bees. In Quebec, the economic benefits are about $150 million for various crops, and there are 780 to $800 million per year for Canada. These are not insignificant numbers.
The main problems we are facing in Quebec are these: insufficient marketing and labelling, as well as diseases. For two years, the federation has been trying to organize this sector with joint plans and with 100% Quebec honey certification, in order to find solutions to the various problems that Quebec beekeepers face. Quebec produces approximately 20 to 25% of the honey it consumes. Usually, there are between 700,000 and one million pounds of honey annually in beekeepers warehouses. This is ridiculous. We can't have these kinds of honey surpluses when we're only producing 20% of what we're consuming.
The main problems that came out of our consultations with producers were mainly linked to bee health: viruses, diseases, parasites, and so on.
The price of honey is an equally important problem: foreign honey coming into Canada is significantly cheaper than the Canadian cost of production. For example, in Quebec, we produce honey at a cost of $1.75 per pound, whereas Argentinian honey coming into Canada costs 85¢ a pound.
Current labeling does not indicate the true provenance of the products that have been purchased. There has been a lot of debate around the label « Canada No. 1 » and this debate continues. This label is often on the front of the container but it is simply an indication of grade not of origin. On the back of the container, in very small letters it might say « Product of Argentina » or « contains some Canadian honey », but without a magnifying glass, you cannot read these words. This is misleading to the consumer. We are therefore asking the Government of Canada to show leadership on the issue of labelling.
A door recently opened after several representations from the agricultural sector were made. However, the work has to continue. As I mentioned, the label « Canada No. 1 » is a grading category. Something has to be done about this.
With respect to the environment, unfortunately we can only note that bees are encountering more and more problems; they are sending us some very troubling messages. More and more, diseases, viruses and malnutrition are daily problems. The environment is deteriorating and we all know that if there are no more bees, we will soon have a food shortage. Coated seeds, transgenic seeds, and other issues are a big problem for us. Monoculture and biofuels are not helpful either: there are less and less honey-producing plants that the bees can use to make their honey. If bees do not make honey, they will not have the food they need to develop. If we lose the bees, we lose the whole cycle of pollination, which would have very significant consequences for agriculture in Quebec and Canada.
Research is helping producers find solutions to theses situations that are becoming more and more frequent within the Quebec beekeeping industry. Often it is a series of factors that weaken, or infect people and plants, and because of this the federation is involved with various partners, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Quebec (MAPAQ), the SEDAC and the Centre de recherche en sciences animales in Deschambault (CRESAD). Researchers often make research applications. It is the federation that looks for the necessary funding for this.
We are considering a joint plan that would make all beekeepers who are benefiting from the research realize that they all have to pay for this research. There are approximately 375 beekeepers in Quebec. Our federation represents between 175 and 200 beekeepers who pay contributions for the purposes of research, however everyone benefits.
In Quebec, we are fortunate enough to have a research centre with an experimental hive. I am certain that this is the only experimental beekeeping centre in all of Canada with its own hives. Some of the hives in the experimental centre at Deschambault belong to our Federation. That gives a considerable amount of flexibility to the researchers and it has been made possible thanks to the efforts of partners such as the CRESAD, MAPAQ and the Federation.
With its financial support programs, we believe that the federal government can make access easier to beekeeping researchers and make beekeeping a priority. The federal government must ensure that the agencies responsible for registering pesticides and authorizing their use, work in collaboration with the beekeeping sector. Concrete action is urgent so that pollinating insects, including bees, can be protected. The very existence of several agricultural sectors depends on this, including beekeeping.
We are also working with the Union des producteurs agricoles on a food sovereignty project. This is a project that is important for the whole agricultural sector in Quebec and Canada. We also believe that the new government can help by enforcing the strict food inspection and labelling roles. The food crisis makes the food sovereignty project even more important because it makes countries aware of the importance of having a productive and strong agricultural sector.
Thank you for your interest in the beekeeping situation in Quebec. Bees are an important component of agriculture in general and through their work, they provide us with healthy and natural products. It is essential for them to be protected and governments, through their messages, programs, actions and legislation, can contribute to protecting bees and pollinators in general. Their extension would lead to the disappearance or scarcity of several fruits, vegetables and plants. There could be major damage inflicted on the fauna and flora of the country.
And there may be enough time here for Robert as well.
First of all, on the labelling issue, Mr. Doyon, this committee has made a report that I hope will deal with a number of your problems in labelling. I am disappointed that the government has a dissenting report with it, but in any event, if you go through it and have any concerns, we'd certainly like to hear them.
Secondly, on the price of honey, you're right, and it's the same as with many other agricultural commodities: we see that we're not producing enough to meet domestic demand, yet prices are driven down mainly by imports.
Where are those imports coming from mainly? I understand a lot of product comes in from China. And is the reason it impacts negatively on our price regime that there's an entirely different environmental regime in China, and also a different labour standards and labour costs regime?
I guess I'll ask the second question at the same time. On the environmental side, I've heard it said that the bees are like the canary in a coal mine: they indicate trouble within our environment. I would ask you whether the United States or Europe is facing similar problems with their bee population.
Yes, monoculture is currently causing problems for bees. Since only one type of pollen is being brought back to the hive, there is a pollen shortage.
If I were to draw a parallel with humans, it's as if you were to eat cereal every day. At some point, you would run out of various nutrients. The same thing is true for bees. That is why biodiversity and crop biodiversity is essential.
Yes, this can cause problems for bees. Furthermore, when we talk about genetic modification, the problem is often that flowers that have been genetically modified no longer need to be pollinated by bees. So, they no longer hold any appeal or attraction for the bees, who will then not go and seek out their nectar. So, without nectar there is no honey.
When we use genetically-modified seeds, usually, it's to ensure less traffic in the fields and less soil compaction. However, we realize that yields are lower than they were previously. So if yields are lower, we need to grow crops on a larger area.
If we are talking about biofuels, the same thing holds true. We are currently producing corn, not to feed human beings or livestock but rather to produce fuel. Why are we experiencing a food crisis? We want to be able to produce biofuels, but we can no longer feed people. The question needs to be asked. Just how far can we go? When we introduce genetically-modified seeds and seeds coated with pesticides, we are directly and adversely affecting beekeeping in the short term. In the intermediate and long term, we still don't know how this will affect human beings. We see the prevalence of cancers; perhaps we need to start exploring those areas.
Numerous pesticides are banned or prohibited in Europe. Yet, in Canada, we are starting to approve them. Perhaps we need to ask the PNRA why we are approving products that have been banned elsewhere. We are somewhat behind certain other countries.
The time has expired. I'm sorry. Thank you, Alex.
As agreed, we've gone one round, and it is past quarter to 10 already. We want to leave time for motions at the end.
So I want to thank our witnesses for coming today and giving us this briefing on what's happening in the apiary business. I would ask you to excuse yourselves from the table, and that Mr. Paul Mayers come up as our next witness.
Rather than suspend the meeting, maybe we'll deal with that housekeeping motion and get that out of the way right now, if that's okay. It's in front of all of you. It's for $11,000 to pay for the tobacco witnesses we had here this last week.
Would somebody please move that?
As you recall, Mr. Chair, I moved this motion.
First, I want to apologize to my Bloc colleagues for the French version of this motion. It was written in French at the last meeting. I hope that this version is a bit better and therefore more acceptable.
Mr. Chair, as you know, we did a pretty comprehensive study on input costs. We also know there is some discussion about the possibility of the introduction of a carbon tax. From what I gather from speaking with agricultural people both in eastern Canada and certainly in Ontario, and from speaking with some of my colleagues as well, I know the agricultural community has some concerns about what a proposed carbon tax would do to their input costs. In the last day or two, I've read that there might be some consideration given to exempting certain areas from the carbon tax.
I would like to move that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food urge the Government of Canada to ensure that Canadian farmers are not saddled with a carbon tax that would further increase their input costs and hurt their competitiveness vis-à-vis their American competitors.
The reason I think this is so critical is that if this is in fact in the proposal stage, we could have a tremendous impact on the eventual final product. It's critical to the agricultural industry that we have our input into that process. Our producers and agriculture, as you know, have enough challenges as it is without extra input costs.
So I would strongly recommend that we approve this motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
With your indulgence I'd like to introduce my colleague, Ms. Cathy Airth, who is the associate vice-president for operations at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Mr. Chairman, I recognize that your time is short. I do have opening remarks. Perhaps I can quickly run through them and we will move from there.
In my remarks today, I would like to describe what we are doing to modernize our regulations so that all animal transport within, into, and out of Canada is conducted in a humane manner.
I would like to start by acknowledging that most producers and transporters in Canada are committed to the humane transport of animals and are interested in seeing stronger, modernized regulations.
Canada's existing animal transportation regulations were developed in the 1970s. Since then, of course, farming and the farm animal industry have changed dramatically. The number and diversity of animals that are transported have been steadily increasing and an increasing number cross international borders.
Scientific information and observations arising from CFIA surveillance inspections have deepened our knowledge of how transport affects animals. New transportation vehicles and equipment have become available. The economic and competitive landscape, transportation practices, and international standards have changed.
Canadians' views on animal welfare have clearly grown stronger as well, as we've seen through recent media coverage on many issues.
It is clear that our rules and regulations must keep pace with these changes.
Since 2003, we have discussed amendments to our animal-transportation regulations with farming associations, trucking companies, animal-welfare advocates and other stakeholders.
We have analyzed research and considered feedback from interested parties to determine which amendments would be the most appropriate. In June 2005, a new amendment helped address one of the most urgent animal-welfare issues.
Canada became the first country in the world to ban the loading of an animal if it is unable to stand or walk without assistance, unless the animal is being transported for veterinary diagnosis or treatment.
Now, we are reviewing humane transport regulations so that they reflect the latest science, international standards and industry practices.
We want these regulations to meet the expectations of Canadians and we need them to be practical, effective, enforceable, and science-based.
Currently there are differences in how our transportation regulations are interpreted and applied. The proposed modifications would provide clarity and consistency in how farm animals across the country should be treated during transport. The modernized regulations would make it clearer what are and what are not appropriate humane transportation practices. The proposed changes would improve our ability to inform and educate those involved in animal transportation of their responsibility to effectively enforce the regulations and would contribute to continued care of Canadian farm animals when they are transported beyond our borders.
Modernized regulations would need to focus on outcomes and therefore take into account the contributing factors such as extremes of weather and not just prescriptive time allocations. This outcome-based approach will allow for greater flexibility and will improve our ability to take effective enforcement action if rules are broken.
In Canada, the protection of animal welfare is a shared responsibility. Everyone has a role to play, and we rely on farmers, farming associations, trucking companies, animal-welfare groups and the Canadian public to provide feedback and information. We have already identified many industry and stakeholder groups and consulted with them about the changes to regulations.
Additionally, in April 2006 a consultation document was posted on CFIA's website. We received more than 130 submissions in response to the document, and the feedback we got supported a review and update of the regulations based on scientific knowledge and current industry standards and practices. Canadians across the country will of course have another opportunity to comment at the time of publication of proposed amendments in the Canada Gazette, part I.
We believe Canada can lead the way in humane transportation of animals. And if we continue to work closely with interested stakeholders, including industry organizations, the veterinary profession, researchers, and animal welfare groups, we can accomplish that.
Mr. Chairman, I do have a few more comments, but in the interest of time I will stop there.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Mr. Mayers.
I don't want to get into the horse slaughter issue to a great extent, just the transportation side of it. But there has been some pretty damning coverage on the transport in, and slaughter of, horses slated for slaughter for human consumption—horses coming in from the United States and meat exported out of the country to other international markets.
So I want to deal with the transportation side of that, and to begin, I'd say that CBC documentary was not good stuff. I was shocked by it, and it's a pretty damning documentary. But off the top, I want to say that I would expect that plant was the exception and not the rule, because what I know of CFIA is that you do good work in terms of human health and safety and in terms of care of animals, as a rule.
So I have two questions. First, in terms of the water and feed to those horses coming from the United States, were they watered and fed according to the rules?
Second, as a spinoff question to that, we ship a lot of livestock from Prince Edward Island now to the U.S. and to Ontario, long distances. What happens in terms of feed and water for that livestock in shipping? What's the timeframe in terms of when they have to stop and feed and water them?
My third question is related to the horse documentary. We're told that some of those horses were shipped on double-decker livestock trucks, which would mean that the horses did not have headroom, which is required under the regulations, at least when they hit the Canadian border. I understand they can be shipped in the United States as feeder horses without headroom. Did the truckers change the designation of the horses when they hit the border? Give us the background on what the trucking regulations really are related to horse shipment, and were they met in that particular case?
Thank you very much, and thank you for the complimentary remarks related to CFIA.
You've raised a number of issues. Let me start in terms of the transportation.
Canadian regulations do currently permit longer periods without feed, water, and rest than prescribed in the standards of other countries. That is one of the reasons we have undertaken the work that I mentioned in terms of a review.
We believe it is necessary to strike a balance between an outcome-based goal and a prescriptive regulatory approach. Importantly, it is our view that specific timeframes may be problematic. Instead, we would prefer to focus on the desirable outcomes in terms of the physiological effect on animals when transported. The modifications that we aim at are to address those physiological impacts as opposed to specifying a particular timeframe for transport, recognizing that in extreme weather a specific timeframe may still be too long to allow for the humane treatment of the animal.
In terms of the specifics of your question related the current regulations, if the chair would permit, I would like to invite one of my colleagues, Dr. Martin Appelt, to speak to some of the specific requirements in current regulations.
Good day ladies and gentlemen.
Last winter, Radio-Canada broadcast a show called Enquête—this is probably not the same show that Mr. Easter was talking about—on animal transportation and related problems. According to this show, of the 600 million animal slaughtered in Canada last year, over two million died during transportation. Of course, these kinds of shows always focus on the more lurid details and problems. I am not saying that we must not condemn this situation, but the fact remains that 598 million animals were alive upon arrival. So we have to put these figures into perspective.
Whatever the case may be, I am pleased to note that you are looking at this issue and making amendments in order to ensure the greatest possible respect for animal welfare. Everyone wants this, of course. Farmers don't want to hurt their animals, on the contrary. They make their living off those animals.
Perhaps some things need to be changed in the trucking industry. You talked about the number of hours in transportation, which was something that was also reported in the Enquête show. Current regulations allow hogs to be transported by truck for 36 consecutive hours and 52 hours for livestock and ruminants.
Mr. Mayers, you seem to be saying that these figures will not change and that's really not what we should be looking at. Could you tell me why exactly? Did I understand correctly what you said?
I'm not suggesting that won't change; what I am saying is that rather than changing to simply establish a new specific time limit, what we would prefer is to pursue an approach that recognizes the physiological requirements of the animal. As opposed to establishing an artificial maximum time limit, we would instead focus on the actual condition of the animal, meaning that an animal that is dehydrated in transport would not be acceptable.
For example, in extremely hot conditions, rather than holding to an artificial time limit, those who are transporting animals would instead be required by the regulations to pay attention to the physiological effects of that transport on the animal and therefore provide feed, water, and rest before any of those negative physiological effects on the animal can occur.
That's the difference in an outcome-based approach. We would focus on positive health outcomes for the animal as opposed to simply establishing new time limitations. But that's not to say we would retain the existing time limitations; instead, it would be to ensure that animals, when transported, do not suffer the negative physiological effects.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Mayers, and your colleagues, thanks very much for coming today.
There's a couple of things I need to point out and emphasize--some things you had in your written material. One is that most producers and transporters in Canada are certainly committed to the humane transport of animals. That goes without saying. For farmers in general, livestock is their livelihood and they have a deep respect. I think I can speak to that pretty honestly, being a farmer myself.
You pointed out that new transportation vehicles and equipment have become available. But the key words you didn't have in there, Mr. Mayers, are “better” and “improved”. If anything, the equipment that's used is far better than it was years ago.
As I read through your notes here, one other thing that really bothers me is that you never miss an opportunity to emphasize animal welfare advocates. Although their comments are important, we have to keep in mind that there are some groups out there--I'm simply going to say that--that are so far out in left field that it's not reality. As for where you need to be doing your consultation, by far the large majority is within the industry--the producers, the haulers, that kind of thing. I think you need to stay in that.
To keep it brief, you talk about cross-contamination. Cross-contamination of what?
Thank you very much for being here.
There have been submissions and consultations. When are we going to see the results of the updated regulations? That's the first question.
The other comment I have is that in comparison with many countries in the industrialized world, our regulation standards are among the worst. The European Union, for example, which is now geographically expanding, is becoming larger, is strengthening its standards. I would hope that as we move forward we will strengthen and tighten up some of these standards.
In regard to comments on animal rights groups, somebody in this country has to ensure that what we're doing is humane. Obviously a compromise has to be reached between industry and other groups, but the implication that we shouldn't be listening to these people, I think, is wrong. I think we owe it to the people of this country to ensure that we have good, strong, humane regulations.
Specifically as another question on what we saw in regard to what was happening at Natural Valley Farms, horses were transported with horseshoes on and not separated. This is in violation of the Health of Animals Regulations, subsection 141(7).
Horses were transported in double-decker trailers. I refer you to the Health of Animals Regulations, under “Segregation,” section 142.
We saw that CFIA inspectors, according to that report, were absent for 10 or 12 hours.
I visited slaughterhouses a few years ago as an interpreter with a Russian inspector, and I saw how stringent CFIA is and how we actually had to shut down one plant that was not acceptable to be exporting to Russia at that time. From what I saw there, I'm just wondering, are you actually investigating this? Are you going to be tightening up this particular plant if in fact that's true? Are we going to be looking at other horse slaughter facilities to ensure this doesn't happen?
I don't have much time, so I'll stop there.
Thank you very much. I'll speak to the first part of your question and ask my colleague to address the investigation component of your question.
In terms of concluding the work and taking account of the output of our consultations and then moving forward, we will continue to work with our colleagues at Justice to prepare the regulatory amendments for consideration and ultimate publication in part I of the Canada Gazette, which will provide for a formal consultative process. I don't have a specific timeframe to offer you, because of course, in our work with Justice, it will have to fit within the range of priorities that both they and we have. However, we are committed to moving this forward as soon as possible. So that means it is among the regulatory priorities of the agency to advance this particular piece of regulatory amendments to part I for formal consultation.
In terms of taking account of the various voices, I'll reiterate what I said earlier. That is, within the agency, we're committed to taking account of all the input we receive, and we have benefited tremendously from the input of humane societies, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and other NGOs interested in animal protection. So we will continue to take account of those voices, along with the voices of all stakeholders, in our process as we move forward both now and in the formal comments that we anticipate when amendments are published in part I of the Canada Gazette.
And as it relates to the investigation....
Thank you. Time has expired.
I just want to comment.
Mr. Atamanenko talked about animal rights groups, and I hope you're talking about animal welfare groups and animal protection groups, because animal rights groups, of course, don't believe in the use of animals for human purposes in any way, shape, or form.
As a cattle producer myself, I have been taking a great deal of interest in this, talking to my friends in the trucking industry. As somebody who used to be a cattle buyer as well, I know there is great concern that the regulations will significantly impact on industry and may increase costs to transport if new regulations come into play based on space and trucks. It may make us very uncompetitive versus other jurisdictions around the world, particularly against the U.S. industry.
There is a great deal of hope that this will come into balance, especially in light of what Mr. Miller said. The bulk of the industry has a great reputation, especially the trucking firms that have a great deal of reputation, know-how, and experience in moving livestock across this country. I think often the problems have occurred with inexperience, and as you stated, there is a need for greater education, especially as we have new entrants into the livestock hauling industry.
With that, I thank you for your briefing and I look forward to seeing that in the Canada Gazette, part I.
We are at 10:30 and we're going to go back to motions, so our witnesses are dismissed. Thanks a lot.
We'll go right back to Mr. Boshcoff and Mr. St. Amand.
Just to make sure, I voted for unanimous consent to hear Mr. St. Amand's motion first.
Mr. Chair, the evidence is already conclusive that the motion we were talking about, about Canadian farmers and input costs, is already part of a cross-committee campaign. As confirmed yesterday, the member for Peterborough talked about the issue having been raised in the finance committee.
In half an hour, in this room, at the natural resources committee, we have a very similar resolution coming up. The fact that the notices of motion for these were all received by the clerks within a 36-hour period...I would hope the honourable member wouldn't dishonour himself. He must know this is going on across all these committees; it was in the House yesterday.
Mr. Chair, we have just produced a report on input costs and we all agreed on that. That would make this resolution either historical or out of order in some way, to assume there is a new input cost and that after all that research we had neglected to consider it, which I don't believe we have. So I'm hoping this is not a delay and an obstruction of this committee's work. The issues we have to deal with, rather than a possible platform or policy in a partisan way.... This is not the place for this.
Mr. Atamanenko also indicated that it was either ruled out of order or defeated in another committee. This committee usually gets along pretty well, so there's no place for this, and there certainly isn't a place for the resolution that's also coming up in the natural resources committee.
With all respect, I'm asking that this be ruled out of order.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I do believe we need to be quick on this, so we can get to Mr. St. Amand's motion, but I do have to say that, as always, I appreciate my honourable colleagues across the way. Mr. Boshcoff's only real problem is that he's far too sincere to spin and win like Mr. Easter does. That's one thing I've learned Mr. Easter does very well.
Mr. Easter, you can call it a green shift for the farm economy, you can call it a carbon tax, you can call it whatever you want. You and I both know that the reason you dance around it the way you do is simply because it is going to damage rural Canada, not only farmers but rural Canadians who live in small communities. You know that as well as I do. There is no way you will be revenue neutral on an issue such as this.
This will affect people driving to and from work, this will affect people who drive great distances, this will affect farmers who are trying to cut input costs, and I do believe that this is not a hypothetical debate. This is the key point: this is not a hypothetical debate. This is a policy that has already been implemented by a Liberal government in British Columbia. It is already having negative effects on the farm community in British Columbia. Therefore, this is something we should look at.
I agree we should take some of the partisanship out of this. I would actually propose an amendment to this motion.
Mr. Chair, I would propose that we amend the motion to say that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food study the effects of a carbon tax or any broad-based environmental tax on Canadian farmers and ensure they are not saddled with a carbon tax which would increase their input costs and hurt their competitiveness.
What I was going to say to the original motion goes with this one here. I think this actually strengthens that. This motion, as pointed out by Mr. Easter and Mr. Atamanenko, isn't about politics. We're here to protect and try to come up with things that will benefit agriculture.
At the end of the day, all this asks is that...and I don't care whether it's a carbon tax issue or carbon pricing, as Mr. Easter wants to call it. I don't care whether it's from this government or from a party that would like to be government. For example, I was going to bring up the one that Mr. Storseth mentioned, in British Columbia—Alex, where you're from. There's already one there.
All the original motion was saying--and I certainly support the amendment--basically is that in the event...at the end of the day, our farmers are protected from it. So I can't fathom how you could be opposed to it, or anybody sitting on the committee.
Mr. Chairman, this only stands out...and as I said, it doesn't matter when, who, what, or where something with this issue comes up; the committee is on record as making sure that it doesn't negatively affect farmers and agriculture in general.
I move that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food urges the federal government to immediately provide funding for tobacco farmers to the extent of $1.78 per pound as an interim payment until a full exit strategy can be implemented.
We heard a lot about this at our meeting last week. Powerful presentations were made by the chairwoman of the Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers' Marketing Board, and representatives of the Tobacco Farmers in Crisis.
I suspect, Mr. Chair, you and perhaps other committee members will recall my question of the witnesses: “On an immediate urgent basis, what is the best thing the federal government could do to assist tobacco producers?” They indicated during their presentation that the best thing, at least for now, is to do what the motion is urging the federal government to do.
It is an urgent situation. I don't--and I suspect other committee members do not--throw around the word “urgent” in too cavalier a fashion, but this is an urgent situation. We heard last week, as we've heard on other occasions, about suicides in the ranks of tobacco farming families.
To their credit, some 20 or 25 tobacco farmers and their wives or family members attended here in Ottawa, specifically for the purpose of this committee meeting, to lend visible and tangible support for this motion. They've been very respectful of the process and the committee. They were not here to agitate or demonstrate in an inappropriate fashion, but just to say they had driven hundreds of miles to impress upon committee members the urgency of this. Their families and their entire communities are in need of immediate assistance from the federal government. That does not mean another task force, awaiting the results of a task force, another series of circular meetings over the summer, or more half-baked commitments from the government. This is a definite thing for the government to do.
That's the thrust of the motion, Mr. Chair.
We can quibble over wording, but the fact of the matter is that the intent of the resolution is to have an interim payment of $1.78 per pound for those who exit the industry. Mr. Chair, there's been a lot of discussion on this issue, and as I said last week, I was in the area. It was clear during a committee meeting last week, when we had Mr. Preston here, the chair of--I'm not sure of the appropriate name--the tobacco task force or regional task force, and we raised in questioning that an immediate exit strategy for tobacco producers would not compromise the task force's work.
That was clear from the meeting we had with him last week. The government could come forward with an exit strategy for the tobacco producers themselves, who were under very strenuous personal and economic strain, in part due to the actions of the current herself. She made very to clear to me when we were down there that the tobacco industry as a whole, the population down there, felt the government had committed itself to an exit strategy and had broken their word. Even the bankers lent money on the basis of the commitment that they felt the current government had given them towards an exit strategy.
The government holds a lot of responsibility here, and so the fact of the matter is that this resolution would not compromise the task force's work. That can go on. As a bottom line, I would feel that in fact, if the government were to commit itself to this $1.78 per pound interim payment for those who are going to exit the industry, it would even complement the work of the task force. Then these tobacco producers, now under such financial strain, would see some light at the end of the tunnel and be able to focus on future investment and future opportunity, rather than worrying about where their next meal is going to come from.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Really, I want to commend the folks who have driven a long way to be in attendance here. Your message is loud and clear, and we do hear you.
I, like Mr. Easter, have visited the area. I'm not sure I agree with all the comments he made. I think the people I spoke with agree that a comprehensive solution is needed. I hope this isn't a political ploy. I would hate to think that these people in distress would be used as pawns.
Mr. Chair, this is a complex issue, and we believe it requires a comprehensive solution. First of all, this motion does not bring all the stakeholders to the table. We've seen the damage from ad hoc programs that do not include all stakeholders. We saw during a previous government the very damage that can do. And in some cases it hurts the very people we're trying to help.
Mr. Chair, the minister is working with all the stakeholders. He's discussing this very issue with all the stakeholders, and they're working collectively and collaboratively on the solution. I would suggest that we let the minister finish his job and get this completed, and I really think we should call the vote.