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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
View Yves Perron Profile
2020-05-13 15:38 [p.2289]
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from La Prairie.
If we claim that agriculture and agri-food are essential services, then we have to put our money where our mouth is. We know that agriculture is an important pillar of our economy. In fact, $68 billion in annual revenues come from farms. Every year we lose 5% to 7% of our farms. As my colleague said earlier, it is predicted that this year we might lose 15%. The losses are huge. Millions of litres of milk were dumped, and millions of eggs and chicks were destroyed. The poultry sector has posted losses of $115 million. These figures represent the losses to date.
Right now, there is a backlog of approximately 100,000 slaughter-ready pigs. Day by day, as my colleague said, euthanasia is being put on hold, but it is going to happen eventually. The pigs are growing too fast and cannot be kept in their facilities. This is a highly complex issue.
As for beef, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association is projecting nationwide losses of $500 billion. The beef sector also has a backlog of 100,000 cattle. Grain farmers are facing a loss of $86 million. The government recently announced an investment of $77.5 million to help slaughterhouses upgrade their facilities. However, the food processing industry says those upgrades would cost $860 million. The funding is nowhere near enough.
Slaughterhouses are operating below capacity and sometimes close for days at a time. The restaurant market has collapsed. We need to be aware of these things. Many small eateries will not survive the crisis. Demand will stay low. The agriculture sector is urging us to take action and improve the ongoing programs while taking into account the unfortunate fact that the crisis is going to last longer than a year. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. All this uncertainty is putting us under tremendous pressure and threatening our food self-sufficiency, our food security and our national security. It is that bad.
There are also labour problems. We need to talk about foreign workers and seasonal workers. From the numbers we were given, about 85% or 86% of workers have arrived. However, many of those seasonal workers were already here. The more time passes, the harder things will be. There will be a labour shortage of more than 15%. This is not a criticism of immigration officials. On the contrary, I think they are doing a good job. However, we need to be aware of the problems and help our agricultural sector.
In his announcement, the Prime Minister said that it was an initial investment and that if more needed to be done, he would do it. Today I want to let him know that, yes, more is needed, and I hope I am not the last person to say so.
Of course we are here to talk about Bill C-16. Our party has been recommending this solution for several weeks. It has taken a long time, but we are very pleased to see it today. Clearly, we support the bill. It will make it possible for the Canadian Dairy Commission to store additional amounts of products that have a longer shelf life to absorb market fluctuations. This may result in less dumping of milk. Unfortunately, it is a little late, since a lot of milk has already been dumped, but things will be better in the future.
We have a positive attitude and are looking to the future. We are pleased to support the bill, but more must be done. I will compare our situation to what is happening in the United States. In Canada, several measures totalling $252 million have been announced for the agricultural sector; in the United States, producers have received $19 billion in aid. Of course, we do not have the same population. This represents 12 times the amount of assistance. According to OECD estimates, every year, year after year, the U.S. provides twice as much support for its agricultural sector than Canada.
Farmers are strong, proud and good people who get up in the morning to work so that they can feed our people. At some point they also have to grapple with international issues, and they are facing competition. In a hockey game, the players need to be on equal footing. If my stick is too short, I will not be able to win the game. We need to give our farmers the tools and support they need, and what is going on now is outrageous.
I will calm down a bit, but it is unacceptable. Of the $252 million in assistance, $125 million is not new money. The government can have fun with creative bookkeeping, twist definitions and call it unused money, but at the end of the day, this $125 million is not new money. The government can make announcements, but it should not be presenting this money as new money, when that is untrue. That is misleading.
We are talking about the $50 million that Canada is allocating to buy back food surpluses, but the United States allocated $3 billion for that same purpose just this week. I do not know what it will be later, but the situation is totally surreal.
The government keeps saying that it is working hard to find solutions. I have a simple solution to propose to the government. Once again, I am reaching out and offering my help. I think that the other parties are interested in doing the same. We are here to work, but the government needs to listen to our constituents.
In her remarks earlier today, the minister said that we need to give people what they are asking for. To that, I say let's do it. We are ready. What are these people asking for? They are asking for a targeted emergency fund and quick action.
Small businesses are in trouble. The Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec said that it did not get any answers regarding practical measures to enable small agricultural businesses to be eligible for emergency loans. Sadly, these small businesses do not have a payroll of $20,000. They get paid differently, with dividends, but that does not count. Sadly, that does not fit into the right column on the form. I do not know whether that can be inputted in the much-talked-about calculator, but these businesses are not eligible.
Processors are sounding the alarm over cold storage. They need support because they are storing a lot more inventory than before. Must even more food go to waste?
The government says the AgriStability program works and is asking farmers to use the existing programs. Let's talk about that.
First off, telling farmers to use the AgriInvest program is like telling students that they are going to get help because there will not be any jobs this summer, but only if they empty their bank accounts first. The same is happening with farmers. These programs are investments in case of need. It is appropriate to treat farmers like any other group in society. This is about saving money. I am sure the government will get up and tell me that this is what emergency measures are for. Yes, but this is an exceptional situation.
Marcel Groleau, president of the Union des producteurs agricoles, appeared before the committee this week. He was wondering if decision-makers even understand these programs, and he explained how AgriStability works. The example he shared was of a typical farm that brings in $250,000 per year, spends $100,000 and nets $150,000. As it stands, the program requires the program year margin not to exceed 70% of the reference margin. This year, if such a farm were to lose $80,000, or more than 50% of its revenue, it would not collect a cent from the existing program. Clearly, this program is not working. Without that margin, the program would pay the farm $24,500 to compensate it for the $80,000 loss. Ever since before the crisis, the agricultural sector has been asking the government to change the rate to 85%, which would result in a $40,250 payment. That would be a program that works, just as it did before the 2013 cuts.
People are asking us to take action in a targeted way. I am going to set the rest of my notes aside because I am almost out of time and I want to appeal to parliamentarians to work together. Yes, we are all members of different political parties that each have separate objectives. However, with this COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to sound like a broken record or to toe the party line. It is time to work on behalf of farmers, who need us to take action.
If our response was appropriate, I do not think that, two days later, a large group of farmers would indicate publicly that it is no good. It takes a couple of days to read a document, conclude that it is no good, call one's friends and organize a meeting.
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