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View Maxime Blanchette-Joncas Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-16.
This bill makes sense because milk storage has to align with supply and demand. As everyone knows, there is currently less demand for milk, so it makes sense to increase storage capacity.
Quebec's dairy production is integral to its economy. Some 11,000 dairy farm owners across Quebec produce over three billion litres per year. Those farms are worth up to $2.5 billion. The industry accounts for 28% of Quebec's agricultural revenue.
In good years and bad, Quebec's dairies invest over $700 million in maintaining and improving their facilities. Those investments certainly create significant economic opportunities in Quebec.
Quebec's dairy farms employ over 80,000 people. In 2014, they supported 82,661 direct and indirect jobs.
In terms of Canada's GDP, Quebec's dairy industry generates $6.15 billion. That is a lot.
In terms of tax revenue, the industry contributes $1.3 billion to various levels of government.
On the national level, 36% of dairy sector revenue comes from Quebec, making it the primary milk producing province. Quebec is the top province in terms of volume of milk or number of farms engaged in this production.
What is more, dairy production ranks third of all Canadian farming activities with nearly 11% of some $41 billion in total agriculture revenue. That is quite significant. It is only logical to support dairy production businesses in Quebec, but also in all the regions. More specifically in my region, the Lower St. Lawrence, in which I represent the riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, more than 590 farms are tied to dairy production. That is more than 5,100 jobs and economic spinoffs of $272 million a year. More than seven plants are also tied to dairy production and these processing plants provide 800 jobs.
The dairy industry's contribution to the GDP is more than $400 million in the Lower St. Lawrence region alone. It is a very important part of our economy and a lot of jobs depend on it. We must support them. It is very important.
This has been going on since April and we are wondering why the bill we are debating today was not introduced sooner.
A great amount of milk was lost because, among other things, production could not be reduced. There was also less overall consumption. Since April, I have personally had several discussions with representatives of producers, in particular those in the Lower St. Lawrence. They laid out the facts for me. They even had to dump milk. That seemed unbelievable and unacceptable to us. We must therefore ensure that we review storage and adjust the different systems in place.
More specifically, the data we obtained indicated that with schools, restaurants and different institutions closed, consumption dropped by almost 35%. In the end, it makes sense because it is about supply and demand.
Supply cannot necessarily stop. We know that cows are not equipped with a tap or button that shuts off milk production. On the consumption side, I was surprised to see that milk was being rationed by some stores. With COVID-19, they wanted to protect people's access to milk. Some stores restricted sales to a quart of milk per person. When people cannot consume more, rationing leads to problems with demand from the public.
Another surprise we got during the COVID-19 crisis is that CUSMA is going to come into effect on July 1 rather than August 1. That came as a shock to many people, particularly dairy farmers in my region and across Quebec. Moving up the implementation date will be problematic, because quotas are going to go down. Indeed, for dairy farmers, the dairy year begins on August 1 and ends on July 31.
Moving up the implementation date for CUSMA will mean a reduction in milk protein. Dairy producers got the nasty surprise of having to sell their stock in a very short time period: specifically, 55,000 tonnes in the first year, and 35,000 tonnes after that. In the past, the limit was nearly 85,000 tonnes. Canada's dairy farmers estimate they are going to lose $340 million a year, which is a huge amount for that industry.
Those farmers feel cheated. When I talk to them about this issue, they recall their agreement with the government, which claimed to want to support them. When they are hit with that kind of surprise, especially during this time of crisis, what message does that send to our farmers? Does the government want to support them or discourage them? The current deal does not reflect what the government said at the outset. Words must be put into action, and this proves that the government has failed to support dairy farmers in the regions and across Quebec.
I have to point out that the 3.5% quota in CUSMA for the United States represents a loss of production for dairy farmers. Some of the farms in the regions of Quebec are small operations, and we must support them. My colleagues spoke about the next generation of farmers. I have recently heard from farmers who tell me that they are falling through the cracks of the system. They are not eligible for the $40,000 Canada emergency business account because they do not have a payroll of at least $20,000. What will they do? They are worried and do not know if they will make it through the crisis.
Right now is sowing period in Quebec. Although it has been delayed, in particular because of current temperatures, farmers do not have the money they need to buy seed and to plan for the upcoming season. They are thinking about calling it quits and they do not know what to tell to their children who want to take over the farm. These farmers do not feel supported by the government. They feel helpless and are trying to find solutions with the help of colleagues and farmers in the region, but are not finding any. They therefore contact us, their members of Parliament, so that we can speak on their behalf, which I am proud to do today.
This is worrisome. As we experience this pandemic, a historic crisis, we want people to be safe and secure, and also healthy. Safety and security includes food security. We do not want to receive our supplies exclusively from multinational companies. We want to support local businesses and enable farmers to continue by helping them financially.
Earlier, my colleague mentioned psychological support, and I am saddened to see what farmers in my region are going through. There is only one farm outreach worker for the entire Lower St. Lawrence region, which is totally unacceptable and inefficient. We say we want to help farmers. Farmers are very isolated. They work long hours every day and every week on their farms. They may not have anyone to confide in and talk to about their problems, not to mention their financial burden. They really need an outlet for their stress. They should not just be seeing financial problems. The government urgently needs to rectify this situation.
Farmers need cash and financial support from the government. We need to send a very strong message. I will be watching closely to make sure the government adjusts its measures.
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