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View Claude DeBellefeuille Profile
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill.
I would like to take a moment to thank the managers at the Montérégie-Ouest CISSS. When I was part of the management team overseeing senior support services, they gave me a chance to fulfill my passion and my dream and put the right conditions in place for me to do the work that I am doing right now in the House of Commons. I want to thank all the managers who made it possible for me to enter politics. These female managers enabled a woman to enter politics. They walked the talk.
That was a short digression to say that I am very pleased to rise. Quite frankly, what I am really interested in today is talking about the situation affecting dairy producers. What we have seen, and this has been mentioned on numerous occasions, is that there are always winners and losers when a trade agreement is signed. It is important to recognize what the losers are losing. It is important that they have a voice and that we understand them. We need to debate these issues among parliamentarians. The Bloc Québécois intends to debate these issues for as long as possible and to continue the debate in committee so that all the witnesses, individuals, companies and industries that want to have a say about this agreement have the opportunity to do so.
In the latest trade agreements, Quebeckers have been the big losers. In the agreement that we are debating today, we are talking about the aluminum industry, a key industry for Quebec, as well as the supply managed industry. All dairy, turkey, chicken and other poultry producers were victims of the agreement.
Over 3% of our market will be open to American dairy products, which represents an annual loss of around $150 million. It is not just one loss in one year. For Quebec's dairy farmers, it is a market lost for life.
I represent a riding where more than half the dairy farms in Montérégie-Ouest are in my riding, Salaberry—Sûroit. Among the 237 farms in the Beauharnois-Salaberry, Haut-Saint-Laurent and Vaudreuil-Soulanges RCMs, half are dairy farms in the Montérégie-Ouest area. I must point out that our farmers are entrepreneurs, business people who are passionate about agriculture and who generate revenue and economic activity in our communities.
In my research I found part of a speech on protecting supply management that I delivered in 2006. Even then I was quite clear about the fact that we need to stop thinking that agricultural producers are not business people. They contribute to revitalizing our rural communities. They support local garages, convenience stores, grocery stores, mechanics, and the list goes on. Many businesses in our rural communities rely on farming activity. In my opinion, it is important to emphasize that these are businesses that generate major economic activity.
I will admit that I have a soft spot for dairy producers. All members in the House know that Quebec and Canada produce higher-quality milk. In Quebec, dairy producers have stringent standards with respect to the environment and animal well-being. Traceability standards are also quite strict. Quebec's traceability system is very effective, which means that we produce very high-quality milk. Unfortunately, this milk will end up competing in markets against milk produced under different and, we can only assume, lesser standards.
The trade agreements that were negotiated and ratified after 2011, when the Bloc Québécois ended up with fewer members in the House of Commons, were clearly more harmful for Quebec. One example is the free trade agreement with Europe. I was shocked to see that Quebec cheeses had been sacrificed. Quebec has some excellent cheeses. We have 300 different cheeses.
My colleague's riding of Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix is a remarkable place where you will find the best Quebec cheeses.
Quebec's cheese producers were sacrificed because Quebec produces 70% of Canada's fine cheeses. Many cheese producers told us that this agreement affects them because our market will be flooded with European cheese.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership created the first breach in supply management by opening up 3.25% of our dairy market.
Supply management is so important to us and we speak so much about it because for us it is the basis for Quebec's agricultural model, which we are really proud of.
Like all Bloc members, I have great aspirations for Quebec. We hope that one day it will take its place at the table of nations and be master of its own destiny. A strong Quebec with farm businesses that have a strong presence, are profitable and have solid ties to their community is important to us. We must maintain this highly developed agricultural model that is so uniquely ours and reflects our character as Quebeckers.
We know that dairy farmers were compensated for this year, but they are worried because they do not know what will happen in the years to come. As someone said earlier, when dairy markets are lost, it is not only for a year; it is forever. It is therefore important for farmers to understand what will happen next year.
The government appears hesitant to implement a program that farmers would have to qualify for, much like what the Conservatives did with the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
Our message is clear, and we will repeat it to the government when it presents the budget. We absolutely insist that dairy farmers must be compensated directly, as they were this year, for the duration of the compensation agreement. We do not want a program that farmers have to qualify for, a complicated program with more red tape. That is the last thing farmers need. They need to be financially compensated in the simplest way possible, as they were this year.
It would be unfortunate not to address the whole issue and challenge of milk proteins. I am not sure whether those watching our debate at home understand that the issue of milk proteins is threatening our dairy sector.
In Canada and the United States, milk consumption has gone down while consumption of butter, cream and ice cream has gone up. Processors are like everyone else. They want to make these products for less. That is why they are interested in buying milk ingredients for less from the United States.
Under the old agreement, our market was flooded with milk proteins from American diafiltered milk. In response to pressure from the Bloc Québécois and other parliamentarians, the government finally created a new milk class, class 7, that provides some protection to our processors so they will source dairy protein from our own dairy producers and stop buying it from American producers.
Naturally, the U.S. government was not pleased. In negotiations, it demanded that Canada get rid of class 7 so American protein could once more flood our market and threaten our dairy producers yet again.
I see two big problems with this agreement. In two very clear instances, the government failed supply management. First, it opened up a significant chink, and second, it took away class 7, which enabled our producers to work with processors to find an outlet for their inexpensive milk.
Dairy producers know they can count on the Bloc Québécois to vigorously advocate for them, because we believe that a country without agriculture is not a real country.
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