Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to speak to government Bill C-16, which seeks to amend existing legislation on the loan capacity of the Canadian Dairy Commission.
Although this amendment is welcome and important, I wonder what took the government so long to get around to it. A little over a month ago, Canadian dairy producers were forced to dump 12.5 million litres of milk in just a week. I received many calls from producers and processors in my riding, including major industry stakeholders. When I asked these stakeholders what the best course of action would be, they all said that they wanted the government to expand the loan capacity of the Canadian Dairy Commission from $300 million to $800 million, or an increase of $500 million in loan capacity.
After speaking with the minister's office, I was informed that the Canadian Dairy Commission experts think the $200-million increase is good enough. The point I want to make here is that this bill took an awfully long time to come into existence, considering that it amends just a line or two of the Act. Why did the government drag its heels on this file?
It is very important to note that many industry stakeholders have told me this legislative change is about two weeks too late. Many of them have already found their own way out of this mess with no help from the government. While it is clear to me that this bill is nevertheless important to the agricultural sector because it will protect our dairy industry, I am left wondering about money for the rest of Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector. This government likes to pat itself on the back for announcing various funds and loans for the sector, but it does not have a solid plan for saving the industry that feeds our country.
For example, the other day in committee, a representative from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said that without immediate assistance, Canada could lose up to 15% of our farms because of COVID-19. That is about 30,000 farms. I cannot even begin to express how devastating that is to hear. Canada has had a very weak response to COVID-19 in the agriculture and agri-food sector.
Just look at our neighbours, the United States. Their government announced a $19-billion assistance program for the agriculture sector, while our government has done nothing after offering our sector $252 million.
The government provided $50 million in assistance to the beef and pork industries. The Canadian Cattlemen's Association told us the other day in committee that the money was appreciated, but that it was used up two weeks ago to cover the extra feed needed because of the pandemic. The government does not seem to understand that we are in a crisis and that our national food security and our sovereignty are in jeopardy. According to the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, it would cost about $135 million to implement an adequate set-aside program.
Meanwhile, the pork industry is suffering through a nightmare in terms of slaughter capacity. It does not have the option of using a set-aside program like the beef sector, and the government seems content to keep watching animals be euthanized, while telling these farmers to use the existing business risk management programs. I have news for the government: These programs do not work. Changes need to be made to these programs now to help our producers ASAP. The minister keeps boasting about the amazing online calculator for these programs. Could it be that the true purpose of the calculator is to calculate when our businesses will have to fold?
Getting back to this bill, it is very hard to debate it here today. I think I speak for all my colleagues when I say that it is definitely a step in the right direction, but when will the rest of the aid for the agriculture and agri-food sector be announced?
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture both said that the agricultural industry would be given additional assistance, but when will that be announced? Do they not realize that this industry is having a hard time staying afloat?
Every day, I turn on the television and I hear the Prime Minister announcing new programs and several billion dollars in funding for other industries. I have come to expect no new announcements for agriculture.
Right now, the Prime Minister seems to be, whether consciously or unconsciously, pitting the various industries in our sector against each other, the eastern provinces against the western provinces, or supply managed sectors against non-supply managed sectors. The division is clear, as are the Prime Minister's allegiances.
I would also like to remind the House that the Canadian dairy industry was led to believe that the coming into force of the CUSMA would be delayed in order to give the sector time to prepare for the reformed agreement. Unfortunately, the dairy industry now has only one month to prepare rather than a full year.
I would also like to point out that many of Canada's supply-managed industries are still waiting for announcements regarding their sector. It is wonderful to see assistance for dairy farmers today, but when will the government help other sectors?
Take Canada's poultry producers, for example. Like beef and pork producers, poultry producers will likely have to cull their flocks and absorb revenue losses associated with not processing their birds, but the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture have not announced any help for that sector.
We keep hearing that the AgriRecovery program will fix things for this sector. Unfortunately, the program covers only cull costs, not the value of the birds themselves. Plus, this program does not help processors if culling happens at the plants.
I am so tired of hearing that the government is working with the provinces to find a solution. Why can the government not take the initiative, show some real leadership and make a significant contribution of its own to the agricultural sector?
I could spend a lot more time quoting many very eloquent industry stakeholders. The consensus is simple: The government's COVID-19 pandemic response for the agricultural sector is not nearly good enough. The sector needs help fast, but I think the government's clock is broken.
I look forward to answering my colleagues' question.