Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise today to speak on Bill C-661, introduced by the member for Joliette.
I must first state that the Conservatives were speaking about how much they were supporting agriculture, but what we have seen over the last few months is pretty bad.
Two things that they have done are pretty bad. First, we have seen members from that party speaking against supply management, which is one of the pillars for agriculture in this country. Second, there are big cuts in the budget to business risk management, the tools that farmers need when they have bad years. That has been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars. It is very disappointing to see the Conservative government do that.
In speaking on this bill, I will be basing my remarks on my personal experience as a farmer and on the importance of maintaining family businesses. In the context of this bill, the main objective is to treat siblings like any other family members by exempting them from the anti-tax avoidance measures by amending the Income Tax Act. We are supporting that.
The reality is that even if farmers have the opportunity to give part of their farm value to their children or grandchildren without income tax consequences under the Income Tax Act of Canada, they still need to maintain sufficient investment income to ensure a healthy retirement. This is also necessary if a farmer wants to provide for their other children who are not actively involved in the operation, and the same goes for fishing families on the east coast, the west coast, and in central Canada.
Even though Canadian agriculture has changed so much, the family business is the cornerstone of the industry. Canada's agri-food sector accounts for 7% of Canada's GDP and over two million jobs. That is one job in eight. While primary agriculture accounts for a small share of the total economy, about 2%, it is at the heart of the agriculture and agri-food system and has grown over 1.5% per year since 1997.
Agriculture and fishing have drastically changed, and we need to make sure that legislation governing these industries is able to keep up with the rapid pace. In 1991, there were 280,000 farms in Canada. In 2011, that number had fallen to 206,000. However, the average size of Canadian farms has grown tremendously, from an average of 200 acres to 800 acres. In that same time period, the average age of a Canadian farm operator has risen quite dramatically, going from 48 years of age to 54. It varies across the country, but that is the average.
Urbanization, an aging population, globalization of the economy, and consolidation throughout the agri-food chain have brought fundamental structural changes at the farm level. More specifically, the need to develop new markets and to comply with consumer demands has required an adaptation of production structure and practices within the agriculture sector. Although this adaptation creates new opportunities, it poses many challenges to our young farmers and fishers.
Over the next decade, we are going to be seeing a lot of these family businesses being passed down from one generation to the next. Given the extremely harsh economic context, this bill being debated today is crucial to helping ease those transfers to other family members. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of farmers under the age of 55 fell 42%, from 265,000 to 150,000. In that time, the number of older operators increased, as I said before.
Quite simply, the Canadian farming and fishing population is aging. That does not mean there are not a lot of young people who want to get into it, but the road map there is very difficult. There are now fewer and fewer young people to replace these retiring farmers and fishers. This situation is worrisome, as young farmers guarantee the future of agriculture and play a key role in rural economic development. Many other activities in rural communities depend on the agricultural sector, including fishing, milling, hardware, processing products, and even transporting. Many of the people we see driving down the highways every day are people involved in the whole agri-food sector.
The federal government has an important obligation to improve its programs and policies to keep young farmers in the industry. By supporting the bill, we are trying to ensure that the Income Tax Act does not discourage the best-qualified person in the family from taking over the business because of tax implications.
Agriculture is more and more capital intensive. Producers have to invest in buildings, machinery, and other equipment to become more efficient and to satisfy consumer demand for low produce prices. We also see many times that in many farming operations it is not just for maintaining prices but is for food safety.
I have been travelling across the country visiting farms over the last year. It is amazing how modern these farms are, how they have HAACP in place and cleanliness and tracking of everything they are doing on the farm. This all costs money.
Market conditions also contribute to increasing the value of assets, such as land and quotas. This can cause some challenges for young farmers, as the rise in asset values are not always covered by sufficient income. It is one of the lowest returns when we look at the amount of capital spent on a farm. Many times these young farmers are operating an enterprise to put food on the table with a fairly low return.
Some agriculture sectors are doing a little better, especially with supply management, which the Liberals brought in many years ago and which we are going to stand behind 150%.
Thanks to the supply management policy governing agriculture production in Canada, farmers enjoy an environment of stable and predictable milk prices and poultry prices with the formula they have in place. The supply-managed industries collectively generate $25 billion in GDP, $5 billion in tax revenues, and over 300,000 jobs. That is just in supply management alone.
Despite these favourable conditions, under this system intergenerational transfer is difficult. When there is a need to plan for succession, numerous cases have been reported of farmers not being able to find the right arrangement to meet the expectations of the exiting farmers or of the new entrants.
I think if there was a return, a lot of people would probably think it was a good occupation and an interesting occupation and would be inclined to pursue it.
The best way to keep young farmers in the industry is to make it profitable. Farming is a lifestyle, not just an occupation, but at the end of the day, farmers still need to make money. We do not expect our health professionals and many other people in our society to work for free, and we cannot expect the producers of our food to do so either. Young farmers are not going to invest millions of dollars in something if they do not know if it is going to produce a return. Supply management provides that to them and gives them stability. As I mentioned before, business risk management is very important.
I think we can all agree that there seems to be a growing disconnect between the general population and agriculture.
Young farmers also know perfectly well that agriculture faces numerous challenges related to the increasing cost of products, as I mentioned before, reduced margins, trade and marketing issues, et cetera.
I commend groups such as the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum and the Canadian 4-H Council for their efforts to educate, energize, and empower the next generation of Canadian farmers and agriculture leaders. However, these groups need a comprehensive federal policy targeting young or new farmers to make it feasible.
That is not to say that this shift in the agricultural sector should diminish the importance of maintaining smaller operations. There are also many small successful farms, and the government should be doing more to help those operations as well. Small operations as well as big ones can contribute and can work together.
I am very much in favour of the motion. It would be another tool in the tool box to help farmers get through. For those farmers who work so hard and put so much into their farms, many of them 60 and 70 years old, the only return they can get will be through the implementation of this bill.
This is the last half a minute of what is probably my last speech in the House. I am glad I am doing it on agriculture. I am a farmer from Cape Breton, and our family has a farming business.
I would like to thank all my colleagues, and I wish them well through the summer and in their future endeavours. I thank all the staff here who have done so much for us and have kept the place going, the staff in our whip's office, who keep us here all the time, and of course, my colleagues here tonight who stayed with us for the last shift.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity.