Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll take a moment to send my deepest condolences to all who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 and to wish a speedy recovery to those who are currently battling it. This truly is a difficult time for us all. We're fortunate to have all the great men and women on our front lines taking care of us, making sure that we're taken care of if we're sick, and also feeding us.
These unprecedented times started out with a glimmer of hope that, despite all that is being thrown at us, we'll face it together as a unified nation, all in this together. As time goes on, it's becoming abundantly clear, though, that this government's version of together unfortunately doesn't include the majority of my constituents in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.
With each announcement and new government program, the question I keep hearing, whether from businesses or seniors, is “How is this supposed to help me?” There are so many cracks in the government's plan, and while the official opposition is doing everything it can to identify those cracks and help get support to the most vulnerable, the government not only ignores most of our proposals but has also attempted unprecedented power grabs.
While the tab for the support programs continues to accumulate, so many people and businesses continue to be left behind. A key industry left behind amidst all the government's support programs is agriculture. Whether it's a lack of labour, processing capacity issues, market access issues, inadequate BRM programs or food safety issues, this government has done very little.
When thinking about agriculture, processing capacity has been an issue for years, with the COVID-19 crisis further exacerbating this problem. Rob Lipsett of the Beef Farmers of Ontario has said it's “the biggest issue we've been trying to address at all levels of government”. With the closure of the Ryding-Regency plant, processing capacity issues have come to the forefront. The current situation is dire for beef farmers and they need a cash infusion program from the government.
Minister Bibeau has said that $77 million promised for food processors has a goal of increasing capacity but is also to address short-term needs. How does this make sense when processing capacity is a structural problem? When questioned further, the minister just encourages producers to access the funding available through existing BRM programs. This is nothing new and not helpful to all our struggling producers. Yet again the Liberal government is showing us the different ways that it is continually letting down farmers and producers. It's obvious that farmers are not its priority.
When referring to the government's spending announcements on agriculture, Marcel Groleau, president of the Union des producteurs agricoles, said, “I think they missed a great opportunity today. It's an announcement that is completely insufficient. Of the $250 million for farmers, there is about $125 million in new investment. Half of that is what producers would have gotten anyway.”
The B.C. Fruit Growers' Association said, “the financial support package to the Canadian agriculture industry announced...is profoundly underwhelming.”
When it comes to BRM reform, we can see that the Liberals are just recycling old promises. We've repeatedly called on this government to take strong action to support our farmers and producers, including reforming BRM programs. The bulk of what the government announced for agriculture amidst COVID-19 was $125 million for AgriRecovery. This is not new money but a reannouncement of money that's already budgeted for in the yearly budget.
The minister has avoided questions. Where is she on where producers can access this money? Knowing that the program is difficult to work with and inaccessible, the minister has responded by telling producers to use an online calculator and to still apply. Great, farmers now have an online calculator to figure out how quickly their farmhouses are burning and whether they qualify for the government-issued bucket of water to be delivered at an undetermined point of time in the future.
Our producers and our farmers are being left behind, and they deserve better. This country is facing many trade disputes, especially when it comes to agriculture. Particularly with China, market access issues are at the forefront. Exports of commodities such as soybeans, canola and pork are facing additional challenges. The government says it is committed to helping farmers, but to their disappointment, the government has ignored all their pleas. On April 1, it even raised the carbon tax by 50%.
My constituents and millions of Canadians are facing significant and sustained hardship. With stagnant revenues and rapid debt accumulation, many are struggling to stay above water. At the very least they were hoping that their government would show them some type of mercy and hold off on raising their taxes.
To add insult to injury, the Prime Minister and the finance minister continue to deny the real impacts of the carbon tax. This outrageous claim that the carbon tax puts more money in Canadians' pockets keeps getting repeated over and over. No, our businesses and farmers' budgets don't balance themselves. On top of the direct costs, it's becoming harder and harder for our farmers to compete internationally against those who aren't burdened by punitive taxes.
I've heard from farmers in my own riding that they will be planting less corn this year, partially due to their drying costs having skyrocketed with the carbon tax. This is wrong, and the government isn't doing anything about it.
Food security has also become top of mind, especially when considering the reports of empty shelves throughout this pandemic. Coinciding with the lack of financial support for our farmers and producers, many of our family farms are experiencing hardships and are expected to go bankrupt. With just a fraction of what has been asked for being given to the agriculture sector, it is estimated that up to 15% of our farms, or about 30,000 farm families, will go out of business. This could be stopped if immediate and meaningful support is provided to safeguard our food security, and a critical sector of our economy and rural communities.
Canada's Conservatives will continue to press the Liberal government for real financial support for our agriculture sector. In fact, we have proposed a student jobs program to fill labour shortages in agriculture and agri-food. This could be a new federal program that would match students and young people with available jobs. I've heard from many farmers in my own riding that this would really help, but this government isn't moving on our proposal. For young Canadians, this could be an incredible opportunity to work in agriculture and gain valuable knowledge about where our food comes from. For our farmers and ranchers, they could get a great source of local labour to help fill the labour-shortage gaps.
This is just another example of a constructive Conservative solution to help those affected by COVID-19.
The government is also using this pandemic to seize the opportunity to circumvent democracy, bypass parliamentary accountability, and fundamentally change our firearms laws through an order in council. Rather than being accountable to parliament and having expert witnesses called to testify and analyze these changes, the government is bringing uncertainty and division to many of my constituents and millions of law-abiding Canadian firearms owners. This firearms ban will do nothing to protect public safety. Taking firearms away from law-abiding hunters and sport shooters does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally. Instead, there should be investments made to support police anti-gang and anti-gun units, youth crime prevention, the CBSA firearms smuggling task force, border security, and increased funding for access to mental health and addiction treatments.
These are more constructive Conservative solutions to help combat gun violence. I hope the Liberals heed our calls. We all want a safe country, but needlessly attacking law-abiding firearms owners does nothing to improve public safety.
Another problem I continually hear about from my constituents is Internet access. Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is a rural riding and getting high-speed Internet access is a challenge for many, not to mention the cost of the service. During this pandemic I've had constituents who have seen monthly bills of $500. I have seen no concrete solution from the government to help people in this situation. Being at home amidst this pandemic is difficult. With children learning online and people working from home, high-speed Internet accessibility is a necessity. We need to ensure that rural Canadians have access to this service and don't have to pay exorbitant prices for it.
These are unprecedented times, but despite all of this happening, I am hopeful that all Canadians will get the help they need, and not just a select few. I am working hard every day to ensure that my constituents of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex are heard, and I am committed to fighting for them and getting the answers they deserve amidst this COVID-19 pandemic.