Mr. Speaker, we have an intervention there. I was not aware that an element of the backbench was represented. Obviously he saw the writing on the wall, saw some votes and got out there. I will not presume a negative incentive. I think he was probably there with a good heart, and we will give him that.
All the other leaders were there speaking. Where was the leader of the governing party, at least to send a message that the government heard and understood there was a problem? Nobody was there. It cannot continue this way. A government that simply does not respond quickly to the issues and pressures of its citizens should forfeit its ability, which it has already forfeited, and should forfeit the right to say that it is representing the people, because it is not.
A sneaking suspicion has begun to enter into the minds of Canadians that there are answers to all of these problems but the government is seemingly slowing down and delaying. A question was raised today by the leader of the Canadian Alliance. Is the government holding back with the answers until the other prime minister, and it is rare that we have two prime ministers at once, enters, stands upon the national stage with all kinds of answers and is seen to be solving the problems? Are Canadians being put at risk? Are Canadians under the pressure of these crises, which could be resolved if the will was there? Are they under that pressure because back in the wings the Liberals are ready to introduce their new leader some months from now with the answers, with the solutions that are ready to go today?
We are asking the government to move now, to move today, to set politics aside and put people first. Ironically that will probably get a good response from people, more so than being seen as trying to contrive things politically. Put people first: that is what we are asking the government to do.
Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for correcting me.
I was in western Canada this year in the great cattle country around Merritt, which I admire greatly, and I just want to ask the member about his remark about the APF. He said it was flawed. If I am not mistaken, British Columbia signed this policy in June or earlier.
I would like to see the provinces sign it and get on with it. I am sure we can make adjustments. In fact, there is going to be a review every year.
I would expect the hon. member to respect the people with the knowledge in his own province. I do not think it was flawed or else we would not have seen B.C. sign it as soon as anyone.
Mr. Speaker, first let me clarify a couple of things. The member talks about being under the big top in Merritt. Merritt is a fabulous part of the constituency, which I am honoured to serve. The people there actually live up to the name Merritt because the people of Merritt have been hit by a number of crises, and definitely the crisis with the beef problem. As I am sure the member would know, within and close to the town of Merritt in the Nicola Valley there is in fact the largest ranch in North America.
When I am in Merritt to have meetings, as I often am, one of the things I like to do is set up a little booth right there on Main Street. I put up a sign to let people know I am there and they come and tell me about the things that concern them. It is a way of working with people right on the street rather than people, with their busy schedules, trying to meet me in an office somewhere. It is effective. I am sorry the member could not meet me there under the big little top. We could have had a good discussion.
It is one thing for a province to sign on to the APF, and some provinces are and some are not, but when nothing else is being presented except something that is meagre then the province is bound to. Under that pressure, some of them see it as desperation or almost as, and I will say this in a soft sense, a form of extortion. It is take or leave it, so they are settling for something far less than what could be. Provinces that sign on are under that kind of pressure. Of course they are going to take what they can, but the greater solutions still elude them because the federal government has not stepped up to the plate as it should.
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC)
Mr. Speaker, I was particularly taken by the hon. member referring to the speed with which the government can react. We saw it with the purchase of Challenger jets. We have seen it with the procurement of contracts that are currently under investigation by the RCMP. We have seen many of the corrupt advertising practices of the government. We have seen all sorts of instances when money could be accessed very quickly. We saw it today, where more money is being put into the gun registry. Clearly when the motivation and the political will are there, the government is able to access money.
My direct question to the member is with respect to the way in which the government has emitted anti-Americanism, including our own natural resources minister who referred to the president as a failed statesman. Does the hon. member think that this may in fact be part of the political problem between Washington and Ottawa, that this may in fact impact on our ability to have an audience with the president, to have actual input into the solutions required for the BSE crisis that is crippling the Canadian cattle industry?
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the insight of the hon. member in posing the question, so closely on track with our position on so much that it does of course beg the question about how we can work together even more closely in our two parties.
It is a dimension of the problem that the federal Liberals do not like to address, but in fact, as we find with international relations, with foreign relations and even in relations with our friends to the south of us, these types of relations are just relations between people. The leader of the Progressive Conservatives is quite right when he points to the fact that one can make a solution more difficult to arrive at when all the way along one insults everybody who is involved in the possible resolution of that particular problem. This federal Liberal Party takes on anti-Americanism as a policy. That is a policy position for the Liberals. Not only is it a knee-jerk reflex, it is a policy position.
I much would have much preferred to see the Prime Minister going to bat for Canada on issues like the U.S. farm policy and its subsidies, which hurt all Canadian farmers, and on softwood lumber and certainly on this beef issue. I wish his focus and his energies had been there instead of on the mindless insults across the border that he not only perpetrates but allows his ministers to perpetrate, without any kind of recourse, without any kind of correction. That has poisoned the well of negotiations. The member is quite right in pointing that out.
Before we resume debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, Public Service; the hon. member for Windsor West, Infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House again and support the motion before the House today, a motion that calls upon the Prime Minister to convene and lead a multi-party group to Washington with the goal in mind of seeing the border reopened to Canadian beef and, I should say, to Canadian livestock. Not only beef is affected by this.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the members of my party for their diligence and hard work in drawing attention to the plight of the Canadian cattle industry, especially those rural members of Parliament who are faced on a daily basis with ranchers, farmers and beef producers who fear a very uncertain future knowing that the government is coming from a perspective of having no real strategy, of not understanding how to achieve what it claims it wants to achieve but still going through the exercise.
This single incident of BSE has had a very obvious and devastating impact on the complete cattle industry. It is going to take a long time to recover. To be quite frank, it is going to take a long time to recover because the Liberal government has not placed this as a priority. It has not placed it as a priority from the very outset. Regardless of what some of the members of this House have said today, we have seen other issues brought forward which have diverted the attention that should have been put on the BSE issue. In the meantime, producers are hurting.
The cattle industry has lost over a billion dollars to date and approximately 100,000 Canadians have been directly targeted by this tragedy. We obviously recognize that ranchers, cattle producers, the cow-calf individuals and the feedlot operators are being hurt. They are the obvious ones who feel the crisis at this time, but there are many others as well. There are auction houses, auction companies, stockyards, slaughterhouse owners, transporters, butchers, truckers, and even restaurant owners who pride themselves on serving only grade A Alberta beef. They have all felt the prolonged financial pinch because this government has failed to respond to the disaster to the degree that I believe it should have.
This past summer while the Prime Minister was sipping champagne in Great Britain, my leader and a number of people from caucus were in Washington speaking to Congress, speaking to those who were trying to listen to what was happening in Canada. The main purpose of their visit was to explain to our neighbours to the south the extreme impact that this was having on the family farm, on the beef industry and on businesses.
It came down to the fact that we saw the CFIA moving on tracing and tracking and we saw other people showing that this was only one isolated incident, but the government was not coming forward with a strategy on how we could see a comprehensive plan put in place that would move the Americans to reopen the border to Canadian beef. We are losing approximately $11 million per day, primarily in the beef industry, but an estimated $20 million when we look at all the other spinoffs from it.
We recognize that much more could have been done and now must be done in order to address this extremely serious issue. That is why we sent a delegation to the United States. We must get the border open before harm is done to the cattle industry and we must get it open before that harm is irreversible.
When we talk about irreversible, we talk about family farms that are disappearing. We talk about young farmers who are trying to meet payments this fall, young farmers who are calling our offices. In one instance the caller told me his payments are due on November 1. He sells his calves in the middle of October. He has land payments, equipment payments and cattle payments. What does he do at the local auction mart with the prices that he has seen there? How does he know what to do? He asked, “What can I tell my banker today?”
I would like to read to the House a couple of quotes that appeared in some of the local papers in my riding. The first one is from an article written by Murray Green in the Camrose Canadian :
The hard times farmers in this country are faced with because of the mad cow disease rest squarely on the shoulders of the federal government, according to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.
“The single case of BSE that was discovered on May 20 has crippled the cattle industry in Canada,” said Jack Hayden, president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.
Mr. Hayden went on to say:
--we have been very frustrated in our efforts to get the federal agricultural minister on side. He doesn't even return phone calls”.
The lack of full border opening to the United States has left about 260,000 culled animals with no place to go in the market place or for slaughter. A mass slaughter is not the answer, says Hayden.
Mr. Hayden said:
Even a partial reopening of the border is not going to counteract the devastating effects the widespread border closures have caused...farmers need help now and the federal politicians have to get on board.
I would add that before the Liberal government finally does make some steps, when it finally does get on board, I would suggest that it let the Canadian public know that there is a strategy, that there is a plan, that there is a way we can move or influence that border to be opened.
We have seen that the Canadian Cattlemen's Association has come up with a plan, a four-part strategy to get the border open. We have had no such indication from the government. The minister and members on the opposite side stood in the House today to say that they have put $200 million here and $260 million there, that they have put this much money in, but we have not seen a plan. Until the industry knows that the government has an idea on how it can do it, there is no confidence in the border being opened and there is certainly no confidence in the government.
We want to be assured today that when there is a plan, when the government finally does disclose some type of plan that it may be making in the future, not only will that plan come out of round table discussions, which already have taken place and are very important, we want to be assured that the people who are devising this plan are individuals who are involved in the industry, that is, individuals who have mud and other substances on their boots and who understand the cattle industry and the effects that this is having on the family farm.
We know there is a litany of people across the way who have individuals in ivory towers who will come up with some type of strategy, but we want to be assured that ministers such as Shirley McClellan from Alberta are involved. We want to know that groups such as the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and other Alberta people like Neil Jahnke and Arno Doerksen are involved in the devising of the strategy.
Blair Vold is well known in Alberta. He owns the auction company Vold, Jones and Vold, in Ponoka. He said that we must “stop and think about the anti-American bashing that has come about because of the border closure to Canadian beef”.
In a letter to the Bashaw Star , Mr. Vold said:
We in the cattle industry, not only in Alberta but also in all of Canada, have developed a very large trading relationship with our American neighbours in the cattle business....Whether some like it or not, we in the cattle industry have built a relationship with our U.S. neighbours that has drawn respect and friendships over many years of cattle deals done on handshakes and phone calls.
Being a neighbour, whether it's in town or country, is no different than being a neighbour with the Americans. It's the people that live beside each other than need to respect and support each other. Americans are our friends and neighbours, so let's respect them more and bash them less....We have a lot of work to do yet, and there are a lot of good cattle people and politicians on both sides of the border that will get the task done, so let's let them do their work.
Yet we see that the job is not being completed. We have seen infant steps. We need to be sure that all those people are brought into the process. We need to be assured and we need to thank Canadians for their response in the consumption of the amount of beef that has taken place this summer. I have attended many beef rallies and beef on a bun dinners night after night after night.
Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Canadian Alliance)
Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague from Crowfoot. Like so many of us who represent rural western ridings, I know that he spoke with great emotion. Indeed, all members of Parliament, regardless of political stripe, could speak to this subject if they are representing their rural voters and would find it very difficult not to get emotional because we know how it is affecting families.
This is how I always try to look at it. It is not just a business. Whether it is a trucking business or a packing plant or an auction mart or a farm, it is families that are hurting badly because of this border closure.
The motion states that the Prime Minister should lead an all party non-partisan delegation to Washington. I certainly support that. It would seem to me that if the Prime Minister-in-waiting, the member for LaSalle-Émard, really cared about ending some of the western alienation in this country, he would pick up that cause and lead that delegation as the new Prime Minister-in-waiting. He could show that he cares about this issue and that he cares about these farm families.
I know that every one of us from every party would be happy to send some of our members with him to Washington in a non-partisan atmosphere to solve this problem and get the border open so that these families do not have to face the dismal winter about which my colleagues from Okanagan--Coquihalla and Crowfoot just spoke about.
Madam Speaker, obviously this is an emotional issue. When I was first elected in 2000, I remember coming back to my office and seeing the results in Great Britain of foot and mouth disease. We pushed the government to do everything so that this disease would not come to Canada because we recognized the effect it would have on the industry.
Last year we saw the worst drought in Alberta history in 133 years that affected not only the grains and oilseeds but also the cattle industry. They were hit hard. I was involved in the hay west program and we saw farmers in Ontario responding. We applauded them for their action and assistance. They helped Alberta and the west in sending hay and drawing attention to the severity of the drought.
I can remember driving down the highway and hearing on the radio that one case of BSE was found. I knew that this would be a crisis that would need some leadership and that it needed a government that would have a plan.
To be honest, when I first heard the motion which was put forward today, I was not sure if I could support it. Is it the best thing to send a leader who has been discredited to a certain degree, who even his own side is trying to push out quickly, and one who has been very vocal on what he believes about the Americans?
The new member for Perth--Middlesex talked about going to Cancun and the importance of that. Maybe our Prime Minister would have a great deal of influence in Cancun. I am not sure how much influence he has in Washington. We recognize the importance for the highest level of government being there to show leadership on this. I am in a kind of a dilemma, do we really want to send our current Prime Minister?
We want to send individuals who will make a difference. We want to send individuals who care about the industry and who have influence in seeing this border open. I wish I could stand and say that it was my Prime Minister. I am not sure I can.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Lib.)
Madam Speaker, I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That notwithstanding Standing Order 106(1), the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food be permitted to meet on Thursday, September 25, 2003, at 3:30 p.m. for the purposes of Standing Order 106(2).
Topic: Routine Proceedings
Subtopic: Committees of the House
Madam Speaker, I know the member is familiar with my riding and that the area is filled with ranchers and cattle. In fact, there are more cattle than there are people, but those ranchers are anxiously awaiting some real results coming out of this. There is one thing that they would like to know more about and that is the involvement of the NAFTA in this entire situation. Would the member take a moment to explain what that is all about?