February 13, 2004

?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis is right. The speeches are 20 minutes long followed by a 10-minute period of questions and comments. The time can be shared.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Permalink

The House proceeded to take note of the issue of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.


CA

Jay Hill

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I wish to indicate that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Skeena. As I understand it, it will be the standard procedure, where we have 10 minutes of remarks followed by five minutes for questions and comments.

First of all, it is appreciated, certainly by the official opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada, that we have this opportunity to bring the House up to speed on the situation in our own ridings, and to present the case for some immediate action above and beyond what little the government has done on this file.

I can tell members that the situation in all of Canada, certainly in western Canada with which I am most familiar, is grave. That goes for Prince George--Peace River, a prominent cattle country part of Canada. In the Peace River region, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, we have a large grain and livestock producing region. Likewise, in and around the Prince George area, and down in the McBride area that will be added to my riding under boundary redistribution, there are a lot of cattle farmers and cattle producers of both cow and calf, and feedlot operators. The situation has reached or passed crisis proportions.

We have family businesses that in some cases have been in business for two or three generations. They are virtually on the verge of losing all their equity and going out of business. It is that serious.

I can tell members that the average Canadian out there needs to understand the seriousness of this issue. This is not a case of the member of Parliament for Prince George--Peace River standing here and crying wolf. This is serious business and I want to make that abundantly clear today. When we have a situation where individuals have struggled not for one lifetime but in some cases for two or three lifetimes to build up a business, and they are on the verge of losing it through no fault of their own, it should send a chill up our spines.

This is not a case where somebody made a bad business decision. This is not a case where they overextended themselves or they wanted to take a holiday and go to Hawaii rather than reinvesting their money. These people have their backs to the wall, and I would argue that the government, while recognizing it in rhetoric, has done precious little to alleviate their pain in order that they may be in a position to pay their bills.

These are proud people. When we look at the history of the nation, cattle producers have very seldom come looking for assistance from government. They are independent people. But my God, their backs are up against the wall this time. They have had to come and say that they need some help to get over this hump, and if we want a cattle industry in Canada, they need some help.

I can tell members of the outrage in Prince George--Peace River over the last number of days, when it became clear that $250 million had been blown out the window with this sponsorship program at the same time that people were losing their farms, their ranches and their feedlots. There is a growing anger across this land, and I hope the government is listening.

What has changed since last Wednesday? What have we heard from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food? What have we heard from the new Prime Minister? What have we heard from the government that would indicate a ray of hope for the cattle industry in Canada since our take note debate held last Wednesday night, participated in by members of Parliament from all parties including government members who spoke very eloquently and passionately about the plight of farmers in their ridings, as well as they should?

Regardless of what party we represent in the House, first and foremost I would argue that we represent real people in real situations, whether we are from the back country of Ontario or northern British Columbia where I come from. These are real people with real problems and they are suffering right now.

What has changed since our take note debate? Has there been any ray of hope? I would argue, no. I have not seen anything. No one follows the news closer than members of Parliament. Every day we get news clippings and we scan them to see what is happening, not only here in Ottawa but across the land so that we are kept up to speed about what is happening in our regions, our provinces and in the country as a whole.

I have not seen anything coming from the government from last Wednesday that would indicate to the people in my riding or elsewhere that there is a ray of hope or that we are going to turn a corner with this crisis. That has to be extremely depressing and troubling for these farmers and ranchers as they struggle with this crisis day-to-day.

It is not just one or two individuals. It is families and in many cases, young families. I cannot imagine what it is like for those young children to come home to the farm or ranch right now and see the look of anguish on the faces of their parents as they struggle with what they must believe is hopelessness. They are looking for a little bit of hope from the government and they are not getting it.

Despite their best efforts, farmers are now facing an added catastrophe. They are running out of feed for their animals because their business was not built upon having these animals feed all winter long. Anybody who understands the first thing about animals and about agriculture and farming knows that in cold weather an animal eats a lot of feed to maintain its body heat to keep it sustained when it is outside in minus 20° to minus 30° weather.

Some of these farmers have had a real struggle to get good quality feed for the winter and now they find that the animals that would have gone to market are still on the farm because they are virtually worthless. Farmers have to scrounge up the feed. It must seem to them that they are pouring this money down a bottomless pit with no hope on the horizon.

I think we all understand what is necessary. It is necessary for the government to make the admission here and now that the program it has put in place is a great disappointment. It is a failure. The government must recognize that. The money is not getting through to the people who need it. Farmers have not seen any increase in their income so that they can sustain their operations for the short term to hopefully get over this hump. We need an immediate cash infusion.

I heard that last Wednesday night from all parties, including the governing party and I certainly hear it all across the land. I implore the government to revisit this issue and find the money to support our cattle producers instead of putting it into sponsorship programs.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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LIB

Dan McTeague

Liberal

Hon. Dan McTeague (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to ask a question of the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River. He speaks for all of us in the House in terms of the seriousness that he attaches to this issue. He has properly and appropriately described the conditions that many people who are proud, strong and supportive Canadians find themselves in through no fault of their own with eloquence and forcefulness.

The member has delved into other areas, but I will not deal with those. However, I want to ask the hon. member if in his opinion there might be a way of addressing a formula that might help these farmers? And I say so with all candour.

I do not have a riding with a lot of beef producers, but I would like to ask the hon. member, is it possible for us to do something more as far as it relates to the price that farmers are now forced to get for their cattle and of course the prices that are charged in the stores?

Many consumers in my riding are still amazed that the money they are spending on beef is not getting back into the hands of the people who so desperately need it as we speak. Could the hon. member provide the House some insights in terms of his understanding of this issue in order to help a very difficult situation notwithstanding?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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CA

Jay Hill

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Jay Hill

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made my colleague across the way. As he says, he does not represent a riding that has cattle producers, cattle farmers and ranchers in it, but he recognizes that he represents a lot of people who I am sure eat beef. That is why it is as important to him as it is to his constituents.

I want to start out my response by paying tribute to Canadian consumers. By God, they really dug deep and tried to do what was right in this crisis. Canadian consumers from coast to coast looked at this situation and at least partially recognized the seriousness of it, even though they might not have lived on farms themselves or might not have understood it. They understood that it was serious enough that they wanted to do something, as the hon. member stated. What we saw was a fairly dramatic increase in the consumption of beef in Canada.

Unfortunately, as he has stated, which is accurate, it has not related to either a drop in the consumer cost to encourage even greater consumption to use up more beef or a return to the farmer. Whatever beef consumption went up, all that happened was the middle people, the packers and the supermarkets, said that there was no need to put the price down to encourage more consumption because it was supply and demand and as long as people were buying lots of beef, they would keep the price up.

Did it filter through to the farmer? No. Quite the opposite has happened. The price has continued to slide to the point where, as I said earlier in my remarks, cows are practically worthless.

Our very serious concern is that any program or money put in place has to go directly to the farmers, whether it is in the form of paying them to cull their cattle or whatever. It cannot go to the middle people. Also it has to offset to a large extent the fact that the cow is now worthless. If it does go to the middle people, the price that the packing plants or the feedlots will to pay the farmer will be correspondingly lower because they know the farmer is getting some assistance from the taxpayers and the government.

That is the dilemma and irony of the situation. Consumers tried their best to help out farmers by increasing consumption, but it is not filtered through to the farmers.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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BQ

Paul Crête

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what my honourable colleague had to say, and I would like to ask him a question about the impact of this crisis on the next generation.

Yesterday, I visited the Institut de technologie agricole, in La Pocatière, along with the leader of the Bloc Quebecois. We met with about 15 students, interested in various areas of the farm industry. We listened to their needs and asked them what the future holds for them in agriculture. They kept asking us what exactly the federal government intends to do to reduce their incredibly high debt load to a more reasonable level.

Dairy farmers, whose extra income from cull cows often represents 20 to 25% of their total farm income, told us, “What we are losing now is what used to pay my own wages, or what used to be my father's wages”. What can we expect?

With another $7 billion surplus this year, should the federal government not put into place a more humane approach to prevent people from moving away from the farm? People who have lived all their lives on the farm are now losing their savings.

Should the federal government not take more drastic measures? Should it not set up a new program to provide assistance to beef producers and milk producers for whom this is an important source of income?

Should we not expect some kind of financial assistance from the federal government first to deal with this problem and then to promote economic renewal?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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CA

Jay Hill

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Jay Hill

Mr. Speaker, yes, as I noted in my remarks, I think there is general agreement on both sides of the House. I do not know why there has been continued inaction on this file on the part of the government when many of its own members have expressed the same empathy for the producers and the same concern for their constituents as we have on this side.

It seemed to me, in listening to the take note debate last Wednesday evening, that there was virtual unanimity in the chamber on the need for an immediate cash infusion to sustain the backbone of our beef industry in Canada. Therefore, yes, there is.

He asked what effect this has. I think all of us recognize that there is a growing average age of farmers in Canada. Farmers are getting older and older because less and less young people are farming, and it is because of situations like this. They do not see any hope. Why would young people stay on a farm trying to eke an existence basically on the equity that their fathers and grandfathers have been able to build up when there does not appear to be a very bright future for farmers in Canada. Part of that I would blame on the government across the way.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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LIB

Dan McTeague

Liberal

Hon. Dan McTeague

Mr. Speaker, I want to again thank the hon. member. I know that we only have a few minutes here, but I have had a chance to speak to the member from the Bloc.

It seems to me that there was a concern raised by some of us here, and that was in part the question of the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Is it possible, short of the cash issue which the producers are facing right now, that we also encourage in the House a sixth person complaint to the Competition Bureau? I am not sure of the mechanism with which to do it. I understand from the member from the Bloc that the Competition Bureau refused this, but it seems to me this is the second time it has happened.

I do not think it is earth shattering. I think there is a certain amount of concern about concentration at the retail level, particularly as it relates to groceries. Part of the problem that is exacerbating the situation for our good farmers is what is happening beyond the farm gate.

I wonder if it might be possible for the member to discuss with his members on the industry committee about giving strong consideration to perhaps a section 9 complaint under the Competition Act to ensure that at least something is being done while a decision to help and to compensate is being considered.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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CA

Jay Hill

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Jay Hill

Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that the mandate of the Competition Bureau would have to be redrawn, because as it has said that there is nothing in its present mandate that prevents any company from making an exorbitant profit. Just because these companies do not see fit to lower the price because consumption has actually gone up, there is nothing the Competition Bureau can do. I think that will have to be addressed.

The second point I would make quickly on this is that anything like that will not help in the short term. It might solve the problem if we were to, God forbid, end up in a situation like this in the future to redraw some of that type of legislation.

I need to re-emphasize this as my last statement today. The fact is farmers need the help now. They needed it yesterday, not tomorrow and not today. It is crisis time.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Permalink
?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would like to make a correction concerning the mistake that was made twice earlier today.

If we are going to resume the take note debate that we had last week on mad cow disease, the proper procedure would be to have a 10 minute speech, followed by a 10 minute period for questions and comments. This is what I just did with the last hon. member who spoke.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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BQ

Suzanne Tremblay

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay (Rimouski—Neigette-et-la Mitis, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise during this take note debate. I received a number of calls from producers in my region who are understandably very concerned about the situation, and who find the way things are going to be somewhat unfair.

The moment that one case of mad cow disease was discovered, the American border was closed. The border was going to reopen, but a second case was discovered. Immediately, and without any evidence, the Americans claimed that the cow was from Canada. Unfortunately, once the evidence was in, it was confirmed that the second cow also came from Canada. Consequently, the border, which was to reopen in January, has remained closed.

It is high time we took a serious look at the impact of this mad cow situation on us. It is unacceptable that in Canada, whose area is so vast that it could include 10, 12 or 13 sovereign countries, people in the east are affected by what is going on in the west or, conversely, that people in the west are affected by what is going on in the east. We should have greater autonomy.

What is surprising is that when chickens are slaughtered in the southeastern United States, the border is not completely closed to American chickens. Chickens from the west continue to be shipped. But if the situation were reversed, I wonder if we would have permission to export our chickens. For example, if chickens were slaughtered due to bird flu, for example, in Ontario. Probably, the entire border would be closed.

What producers want, at least those in my region who talked to me, is for us to find a way to restore public confidence, confidence in exports and of importing countries. How can we do this?

Europe has decided to test all animals slaughtered. It would be an extremely costly measure if we decided, tomorrow morning, to test all animals slaughtered in Canada. We have decided to randomly test 30,000. This measure seems insufficient to restore the confidence of importing countries in our production.

It is possible, using DNA testing, to identify pork sold on supermarket shelves and verify if that animal could have a problem.

Quebec has a tracking system too but the Canadian government is not really interested in what Quebec is doing. I used to be my party's agriculture critic. I sat on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and each time I talked to producers, they said, “If only Canada would adopt some of the same agricultural practices as Quebec”. Obviously not all its practices, but some; Quebec does things differently than Canada, and this is quite an advantage in light of what is happening in the rest of the country.

Since this is a Quebec solution, people will say that it is not good for Canada. What they are trying to do instead is to bring Quebec in line with Canada, but rather they ought to be allowing us our specificity, and making the policies in use in Quebec, which are avant-garde, efficient and productive, a model for Canada.

That way we could continue to cross-pollinate our ideas, so as to improve the situation in agriculture, rather than spend all of our time and energy battling a government that wants to prevent us from doing things our way and to impose its made-in-Canada approach to agriculture on us, without realizing that it may not necessarily suit us.

What is unfortunate is that, in my opinion, over the 10 years I have been here, we have never managed to find an agriculture minister who appeared to have an understanding of what was going on in Canadian agriculture. Odd, that. Yet one of them was even a farmer himself. The one in the portfolio now comes from a farming region. Strangely, one might think that they lose any ability to understand agriculture as soon as they become minister.

A person does not have to be a genius to realize that agriculture is different in Saskatchewan, in Alberta, Manitoba, B.C., Quebec and Ontario. Our climates differ. Our snowfalls differ. Our rainfalls differ. Our dry spells differ. Our exposure to the sun differs, because the earth is round, so we do not all get our sunlight at the same angle. They appear to doubt that. We are not all at the same angle to the sun all the time.

So there cannot be one wall-to-wall agricultural policy. It has to be adapted to each province. If one province works well in one area, the others should be ask to adopt that approach. They will be encouraged to use the same method. The government needs to decentralize agriculture more, instead of trying to have a one-size-fits-all approach, and to think that agriculture is the route to Canadian unity.

That is not how Canadian unity works. “This little piggy went to market” has to be the way to productivity, not unity. So if there are problems, we need to sit down and seek solutions together. All the steps being taken now are nothing but stop-gap measures. Here, we will give you $450 million, or $500 million or $200 million, and think the problem is solved.

That is not the way it works. We need the creativity to find solutions. We need to properly identify the problems, see where they are, and find solutions.

I see that the border with the United States is still closed. They have promised us better relations between Canada and the United States. It does not look as if things are working better between the Prime Minister and Mr. Bush, because nothing has changed on the mad cow issue. Nothing has changed on softwood lumber. Nothing has changed about any of the problems we have with the Americans.

Nevertheless, I hope that Ottawa will soon be in discussions with the provinces to decentralize things and to find sustainable solutions to economic issues, rather than thinking that this year they will hand over $200 million to solve the problem, and next year find another $200 million.

Problems are not solved by throwing millions of dollars at them. Producers must be able to live. Producers must be in a position to know that their efforts will be rewarded in the end, and that they will continue to be able to export their products abroad.

If a producer's domestic market collapses because there is a monopoly, for example, such as one slaughterhouse for all of Quebec, then let a second one be opened to encourage competition, if that is what it takes to increase the prices received by producers.

Solutions must be found. Our colleague proposed the Competition Bureau. They probably cannot do any studies. What I think is important is that we find solutions that suit the nature of the problems, once they are examined in detail.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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BQ

Marcel Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Marcel Gagnon (Champlain, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my honourable colleague and I found what she had to say to be very interesting. Of course, we have to use such a crisis to find medium- and long-term solutions.

I would like to ask the hon. member a question about the current situation. Some of my constituents have told me, for instance, that at 58 or 59 years of age, they are now at the end of their working life and thinking about retiring. Their farm, assessed at $1 million at one point in time, is now almost worthless. This is a financial emergency. In Quebec, as my hon. colleague knows, desperate people have killed themselves because of their financial problems.

While medium--and long-term solutions are being considered, would my hon. colleague not agree with me that the government should act now to try to help those who, at least for now, and let us hope for not too long, have lost hope, because this crisis has cost them too much and they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel? Does the hon. member not think that we could quickly find some money to assist these people at such a terrible time in their lives?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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BQ

Suzanne Tremblay

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

It seems clear that there was an announcement that at the end of the fiscal year, the government would have a $7 billion surplus. We are talking about a lot of money--$7 billion is not peanuts. Some $2 billion was promised for health, which leaves $5 billion. The government still wants to keep a $3 billion cushion for unexpected problems such as SARS, floods and the mad cow crisis. The mad cow crisis was unexpected.

I agree that we have to be able to find solutions for the short term, but we must also consider the medium and long terms. Always focusing on the short term means we will always be up against it. This is where the difficulties begin because people are not left with much hope.

I was agriculture critic during the scrapie problem. This too was a catastrophe. Yet, we were under the impression that things were under control, perhaps because fewer people raise sheep than cattle and we have dairy stock in Canada.

This time farmers are facing huge difficulties. What they want is for the government to do whatever is necessary so that consumers regain confidence in their products and they can start exporting again as soon as possible.

It is clear that herds in Canada have not been fed animal-based feed since 1997. It has been six years. So why could it not be agreed that cattle 30 months old or less could easily be exported? There is no risk whatsoever that these animals could have been contaminated.

It seems to me that the necessary effort is not being made to help restore confidence. The borders are closed, so we do nothing. If others closed their borders to us, we should do the same to them. I do not see why we should continue to be so generous with others if they cannot be generous with us.

In the short term, we must obviously find money to help people, to prevent bankruptcies, to avoid a situation where young people would be unable to take over from those who have reached the age of retirement. Indeed, as my colleague pointed out, I know people who do not have much in front of them right now because they receive about 6¢ a pound for their cull cows. My colleague from the Conservative Party of Canada mentioned that prices have not gone down at the supermarket, but that has not given anything more to producers.

There is something wrong that should be fixed to the satisfaction of producers. I think that everyone of us here is aware of the fact that, when the day comes that we have to import everything because farmers here are longer be able to produce, it will be too late to wake up.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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LIB

Larry Bagnell

Liberal

Hon. Larry Bagnell (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate all those at home watching CPAC and also those in the galleries. Even though we have a very complex legislative schedule with a lot of debate and reports that have to be communicated in Parliament, we can take time out when there is a national issue such as this one and work on it with all parties. I think all parties are providing helpful solutions and part of my comments will show that.

The member made a very good point. She mentioned that it is very important to have a qualified minister of agriculture. It is serendipity that just before this crisis came up the Prime Minister appointed one of the most--if not the most--knowledgeable people in the House, with experience in working with other people. He was the chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. He had just finished consulting across the country on the Prime Minister's task force.

The member opposite made the point that nothing has changed nor is there success in the relationship between the President of the U.S. and the Prime Minister. However, that is not accurate. We know that when the Prime Minister took over, right away there was a change in the contracts available to Canadians in Iraq. I was surprised myself that we were that successful. I do not think I would have been bold enough to push for that. This was a great victory for Canada.

I will speak about BSE and why the present minister of agriculture--

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I do not know if the parliamentary secretary noticed, but we were on questions or comments. I think the member is into a speech.

May I ask the member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis to comment on what the parliamentary secretary just said or should I ask if there is another question or comment?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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BQ

Suzanne Tremblay

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a brief comment. The hon. member rose and I thought he would put a question to me. He began by congratulating us for debating an urgent national issue in the most elegant way, with all the parties involved.

What he did then is to praise the Prime Minister. The member's timing is off. He is totally off base. I do not understand why he would make such comments. I thought he had a question. I am a little disappointed that I did not get him more interested in my comments.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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LIB

Larry Bagnell

Liberal

Hon. Larry Bagnell

Mr. Speaker, this is questions or comments and I was making three interesting comments. Of course my comment on the Prime Minister's good work was in response to the member's comment.

The third comment I wanted to make was on the initiative that the minister, along with the members for Tobique—Mactaquac and Medicine Hat, took by going to Asia to meet, first of all, with Japan and Korea, because their acceptance of our beef is part of our problem with the United States, our biggest consumer.

The members went there and worked together. They talked about how the international review panel had reported on Canada. The Japanese gave us some ideas on what we could do to help get our beef back into Japan, which was very helpful. Then they went on to the United States, our biggest customer, of course, and met with American and Mexican officials to help improve the situation. All these efforts have certainly helped the situation. This is all work in progress on a very difficult issue.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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BQ

Suzanne Tremblay

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to comment when there is no question.

I would like to say that I have two major problems in my riding, namely dairy production and softwood lumber. Unfortunately, the Liberals are going around telling people that these issues are not solved because I am a Bloc Quebecois member. In fact, all the problems that we have remain unsettled because of the ministers' inability to solve them.

The Minister for International Trade has spent three years travelling to the United States to try to find a solution to the softwood lumber issue. He finally left the file to his colleague. He did not solve anything. And nothing was solved either in agriculture.

If ministers can get to work and stop parading around, we may find a way to settle the issues that confront us in our ridings.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
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CA

Andy Burton

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Andy Burton (Skeena, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I am really pleased about having to speak to this issue. This issue is something that should have been resolved a long time ago as my colleague from Prince George--Peace River said earlier. The industry is in a crisis and there does not appear to be a quick resolution coming from the government.

My riding of Skeena is a fairly northern riding which runs from the Yukon border down the central coast and about 200 miles inland from Prince Rupert. The Smithers-Hazelton area is an agricultural economy as well as forestry and mining. There is dairy farming and a fair bit of beef cattle ranching so BSE is an issue. The new riding boundaries that presumably will be in place fairly shortly will take my riding inland another 150 miles which gets into some fairly major cattle country in the Vanderhoof area.

The BSE issue is a big concern to me and it is a big concern to people in my area. There is no question that action is needed but it has not been forthcoming from the government. The people in my riding are urging the government to deal with this serious issue.

Last Monday I was in Houston, B.C. for the opening of Canford's new sawmill addition. It will be the biggest sawmill in the world. I realize I am a little off the topic but I will get to the point. This sawmill will produce some 600 million board feet of lumber a year, enough to build some 30,000 homes. As members can see, the forest industry is very important in northwestern B.C.

At that session I spoke with the mayor of Smithers, Mr. Jim Davidson, who is a cattle rancher. I had met with him previously and also with the Bulkley Valley cattle ranchers association. He impressed on me once again how serious this problem is. As my colleague said earlier, family businesses that have been built up over several generations are on the verge of bankruptcy. There does not appear to be any hope for them unless something changes very quickly.

The value of cattle is basically at zero. The equity that the banks were lending money on was basically on the value of cattle which were saleable at one point in time. However there is no value there anymore. The banks are walking away from these people. It is creating huge problems in terms of people meeting their loan payments and so on. There are huge costs in terms of feeding the cattle over the winter. The cattle should have gone to the feedlots last fall. People are facing an accumulation of problems and it is almost impossible for them to deal with them. Without some hope, some help and some direction from the government, they will give up. We cannot allow that.

The cattle industry is important to my riding. It is important to British Columbia. It is important to Canada. The cattle industry is worth some $35 billion. It does not make any sense to let it collapse.

The government to date has done very little. People out there are angry and desperate. There is no doubt this will be reflected at some point in the near future. There has been no change since the debate last Wednesday. All parties have agreed that this is a serious problem. The minister needs to take action, not today, not tomorrow, but yesterday. Action is not happening and we have to ask why on behalf of the cattle producers of Canada. Why is there no positive action and positive results? What do we do about this? Obviously there are solutions and we have to start addressing the problem sooner rather than later.

We have to rebuild our relationships with the U.S. There are some problems in dealing with trade issues right now. The softwood lumber issue has been going on for a number of years and no end appears to be in sight. Now there is the BSE situation. There was one animal in Alberta and one in the U.S. which unfortunately came from Alberta. It is a huge problem.

The two governments need to arrive at a method that will deal with these trade issues expeditiously. They cannot continue dragging them out week after week, month after month, year after year. The softwood lumber industry paid the price and now our beef cattle producers are paying the price and they will not be able to pay it for too much longer. We need action on this right away.

This should be seen as a scientific issue. We should be putting money into research and resources in the longer term to come up with a solution so this does not happen again, but we also need a short term solution so the industry can continue and survive.

Canadian consumers have supported this industry. I think we are consuming as much beef as we possibly can as a nation. However given the number of cattle in Canada we obviously cannot consume them all. We need to have access to the U.S. market.

An interesting point was raised just a little while ago. Our Canadian army in Afghanistan is destroying thousands of kilograms of U.S. beef. The Canadian army actually eats U.S. beef. With our beef industry in the situation it is, regardless of how the army contracts or how it does its supply to the troops, it seems very strange to me that our troops overseas would actually be eating U.S. beef. I just wanted to point out how ridiculous the government's position is and how it has not been useful in resolving this problem.

The Canadian people are proud of the beef industry and they support it to the best of their ability. Our government must recognize that support and pride and it must recognize that our beef farmers need direct support. The support does not need to go to some middle man where the farmers do not see it on their bottom line. The bottom line is that this industry must survive in Canada and it is up to this government today to find a solution.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Permalink
CA

Cheryl Gallant

Canadian Alliance

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the people in my Ontario riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke are also in a desperate situation. The president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture called me the other day saying that the auction barn was a very dismal place and that people were having to reach into their pockets to pay the commission fees because after selling their animals there was no money left over. He said that people were at the point of having to shoot their cattle but that they had no place to bury them.

Knowing that my colleague's producers are in the same situation, I wonder if he could tell me what his producers are doing to get rid of the animals they have had to shoot because they have no food left to feed them.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Permalink

February 13, 2004