October 12, 2004

LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development), Lib.)

Mr. Chair, I can assure the member that we will not let arrogance get in the way of progress on this side of the House.

The member asked if any member could stand with a straight face and say that the government has made every effort to open the border. I certainly can and most members on this side can because I have been there. I have gone down and met with Attorney General Ashcroft when I was solicitor general. I met with many other people when I was down there with the Canada-U.S. parliamentary association, including the chair of the senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley.

Both the previous prime minister and the current Prime Minister have talked with their various counterparts. In a response to the Prime Minister, President Bush said that he would work to have the border opened as soon as possible.

Almost every cabinet minister has been involved on this file in trying to get the border open. Our ambassador has worked on it consistently. People within the ambassador's department and foreign affairs have worked on it consistently. The CFIA has consistently met with the regulator down there to get the border open.

We know for a fact that the Grocery Manufacturers Association is on side in the United States. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is on side in the United States. Yes, we have made every effort to open that border, but I do recognize that it is not open. It should be open because we have the science behind us that it should in fact be open. The evidence is there.

However a group of anti-free trade people have put their court case and all that that implies and there is the political situation that is happening in the United States as well. Every effort has been made. I wish it was open but it is not. We are taking every other measure that we can to assist producers in the meantime.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Dean Allison

Conservative

Mr. Dean Allison

Mr. Chair, we understand that at this point in time the government doing everything it can. The real answer here is that it has been reactive, not proactive.

Like so many other things that have happened with this government, what it is doing is reacting to issues that should have been dealt with 17 months ago and not recently.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Merv Tweed

Conservative

Mr. Merv Tweed (Brandon—Souris, CPC)

Mr. Chair, I certainly want to begin by thanking the people of Brandon—Souris for the encouragement, support and trust that they have put in me in representing them in Parliament.

I have had the opportunity to sit through several debates on the BSE crisis. It is something that has taken place in provincial legislatures for the past 17 years. In fact, many of the provincial legislatures have passed unanimous agreements supported by all members in support of the BSE crisis, in support of finding a resolution and in support of the producers.

As we have heard over the last few hours and on a previous evening, the issues are similar across the country. It does not matter what part of the country, the issues and concerns are the same and, in a lot of cases, the solutions are the same.

We have all heard people talk about the increased packing plant, the increased slaughter capabilities. We have heard about getting money into the hands of the producers at this point in time when they so desperately need it. We have heard the stories of how our producers are suffering, and it does not, as we know, just impact the cattle industry. It impacts several industries in the livestock industry.

We have to address this but the challenge for the government and where it has failed is its failure to act. I have been told that of the people who get their income tax done in Canada less than 60% of them require accountants, and yet I am told that of all the agriculture producers applying for any of the current government programs, about 98% of them need accountants to do it for them. That should send a clear message to this government right away that the programs are too cumbersome, too awkward, quite often the paperwork does not follow the announcements and people are left out in the cold wondering how to apply and how to access the programs.

We have heard it from all of the members on this side. I suspect the member opposite hears it from his colleagues when they are in private conversations. However when they stand in the House with the bravado and arrogance that they display, it only indicates to the producers in the rest of Canada that the government does not care about the issue.

I have a couple of solutions to put forward and I would hope that the member opposite would pay attention and perhaps present them. Throughout the entire campaign my issue with the current government was its failure to acknowledge that agriculture is an industry in Canada that needs the support of the government. The Liberals have neglected it and have ignored it. They ran on the fact that after 17 months the border still might open and, after listening to the comments and the rhetoric tonight, I still believe their only standing position is that the border may open some time in the future and all our problems will disappear. That is a complete neglect of its responsibility as a government.

In my mind, a government should identify the problem. We all have. We understand the BSE crisis and the impact that it has had on people. It is imperative that the government present options to the public to deal with the issue. That would be a plan and one which we could debate and improve. It would also give us the opportunity to present something that would work for all.

Finally, it is imperative that the government move forward and implement the plan, not just keep making announcements over and over, creating a frustration level with our producers that is far beyond what this member understands and would even be prepared to acknowledge. We have a government that after 17 months is still saying to the public that it is working on a solution and that it is working together with people to present a plan.

We cannot run an industry, a business or a government that way and it cannot be run on the hope that the border will open in the future.

I opened my comments by suggesting that the people of Brandon—Souris had put a lot of trust in me to be their representative, to speak on their behalf. What they are telling me right now and what they want to tell the government is to cut the crap, move forward, implement a plan and help resolve this issue. They do not want the government to go out and constantly promise the people of Canada that the border may open tomorrow.

Let us acknowledge that the border has not opened in the past 18 months. Let us have a plan that will resolve the issue. It will be a made in Canada solution. There is the option for a minority government to work with all parties to bring forward a resolution. I would encourage the government to do that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development), Lib.)

Mr. Chair, the member opposite must be quoting from the minister's announcement on September 10 when he talked about a made in Canada solution. The minister said very specifically on September 10 that we cannot just sit back and wait for the border to open.

I will not go through all of the programs that have been in existence. They were put on the record earlier tonight and the member can go back and read those if he so wishes. On September 10 the minister clearly said that we had to move with a made in Canada approach, that we had to keep the pressure on the U.S., but we had to look to foreign markets as well. We have to increase our slaughter capacity within Canada and we have set in motion the program to do that. We are in fact acting.

The first reverse auction fed cattle set aside was yesterday and that will happen on a weekly basis. As I have said a number of times tonight, the intent is to try to make the market function as near normal as possible.

The other point I should make is that the CAIS program was put in place two or three years ago, which in normal boom and bust cycles should work, level out and assist farmers in terms of their income. The government has recognized that the program just will not do the job in terms of the disaster situation that was caused by the border closure. That is why we have added in the other four or five programs that have been announced over the last several months.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Merv Tweed

Conservative

Mr. Merv Tweed

Mr. Chair, it is the arrogance of that statement that makes our producers angrier every day. The government wants to pay lip service to a problem that has been around for 17 months, and on September 10 of this year the government came forward with a made in Canada solution. Where was it last May 21? That is what the people of my constituency want to know. The government has failed to acknowledge that agriculture even exists in Canada. Until it does that we are not going to have a resolution to this problem.

The member talked about September 10 and these grandiose announcements. When people are dealt a severe blow such as the border closing, they want to deal with it immediately. What the government has laid out to those people are promises, promises that they do not even believe will happen. What has happened is that everybody is angry, everybody is waiting and now we see producers falling. Our neighbours and friends in our communities are collapsing under the wish of a government that says, “Give us 17 months to find a solution to a problem that is facing us now”. Even today all it has promised is rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter

Mr. Chair, if the member wants to see arrogance, all he has to do is look in the mirror and he will see arrogance. I answered his question directly. I said what the minister announced on September 10. Maybe the member should go back and read his remarks to see if the answer ties in with his remarks. It does.

I will tell everyone where we were last May 21 when the BSE happened. We were attempting to get the border open. Every effort was made by the Prime Minister, ministers of the crown and as many members as we could get from the CFIA and others to get that border open. That is what the opposition at the time was telling us we should be doing and that is what we were doing.

We all hoped, including members on the other side, that the border would open. It did not. We have to improve our strategy as we go along. That is what we are attempting to do. That is not arrogance. That is stating the facts as they occurred and I have stated them directly.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Merv Tweed

Conservative

Mr. Merv Tweed

Mr. Chair, the member opposite talked about programs that the government has presented to the Canadian farmers over the past 17 months. He talked about the CAIS program which I hear from my producers they cannot access. Everybody they talk to in the CAIS program says, “The cheque is coming 30 days from now”. The only thing is that was 120 days ago and they are still being told the same thing.

The government has failed to address the problem and the member still wants to talk about the border opening. Let us get past that. Let us talk about the things that we can do to help our industry today within Canada. Let us not keep talking about the promise of a border opening. It is a ruse the government uses when it cannot solve the problems facing our producers. It throws it out there saying, “We are talking about the border opening”. We are no longer talking about the border opening. We are talking about a solution to save the producers in our beef industry and our livestock industry in Canada. I wish the member would pay attention to that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gordon O'Connor

Conservative

Mr. Gordon O'Connor (Carleton—Mississippi Mills, CPC)

Mr. Chair, on my first opportunity to speak in the House of Commons, I would like to sincerely thank the voters of Carleton—Mississippi Mills for electing me as their member of Parliament.

My riding faces two large crises, unemployed technology workers and BSE. I find it appropriate that I have the chance to speak tonight on one of these crises.

BSE is a national issue. I point out that Ontario is home to 8.3% of the national herd and makes up 21.2% of all fed cattle production in the country. The beef industry is significant to the Ontario economy. Prior to BSE, beef was Ontario's second largest commodity in terms of annual farm gate receipts, with an annual value of $1.2 billion.

Beef exports from Ontario to the U.S.A. in 2002 were valued at $354 million in live cattle and an additional $292 million in beef product. As of June 2004, losses to Ontario's 21,000 beef farmers has reached more than $200 million. Ontario's 4,200 sheep producers have lost about $4.3 million in export sales, while Ontario's 5,400 dairy farmers estimate their loss at a minimum of $50 million.

I mentioned earlier that Ontario beef makes up 8.3% of the national herd, which translates to roughly 415,000 head of cattle. In a normal year of trade, my riding of Carleton—Mississippi Mills contributes approximately 35,000.

Rough calculations estimate that the BSE crisis has cost agribusiness in my riding somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10 million since the crisis began. If this were not bad enough, farmers in Ontario, particularly beef farmers, will soon face a double whammy. Adding to their troubles is the cost of complying with the Ontario nutrient management act, effective July 1, 2005.

The rural communities in Carleton—Mississippi Mills have grown tired of phantom money, bad policy and waiting for the U.S. border to be opened. They have started taking matters into their own hands with what they call the rural revolution.

The Lanark Landowners Association is a grassroots group that sees government policy, both federal and provincial, as intrusive, corrupt and discriminating against the multigenerational family farm.

To raise awareness of the high cost of beef in the supermarket, and subsequent profit is not making its way to producers, the LLA is staging “Here's our Beef” food strikes, where it sells beef directly to the consumers for a price reflective of the true cost of beef, $1.99 a pound.

I applaud the efforts of the LLA for raising awareness about the inflated price of beef, but the elected officials in the House, namely the Liberal government, need to do more if they do not want to see the ruination of the beef industry in this country.

Based on conversations with producers in my riding over the past several months, I have a few recommendations on what could be done to help the industry right now.

I understand the new Liberal program calls for increased slaughter capacity. I encourage the government to include in its plan a strategy for dealing with the need for increased slaughter capacity in Ontario beyond the current limited monopoly.

While the government deals with the problem of increasing slaughter capacity by building new facilities, it should be concerned about the ownership of current facilities. For example, American owned Cargill recently purchased Caravelle Foods, the provider of beef for the McDonald's chain in Canada. There are also suspicions that Levinoff Meat Products will also be on the block to an American buyer.

As it stands, the overall Canadian beef industry is threatened by the possibility of large monopolies dominating our market.

To quote the Dairy Farmers of Canada, "Tthousands of farm families saw the price that they normally received for older animals destined for the meat market plummet by 70%". While the government's efforts to assist producers are encouraged, the latest package does not address the economic situation confronting dairy producers.

Not only are cull cows fetching a mere fraction of their worth, they are now depressing the beef market in general. To compound the problem, rather than accepting pennies for these animals, farmers are holding back cull cows that would normally sell, creating a glut in the market. These animals must be removed from the system.

Why does the government not offer a plan to purchase excess animals for use at federal institutions such as penitentiaries, government cafeterias and the Canadian Forces instead of allowing them to import beef from Uruguay, the United States and Brazil?

Many in the beef industry believe that the U.S. border will not open to Canadian beef until the Japanese lift their ban on U.S. beef. As one might suspect, President Bush is working hard to get the Japanese border opened before November.

What is Canada doing to facilitate a market for Canadian beef with Japan? We know that Japan and South Korea have already indicated that they will accept Canadian beef exports, provided all animals are screened for BSE. Why then is the government not considering this option seriously? There are a number of financially feasible options for private BSE testing and as science advances, these costs should be expected to lessen. In fact, with funding from the B.C. cancer agency and Genome Canada, the U.S. department of agriculture is mapping bovine DNA and is bringing us that much closer to understanding mad cow disease as well as accurate and inexpensive screening.

By testing all animals we would be proving to the world what we already know, that Canadian beef is the safest in the world, and at the same time building ourselves an alternative market for our beef. Then should the U.S. border finally open, we would be able to sell our beef at a premium.

Should this beef crisis continue in the same vein, we are at a risk of losing family run beef operations across the country. I encourage the government to take note of the importance of this industry to the Canadian economy and take all the necessary actions that will assist producers to overcome this crisis.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gerald Keddy

Conservative

Mr. Gerald Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's, CPC)

Mr. Chair, I have listened to a fair amount of the debate this evening. A couple of comments have stood out among all the comments that have been made.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food stated that the objective of the government was to keep far farmers in business. I certainly applaud the parliamentary secretary's comments and I think he actually believes them. However, I live in rural Nova Scotia. I can drive by farm after farm that is no longer in production. They have given up. They have moved on to another means of making a livelihood. They have abandoned their farms.

Over the weekend I was at home putting the finishing touches on a new barn. One might ask why I would build a new barn today, and I ask myself that question. A friend of mine came by because he pastures his heifers there. I know the parliamentary secretary is no stranger to the barnyard. He said that he was fifth generation farmer and he saw no way that he could stay in the industry. He is an engineer and he has always supported his farm by off farm income. He will no longer stay in the beef industry.

Our farms in Nova Scotia are much smaller and more modest in scale than they are in western Canada. It does not matter if a farmer has 50 head of cattle, of 100 head of cattle or 200 head of cattle, they are just as important as the farm that has 1,000 or 10,000. The same element of scale is involved.

We have a situation that has arisen in the country that is hitting agriculture like no other situation with which we have ever had to deal. I do not see any answers coming from the government. I have heard a lot of discussion, a lot of rhetoric and a lot of debate tonight that somehow miraculously the border will open. Quite frankly, I would like to see how and why.

We have done nothing in our association with our American allies and colleagues to open the border. The government has been adversarial, in most degrees, when dealing with the Americans. There is nothing that would tell us, looking at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Health Canada regulations and the USDA regulations, that the border will open. If the Americans want to keep it closed, they will keep it closed and they will keep it closed for the mandatory seven years. There are 30 other countries of the world that have also closed their borders to Canadian beef.

This is not a situation. This is a crisis.There are 16.8 million cattle in Canada. We have nearly one million head of sheep. We have elk, goats and deer. All these animals need to be marketed. We have cull cows coming from the dairy industry. We have dairy heifers that we cannot ship across the border. This is just compounding exponentially every day as this situation goes on.

We cannot sit here and talk about what might happen when the border opens. I want to know what we have done. I have heard the discussion about what we have done about Japan. Between Japan and Korea, a million tonnes of beef is consumed in those two countries alone.

What has the government done to look at a mandatory testing regime for overseas exports, which the government would pay, not the farmers? What about the $8 billion in surplus that the government suddenly miraculously found on its books? How much of that will get to the farm gate? I suspect very little, if any. The idea that somehow we might find $400 million on September 10 to put into a program that might be delved out over the next six months, to a year, to eighteen months is great. That is wonderful for the person who is grasping at straws. A lot of farmers have already given up and have drowned.

What are we going to do to ensure that at least the rudiments of the industry, the basis of our industry, is still there two years down the road when we are still having this discussion about the American border not being open and when we still have done nothing about accessing the huge Asian market and other markets around the world?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development), Lib.)

Mr. Chair, earlier tonight similar situations were expressed. The size of the operation does not matter. Whether it is the part time farmer who I cited in the Ottawa area who lived on the Hull side or whether it is a big feedlot operation, the impact of financial strain, of family pressure, of stress, is the same. It is devastating and we know that.

As I have said a number of times tonight, on September 10 we on the government side substantially changed our approach by looking at other markets and by increasing a made in Canada approach. We will not depend on the border opening, although we will keep the pressure on to do that. We are looking at other areas. We are looking at trying to expand slaughter capacity. With the set aside program, we are trying to get that market to function normally.

We really see the testing for BSE as a shortsighted strategy that could harm and not help the Canadian cattle industry over the long run. What we are doing now is science based and recognized as science based. There should be no need to test every animal. On the industry side, some are showing interest through a certain operation, opening up a niche market through testing, and that is a good idea. They would do the testing within their own slaughter capacity and maybe find a niche market as a result. We see no reason to go to complete testing for BSE because we are operating what has been recognized as a science based approach right now.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gerald Keddy

Conservative

Mr. Gerald Keddy

Mr. Chair, I would like to speak briefly to the parliamentary secretary's comments on testing.

As I see it, the issue around testing is not about any disagreement with the science. Rather it is a disagreement with the results. What I mean by that is the government can say that it does not want to assist farmers in testing animals destined for export markets or assist farmers in testing animals destined for niche markets such as Japan and Korea. Those countries are going to insist upon testing for a very long time, the next 10 to 15 years at least I suspect. The only way we will ever access those markets is if we test our animals. If an affordable test is put in place, I will guarantee that a loss will become cheaper over time. As we test more animals, we will find a better way to do it. It is not a matter of disagreeing with the science. If we do not do the testing, we will not export our beef to those niche markets.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Andrew Scheer

Conservative

Mr. Andrew Scheer (Regina—Qu'Appelle, CPC)

Mr. Chair, in the months leading up to the opening of this Parliament, I spent quite a bit of time discussing this problem with the people who were dealing with it day by day. I spoke to feedlot operators. I spoke to cow calf operators. I spoke to grain farmers who had just a few head of cattle as a means of diversifying. They are all looking for leadership and they are all desperately looking for assistance. Most important, they are running out of time.

I am not sure that the government and its agriculture minister really understand what is going on in this industry. I have met with producers in my riding, as I am sure many of my colleagues have, whose families have been on the land for several generations. Many farms in Saskatchewan are celebrating their centenary year awards, and that is 100 years of operating a family farm.

Through some of the hardest times in Canadian history, droughts, grasshoppers, crashes in prices, the farmers in my riding have toughed it out. Now they are facing a slow death as a product that they rely on selling to pay their bills and feed their families is not moving. Their credit is maxed out. They have nowhere else to turn.

This agriculture minister came to Regina just a few weeks ago. He and the finance minister trumpeted a new program which they claimed would help those afflicted by this disaster. To date not a single dollar has been paid out to producers. Not a single investment has been made in building a slaughter plant. The forms still are not even printed.

Had the minister actually consulted with individual producers, with family farmers or the stakeholders in the different facets of this industry, he would have heard with near unanimity that aid packages should never be administered through the CAIS program. The CAIS program is top heavy, with millions of dollars eaten up in administration costs.

My hon. colleagues have all spent considerable time in this debate outlining the disparities in the program, with opening and closing inventories, allowable expenses, and the problems in even accessing the funds.

In my short time as the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, my office has received dozens of calls from constituents seeking help with their CAIS applications. Most producers need to seek paid help from accountants to fill out their forms. Many producers do not qualify for CAIS, or they are not able to participate because the onerous burden of cash on deposits.

In the minister's aid package he announced some money for new slaughtering capacity. Where is it? Has a single dime been handed out? They called part of it new money. An advance on existing funds is not new money. When the government knows that money will not be accessible because of deadlines, it cannot be counted as new money.

There is a huge disparity between the dollar figures from the announcements and the from the dollar amounts actually received from producers.

The minister and the department should have actually developed the method to deliver before the announcement was made. Producers need outlets for their cattle and they needed it last year. They needed them even more this spring and now it is at the breaking point.

For all the money that went out last year, how much more beneficial would it have been if the government had shown some leadership and arranged for new slaughterhouses to have been built? That would have given a huge return on its investment, as cattle ranchers would have more options in where they sold their cows and with more cows being processed, the prices would have reacted accordingly.

We have heard about the rancher's choice efforts. Where is the government's leadership in getting innovation like that off the ground? The minister needs to develop a system where aid packages actually get to the farm gate. It is a phrase heard over and over, yet we find ourselves repeating it because no action has been taken. We have already seen government programs disburse money and none of it actually ends up in the hands of the producers. It is this government's responsibility to take ownership for that.

There is also much agreement on the fact that BSE is no longer a scientific or food safety issue. This is a political issue from protectionist movements in the United States. Where is the government's long-term plan for dealing with this? We need an agreement with the U.S. We need to be able to sit down with the Americans and we need to have the sort of relations between our two countries that facilitates dialogue, not Liberal MPs hurling personal insults.

We need to work within existing trade deals with the U.S. to ensure that when trade conflicts arise, there is an independent and mutually recognized way to work through it. We cannot have protectionist politicians being allowed to shut down sectors of our economy every time something pops up to disrupt it.

We have arrived at this dismal point because the government has placed this issue on the back burner. Having this debate where the minister defends his position, where government members keep repeating the myth that the government has taken action, that the farmers have received assistance is becoming futile.

We need the government to at least recognize the weakness of its many programs, stop throwing good money after bad and get the money where it needs to go.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Maurice Vellacott

Conservative

Mr. Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, CPC)

Mr. Chair, I am splitting my time with the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla.

I relish the opportunity to speak on such an occasion although in a certain sense I wish I did not have to, but because we are in this crisis in the country, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents in the Saskatoon—Wanuskewin riding of Saskatchewan. I particularly appreciate speaking on behalf of those many rural Canadians in my riding who have been directly affected by the very difficult circumstances surrounding BSE or, as we also know it, the mad cow controversy.

I especially appreciate the fact that our Conservative Party requested this special take note debate on BSE, the very first debate in the new Parliament. That reflects the importance to the Conservative Party of agriculture and the whole crisis we are in, for which we have solutions. We have offered them before, in fact in February of this year, in terms of how to address this whole issue.

As we know, the last estimate of the cost of the BSE crisis to the Canadian beef industry and rural economies has been put at more than $6 billion. More than 4,200 jobs related to the beef industry have been lost, according to the government's very own figures. These are large numbers, but each dollar and each job loss represents a real person, a family and the livelihood of a good many people in my riding of Saskatoon—Wanuskewin and throughout the country. Lives have been turned upside down by this crisis we face.

Just last week, one of our big city papers, far removed from some of the rural areas where the crisis is, picked up on it and reported how one farmer lamented that the banks were foreclosing or coming at him, “closing in on him”, as he said. The very day before BSE hit, his cattle were worth nearly $1,500 apiece, he said. Since then, he has had to sell some for as little as $350 a head, not even covering the cost of his feed. His equity loss, he estimates, is in the range of $200,000 to $250,000. Farmers across the country are losing their farms, their homes and their livelihoods.

Instead of quickly developing a coherent, thorough and responsible solution for helping farmers through this difficult time, the Liberals used empty rhetoric. One example of that was given by the leader of the Conservative Party last week when he talked about how the Liberals, in full election mode, promised farmers that the U.S. borders would open up by the end of this past summer. Really, they had no justification for making that kind of claim. There was no movement on the ground. There was nothing being done. It was nothing more than cynical electioneering on the backs of Canadian farmers.

Back in February of this year, our Conservative Party proposed a comprehensive agricultural strategy that would have enabled a flexible and rapid response to the BSE crisis, which was upon us even then.

Our plan included topping up the 2002 Canadian farm income program from 60% to 70% payouts to full 100% coverage. It also included a mature livestock rationalization program. Our Conservative program included replenishment of Canadian agriculture income support programs for BSE-affected operations. The Conservative program of February of this year also included the establishment of testing regimes for all non-North American markets as well as working toward integrated North American rules and processes.

The latest measures announced by the government on September 10 are long overdue, but they are woefully inadequate and administratively bungled. The Liberal plan is only half of what our party proposed.

The essential component for a long term solution, as other members have pointed out, is for Canada to increase its own slaughter capacity. The investors and the developers are ready to go. Now they need to find out what federal funds are available to them and how these funds can be accessed so construction can start.

As well, a lot of that long term solution obviously involves the re-opening of international borders and the advocates and ambassadors for our beef industry out there in the borders beyond, of the Americas and elsewhere as well. The federal government needs to be aggressive in respect to this.

Canada also probably needs to do a chapter 20 challenge. We have had individual producers doing a NAFTA chapter 11 challenge. The government needs to step up to the plate now as well.

I could go on at length to tell the House about some of the flaws that are popping up now. We are seeing it in the CAIS program, another badly managed program, where constituents are now calling in and indicating what the problems are. We need to change that. We need to fix it for the good of our producers and the farm folk all across our country, and in my riding in particular, where I am beginning to become aware of the flaws and the problems of that program.

The Conservative Party will not accept the status quo but will demand that the Liberal government set up agricultural policies that work, policies that are responsive to the real needs of farmers without violating the independence and the dignity of these valuable, hard-working producers across our country.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Stockwell Day

Conservative

Mr. Stockwell Day (Okanagan—Coquihalla, CPC)

Mr. Chair, a lot of people have dates in their minds that are important to them. It might be a birthday, an anniversary or the remembrance of some momentous occasion. I would suggest that for years to come the date of May 20, 2003, is going to be indelibly planted in the minds of farm families and families who have had to go out of agriculture because of what happened on that date: one cow being diagnosed with BSE.

One cow on May 20 and the market doors slammed shut and have not been fully reopened. That will be a date that agriculture people are going to remember for years and years to come. Every region of the country has been hit. In virtually every province there are people who have been affected. In my constituency of Okanagan--Coquihalla are some of the largest ranches in North America. As a matter of fact, the largest ranch in North America is in my constituency in the Douglas Lake area.

I sympathize when we read reports, as we have over the years, about when certain regions are hit with a calamity of some kind and 200 or 400 jobs are lost. Oftentimes there is an immediate response from the government. It falls over itself rushing to fix the problem.

This particular problem, estimated now at $6 billion in losses to the rural communities, with over 4,000 jobs lost, this, in any other estimation in any other industry, would be a national disaster. One would think the government would be galvanized on this, but it has not been.

There was a false promise made during the election that the government would have this thing wrapped up by the end of the summer. It simply has not happened and the government is literally getting away with it.

The irony for those involved, especially in the cattle industry, is that for decades they have been resilient. They have not needed well intended and appropriate farm programs. They have gone through the highs and the lows and the cycle of the commodity markets and the feed markets and other things that constantly assail this particular industry. They have gone through those times and they have toughed it out largely on their own without government programs. Now when they get hit with disaster, where is the government? It is not there for them.

My colleagues have very clearly articulated in specific forms some of the things that could and should be done to relieve these people who are being hit by this disaster. It basically comes down to getting the help to the farm gate, but what do we hear about? We hear about forms that are so complex that farmers cannot fill them out, about farmers having to hire accountants to try to catalogue the disaster they are going through, and about a government that makes idle promises and programs that are falling far short of what needs to be done to literally save the agriculture industry in our country.

One aspect that needs to be addressed, which my colleagues have mentioned, is this whole aspect of international and foreign relations. Relationships between countries are simply that; they are simply relationships between people. This government and this Prime Minister have allowed some of the worst poisoning of the well of international relations that we have seen in modern history. Literally, MPs have been allowed to hurl the most grotesque insults across the border to a country whose men and women are battling on foreign fields.

That affects the negotiations.

Yes, this must be science based, and yes, it must be agriculturally based, but these types of problems can be resolved if there is goodwill between the two people. The goodwill has been diminished because of this cavalier attitude that the Prime Minister has allowed to exist. He has MPs who are probably suffering from political Tourette's syndrome with the type of language that they fire across the border in a haphazard way.

One has to think about what happens, then, in the discussion rooms in the administration south of the border when those people who are involved in the industry south of the border are sitting down and looking at this problem. They simply remind their president and their secretary of trade, “These are the people who insult us all the time. These are the people who hammer us when our boys and girls, our sons and daughters, are on foreign fields”. They are able to use the delinquency of this government as a lever to apply pressures that they should not be able to apply. These borders should be open.

The questions I have are these. Number one, why is the Prime Minister in Russia, France and Hungary? I appreciate very much the fact, as we all do, that he took time out to pay his respects to a sailor. But he needs to pay respect to the farm families that are going down in the country. I appreciate the people of Hungary and the government there, but I am not sure what is more important in Hungary than his being here and putting all his efforts into solving this crisis.

I would also like to ask, as my colleagues have asked, why not have the programs in place now? What is in place right now should this disaster strike again? We hope it never does, but is there something in place in terms of emergency preparedness so that we would not have to see this whole ugly movie unfold again?

When are we going to see the right programs? Why is the Prime Minister touring the world when he should be having his focus on this problem? And should this ever happen again--we hope and pray it never will--what has the government learned and what does it have in place to deal with the problem in the future? Help the farmers now and what do we have to protect us in the future?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development), Lib.)

Mr. Chair, with the last three speakers on the other side, there certainly has been a conscious effort to fail to tell the whole story.

The member mentioned the CAIS program. While it was designed to level out the boom and bust years in a normal market situation, this is abnormal. This is disaster. There is no question about that and we admit it.

However, as a result of it being a disaster and going beyond to a certain extent the capabilities of the CAIS program, there have been close to $2 billion put in through various programs and some of that money is yet to be rolled out. I am not going to get into the announcement of September 10. We could go back to the records of tonight's proceedings and see how the government has somewhat changed its approach, to look at other alternatives, recognizing that it may be some time before the border is opened.

What has to be mentioned with regard to Canada's position on BSE is that no country has regained market share in such a short time after a BSE crisis as we have. We have regained 90% of our pre-BSE beef export levels. That is because of the work we have done through our regulatory authorities and the work we have done by going to Washington to open up those markets.

We are now moving 90% of pre-BSE beef export levels based on the recognition of the integrity of the measures and the inspection programs we have in place. That has never happened previously to countries which have had BSE. They have been shut out of the market for much longer times and some have never got back in. That is beef, not live cattle. That is strictly beef and beef products. We do not have the movement of live cattle into the U.S. or dairy heifers and we certainly do need that. We are not satisfied that the market has opened up far enough yet. We are going to continue to work at it.

In terms of the question as to why the Prime Minister is in Russia, France and Hungary, he is doing his job as Prime Minister of Canada. While he is there he has not forgotten about the beef industry. He is there trying to open up markets for our agricultural products in Russia and those other countries as well.

As I said earlier, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and China doing the same thing. He is trying to open up markets for our agricultural industry so that we have less dependence on the market south of the border. They are doing their job.

The Prime Minister has met a number of times with Mr. Bush. President Bush has stated that he would like to see the border opened as soon as possible. I would agree, for whatever that means, because it has not opened up as soon as I would have liked to see it opened.

In terms of a game plan, if there are other instances that happen, that game plan is in place. It is in place through our regulatory authorities. We are now doing quite a number of animal testings. I believe it is 8,000 that we are trying to test this year in terms of BSE, ramping up to 30,000 next year. I will have to double check those numbers, but we have a plan in place to ensure that our livestock products, that our beef products of cattle, sheep and other ruminants are the safest food quality in the world. That is what we intend to maintain. We have the regulatory regime to back it up.

We have announced a number of programs to try to get money into the farmers' pockets, to tide them over. We know that is a difficult situation. As well, I talked earlier about trying to make the market return to normal circumstances.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gord Brown

Conservative

Mr. Gord Brown (Leeds—Grenville, CPC)

Mr. Chair, it is a great honour for me to stand before you this morning, as it is after midnight here in Ottawa. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Leeds--Grenville for the confidence that they have shown in me.

In my first address to Parliament, it is fitting that I am standing here on the BSE crisis. It is something that has had a major effect on my riding.

Earlier this evening I was in my riding helping some folks because the bank is closing in one of our small communities. It is just another one of the things that is causing the deterioration of the rural way of life in ridings like mine.

We are here this morning to talk about the BSE crisis. It is not some abstract problem for bureaucrats, diplomats or industry commentators. It affects men and women and families, not just in my riding of Leeds--Grenville where it is a large part of the economy, but across Canada.

All of us who represent rural ridings know exactly what I am talking about. Our beef farmers are in real trouble through no fault of their own. What started as a legitimate medical concern has been permitted to evolve into a full-blown industry meltdown by an unprepared, irresponsible Liberal government that thought calling Americans morons was a solution. Planet earth to you, Mr. Prime Minister, it was not the answer.

Beef farmers in my riding, like others, are among the most stoic of all Canadians. They work hard and pay their taxes. They do not complain and they do not look to government to solve all their problems. They are strong, resourceful and resilient people. Now in these dark times, they need our help. Beef farmers in my riding are stretched to the breaking point. They have used most of their resources and this winter may be the end for many.

BSE is a political crisis that requires political action on several fronts. It requires this action if we are to find a solution.

Like myself, others here tonight will raise concerns that are on the minds of beef farmers and the agricultural industry all across the nation. These issues are a part of the problem and their resolution must be part of the solution.

Relief should focus on farmers, not packers. Let me remind the government that we cannot pack what we do not grow. The fact is that the CAIS program is not right for small family farms because the cost of entry is too high and the rewards are too low after a year of depressed prices. CAIS must be restructured to help small family farms.

It is time now for blunt talk with the Americans and the Japanese to remind them that the unjustifiably closed borders for Canadian beef can result in reciprocal actions.

We need to restructure and rebuild the entire industry in light of this crisis so that we have new markets, new domestic slaughter and packing capacity and are never again prey to political protectionism.

These are issues that concern the producers in Leeds--Grenville.

I note and commend the seven solutions offered by the member for Lethbridge during last Thursday's start to this debate. I am attending a regional meeting of cattlemen later this month and I guarantee that the ideas he presented will be discussed.

In order to illustrate the breadth of this problem, I would like to bring to the House the facts of the terrible price that is being paid in my riding as a result of this crisis. Over the past number of weeks I have been talking with farmers involved in and affected by the BSE crisis and other affected businesses. The picture that has been painted has not been pretty.

To put this in a perspective that all Canadians will understand, it is like going to work every day of one's life and several years before retiring, one is told that one must return all the money made and everything that has been put away for retirement just to keep working.

In my riding and in the area that is serviced by the farm industries, this is what has happened since the beginning of the BSE crisis. This is how we have to deal with those who are affected.

A sale barn is closed down. Farmers in Leeds--Grenville and neighbouring Frontenac County now have additional costs in getting their cattle to market, or they have to make additional costly arrangements to have their cattle shipped elsewhere to do so.

Dairy farms that used to sell their steers into the meat market are no longer doing so which is another hit on their income. That ripples through to other businesses.

Older farmers who have been saving for retirement or who should be enjoying their retirement are cashing in their RRSPs to help the younger members of their families keep their farms operating. This is money that they will never recover. Somehow I doubt this is what we intended when the RRSP program was started.

Those farmers who are being forced out of business are selling out at fire sale prices because there is no other option. Equipment dealers are in trouble. Fertilizer and feed dealers are in trouble. Veterinarians have had to cut back on staff and hours. Commodity prices have dropped and the wet weather that we had through most of the summer in our area has led to poor crops. All of these factors lead to a truly frightening trend.

The ability to sustain the family farm is reaching a critical point. Farmers are leaving the business. There are no young farmers to take their place and there are no financial institutions willing to finance them even if there were. Being able to feed ourselves is a matter of national security. If we cannot feed ourselves, we cannot control our future. However, we can do something.

I ask the government to take time out from advising the Russians on democracy or tap dancing on ethics to pay real attention to these real problems and to work with members of the House. We heard the member for Brandon—Souris say that we have to recognize there is a minority government and it is time that all sides of the House worked together to help solve this problem.

Let me offer just a few suggestions that I think could go a long way toward solving this problem. We need to empower our international negotiators to make clear that it is time that science trumped politics. Open the borders or face the consequences. Do not think for a moment that Canada is powerless in all of this. All we require is a government with the political will and the courage to stand up for Canadian beef producers.

We need to aggressively seek new markets for the best beef in the world, Canadian beef. We need to commit resources to redesign the entire beef industry in Canada in light of this experience so we are not caught at the bottom of the production chain again.

In fairness, the original BSE outbreak was not the exclusive responsibility of the government. The half-hearted, ineffective, unimaginative, defeatist response to it by the preceding Liberal government, however, is directly responsible for the continuing crisis in my riding and others from coast to coast.

Let us now with this debate and this Parliament resolve that together we craft a solution. Let us get the applications out there. Let us get the money out through the CAIS program. Let us help expand the slaughter capacity. Let us get it done now. Let us work together to solve this crisis.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development), Lib.)

Mr. Chair, some of the member's suggestions are interesting and I think worthy of consideration. The one I am really interested in is when he said, “empower international negotiators to have countries make decisions based on science”. I certainly believe that those countries should be making their decisions based on science.

Then he added “or face the consequences”. What consequences is he suggesting we should put in place? I heard the other day from a producer who suggested, and I think it is an interesting idea, that maybe we should be tightening the tap in terms of our oil or natural gas exports. If they do not want our beef, maybe they do not want our oil and energy.

Could the member give me a list of the consequences that the Conservative Party is proposing be employed against the United States if the Americans do not make decisions based on science as they should be in this case?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gord Brown

Conservative

Mr. Gord Brown

Mr. Chair, I spoke about the need to remind the Americans that we are concerned that they are not opening the border and if they do not open the border there needs to be consequences. We need to work with them and let them know that we are not going to just stand back any longer. We need to remind them that we are one of the largest producers of gas and oil in the world and we need to work with them.

Right now we have a government that allows members to sit on its benches and call Americans names and advocate hatred against them. This is not the way to get this problem resolved. I am sure the member opposite cannot stand before us and endorse what one of his members said and repeated in the media not too long ago.

We need to let the Americans know that we mean business. Hopefully by turning down the rhetoric and the noise maybe we could work with them to solve this problem. We all know that opening the border will go a long way toward resolving this problem, but we need to let them know that if they do not, we will have to look at other ways to pressure them to do it.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Maurice Vellacott

Conservative

Mr. Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, CPC)

Mr. Chair, what was just mentioned in the last exchange was the obvious need for a long term solution to get the U.S. borders reopened because of the percentage of live cattle that went there.

As my colleague rightly pointed out, for that to happen we need a government committed to some serious professional relationships with these other countries, and no less the Americans just south of the 49th parallel.

We do not need those rash juvenile outbursts that have been made against the United States by members of the governing party. We need a proactive strategy to promote Canadian beef. I think my colleague would be aware that on that front we are probably short of where we should be.

Last Thursday one of my colleagues made the point that on a trip down to the United States she found the American Congress to be woefully uninformed about the issue. They were not aware. In fact, some Americans who they met thought the border was already open to live cattle.

I would like to know if my colleague feels that at this time it would be well worth the effort of the minority government to be fully engaged in a fairly aggressive lobbying initiative in the U.S. that targets both elected officials and consumer groups, informing U.S. consumers that the high prices they are paying at present for beef and dairy products, and also the loss of jobs in their country, is due to the closing of some of those slaughter facilities which is a direct results of politics and has nothing do with food safety at all.

Does my colleague feel that a campaign is needed to make the Americans aware of what is happening as many of them are not at present? It is not a matter of just bringing out the heavy guns and saying that if they do not do it we will pull back on this or that resource. We have a fair bit of support down there but it is absolutely crucial that we leverage and broaden that support for the Canadian beef industry. They need to be aware and kept up to speed and abreast of the developments and the fact that we do not have any opening yet, which is why they are paying the high prices for beef, dairy products and on it goes.

Does my hon. colleague agree with that?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gord Brown

Conservative

Mr. Gord Brown

Mr. Chair, I fully concur with the comments of my colleague, especially at this late hour. However the cooperative approach will go a long way toward solving this problem.

As we heard, the rhetoric that came from the government side and some of the comments that were made were less than helpful.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
Permalink

October 12, 2004