October 12, 2004

CPC

Nina Grewal

Conservative

Mrs. Nina Grewal

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the hon. member.

There has been a long discussion, and I would like to add that the problem lies with the Liberals' indecisiveness and inaction rather than improving the relationship with the U.S. and expanding our trade with the U.S. There should be solid discussion on our borders. No solid action has been taken by the government to open the borders.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Pierre Poilievre

Conservative

Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Nepean—Carleton, CPC)

Mr. Chair, it is indeed an honour to rise today on this special occasion to address this important issue. I would like to begin by thanking my constituents in Nepean--Carleton for entrusting me with the sacred honour of representing them and their interests here on the floor of Canada's House of Commons.

When I think of my constituency, my thoughts often turn to the rural agrarian portion of the area that I represent. I think of the cornfields of North Gower or the pumpkin fields in the old township of Osgoode. I think of how hard my constituents have worked to develop strong agricultural industries.

That is why it was a heartbreaking experience for me to watch as $6 billion in wealth was destroyed by this crisis, by this impending problem that we face with the mad cow crisis. There have been 4,200 jobs lost in the beef industry alone. So far, I regret to say that the government's response has been half-hearted at best and disastrous at worst.

To begin with, in my constituency a large number in the cattle industry focus on the dairy side. The CAIS program which the Liberals have offered does not help farmers in the dairy industry. It is so riddled with bureaucratic regulations and forms which take forever to fill out and are never available that it does not often help those in the beef industry either. That is why I will focus my attention on three specific issues that I believe can happen domestically, and then one overriding issue that needs to happen internationally in order to resolve this problem.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association proposed a tax strategy which was totally ignored by the government. First of all, it proposed tax incentives for new slaughterhouse capacity, that is, to encourage new capital investment in slaughterhouse capacity across Canada. As hon. members have already pointed out, we cannot even service our domestic demand because we do not have the domestic slaughterhouse capacity to bring our beef to market. It is not just a matter of selling beef; it is a matter of getting that beef to our own market.

The association also proposed tax deferrals. Tax deferrals would help ease and mitigate the immediate burden associated with this sharp distortion to our economy. It would help those farmers who are in desperate need today deal with their cash flow problems by allowing them to have a temporary break from the enormous burden they are forced to carry as Canadian taxpayers. Tax averaging would also help those farmers who unfortunately have been forced by circumstances to exit the market. Many of them have done so in my own constituency. When it happens, tragically it is unfortunate to see that they have to pay enormous tax burdens on a one time basis because they are liquidating their assets all at once. We believe there should be tax averaging.

Those are all proposals that came from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and were ignored by the government.

I will now turn my attention to the international focus. The hon. member across the way is right to focus on developing new markets internationally, but as I pointed out earlier, we cannot even service domestic retail demand because we do not have the slaughterhouse capacity to do it. As a result, we are not able to project our industry any further at this point in time into the international markets.

We need to focus on getting the American border open. To start with, we need to acknowledge that yes, the Americans are wrong. Their trade policy has been protectionist and it is bad policy for Canada, but it is also bad policy for the United States of America. The reason the Americans were importing live cattle before this crisis is that they could get it for a better price at a higher quality. As a result, the government should have built strong relationships with consumer groups who have a vested interest in bringing Canadian live cattle into their market. It should have built those relationships to ensure that we would have greater domestic pressure on the American government to get the borders open.

Instead, the peanut lobby in the United States, in Washington, is more powerful than the Canadian presence in the U.S. capital. We need to build our presence there. We need to link arms with those senators who are in states that import Canadian live cattle. We need to link arms with other groups that have an interest in our exporting to the United States of America and build a strong domestic pressure movement to get the border open.

We need a renewed focus on this issue to resolve this problem in an orderly fashion so that constituents in my riding and across the country will be relieved in their suffering and our foreign markets will once again rightfully be open to Canadian cattle.

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 is going to have to go back to the record and read it as well, because this has been mentioned a number of times tonight and this morning. The fact of the matter is that there is quite a lobby on our side in the United States, which we have engineered. We have worked with the National Cattlemen's Association in the United States. I met with them myself in their boardroom, along with a number of others. There is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is also a fairly powerful lobby in the United States representing the grocery store chains and the packing industries. They have been pressuring to get the border open. So we have done our job there.

I do want to correct the member on one point. He did say that we cannot service our domestic demands, lack of slaughter capacity. The fact is not only are we meeting our domestic demands for beef products, but we are also back to 90% pre-BSE levels on our exports of beef products to the United States, with 213,849 tonnes of product. The problem with the slaughter capacity is that we have too many cattle in this country under this current situation and that is what we are trying to correct in this program that we announced.

Because some of the points the member raised really relate to the September 10 announcement by the minister in relation to this, I would think he should be congratulating us for that announcement of September 10 because it does in fact mention some of things that the Conservative Party could be on side with.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Pierre Poilievre

Conservative

Mr. Pierre Poilievre

Mr. Chair, first I congratulate the member for being with us at this hour. It is exhausting for all of us.

In direct response to his remarks, I believe that our presence could be stronger in Washington. I am amazed and astounded by the number of lobby groups in the United States of America that are nowhere near as important to the United States economy as is Canada and that have a much stronger presence on Capitol Hill.

We should be working harder. We should have a stronger diplomatic and economic presence in the United States capital. We should be advertising in the states that consume Canadian cattle, targeting consumer groups and consumers directly to inform them that their prices for beef are actually going up because of the failure of their government to allow Canadian beef into the market. We should at the same time be focusing domestically through tax incentives and other instruments on getting the slaughterhouse capacity up to speed so that we can properly service our own domestic market and the international markets.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Scott Reid

Conservative

Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC)

Mr. Chair, I want to follow up on something that the hon. parliamentary secretary raises and that is the exports of Canadian beef product to the United States. He mentions that export levels are up to levels reasonably close to where they were prior to the shutting of the border.

I want to note that what he neglects to mention is that Canadian live beef exports are at 0% of what they were before the border was shut and have been at 0% since May 20, a year and a half ago. That is 0% and it is important to remember that in my province of Ontario, for example, live beef exports were substantially larger than the beef product exports, which means that in fact inventory is piling up. He keeps on mentioning that, so there is a question I want to ask the hon. member for Nepean--Carleton, who has just a moment to answer.

Does the hon. member think the repeated mention of one aspect of our exports and the repeated ignoring of the other more important aspects of our exports might be characterized as a nose-stretcher?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Pierre Poilievre

Conservative

Mr. Pierre Poilievre

Mr. Chair, I certainly agree with the hon. member in his characterization. I would add that it is impossible for this industry to get back on its feet until two things happen: slaughterhouse capacity is expanded and access to our largest market is obtained.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gurmant Grewal

Conservative

Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Newton—North Delta, CPC)

Mr. Chair, as this is my first opportunity to rise in the 38th Parliament on behalf of the constituents in the new riding of Newton--North Delta, I would like to thank them for putting their trust in me as their member of Parliament. I would also like to thank my former constituents of Surrey Central for their cooperation and support.

Mr. Chair, I would also like to congratulate you on your appointment to this important position. I wish you well.

Tonight we are considering the issue of BSE, which demands government action. For exactly 500 days today the government has dithered and shown no leadership while Canada's beef farmers and all those dependent upon the beef industry for their livelihood have suffered devastating financial losses.

It appears that the food producers are not important to the government. For evidence, we need look no further than last week's throne speech. Agriculture and the BSE issue were each mentioned only once and that too was in the most general terms.

In February, the official opposition proposed a set of solutions to the BSE crisis. Unfortunately, due to the Liberal government's politicking, our solutions were not implemented and the situation is critically worse today than it was in February. This government waited until September to announce a flawed aid program after more damage was done to the industry.

The government should not have included BSE assistance for producers as part of the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, CAIS. The CAIS program for disaster relief is a disaster by itself. Many farmers have applied for the CAIS program and have been waiting in excess of eight months without cash payment for the year 2003. If that is this government's definition of an advance payment, how long will it take to get a delayed payment for the year 2004?

Today there are still no application forms available for producers wishing to apply for this desperately needed cash. How can farmers apply for a program that has no application forms and that for all intents and purposes does not exist a month after its existence was announced? As of October 6, the allocated funding for portions of the aid program was still not approved by Treasury Board.

The deadlines and delivery methods for the BSE aid program are administratively inconsistent in every province. As it stands, there will be no allocation by province. This means the Liberals are pitting farmer against farmer and it ensures regional inequity. It is an insult added to injury for farmers. The Liberals are again reinforcing the message that food producers and farmers are not important to the government.

There may not be a quick fix solution to the challenges facing the beef industry. We do, however, need to get more slaughter capacity in Canada to deal with the growing backlog of cattle.

Without the U.S. border opening we still do not really have functional markets. We therefore need a new marketing strategy to find export markets other than the United States to reduce our dependency on that one market.

The government must also address optional long term debt restructuring and proper compensation for cull animals. It must ensure that compensation is adequate to manage and maintain the breeder cow herd. Finally, the federal government should implement tax incentives such as tax deferrals and provide loan guarantees for producers and tax breaks for producers needing to depopulate their herds.

The crisis is worsening across the country. Members know that cattle farmers are not the only ones affected. I met with Maurizio Zinetti of Zinetti Food Products, a Surrey businessman who produces beef products for export to the United States and Japan. Last year Mr. Zinetti's companies lost millions of dollars in sales due to the BSE crisis.

Flawed relief programs and blanket assurances that the border is going to open in the future are simply no longer good enough. Unfortunately for Canadians, the government is not capable of governing. It is only interested in positioning itself for the next election.

We need a Prime Minister who will make informed and timely decisions. The current Prime Minister has baffled, dithered and delayed on softwood lumber, the national missile defence system, same sex marriage, Kyoto, internal party bickering and of course BSE. These are just a few examples.

Let us also not forget the government's mismanagement of the hepatitis C file. Victims are still waiting for compensation, with some shut out of the process entirely. Money set aside for compensation is sitting untouched, collecting $50 million in interest while victims are dying penniless. The government should hang its collective head in shame.

The Prime Minister's indecisiveness means that important issues are being ignored to the detriment of Canadians. Canada needs strong leadership. We need a leader who will make the tough decisions, even if they are initially unpopular. A real leader has to take an informed position and then build consensus around it. We certainly do not need a leader who attempts to govern by poll.

If the Prime Minister had taken the decision when it was supposed to be taken, our farmers and food producers across the country would not have been in the situation in which the weak and arrogant Liberal government has put them in. It is time for the government to take some appropriate action and make sure that our industries, one after the other, survive and Canada becomes more prosperous day by day.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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?

The Deputy Chair

We will go to questions and comments, but I want to say that the Chair misled the House a short while back. There were agreements as far as certain conditions for this debate, but not with regard to points of order.

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, I understand. I was just going to say that I had said on the record that I recognized live cattle were not getting into the industry.

The member opposite tried to make the point in a broad sense that the government is not living up to its responsibilities. The member is wrong.

We have a lot to be proud of as a government. We made the hard decisions in 1995, as a party and as a government under the previous prime minister. The current Prime Minister was minister of finance at the time. It is because we made those hard decisions that we are at the top of the G-8. We have had seven surplus budgets so we have the money to deal with child care, the health accord, which was just announced, and quite a number of programs. I do not need to get into them at this late hour.

The government has a lot of which to be proud. Yes, we have trouble in the agricultural industry. We have admitted that. Yes, the BSE is causing us lots of problems, but the leader of the official opposition said the other night that the bottom line was that the border was closed and that was causing the problem. Yes, it is what caused the problem

If we go back to the record, and I will not get into the points, it will show the number of programs we have implemented. It will show the September 10 announcement by the minister. It will show that the Prime Minister and the minister are overseas constantly trying to find new markets.

We are doing our bit, but that is not to lessen the impact on the finances of the farmers. I recognize there is a problem there. They are my neighbours. I have been there myself. I know what it is like to be in financial difficulty and to worry about losing one's farm. We do not want to see them in that situation. We are acting on it, we are acting responsibly and we are doing all we can. If suggestions come out of this take note debate, then we are certainly willing to consider them.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Gurmant Grewal

Conservative

Mr. Gurmant Grewal

Mr. Chair, first, I congratulate the lonely Liberal member who has been participated in this debate for the last two years. He has taken the brunt for the Liberal Party single-handedly. I congratulate him for that. On the other hand, he talks about his government being proud of its record. Let us look at the record.

The Prime Minister when he was finance minister cut $25 billion from health and education. As a result, our health care system is in the current situation of status quo. There is a shortage of doctors, nurses and beds. He created this problem and now he is trying his best to clean it up. He is desperately moving forward in a way to clear a legacy for himself to cover up the mistakes he has made.

Let us look at the softwood lumber crisis. It was the Liberal government that was responsible for the last three years. It sat on its hands and did not take action. This is another example of indecisiveness, which has created a problem for our softwood lumber industry.

Look at the record on fisheries. The government created another mess in the fisheries on the west coast as well as on the east coast.

Let us talk about other things. The member talked about being proud. We have western alienation. The government created that mess. It has abandoned the port police. It has taken the heart out of the coast guard. It has left my province, which is prone to earthquakes, without emergency preparedness. How can the member be feeling proud of the record?

Let us look at other things: the corruption of the government, mismanagement and unaccountability in the government. All these things are compounding, and that member should hang his head in shame rather than feel proud about his government's record.

On the other hand, I feel very proud of the Leader of the Opposition to which the member referred. He is the one who proposed a solution to the problem. If the Liberal government had adopted the solution he proposed, we would not be in the mess we are in today.

The Liberal government's record is in front of us. How can the lonely Liberal member in this chamber be proud of that record? I cannot comprehend that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Helena Guergis

Conservative

Ms. Helena Guergis (Simcoe—Grey, CPC)

Mr. Chair, I rise for the first time in this great House. I am very honoured to be here and pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents in the fine riding of Simcoe—Grey.

As we heard last Thursday evening and many times during tonight's take note debate, Canada's beef farmers are in a desperate state, yet the government continues to fumble around for answers and solutions. In fact the government had a decade to prepare Canada for an eventual case of BSE. It had a decade to prepare a plan to deal with a single case of mad cow yet it did nothing and we have all had to suffer the consequences of this inaction.

The government continues to fail our cattle producers to this day and it is certainly not limited to its inability to get our borders fully open to export. Of course in my riding of Simcoe—Grey we have many cattle farmers.

Today I spoke with a friend of mine by the name of Kandy. Kandy is--sorry, Kandy was a seed stock farmer and 75% of her herd were American sales. She has sold off a registered herd that she spent all her life developing. With the border closed, she had no choice.

I also heard from Mr. Doug Patton of Adjala-Tosorontio. Doug farms with his son Jim, who is the fourth generation Patton to be farming in Adjala-Tosorontio. They used to keep around 120 head of cattle. They are trying to sell off the remaining 10. They want to get out of beef completely, but guess what? Nobody wants to buy them. In fact they lost $1,000 a head on the last cattle they sold. Doug has not received any compensation because he did not qualify under the rules of the Liberal plan.

The cattle were grazed on rough land that is no good for crops. Now it is not used at all. Perhaps this will be another family farm sold to a developer. Maybe if this land is developed into a city, the government will pay attention to it.

Doug is not the only farmer that I have heard from. Many have called to tell me that the banks are not lending operating lines of credit to farmers or anyone whose business deals are primarily with farmers. The only way for a farmer to get operating funds is to mortgage his or her land. This is another direct attack on the Canadian farmer.

Mr. Patton has questions, as do many farmers. They want to know why the government directed a majority of compensation money to the processors. The price of beef is up in the stores but processors are still buying from the farmers at 50¢ on the dollar. Farmers want to know what is being done to ensure this does not happen again. What is being done to ensure that the money will be put in the hands of the farmers?

Another farmer I have spoken with is Mr. Doug McCormack of Beeton which is a small town in the southeast part of my riding. It is a great little town, home to a wonderful councillor by the name of Richard Norcross. Doug is a fifth generation farmer. His family has been farming cattle since 1845. He is a farmer who specialized in purebred registered beef cattle and at one time he had a commercial feedlot with 800 steers. That is all gone now. Doug has just sold more than 100 cows at a tremendous loss.

It is time that the government took the time to speak directly with these small farmers. We will hear time and again that it is completely impossible to operate a business in this environment.

In closing, I would like to comment that there is widespread frustration with the new CAIS program. Why did the government close down the NISA program before the CAIS program was fully operational? I attended not one but two information systems on the CAIS program. This was provided to local farmers in my riding. I found the sessions severely lacking in information and severely lacking in advice for the farmers. Many walked away more confused than when they had entered the session, myself included.

Why in such a desperate time did the government reduce the support for farmers? Why at such a desperate time did it decrease the access to support for farmers?

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, I want to congratulate the member on her first speech in the House.

I would suggest that probably for a maiden speech the member set a record for either being the latest maiden speech in the evening or the earliest in the morning, if someone wants to look into that, but I do congratulate the member on her speech.

I want to deal with one point. The member raised the question of why did the government direct the money to the processors? The fact of the matter is, we did not. I agree that the money did not get to where it was intended to go. I was involved in the design of the program and every effort was made to try and ensure that the prices would not drop and the farmer would end up maybe getting the money out of the government program, but taking a loss on the decline in prices. Every effort was made to ensure that would not happen, but in fact it did and we admit that.

The problem showed up later when we wanted to find out as an agricultural committee, did the packing industry really gouge the farmer in that instance? The only way we could do that was to get hold of the books of the packing industry and examine those books. In fact, this House charged the packers with contempt.

When we went to fine them $250,000 a day until they produced their books, a member from the previous Canadian Alliance Party opposed in this House the ability for us to do that. We were not able to challenge the packers in terms of what they did and whether they gained excess profit or not because a member of that party prevented us from doing that. That point should be made.

Let me close and say that we have had many hours of debate last Thursday night and tonight into the early morning. On Thursday night the minister tried to outline some of the facts on what the government is doing. I hope people will take the time and look at those facts. There have been some suggestions coming from the other side in the take note debate that I think are worthy of consideration. I assure members that we will look at those points.

The bottom line for me at the end of the day is that we must have a situation where our producers can survive and prosper in this country. It is a difficult situation, but we need to try and get there. What we must keep uppermost in our mind is the financial health of our primary producers and their families.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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CPC

Helena Guergis

Conservative

Ms. Helena Guergis

Mr. Chair, the question I was asking was to have some more detail on what exactly it is the government will be doing the next time around to ensure that the money gets in the hands of the farmers. I am not here to debate how much money the packers actually walked off with. I would like to know, what was the first plan in place that was devised? What is the solution to the problem so that it does not happen again?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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?

The Deputy Chair

There being no further members rising, pursuant to order made Thursday, October 7, 2004, the committee will rise and I will leave the Chair.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 1:37 a.m. this House stands adjourned until 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:37 a.m.)

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Agriculture
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October 12, 2004