February 13, 2008

CPC

Leon Benoit

Conservative

Mr. Leon Benoit (Vegreville—Wainwright, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Malpeque and I heard very little offered as solutions.

The one thing he did mention is that there should be a per head payment for livestock. The last time that happened was in 1975. It destroyed the cattle industry in Canada and it took more than 10 years for the industry to recover.

Two things would happen with what the member recommended. First of all, because it would be contravening trade deals, the borders would be closed and roughly 50% of Canadian production would be eliminated, no market whatsoever. That would damage the industry. The second thing that would happen is the hog and cattle numbers would not be reduced like they should and that as well would lead to a wreck in the industry like we saw in 1975.

How could the member be so callous as to propose a solution to the problem that has been proven to fail in the past and would fail miserably again?

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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CPC

Royal Galipeau

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau)

The hon. member for Malpeque should know that the question period is over, but I will allow him equal time, one minute.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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LIB

Wayne Easter

Liberal

Hon. Wayne Easter

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is amazing how the member for Vegreville—Wainwright only hears what he wants to hear. I would ask him to go back to the record and he will see it is not as he said. That is a proposal that the cattlemen put to us that is not countervailable.

At the end of my remarks I listed quite a number of solutions. I never heard anything from the parliamentary secretary. If I had time, I would show the member a list of 11 programs and how the previous government did it during the BSE crisis, how we put 11 programs in place that put money out there that basically saved the industry at the time.

Maybe the member could look at the history and learn a few lessons. The Conservatives could drop their ideology for a little bit and get out there and actually do what they claim to do and put farmers first.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko

New Democratic Party

Mr. Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia Southern Interior, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, for requesting this emergency debate. I would also like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the debate this evening. It is extremely important. Why? Because there is a crisis, the rising dollar and rising input costs, and the additional costs for managing and disposing of specified risk materials.

At the committee meetings, we hear that there is a crisis and that families and people are suffering. We also hear that no one is doing anything. That is the problem. Something must be done. And so we tabled a report in December, after listening to and hearing the testimony of the pork and livestock producers. We were all in agreement, and we made unanimous recommendations.

I will give you an example of those recommendations.

Before I speak to the recommendations by the all party committee, let us look at the chain of events. We had an urgent meeting with the cattle and pork producers last fall in November. Our committee worked hard and came out with a report containing six recommendations. In the next meeting we had with the pork and cattle producers, we were told that if those recommendations had been followed there would have been no need for us to be here today and no need for them even to be at that meeting in January.

What kind of recommendations were they? Recommendation 1 reads:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada deploy, before the end of 2007, a special transitional measure that will provide cash-flow in the form of interest-free loans to be paid back over a period of three to five years, and bankable cash advances to hog and cattle producers.

That seems to be a reasonable request, which, once again, was agreed to by all members of our committee.

Our producers are, I would say, the best in the world. They do not want handouts. They want a bit of assistance in the form of loans so they can get through what we call la tempête, the storm, the perfect storm for farmers right now.

What was the second recommendation. Recommendation 2 reads:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in partnership with the provinces and territories, payout the remaining percentage owed to producers under the CAIS Inventory Transition Initiative...and respect the federal-provincial funding agreement.

I could go on and list the other recommendations but most people in this area have read them.

The problem is that when approached with our recommendations or with a request, the answer from the minister and the government is that we should look at the billions of dollars that it has put into agriculture and look at all the good programs that have been renamed. It tells us that everything is fine but it is not fine.

Let us go back a bit to November 27. As a result of the first meeting we had with the producers, I wrote a letter to the minister and personally delivered it to him. In the letter, I very politely told him what we in the committee had gone over and that everybody would like his help to move the file forward. At that committee, I was able to pinpoint three things that at that time we thought were the key: first, the elimination of inspections at slaughterhouses and at the border; second, immediate loan guarantees; and third, additional specified risk material funding to assist rendering facilities with disposal.

To my knowledge, those have not yet been implemented nor put into place.

The theme that we heard at that meeting in November was that our producers wanted a level playing field to compete, not with other producers, but with foreign governments that give subsidies and that help their farmers and their producers, the kind of assistance that we do not have here.

My November letter continues to state:

As we continue to play by trade rules our producers continue to get hammered. Somehow we have to give them the support they need to be able to compete fairly.

A couple of months went by and we were contacted by our friends, the producers, in all provinces. We had been contacted before. This was not a crisis that all of a sudden appeared. It was a crisis that had been growing due to the high dollar, the costs and other factors involved.

We had another meeting. As a result of the meeting in January, I again wrote a letter to the minister, as I always try to do, in a courteous way, as a follow up to our meeting, and told him that this was for his information and told him what we had here hoping there would be some action.

My letter reads:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food heard today from witnesses representing the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council. The main message we received in regard to the current crisis in the pork and cattle industry is that there has been enough talking. Action is urgently needed immediately.

Our cattle and pork producers have reached their limit and feel abandoned by the lack of a positive response from this government. It will interest you to know that the announcement on December 19, 2008 to deliver federal aid to farmers is being widely perceived as a “cruel joke”.

This was something that was told to us by people in the committee. My letter continues to state:

In fact, they are saying February 01, 2008 will forever be remembered as “Black Friday” by the pork industry in Canada.

Those are the words of the producers. In other words, the announcements that were made in December and all the good things that the government was supposed to be doing still have not had any effect because farms are being foreclosed, they are not able to continue, our rural communities are in danger of dying and we hear talk.

My letter further states:

As you know, our all-party committee made a number of recommendations that if implemented would bring immediate assistance to those affected. We have been repeatedly told that guaranteed loans would be able to keep our producers alive until long-term programs are in place and producers have had the opportunity to adjust to the new market forces.

As we work on long-term solutions and new business risk programs....

I am not saying that what the government is proposing is bad. There is good intention. After all, there are farmers on the government side as well as on the opposition side. However, as we look at these long term solutions, we must not overlook the fact that urgent help is needed now.

When I was first elected in 2006, I recall a crisis in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. I believe it was a drought or flooding. The farmers were hurting so we approached the federal government. It said that it was a provincial government responsibility and the provincial government said that it was a federal government responsibility. As the governments could not seem to get together, farmers were hurting and suffering. I have personal accounts of farmers saying that their phone lines have been cut, their credit has gone and yet there has not been any immediate aid.

Let us look at what is happening. In this case, it is an industry in crisis. It did not happen recently. Representatives met with the committee and there is a report. There was another meeting with the committee and still no action. When this is discussed among members of Parliament we often say that it is the bureaucrats.

I have a high regard for the professionals in our public civil service. Civil servants do their jobs. The ones I have met in the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food and those who have taken time to come to my office know their jobs. If they are given a direction, they will take it. I have come to the conclusion that if nothing is happening, then obviously there is no political will.

Why would I say that? Let us look at what the government is trying to do in regard to the Canadian Wheat Board: to move fast, the sham task force, names off the voter list, the firing of the CEO, the gag orders and the ambiguous plebiscite. Had it not been for a farmers' coalition, a court ruling and the opposition in committee and in the House, we would not have a single desk. We would not have a Wheat Board and the Wheat Board would be going the way of other grain companies in Canada controlled by the multinationals.

What I am saying is that governments can move fast and, in that instance, it was trying to move and it was moving fast but we had to stop them. If it can move fast on that issue, why can it not move to get some loan guarantees for our pork and cattle producers now? I do not quite understand what is happening.

Let us look at some of the things that were said at the committee meeting. Mr. Stephen Moffett, director of the Canadian Pork Council, stated:

To carry on, then, to answer the second question—how we think the government has responded to our requests and to this very severe situation—I can tell you that we are pretty disappointed at this point by the response from the government. Clare indicated that the major problem is liquidity in our industry and the fact that this downturn is much more severe than a normal downturn because of the ethanol and corn issue--

That is another issue that has been raised recently.

He went on to say:

--and because of the Canadian dollar and just the normal price swings in hogs. This has been a much more severe downturn.

It goes on and on. We have heard many testimonies.

The same gentleman goes on to state:

What have we heard from government? Certainly, right from the very start they have been saying that we need to deal with the existing programs: “Let's do what we can with existing programs.” I can tell you, we don't think that's enough.”

The message that seems to be coming from our producers is that nothing is happening immediately to stop the small farms from going under or the producers from losing money even though they have had promises of a lot of big programs. The point is that the industry is in crisis and we must get moving.

I would like to read from a press release put out by the National Farmers Union. The headline reads, “LIVESTOCK PRICE CRASH A RESULT OF DYSFUNCTIONAL MARKETPLACE”. The press release is about the overall livestock industry and it states that it is not a good one, if the information is correct.

The president of the National Farmers Union said:

...the dysfunctional livestock marketplace is the result of a situation where a handful of large corporations dominate the industry. In fact, a single company, Cargill, owns half the packing capacity in Canada and is able to heavily influence prices at both the farm gate and at the wholesale/retail level. A rising Canadian dollar is just a small factor in this larger equation.

My colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, has undertaken a mission to expose the whole security and prosperity partnership in Canada. Hearings have been held in my riding where over 400 people showed up in Nelson to hear him speak on this proposed integration of Canada with its partners Mexico and the U.S. driven by the corporate agenda.

What we see here in this press release and what we see in the agriculture sector is the consolidation of big companies driving us in this direction. Therefore, we need to be careful. We need to keep our food security issues in our own hands. If we allow the takeover of our livestock industry by multinational corporations, influenced by other governments, our producers will lose a say in what is happening.

I would like to applaud the minister for his push on cooperatives in the biofuel sector. We are holding committee hearings on the biofuel sector but that is not enough. We need a firm commitment by government to help our pork and cattle producers.

In the same press release, Stewart Wells, from the National Farmers Union, said:

The long-term solution to the livestock crisis is to restore farmers’ market power and limit the economic power of the big companies, stated Wells. In the meantime, short-term emergency measures are needed to get farmers through this period and allow them to stay in business. He noted that this investment needs to be targeted to farmers, in particular family cow-calf and sow barn operations. “If we lose the foundation of these sectors, we’ll lose the whole industry eventually,” he noted.

I am new to this area. I have been on the agriculture committee for a couple of years. I have an idea of what is happening. I see an industry that is struggling. We have an upswing in the grains and oilseeds, thanks to many different factors, but we also have a downswing in the pork and cattle industry.

The other thing I have observed is that more and more Canadians are looking at this whole area of food security and food sovereignty. In my opinion, if we do not support our producers, if we do not allow our family farms to survive and if we do not give them help right now to weather the storm, we will not have an industry. We will not be able to feed ourselves. As we go further on in this century, as we realize the cost of fossil fuels and transportation is increasing, we need to somehow ensure that Canada, first and foremost, can feed itself and, at the same time, have a fair say in the whole export market.

At this point in time, I would once again like to thank my hon. colleague for having asked for this debate. I think it is vital and crucial. Emergency debates do not just happen all the time.

I note, Mr. Speaker, that you said yes to this debate because you believe it is important. You saw the proposal, you read the letter from my colleague and you decided that this debate is very important.

We are here not to just bat words back and forth, we are here to raise the issues, to talk to each other, and hopefully we will come out of this tomorrow and decisions will be made to do something.

As I mentioned, we have a civil service of capable people. We have a government that says it cares. We hear this all the time. I do not doubt the sincerity, but we need action. Actions, as we know, speak louder than words.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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CPC

Guy Lauzon

Conservative

Mr. Guy Lauzon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the comments of my hon. colleague with great interest. There are a couple of things he mentioned that I would like to give some further input on. He mentioned the provincial and federal governments working together. I have a quote that I would like to get his opinion on a little bit later.

He also mentioned the Wheat Board. I am not sure who this member represents and whether his riding consists of a lot of farmers. I note that the critic for the Wheat Board actually has no wheat farmers in his riding. I am not sure how many farmers this member represents.

As far as I know, the NDP, generally speaking, is a lot like the Liberal Party. It does not necessarily represent rural Canada, it is centred more in urban Canada. But that is for another day.

There are a couple of quotes that I would like to get the member's opinion on. He quoted a couple of quotes that we heard in committee.

Here's one that says:

We're also very happy they spent the amount of time they did discussing the livestock situation. Again that's a clear indication of how serious they realize the situation is. We applaud them for that as well.

That is a quote from Bob Friesen. We also have the Canadian Cattlemen's Association saying:

The enhanced APP will benefit producers by allowing them greater access to funding. Prior to this, a producer had to be enrolled in the Canadian Agriculture Income Stability (CAIS) program and have a positive reference margin to be eligible. Now, producers will be eligible even if they have a negative reference margin and can borrow up to 50 per cent of the value of the animals they borrowed against.

The point that we are trying to make here--

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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?

An hon. member

Time, time.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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CPC

Guy Lauzon

Conservative

Mr. Guy Lauzon

Everybody is interested in my time. I would like to get this member's opinion on what he thinks of these quotes.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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CPC

Royal Galipeau

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau)

The hon. member for Burnaby--New Westminster is rising on a point of order.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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NDP

Peter Julian

New Democratic Party

Mr. Peter Julian

Mr. Speaker, I think the situation has resolved itself. This is a time for questions, not to have another speech from the parliamentary secretary. We have heard quite enough from him.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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CPC

Royal Galipeau

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau)

I appreciate the hon. member's advice.

The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko

New Democratic Party

Mr. Alex Atamanenko

Mr. Speaker, I believe there was a question, so I will get to it. First of all, we have heard this argument before from the government side. “Well, you are from Prince Edward Island, what do you know about the Wheat Board?” “You are from Quebec, what do you know about the Wheat Board?” “Or, you are from British Columbia.”

Well, I will tell the member something. We hear from farmers. If the hon. member would like to come to my office, I will show him letters, individual letters that people have written. If he wants a record of the phone calls that we have had, the people we have talked to, and the trips that we have made, we will certainly share that with him.

As far as me personally, in farming, I can tell the member this. When I was this high, I was in Saskatchewan and I was driving a tractor with my uncle. I know what it is like to combine, and I know what it is like to swath. I have been on the farm, so I have an idea of what is going on.

Members of the opposition, we do represent farmers in this country. Let us not forget that.

The other thing in regard to the first ministers meeting, I appreciate those comments that Mr. Friesen made. I think that is good. I think it is a great idea that they were satisfied at the first ministers meeting, but if everything was so good then why did those people come before our committee last month and why were some of these people who are farmers, who have farms, and who are in charge of associations almost in tears? That would be how I would answer that question. Why were they there?

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Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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LIB

Paul Steckle

Liberal

Mr. Paul Steckle (Huron—Bruce, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for British Columbia Southern Interior is not an active farmer, but I do know that he has a tremendous passion for the industry. His work in the committee is not questioned at all. I have appreciated working with him over the years he has been here and this evening he has raised some great points.

However, all of us in this country, whether we are members of Parliament or whoever we are, are consumers. I am wondering whether he has ever, from his consumer public, heard the argument made that farmers are getting too much money from government or that basically food costs have risen too high, or whether he finds sympathy with the general consumer public for the cause of farmers, and that generally the consumer believes that farmers are not getting a fair share?

They should be treated differently, better than what they are, because we all know we have to be fed. We are so dependent upon Canadian farmers and we need to do a better job of telling consumers about the products that are truly Canadian, rather than offshore products.

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Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko

New Democratic Party

Mr. Alex Atamanenko

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his compliments and also for his question.

Where I come from there is quite a movement for food security. People are coming together to work with farmers to produce food locally.

Unfortunately, for many of the small farmers in my area, beef producers, sheep producers and poultry producers, the current British Columbia cut meat regulations are impeding the farmer from slaughtering and selling to the public, so we are trying to work around that.

This is a regulation imposed by the province as a result of national standards and pressure from the WTO, so people who are working in the community are trying to work around that by building local abattoirs.

The point is that I have never heard that in my riding. There is a move even to grow wheat in the Creston Valley so that we can become more self-sufficient with this 100-mile diet, so we do not have to bring in wheat and spend all that money on transportation from the Prairies, and we can become more sufficient in the Kootenay area where I come from.

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Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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BQ

André Bellavance

Bloc Québécois

Mr. André Bellavance (Richmond—Arthabaska, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from the NDP on his excellent speech. He, like my colleague from Malpeque and the other members of the committee, is someone with whom I enjoy working tremendously. You could feel that he spoke from the heart.

There have been a lot of quotations this evening. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister has quoted several people for us. Just before the emergency debate, I received an email from a pork producer in Alberta. He is a real producer. He comes from the Conservative Party stronghold. I would like my colleague from the NDP to comment on what this producer had to say. I will be practising my English at the same time, because this is what he says:

The present government's response is a slap in the face. The promise of some money starting to trickle to farmers in the spring time does not help us deal with devastating losses we face now. To me it is like standing on the bank of a river with a lifeline in your hand and saying to the drowning farmer, “Keep your chin up, hang in there, I"ll throw you a lifeline in a few months”.

It is quite extraordinary to hear this from a producer who comes from a Conservative Party stronghold. It is a good summary of the situation and the problems the producers are having. I would like to hear what comments my colleague who just spoke on this subject may have.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko

New Democratic Party

Mr. Alex Atamanenko

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for what he had to say.

That is certainly the theme of tonight's debate. There have been promises that things would get better. Producers have been told just to wait and things would get better. But the situation is not improving. That is a fact. Farmers want help now and not just cash. They want to be entitled to loans, first of all, so that they can survive this crisis.

I think therefore that the email my colleague received reflects the mood all across Canada. I know that my colleague from Timmins—James Bay had similar discussions with his farmers and producers. I know we heard the same thing in our committee meetings and I know it is the same thing we are hearing and seeing in British Columbia, where I am from.

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Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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CPC

David Anderson

Conservative

Mr. David Anderson (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak again tonight.

I guess as I sat here this evening it struck me again that the opposition really does not have to come up with practical solutions to the problems. The government does and we are doing that.

I was struck earlier by a couple of comments made by some of the opposition parties. I think they can afford to dream in technicolor or they can afford to come up with whatever statements they want. They do not have to be practical.

I was interested to hear my colleague from the Bloc actually try to take credit for the fact that the government had brought in article 28. As the House knows, that was requested by the supply management industry some time ago.

The Liberal government would not move on that at all. It never even made a move on it. The Bloc certainly cannot take any credit for that because it was this government that made the move. As with so many other things, the Bloc members would like to engage in that hyperbole that says that they can actually do something here in Ottawa. However, as we have pointed out time and again in the House, they really do not. They cannot.

In the time that they have been here, they cannot have results. They are like the NDP members. They are consigned to perpetual opposition. As such, they are not the ones who are going to be able to bring change or bring success to the agricultural industry.

I also had to reflect on the dream that my colleague from Malpeque seemed to have had when he claimed that the Liberals had 11 programs to deal with BSE. He seemed to think that they had worked. If they had 11 programs, no one noticed 10 of them and the other one ended up funding the big companies. There was quite a conflict over that early on in the BSE crisis as well.

The Liberals cannot pretend that they have actually done anything successfully for farmers in the last decade that they were in power.

I was interested to hear the NDP critic tonight really complaining about the fact that we are trying to integrate markets. The NDP members seem to be stuck in some paradigm from 100 years ago where they think that Canada can exist without any type of trading with other markets. Clearly, if we are talking about beef and pork, those are two items in which we have to trade internationally.

I do not know if the member has not travelled to see that or what. Clearly, the NDP solution, which is not to integrate, not to trade with anyone, would bring complete and total disaster on to our agricultural markets in this country.

I hear one of the NDP members heckling me and I understand he is from an urban area. I do not know exactly what he knows about farming, but he is certainly willing to talk here. Now I notice there is a heckle from across the way from one of the urban Winnipeg ridings. I am sure we are going to hear later how important it is from the heart of Winnipeg that western Canadian farmers have no choice in marketing their grain. I will probably talk about that a little later.

However, I am really concerned about the fact that the opposition does not have to come up with practical solutions. The government does. The minister has been leading the way in finding those solutions. I will talk about that a little later.

My connection to the BSE in terms of agriculture in the House goes back further than most people here. I see a couple of other members here who have been on the agriculture committee for a number of years. They will remember the call that we received in 2003 when Lyle Vanclief, the minister of agriculture at that time, called and told us that we had a BSE case in this country. All of us knew that it was going to have serious consequences for the beef industry in Canada and of course it has.

Over the last few years there has been work to try to get the borders reopened. The Liberals were unsuccessful in being able to do that, but thankfully ministers have been able to do that over the last couple of years.

Markets have opened for Canadian beef around the world. I would like to point out some of the places where we now can move our beef that we were not able to when the government came to power. Of course, we need to trade as I mentioned earlier. The markets are open in Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, Egypt, Russia, Macau, the Philippines and the United States.

I need to point out that this was something that the Liberals completely failed to do. The Liberal critic was criticizing us earlier because we took a little time to get that border open with the United States. The Liberals took years and never did get it open. It took a change in government and the ability of the government to be able to work with the Americans on the other side of the border in order to reopen the border.

Canadian livestock producers know full well who has been working for them. They know it was not the previous government.

I want to talk about some of the other things that have contributed to the problems we find today in the livestock sector. I have a couple of specific things in my own riding that I would like to bring into this. They may be small things but they are things that the government has worked on and brought some successful resolution to.

The first one is the issue of gophers. For many people across this country, it is not an important thing to them, but I have an area of my riding that has been overrun by Richardson's ground squirrels. Farmers have been battling this problem for six or seven years now. They came down and tried to talk to the Liberals about it and they got nowhere. The Liberals were not interested in helping them out. These are people who find themselves on a weekend going out and shooting up to 3,500 rounds of ammunition trying to get these little animals under control on their property, and they are not able to do it. We clearly needed a better way to control the squirrels.

My colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright has worked on this issue for years. We said that we needed access to strychnine once again, and my colleague was able to show that the government had removed strychnine from the market without doing any studies about it. It just decided to take it off. This past summer, with the hard work of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health, we were able to reapply strychnine in its form on the Prairies and begin hopefully to control this problem.

The reason this is important to livestock producers is that entire quarter sections of pasture have been destroyed by these animals through their burrowing and the fact that they were eating the grass off the land, especially in areas where there was drought. That is one small thing that this government has been able to do for producers, and we continue to work on that.

The second issue that has taken place in my part of the world is that we have had drought. There has been one particular area south and east of Swift Current, Saskatchewan where a lot of the folks have had drought for three years. They had drought in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Last year we actually did have some rain through the first half of the year and then it went to about 100° for 10 days and we had no rain for the rest of the year. A lot of the crops and the pasture disappeared in that heat.

I really wanted to do something for those producers, and the federal government and our minister at the time were willing to do that. One of the frustrations I had is that I went back to my province and I asked the government there to work with us. I said, “We have a drought situation here. We need you to work with us. We need you to recognize the problem for what it is”. The province said, “No, we do not consider that there is a drought here. We are not interested in helping out the producers in that area”.

I have to say that I am thankful there has finally been a change in government in Saskatchewan, and we have been able to move away from that NDP disinterest in rural Saskatchewan. The NDP had no interest at all in the rural areas. We seem to have a provincial government now that is willing to work with us and is showing new interest in rural Saskatchewan and in trying to make rural Saskatchewan work.

That has been a tremendous change, because clearly, as we know in this House but some Canadians may not realize, the NDP has completely lost touch with its roots. At one time it was a populist based party, but now it is urban based and union supported, and really it does not have that support or that connection with the rural areas. We know that people are very disheartened by the fact that the NDP has moved so far from them.

Provincially the NDP could not help us. We know that federally, the NDP is not able to help farmers either, and so the rural communities look to us for leadership and we have been providing that.

I also need to point out that we made an election commitment to improve the farm programs, and when we went to do that, we heard clearly from the provinces and from a number of farm organizations that they wanted to see a reference based margin program continue in the group of programs that we were running. We would have preferred to change that, but they were insistent that we maintain that as part of our programs. It has been fun to watch two agriculture ministers in succession here work and put together a suite of programs that are really going to work for producers.

Members of course are familiar with the agri-stability program, the agri-invest program, and the new agri-recovery program. We have been able to work with the provinces to bring them to completion and put them in place. They will be very good for farmers. I want to talk a little about some of the help that farmers have gotten through those programs and through this government. It is going to be a fairly long list. The opposition probably does not want to hear it, but again it is indicative of the great commitment this government has shown to producers.

We want to mention that our business programs are getting the advances out, they are getting payments out, they are getting loans out to producers. Specifically, we are beginning to deliver $600 million to kickstart agri-invest accounts.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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LIB
CPC

David Anderson

Conservative

Mr. David Anderson

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite seems to be willing to heckle me about that. I am not sure if he does not like the program or what, but $600 million in my part of the world is a lot of money and producers are thrilled to see that beginning to roll out for them.

I should point out that $160 million of those funds are going to hog and cattle producers. That is not an insignificant amount of money. In total, cattle and hog producers are expected to receive--and I expect a heckle from across the way when I say this as well--nearly $1.5 billion through jointly funded business risk management programs from late 2007 through 2008. Maybe the opposition is applauding us and maybe I mistook it for a heckle, but even the opposition has to recognize that $1.5 billion going out to this sector is a large amount of money.

The government has added an additional $1 billion in loans available to the livestock sector through the federal advance payments program. That is a good program. We have worked quite a bit on the cash advance program. The opposition actually agreed with us on that and helped us to pass the legislation regarding those advances. Again, an additional $1 billion will be available in loans through that program. The additional funding for the advance payments program will provide the sector with a total of up to $2.3 billion in loans that will be available to livestock producers. A number of provinces have also stepped up and developed programs for the industry as well.

We are continuing to work with industry representatives to find ways of helping the industry position itself to be competitive in the long term and they include a lot of other efforts as well. I am going to talk more about some of those in the next few minutes.

One of the things that struck me is that the Liberal government never made good agricultural choices. That is probably because there has been such a disconnect between the Liberals and the rural areas. Earlier this evening we heard, as one of my colleagues mentioned, a love-in among the opposition parties. It seems that they have very few people from rural communities, but they are willing to slap each other on the back and say how much they care. We know they have a passion for these subjects.

I was reminded of something I said yesterday at committee which is that in hindsight the opposition members can see a gnat from 100 yards, but when it comes to accuracy they could not hit an elephant at that distance. That is really what we are talking about, their knowledge about the agricultural industry. It is disturbing they have as little knowledge as they do. We trust that they are willing to learn and we trust they are willing to listen and to try to understand.

One of the subjects that has come up a couple of times tonight and one of the places that clearly the opposition does not have a good understanding of agriculture is the Canadian Wheat Board issue. I would like to take a couple of minutes to talk about that, because this is an area where we could actually bring prosperity to the agricultural sector and the opposition seems dedicated and completely committed to making sure that does not happen.

Right now western Canadian farmers are sitting with their pool return outlooks somewhere under $10 for the wheat they have turned over to the Canadian Wheat Board. The market in Minneapolis is approaching $20. It seems that if the Canadian Wheat Board is saying it is only going to return $8 or $10 to the producers in western Canada, either it has completely failed to market the grain properly this year, which is possible and may be likely, I do not know, or it is hoarding a big chunk of farmers' money trying to keep it back so it can be delivered all at one time to make itself look good.

I would like to know what it is. Unfortunately, because the board is as secretive as it is in what it does, western Canadian farmers cannot find that out. What they do know is that the barley markets should be opened up. Sixty-two per cent of producers voted to have more marketing choice in their repertoire and the opposition is bound and determined to deny them that opportunity.

It is funny because the Wheat Board says it cannot offer marketing opportunity to western Canadian barley farmers, but I have to tell the opposition members this because they do not seem to understand it. It has already offered that marketing opportunity to the organic producers. Last year it tried to run an organic program where it was trying to get producers to buy into its system. It was such a complete failure that this year it turned around and said, “Well, we would like to open up the organic market. We will let the organic guys buy back their grain for only 8¢ or 10¢ and then they can sell it for whatever they want.”

One of the most fascinating things that I have seen about this is how the president of the NFU has disappeared on this issue this year. He is an organic farmer. If the organic farmers in my home town are telling me the truth about what they are getting for their grain, he is making twice the money the other farmers who are held captive to the Canadian Wheat Board marketing system are getting. Organic producers have told me that they were taking bids for $13 to $18 for their spring wheat. They were getting in the range of $10 for Canadian soft spring wheat and they were looking for over $20 for their durum wheat; this at the same time that regular producers are held in a system where they are getting less than $8 a bushel for their grain.

I find it interesting that organizations would take a position when their own presidents of the organizations would be in a different situation than what they expect the rest of the Canadian public to have to put up with.

My NDP colleagues always quote the NFU because they seem to be fairly closely connected and they take their advice from them. However, they really should go back and ask them some questions about why one of their lead people would be taking a buyback of 8¢ and making $20 a bushel on his grain while he and his fellow members in that organization expect everybody else to take less than half that for their grain. There is a lot of concern over that.

I want to move on to some other fronts and some of the other things that have been affecting the livestock and the pork trade and also some places where we see some opportunities arising from some of those things.

As I talked about earlier, we have been able to get the borders open. This government has moved on this issue and farmers have been able to thank us for getting the borders open.

We also know that our standards are higher than anyone else's in the world, particularly our neighbour across the border. We know that we have a good product.

This government has moved on bilateral agreements. That was a huge frustration for us when we were in opposition, trying to tell the Liberal government it needed to get moving on bilateral agreements because WTO may take a long time to settle. The Liberals sat there and said, “No, no. It is okay. We are not going to initiate anything. We don't have the resources for that”. We sat and we sat and we sat and we had no bilateral discussions going on at all, I do not think, maybe one in 10 years, while the Americans settled about 35 of them. And we wonder why we were starting to fall behind.

Earlier tonight I heard the member for Malpeque seem to imply that it would be okay if we were to throw out aid that was actually countervailable, that maybe we should say, “Damn what happens at the borders; we are just going to go ahead and give money out”. I hope he is not saying that because that would be the height of irresponsibility. The industry has told us time and time again it does not want whatever aid it gets to cause it trouble at the borders.

Clearly, we continue to work at WTO. There are several things that must be accomplished there. We need to expand market access around the world for products. We need to work to eliminate export subsidization. Thankfully, there has been agreement that that can take place. We need to drastically decrease the market distorting domestic support.

I see my time is drawing to an end and I am actually sorry about that. I would like to speak quite a bit longer on this.

Our Prime Minister has promised to restore Canada's position on the world stage. This government is delivering on that promise for Canadian farm families. We are opening new international opportunities. I am proud of the fact that our minister has been going around the world opening up markets for our producers. He has been responding to producers. We can see success in this industry because of the initiative that this government is taking.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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LIB

Charles Hubbard

Liberal

Hon. Charles Hubbard (Miramichi, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member opposite. Tonight we are talking about the livestock sector and the beef and pork industries, which are under a lot of stress, but the hon. member talked about what he called prairie gophers. He was shooting them with 3,500 rounds of ammunition. He spoke a long time about money being spent.

I have a couple of questions. He talked about bilaterals. We wonder sometimes in regard to the present government what the advantage to Canadians of the bilaterals will be with Colombia, for example, which is being pursued, or--

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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?

An hon. member

Korea.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Livestock Industry
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February 13, 2008