Mr. Maurice Foster (Algoma):
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have a chance to say a few words on the motion of the hon. member for Mackenzie.
The motion before the House sets out the need for constructive and worth-while government programs. It is very beneficial that it should happen to be before the House today because the Minister of Agriculture, during the last 24 hours, has practically adopted a scorched earth policy toward Canadian farm organizations, groups like the Prairie Pools Incorporated and the Ontario Corn Producers. Many of the policies adopted are just unbelievable.
It was announced this morning by the Minister of Agriculture that he planned to open the border with the United States even though support programs have not been balanced as is required under the free trade deal. He is moving the marketing of barley from the Canadian Wheat Board to individual shipments. This means that we end up with a flooding of the market in Montana. It will drive down the price-setting mechanisms in the United States for barley that are set in Seattle and we will see lower prices and less returns. We will see an industry that is not going to be doing very well.
On the other hand, it is the government's wish to remove that barrier which was put in place by the FTA. It is the government's decision to take the exclusive re-
Private Members' Business
sponsibility for the marketing of barley in North America away from the Canadian Wheat Board.
We proposed in the agriculture committee that if the government is hell-bent on doing this, then it should put it to a plebiscite and let the producers decide. The Canadian Wheat Board is not an agency of the Government of Canada, it is an agency of the Canadian barley and wheat producers. Therefore, it is the barley and wheat producers who must decide if they want to have this exclusive responsibility, even though the Canadian Wheat Board has served the industry very well.
The studies that were done by Prairie Pools Incorporated suggest there is going to be a major cost to Canadian producers.
We started discussions in the agriculture committee and within a week government members on the committee shut down the whole review process. It is unbelievable the government is taking the marketing of barley away from the Canadian Wheat Board and then imposing its majority in the committee and not even allowing the Canadian Wheat Board to appear. I guess this is because the chairman of the Canadian Wheat Board had been so critical of the proposal to take away barley marketing.
The government will argue that the marketing of barley is only a few percentage points of the total wheat board operations, but in fact barley is a major coarse grain commodity. It is not just the volume, but the fact that the marketing of barley is removed from the wheat board weakens the wheat board and will have a longterm, disadvantageous effect on that board.
The second area in the trilogy of the scorched earth policy which has been adopted by the minister is to take away the interest-free cash advance.
The House will recall that the government moved in this direction two or three years ago and within six months of removing the interest-free feature of the cash advance program it had reinstated it. The economic situation was so desperate in the fall of 1990 that it suddenly reinstated the interest-free feature even though it had to do it by Order in Council. It had removed it as a statute program. We received an endless number of letters from the Ontario Corn Producers, the prairie pools, the corn producers in Manitoba, all making
June 4, 1993
Private Members' Business
the same argument, that this is one of the best programs the government has.
If everybody markets their corn or barley or wheat, or whatever the commodity is, at harvest time in October, prices are driven down. Everybody is desperately strapped for cash so this has the impact of driving the price of the commodity down. Under the interest-free cash advance, the mechanism is spun out so that the individual producer markets the crop in December or January or later on in the season and has a tremendous advantage. The advantage is not one for one, that you get an advantage of whatever the interest-free portion of the cash advance is, in some cases it is as high as 15 to 1.
I cannot for the life of me see why the government is removing that interest-free portion because the interest rates are at the lowest rate they have been in 10 or 15 years and it is the least costly of programs. When the government was driving the interest rates through the ceiling in 1989 and 1990, and interest rates for so many commodities were 14 and 15 per cent, at least double what they were in the United States, in a free trade environment one can imagine the impact it has had on the entire Canadian economy, but especially on Canadian farmers. Now when the interest rates are very low we have the ridiculous situation where the government is putting that additional burden on Canadian farmers.
That is the second part of the trilogy of the scorched earth policy that has been adopted by the government this spring. Beyond that, the government has moved today to table a bill in the House to change the method of payment of the Crow benefit.
This is the third part of the trilogy. Last December the government moved to chop the western grain transportation assistance program by some $72 million, roughly 10 per cent of the benefit itself. When the Minister of Finance brought down his budget a few months ago he said: "Okay, I have taken away $72 million. If you people do not adopt my policy I am going to double that". Well, it is a hollow threat because he is not going to be around. The idea of blackmailing producers with an either accept our policy or we will remove more of it is horrible.
This is a great historical support program. It was adopted because it is part of the Crow rate agreement dating back almost a hundred years. If the farmers do not agree to the change in the method of the Crow benefit,
the government will reduce the benefit. It is breaking faith with thousands of producers.
I hope the government will back down on this. There may have to be changes if the GATT agreement determines that this is an export subsidy and subject to a mandatory reduction. But at this stage there is no consensus and the government should not be cutting that support. It should not be blackmailing Canadian farmers at this time, or any other time, by threatening to reduce their support programs if they do not agree to the changes that the government is threatening.
I am glad to have had this opportunity to make these few comments this afternoon on the hon. member's motion because clearly this is a black day for Canadian farmers in what the government is proposing in these three scorched earth policies.