June 4, 1993 (34th Parliament, 3rd Session)

PC

Robert Harold Porter

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Bob Porter (Medicine Hat):

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Mackenzie for his concern about the future of the family farm. He and I have shared a considerable amount of time on the standing committee as has the previous speaker. While we do have those concerns, we may have different views on how to achieve them.
The government understands the important role of the family farm operation in our rural communities, economically and socially. That is why we have stood by Canadian farmers in times of need. Certainly these last few years have been times when farmers in all areas have gone through difficult periods as a result of markets, of weather conditions and of a variety of problems that they have faced.
In 1986-87 we provided $2 billion to help farmers cope with low grain prices caused by an international subsidy war. In 1988, when farmers were dealing with one of the worst droughts in the history of this country there was $800 million in special support through the Canadian Crop Drought Assistance Program.
As well, one may recall the program that was brought in for the deferral on breeder stock which had taken place that year where livestock had to be culled. If the tax had been paid and those cattle been replaced at the higher market value, that would have had a detrimental effect. This government did recognize, after 20 years of previous agricultural groups trying to initiate that program, the fact that breeding stock is like the machinery
June 4, 1993

we use in any manufacturing plant to turn grass into beef and not tax it in times of disadvantage.
There was a further $500 million through the Special Income Assistance Program in 1990. It was followed by the Farm Support and Adjustment Measures, one and two, which provided $1.4 billion in federal support.
Between 1985 and 1992 almost $17 billion in direct federal payments have gone to producers. The government has been there for Canadian farmers. However I share the hon. member's view that the long-term viability of the family farm cannot and will not be brought back with programs that put a cheque in the mail. Farmers do not want it that way. They would rather in all cases- those I talk to-get their returns from the marketplace.
The success or failure of the family farm will depend on its ability to compete. As the hon. member has said, we have always had to compete in world markets. It has been emphasized before. There are some commodities which are more regionalized. Some are on a North American market and obviously in our grain sector on world markets.
To ensure fair and stable returns the industry needs long-term solutions and certainly better prices, improved market opportunities, diversification and world development opportunities. Those needs are driving our reform of agricultural policies and programs. This reform is being carried out with the participation of provinces and the industry.
The key to that reform is securing access to markets. The Canadian agrifood sector depends on trade. One of our priorities is to get a reduction in the subsidies used by Canada's major competitors in international grain markets. We can do all of these wonderful things that have been suggested, but if there is $320 billion in agricultural subsidies throughout the world, supply and demand has little impact on what will happen to individual markets.
Obviously if we could resolve some of the problems that we are trying to do under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and end the trade war that still plagues our grain sector, it would not end all of our problems. It would perhaps bring some stability to world markets.
Private Members' Business
I noted with some interest the hon. member talking about other ways of doing things. I commend anybody who has suggestions for improving the situation in agriculture.
Land banking is something that has been tried. I think, Sir, that it has been tried in your province before. I can recall it a number of years ago in the 1950s and the 1960s. I do not know whether there were positive results.
Rural communities are going through changes in most areas. Some of it is going to happen regardless of the policies of government or with markets. There is a change in the lifestyle of some of the people who live there. Schools systems are changing. The road system has changed. Most people from small, rural communities are retiring into the larger centres.
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We have seen that happening. I come from a community where the largest growth industry involves retired Saskatchewan farmers moving into Medicine Hat. They move there for a number of reasons. They want availability of health care, a recreation facility and better housing. They are not going to stay, as they did a number of years ago in the small, local community when they retire from the family farm. I do not think any of the programs that we are talking about are going to have an impact there. It is a change that is taking place throughout this country and others and I think it is a reality that perhaps we have to face.
We know the benefits of secure market access through our trade agreement with the United States. Our share of American markets is now larger than it has ever been. I am looking at headlines from about two weeks ago in The Calgary Herald. It indicates that the annual revenue from cattle and calves has grown by 64 per cent or $700 million since 1984 to achieve a forecast of $1.8 billion this year. This is in the province of Alberta. The trend is accelerating, fed by growth in exports to the United States. Canadian cattle achieved a five-fold growth in their share of U.S. beef markets to 5 per cent since 1987. We are now slaughtering roughly 60 per cent of all the cattle in Canada in the province of Alberta. Even with that taking place I noted last week that 11,000 head of slaughter cattle were going across the border.

Private Members' Business
We have access to another market is one of the things which has added some stability to our market. It is also closer than providing a shipment to the Montreal market as we have done in the past. Some of the trade is moving on a north-south basis rather than being forced east or west as it was for the last 100 years has served the industry well on both sides of the border. We can perhaps see that happening in other commodities.
We hope to see access extended through the North American free trade agreement to include Mexico, which is a market that is growing quickly. Earlier this year a thousand Canadian firms attended a trade show in Mexico. These were not large conglomerates and huge corporations. They were small firms from 10 to 100 employees. There was interest shown there. Some contracts were signed that could develop through this initiative. Further, other countries of the southern hemisphere have shown an interest in trading with Canada.
We do have things like malt barley going into Colombia. We have trade in energy resources. We have firms in western Canada at the present time that were developing markets in some of those countries there. There is an interest on behalf of other countries in opening up trade.
Last November we announced a trade opportunity strategy that helped the agrifood sector improve its marketing success abroad. The strategy will see Canada establish positions in our embassies in key growth markets. These people in these positions will promote our agrifood products and help link up sellers in this country with buyers.
As part of that strategy we have established an agrifood export council chaired by Ted Bilyea, vice president and general manager of international trade for Maple Leaf Foods Inc. Canada. This council will help develop policies that will help us improve our agrifood export performance. At the same time we are working with industry to help the sector become more competitive even in the face of international pressures over which they have no control.
We recently passed amendments to the Farm Credit Corporation Act which gave the FCC more flexibility to help farmers who want to diversify their operations with off-farm-but related-opportunities. A number of farmers have expressed over the years an interest in being able to finance some of the farm-related businesses that they have developed. We have seen that taking place across western Canada.
We passed Bill C-54 which is the national check-off legislation that is allowing innovators like the Canadian Cattlemen's Association the flexibility to respond to market and research opportunities as they see fit. Last year the federal government launched a review of the regulations within Agriculture Canada. This involved the Grains and Oilseed Branch, including the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Grain Commission and the Food Production and Inspection Branch. Industry representatives have played a central role in this process. I think the objective of this review is to reduce unnecessary policies and regulations which impede competitiveness without compromising in any way the safety of Canada's food supply.
Probably another area that we should look at is the interprovincial trade barriers, not just with agriculture but within a lot of other areas. There are 500 impediments to trade between provinces across this nation. Obviously agriculture gets caught up in some of the problems that we face in trying to deal within our own country.
We have made progress in a number of areas. For example we are holding discussions with the provinces on setting up pilot projects to eliminate duplicate inspections between the two levels of government.
We have tabled changes in the Canada Grains Act this spring including plans to eliminate maximum tariffs at grain elevators.
I guess we are simply posing the question: Are there other ways of doing things that in the end help the farmers' bottom line. I think it is only right, I think it is only fair that regardless of where we come from or which side of the House we are on that we must look at any way that we can which has some viability for improving the situation of those people who make their living producing an agricultural product.
We are posing the question regarding western grain transportation. It is an issue that has been sensitive. It has been coming up for generations. Most of us have heard both sides of that issue. I have listened to that ever since I was very young. We have not resolved it yet. I think it is going to have to be focused on regardless of what happens in the international marketplace. It is
June 4, 1993

coming to a focus and I think we should be seriously considering what we do with that.
Our goal is to-

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Subtopic:   AGRICULTURE
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