IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on supply management system and the mad cow crisis

38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the speeches made by my colleagues from Richmond—Arthabaska and from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. I know those two regions, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and Estrie, very well.

Indeed, in those two regions, the dairy industry managed to survive and find stability through a supply management system.

My question for the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska is the following: would he be in favour of a supply management system for the cattle industry?

***
Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for his excellent speech, as usual. I also would like to thank him for sharing his time with me.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of the minister in this debate. I think it is important. I have no doubt about his sincerity. However, I think that the steps taken so far are clearly not enough in view of the present situation. This is why I commend the members of the Bloc Quebecois for moving this motion, which is extremely important.

The fact is that the mad cow crisis is having a devastating impact on whole areas of our country. I firmly believe that a majority of members in this House will support this motion when it comes to a vote

The motion raises a fundamental question which also deals with the principle on which a sound political policy is built.

Allow me to read the part of the motion which calls upon the government to:


--implement specific measures as soon as possible to help the cattle and cull cow producers who are suffering the impact of the mad cow crisis.


The House asks the government to deal with the urgency and scope of this crisis with political measures designed specifically to meet that urgency and scope. Instead of kowtowing to the Americans, the government should take specific and significant steps.

Members will recall how, in May 2003, a single case of mad cow disease turned the whole Canadian beef industry upside down.

(1705)

[English]

The announcement of a single case of mad cow disease in May 2003, including the cow calf sector, sent cash receipts plunging to $5.2 billion, or 33% below the $8 billion in receipts for 2002. In a study on the repercussions of BSE on farm family incomes, Statistics Canada estimated that every $100 million in cattle sector exports would have added $80 million to Canada's GDP and created up to 3,000 jobs.

[Translation]

According to Statistics Canada, the result was a $2.5 billion drop in our exports, which, for the Canadian economy, meant, roughly, a $2 billion decrease in real domestic product, a $5.7 billion drop in total production, a $1 billion drop in salaries and, as we well know, a loss of some 75,000 jobs.

[English]

Those are the harsh and cruel facts.

It has been 18 months since the first and only mad cow was discovered in Canada. One has to ask what the government has done to match, in terms of solutions, the enormous problems posed by this crisis. I think it is fair to say that it has been largely to sit down and hope for the best, lobby a bunch of friends south of the border, throw in some band-aids to appease 100,000 farmers facing ruin and then hope for the gates to open.

In his recent book, A Short History of Progress, renowned historian and philosopher Ronald Wright remarks:


A telling feature of the real mad cow disaster is how long the British government did nothing except hope for the best.


This sort of hope is driving our cattle industry and our farmers literally crazy given the devastation in the communities.

With great fanfare, a temporary BSE recovery program was announced in June 2003. This program failed to help cattlemen and cattlewomen who were confronted with plummeting prices and was based on the idea that the borders would soon reopen. We know they have not.

The program encouraged farmers to slaughter their cows, which is what they did, which drove prices even further down. As prices went down, bankruptcies and suicides went up. The profits of the processors went up as well.

We then saw a series of changes to those programs trying to address the issue as it went. All of that was based on the premise that the borders would reopen soon. Since 40% of our cattle production depended on the borders, this has become a real mess.

In fact, many observers, including the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, believe that the packers, Tyson and Cargill in particular, indirectly received most of the government funding because of flaws in the program. The government program bought slaughter obligations with the funding, and the money went to the slaughter houses and the profits went to the packers.

For the larger part of 2003, the government tinkered with the program to avoid confrontation and threw in more, what I consider to be band-aids, in preparation for the 2004 election.

The government hoped for the best and largely avoided action, avoided confrontation with the U.S. federal agriculture minister, avoided concrete action for Canadian farmers to the measure of a catastrophe that the industry is facing and, of course, I believe avoided pressing the issue with George Bush during his visit to Ottawa, though he was confronted with an Alberta beef steak dinner.

The strong negotiations that are required have not been undertaken.

The appalling piecemeal approach to the Liberal agriculture policy has become crystal clear as we have seen this inaction around the BSE crisis to the measure of the catastrophe. Even though science has redeemed us again and again and indicated that our beef is safe, the American border is not fully opened to our beef products.

The federal government also chose not to pursue the NAFTA route, though the United States uses chapter 7 of NAFTA to shut down its borders. The Liberals justified this hope and wait approach in lieu of a chapter 20 challenge mainly because of the expected length of any such process, which could easily take up to seven months.

We are now 18 to 19 months after May 2003 and the border remains closed. Little progress has been made in negotiations. As we are now well past the expected seven month process of a chapter 20 challenge, does the original logic of forgoing a lengthy NAFTA challenge in favour of a negotiated settlement still stand? Of course not.

The BSE crisis, with its resultant loss of 75,000 jobs in Canada, and the impasse over softwood have clearly demonstrated our susceptibility to international trade disputes with the poor negotiation record of the government.

If the complex NAFTA trade mechanisms are unable to remedy this problem for Canadians, what can be done? What sort of precedent does this set for other bilateral and multilateral trade agreements?

If it takes another year to see some results from this government, there may be little left of our beef industry to save.

(1710)

[Translation]

My colleagues of the Liberal Party will say that, recently, a few real decisions were made and that a few support programs were put in place. I would say that the credit should go to farmers and to the Canadian beef industry, which made their voices heard after many efforts. In practice, we have not yet seen anything that would really allow the industry to secure its future. After 15, 17 or 18 months, does the industry entertain false hope? I believe the industry to be extremely important. Concrete actions are needed.

[English]

On September 10 the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced a strategy to assist the livestock industry. The word “strategy” was finally being used. This strategy includes continuing efforts to reopen the U.S. border. However, because there has been no linkage to energy exports, for example, that strategy has not succeeded.

The strategy includes taking steps to increase the slaughter of older cows, with $66 million being injected, and measures to sustain the industry, as well as looking for expanding access to export markets for both livestock and beef products.

There may be some progress but the decisions made by the government have not matched the size and scope of the crisis in our communities across the country.

Some of the legislative elements related to this package, which have not and should be concluded, are still up in the air, including agreements with the provinces. There are clearly big gaps in the strategy that must be addressed.

[Translation]

The big problem that the program is not fixing at all is that there are presently 500,000 cull cows in our country.These are dairy cows that are three years old or more, that are not capable of producing milk anymore, and that must be killed.

Before the border was closed, we were exporting some 40,000 cull cows every year to the United States. Not anymore, which explains why the price of hamburger meat, for example, is so low. That is the real problem.

I totally support the motion and I hope that all the members of the House will support it also.

***
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. As I mentioned before, it is not a scientific issue of whether Canadian beef is safe or not. It is a political issue, a question of negotiations.

We saw that in Japan, in the same situation, the Americans were able to negotiate some access for their products to the Japanese market. I think it is a question of firm negotiations. We export products in the energy sector, for example, that make up a large part of the American energy market.

Thus, when we talk about softwood lumber or mad cow, we are also talking about negotiations. Such firm negotiations will ensure that our products have access to the U.S. I do not think it is an issue of public health or pure science, determining whether or not Canadian beef is good. We know it is good and that it should be allowed into the American market.

It is a question of the political will to go and negotiate firmly instead of giving away all our trump cards as we have been doing. That is what happens in the energy sector; we give up. It is said that Canada is the biggest energy exporter. We will give you our energy and then, please, will you do something to sort out these softwood lumber and beef export issues?

In both cases all we need is the political will to say that we are going to negotiate based on our own cards, the Canadian cards, and arrange to put an end to this crisis which, in my opinion, is a purely political one that could be resolved with firm negotiations.

[English]

***
Madam Speaker, as I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation, I do not doubt the sincerity of the minister. However the government has not acted to the extent it must given the size and scope of the crisis.

I made reference in my speech to band-aids. Given what 100,000 farmers are living through and given the loss of jobs in the Canadian economy, the measures have not been to the extent they must be to match the size and scope of the crisis. We have a $9 billion surplus. We have a crisis in this industry. I believe the measures should be stronger.

Recognizing the time delays, I would be pleased to fill in the minister at another time.