IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on BSE/Mad Cow Disease Crisis and Impact on Farming Communities

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay for his generosity in splitting his time with me.

It is very obvious that we are in crisis. It is very obvious, in light of the events of last week relating to BSE and the blocking of exports at the U.S. border, that this key industry is continuing to experience massive financial and job losses. We are dealing with a $2 billion reduction in GDP. We are dealing with a $5.7 billion reduction in overall production, that is, $1 billion in lost earnings and some 75,000 lost jobs.

As the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay said earlier, this government has taken no action. As the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said so well, there are only hollow words, but no actions. We know very well this has been pretty much the way this government operates. We saw it with the Kyoto plan. Is there a plan? No, there is no plan in that sector. Is there a plan to reduce the growing poverty in Canada? No, there is no plan. We have seen it in the textile industry. Is there a plan to deal with the crisis hitting the textile industry, which we have already talked about in this House? No, there is no plan.

Similarly, in the BSE case, we see that this government has no plan and takes no action. It does not respond in any way. Moreover, we know very well that the problems we are now having in this industry at the American border are experienced by other industries, such as softwood lumber. That industry is very important to my province, British Columbia, and the penalties incurred to date amount to $4 billion.

And in the face of all this, we see the government's lack of action. We see the lack of initiatives when it comes to negotiating firmly with the Americans or when it must try to ease the suffering of farmers all across the country. There is no plan for dealing with these job losses. There are no actions. When this government does, occasionally, take action, it is too little and too late.

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What are we left with? We saw market prices plummet $130 an animal in the hours following the U.S. district court's ruling in Montana. This crash in prices came just as producers were starting to turn a profit on some of their animals for the first time since May 2003.

We see the crisis. We see the incredible impact on our farming communities across the country. Like the member for Timmins--James Bay said, we do not see any action in the budget to address these fundamental concerns. Even if the budget passes tomorrow night because of support from the Conservative Party, the reality is that for the farming and cattle communities across the country there is no action from the government and there should be.

Now that we are conducting some testing, are the Americans being truthful about the extent of mad cow disease on their own soil? I will cite as a reference an article from the Ottawa Citizen written just this week about Lester Friedlander, a former veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a well-known whistleblower. Mr. Friedlander says, flat out, that “mad cow is probably prevalent in the U.S., but has so far been kept out of the public eye. There's no doubt in my mind”.

In the early 1990s, he said that he was speaking to the USDA's chief pathologist about mad cow when the following exchange took place:


“Lester, if you ever find mad cow disease, promise me one thing?” he was asked. “What's that?” he responded. “Don't tell anybody.”


Mr. Friedlander said that he would take a lie detector test to back up his story. Once he heard that, he said, “I knew this whole thing was a joke”.

Mr. Friedlander alleges the Americans have not pursued a handful of false positive tests with enough rigour and said:


“The U.S. isn't any better than Canada. Except Canada was a little more truthful and came out and dealt with the problem. That's what I'm trying to tell the USDA,” he argues.


What we have here is not an issue that requires more than government action and stepping forward. It is an issue that requires strong but firm negotiations with the United States. We know from witness accounts, such as the one I just mentioned, that there are Americans who believe there is equal prevalence of BSE on the United States side.

We also know, and this is outrageous, that members of R-CALF, the U.S. ranchers group that sued on safety grounds to keep the border closed to Canadian cattle, have been buying up cheap cows in Canada after that devastating ban. This is something that group's president actually acknowledged on March 7, 2005 when he said:


“I don't see anything ironic about it,” Leo McDonnell said from Columbus, Montana. “I didn't see it as a big deal”



Three of those U.S. ranchers have been significant contributors to R-CALF's litigation fund,” McDonnell said, “an endeavour focused squarely on keeping the border shut.


Rick Paskal, the president of the Canadian Cattlemen For Fair trade has said that R-CALF was “absolutely not concerned about food safety”.

“There's nothing unique about what we're doing,” said McDonnell, who noted that members of pro-trade U.S. ranching groups have also bought Canadian cattle.

The Americans have benefited from rock bottom cattle prices in Canada and Mr. Paskal is quoted as saying that as many as 30,000 head of cattle had been purchased by at least a dozen R-CALF members.

What we see here is not a safety issue. What we see here is an issue of trade and another example of how ineffective the government's approach to opening up the borders has been, just as we saw with softwood lumber.

Being a member from British Columbia, a province that has lost 20,000 jobs to softwood lumber because of the government's lack of action and lack of ability to negotiate on the softwood lumber, we are seeing the same type of dithering on top of dithering when it comes to BSE.

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In both of those cases the government has been completely ineffective. In both of those cases we have seen the loss of tens of thousands of Canadian jobs in various parts of the country. In both of those cases we have seen devastation in communities across the country. In certain areas, in the epicentres of the crises, people are going under and families are losing their homes. In spite of all this, the government persists in taking weak-kneed actions.

What should it be doing? I will answer that. The member for Timmins—James Bay, who is also our agriculture critic, has said very clearly what needs to happen. He has called for 100% testing of cattle that is destined for slaughter. He has talked about a full feedback. Those are the types of things we need to do to respond to the international marketplace and make absolutely sure that we are establishing confidence in our cattle industry. Although we know that this is a question of trade and a question of negotiating firmly and strongly with our American neighbours, we also know that we have to take steps domestically.

We have also called for a very strong message to be sent to the Bush administration. When we see with chapter 19, with the BSE and with softwood lumber the continued trade tribunal rulings that have been ignored by the American government, we know we need to take a strong and firm position.

The NDP caucus continues to push for an effective plan to be put in place by the government to help farming communities, to help the cattle industry, to help the 75,000 workers who have lost their jobs and to help the tens of thousands of softwood workers who have lost their jobs. We will continue to speak out on this issue and we will continue to fight for them.

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The facts are, Mr. Speaker, that the government has done very little in facing this incredible crisis. It is not just members of the NDP who say this. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has said that all the government is offering is empty words and no action. Cattle communities based right across the country are saying that the government has empty words and no action. Three-quarters of the members of the House in this minority Parliament are saying the same thing.

The Liberals say that somehow, in the midst of these empty words and complete lack of action, something good is happening. They can throw out all the statistics they want but we have seen with the budget that they like to do flim-flam, play around with figures, maybe do something this year and certainly they will do something five years from now, but we know that Liberal promises are not worth the paper or the napkin they are printed on.

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What we support, Mr. Speaker, is real action. We support actual concrete steps that will make a difference in the farming communities across the country that have been horribly impacted by the lack of action of the government. We have always stood for that. We will continue to stand for that and we will continue to fight in this corner of the House for real concrete measures that make a difference.