Gerry Ritz                         
Member of Parliament for Battlefords-Lloydminster      



  House of Commons Speeches                

Response to Ag Minister's Statement, March 22, 2004

     Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to reply to the minister's speech on what happened earlier today.
     When I saw the photo op happening out in Lethbridge I thought it was very fitting that when the Prime Minister stepped up to the mic to begin speaking all the cattle behind him moved back. They seemed to sense what was coming.
     It was quite a thing watching all those Liberal wannabes and a few who tried and were burned in the nomination process and so on, trying to somehow come to grips with ignoring the problem for 10 months, not really knowing what to do.
     What have the Liberals done to date? They have made announcement after announcement. They have pledged cash that they have never delivered. They have talked about working with our trading partners but, of course, are afraid to go there because of a few things that have been said and done over the last little while.
     It is great to see money being allocated to agriculture. It is the third largest contributor to the GDP in the country and it needs to be backstopped at this time. They are under severe stress and strain. However the government has just not been up to the task. It has fallen far short.
     We finally get the hint that an election is in the air when the government starts to address agriculture. It ignores it always between election points. When we start to see it come around and talk about backstopping agriculture, what a great thing it is for the country and it talks about the primary producers of our safe, secure food, we know that an election is not too far off.
     Members can call me a cynic but as a farmer I have seen it happen year after year and election term after election term.
     Let us analyze what the Liberals have announced in the last little while or maybe we will start with what they announced but have never been able to deliver. We have been seized at the agricultural committee with going after somebody who took all the money. The Liberals announced all the cash going out to producers and so on but none of it got there. Somebody had to rip it off and those guys are the kings of rip-offs. They understand that concept so right away they tell us that somebody took advantage. Where did the money go?
     When we had the agricultural bureaucrats before us at committee they told us that of the $5 billion the Liberals said went into agriculture last year, just over $1 billion actually went anywhere. The other $4 billion is still sitting in somebody's departmental allowance over there. That is the guy who is hanging on to the cash, not the packers, the producers or the feedlots. None of those folks who really needed it got it.
     They announced another $50 million to clean out the freezers of the packers but even the Agriculture Canada numbers on that said that only $9.9 million of that went out, less than 20%.
     We cannot say that the packers ripped us off. Sure they are enjoying some profits at this point but they certainly had none up until now. The government's meddling really did not help.
     We saw a lot of the farm groups. The finance minister stood up and said that the head of the CFA was there. Just a minute. He is a Liberal nominee who did not make it. He talked about the beef export federation guy who was there, Ted Haney. Wonderful. He is going to run in Calgary. That is a suicide mission for a Liberal, and I welcome him to it.
     I have little or no respect for those gentlemen any more in that they are not representing their farm groups because the farmers they supposedly represent call my office to say that they do not agree with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association on this issue. It says that it has 90,000 members. It is because it gets my check-off every time I sell an animal. It is not because I joined up.
     There are not a lot of folks out there who belong to these organizations. Members should try to look for an actual list. It is probably about as secure as the Liberal one in a lot of these contested nominations.
     There are problems with all of these announcements. Somehow the message gets out in the media in Toronto and to consumers across the country that all this big money is going into agriculture. There is not a farmer or rancher out there who has benefited from any of this. It just has not gone where it was supposed to go.
     In the new announcement today the government talked about $65 million to top up CFIP. That is a 2002 program to cover the 2001-02 bad year we had out there. That program was announced two to three years ago and the government is just now sending out the money.
     It is no wonder the banks and financial institutions are getting a little shaky. They cannot count on the government to deliver what it promised so it is finally topping that up. That is good news. That should have been done two years ago. It never should have been delayed.
     There was the $250 million transition to the CAIS program. It is supposed to be workable in the fall of 2004. That sucker was supposed to be up and workable in April 2003. We are almost coming up to a year past on that one.
     The $1.1 billion allocated to the APF for 2003 is still sitting on the shelves over there, so I am sure that some of that money is being recycled into this announcement.
The Liberals talk about $5 billion going out. It never went anywhere. If we were to look at the final numbers for 2003 we would see negative $13 million income for agriculture; all commodities, all sectors coast to coast. They lost $13 million and they supposedly put in $5 billion but it did not get out of the benches. That is the problem. Even the agriculture bureaucrats say “that only $1 billion left”. Is it creative accounting over there? Yes, at best.
This transition to the fall of 2004 is an advance on an advance. Someone will claw that back. It will come out of the money that was allocated in 2003-04, which is already a year out of date. A lot of my guys out there are starving for cash. What is hurting the whole agriculture enterprise is cashflow. This will not necessarily help, although I hope it does. I hope I am proven wrong that I am a cynic because I really hope it helps. I have farmer after farmer calling me day after day saying that they are done, that they cannot do it this year.
The government says that it can get some cheques out in April. How big will they be? We do not know. Who will qualify? We do not know. Until those details are published along with this, this is just another announcement long on political rhetoric and really short on details.
There are problems with all of these things. The federal component of crop insurance last year was $194 million. Saskatchewan, as a province, has a deficit in crop insurance of $500 million. We are a long way apart. The federal government is not paying its fair share, sort of like health care. The premiums in Saskatchewan are going up 30% on average and the coverage is going down 4% to 5% because the cashflow is not there. The federal commitment is not there. It is not sustainable.
     We are seeing some announcements here that are tied to an upcoming election. It has very little to do with backstopping an industry in crisis from coast to coast. Members can call me a cynic, but I think it is political opportunism over on that side and I am really sorry to say that it will probably not help my producers who need it in a desperate way.

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