These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Interest Free Loans

Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. We are now in a farm income crisis in Canada. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that realized net farm income in our country last year was a negative, at minus $13.4 million, the lowest since statistics started being kept in the 1920s. On top of that, the livestock industry, because of BSE, is in turmoil. Farmers need help immediately.

I ask the minister whether or not he will consider introducing legislation that would have a program of interest free loans for livestock and grain farmers in this country so they can pay some bills and stay on the farm.

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member that in fact this is a crisis out there in agriculture across this country today. That is why the Prime Minister and I and many members of the cabinet have been out talking with farmers and farm groups across the country to see what more we, plus the provinces, can do to help. I am presently meeting with a number of different groups, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which I met today, and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, to see where we as governments can move further.

Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC): Mr. Speaker, what is really scandalous is the 10 months that have sneaked by when we were waiting for the Liberal government to recognize the evidence of the increasing hurt faced by our livestock producers. Like any business, farmers need market certainty and cash flow to survive. Any farm group would have told the minister that yesterday.

Why does it continue to be so impossible for the government to design a plan that works for our producers? Get it done.

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, in fact we have responded. We responded with a $520 million program on BSE. We responded with a $200 million program on cull cow. We also responded with a $600 million transition program to help transition from the old programs to the new program.

We are working very closely with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and our provincial colleagues to address some of these concerns.

I invite the hon. member to sit down with the cattlemen. Maybe they would tell him about the approach--

The Speaker: The hon. member for Battlefords--Lloydminster.

Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC): Mr. Speaker, all those farm groups are telling the minister to get off his duff and get it done. We need cash flow today.

All these big programs that the government talked about, the dollars never went to where they were intended. They did not get there.

CFIP paid out 70%. That is the government's answer to the solution.

Why are families who produce our safe quality food never a priority for the Liberal government?

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, they are a priority for the government. The Government of Canada, my cabinet colleagues and indeed the Prime Minister recognize the situation of farmers and farm families across the country. That is why the Prime Minister has taken such a large lead in terms of dealing with the BSE situation.

I can assure all hon. members and indeed farmers and farm families across the country that the Government of Canada does take this issue very seriously. We are working very hard in terms of opening up the border. We are working very hard with our provincial colleagues, along with the farm groups in order to make sure that the money that is--

The Speaker: The hon. member for Thornhill.

Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the statements by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food about supply management are confusing. On the one hand, the minister is reaffirming that he will defend supply management, but he recognizes at the same time that there will be opposition around the table and even added, “We do not have much support”. The minister's hesitations weaken his position.

Does the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food intend to eliminate all ambiguity and clearly reaffirm his commitment to defending the supply management system, as it currently exists in Quebec and Canada?

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, from back in the days of the hon. Eugene Whalen through many ministers of agriculture within the Liberal Party of Canada, we have stood firmly behind supply management. I would question if there is that stand in other parties in the House.