These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Hundreds of Jobs Being Affected

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the government about the mad cow situation which we know is of grave concern to all sides of the House. Hundreds of animals are being destroyed or quarantined as is necessary to ensure containment and to ensure the quality of Canadian beef, but in the process hundreds of jobs of ordinary Canadians are being affected.

In the case of the SARS crisis in Toronto, the government acted quickly to relax EI rules to waive the EI waiting period. Would the government be prepared to do the same thing for Canadian workers affected by the mad cow crisis?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we were not very happy when we saw that problem develop. I would like to congratulate the ministers and officials of the Department of Agriculture in Ottawa and in Alberta for the diligence they have shown in coming to grips with the problem.

We had some good news in that there was only one cow affected in that operation. There is some work still going on and there is the question of the consequences for the people affected. Of course, the Minister of Human Resources Development will see what she can do in order to be just for these people as was done for the people of Toronto.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I thank the Prime Minister for that consideration.

There is another way the Canadian government can help. Canada has an agreement with a number of countries, including Australia and New Zealand, to import a fixed amount of beef, but in the past we have allowed into the country some extra beef through an over-quota system.

Now that Canadian beef is blocked at the borders, will the government agree to temporarily suspend the over-quota import of foreign beef and allow Canadian producers to fill the entire demand of the Canadian market?

Hon. Pierre Pettigrew (Minister for International Trade, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I thank the leader of the official opposition for the very pertinent question. We have already been working very closely on this issue with the Canadian industry.

I understand that we actually import from three countries at this time: Uruguay, Argentina and New Zealand. They are special products and we are in close touch with the industry to ensure that we do what is in the best interests of our industry at this time.

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP): Mr. Speaker, besides health concerns Canadians see crises like mad cow and SARS as big time job losses in the country. Our Prime Minister may see crisis as an excuse for dining out but putting food on the table is a real concern for families, even if it is only a photo opportunity for him, particularly meat plant workers who cannot even afford a temporary loss of work.

The government has ignored the hospitality workers in Toronto with the EI benefit program. I am asking if the Prime Minister will deliver for meat plant workers and wave the waiting period as a result of the mad cow layoffs?

[Translation]

Ms. Diane St-Jacques (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we are taking the risk of job loss in the beef industry very seriously, and the department will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

If there are layoffs in meat packing plants or in related areas of the beef industry, workers will be eligible for employment insurance and can count on it.

[English]

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP): Mr. Speaker, workers in crisis deserve more than a prime ministerial happy meal. SARS has again hit Toronto, with the hospitality industry already in crisis and reeling from the first one.

The Liberal response: Not a penny in compensation for the hospitality sector, just an ad campaign that apparently does not even mention the word Toronto in the ad.

Why will the Prime Minister spend $100 million to glorify the past when he will not spend one penny to protect hospitality workers as a result of these emergencies?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I think the member of Parliament just made a remark about the fact that I went to have a dinner the other day to show that Canadian beef was good.

I received a letter from Premier Klein, who said:

On behalf of the Government of Alberta and Alberta's cattle producers, I am writing to thank you for your public show of confidence in Alberta's and Canada's beef industry. Your steak lunch in Ottawa on Wednesday received a tremendous amount of coverage across Canada, and it means a great deal to our province...

He kept on and on, congratulating the Minister of Agriculture, so I think I will accept that.

Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, these are the facts regarding mad cow disease in Canada.

Exactly one cow has been found to have mad cow disease. That animal never entered the food chain. Not one of the other animals in that herd showed any signs of the disease. A dozen other herds with links to this diseased animal have been quarantined. Not a single animal in any of those herds has shown any signs of mad cow disease.

However despite these facts, the U.S. border remains closed to Canadian beef and cattle.

I assume the minister has been in touch with his counterpart in the U.S. My question is this. What specific criteria does Canada now have to meet in order for the Americans to open up the border again?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have had at least seven conversations with my counterpart in the United States in the last number of days.

The hon. member is correct in the statistics he gives, except that the trace out being done in those quarantined herds, the tracing ahead of the animals that left that farm and back from where that cow came, is not yet complete.

The work we have done so far definitely proves there is only one cow and, no, it did not get in the food chain. We need to complete that, and that work is ongoing at this time. We are very fortunate that we have the best food surveillance system in the world and when we show--

The Speaker: The hon. member for Medicine Hat.

Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, 2,400 workers in my riding alone, at meat packers, are affected by this. Cattle feeders are on the verge of going bankrupt, and all their suppliers are in deep trouble right now. This is an extraordinarily serious issue.

What I want to know from the minister is this. First, how long will it take for that trace out to finish up. Second, what criteria have the Americans specified that we need to meet in order for them to open up the border again so we can start to export our beef?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, they have not given a specific criteria other than they say that they want, and I believe them, this border opened as quickly as we do. They know the integration of the beef industry between Canada and the United States. They know there are over half a million head of Canadian cattle in feedlots and in breeding herds in the United States. It is critical to them as well.

What they want is what we want, and that is all the scientific proof we possibly can get that this was only one cow. We are well on the way to do that. It takes time to do that scientifically. Food safety and safety are number one. We will base it on science and demonstrate that, not only to the United States but to the world.

Mr. Louis Plamondon (Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Quebec government has implemented an exemplary tracking system that ensures it will not suffer Alberta's current problems with mad cow disease. Moreover, when this disease hit Britain, the entire beef industry in Europe was not subject to a ban. The minister should consider using this system.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food should learn from what Alberta is going through and adopt the UPA's solution, which is to regionalize agricultural and safety practices, thereby limiting the ban's impact to local areas instead of endangering the Canadian beef industry as a whole.

[English]

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Canadian cattle industry, as I said a few minutes ago, is not only integrated with the United States but it is integrated across our country.

Canadian genetics of cattle move from province to province across the country, and the programs and the system of surveillance based on food safety and science needs to be in place for the whole country.

[Translation]

Mr. Louis Plamondon (Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I think that the minister's answer is, in fact, the problem.

I asked him a clear question. Since Quebec's prevention system works extremely well, what is the federal government waiting for to implement it, insofar as possible within its own areas of jurisdiction, to reassure importing countries, so that Quebec producers can resume exports?

[English]

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows that Quebec is part of Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is a federal inspection agency that does the inspection in Quebec, as it does in every province, for all meat that leaves Quebec to other provinces or other parts of the world.

We all benefit in Canada from the best food inspection systems in the world, and it is there for all Canadians in all provinces.

Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Mr. Speaker, mad cow disease along with the new cases of SARS have delivered a one, two crippling punch to the Canadian economy. What Canadians needed was somebody to instill confidence, someone to demonstrate real leadership. Eating one steak does not cut it. People's livelihoods are threatened. The future of a $30 billion industry is in jeopardy.

My question is for the Prime Minister. What kind of compensation package, what kind of support payments will be in place for producers, truckers, auction houses and packing plants?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we have the problem of mad cow which has been dealt with by the Minister of Agriculture very effectively. Now there will be necessarily some consequences for some people and we will see what we can do.

However, his big attack on the economy of Canada, I would like to tell the hon. member that the G8 has asked the Prime Minister of Canada to make a presentation on economic performance because Canada is the one country in the G8 that is having the best economic performance of all the industrialized nations.

Mr. Gary Schellenberger (Perth--Middlesex, PC): Mr. Speaker, the case of mad cow disease is having a devastating impact on beef farmers across Canada. Better Beef, a packing plant in Guelph, announced that it has just laid off 100 people.

Earlier a question was asked about providing an EI program for workers affected by mad cow disease similar to the one created for SARS. The government's response was to continue to monitor the situation. That is simply not good enough. Will the government provide real assistance? Yes or no.

[Translation]

Ms. Diane St-Jacques (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, we are taking the situation in the beef industry very seriously, and workers can count on the employment insurance plan if they lose their jobs.

Moreover, if the situation warrants, those in charge of employment insurance can sign a worksharing agreement. The Government of Canada is there for Canadian workers and is working very hard to find solutions to this difficult situation.