These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

War of Insults

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, instead of representing Canadians' interests abroad, the Prime Minister, the petty little guy from Shawinigan, once again seems to be engaging in a war of insults with President Bush.

There are the duties on softwood lumber and wheat. There are the travel advisories over the SARS outbreak. There is the ban on the importation of Canadian beef. On the issue of mad cow disease, which the Prime Minister forgot whether he even discussed it with the President, can the government report whether the President and the Prime Minister have had any useful discussions that might result in the lifting of the ban on the importation of Canadian beef?

Hon. John Manley (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member knows that there is additional work being carried on by the authorities at both the federal and provincial levels. Once the appropriate information is available, then of course we will immediately urge that the ban on imports to the United States be lifted. That will be done at all appropriate levels.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister can have this laid-back tone, but this is costing the industry millions every day that it is in effect.

The government waived the EI waiting period for workers directly affected by SARS in Toronto. On Monday I asked the Prime Minister in the House if he would do the same thing for beef industry workers. He appeared to say yes. A day later the human resources minister appeared to have said no.

When will the government be fair to beef industry workers and eliminate the EI waiting period?

Hon. Jane Stewart (Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I first want to say how much we appreciate the difficulties that may be associated to those who are working in the meat processing industry.

Let us be clear that the waiving of the two week waiting period in Toronto was for those who are directly affected by quarantine. We waived that two week period to support the quarantine for individuals who had no choice of going out to work, and could stay at home and have income for their families.

By working with the employers and the employees as we are doing every single day, we want to make sure that employment insurance work sharing opportunities and all the aspects of the employment insurance program are there for those who need it.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, that kind of hair splitting is not acceptable. Workers in the industry are being directly affected because of the outbreak of mad cow disease. When EI waiting times were eliminated because of the Toronto SARS crisis, they were eliminated for those who were “prevented from working because of an outbreak”. Beef industry workers are also prevented from working because of an outbreak.

How can the government explain this double standard toward the working conditions of rural Canadians?

Hon. Jane Stewart (Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there is no double standard. I would implore the hon. member to understand the circumstances around which waiving the two week waiting period was undertaken. It is precisely for those who are quarantined, who cannot leave their homes, who cannot go to work and who have to have the opportunity to have income support for their families.

There are other aspects of the employment insurance system that are there. They are working and working well. My officials are working with employers and employees to ensure they understand all aspects of the program and have the full benefit of those programs.

Mr. Rick Casson (Lethbridge, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it has been nine days since our borders were closed to exports of beef and beef products. Canada's multi-billion dollar beef industry is in peril of disappearing. With every hour that goes by, the industry gets closer to economic collapse.

Could the minister tell us what demands are being made by our trading partners to assure them what we already know that our beef is safe, and when will our borders be reopened?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I had another conversation yesterday right after question period with Secretary Ann Veneman, of the United States. I asked her that question specifically. She said that they, like us, need more science.

The depopulation of herds is continuing so we can demonstrate not only to our trading partners but to the International Office of Epizootics that the system we have and the science we are using is the proper way. Hopefully we can demonstrate that it is only one cow because that is what our system has found.

Mr. Rick Casson (Lethbridge, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, every day that goes by sees more and more of these cattle reach maturity. This situation is not like the softwood lumber dispute where the government can sit back and wait months and years to reach a decision. These are live animals. They reach maturity very quickly and must be fed and maintained on a daily basis.

With our borders closed, what is the government prepared to do with the 60% of these mature animals that have no market?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I spent two hours with the Beef Roundtable this morning, which has representatives from all the value chain and the beef industry. They have agreed that the primary concern and the primary goal at this time is to get the border open and the markets open around the world. Those are the efforts we are taking at this time. We will continue, and hopefully we will be successful in the near future.

Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Mr. Speaker, every day the U.S. border is shut to Canadian beef, the situation becomes more desperate for producers, feedlot operators, auction marts, packing plants and truckers. Today the Prime Minister once again poked the U.S. President in the eye with his nonsensical ramblings. It is obvious the Prime Minister does not realize our economy is strong because of our dependence on U.S. markets.

My question is for the Minister of Agriculture. Why did the Prime Minister blind side him like this? Why is the Prime Minister going out of his way to make it so difficult to open this border?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we are making every effort to get the border open. I want to quote from Mr. Wythe Willey who is the president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in the United States and a trade policy adviser to President George Bush. He has said that the word of the Canadian beef system being safe should be enough and be sufficient for Washington to resume the north-south trade in cattle.

That is the type of support we have in the United States. That is the type of support with which we will work. I am confident that when the science is there and we complete the science in the near future the Prime Minister will again demonstrate that to the President.