These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Farmers Facing Bankruptcy

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I want to ask about yet another disaster, and on this one we do not have endless time for more discussion and wrangling. This is the problem of course with mad cow and the beef industry.

As I have indicated several times this week and as the government knows, feedlots are on the verge of bankruptcy. Hardship and worry is spreading throughout the industry and throughout sections of the industry, obviously through farm families.

I understand the beef industry and members of it have presented a very reasonable, modest proposal for compensation assistance. When will we know from the government the details of its compensation plans for the beef industry?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member has said and he knows I have continually met with the industry, and on Wednesday in Edmonton. Officials from my department met with the beef industry yesterday. They will continue those discussions today. The meetings have gone very well.

They are working on some support for the industry. I guess it is best to put it this way. One of the vice presidents of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association last night told me that they had excellent meetings yesterday.

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the government's insistence that any help for the cattle industry must come from existing programs is simply not defensible.

The food inspection agency several years ago dismissed the possibility of mad cow disease in Canada, saying that it was a European disease. In other words, it could not happen here; except that it has.

Loan guarantees from existing programs are not the answer. The cattle industry needs an understandable, bankable cash advance and it needs it PDQ. When will it receive it?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I said a few minutes ago, we had excellent meetings with the industry yesterday.

The new business risk management program was the foresight of this government and it would be there to assist the industry when these types of things unfortunately happen. We are looking at other things to build upon that as well.

I repeat, the cattlemen told me last night that the meetings yesterday were excellent.

Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the existing farm safety net programs cannot work for the current animal health crisis. The feedlot and packing industries need an immediate aid package that is bankable in days, not months. If it takes the government as long to get aid to the feedlots as it did to the lumber producers they will all be bankrupt and gone.

When will the government announce an aid package to cover the BSE disaster?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have already answered that question twice in the question period today. The industries have put proposals to us and we have had those discussions. The discussions have been ongoing and they are ongoing today.

I am very optimistic that we will be able to not only use the new business risk management program, which is far more effective than we have had in the past, but also be able to put forward some additional help in order to help the industry get through this situation.

Mr. Gary Schellenberger (Perth--Middlesex, PC): Mr. Speaker, the beef farmers of Perth--Middlesex are facing serious threats to their livelihood. Livestock disposal, laid off workers and financial hardships are big problems.

Some of my constituents are facing bankruptcy. At $11 million a day, the cost of industry inaction is approaching $200 million. The borders are still closed.

Will the Minister of Agriculture inform the House when Perth--Middlesex farmers and plant workers can expect financial assistance from the government?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for the fourth time in this question period I will repeat that we are having excellent discussions with the industry.

The government understands fully the effects of the finding of one cow with BSE and the fact that the one cow did not get into the food chain. We know we need to complete the science so that we can demonstrate, not only to our customers, to Canadians who are being very supportive, I must say, but to our international customers and to the world that we have a good system.

In the meantime we will be there with existing programs and with other support to help the industry.