These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Prime Minister Returns

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is returning to the country in the midst of the mad cow crisis.

Before the Prime Minister left the country he could not remember if he discussed the mad cow issue. Now, four weeks later the government still does not have a plan. Apparently it will be another two weeks before it is able to come up with any kind of compensation package to address the industry's problem.

My question is very simple. Is the Prime Minister capable of understanding that this is an emergency and if he is not interested in doing his job, why does he not just leave office now?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has worked extremely diligently on this file. This morning we had a report by a group of international experts who reported that we have acted more diligently than any other government. They are complimenting the government for the action it has taken.

We are very happy that there was only one cow that was affected. A lot of animals had to be destroyed because of that and, of course, we have programs within the government to deal with emergencies in the agriculture sector. We are looking at whether these programs can apply. If not, we will see what can be done on top of the existing programs that very often are agreed upon with the provincial governments.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, this morning's promise of a future compensation package for farmers affected by BSE is another cynical attempt to pre-empt the western premiers' request for aid.

The need for compensation is urgent and immediate. There is a product backlog and liquidity is the big issue.

When will the government relax the two week waiting period for workers affected by the ban of Canadian beef and when will it provide a fair and immediate compensation package for farmers who cannot afford to feed their cattle?

Hon. Jane Stewart (Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada is treating Canadians, no matter where they live, fairly across the country.

With regard to the waiving of the two week period associated with health realities associated with SARS, this has been applied equally across the country. Sixty-four Canadians in the western provinces are benefiting from it.

We are aggressively working with employers and employees to implement flexible standards of the work-sharing provisions as well as ensure that we are processing employment insurance claims as quickly as possible, because we know individuals who are laid off need those benefits urgently.

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, while the Prime Minister is busy congratulating himself, the fact is the western beef industry is still in crisis and needs help now.

Cattle producers are losing millions. Meat plant workers are losing their jobs. These people deserve more from their government than glib responses and buck-passing. They need help and they need it now.

When will the Prime Minister wake up and give some substantive help that is needed to plant workers and to cattle producers in the country? They are in crisis. Does the Prime Minister understand that?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we know that and we are working on it. As I said, we have federal and provincial programs very often working together to compensate farmers in difficulties.

This situation is affecting people in Saskatchewan and Alberta. We are looking at what can be done to give them the proper access to the resources that are needed for them to get through this very difficult period.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, operating cash has run out for the cattle industry and it is losing one of its main players, the feedlot industry.

Contrary to what the Prime Minister has said, the agriculture policy framework does not work in this large financial crisis. Feedlot companies are not even covered by the APF.

We know the cattle industry has developed a compensation package and it is supported by the western premiers. Why has this government not accepted the industry's proposal or come forward with one of its own?


Mr. Claude Duplain (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister responded to this very well earlier. Government stakeholders, starting with the Minister of Agriculture, are working with industry people and the provinces to find a solution to this problem as quickly as possible.


Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, representatives of the industry were down here last week and the government sent them home on Friday with nothing in their hands, not even a promise that it would do something. I do not accept that answer. What I want to see is the government stand and say that it intends to provide some financial help until that border is opened up and our exports start to flow again. Is there that commitment or not?


Mr. Claude Duplain (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as we said earlier, we are working very hard on this matter. I would like to know whether the member told his constituents that last week, while the committee was meeting with people from Saskatchewan, here they called for a vote to adjourn the House of Commons for the summer holiday. We missed the meeting.

Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, of the 2,000 animals that have been put down and tested, only one tested positive. The investigation was comprehensive. What has never been comprehensive are any specifics on any compensation package for the beef industry.

Why do the Liberals always come up short on agricultural programs?


Mr. Claude Duplain (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there are compensation programs available for producers. As it has been said, right now the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is in discussions to come up with other solutions for producers.


Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it is always somebody else's fault. Time is of the essence here. Four weeks have dragged by and there are no plan, no specifics. The beef industry is fighting off bankruptcy on its own. There is no help from those guys. Two more weeks to study the findings, they say, and still no clear signal to the industry or to banks that help is on the way.

What the heck is wrong with those guys? Do they not get it. Why are the Liberals always found lacking in any crisis?


Mr. Claude Duplain (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we are not lagging in any crisis. We are in the process of studying these crises. While we are studying the matter, as I said earlier, the Canadian Alliance is calling for votes in the House to interrupt the meetings we are having with people in Saskatchewan to try to solve the problem.

Ms. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the impact of the U.S. ban on Canadian beef does not stop with the west. Quebec's meat producers are also affected, as are the meat-packing industry workers. A hundred or so of them have lost their jobs at the Levinoff plant in Montreal and another twenty-five at the Colbex abattoir in Drummondville, not to mention the hundreds of others whose jobs are threatened as well.

Having helped the workers in Toronto affected by SARS, does the Minister of Human Resources Development plan to make available the same assistance to the Quebec workers who are victims of the beef crisis?


Hon. Jane Stewart (Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate for the hon. member that the government will treat Canadians fairly no matter where they live. When it comes specifically to the Employment Insurance Act and its provisions, I would like to say to the hon. member that the government will be there, encouraging the use of work sharing and making sure that claims are processed as quickly as possible. We understand and appreciate the significant impact that this is having on Canadians across the country.