These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Government Blackmails Provinces

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I must tell the Prime Minister that there really is growing concern and frustration among cattlemen and their families.

They have been waiting weeks for test results to be completed. Those tests are apparently now completed, but our border with the United States remains closed. It is within the power of the U.S. administration to open the border and we believe it is incumbent upon the Prime Minister of the country to phone the President and try to get action on that.

Will the Prime Minister do that or does he believe he has lost complete credibility with the U.S. government?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, at this moment Canadian scientists are discussing the file with their counterparts in the United States. We must prove to them scientifically that everything is safe.

At this moment the best course is to let the scientists resolve the problem among themselves. Of course, if there is a need at one time to speak with the President, I will be happy to do that. I have already discussed this problem with him when I was in Europe last week.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, that has been the government's line for weeks, that the science must be dealt with.

We now believe that the science has been dealt with, but yesterday two of the Prime Minister's own cabinet ministers, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public Works, suggested science was not the issue. They suggested that somehow there were issues beyond science.

Can the Prime Minister tell us what they were talking about? Were they talking about the Prime Minister's bad relations with the United States?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we must be very careful when there is a question of public safety. The member should recall the problem we had with P.E.I. potatoes for a number of years. I spoke with the President time and time again. The Americans were using the health problem to ban potatoes.

At this moment it is very important not to make a mistake. Our people must convince their counterparts in the United States on a scientific basis first.

Of course, if there is a need for me to speak to the President, I will be happy to speak with him and I am sure that he will be happy to speak with me.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, there is a need to talk to the President. The Prime Minister had time to give no less than two press scrums on what the President was doing wrong with domestic policy in the United States. He can have a second conversation on this issue with the President.

For two weeks we have been told the science would be done and the borders would be opened. The science is now done and it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to get answers.

Can the Prime Minister tell us with any degree of specificity what exactly is the new criteria that Canada must meet to get the borders open?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we must assure everybody that there is no disease in Canada. It was only one cow and the system worked well. We have acted very diligently. Scientists, who came from other nations, have looked at the file and complimented the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the people working on the file from the Government of Alberta for having moved quickly.

That is the way to deal with it, not try to score political points. We must do it in a responsible way.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the beef industry is being held hostage and denied immediate financial compensation in an attempt to force the provinces to sign on to the agriculture policy framework. As of today eight provinces have not signed on to the APF.

I find it incredible that the government would use the beef industry and abuse it in this way.

My question is for the Minister of Agriculture. Why is the government blackmailing the provinces into signing the agriculture policy framework?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we are not blackmailing anyone into doing anything. As of the end of December last year, the old program, the Canadian farm income protection program, which the opposition did not like and others did not like, ceased to exist.

We worked with the provinces and the industry, and we have developed a new program that is more effective and goes deeper into disaster situations than the old program did. That is there for the farmers to participate in. I am sure they want to do that.

Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association has stated at the agriculture committee that the agriculture policy framework would not handle a catastrophe, such as BSE where the border has been closed to the United States.

All other major farm groups, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, have said the same thing.

Why is the government not willing to provide immediate compensation to our feedlot industry that needs the cash today?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has already said that we are having those discussions with the industry and with the provinces. I will discuss those and the ideas and ways in which we can do that with ministers again on Friday.

We very clearly understand the seriousness of this. We also understand the importance of scientists working initially to help us get the border open. A combination of all that is what is needed. Those are the efforts we are putting forward.

Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the plan of the industry and now the plan of the premiers for BSE compensation was delivered to the Prime Minister on June 9.

Premier Campbell was not overstating the BSE economic crisis when he said, “If something is not done immediately, the feedlot industry as we know it will disappear”.

Could the Prime Minister tell the House why he has not agreed to compensation in view of the fact that the APF cannot provide immediate help?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there is no reason why the business risk management portion of the new program cannot provide immediate help. That is indeed very possible.

As well I have said that we are looking into the possibility of interest free loans to help the industry's cash flows in this crisis. Along with that, we are working very diligently and the sectors are too to get the border open, which is even more important than all of the other. However, we need all of it.

Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the Alberta minister of agriculture, who has signed on to the APF, has stated that any BSE compensation package has to be a compliment to NISA and that NISA alone will not address this crisis.

Why is the government refusing to offer immediate assistance to feedlot operators who are going broke?

Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is correct. NISA alone will not do it but the new program, which is a combination of the old NISA program and the disaster program, will do it. I had those discussions with the minister yesterday on a conference call, and she gave very strong indications that was one of the directions we needed to consider.