These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

BSE on Back Burner

Mr. Charlie Penson (Peace River, CPC): Mr. Speaker, yesterday in reaction to the re-election of President Bush, the Prime Minister said he plans to raise a number of issues that have been on the back burner, including the border closure to Canadian livestock.

Canadian livestock and cattle producers are tired of the Liberal government neglecting their industry on the BSE trade dispute. Many have resorted to taking matters into their own hands and have mounted their own NAFTA challenge because the government has refused to support them.

Why has the government treated the BSE crisis as a back burner issue?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, that is absolute nonsense. There have been over 150 separate occasions where we have intervened with the Americans specifically on the BSE issue. That is hardly on the back burner. I talked to the U.S. ambassador yesterday about this issue and talked to the secretary of agriculture just a few hours ago.

Mr. Charlie Penson (Peace River, CPC): Mr. Speaker, two things are certain. First, until the border is fully reopened, Canadian livestock producers and their communities will continue to suffer economic hardship and loss. Second, anti-American and anti-Bush comments from this Liberal government only aggravate an already strained Canada-U.S. relationship.

When will the Prime Minister get serious about the BSE crisis and slap down those in his caucus who hurt Canadian interests by bad mouthing the United States?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, when the hon. member talks about what this government has done in respect of supporting those communities, there have been four separate initiatives, collectively with the provinces and totalling over $2 billion, that have been undertaken to assist our beef producers and the industry.

On this side of the House we are not concerned about the anti-rhetoric we hear from them every day. We are interested in getting results and making investments for our beef producers, and that is what we are doing.

Ms. Diane Finley (Haldimand—Norfolk, CPC): Mr. Speaker, with the U.S. border still closed to Canadian livestock, increasing slaughter capacity should be a priority of the government. However, $38 million allocated for loan loss reserves is not getting shovels in the ground for even one processing facility, let alone stimulating an entire industry.

When will the government provide real incentives for increased slaughter capacity so the Canadian livestock industry can process Canadian ruminants?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday in answer to similar questions, we do have a very aggressive strategy for ensuring that we can expand slaughter capacity.

First, we have provided CFIA with the additional resources it needs in order to undertake the inspection and regulatory process. Second, we have provided a loan loss reserve so there can be investment from the private sector, encouraged by the investments from the public sector, to close that gap.

Presently in Canada we slaughter some 81,000 animals per week. We are working to reach a level of 100,000, which is estimated to be the amount we should.

Ms. Diane Finley (Haldimand—Norfolk, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the fact is the structure of the loan loss reserve program does not encourage investment in new abattoirs. Even with the border opening, cull cows will still not be accepted by the United States.

Why will the Minister of Agriculture not aggressively promote the building of slaughterhouses for cattle over 30 months of age?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the details and the terms and conditions of the loan loss reserve were provided to the financial institutions last week. I took the opportunity to talk to each one of those financial institutions to discuss the particular terms and conditions. In fact I will be holding another collective meeting with those institutions tomorrow.

Mr. David Anderson (Cypress Hills—Grasslands, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the government has failed beef producers at every turn. Ranchers have tried for at least 18 months to open producer initiated packing plants. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has hindered them at every turn, dragging out regulation after regulation.

When will the agriculture minister clear the path? When will he remove the CFIA as the industry's main obstacle to increasing Canadian cull cow slaughter capacity?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we will not remove the CFIA from protecting the health and safety of Canadians. That is an absolute. There is a need at the same time to operate administratively efficiently and to operate in a way where we can encourage and work with proponents. That is exactly what we intend to do, but we will not put at risk the health and safety of Canadians.

Mr. David Anderson (Cypress Hills—Grasslands, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the CFIA has thrown roadblocks in the path of producers. Unnecessary regulations such as requiring paved parking lots, changing floor drain sizes, moving walls four feet and complaining about the size of the offices of the CFIA bureaucrats have all been used to keep cattlemen from opening their own facilities.

It is crucial that we increase slaughter capacity immediately. Why will the agriculture minister not force the CFIA to work cooperatively with producers so we can begin to dig our way out of this BSE black hole?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear. In those instances where there are regulatory necessities that need to be undertaken and that are not critical to health and safety, obviously we will work with the proponents. That will not hold up a licensing process. However, on the core issues that deal with the health and safety of Canadians, CFIA will ensure that those regulations to protect Canadians are enforced and adhered to.

Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government has been consistent over the last decade in announcing unworkable agricultural programs. Then when Canadian producers try to move ahead on their own, every door they open reveals a government inspector with a stop sign.

How can the minister justify his CFIA minions' unwarranted stalling of increased domestic slaughter capacity for cull cows that has nothing to do with health and safety but paving parking lots?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, obviously the member was not listening to the previous answer. On those regulatory issues that do not deal directly with health and safety, they will not be put in the way of ensuring that licensing comes forward. However, on those issues that deal directly with the health and safety of Canadians, CFIA officials have an obligation, and I support that obligation, to protect the health and safety of Canadians. They will not compromise on that.

Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC): Mr. Speaker, for years Canadians endured the grey fog rolling out from those benches on the opposite side, and I would certainly prefer that to the dense fog we are getting from the minister there today.

Producers would like the minister to stop hiding behind his own self-serving press releases and investigate what his bureaucrats are really doing. Who is in charge over there? Will the minister admit that every announcement he has made has been undermined by his own government and the roadblocks it throws up to prevent producer-driven processing?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, that is nonsense. There has been over $2 billion of assistance to the beef industry in the country. If the hon. member would take a look at the estimates from last year, he would see $4 billion of funding to producers.

On this side of the House, we are not interested in the empty rhetoric and the fancy speeches over there. We are interested in real things that help producers with real investment. That is what we are doing. That is what we will continue to do.