These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Government Should be Ashamed

Ms. Denise Poirier-Rivard (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the federal government should be ashamed of the way it is treating farmers who are currently going through a catastrophic situation. They are not only victims of a crisis that is not their fault, but they are at the mercy of the limited number of slaughterhouses that can set the price of beef as they wish.

In light of this growing problem, what is the government waiting for to increase its support for victims of the mad cow crisis?

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, specifically for the province that the hon. member represents we have been able to provide assistance from our business risk management envelope of some $366 million. In addition to that, and the member points out quite rightly the need to create slaughter capacity, on September 10 we announced initiatives that will assist in developing that slaughter capacity, including in the province of Quebec.

[Translation]

Ms. Denise Poirier-Rivard (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the problem is so serious that the rate of suicides among farmers is high, reportedly. Some are starving, while others have exhausted their life savings and are facing bankruptcy. Farmers are fed up with empty speeches. They are waiting for real solutions to this tragic situation.

What is the government waiting for to allocate part of its huge surplus to help the farmers?

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, clearly the government is not waiting. That is why $366 million has been advanced to producers in Quebec. It is why on September 10 we did announce a program to increase slaughter capacity.

As I have mentioned to the member on a number of occasions, and to others, we are continuing to work specifically on the issue of dairy and on the issue of cull cows and how we need to address that.

[Translation]

Mr. Roger Gaudet (Montcalm, BQ): Mr. Speaker, on September 23, the president of the UPA criticized the federal government's centralizing attitude in the mad cow situation. Laurent Pellerin said that the federal government's five aid packages are not geared to the reality in Quebec.

What is the minister waiting for to recognize the urgent need to help the dairy and cattle farmers in Quebec?

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, that is not entirely accurate, because there is a portion of the industry in Quebec, the cattle industry, that operates much like it does in the rest of the country. In that respect we provided assistance, and as I said, in the province of Quebec, some $366 million.

In addition to that, though, there are issues that are in Quebec and in other provinces in terms of dairy. This is something that I have indicated we are working very closely on with a number of producer groups, including with the provinces, to deal specifically with that issue.

[Translation]

Mr. Roger Gaudet (Montcalm, BQ): Mr. Speaker, it was Mr. Pellerin who said that. So far the government has delivered five different aid packages to try to alleviate the impact of the crisis. The five packages do not reflect the reality in Quebec.

What is the minister waiting for to announce a package that properly covers all the farmers in Quebec?

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the reality is that those programs do not ignore Quebec. Our CAIS program for 2003 was $90 million. For 2004 it advances to $102 million. For the cull animal program, it is almost $18 million. Under the transitional industry support program, it is $93 million, and that does not count the money we will be putting into new slaughter capacity.

As I suggested to the hon. member earlier, we are working with the industry on the issue of the dairy industry and the particular challenges it faces in respect of BSE.

Mr. Sébastien Gagnon (Jonquière—Alma, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the dairy farmers of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are at the end of their tether. Last week they held a general assembly at which they decided to increase their pressure tactics so someone will at last deign to heed their appeals. They are preparing to slaughter 600 cows and dump them all into a pit in order to gain broad media coverage and public exposure.

We must express disapproval of such action, but how far do the dairy farmers have to go before they get it across to this government that it has responsibilities toward them, as well as the financial means to help them out, and that the situation is more than urgent?

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I said in answer to a previous question, we provided some $366 million to the province of Quebec. In addition to that, we announced on September 10 additional resources to help build slaughter capacity.

As I said to previous members, although we understand that some 85% of the income of dairy producers comes from milk, there is a significant portion of their income that does not. It is imperative that we work with producers to assist them with that portion and that difficulty that they face.

[Translation]

Mr. Sébastien Gagnon (Jonquière—Alma, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the aid package for Quebec is inadequate. In addition to an emergency package for the dairy farmers, the minister could do something else that would not cost the government a thing.

Why does the minister not cooperate with his provincial counterparts to establish a floor abattoir price for cull cattle? A measure such as this would rescue the dairy farmers from the clutches of the major abattoirs, which are exploiting them shamelessly at present and forcing them into bankruptcy.

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we are working very closely with people in the province of Quebec. I met with the UPA this week and I meet on a regular basis with my provincial colleague.

Yes, that suggestion is one of many suggestions that have been brought forward that are worthy of consideration. We understand the need to deal with that specific part of dairy producers' income where they are having difficulty, that is true, in the province of Quebec. It is also true in other provinces right across the country and we are determined to do that.