These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Floor Price for Cull Cows

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, Quebec's agriculture minister received assurances from the Minister of Transport that the federal government will assume 60% of the $16 million compensation that is required to set a floor price for cull cows. However, according to the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Ottawa has not even completed its study of the agreement.

Can the Minister of Transport, who is responsible for Quebec, tell us if, indeed, he gave his word to Quebec's agriculture minister and intends to fully respect it?

Hon. Jean Lapierre (Minister of Transport, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my conversation with the agriculture minister lasted exactly one minute and a half. She told me that she had her own program, that she was in the middle of negotiations, and she asked me whether we might be considering the 60-40 agreement that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food had told her about, for a shorter period of time. However, no formal commitment was made.

What we have is the will to look together at this agreement, which has yet to be finalized. While there is some goodwill, there is definitely no cheque written yet. People have to talk to each other and, of course, this is what the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and his provincial counterpart will do.

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, in other words, what the minister is telling us is that he never gave these assurances to Quebec's agriculture minister, that she made it up when she spoke publicly on Thursday, spoke to the media and told UPA officials that she had assurances from the federal government, because she had talked to the minister responsible for Quebec.

If I hear the minister correctly, he is saying that she made up the whole thing and that there is nothing true in what she said.

Hon. Jean Lapierre (Minister of Transport, Lib.): Not at all, Mr. Speaker. What I told the agriculture minister is that we are prepared to cooperate with them. Indeed, talks will take place in the coming weeks. Of course, the agreement is not even finalized. Obviously, we did not have time, in a minute and a half of conversation, to discuss or negotiate a matter involving an amount of $18 million. We are much more responsible than that.

Mr. Michel Gauthier (Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the hon. Minister of Transport may be responsible, but after Ms. Gauthier's remarks on Thursday to the effect that he had made, on behalf of the Government of Canada, a commitment to assume 60% of the compensation, would the responsible course of action not be to stand up and denounce the statement he says was inaccurate?

Hon. Jean Lapierre (Minister of Transport, Lib.): You know, Mr. Speaker, that, where federal-provincial relations are concerned, a new tone was adopted in this place, and denouncement is the Bloc Québécois's thing, not ours.

What I did was that, anytime I was asked, I told the journalists that we were very open to a request and that we would consider it. I never said anything, however, about giving assurances about a cheque in this amount. Everyone knows that is plain common sense. Obviously, nothing was negotiated in a minute and a half conversation. Besides, the minister herself does not have the entire agreement. We were talking about possible future negotiations, naturally.

Mr. Michel Gauthier (Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transport should be serious for a minute. Quebec's agriculture minister made a statement saying that Ottawa had made a commitment and that she had the transport minister's word.

Calling himself responsible, the Minister of Transport is not saying anything. Is that responsible? Should the Minister of Transport not have told the public and the minister immediately that it was inaccurate, that his remarks should not have been interpreted that way, instead of letting this go?

Hon. Jean Lapierre (Minister of Transport, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the member should know that the interpretation to be given to my remarks is that the federal government is prepared to do everything to improve the situation for all in the mad cow issue.

But we have already accomplished a lot. We will continue to cooperate with the province. Whenever I was asked, I obviously answered that Ottawa was prepared to cooperate, but I never said that an agreement had been signed. The agreement with the slaughterhouse has not even been signed. Therefore, we cannot be negotiating $18 million in compensation without even knowing what the purchase price is for the slaughter house. Seriously.