These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Emergency Relief

Hon. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, CPC): Mr. Speaker, yesterday the agriculture minister refused to say when or if he would provide emergency relief to cattle producers. These people are not hobby farmers. They cannot wait until the next day, the next month or the next year. They need help right now.

Will the Prime Minister announce today that he will release funds from the contingency reserve for farm families?

Right Hon. Paul Martin (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, before responding to the Leader of the Opposition's question, I would like to raise the issue of International Women's Day and say that I know that the Leader of the Opposition and all members of the House would like to salute the courage of women around the world who are fighting for equality.

[Translation]

I would like to note that this is International Women's Day. I salute the courage of women who are working for equality, all over the world.

[English]

In terms of the hon. member's question, he ought to know that the Government of Canada has been very supportive of Canadian agriculture and in fact of our beef farmers and ranchers right from the very beginning. In fact, a record $4.9 billion has been paid by the governments of Canada and the provinces over the course of this terrible issue.

Hon. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our farm families were told that the border would be opened. Now the border is not open. They do not want to have more wait and see. They want the Prime Minister to look and to take some action. Slaughter capacity must be increased.

Yesterday two provincial governments responded to the latest development in the crisis by announcing $40 million more aid. The government is offering nothing more than stale sound bites.

Does the government understand that the extended closure of the U.S. border means it needs to take more action on this crisis and more action on slaughter capacity?

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, unlike the Leader of the Opposition and members of the party opposite who seem to be finally waking up to the issue, last September the government put in place a strategy to reposition the industry so that it would be profitable with or without a border opening.

Our set aside programs have been put in place. Our market development programs have been put in place. We continue to see an increase in slaughter capacity in Canada.

The government understands what needs to be done and it is doing it.

Hon. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the minister talks about waking up. He was telling the House and Canadians the border would be opened this week. That guy is Rip Van Winkle.

[Translation]

Now that the border is remaining closed, a program to encourage domestic slaughter is even more necessary. The herds are getting larger and farmers are losing money.

Will the Prime Minister support a price per head?

[English]

Hon. Andy Mitchell (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member can give all the mythical quotes that he wants to give. The reality is that rather than trying to score cheap political points this minister and this caucus were in Washington dealing with the Americans and dealing with this issue.

As the Minister of Finance has said, we have stood by our industry since May 2003. We have provided substantial investments in that industry. We have put in place some very creative and innovative programs to support that industry. We will continue to do that in the weeks and months yet to come.