These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Avian Flu

Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, CPC): Mr. Speaker, when the avian flu crisis hit the Fraser Valley, representatives of the poultry industry immediately sat down with government officials to discuss what steps would be necessary to clean up the disease and preserve the industry in the long term.

Government representatives led them to believe that an adequate compensation package would be paid quickly. Based on that understanding, the industry agreed to the depopulation order. Unfortunately, the government's compensation plan is incomprehensible and clearly inadequate, and now those who have received a payment have been told they will have it clawed back.

Why, three months after the crisis began, is there still no decent compensation package for the farmers?

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there is a decent compensation package for farmers. Since the crisis came to our attention, we have had the ability to sit down with farmers, farm groups, processors and the province to work together on this issue, frankly in a non-partisan way. We have sat down with the producers to ensure that the compensation package reflects the reality of the crises they are facing.

Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the reality is that the talks have broken off with the farmers in the Fraser Valley and the government does not seem to be interested in restarting them. In fact when they first sat down with government officials, the farmers were told, for example, that a laying hen was worth between $20 and $30 and that was the sort of money they could expect once the compensation order was paid. Now they have been offered only a fraction of that, but what can they do? Their barns are empty. They cannot restock with more birds. They are prohibited from doing business, and they cannot get compensation from the government.

The farmers and the industry are doing their part to try to pull this together. Is it not time that the government came up with a comprehensive and comprehensible compensation plan?

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I wish the hon. member would not stand in the House and say that talks with the farmers have broken off. That is absolutely not true. In fact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is constantly in contact with the farmers and different farm groups, along with the province, to work on this issue.

Clearly there was a way in which the first payments to farmers was put. It was done by a group that did our BSE compensation. We found some flaws in its work. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working with the farm groups to work through the true costs of compensation.

Mr. David Anderson (Cypress Hills—Grasslands, CPC): Mr. Speaker, avian flu is not the only disaster. BSE's first birthday is here. Ranchers have been waiting for clear access to the United States markets. On April 19 the United States Department of Agriculture expanded our beef trade with the United States. On April 26, U.S. producer groups moved to restrict Canadian beef. The USDA went along with them and have cut back Canadian beef imports.

There was no science-based reason for this decision. There was no response from the Liberal government. Why has the government failed to defend producers in the latest U.S. trade action?

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, that is simply not true. The Government of Canada has worked very closely with producers, the provinces and all groups toward getting that border open. The Prime Minister has taken it to the highest level. He sat down with President Bush. Both have come to the conclusion that this is a North American situation, and one that needs to have cooperation and us working hard together.

The President of the United States responded by saying that he wants those borders open, and we believe that they should open now.

Mr. David Anderson (Cypress Hills—Grasslands, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the government has failed farmers. When one lonely, renegade U.S. producer group headed to court to block Canadian beef imports, what was the government's response? Nothing. There was no legal intervention, no outcry, nothing.

Instead of defending our producers, the Prime Minister cowered out of sight, hoping that the U.S. government would protect the interests of our producers. That did not happen and Canadian producers are once again under the gun.

Why did the government put the fate of Canadian producers in the hands of the U.S. government?

Hon. Bob Speller (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, simply, it was a U.S. decision. It was not a decision made by a Canadian court. We have worked very closely and hard with the producers and their associations that are working to get this border open.

I would ask the hon. member to ask the Canadian Cattlemen's Association or any of the other groups whether they feel the Government of Canada has been 100% behind them. They will tell him that this has been the case and that they are very proud of the work done by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and others have in fact to work toward getting the border open.