Legislative Debates (22 April 2005)

Legislative Debates

From Hansard - 22 April 2005

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Recognition of Distress in Agriculture Sector
Lyle Stewart seconded the following motion, moved by Bob Bjornerud (Melville-Saltcoats):
That this Assembly recognize the plight of Saskatchewan farm families is worse this spring than it has been in decades and the severity of cash flow problems this spring is causing severe distress and hardship not only in rural Saskatchewan but in other parts of the province that rely on the agriculture-based businesses.

Mr. Stewart: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Deputy Speaker, the agriculture industry is in peril in this province. Every sector of the industry is caught in a death grip with soaring fuel, fertilizer, chemical, and equipment costs making agriculture in this province a very cash intensive business indeed.

On the income side, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the situation is even worse. With widespread frost in 2004, coupled with a late spring and cold wet conditions through the summer, producers hopes were dashed by that killing frost in most of the province on August 20.

On that night, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the crop that had the potential to be the largest one in history was turned into an almost total disaster for many of our producers and, overall, one of the most financially devastating years for producers in the ag economy in our 100-year history.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, following on the heels . . . this is following on the heels of from two to seven years of pretty severe drought, depending on which area of the province a producer might reside. And, Mr. Speaker, low commodity prices the result of ongoing subsidization of agricultural commodities by the US and especially by Europe are another major challenge that now faces the grain sector in this province.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this country, the federal government made the decision or perhaps abdicated making a decision long ago to compete in the subsidy trade wars which have continued ever since. That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the reason the producers in this country and especially in this province need farm programs to survive, farm programs that are more of an ad hoc nature; programs, Mr. Speaker, that in this country, right or wrong, are cost shared between provinces and the federal government.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we in Saskatchewan are the most reliant on agriculture to oil the wheels of our economy of any province in the country. And while our producers suffer from these international subsidies and domestic programs, which frankly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are inadequate, the NDP government withholds funding to the CAIS program, which is the only game in town for our producers, Mr. Deputy Speaker, while they scrap with the feds over who should pay what percentage of the program.

And, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I believe that our federal government has abdicated its responsibility, true enough, to agriculture producers right across this country. And its because of that, it has chosen not to support our producers in the subsidy war, that we rely on programs like GRIP and CFIP and CAIS.

But Mr. Speaker, we must play, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must play with the hand that were dealt. This NDP government, Mr. Deputy Speaker, instead of doing the things that would stimulate the growth of the agricultural sector in this province, and instead of recognizing the huge contribution that agriculture makes to our provincial economy, and instead of telling the story to urban people in this province who are now mostly now one, two or three generations away from any real connection to or understanding of agriculture this NDP government takes every opportunity to use agriculture as their excuse for the economic failure of this province under their watch. Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is a cynical, divisive, and destructive political approach to a problem that has practical solutions.

The hog industry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is an industry that Saskatchewan is particularly well suited for. This industry is one that it is very cyclical in nature, with margins being slim to non-existent at times but quite substantial at others, but an industry that can be more competitive in this province than any other place on the continent because of our wide open spaces and price-competitive and abundant supply of feed. Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is an industry that should be expanding in Saskatchewan even in times when no expansion can be justified in other jurisdictions, but it is not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, this industry, the hog industry, is not expanding in this province because this government doesnt have the fundamentals right either. In terms of a business-friendly environment in which to invest, taxes, red tape, environmental compliance issues, as well as labour laws, are all issues that mitigate against investment in the hog industry in Saskatchewan an industry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that can provide a nearby market for feed grain as well as jobs that can keep people in rural Saskatchewan.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the 10 provinces in Confederation, only Alberta has suffered more under the scourge of the BSE-related border closure than has Saskatchewan. This BSE crisis has ended the steady businesslike growth of our cow herd in this province and for at least the time being, Mr. Speaker, killed any development of the feedlot industry in the province.

Mr. Speaker, we must expand our cattle-feeding industry in this province if we are likely to attract a well-funded, professionally operated, major packing plant or plants to this province, the kind that can survive the rigours of brutal competition that the packing industry experiences in normal times.

The cattle industry is not dead, Mr. Speaker, but it has suffered a serious blow and business will never be conducted again in that industry the way it was before May 20, 2003. Mr. Speaker, prior to the discovery of BSE in Canada, we were the largest exporter of beef cattle in the world, and as I have said before, most of those cattle originated from Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the last full year before the outbreak of BSE, our export market was worth $4.1 billion, Mr. Speaker, and in the month leading up to the BSE crisis, we exported about $23 million worth of cattle a month.

Prior to May 20, 2003, Mr. Speaker, about 80 per cent of our beef exports found their home in the United States. Mr. Speaker, since the closure of the border, its clear that the solution to this problem for Canadian producers is the establishment of a packing industry in this province.

Mr. Speaker, the reasons that we cant seem to develop a packing industry in this province are the same reasons that we cant develop a hog industry, or an irrigation industry, or any other industry. This government doesnt have the fundamentals right and it doesnt look like, after 15 years or so of continual governance, that theyre ever going to get them right.

Mr. Speaker, thousands of acres of cropland will lie idle this year. Thousands upon thousands of acres are either being rented for taxes this year, and more and more acres are being rented for no charge at all, with the owners covering the taxes out of their own pockets just so something other than weeds can be grown on their land.

Mr. Speaker, in my personal mail I receive what used to be called auction flyers, but what are now really auction books. These books are no longer full of farm sales of older people who have hung on to marginally viable farms maybe longer than they should have because they loved the life. Mr. Speaker, these auction books are now full of sales of large, modern farm equipment from moderate- to large-size farms on which the farm families have given up because they could no longer make a living or cope with the stress of juggling very large bills and having continually to go cap in hand to banks and suppliers to ask for more time to pay those bills.

Mr. Speaker, the real cost to our hard-working farm families is stress, stress, Mr. Speaker, that is now reflected in serious family problems for many of those families who choose to stay on the land and to continue to be productive, contributing members of society in this province.

Mr. Speaker, they feel abandoned. They feel abandoned by this government which has continually refused and delayed to fully fund the CAIS program and other programs such as CFIP; this government that tore up signed contracts with them and the GRIP program some years ago; this government that has three years, or maybe is it four now, consecutively raised crop insurance premiums and at the same time in each instance reduced crop insurance coverage to those people.

They feel absolutely abandoned, Mr. Speaker. And that stress that I speak of shows up in the form of depression, anxiety, and nervous, disturbed children, marital breakups, and most sadly of all, Mr. Speaker, in suicides.

Many of us on this side of this Assembly have experienced that in our constituencies and our communities. And its a time when we see this that we want to forget about the political issues that seem to have caused it. Its hard, as my colleague stated, to relate these suicides directly back to agriculture, but certainly the fingers all point in that direction.

Mr. Speaker, farming and ranching families are proud and independent people by their very nature. Mr. Speaker, they find it difficult to ask for help of any kind, but they find it especially difficult to ask for help for the personal problems caused by the stress that they experience in their day-to-day lives. But make no mistake, Mr. Speaker, farm stress is manifesting itself in rural Saskatchewan. And, Mr. Speaker, accordingly I second the motion.

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