Mr. Speaker, I stand here today in some great irony. Today is the birthdate of Tommy Douglas. Tommy Douglas was a champion of much of what we call Canadian values today. He led Saskatchewan from some of its darkest days to some of its brightest days. He was somebody who fought for public medicare at the national level, somebody who created much of the Canadian identity that we have today.
But Tommy Douglas also did one more thing. He stood up for rural Canada. He stood up for the farmers whose communities had been impacted by the Great Depression. He stood up for the development of those communities and those regions. He stood up for their voices.
Today, so many years later, on the day of his birthday, we are entering into a historic debate. We have all been plunged into this debate by the Conservative government's ideological agenda to oppose farmers' voices, to oppose the messages we have heard from farmers in farming communities and rural communities in western Canada, the very part of the country that Tommy Douglas came from.
The loss of the Wheat Board is a loss for all of us across this country. Today's debate also amplifies the fact that the government's agenda is not just about the dismantling of the Wheat Board, but about the silencing of our voices.
Just some short weeks ago, the results of a plebiscite administered by the Canadian Wheat Board came out. That plebiscite showed that a majority of Canadian western farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta believe that the single desk ought to be maintained. The government not only ignored that plebiscite but is also ignoring section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states that farmers must have a say in any proposed plans to alter the operation of the Wheat Board.
Today is a dark day, given that we are not just hearing about the government's plan to dismantle a successful institution that has supported the livelihoods of so many farmers and so many rural communities across western Canada, but that once again the government is not allowing westerners to have their voices heard through our Canadian democracy.
Today I also stand as the member of Parliament for Churchill. I stand here proud to represent the community of Churchill. It is an important part of our Canadian economy and also a critical part of our movement forward.
As the only deepwater Arctic seaport, Churchill holds a bright future for the kind of development we could see in northern Canada. Yes, there was an announcement in terms of investment, but many of us know that much of that announcement is both highly speculative and extremely short term. While Churchill and the north welcome investment, more than anything we would welcome the assurance that we can work with institutions that have successfully worked with us to provide a livelihood to the people in our communities.
The Canadian Wheat Board is the only agricultural shipper to the Port of Churchill. Wheat Board shipments account for 95% of the cargo that goes through Churchill. The Port of Churchill is the closest port to many Canadian farmers in the west, and as a result, it saves farmers millions of dollars in shipping. The port depends on farmers as much as farmers depend on the port.
While the government announced adjustment funding for the Port of Churchill, it is speculative. A cost-benefit analysis has not been done as the government has pursued its steadfast approach, its ideological approach, to dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board. The government's actions do not make sense for Churchill. They do not make sense for Manitoba or western Canada.
What will the Port of Churchill do when this adjustment funding runs out and big agri ships to their own terminals in the east and the west to maximize the revenue? What will happen to the port, a port that some have referred to as a jewel of the north, a port that is a critical link in the endless development that we could see in northern Canada, further north than we are?
All in all, the implications of dismantling the single desk are profound. Despite a clear message from western farmers to keep the Wheat Board, the government continues to display arrogance in failing to listen to the voices of farmers. The National Farmers Union president, Terry Boehm, said that the plebiscite's message was crystal clear. Perhaps the government has trouble interpreting these numbers. The facts are that out of the roughly 38,000 votes that came in, almost 23,000, or 62% of farmers, agreed with the statement “I wish to maintain the ability to market all wheat through the Canadian Wheat Board single desk system”.
That is crystal clear. Farmers voted in the plebiscite to say that they want the Government of Canada to stand up for the single desk.
Alberta farmer Ken Larsen, from Benalto, Alberta, a supporter of the Canadian Wheat Board and a full-time farmer, said of the vote “that farmers voting is such high numbers is a strong message in itself”, given what he called “an ongoing campaign of misinformation and bullying”.
The government has no mandate to go against the wishes of prairie farmers and to meddle in this system. The Wheat Board is controlled, operated and funded by farmers for farmers.
The Wheat Board offers a number of advantages to wheat farmers. The first is price pooling, which insulates farmers from abrupt shifts in price and passes returns back to these farmers.
Producer car loading sites are an important piece of this puzzle. The car loading sites that the Wheat Board includes as part of its system save the farmers money, but if the single desk goes, so will the producer car loading sites. These producer cars mean farmers can bypass grain companies' elevators and save themselves $1,000 to $1,500 per car that is shipped. The producer cars are branch lines and short-line railroads. What will happen to them and to the communities along these rail lines?
To connect to the reality of Churchill, as the Port of Churchill is threatened, so is the Bay line that connects Gillam, Ilford, War Lake, Thicket Portage, Pikwitonei, Thompson, Wabowden, The Pas. These are communities all across Manitoba. Some have an agricultural connection, but some depend on the rail line that makes its money from the kind of cargo that the Wheat Board has shipped to the Port of Churchill.
Dismantling the Wheat Board is a slap in the face for western farmers, to their jobs and to their economy. During tough economic times and when prices fall, farmers will be left without any marketing agency to provide them with free risk management and market power.
The government's actions are an attack on the family farm that has supported the Canadian economy for decades. Mark Sandilands, of Lethbridge, put it well when he said, “Farms will have to grow bigger; there'll be fewer small and medium farming operations, and the loss of small rural communities, with their schools, hospitals, community centres and other services. One could drive through rural Canada and find virtually no inhabitants”.
I stand here today not just as the MP for Churchill but as a proud member of the NDP team that has a history of standing up for prairie people and a history of standing up for the voices of people who want to have a say in what they produce, in the future of their communities and in the well-being of our country.
Today on October 20, I ask that we all think of Tommy Douglas, our greatest Canadian, a great leader who stood up for the very ideas that we are fighting for today.
Let the farmers vote. Let western Canadians hear. Let us save the Canadian Wheat Board.
Madam Speaker, it is good to see you in the chair once again.
I would like to thank my staff and friends who helped me put this speech together, which I am about butcher. Also, I would like to thank a few members of this chamber and former members, as we are discussing a very important topic to western Canadian farm families.
First, I thank Rick Casson, the former member of Parliament from Lethbridge. He is a good friend of mine and a mentor who fought hard on this for many years.
I also thank the following current members: the member for , the parliamentary secretary, who has been a staunch advocate of freedom for farmers for as long as I have been here; the member of Parliament for , when he is not out there going after gophers, he has always been a staunch advocate of freedom; the member of Parliament for ; and the member of Parliament for .
We are very fortunate on this side of the House to have such institutional knowledge of not only men and women who have farmed and lived under the tyranny of the Canadian Wheat Board, but who have also taken time out of their lives for public service, to come here and do the right thing and provide marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.
I also thank some of our new members of Parliament who have buoyed us in the last Parliament. They bring to the team a fresh sense of needing to get the job done and a lot of enthusiasm. We have the member for , a refreshing change from the last member of Parliament from Prince George, as well as the member of Parliament for .
Now that my thanks are done, I would like to talk about something that the first brought to my attention with his private member's bill back in 2006, when I first was elected. That was the issue of the buyback. I went to the minister, who was the chair of the agriculture committee at the time, and asked why he felt this was the road we need to take.
When we go through all the processes and steps, we see that our western Canadian farmers do not have the ability to maximize their return on profit like any other businessman would have, and that is really unbelievable. Most people who do not live under the Wheat Board tyranny do not understand what it is like to have to put all that risk out there and not be able to get the same return on investment that others in other parts of our country can have.
I would also like to address, as we are kind of doing a little housekeeping, my dismay. This has been a top-of-mind issue to western Canadians for as long as I can remember and certainly for as long as I have been in politics, which has been over a decade. All they want is to be treated equally and fairly. At the end of the day, when we finally get the opportunity to put a bill forward and have serious debate, what are Canadians given to watch in the House of Commons? Parliamentary games.
The opposition, the NDP and Liberals both, is guilty of trying to delay, to filibuster. Then, when they do not like that, they want to move on and not have debate on it. This is not just my word, this is what those members have been doing. This is what they did last night and this is what they are attempting to do once again today.
When issues of this great a nature come before our country, before our Parliament, all parliamentarians should give the respect that is due and have a proper ideological, practical debate. I am more than happy to have that debate with the member of Parliament for or anybody who would like to discuss the issues of the Canadian Wheat Board and the positive effects that our government has had on that region.
It is very troubling for me to sit and listen to a member of Parliament, not only from the prairie region but from Churchill, a port that is getting a lot of support from our government, sit here and say that this is the wrong thing to do when her own mayor supports our government's position.
There has been a lot of talk about polls and plebiscites. Let me be frank, anybody can turn numbers to look any which way they want, but numbers tough to sway are the economic impacts on our communities, the economic impact on my home province and home town.
The June 2008 Informa report shows its assessment of the monopoly versus not having a monopoly on the Canadian Wheat Board. It should be pointed out that this is what we are talking about here. Everyone on the other side continues to misconstrue this as being an attack on the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board. This is not about that. This is about ending a monopolistic system and opening up marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.
The June 2008 report clearly demonstrates that the economic impact on western Canada will be between $450 million a year and $628 million a year. That is a lot of money. This is not money that has to flow through some government program before it gets to my farmers so they get 70% of the cut that the government was supposed to give them. This is direct money, taken out of their pocket every year by the Canadian Wheat Board.
Some hon. member: Shameful.
Mr. Brian Storseth: It is absolutely shameful. From a low of $13.72 per ton on feed barley in the five year reporting period to a high of $47.57 per ton on durum, this would have had a tremendous impact on my farmers. That is not money they can get back. That is money that has been taken away from them.
What we can do now is look forward and ensure that they do not have that money taken out of their pockets any longer. That is what we are talking about today.
The other thing I would like to briefly touch on is Westlock Terminals. I am very proud of this new generation co-op that is in my riding. This is a co-operative of community members who have come together and taken on this terminal. They are doing a wonderful job in ensuring it is profitable and is servicing our farmers well.
I have sat down with them on several occasions, and they had some concerns when we first started down this road. They heard that we were going to end the monopoly. They definitely had some concerns because the other side was ramping up the fear campaign. They were already calling them and telling them that the world was going to end for them.
As the minister has said, and I believe the terminal now realizes, “The sky is not falling”. The sky is actually the limit for our farmers moving forward, and for Westlock Terminals and other co-ops like that.
This is a time, moving forward, when we are going to have innovation and ingenuity on the Prairies. This is a region of the country that has been the economic engine in the country for the last decade. The one area that continually lapses behind has been on the agricultural front, particularly when it comes to wheat and barley. In my opinion, it lags behind because of the monopoly, and the Informa report clearly shows that.
As I rise in this chamber to speak on marketing freedom, it will shock many who are not familiar with this issue to know that in our great country we have had two distinct classes of grain framers: those who live under the oppression of the Canadian Wheat Board and are not allowed to produce and sell their own wheat and barley; and the rest of Canada that has complete marketing freedom, the freedom to maximize their profits and sell their property as they see fit.
As we go through this vigorous debate over the next couple of months, time and time again we will see urban members of Parliament, oftentimes representing people who do not fall under the tyranny of the Wheat Board, standing and arguing for the status quo.
Let us be clear. These members are arguing for a two-tiered system. They are arguing for a system, so that my family in Alberta should not be able to sell its own wheat and barley crops as it sees fit. However, my family members in Ontario and other parts of the country have that freedom. It is absolutely two distinct classes.
It is past time that we take the shackles off of western Canadian farmers. The status quo simply is not working. We need to allow farmers to farm the marketplace and not rely on the benevolence of government or its organizations. We have the best and brightest producers in the world.
This brings me to the Bauer family in Thorhild, Alberta. This is a young family with two young daughters. They earn their living on grain and oil seed production.
At the beginning of every year, and this should be particularly interesting for some of our colleagues who are not familiar with agriculture, they put $400,000, $500,000 worth of inputs into the ground. That is the cost of a very nice home right here in Ottawa and across our country.
Each year they take that risk capital and put it into the ground. They pray for some spring rain. They hope that they can get the proper sun amounts throughout the year. During the summer, they honestly just hope they do not get hailed out. As their crop starts to come up, they have to put more fertilizer and more pesticides. They have to ensure the grasshoppers will not get it.
In the fall, in September, October, while everything looks good and they have their entire life savings out on the fields, they have to hope for the good graces of God to get enough good days before the heavy frost and the snow to get their crops off the field.
When they have done all of this, worked countless days and sleepless nights, they have to accept a lower price on their commodity, on their crop, because they live in western Canada, and that is simply not acceptable.
The Bauer family should have the same right as their cousins in Ontario to maximum their rate of return so that they do not have to rely on the government, so that they can put money away for their children's education, and for the new renovations to their home. That is what we are talking about here today.
When we talk about younger farmers and trying to get younger farmers into farming, this is a big hurdle. They are very intelligent. They look at the business model and say, “Why on earth would I want to get into something where the government restricts what my profit can be?” Sometimes $450 million to $628 million a year is a lot of money to be taken out of an economy in the designated areas.
What have they done? They have turned to other crops. Quite frankly, they have turned to canola and many other options, so that they do not have the shackles holding them back.
This has been positive for the last several years in western Canada. Canola has been a good crop, but when we are talking about feeding the world and making sure, as the opposition likes to do, that people in Africa and people around the world, who are starving, have enough food and relying on Canadian exports, we cannot feed them with canola. We need to send them our grains and oil seeds that they can utilize.
It is projected that in 2020 there will be seven billion people in the world. That is up from about 6.2 billion people today. That is an 800 million person increase over the next eight years.
The good news is that when my grandfather was farming his quarter section of land up in Fort Assiniboine 40 or 50 years ago, he could only feed five, ten people off his farm. Really, individuals can feed their family and a little bit more to trade off and get some other stuff.
Now, the Bauer family can feed 120 to 150 people off of their farm. The ingenuity in Canadian agriculture over the last 50 years has been amazing. The product increase has been amazing. The problem that we have in meeting the world demand is simply the fact that these guys are not willing to take a loss or not maximize their profit, so they are not dealing with board products as often as they used to, which affects the amount of global export that we give to other countries.
Those are just a couple of the issues for young farmers taking on farming in the future, especially with the Canadian Wheat Board. Hon. members need not take my word for it. They can actually look at the Canadian Wheat Board's 2011 producer survey that found 76% of younger generation farmers surveyed by the Wheat Board itself want something other than the status quo monopoly.
This is an amazing figure. This is not a figure that the Conservative Party came up with. This is a figure from the Wheat Board itself.
Another issue I would like to address is innovation in agriculture and the business model. It is important to make clear to those who may not understand how agriculture works that farmers themselves are businesses.
Gregg Adair and his family farm 3,000 or 4,000 acres. I was actually out in their fields this year. I hope everything continued to go well. When I spoke with Gregg, he said, “You know, Brian, I know exactly how much inputs I have, right to the acre; I know exactly how much I need to get in return for my product; and I know exactly how much loss I'm able to take”.
However, what he cannot calculate is what he is going to get out of the Wheat Board at the end of the day because what he does know is that he is not going to get the price he should get. He is going to take a lesser value on any wheat and barley that needs to go through the Canadian Wheat Board.
He also, because of the Wheat Board's restrictions on seed, does not have the ability to even utilize some of the Canadian seed and genetics that we have produced in our own country. The Wheat Board does not allow him to do that. Is that not amazing? The Wheat Board actually restricts Canadian technology. Who is using it instead of the Adair family in Westlock? Farmers in the United States are benefiting from of our research and development.
These are just some of the many issues that we experience in western Canada. The fundamental difference here is these are not things that are encountered in the rest of the country. It is not fair for us to have two totally different classes of grain farmers.
In conclusion, I would just like to say that farm families across the Prairies are watching us today. They are hoping and praying that their government will stand up for them and fulfill the promise that we had made to provide them with marketing freedom. My farmers are not asking for special treatment. They are not asking for something that the rest of the country does not already have. They are simply asking to be treated as an equal with their cousins in Ontario and the rest of Canada.
Marketing freedom is a first but very important step in maintaining and encouraging young farmers to enter and stay in our agriculture sector.
This is not an issue of left or right. This is not an issue of blue or orange. This is an issue of equality and fairness. It is an issue of right and wrong.
I ask all members of Parliament when the time comes to please seriously consider their vote on this, to consider what their vote will do to western Canadian farmers. I ask all members to support our farmers and our farm families on the Prairies. Thanks and God bless.
Mr. Speaker, I had understood that a Conservative was going to rise and speak at this point but after hearing the force of the arguments from this side of the House, I guess the Conservatives have decided not to participate in the debate. I think that is very welcome.
I heard some of the comments the Conservatives were making earlier. I will start at that point because the government's tendency has been to constantly, significantly and regularly divide one Canadian from another, one region from another, one type of Canadian from another. That was not the Conservatives' hallmark before the election campaign. Members will remember they were wearing sweater vests and saying they were going to be a moderate government. One of their commitments during that so-called moderate time was to keep the Wheat Board.
However, since the election, the Conservatives have taken off the sweater vests and they have become incredibly intransigent and ideological in the kinds of things they are bringing forward in the House. One thing which clearly indicates that shift to fight for a radical right-wing politics privatization agenda is what the Conservatives are looking to do with the Wheat Board. Marketing choice, what a crock.
The farmers in western Canada voted 62% to retain the single desk on wheat and the government says it is going to run roughshod over those western farmers. On this side of the House, the NDP caucus is saying we are going to stand up for that 62% of western farmers and we are going to say no to this bill.
The other aspect that has been brought forward by members of the Conservative Party is that somehow the Canadian Wheat Board will continue. When we read through Bill , we see the parts that deal directly with the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board. The Conservatives will say it is not their plan for the moment, but we know the intent is to remove what has been a mainstay for western farmers for generations.
I come from British Columbia and have been part of what we have seen in western Canada over generations, and it is fair to say that we have often seen governments in Ottawa neglect or not address western Canadian concerns. It is particularly surprising to me that we see the government putting ideology over what should be a significant effort to listen to what western farmers have had to say about the Wheat Board and to look at the significant economic benefit that western farmers get from the Canadian Wheat Board.
When farmers in western Canada in a plebiscite vote significantly, a strong majority of 62%, and say they want to retain the single desk for wheat, why would a government then say that farmers' opinions are not important and that how they voted is not something the government is going to consider?
It is clear to us on this side of the House that the Conservatives are not willing to listen to western farmers. They are not willing to allow western wheat farmers and barley farmers to vote or consult on this issue. As the Leader of the Opposition, the member for , said yesterday in the House, the Conservatives are breaking the laws that say the Wheat Board needs to have consultations with farmers and to have that vote from farmers before the government can proceed. The government is choosing not to do that and is running roughshod.
Worse, we are now seeing closure being brought in on this debate. After one day of discussion, the Conservatives realize they are losing this debate, that they do not have substantive facts to bring forward and they do not even have a business plan. They have not done an impact study. They have done nothing except rely on their base ideological beliefs.
After only one day of debate, the government found it had increasing difficulty making its views known, so it brought in closure. It is running roughshod. Not only is it saying that it will break the law and run roughshod over the clearly expressed opinions of western farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 62% of whom are saying yes to the Canadian Wheat Board and the single desk, it is now saying it does not want this debate to get out. The government does not want to hear from the public. It does not want the public to have time to react to this. It does not want democracy to have its place. The government certainly does not want to consult with western farmers because they will reject what it is putting forward, so it is going to use a sledgehammer and shut down Parliament.
It is fair to say that if the government has its way, for many years to come people in western Canada will remember how the Conservative government decided to run roughshod over western Canadians through these actions. The NDP will continue to speak for western farmers and all western Canadians and bring their point of view to the House of Commons because we understand this is a fundamental debate.
It is not just the fact that the plebiscite showed very clearly that 62% of western farmers wanted to keep the single desk, it is also the fact that Conservative MPs actively campaigned to gut the democratically elected members of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. Year after year there continues to be a strong majority of western farmers who support the Wheat Board. We are not talking about one single plebiscite or referendum that the government is ignoring. Despite the keenest, most base ideological attempt to gut the Canadian Wheat Board, western farmers said no time after time. They elected a majority of members on the board of directors who support the CWB.
What we are talking about is a systematic pattern of arrogance, of running roughshod and trampling on western farmers, despite the fact that they have clearly expressed their support for the Canadian Wheat Board time and time again. Why is that? I know you do not come from western Canada, Mr. Speaker, but you can certainly understand that historically western farmers were cast adrift by Ottawa with the policies of former Conservative and Liberal governments time and time again. Western farmers had to organize. They had to push.
Western Canadians generally have had to push for things that were often of benefit to the entire country as well. We will recall, of course, that the federal Parliament refused to have anything to do with public health care. It was a western Canadian and a freely and democratically elected administration under the direction of Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan that established public health care in this country and now all Canadians enjoy it.
Western Canadian innovations include a lot of other things. As we well know, the co-operative movement particularly in the agricultural sector was born and prospered in western Canada, as well as the credit union movement. It is very popular in Quebec through the caisses populaires, but its strongest area is in western Canada. The co-operative wheat pools were brought together by farmers. It was Canadian farmers saying they needed this kind of single desk that led to the actions a few generations ago to establish the Canadian Wheat Board.
Why did farmers want that? Why have farmers continued to support it year after year despite the actions of the Conservative Party in opposition and now the Conservative Party in government trying to beat them back with a sledgehammer saying that they are wrong and the government is right? A few folks in Ottawa are saying western farmers are wrong and the government is right. Why have farmers supported the Canadian Wheat Board year after year? It is very simple. The reasons are economic.
We can see what the economic basis has been for the Wheat Board. We can compare the economic indices of western farmers with those of areas that do not have a wheat board at all, such as the United States, or have done away with their wheat board, and the member for was very passionate about what happened in Australia.
When we see the economic utility of the Wheat Board, we can then understand why western farmers, despite the most mean-spirited pressure from the government in a constant and ongoing way, have continued to support the Wheat Board year after year and generation after generation. No mean-spirited ideological attack by the Conservative government, which is taking off the sweater vest and getting down to a very mean-spirited divisive business, is going to change the fact that the economic realities have been good for western farmers.
If we compare the Wheat Board and the single desk marketing power that western farmers have with what happened in Australia and what continues to exist in the United States, we see a profound economic benefit from the Wheat Board in the same way as we do from supply management, which the NDP has also always defended. Supply management and the Wheat Board provide the collective force that makes a real difference to agricultural communities. The economic benefits are not just for the farmers themselves, but for the entire community.
The supply managed sector has been a Canadian innovation. The Conservatives pay lip service to defending it, but they are ready to sell it out at a moment's notice. I know this because I have been on the trade committee for seven years, and every year since the Conservatives have been elected, bureaucrats come and talk about what portion of supply management the Conservative government would be willing to sell out. We know what the economic ramifications are for that.
It is similar to the situation with the Wheat Board. There are economic ramifications. After Australian wheat farmers did away with a similar body and privatized it, their revenues fell. Predictions were made at the time that it would particularly impact the smaller farmers, those with less clout. Those predictions, sadly, have come to pass.
In the United States, we have seen a similar situation. It has been unfortunate that there is not the same degree of collective action in the United States. They are often at the mercy of big multinational grain companies, and over the last few years farm income has fallen steadfastly and considerably in proportion to the average American household income.
In Canada, the area that has the lowest level of farm receipts is the province of Alberta. Why is it that agricultural management in Alberta has meant that farmers are poorer than anywhere else in the country?
It is a very simple question to answer. Right-wing privatization agendas, the type of mean-spirited agendas that we are now seeing from the Conservative federal government, drive down agricultural receipts and drive down income in agricultural communities. In areas where there is more collective action and where there have been strong NDP governments, agricultural receipts are higher.
This mean-spirited attempt by the Conservatives to run roughshod over western farmers, even though 62% voted in favour of maintaining the single desk, can only lead to lower incomes for most farmers.
Conservatives would say they do not care about that and that they just care about the top 10% or 1% or whoever wants to contribute to their electoral fund. The reality is that the government has to be more mature, more responsible and less ideological. The government has to look at the interests of all of the west and the interests of the agricultural communities, but the government is not doing this.
I spoke earlier about the sweater vest. We remember when the was going around the country in a sweater vest talking about moderation and how a Conservative government would somehow be more moderate than anyone expected it to be. That was what the Conservatives' commitment was.
The commitment from the going into the election on May 2 was to let farmers decide. That was the commitment. Those were stolen votes that Conservatives were able to obtain in those key ridings.
Mr. Speaker, you will remember, as I do, that a lot of those prairie ridings were hotly contested between Conservatives and New Democrats. The Conservatives made the commitment that farmers would be able to make the decision. We saw the results of that decision on September 12. It is important to read it into the record again: on wheat, 62% of western farmers voted in favour of retaining the single desk--62%. That is a clear victory.
The Conservatives got 38% of the vote nationally. If the government has a mandate with 38% of the vote, then what kind of mandate is 62% of the vote? That is a strong mandate to maintain the Canadian Wheat Board. Sixty-two per cent of farmers said that they want to retain it.
Time and time again, despite the worst and most underhanded tactics of the government and some of the government MPs to try to undermine the Wheat Board, the members of the board of directors who are elected and maintained are the directors who support the Wheat Board.
The government made a commitment going into the election, I suppose because it was scared of losing seats, that it would let farmers decide. Then the farmers decided, and the government said, “No, to heck with that. No, we are not going to let farmers decide on this now. No, no. We have this majority with our 38% of the vote and we are going to run roughshod over that clear majority.”
It was a clear majority by anyone's standard, unless one lives in Enver Hoxha's Albania. There is no reason to question the 62% support for the Wheat Board that came out of the plebiscite, yet the government, with 38% of the vote, is saying that it is going to stamp it down. It is going to rip it apart. The government is producing Bill , which in part 4 talks about the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The government is saying it is going to destroy the collective single desk marketing that has given farmers so much power and clout and turn farmers over to the mercy of some of the world's largest grain companies. That will drive the prices down, and drive down the income and receipts in agricultural communities all across western Canada. The government is saying it is going to drive those receipts down on the Prairies from Alberta through to Manitoba.
What does that mean? It means less money in the pockets of farmers. However, it is not just that direct impact of what the government is doing that is so despicable, but the indirect impacts, which are going to be felt right across the west. It is the small mom-and-pop grocery stores in some of those smaller communities across the western provinces. Coming from British Columbia, I have driven back and forth across this country many times. It is the grocery stores, the credit unions, the auto repair shops and the farm machinery shops. All of them are going to feel the impact of this irresponsible action.
That is why we are voting no on Bill . It runs roughshod over what farmers in western Canada have clearly expressed time and time again. It has a profound economic impact, as we have seen in other jurisdictions that have done that. The government has done no preparation and has no business plan. It cannot even tell us what the impact is going to be.
The government is doing this strictly for ideology. On this side of the House, we are standing up for western farmers. We are standing for wheat farmers. We are saying yes to the Canadian Wheat Board, and no to Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in support of marketing choice for western Canadian grain farmers. The move to marketing freedom is exciting for all Saskatchewan farmers, especially Saskatchewan durum growers, who produce close to 80% of Canada's durum. This will mean greater price transparency for farmers before spring seeding so they can make more informed decisions about spring planting. This will give farmers the flexibility to react quickly to market signals and take advantage of market pricing opportunities.
The days of durum growers being forced to store their crop for one to three or more years are over. The days when durum growers had high quality durum and they were forced to liquidate it on the feed market in order to make cash because the board would not sell that durum are over. That nightmare will be a thing of the past.
There is no doubt this is all very good news for Saskatchewan producers. The wheat and barley business in Saskatchewan is a major driver of our economy, bringing almost $2 billion to the farm gate. The sky is the limit, like the minister said, on what the potential can be once this legislation is through: $2 billion dollars is a small number, $2 billion could be $4 billion, or $6 billion or $8 billion.
When we look at where wheat was in the thirties and the forties and then we look at what happened when we brought in the single desk and how the processing system moved, how it all went somewhere else, just think what could happen when that could now move back onto the Prairies. Think of how farmers can participate and partner and form their own co-operatives to mill their own durum, wheat and barley. I am confident a business can grow even more under marketing choice.
I must commend our , the , the parliamentary secretary and all my colleagues for all the hard work they have done on this file. Conservative members have been out in their ridings talking to farmers. We do that on a weekly basis when we go back home on weekends. Our farmers have been very blunt. They have asked us to move fast and make this happen because they need the freedom and they need it now. That is what is happening here today, and I commend the minister and the Prime Minister for seeing this through and allowing farmers to finally have the freedom to market their own grain.
One thing about marketing freedom that will be of benefit is the innovation that will come from it. I worked in the agriculture sector before I was involved with farming and my career in Ottawa. I can remember the days of summer fold. Farmers used to summer fold half and half. Suddenly farmers started asking why they needed to summer fold. Why not just seed into the stubble? All of a sudden direct seeding happened. A few manufacturers, Bourgault, Flexi-Coil, Morris, which are farmer-owned businesses, looked at that and thought this was great. Why would they even need to work it at all?
If we look at the results of that innovation, we will find that costs for farmers have been reduced substantially, such as the cost of fuel. In fact, tractor manufacturers were concerned because the hours they were putting on their tractors, flipping tractors every two to three years. Now it is every five to seven years. That is the type of innovation that could happen on the Prairies and that is the type of innovation farmers would have to put in to wheat and barley.
Let us also talk about the innovation that we have seen in non-burnt crops. Let us look at value-added processing.
One crop that my colleague from Manitoba talked about was oats. This crop was under the single desk. Under that system, farmers would not grow that crop because they could not get more than 80¢ a bushel. The board released oats out of the single desk and a year later the price per bushel went up. A year later I saw farmers growing oats. I talked to my neighbour and asked him why he was growing oats and he told me that it was paying aid the bills. He actually substituted oats for wheat. If we asked farmers what paid the bills over the last 10 or 15 years, they would say canola, pulses and oats, not wheat or barley.
We hear this argument about grains not being able to be processed on the Prairies because it is too far for market. Let us look at the canola sector. Let us look at Yorkton, which has two processing plants. Let us look at Lloydminster, which has another canola plant. Let us look at Clavet, Saskatchewan, a small town outside of Saskatoon, which has another canola processing plant.
Canola contributes almost $6 billion to the Canadian economy. Canola was not a big crop in the seventies. This all happened in the last 30 years. Why did wheat not grow at that same level? Why did wheat innovation not happen? We have to ask these questions. We cannot put our heads in the sand.
One of the answers to those question is the CWB and its process in not making changes, in not exploring new opportunities, unwilling to allow value-added to happen in the prairies.
I think back to the days of the Weyburn Inland Terminal, which was a very progressive group of farmers. It built the first terminal on the prairies. It introduced the concept of direct hit trains to the west coast. It introduced the concept of cleaning the grain on the prairies so the dockage could be fed to cows and the clean grain would go to the west coast without having to take the cleaning charges out.
These farmers figured that there was a durum plant across the line in North Dakota and they could do that in Weyburn. They raised the money, they had a business plan, they had the market and they had it all developed. Then the CWB said, absolutely not, that this was not allowed, that it was not under the act.
The minister from Wascana, instead of backing farmers, what did he do? He backed the board. The farmers were irate. When farmers were told they could not value-add and process their own products that might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
When I used travel with Flexi-Coil, I had a dealer down at Milk River. Milk River is right on the Montana line. Every once in a while we would sneak across the line and talk to some farmers with a salesman I knew down there. One farmer grew a lot of barley, and I asked him why he grew so much barley because there was no money in barley in Canada. He told me that the guys from Coors went to his farm and told him if I grew this type of barley, they would supply the seed. They said that if he worked with them and their agronomist to ensure they would get the proper quality, they would give him a price that he could not say no to, and they did that.
All of a sudden the farmers around Milk River on the American side were growing a pile of barley. They were selling it to Coors, making a premium, making a good profit. The company was happy and the farmers were happy. That is an example of partnerships that work.
Coors tried to do this on the Canadian side because Canadian farmers thought it was a good deal. Who said no? The Canadian Wheat Board. It was unable or unwilling to accommodate Coors. The location of malt plants that have been built over the last few years are not in Canada. They are in Montana. What about the location of durum plants up till now? The biggest durum plant was in downtown Winnipeg at CIGI. Does that make sense? We ship Canadian durum all over the world and the only processing plan in the west is in downtown Winnipeg.
Why? There has to be a reason why that value-added and that processing is not happening on the prairies. When we do a process of elimination, we can see why that is. It was because the board, at that point in time, wanted to export grain. It did not want to see processed grain. That is what its mandate was and that is what it would do. If that meant farmers could not participate in the value-added chain, so be it.
Finally the board would tell farmers that if they wanted to export their grain, the Board could do that. It could give them a buyback. The farmers could sell their grain to the board and the board would charge them a premium to buy it back. Then they could do what they wanted with it. That sounded really good. If farmers could buy it back, they could look at the U.S. market or if they wanted to ship some barley to Hong Kong or China, they could do that. However, when the farmers realized what the board charged them on the buyback, it was next to impossible for them to make any money. Yet when farmers got their final payment from the Canadian Wheat Board, it was never close to the buyback. Where did that money go?
Farmers would shake their heads because the board said that they had opportunity under this system to do that, but really they did not. Instead of telling the farmers yes, instead of working with farmers to help them develop these niche market, the board's answer was no, absolutely not.
In the late nineties a farmer talked to a Wheat Board representative. He was giving the representative a hard time about the Coors barley. The representative proceeded to tell him that the wheat and barley did not belong to him once he harvested it.
Let us think about this, just go through the process again. In the spring the farmer will plant as many Canola acres as he can or as many pulse and peas acres as he can because that is his cash crop, but he has to do a rotational crop.
For members who do not farm, a rotational crop is a filler crop so the type of chemical that is used can be changed so that weed tolerance does not build up and it reduces the weeds in the fields. It is not something they want to do. It is something that they have to do as they farm.
Then they bring in wheat and in another case barley. They do that as their rotational crop. Fall comes and they are harvesting the wheat, a beautiful crop of durum, nice crop of canola and pulses. They have to pay some bills because farmers take out cash advances so they have to haul some grain off that combine to pay those bills.
Wait a minute, I want to haul my wheat. I am told no, no contract so I cannot haul wheat right now. How do I get cashflow? I would have to maximize my cash advance if I need cashflow. If I do not want to do that, authorities do not care it is not their problem. I cannot haul that wheat or barley.
What do farmers do? They have to sell their pulses and they sell their canola. What does the trade do? They cannot take all that grain at the same time, so the basis goes up. The actual price the farmers get off the combine gets reduced because the board is unwilling to move the grain at that point in time.
Does this have the best interests of farmers at heart? It does not. It never has. It was a system made for the 1940s and 1950s. Like my colleague said, this system did not come into play because farmers wanted it. It came into play because farmers participated in helping the war effort. Then it was forced upon them. When farmers wanted out of it, they were not able to get out of it.
Liberal governments realized this was a nice cashflow for them and for their buddies. Let us look at the Liberal ties into the Canadian Wheat Board, at the people who are working there and at who is doing the survey or voter identification because that is very important when we talk about plebiscites. David Herle was sitting there doing surveys every year identifying which farmers support the single desk and which ones do not. Where did that information go? I know farmers never got to see it. Farmers did not see their file. The plebiscite claims to be so accurate and so honest. There were 51,000 permit book holders, yet there were 61,000 ballots sent out. Who received the extra 10,000 ballots? Mr. Oberg, where did they go?
A friend of mine, who is a big farmer and a fairly notable person, said a lady approached him that he did not know and told him she wanted to talk about the plebiscite. He said he became defensive, but she said her brother and sister both had votes, but they are both dead. How accurate was the plebiscite if dead people were voting in it?
More frustrating, progressive farmers who have been growing wheat for 20 years phoned me and ask where their ballots was? These are the same people during the Wheat Board directors election saying the same thing. Why did they not get a ballot?
When they look at this sham and how the Wheat Board treats them, would they ever trust the results of a Wheat Board plebiscite? When we look at the plebiscite there is one question which was not asked which is did they want choice and the ability to use the board or the ability to sell outside the board? That was never in the question. It was either single desk or nothing.
The board of directors are like Thelma & Louise. They want to drive this thing off the cliff. If they cannot get their way, they will just drive the car off the cliff, come hell or high water. This is what is frustrating a lot of farmers on the Prairies these days. There are many legitimate farmers who looked at it and wanted to sell grain to the board because they liked the idea of pooling because it spread the risk. That option is going to be there. That is why it is so confusing to listen to opposition members when they are handing out teddy bears and telling us this is horrible for western Canada because they are actually talking about themselves. They are not talking about farmers.
The reality is this organization has lost touch with farmers. It has lost touch with the producers that actually wanted to use it. This organization in the last four months, instead of holding plebiscites, could have aggressively been out securing acreages. It claims it has 22,000 supporters through this so-called plebiscite. If that is the case why does it not have 22,000 producers signing up acres today and tomorrow? It would know then how many tonnes of wheat, durum and barley it would have.
I have had some accredited exporters who represent the board in Africa and around the world because we always talk about the board selling all this grain. The reality is it does not sell it. Accredited exporters take on that role and sell it in these countries. I find it really interesting when they come to me in Ottawa and say they cannot source wheat after March. The board tells us we cannot have it, that it will not give it to us.
Again, we have 22,000 farmers over here, an accredited exporter over here, and a CWB volunteer in the middle. The CWB has a role to play to bring them together. Do members think it will do that? No. Why? Philosophy. Again, it comes back to my Thelma and Louise analogy. It would rather prove us wrong and destroy the entity than actually try to make it work and that is really disappointing. It is really frustrating for me as an MP and as a farmer. It has taken that tool that was in my toolbox and instead of giving me a new tool that I can use, it has basically taken that tool and thrown it away.
So our government did what we had to do to represent all farmers. We are not destroying the CWB. We are basically just taking away the single desk but there will be a CWB. If farmers choose to use it, they would be able to use it. If farmers choose to ship their grain through Churchill, they could do so. We would ensure that the assets, the rails and the ports, would be there for farmers to use. When it comes to producer cars, that is embedded in the Canada Grain Act, not the Canadian Wheat Board Act. That would not change. If they want to use a producer car, they can phone up the CGC and they get a producer car. Farmers who want to load their own rail car can do that.
Again, those choices are not changing. However, let us listen to what the CWB is saying, again spreading fear and mistruths or half truths. It is talking about all of them losing producer cars. That is not happening. Read the legislation. It is not there. Read the Canada Grain Act where it can be seen that it is not changing. Producer cars will be there.
We talk about Thunder Bay or Churchill. My area wants to use Churchill. We are pretty excited because there is a rail line that CN has owned for quite awhile and they have not allowed anybody to go down it and it is coming up for abandonment. Local producers are talking about getting together and buying that line, so it would actually go from Tisdale to Hudson Bay and then up to Churchill. They are excited about that. That would pull about $15 a tonne off their freight. That $15 a tonne is roughly $15 an acre for an average farmer who does maybe 1,000 acres a week and that is $15,000, hard cash, in his or her pocket. If it makes economic sense to use Churchill, farmers would use Churchill. We would ensure they have that option. We would ensure that Churchill is viable so that as the transition goes on it would not get left out.
As we see the rail improve and we see some of these farmer-owned rail lines moving grain to Churchill, it actually would get busier. Is this bad for Churchill? There is lots of potential for Churchill.
I come back to the canola sector and look at what we have seen happen there and I touched on the just under $6 billion it brings in. I look at the old sector and 15 years ago the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon had a department of agriculture but that was about it. Going there now, first in Martinsville, there is an oat processing plant. That did not come into play until the single desk for oats was gone. At the University of Saskatchewan, we need to go outside to see the research people. We see all these field-size research farms. Companies have located in Saskatoon and do all this research work on canola.
I have a good friend, Dr. Fowler, who is a very well-established renowned plant breeder. He has been in front of the agriculture committee numerous times. He expressed his frustrations in being a plant breeder when he developed new varieties of winter wheat for Canadian farmers and then was told by the CWB “no”. However, he then used that variety in North Dakota and Montana and it would be the number one variety in the United States and our farmers would not have access to it. Yet, we paid for that research.
In closing, there are some other people we need to honour. The late Art Walde was a farmer who just wanted choice and freedom. It is too bad he is not here because today he would be celebrating that freedom of choice. I think of the 12 farmers who were handcuffed and went to jail. They are celebrating today. I think of Jim Chatenay who used to get kicked out of board meetings because he just wanted to present other options to the board. He is celebrating. I think about how they threatened his family and threatened to take away his farm because he offered them an option of something different or that he opposed the way they handled things with farmers. I think that part of this is for Jim.
Finally, this is great legislation. I encourage the opposition members to actually understand what is going on here. If they understood, they would not be opposing this legislation. In fact, they would get behind it and they would realize just how great this will be for Canadian farmers and western Canadian farmers.
Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be in this full House once again speaking on this topic. I wish to say that it gives me pleasure, but it does not give me pleasure.
It is tragic to see that it has come to this. Ever since my election in 2006, I have a witnessed a systematic smear campaign by the Conservative government to discredit the Canadian Wheat Board. It is a campaign based on ideology and not market sense or democratic principles.
We have seen gag orders put in place prohibiting the CWB from outlining its position, the firing of the former CEO for speaking out in support of the CWB single desk, and most recently, a flagrant violation of democracy by not respecting the recent plebiscite where farmers voted to keep the CWB as it is.
In Minnedosa, Manitoba, during the last election campaign, the minister was quoted as saying that his party respects the vote of farmers who support the single desk. He suggested there would not be any attempt to dismantle CWB unless a majority of producers voted for it. I quote:
|| Until farmers make this change, I am not prepared to work arbitrarily. They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.
Two days ago a number of us stood in this House to denounce the flagrant violation of democratic principles by the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. It is tragic and somehow ironic that these same Conservative MPs who spoke out for democratic rights in Ukraine are now ignoring their own minister's comments made in Minnedosa.
We have heard in the House almost daily how the last election was somehow a mandate to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board. Let us not forget there are many issues that people look at prior to casting their ballot. We know, for example, although I do not agree with it, that the gun registry was decisive in swinging votes in western Canada. It is important to remember, however, that farmers only represent 2% of the population spread over 57 western ridings.
If a federal election were called today with the only issue being the dismantling of the Wheat Board, Canadians, including the farming community, would ensure that this so-called mandate would not win. It is because the Conservatives have won a majority in this House they are moving forward with their ill-guided plan to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.
As stated by Bill Gehl of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance:
||...claiming the Conservative Party has a mandate from farmers to change the Canadian Wheat Board is ridiculous and I think most urban voters agree that farmers should decide this issue, not Ottawa.
We often hear the government draw a parallel between Ontario farmers and western Canadian grain producers. The two situations are completely different. Anyone who attempts to say they are the same is simply ignoring the facts.
Ontario farmers decided for themselves on changes to their marketing system and not the federal government which made the decision. They chose the open market. Quebec farmers, on the other hand, have chosen to market their wheat collectively.
The other point is the impact on Canada and on prairie farmers from changes to the CWB is much greater than the impact of changes to the Ontario system. Most of Ontario's wheat, about 90%, is sold within Canada or in the northern U.S.A. Most of the prairie wheat, roughly 68%, is exported.
A number of western farmers believe that more U.S. markets would somehow magically open up to them as a result of the loss of the single desk. However, they forget that the U.S. agriculture industry is extremely protectionist. We have seen that in the past. This is especially true now under their buy American philosophy. It is therefore very unlikely that the U.S. would take additional Canadian wheat unless the price of the wheat was reduced to the point that it could replace their domestically grown wheat, allowing the U.S.A. to export even more.
The fact is the Canadian Wheat Board currently seeks high-end markets for high-quality milling wheat and durum in over 70 countries, and does not have to pursue markets by reducing its prices. I might add that this obviously gives a premium to Canadian farmers.
The other important point to mention when comparing Ontario and western Canada is the fact that transportation is a less important factor in Ontario. Most Ontario farmers can get their crop to market for $15 a tonne in freight costs due to the close proximity of flour mills and Great Lakes terminals. On the Prairies, the volume produced along with the distance between farms, country elevators, inland terminals, domestic markets and ports make transportation costs significant.
The Canadian Wheat Board is a strong advocate for fair transportation rates and provides a countervailing force to the railway's power. It is very probable that railway costs will increase for farmers once the CWB is gone.
Let us not make the mistake of deluding ourselves that the Wheat Board will survive in a dual market system. Currently it provides stability and certainty for farmers in what I would say are volatile world markets. Once it no longer has a mandate, farmers will be free to choose when and if they wish to deal through the Wheat Board. This will tend to bring prices down because the Wheat Board will have lost its authority among its trading partners. Let us not forget that a powerful organization with a monopoly can dictate prices in the world and obtain the highest premium for our farmers. Farmers will eventually end up on the losing end.
In regard to the movement of grain in western Canada, without the Wheat Board's ability to organize deliveries, it is likely that farmers close to inland terminals and those with large trucking capacity will plug the system at harvest time. The strongest will survive while others will be left behind. In other words, it will be the survival of the fittest.
What will be the consequences of eliminating the single-desk system? First, we will see decreased revenues for farmers. Now, the Canadian Wheat Board obtains lucrative premiums for farmers in the Prairies, which means that the Canadian Wheat Board takes a highly strategic approach to where and when it sells during the year. The result is that, every year, the board enables farmers to earn several million dollars more than they would in a free market. But we are headed towards the free market now.
The Canadian Wheat Board does not have any capital assets. Once it is dismantled, it will need to acquire a considerable amount of capital assets if it wants even the slightest chance of surviving in a free market. Who will pay for that? Plus, there will be very high costs associated with dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board.
Current activities will have to cease. All of the related costs will have to be paid so that no potential new entity ends up with that burden. Since the government is the one that chose to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board and not the farmers, the farmers should not end up on the hook for these expenses.
And then there is the city of Winnipeg. The Canadian Wheat Board employs over 400 people at its headquarters and helps maintain over 2,000 jobs, for a total of over $66 million in labour income in Winnipeg. At the provincial level, the Canadian Wheat Board's contribution to gross production is estimated at $320 million, which represents over 3,000 jobs and labour income of over $140 million. What will happen to the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba, to the people who are working now and are part of this system? Will they lose their jobs? Will they be able to find another job somewhere else? What we see here is uncertainty.
What we are seeing here is what I would call “economic madness”. A successful organization or a farmer-run corporation that puts money into the pockets of farmers and contributes millions of dollars to the economy of our nation is being dismantled to satisfy the demand of a small number of farmers who think they will be able to survive in a ruthless world market.
In all probability some will survive, but what about the rest? What will happen to the majority who have relied on the stability and protection of the Wheat Board in difficult economic times?
The debate is ongoing and history will be the judge.
I have before me a letter written to the , dated May 6, shortly after the election, by Mr. John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which is an extremely powerful business lobby group representing 150 of the most powerful corporations in our country.
I will quote from page 3 of the letter, which states:
|| As a demonstration of Canada’s strong commitment to trade liberalization, we endorse your plan to reform the marketing practices of the Canadian Wheat Board.
|| Consistent with that, we believe the time is right to phase out the national supply management systems for eggs, dairy products and poultry, which penalize consumers and have seriously damaged our country’s reputation as a champion of open markets--
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is directing our to get rid of the Wheat Board and supply management.
People laugh at this and say that there is no way that could be happening because they are supporting supply management. The question we must ask ourselves is not if but when will the Conservatives be phasing out supply management now that they have successfully destroyed the Canadian Wheat Board.
I ask my colleagues on the other side to answer that question. I submit it will be in the not too distant future. There is tremendous pressure from the WTO, our trading partners and the European Union for Canada to decrease or eliminate its tariffs on supply management commodities.
Our country is currently negotiating, although in secret, a free trade agreement with the European Union, the CETA. Last night, at a presentation hosted by the Council of Canadians and CUPE, we were told in no uncertain terms by an expert from France who has been studying the situation in Europe that in addition to pushing for unlimited access to service contracts at the provincial and municipal levels, and I am sure that includes Prince Albert and the surrounding communities, Europe is demanding access to our natural resources. Obviously agriculture is on the table.
What would stop our negotiators from increasing the tariff-free quota from the current 7.5% to 10% and decreasing the over-quota tariffs to satisfy European demands?
Technically, we would still have supply management. However, we have been told by the dairy producers that should that happen each Canadian dairy farmer stands to lose approximately $70,000.
This is a scary situation given the fact that the government's mantra has been and continues to be to open up as many markets as possible without evaluating the potential negative effect on our own producers. It would dismantle and do away with the single desk of the Wheat Board without evaluating potential economic consequences. It would sign an agreement with Europe without evaluating the impact that would have on our municipalities, on obtaining pharmaceuticals, on our water rights and on our agricultural producers.
Today we have witnessed a move by the Conservatives to limit debate on this very important issue.
In today's press release, the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance states:
|| Even more ominous are rumours the Harper administration intends to avoid Agriculture Committee hearings and fast track this bill through the unusual use of a Legislative Committee hearing process.
It goes on to state:
|| This is inappropriate because it will restrict Parliament’s right to examine this Legislation and to hear from those most affected: the farmers of western Canada....
|| People around the world know it is simply wrong for a government to remove hard-won democratic rights from its citizens. Cancelling democracy for western Canadian farmers to end our Wheat Board is a bullying tactic of the worst sort. We are asking for the help of all Canadians to oppose this attack on farmers and the democratic process--
In a letter to the minister, the chair of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board communicated that the Wheat Board had put considerable effort into analyzing what a redefined Canadian Wheat Board would require for any prospect of success. The conclusion it reached was that no alternative could be identified that comes anywhere close to offering farmers the benefits provided by the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk system.
Therefore, if there is no analysis and we are unsure of what the future holds, it begs the question as to why this is happening and why it has not been put to a democratic vote.
There we have it. The government has not performed an economic analysis. It has shown a flagrant disregard for democracy. As well, it is dictating its ideological agenda after having received only 40% of the vote in the last election.
Mention has been made that members on this side of the House are basing their arguments on ideology. Our arguments are based on practical considerations, such as potential economic impacts, impacts to the communities and the City of Winnipeg, impacts on the short line railway systems, and impacts on the port of Churchill. None of these has been identified in any economic analysis that I have seen unless they are hidden in an office somewhere.
This is a sad state for democracy. What is happening here makes absolutely no sense. Surely the minister could get together with the members of the board of directors of the Wheat Board, most of whom are elected and most of whom support the status quo, to attempt to work out some kind of system that is not based on ideology.
The Canadian Wheat Board serves farmers in western Canada to market their wheat, durum and barley. Under the Canadian Wheat Board Act, the organization has an official mandate to bring in the highest possible receipts for farmers from the sale of grain, by effectively profiting from being a single-desk seller.
The Canadian Wheat Board sells farmers' grain in 70 countries. It hands over all of the profits from the sale to farmers, between $4 billion and $7 billion a year.
If we look at the proposed scenario, there are tremendous costs involved in this process of dismantling, changing and modifying the Wheat Board. Who will pay the hundreds of millions of dollars required to transform the organization presently in place? The Wheat Board was financed by farmers and has given profits back to farmers. Will the taxpayer pay for its transformation? Will farmers see increased costs? Will donations be forthcoming from some benevolent society to ensure that no money is lost? These are questions we must ask ourselves.
As I said earlier, history will be the judge of this very sad day in Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I would just like to let you know I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Our government has introduced legislation that aims to give western Canadian grain growers the freedom to choose to market their wheat, durum and barley independently or by voluntary pool.
I am proud to stand in support of our government's intention to bring marketing freedom to western Canadian grain farmers. With marketing freedom, farmers in British Columbia and across the Prairies will be able to make marketing decisions that are best for their own businesses. They will have the opportunity to take advantage of special markets.
As Virginia Labbie from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said, “The message from farmers is that the CWB is not currently meeting producers'...needs. It is evident growers need more consistent, timely, accessible and transparent marketing signals in order to make the best possible marketing decisions for their farm”.
When western Canadian farmers have the freedom of an open market, they will not have to wait for an outside agency to tell them, up to a year and a half after the sale of their grain, the final price of the sale. Western Canadian grain farmers want the same marketing freedom and opportunities as other farmers in Canada and around the world.
The creation and additional use of futures contracts will allow producers to manage their own individual risk. British Columbia ports are the main end of the pipeline for our grains prior to export. B.C. processors could see the opportunity to have direct, regular access prior to leaving our shores to pick and choose from the very best of the produce for the creation of high-end, high-value special products.
We know that an open market will attract investment, create jobs and help build a stronger economy for Canada and Canadians. We know farmers want to make their marketing decisions based on what is best for their own businesses. That is why we have brought this legislation to remove the single desk monopoly, and not the Wheat Board, as the opposition continues to say as it misleads the public.
The removal of a monopoly will allow farmers to sell their wheat and barley directly to a processor, whether it be a pasta manufacturer, a flour mill or another processing plant.
As Alberta farmer Paul Schoorlemmer said:
|| It will allow individual farmers to do secondary processing, mixed marketing and those types of things that were not really practical under the old system.
Grain farmers in western Canada and right across this country have a bright future, and we stand with them. Our government is committed to the continued success of Canadian agriculture. We are pulling out all the stops to help make sure Canadian farmers succeed and to build a strong future for the sector as a whole.
Farmers are the key economic driver in this country, and that is why we put farmers first in every decision we make on agriculture. Our formula is simple, and it works: we listen to our farmers, we work with farmers, and then we deliver the practical results farmers need.
Canadian farmers have proven time and time again that they can compete and succeed in the global marketplace if they have a level playing field. That is why the government has been working very hard to build new opportunities in global markets for our farmers. We have been on the road a lot in our efforts to build trade relations, and they are paying off.
The agriculture minister has led trade missions to key markets in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Working closely with the industry, we have completed over 30 international trade missions and returned home with some real tangible results for our farmers, producers and processors. Everywhere we go, we are finding new customers who want to buy Canada's safe, high-quality foodstuffs. Together we have been moving a lot of product and have delivered some real results for our farmers and processors.
The government knows farmers want to make their living in the marketplace. That is why we have gotten out on the world stage, whether it is serving up Canadian steak at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver or canola oil in Mexico, to make sure our farmers can connect with new customers.
Canada has a lot to be proud of. Canada is rich in land and resources. We have the expertise in science and innovation. We export our high-quality, safe, delicious foods all over the world. We have dedicated farmers and processors to help us continue our long-standing proven tradition of delivering an abundance of top-quality food and food products to the world. These qualities are important assets as we look to the future.
Farmers appreciate the agriculture minister's hard work on their behalf. They understand that agricultural trade is critical to Canada's economy and prosperity.
Overall, Canada's agriculture, food and seafood exports surpassed $39 billion in 2010. That is the second-highest level in history, and it puts us in the top five global agrifood exporters.
That is huge. Those dollars mean jobs and livelihoods for Canadians. That is why, when we as a government take measures to support agricultural trade, we are not just helping farmers but all Canadians. Agriculture has proven time and time again its contribution to Canada's economic recovery and will continue to do so, especially as we succeed in breaking down barriers to trade.
Canada is working on all fronts to boost our agricultural business in the world. We know that buyers and consumers already think highly of Canadians and Canadian products. We want to raise awareness and boost the appetite for our great Canadian agriculture products. Opening and expanding markets around the world creates opportunities for our producers to drive the Canadian economy.
There are challenges facing the industry, but the long-term signs are positive. During this time of global economic uncertainty, we have to maximize trade opportunities on the world stage. We have to provide every opportunity for our farmers to succeed, which includes this geat step forward--and it is forward--to give western Canadian wheat farmers and barley farmers the freedom they have asked for and deserve.
Removing the single desk monopoly helps not only farmers: it helps all Canadians by creating jobs and prosperity. I urge members to support the bill and to understand that timely passage will help give farmers the certainty they need to plan their business for the coming year.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in support of this important and timely legislation for western Canadian grain farmers.
I would also like to thank the member for for sharing his time with me today.
Our government has always promised western Canadian wheat and barley growers that they would be given market freedom. With this legislation, we are delivering on that promise. We live in a democratic country and we believe that western Canadian grain farmers deserve the same freedom as farmers in other parts of Canada and around the world.
I will outline what this new legislation will mean for western grain farmers.
In the June 2011 Speech from the Throne, our government reiterated its commitment to ensure that western farmers have the freedom to sell wheat and barley on the open market. With this proposed legislation, we aim to provide marketing choice to western wheat and barley farmers. To avoid market disruptions, the goal is for farmers and grain marketers to be able to start forward contracting for the 2012-13 crop year well in advance of August 1, 2012.
This bill would remove the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board and allow for the Canadian Wheat Board to continue as a voluntary marketing organization for up to five years as it makes the transition to full private ownership.
The Canadian Wheat Board will finally have the opportunity to become owned and operated by farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board will continue to offer farmers the option of pooling their crops. It will continue to benefit from a borrowing guarantee backed by the federal government. It will develop a business plan for privatization, which will be reviewed by the no later than 2016.
During our extensive consultations, industry raised a number of valid issues around transition. We are taking these concerns seriously.
First, on the issue of the voluntary Canadian Wheat Board's access to elevators, ports and terminals, we expect grain handlers will be competing vigorously for grain volume in an open market, so they will want to handle the grain that is marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board.
Curt Vossen, president of Richardson International Limited, said that the end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly is “going to open up 20 to 25 million new tonnes of marketing opportunities for companies inside and outside Canada”. This will mean more companies competing for farmers' grain, which is the good news for farmers. Our staged approach will provide the necessary checks and balances to help ensure a smooth transition, taking corrective action if needed.
Second, on the issue of producers' continued access to producer cars, the right to producer cars is protected in the Canada Grain Act. The Canadian Grain Commission allocates these cars to producers, and this will not change with marketing freedom.
Currently, the Canadian Wheat Board manages the marketing of grain shipped in producer cars so that shipments are related to a sale. Under the new rules, producers and short lines will be able to make commercial agreements and arrangements with grain companies or the voluntary Canadian Wheat Board to market their grain.
Stephen Vandervalk, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, believes “You'll see more and more producer cars because it's like a specialty crop as far as quality and contracting directly with the farmer. It has very little to do with the Canadian Wheat Board”.
Short line railways are expecting some adjustments as they will have more options of marketing partners for the grain volumes they can attract from producers. However, Sheldon Affleck, president of Big Sky Rail , believes that “The flexibility of a short line should provide improved service that will attract grain”.
Third, these changes will not change the Canadian Grain Commission's role in assuring the world-renowned quality of Canada's grain.