Skip to main content Start of content

House Publications

The Debates are the report—transcribed, edited, and corrected—of what is said in the House. The Journals are the official record of the decisions and other transactions of the House. The Order Paper and Notice Paper contains the listing of all items that may be brought forward on a particular sitting day, and notices for upcoming items.

For an advanced search, use Publication Search tool.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the accessibility of this publication, please contact us at accessible@parl.gc.ca.

Previous day publication Next day publication

39th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 096

CONTENTS

Tuesday, December 12, 2006





CANADA

House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 141 
l
NUMBER 096 
l
1st SESSION 
l
39th PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Speaker: The Honourable Peter Milliken

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1000)  

[English]

Maher Arar Inquiry

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table today the policy review report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar. Issued under part I of the Inquiries Act, the report is entitled “A New Review Mechanism for the RCMP's National Security Activities”.

[Translation]

    On behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to sincerely thank the commissioner of inquiry, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, the honourable Dennis O'Connor, for his work over the past two and a half years.

[English]

    We will carefully review all of the implications of this report and respond in a formal manner in the near future.

[Translation]

Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to section 33 of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority Act Review Advisory Panel, entitled “Flight Plan: Managing the Risks in Aviation Security”.

[English]

Quarantine Act

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House

Canadian Heritage 

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the tenth and eleventh reports related to Telefilm Canada and the twelfth report related to the Canadian feature film industry by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Procedure and House Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the twenty-fifth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of the legislative committee on Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (Canada's Clean Air Act).

  (1005)  

    Pursuant to Standing Order 113(1) the report is deemed adopted.

    (Motion agreed to)

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, this is a bill to change the name from that of one municipality within the riding, which actually consists of five different municipalities. We would like to change the riding name to Niagara Centre South, which is very similar to the name that represented roughly the same area in the 38th Parliament and before that. I would ask respectfully that the House consider the renaming of the riding.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House

Agriculture and Agri-Food  

    Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, presented to the House on Wednesday, December 6, be concurred in.
    This debate, while on the specific motion of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, has a series of questions in it that we believe should be used in any future plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board, but it is about much more than just those questions.
    This debate is really about governance, justice and fair play. This debate is about a Prime Minister who is enforcing his ideology on prairie grain farmers regardless of whether farmers agree with him or not. This debate is about undermining the democratic principles that exist within Canada.
    I will turn first, to emphasize this point in terms of democratic principles, to an article in the Red Deer Advocate by an individual by the name of Ken Larsen, who said:
    Stephen Harper's Conservatives have identified an internal enemy that does not fit their ideology. Using their power as the government, they have started a campaign of suppression and disruption supported by a flood of propaganda and misinformation, utilizing the federal bureaucracy.
     The target of this attack, an organization 100 per cent funded and democratically controlled by its members, has been permanently stripped of its right to free speech by ministerial order.
    Their organization is also the subject of Harper government propaganda attacks on almost a weekly basis--
    Order. The member has been here a long time and knows he cannot do indirectly what he is not permitted to do directly. He keeps mentioning the Prime Minister by name. I wish he would stop doing that.
    I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I was quoting from an article. I will quote the article and I will insert the words “the Prime Minister”. It states:
    Their organization is also the subject of [the Prime Minister's] government propaganda attacks on an almost weekly basis; it is restricted by a cabinet directive from expending any corporate resources to defend itself. These attacks come in the middle of this organization's democratic elections for membership to its board of directors.
    Obviously this is now not just about a question on a plebiscite; it is about a government so driven by ideology that it is willing to undermine our reputation abroad as a trading nation, a government that is willing to weaken our credibility as a trading nation and the respect our grain markets have, with an economic cost for producers. It is about a government that is willing to use misleading propaganda, a strategy that really strays from the truth.
    Why are we having this debate? Why did the agriculture committee put forward this motion in the first place? It is because the government, which calls itself the new government, cannot be trusted. It cannot be trusted to allow a fair question. It cannot be trusted to abide by the Wheat Board Act itself. It cannot be trusted to abide by democratic principles.
    Farmers actually believe the minister will try a trick question, one that would mask what the government is really doing. That is why farmers forwarded these questions to the committee and asked that we as a committee at least put these questions forward so that a fair question could be asked of farmers if indeed there is a plebiscite called on barley and wheat.
    These questions put forward by the farm community are clear and I ask Parliament for its support in this matter: a clear question on any plebiscite that may be held in the future.
    Farmers are right not to trust the government, because this has been the issue all along. The government has tried to mask what the debate really is, and indeed, although now the Minister of Agriculture stands up on an almost daily basis and claims he is turning to farmers in a plebiscite, what did he say some while ago? I will quote the minister.
    In the spring the minister failed repeatedly to support a plebiscite by producers. At the Senate agriculture and forestry committee on October 3 of this year, he stated, “I have not had a plebiscite and I do not have plans for a plebiscite”.
    The parliamentary secretary was soundly defeated in terms of his theory that farmers in his riding wanted to do away with the pro-marketing board Wheat Board directors. In the election on the weekend in his riding, the farmers voted 66% in favour of a pro-Wheat Board single desk selling director, but the parliamentary secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board told the agriculture committee on October 25, “For me, the issue is not about a plebiscite”.
    However, on October 31 of this year, the minister announced that a plebiscite will be held on barley marketing. It is a good thing that there will be a plebiscite, but it really should be on both barley and wheat at the same time.
     What I am saying is that we really cannot trust the government in terms of the Canadian Wheat Board issue. Let us look at the Prime Minister's trickery itself. On April 6 the Prime Minister said in the House, “The government will empower producers by allowing them to have dual marketing options when it comes to the Wheat Board”.

  (1010)  

    The government has now changed its mind. It is not talking about dual marketing anymore. There is no question that the government, in the last election campaign, did campaign on dual marketing. While the Prime Minister may have promised something in the election, he really did not have the authority to carry it out because it is farmers themselves who should make those choices.
     What we are seeing is that the government is now all about changing the language. When we listen to the minister's response or the responses of members opposite, they are no longer talking about dual marketing, which they campaigned on during the election. They are now using new words, “marketing choice”. Why?
    Mr. Dave Batters: What is the difference?
    Hon. Wayne Easter: There is a huge difference. The government has its republican spin doctors up here. Farmers understand what dual marketing is. It means no more single desk selling. However, in terms of marketing choice it sounds better so the government is listening to the spin doctors because the words sound better. It is more deception by the government opposite and it believes that by using the words “marketing choice”, it will be able to confuse--

  (1015)  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening to the member opposite go on at length talking about deception, trickery and other things by specific members on this side of the House. While the words might be quite appropriate in the terminology, I think the inference is quite disparaging.
    I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you caution him and suggest that if he is trying to explain his point he do so without his disparaging remarks about the government and ministers on this side.
    I am sorry to report to the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert that I do not find anything that has been said by the hon. member for Malpeque to be unparliamentary. The members opposite may find it unacceptable to them but that is a matter of debate.
    Mr. Speaker, I can understand that the member opposite does not really want the facts on the table.
    In terms of the wording, I was trying to explain that the government is now using the words “marketing choice” because those words sound better, but it is really the same thing. It is a deception and the member knows it.
    Let us look at what the minister had to say in Hansard on June 7 when he was not using the words “marketing choice”. He stated:
--during the campaign, there was a clear and honest question put forward. We said at the time that our party believed that there was a good future for the Canadian Wheat Board. It involves dual marketing....
     In a moment I will get to why the government changed the words to “marketing choice”, because it really hides what it is doing.
    The minister appointed a stacked task force that had no pro-Wheat Board supporters, only opponents. The chair of that task force was a very credible senior civil servant. This is what he had to say on what marketing choice means. In the report he stated:
     “Marketing Choice” is a better term to describe the new environment than “dual marketing”. The latter term implies to some that the existing marketing approach (a CWB with monopoly powers) could co-exist with an open market approach. This is not possible.
    The words changed because “marketing choice” is more deceptive. The report actually states that dual marketing is not possible. Those are the facts. Have the new government members not been saying all along that they will go to dual marketing? Did members of the Conservative Party not campaign on dual marketing? Did the Prime Minister not campaign on dual marketing? I quoted him a moment ago.
    The truth is now out. By the minister's own task force, dual marketing is not possible. The task force says that marketing choice means the same thing, and it does, but it sounds better in the farm community. The Conservatives know that at the end of the day it will mean the end of the Wheat Board.
    Let us turn for a moment to a group of academics who studied the task force report and looked at dual marketing and marketing choice. I will quote from a press release on that report. It states:
    Though the task force report insists a new CWB "needs to have a high probability of success," the proposed changes to the CWB would not allow it to survive commercially.
    Those are the words of Murray Fulton and Richard Gray. They go on to talk about the business case that is in the task force report and say, in conclusion, that there is no business case for a viable Canadian Wheat Board II. It would be unable to obtain the strategic assets necessary to compete. They go on to say:
    There are at least four reasons for this.
    First, without grain handling facilities, particularly port facilities, the CWB II would be completely reliant on the existing grain companies to handle its grain.
    The CWB would be unable to provide guarantees to customers since the existing companies would much rather handle the grain themselves than for CWB II. And purchasing key facilities from the existing companies is not going to happen, since these players have no interest in allowing a viable CWB II to enter the market.
    Since CWB II will have no significant strategic assets, it will not be commercially viable. Given the expectation that it will not be viable, farmers will have no incentive to purchase shares in it and, as a consequence, CWB II is unlikely even to get established. Thus, the only marketing choice that a farmer will have is, "To which private multinational grain company should I sell?"

  (1020)  

    What it comes down to is that we give up the multiple marketing choices and options that are available through the Wheat Board and we end up with one: sell to the multinational grain trade. That is the choice.
     The Conservatives can play with the words all they like. They can talk about dual marketing and about marketing choice but at the end of the day there will be no other choice for primary producers in this country but to sell to the multinational grain trade, and that is no choice at all.
    The government is taking away the marketing power from the producers that they have collectively had for years and leaving them at the disadvantage of the multinational grain trade.
    The sad part of this is that we are seeing the Government of Canada do from the inside what the multinational grain trade has tried for years to do from outside the country: to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board and eventually destroy it. We now have a government in Canada doing that from within the country.
    Simply put, the government's objective, which is the Prime Minister's ideology and ordering his ministers around, is to eliminate single desk selling.
    While I do not think even government members realize it, it does mean that eventually we will lose the Canadian Wheat Board and lose that marketing power in the marketplace. Who gains? As I said a moment, it will be the international grain trade.
    I will read two quotes from an article published in Inside U.S. Trade on October 27. The first quote reads:
    The U.S. government for years through the WTO has tried to eliminate the monopoly powers of the CWB....
    The second quote reads:
    A U.S. wheat industry source said the timeline is not crucial to U.S. producers, so long as Canada eliminates the monopoly powers.
    Who is overjoyed by the decisions that our government is making? It is the producers in the United States, the U.S. grain industry and the multinational grain industry. They are overjoyed by the steps that the government has taken to undermine the marketing power of grain producers in western Canada, an agency that gives them some market power and offers them a lot more choices than they would get when they only have the choice to market to the multinational sector itself.
    I have tried to outline the net impact of the government's decision and the need for a clear question and for Parliament to speak to this issue. However, I want to tell the House what has basically happened from the time of the election until now.
    What we have seen to date from the minister certainly does not instill faith that the government will do the right thing.
    In all seriousness, I do not believe we have ever seen such abuse of ministerial power, unless it was the Coyne affair and the firing of the governor of the Bank of Canada by the then prime minister, John Diefenbaker, nor such a violation of democratic principles in Canada and such an undermining of the very laws that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and his parliamentary secretary took an oath of office to uphold.
     I will go through what has happened. It started with the election campaign but the election campaign was not a referendum on the Canadian Wheat Board.

  (1025)  

    Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act states that the minister should consult with the board and call a question of producers on changes to be made to the board. The Prime Minister promised something that he did not have the authority to provide, and that is right of producers to make that decision.
    In any event we had the election. Shortly after in mid-summer, the Minister of Agriculture held a meeting in Saskatoon of anti-wheat board invitees. Even the Government of Manitoba, although it eventually went to the meeting, was not invited to participate. It was only invited to observe.
    For other Canadians, what would they think if we were having a discussion on medicare and two provinces, say Ontario and Nova Scotia, disagreed with the Government of Canada, then a meeting was held but they were not invited to participate? Duly elected governments have the right to participate in that meeting. It was refused participation in that meeting by the minister. First, it was not invited, but it pleaded its case. Then it was allowed to go, but it had to sit in the back and observe. The minister then started the process.
     For those who do not understand, the Canadian Wheat Board is made up of 15 person board of directors, 10 elected by producers and 5 appointed by the government. Always the previous governments have tried to provide balance.They had business people who had business understanding in terms of the appointed directors. However, the mantra of the government opposite on appointments to directors now is one thing. They must absolutely be opposed to single desk selling, and it made its first appointment on September 15.
    On September 19, the minister appointed a task force to look at dual marketing. I have quoted from that task force report in which it has said dual marketing is not possible. However, the people who were on that task force were all opponents to the board. Even the Wheat Board directors were asked, but they did not attend because they knew it was a set-up. There were only opponents on that task force. No witness list was provided, no list of meetings, no economic analysis of any kind of what its recommendations would do.
    As I quoted from Mr. Fulton, it is clearly a discredited task force by the academic community as a task force with one objective, to come up with recommendations on how to move away from single desk selling of the board without outlining the economic impact on the farming community. The reason it did this is the Wheat Board provides, and it is well known, an advantage to producers about $655 million annually.
    On September 5, the election started for five directors of the Wheat Board. That is important. During that whole election campaign, the full power of the bureaucracy was out there propagandizing against pro-board directors.
    On October 5, the government issued a gag order to the Canadian Wheat Board directors that they could not speak out and in effect would have a hard time doing their job.
    On October 17, the minister directed that 16,000 farmers be removed from the electoral list itself, in the middle of an election campaign.
    On October 26, a pro-wheat board director was fired so the government could replace him with an anti-single desk selling director.
    On October 30, the task force report came down and, as we expected, it had no economic analysis and no list of meetings.
    In November the standing committee agreed to hear from the president and CEO, but that eventually was cancelled and then was reinstated.
    I know I am running out of time, but I will make a couple more points. This goes to the essence of what we are as a country. Because the Wheat Board put on its website a critique of the task force report so farmers would know the implications of that, on November 17, the Minister of Agriculture sent this letter to the board, another directive. It said:
    I ask that you instruct the CWB staff to immediately remove the CWB Response to the Report of the Task Force on Marketing Choice that was posted on the CWB website on November 6, 2006.

  (1030)  

    In other words, the minister went so far as to ask the Wheat Board to remove from its website proper information that farmers should know on the impact relative to what the consequences of the government's decision would be to producers. That is a violation of freedom of speech and it is a terrible thing to see that happen in Canada.
    The most recent event is that the minister is about to fire the CEO, a man who has had 33 years experience in the grain industry, has credibility around the world and is the chief salesman abroad, because he does not agree with the government's policy.
    This is a farm agency and it should be allowed to operate as a farm agency. It should make its decisions as a farm agency on behalf of the farm community. The government should stop interfering in the activities of the Wheat Board and allow farmers to make the choice.
    The questions we have presented as a committee are clear and unequivocal. With these, farmers could make a clear choice.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate today.
     I was born and raised on a farm and have been farming for roughly 35 years. I have heard those same arguments for the whole 35 years. There has been no change at all in the position of that member and all western Canadian farmers who sit behind him in the peanut gallery. Wait a minute, they are from Ontario, which is not under our board.
    The member went on to make a huge statement about multinationals sliding in and taking over. I will correct that statement. The multinationals like the Canadian Wheat Board. This single desk buyer gives them access to a constant flow of products at a far better price for them than it is for the producers who support it. This is a fact, and producers will tell us that.
    The capacity of the Wheat Board has gone down over the years. Its market share is sliding terribly because of the way it is governed and run. Those changes will be made in time.
    We are seeing value-added. We are seeing acres growing. Even the people who supposedly support the board are growing an abundance of non-board crops. We have not seen the multinationals slide in and take over this aspect of the farm. We also have not seen the multinationals slip in and take over the Ontario Wheat Board now that it is a market choice situation.
    On what basis does the member make his statement that the multinationals will rush in and take over? We have not seen that happen anywhere else in the world and we certainly have not seen it happen in western Canada on the pulps and the non-board crops.

  (1035)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member may farm in the west, but I do not know where he has been. As chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, he should know the power of the multinationals. It is not that they are moving in to do the farming. They are taking economic advantage of farmers.
    Studies clearly have shown the benefits under the single desk selling approach through the Canadian Wheat Board. The benefits under a number of scenarios with the Canadian Wheat Board have been posted. The economic advantage to farmers collectively as a result of the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk selling approach and its ability to provide economic power to the farm community has not been refuted by anyone. The member knows that Canada's credibility in the international market is due to the quality grains that we export, or export through the Canadian Wheat Board itself. A lot of this will be lost should the Canadian Wheat Board be destroyed.
    The multinational grain trade has faced 11 challenges from the United States. We have won every time the United States grain industry and the multinational grain trade has challenged the Canadian Wheat Board as a marketing institution because it benefits Canadian farmers. Now we have a government that will do the bidding of the multinational grain trade and the United States, undermining the board and taking power away from Canadian farmers. Those members should be ashamed of themselves.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague opposite for his comments and his strong support for the Canadian Wheat Board. The NDP has been raising this issue since the beginning. It is clear that the government is trying to weaken farmers' ability to take collective action in their own best interest. This neo-conservative government is trying to stop people from acting collectively in their own best interest in many other areas as well by doing things like cutting funding for Status of Women Canada and abolishing the court challenges program.
    Does the member agree that when his government eliminated cooperatives and people's collective ability to build housing, it was acting exactly like the current government is in terms of that other ability?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, when we look at cooperatives, the previous government was a fairly strong promoter of the cooperative system, both within the social housing community, the farming community and many others. However, there used to be a strong cooperative movement, the pool movement, in western Canada in the grains sector.
    There used to be the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, the Manitoba Wheat Pool and the Alberta Wheat Pool. They were wholly owned by the farming community and their assets were built by that community. Those pools as cooperatives no longer exist. They have been taken over. Archer Daniels Midland has a 23% share in one of them.
    Those pools, when they were operating as cooperatives in western Canada, did their best to try to return economic advantage to the farm community because their shareholders were farmers. Today that is not the case. Some of the shareholders of the grain companies in western Canada are farmers, but many of them are not. As I mentioned, Archer Daniels Midland has a 23% shareholder in AgriCorp.
    Shareholders are on the New York Stock Exchange. They come from around the world and they are not interested in the farmers any more. They are only interested in the profits to themselves. Therefore, the cooperative movement has been very much undermined in western Canada. The last barrier against being exploited by the grain trade internationally is the Canadian Wheat Board, and that is what the Conservative government is about to undermine and cut away.

  (1040)  

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member opposite, whom we all know is from P.E.I. He never advocates a single market for the potatoes that are grown there, but he seems to want to keep the farmers in the west under the domination of a socialist idea of the Wheat Board.
    He uses phrases such as the proposals would undermine democratic principles and the essence of what we are as a country. As we know, Canada was built on the entrepreneurship of the great pioneers who developed it, who created the wealth and so on. It seems to me that the member opposite is absolutely opposed to anything for which our country stands and how we build a country. In fact, he went on to say that the people who were interested in profits were the people who were out to destroy Canada. He needs a little lesson on capitalism.
    If he feels the Wheat Board single market is so good, could he tell us why the grain industry has been in such bad shape for generation or more? Farmers have gone bankrupt by the thousands. We would think, if he were such a great proponent of this wonderful idea, they would be so prosperous that everybody would want to emulate them, but the opposite is true.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and the first part of the member's remarks noted that I happen to be from P.E.I. I spent 17 years in western Canada. I have probably been on a heck of a lot more farms than that particular member who happens to live in the west.
    As far as promoting national marketing agencies, we have done it. We promoted a national potato board; however, the government of the day, and it was the Trudeau government I will admit, would not put it in place.
    In terms of low farm incomes, I did a study and I would refer the member to it. It is called “Empowering Canadian Farmers in the Marketplace”. The member should put that under his pillow and read it late at night. He might learn something in terms of why farm incomes were low.
    The reason farm incomes were low is because everyone else in the agricultural industries, from processors to chemical companies, to grain companies, to transporters and to financiers, everyone involved in the agricultural industry was making the biggest profits in the last two years while the farmers were making the lowest. Why? It is because farmers did not have power in the marketplace. That is why.
    Mr. John Williams: The Wheat Board did not either.
    Hon. Wayne Easter: The Canadian Wheat Board does give them some power in the marketplace.
     Yes, the returns are low out there from the grain industry. The Canadian Wheat Board allows Canadian farmers to maximize those returns back to primary producers in the industry through its marketing power. Of course it is not going to ensure them a profit; however, it is going to ensure them the greatest share of the returns that are in fact out there.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to point out something that may not be obvious to people and I would like to ask the hon. members a question. Are hon. members a little bit interested in why the member for Malpeque did not even talk about his motion this morning? The motion was brought forward at committee. I want to talk about it a little bit later, but members will notice that throughout his entire speech he did not talk about it, and that is probably because he is embarrassed by it.
    I have been disappointed in him in a number of ways in the last couple of months. He has had two opportunities to bring forward concurrence motions this fall and unfortunately he has done both of them during scheduled committee hearings.
    Earlier on we had a hearing and we were going to sit down and talk with the trade representatives from the U.S. embassy. The member for Malpeque decided that he would bring a concurrence motion forward that day. He did that. Those of us who wanted to hear about the important issue of trade with the United States at committee were not able to do so because he wanted to be in the House standing on his soap box.
    Again, today we have an issue that is of importance at committee. We are talking about the EU's import system. It is very important in western Canada. I was out in Ontario last week meeting with farmers because this is really important. We finally got these folks to committee. What does the member for Malpeque do? He brings the motion to the House today, so those of us who are actively involved with the agricultural committee cannot be at the meeting for the full scope of the hearing.
    The obsession he has with this issue has grown to the point where he is beginning to lose credibility. The committee has done some good work and I will admit that. Just last week we released a report on the Canadian Grain Commission. It was a review of the Canadian Grains Act and the Canadian Grain Commission. We made a number of recommendations that were very important.
    We were able to bring that report forward unanimously from the committee. We thought we would be able to get some traction and some interest in that report because it has a number of very important recommendations for western Canada.
    I have never heard the member for Malpeque mention it once. He never mentioned it this morning. He supported the report. He thought it was a good report, but instead of saying that these are the positive things that the government is doing on which the opposition has been able to work with the government and that these are some of the things we are putting forward, he once more bashes the government and gets on his soap box on the one thing that has become an obsession for him, which is the Canadian Wheat Board.
    As the member for Prince Albert pointed out, it is interesting that he does not live anywhere near the region in which the Canadian Wheat Board operates. He may have been in western Canada 17 years ago. That is a long time ago. He has obviously not been there lately and does not particularly understand the situation there.
    The committee report last week made a couple of recommendations that are very important for western grain farmers. I want to talk about them because they are the kinds of things that will make the system in western Canada work. I will come to the motion a little bit later.
    One of the things that was important, and we made sure with the help of the chair, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, was that producer cars in western Canada be protected for our producers. Over the last few years, more and more producers have turned to producer cars to move their grain. They load their own car. They ship it out to the coast and they are responsible for the grain that is in it. It has become a very important component of shipping grain off the prairies.
    During the last election campaign when I was asked about it and about our commitment to it, I said that I am committed to these producer cars. I have used them for years on my own farm. They have been important to us. In fact, we were using them for years before the Canadian Wheat Board even supported them. The last couple of years the Wheat Board has got on board and said that it wanted to manage these cars and make sure that producers maintain access to them.
    Some of us were using them for quite a while before the board even got interested. Actually, it only got interested after the number of producers who were using them became great enough that the board thought it was worth its while to be bothered with them. The report last week called for the support for producer cars and the enhancement of the option of using them.
    Another thing we brought forward which we felt was important was that there be an office of grain farmer advocacy in western Canada. We brought that forward as one of the recommendations from the committee. Farmers would have an office associated with the Canadian Grain Commission that would stand up for their rights. There was a suggestion to have half a dozen commissioners who would be deployed regionally across western Canada, so if farmers had problems with grain handling, grain transportation or grain grading, they would be able to go to the office of grain farmer advocacy and have their problems dealt with. We think that is a really good recommendation.
    We also made a recommendation with regard to changing the grading system in western Canada. For many years we have had in place in western Canada what is called the KVD system, kernel visual distinguishability. That was removed by producers in Ontario 17 years ago. Because of the removal of that requirement in Ontario, they have been able to grow their industry. They have been able to bring a whole host of new products to market in terms of grains and cereals.

  (1045)  

    We felt it was about time that western Canadian farmers began to experience some of the benefits of that as well. Actually, opposition members from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP all supported those recommendations. I thought it was a very good report and I would have liked to have seen it get some attention.
    Unfortunately, the opposition, particularly the member for Malpeque, has decided that it apparently is not important. He has something else that he is fixated on. The government would like to ensure that western Canadian farmers have the opportunity to know that report is out there and that it is going to be moving ahead.
    Another important thing happened last Friday for western Canadian farmers. Bill C-2, the federal accountability act, was finally passed by the House of Commons for the final time and will receive royal assent shortly. This is going to give farmers access to information that for decades they have been asking for. They want to know what is going on at the Canadian Wheat Board. They want to know how their money is being spent on communication, political lobbying and those kinds of things. They are finally going to have access to that information.
    In spite of the misleading information that was put out by the opposition, this is not going to force the Canadian Wheat Board to reveal all of its sales information to its competitors and those kinds of things. It would simply give farmers a tool to understand what is being done with their own money because it is their money that goes toward the running of the Canadian Wheat Board.
    It has been disappointing to see the member for Malpeque ignoring the issues that are important not only to people in western Canada but also to his own riding. As I said, two committee meetings have basically been disrupted by his insistence on bringing these concurrence reports forward at this time. Both of those issues dealt with his constituency and his constituents in Prince Edward Island: the important issue of U.S. trade and what we wanted to discuss today in committee with regard to the EU's imports.
    I am pleased to speak to this motion today. As we know, grain farmers in western Canada have chosen their directors for the next four years. That is going to be important. I was interested to hear the member for Malpeque this morning talk about the fact that he apparently does not want appointed directors to be farmers. He thinks they should come from outside the industry, but the minister has been good about that. He has appointed a couple of farmers to the board who would bring a perspective of experience in the business. I think there is going to be a good balance there.
    The newly elected and appointed directors are going to have a number of important issues to deal with, including the fact that this government is moving in the direction of marketing choice. The government looks forward to working with the board as it moves ahead and remains committed to providing marketing choice to western Canadian farmers while continuing to preserve the board as one of those options.
    Speaking directly to the matter of this concurrence debate, I appreciate some of the other work that has been done by the committee, but there needs to be a couple of points made particularly regarding this motion.
    Perhaps one of the reasons the member for Malpeque did not want to talk about the motion is that it was ruled out of order twice by the chair of the committee. It was ruled out of order on the first occasion because it clearly, in the chair's opinion, walked into the area of the minister's responsibility. I will talk about that a little later.
    The member for Malpeque withdrew the motion. He understood that at the time, but decided that maybe political points were more important than actually dealing with the issue, so he reintroduced it again and the motion was ruled out of order a second time.
    The second time it was ruled out of order was because when a motion is reintroduced, it is supposed to be substantially different than it was the first time and it was precisely the same motion. It was ruled out of order twice. The opposition on the committee obviously outnumbers the government at this point, so opposition members made the decision that they were going to bring this forward anyway. That is why we see it here today and I assume one of the reasons why the member for Malpeque really did not want to talk about the motion itself.
    Another problem with the motion is that it is unbalanced. It does not deal with the real issues. There are a number of choices that will be available to western Canadian farmers. We understand that one of them will be that farmers would be able to market their grain and have the option of going through the Canadian Wheat Board as well. That is not included as one of the options. The member has again taken the extremist position that he has held in the past and has a motion that really does not have anything to do with the options that farmers want.
    He is trying to come up with another extreme position. He wants to bring it before the House so he can get his three hours of debate, but in this case, ideology has once again trumped reality. It is a bit embarrassing for us to have to bring this motion forward when it was ruled out of order twice, as I said.

  (1050)  

    The member talked a little about intimidation. I think we need to spend some time talking about some of the tactics that have been used by the opposition in this debate. One example is the motion that has been brought forward today.
    Last week on Thursday a very interesting thing happened at committee. We had invited a number of witnesses to speak on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. Mr. Jim Chatenay, an elected director of the Canadian Wheat Board, was one of the witnesses we had called. We brought him here to speak on Tuesday, but the meeting on Tuesday was cancelled because the board had decided it was going to launch a legal action against the government. The chair had to check to make sure that we could hold the meeting, so we decided to hold it on Thursday.
    While we were waiting for that meeting to be held, the steering committee for the agriculture committee had a meeting and decided that it was going to exclude Mr. Chatenay as a witness. He had been brought here. The committee had asked him to come and he was already here, but the steering committee behind closed doors decided that the witness list was going to be changed. We came on Thursday and the witness list was set. I want to make a couple of points.
     Mr. Chatenay is a veteran of the board of directors. I told the committee that. He has been a strong voice for farmers and he had been at the committee all week. In any event I think there were reasons that the opposition had made a decision. Actually I brought forward a motion at the committee that Mr. Chatenay be allowed to sit at the table and the opposition voted against it and would not allow him to come to the table. I was wondering why that would happen, but I think there are some reasons.
    In the early 1990s we had a crop in western Canada that froze in the fields. The farmers needed to get it to market in order to get their money out of it. As we looked for places to market it, the board basically said to us that it did not really think it could market that grain. It was not good grain and it was not sure it would be able to market it.
    The farmers in our area, which is southwestern Saskatchewan, started looking around for another market. They went across the border. They took samples to the United States and they found out that the grain really was not that bad. Under the U.S. grading system the Americans were willing to give us a decent price for the grain. We began to set up a buyback from the Canadian Wheat Board in order to take our grain across the border.
    We had a decent price for it. When we do a buyback with the board we have to give it all our sales information including the name of the company we are doing business with. It was not much later that farmers got a phone call from the company which said, “We do not need your grain. We are not going to buy it from you. We have as much of a supply of that type of grain as we want”. We found out the price that it was offering for it was bout 85¢ a bushel less than our farmers had been able to negotiate.
    The bad thing about it was we watched the trucks come into our elevator, load up, and followed the trucks across the border to those same elevators. The board had taken the sale and offered it to these companies at about 85¢ a bushel less than the farmers themselves had been able to negotiate. We watched our wheat go out at that price. That of course started to make farmers angry and that really was the genesis of the 1990s opposition to the Canadian Wheat Board and an interest in marketing choice.
    Out of that of course there were farmers who moved ahead and decided that they wanted to move their grain into the United States. When they started doing that, the Liberal government started pushing back on them. Farmers went to court. Actually when they won in the courts, that same day, and the member for Wascana was the minister, the government moved to change the regulations so that the farmers could not do that. As the farmers won, the government counteracted, shut things down, changed the regulations on the fly so that what farmers were doing would be considered illegal.
    Farmers went ahead and moved their grain across the border. The government arrested them--and the member for Malpeque is well aware of this--and at least a dozen farmers went to jail for periods of time ranging from a few hours to a couple of months. One of those farmers in particular was strip searched a number of times. I guess he was dangerous enough that the government felt it really needed to make an example of him.
    What was really a concern about it was that it was not just one agency that was doing this. There were at least five government agencies that were involved in these activities. The RCMP, Canada Revenue Agency, justice, the Canadian Wheat Board and others were all ganging up on individual farmers just because they wanted a fair price for their grain.
    Mr. Chatney was one of those farmers. We can begin to understand why the member for Malpeque did not want him at the witness table. He sits over there and laughs about it. It is a joke to him, but it is not a joke to western Canadian farmers who want some choice in marketing their grain.

  (1055)  

    A graph was circulated to MPs' offices last week from one of the western Canadian grain organizations. It shows that western Canadian farmers over the last year have received on average about 50¢ a bushel less than their counterparts in the United States. We continue to pay a price for just wanting to market our own grain.
    Coming back to the motion, the committee report talks about recommending a plebiscite. The member for Malpeque knows that we are having a plebiscite. We committed to having a plebiscite in the new year. It is going to be on barley. It is going to be a clear question put to a broad base of voters. It is going to allow barley producers to vote on the future of their industry. That is the way it should be.
    In the new year western Canadian farmers are going to be able to vote on a clear question of whether or not they would like choice on barley. We want to stress that the Canadian Wheat Board will be one of those options. It is going to be the option of selling one's own grain or the option of using the western Canadian Wheat Board to market the grain. For feed barley that is already the way it is. Farmers have the choice of going through the Wheat Board or going on the open market with their feed barley. With malt barley right now, they have to go through the Canadian Wheat Board. We want to give them the option of whether they want some choice in dealing with their malt barley as well.
    It is very interesting how well our marketing system is working right now. In western Canada this fall, feed barley, which is on the open market, has been at a higher price than malt barley, which is supposed to be the premium barley. Malt barley is supposed to receive the premium. It goes through the Canadian Wheat Board. It cannot react quickly enough to the market. The open market does react quickly. Farmers have been selling their barley onto the open market at a higher price than they can get for their premium barley through the Canadian Wheat Board.
    The farmers themselves deserve to be heard. They will be heard in a plebiscite which will be held in January.
    The report dictates what the questions will be and who should be able to vote. I want to point out that section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act specifically grants the minister these powers. He has the full authority to develop the process for the vote, and I will quote from act so that it cannot be misunderstood.
    The Minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill that would exclude any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley, or wheat or barley produced in any area in Canada, from the provisions of Part IV, either in whole or in part, or generally, or for any period, or that would extend the application of Part III or Part IV or both Parts III and IV to any other grain, unless
(a) the Minister has consulted with the board about the exclusion or extension; and
(b) the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension, the voting process having been determined by the Minister.
    The member for Malpeque is quick to quote the act and demand rigid adherence to it, but he wants to ignore it, as he has done in his report, when it suits him. We need to point that out, that there are some serious inconsistencies here. On one hand he is up yelling and screaming about how the minister has to abide by this and that, his interpretation of the act and all that that means, and on the other he comes forward with a motion that clearly does not agree with the act itself. That does not bother him. He is here today. He wants to have his three hours of debate on this issue and he has brought forward a motion that basically violates the act.
    The draft question that is offered in the report is one possible formulation. The Minister of Agriculture has said that he is going to listen to views about the question, but at the end of the day he is the one who is going to be developing the question that meets this commitment. He will be consulting as well.
    The report also proposes to use a voters list that members on both sides of this House know includes people who are not barley producers. I guess the member for Malpeque should be answering the question about why it is that he is expanding the vote in his motion today to include people who do not grow barley and who are not included in the barley industry. I am not sure what his answer would be. Perhaps later he could give us some clarification on that.
    The minister has promised to have a plebiscite question considered by a broad base of voters. That is what he intends to do, but that is not what the committee report proposes, and unfortunately I am sure the opposition members will be supporting it. They should think twice about that and I would suggest that they should reject it.
    I would also like to take issue with the fact that we often hear the charge that we are rushing through change. Nothing could be further from the truth. This House would be aware that in mid-September the minister launched a technical task force to explore the transitional and structural issues that might be encountered in the move toward marketing choice. The task force came out in late October. It recommends a phased in transition from a Wheat Board with monopoly powers to a marketing choice environment, preparing for change, launching the new Wheat Board with transition measures, and a post-transition period. It is a fairly comprehensive report that lays out some of the possibilities as we move ahead with change to the Canadian Wheat Board.
    The task force was not marching to orders from the minister. It was giving advice to him. For example, the task force advised to start with legislative change, and we are glad to see that the minister has decided to start with consultations first. That is why at the end of October he announced the plebiscite on barley.

  (1100)  

    The plebiscite on barley is the only thing in the window right now. The board is going to remain in place. It will continue to be one of the options for marketing.
    Canada's grain industry is open for business. That is the positive message that our customers overseas need to hear loud and clear. They do not need to hear some of the doomsday scenarios that have been coming from some quarters.
    This is something that has had a number of us concerned. We hear from some of the people in the board and the provincial governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba that the sky is falling. They have been screaming and exaggerating the consequences for some months. Now they tell us that some other people are actually listening to them when they say that.
    The government is saying to the board, “Focus on marketing grain. Go out and do a good job of marketing grain for western Canadian farmers. As we bring some choice forward, you will have a lot more farmers who will support you as we move into that choice environment”.
    It is interesting that those on the other side decided to exaggerate the possibilities as far as they could in order to scare farmers. I guess the farmers are being scared by the rhetoric that they are hearing.
    The government has been very clear. We made a campaign commitment to provide marketing choice to western Canadian farmers with the Canadian Wheat Board as one of those options. That is the direction in which we continue to move.

  (1105)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to look into the accusation that the member opposite made relative to Mr. Chatenay coming before the committee.
    I have before me the original notice of meeting for the December 5 meeting that the chair eventually cancelled. The timeframe on the bottom of this notice is dated November 24, 2006 at 4:14 p.m. If you want a copy of that, Mr. Speaker, I can give one to you. Mr. Chatenay's name is not on that witness list. The parliamentary secretary is dreaming in Technicolor on that point.
    The parliamentary secretary is accusing the opposition of taking charge of the committee. The minister himself in his presentation to the committee asked the committee for suggestions. I will ask the parliamentary secretary a simple question, is that not true? He did. The committee is doing its work and providing him with advice in terms of what the question should be.
    I have another question for the parliamentary secretary. Adrian Measner, the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board, is about to be fired. He is a man of credibility with over 33 years in the grain business. This is what he said to the committee:
    I have been asked to pledge support for the government's policy of eliminating the single desk, barring which I will be removed from my job. It would seem to me that opposition to the single desk should be far better grounds for my dismissal than unwavering support for the laws of Canada.
    The gentleman opposite is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board. What Mr. Measner is saying in simple terms is he has been told by the minister he can break the law and keep his job, or he can maintain the law and lose his job.
    Would the parliamentary secretary tell us, is that still the position of the minister, or is the minister going to allow this man to remain in that job? Mr. Measner has lots of credibility. He is still supported with the confidence of the board of directors. In fact, he was just reappointed in 2005. He has the full confidence of the board of directors in terms of maintaining his position as CEO. Will the minister say today in the House that that man should remain in that job so that he can continue to do a good job for western Canadian farmers?
    Mr. Speaker, as usual, we hear exaggerated rhetoric from the member for Malpeque as his obsession with this issue continues.
    The job of the Wheat Board is to market western Canadian farmers' grain, which is what the minister asked it to do earlier this fall. He told the Wheat Board that it should get out of the political advocacy role and go out and market western Canadian grain.
    The reality is that the market is improving. It has come up a lot in the last few months. We expect that western Canadian farmers will benefit from that. We hope the board has not missed the sales opportunities that have been there, as it did a couple of years ago when it ended up running a deficit in the pool accounts because it was not paying attention to the market when it came up nor when it also dropped off and were not able to take advantage of the highs.
    We are asking the Canadian Wheat Board to get out and market western Canadian farmers' grain into this rising market so western Canadian farmers can take full advantage of the market as it is improving.
    The member for Malpeque wants to bring out original notices of meetings for the committee meetings. It is interesting that Mr. Measner's name was not on the original notice of meeting either. However, we sent in an amended witness list and Mr. Measner and Mr. Chatenay were both put on the list and both were brought here to appear at committee. Apparently the member for Malpeque found it was important that Mr. Chatenay not be heard.
    We are a little tired of those intimidating and threatening remarks and trying to embarrass witnesses who do not have the same position as the member for Malpeque.
    Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this debate with fascination. The parliamentary secretary talks about intimidation and harassment from our friend over there in Prince Edward Island. I sat on the committee with him and I have to say that he has been relentless in his attack on the Wheat Board. It is not a vision of dual selling. It is an attack on the Wheat Board. It is an attack on a farmer-run operation.
    Every time we ask a question, we are being told that because we are from Prince Edward Island or from Ontario that we do not represent all western grain farmers. I have been receiving hundreds of pieces of correspondence from western Canada and I have been phoning people in western Canada.
     I would like to read a typical letter from someone in east end Saskatchewan. The letter is addressed to the parliamentary secretary, the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. The letter reads:
    You claim you are being open and transparent about things, well, hiding behind closed door meetings, with handpicked invited guests, and issuing gag orders to anyone who speaks out against you, is being transparent all-right, anyone can see right through you!
    Canada is a democratic country, and sooner or later I will get a chance to vote, be it on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board or the future of the member for Cypress Hills Grasslands, one thing is for sure, I will never support you!
    That is just one of the hundreds of letters I have received.
     I would like to hear the member's comments on how he interprets the fact that in the latest Wheat Board elections his cabal of enemies against the Wheat Board were soundly trounced. They were soundly defeated because western farmers do not support them and they do not support that member's relentless attacks on the credibility of the Wheat Board and on anyone who defends the notion of the Wheat Board.

  (1110)  

    Mr. Speaker, we can see the kind of rhetorical flourish that we have on this whole issue from people who really do not understand it.
    What I have been relentless in is my interest in giving western Canadian farmers the same opportunities that farmers in other parts of this country have. It is interesting that in one part of this country people could be sent to jail for doing something that is perfectly legal in other parts of this country. That is ridiculous.
    Western Canadian farmers want the same opportunity to participate in a rising market. We see right now that we are paying a penalty of about 50¢ a bushel to our American counterparts, and that is not fair. We want western Canadian farmers to be able to take full advantage of the market.
    The member for Malpeque constantly refers to the former report he made that talks about farmers not having power in the marketplace. When we want to give them some ability to respond to the marketplace and to take advantage of opportunities, he and the NDP do everything they can to stop that.
    I will continue to work toward giving western Canadian farmers the same opportunities as farmers across the rest of Canada have as they attempt to make their farms profitable.
    Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, at the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the president and CEO of the Wheat Board and the chair of the Wheat Board made some interesting statements to which I believe the House would like to have a response.
    The first statement was made by the CEO, Mr. Adrian Measner. He states:
    The government's actions are also going to cost farmers money. You cannot make wholesale changes to the board of directors of a corporation with $4 to $5 billion worth of sales, gut its management team and restructure the grain-handling system without causing major upheavals and concern throughout the grain trade and most notably among buyers. I want to echo Ken [Ritter]'s comments about process and how it is most unfortunate that the government has chosen this precise moment—when some prosperity is finally returning to the grain sector—to create this degree of chaos and uncertainty both domestically and in the international marketplace.
    Mr. Ken Ritter, the chair, said:
    Western Canadian grain producers have just been through what could easily be called a “perfect storm”: a cycle of low commodity prices, severely curtailed crops and high input prices. We are just rounding the corner. The 2006 crop, for the most part, was favourable both in terms of quality and quantity and prices have rebounded.
    As a grain producer myself, I can say clearly and unequivocally: now is not the time to foist major changes on our industry. We need to catch our breath, we need to recover from the crisis we've just been through, we need to make sure that in growing and improving our industry, we do not take a step back into the abyss.
    I would ask--
    The hon. parliamentary secretary.
    Mr. Speaker, again we hear fearmongering and exaggeration.
    Canadian farmers, and western Canadian farmers in particular, grow high quality grain that will be sold around the world whether the Canadian Wheat Board markets all of it or if people have the opportunity to market their own grain.
    I find it interesting that the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River stood today to defend the Canadian Wheat Board because when the Thunder Bay Port Authority was in committee we heard that it could actually experience more growth through its terminal if western Canadian farmers had more options available to them.
    We have been told that the Canadian Wheat Board is insisting that a vast amount of wheat be put on lakers rather than on shippers. The wheat is being loaded onto one ship and it bypasses Thunder Bay and is loaded onto another ship. Thunder Bay could actually benefit from western Canadian farmers having marketing choice.
    I wonder why the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River is not representing his own constituents.

  (1115)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Malpeque for raising this issue in the House today. There is no doubt that the Canadian Wheat Board is currently in jeopardy as a result of certain actions taken by the Conservative government for some time now.
    Regardless of their party colours and whether they are federal or provincial, governments are often accused of acting off the cuff. I heard the parliamentary secretary say earlier that this government was being accused of acting hastily in this file. I agree with him. This was not done in haste. This was not off-the-cuff. It has been a long-time goal of the Conservatives to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. This was not off-the-cuff.
    We need only look back to 2002. On an opposition day, the current Prime Minister—at the time, a Canadian Alliance member of Parliament—moved a motion that already referred to freedom of choice. It must be understood that it is pure rhetoric to talk about freedom of choice, when what it really means is to impede the collective marketing system chosen by western farmers.
    I will compare this to something happening in Quebec, even though I have been criticized many times for drawing this comparison. However, you will see that people are finding parallels between what is happening with the Canadian Wheat Board and with the supply management system in Quebec.
    The last Conservative election platform included their plans to end the single desk model of the Canadian Wheat Board. This really is the culmination. As I said, quite a process has been established to put an end to the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk model.
    Since the election, it has continued. They have established a committee whose membership comprises only those who oppose the Canadian Wheat Board. This way, when people from the board were invited to sit on the committee, they discovered that the committee intended to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk model.
    In addition, there was the famous ministerial order preventing Wheat Board management from defending the Wheat Board. That is rather ironic. The last time a government used a similar order in connection with wheat was when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, in the 1980s. Since the Canadian Wheat Board traded regularly with Russia, the government ordered an end to wheat shipments to Russia because of the activities in Afghanistan. It was obviously for a valid reason. Today, however, there is no justification for such an order.
    Representatives of the board are in fact taking the government to court over the matter. I will not discuss this further, even though we have parliamentary privilege here. One thing is sure: the Conservatives intended to eliminate this single desk. When a member represents farmers, and his minister tells him that he can no longer do so, there is a serious problem.
    Bill C-300 was introduced in the House of Commons by the chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food—a Conservative member, of course. The aim of that bill was also, ultimately, to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.
    Just recently, there was the famous letter to Mr. Measner, the president and CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board, which was discussed at length earlier. In the letter, he was told he had to honour the government's position or see his head roll on December 14. He was threatened with dismissal if he failed to follow the line of the Conservative Party. I understand and I am not denying that the Conservatives and even this government are entitled to have objectives and to want to change things. Because it is democracy that decides. However, I have a problem when people are intimidated and democracy is abused.
    Furthermore, according to section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, it is clear that the farmers, the western producers of wheat and barley, must decide their own future. If we really put in place, as suggested by the motion of the member for Malpeque, a democratic process enabling people to vote and recognizing the result of that vote, democracy will prevail.
    However, that is not at all what the government is doing in this case. As I said, I have no issue with the fact that the Conservatives, in their election platform, in their election promises, in their way of doing things—in certain cases—say that they want freedom of choice, that they want to offer this or that to farm producers. So be it.

  (1120)  

    However, there is a way of going about things. At present, in the case of the Canadian Wheat Board, democracy is being denied.
    Furthermore, this denial of democracy will continue because a large number of farm producers will be excluded from voting if there is a plebiscite. We know that the minister announced that there would be a plebiscite or referendum for barley producers, who do not represent the majority of producers in the west; wheat producers are in the majority. We do not yet know why wheat producers will not have the right to a plebiscite. However, one thing is certain—a number of farm producers will be excluded from the vote, according to the government. They are lining up their ducks to ensure, or at least attempt to ensure, that they take the vote. I find that this government's way of doing things is absolutely unacceptable.
    On December 5, the president of the Canadian Wheat Board, Mr. Measner, held a press conference to denounce the Conservative government's position on the Wheat Board's future. Earlier, I said that Mr. Measner was the CEO, but he is the president. He maintains, and rightly so, that the government should hold consultations on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board as soon as possible. That is why we are discussing this issue today.
    In fact, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food has passed a motion introduced by the member for Malpeque, calling for a plebiscite on this issue and demanding that producers themselves determine the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, their collective marketing tool. That is what we are discussing today in this House.
    Mr. Measner says that he has to defend the interests of producers over those of the government, and that is his job. He could also lose that job because he is doing it well. That is what is happening. He said, “I find it quite ironic that I have been asked to pledge support for the government's policy of marketing choice, which is not the law. In other words, if I continue to obey the law, I will be fired”.
    For its part, the government is maintaining that all government appointees are expected to go along with the government's position. If the approach to this issue is not tantamount to dictatorship, then I do not know what is.
    The majority of members of the CWB's board of directors, who are elected by producers, want to keep the single desk model set out in the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Moreover, on Sunday, four out of five board members were elected. They are in favour of maintaining the Canadian Wheat Board as is. I think that the message to the Conservatives is clear.
    In previous discussions in committee and in the House, it was said that the Conservatives were doing what they pleased, that they should not flout section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and that they should not ignore the opinion of producers. To that, the Conservatives replied that, on January 23, they had been given a mandate that entitled them to do what they were doing.
    Imagine, Mr. Speaker, according to the Conservatives, everyone who voted for them on January 23, was in favour of later dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board, when we know that people choose to vote one way or another for a number of reasons. You, yourself, are an MP, Mr. Speaker. I believe that in your own riding—and you have been there for some time—people surely have voted for you in one election and not in another for their own reasons because a party promised something that, in their work or family life, was very important.
    In my opinion, we have to look at a party's entire platform and not just one topic, in order to say that since people elected us it is entirely acceptable to act a certain way because it was their choice. Well, wait just a minute. We are talking about the Canadian Wheat Board here and wheat producers. I do not think that all these people voted for the Conservatives. And even if they did, they voted for a government. This was not a plebiscite, like we would have on a specific issue. There is a difference between voting in an election and voting in a referendum on a very specific issue.
    I do not think it is correct to say that we can do whatever we want because people voted for us in the last election. I could do the same. I too was democratically elected on January 23 and in 2004. In my riding, I am not about to say that I can do whatever I want or whatever I think because the people have spoken and that is the end of it.

  (1125)  

    I still have to go meet people, talk to them and discuss things with them—as I do every weekend—to get a feel for what the population wants. I know my region well and I have to represent what the majority of people in my region want. That makes perfect sense, and the government should do the same.
    Bloc Québécois members have no desire to endanger a collective marketing tool used by 85,000 wheat and barley producers in the west. I talked earlier about comparing them to Quebec producers. We were also accused of knowing nothing about this because we are from Quebec. Earlier, I heard people tell folks from Prince Edward Island and Ontario to leave them alone. I am sorry, but as the NDP member said just now during questions and comments, I get hundreds and hundreds of letters from western producers asking me not to forget about them.
    Obviously, I do not represent people from the west. As my party's agriculture critic, I think I have a responsibility—as do all members of this House—for all of the issues that come before us. If we do not take a stand, or if we do not pay attention to all of the issues that come up, how can we look in the mirror every morning and tell ourselves we are doing our jobs and accomplishing the work for which we are being paid?
    Like Quebec producers, I—as agriculture critic and defender of the interests of Quebec agricultural producers—fear that the Conservative government will go after another one of Canada's very important collective marketing tools: supply management. We know that 40% of Quebec's agricultural economy depends on supply management. I am talking about dairy, egg—for eating and for hatching—poultry and turkey producers.
    So, these people are very concerned about what is happening at the moment. We know exactly why the other countries criticize us during WTO negotiations. They are critical of these two collective marketing tools, which are not, however, subsidies. We in the Bloc Québécois even invited the ambassadors of various countries to come here in order to explain to them just what supply management means. Increasingly, people understand and are interested in what is happening in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada where supply management is used.
    Despite all that, during negotiations, these two tools are always blamed for all the ills. They are tools that countries wanting to take over our markets would like to see destroyed. If the Conservative government approved or arranged the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, other countries would be delighted and would want to know about the state of supply management. This is why this matter is of such concern to us.
    Let us consider the comments by the minister, who told us in committee that, no matter what happens, if there is an agreement at the WTO, the government will have to sign it. It is the “no matter what happens” that sets off an alarm bell for me. I tell myself that, if we have to make concessions on supply management, the government will simply dismantle it and thus throw the entire farm economy in Quebec into disarray.
    We can certainly not allow such a message to go out . When the minister says this in committee, his remarks are public and heard by people throughout the world following the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. We are in the age of globalization, with the Internet and so on. With such technology, people are well aware of what goes on, of what the minister and members are saying, and we must weigh our words carefully when we say that Canada will sign an agreement in the end, regardless.
    Furthermore, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, said that concessions will have to be made sooner or later by both the Canadian Wheat Board and the supply management system, because that is what other countries are demanding.
    I am sorry, but we were elected and we are here to defend our gains, especially when it is entirely reasonable to do so. As I said, there is no government subsidy, at least, none concerning supply management. As for market access, perhaps we could begin discussing that once the other countries are on a level playing field with us. In fact, the average Canadian market access for other imported products is approximately 5%, while in other countries, average market access is 2.5%
    Once these individuals from the United States, Europe and elsewhere achieve the levels we have reached here, perhaps then we can begin discussing or looking at what we can do.

  (1130)  

    For now, I think our market is open enough that we can maintain the system as it is.
    Of course, there is the attitude taken by Canada's chief negotiator at the WTO, which is why the Bloc Québécois moved a very important motion before this House, to ensure that no concessions would be made concerning supply management during these negotiations. The negotiator himself said that his hands were tied. Personally, I think that is very good news. Indeed, farm groups thank me every time I meet them. The Bloc Québécois and every member of this House all deserve their thanks, since the motion was passed unanimously.
    I receive expressions of thanks from all over, whether from New Brunswick, where I recently met with farmers, or from Ontario, or from a woman farmer in Calgary. I point this out because, of course I receive thanks from Quebec, but I would like to emphasize just how important it was to farmers everywhere that we unanimously passed here in this House the motion to protect supply management. This must be recognized.
    Collective marketing is very important in Quebec. As I mentioned, we have supply management, joint plans and cooperatives. All of this serves to protect farmers’ income. Farmers have an absolute right to organize the marketing of their products, and that includes organizing to join forces to obtain the fairest possible market. That is what western producers did. They decided, all together, that they would put in place a marketing tool known as the Canadian Wheat Board.
    As I already stated in a previous speech, I do not believe that we should say that is the way it is and nothing should ever change. However, there is a way of making changes and that should be with the agreement of the producers themselves. It is up to them to decide.
    That is also what the members of the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec did. One of the few times that the minister was angry with me was when I spoke about the Canadian Wheat Board. I imagine that he was quite irritated that someone from Quebec talked about this issue. The minister wondered what we would say if that were imposed in Quebec. There is no need to do so because the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec decided to set up a collective marketing board. Granted it is not the Canadian Wheat Board, but it is nonetheless a marketing tool. If people want to sell their grain for human consumption, they must belong to the board. That also goes for milk producers.
    I have been told I am comparing apples and oranges. Not at all. A Conservative member told me that if he wanted to produce milk, he would. Careful, it does not work that way. First, one has to be a member of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, which is a collective marketing system since it is all part of supply management. A producer has no choice but to comply. He has to buy quota and follow those rules as well. It is all a collective. No one can just do what they want. We cannot take our milk and go sell it in New Brunswick, the United States or something like that. Not at all. Someone comes to collect the milk that has been produced. The producer has a quota, which has to be respected, but at least the producer is sure to have a stable income. The consumers will be assured of stable pricing. These are the advantages, or some of the advantages, of supply management.
    As I was saying, last year, these cash crop producers created the Agence de vente du blé de consommation humaine in Quebec. This new agency ensures that the Fédération is the only agent authorized to market wheat for human consumption in Quebec. It was inspired by what is already happening in other types of farming in Quebec, whether it be with milk, maple syrup, pork, beef, etc. It is through a democratic process that such sales agencies come to be. Producers are called on to vote on their creations. That is how we do things in Quebec.
    The same is true when one decides no longer to participate. It is also up to the producers to decide on ending these sales agencies. Contrary to the Canadian Wheat Board, the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec does not own the production and has no tie to the government. That is the difference.
    Quebec has also expressed support for the Canadian Wheat Board. We have only to think of the testimony by the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec before the committee. UPA representatives came to tell us that a comparison could be drawn between supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board. When I was the first to raise this possibility or this concern in certain English-Canadian media, I was described as some sort of hothead and accused of mixing apples and oranges. It is funny, though, that since then, many stakeholders, such as the UPA, have told the committee that this is indeed a danger.

  (1135)  

     Saskatchewan's Minister of Agriculture and Food told the committee that and wrote to me to say that I was right. Manitoba's Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives also made the same assertion before the committee.
    I applaud what they are doing in Manitoba. They are going to hold a plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board.
    I think that the Conservative federal government should take note of what is being done elsewhere and take a democratic approach. With a plebiscite, people could choose and decide what they want to do. The government should hold a plebiscite of all wheat and barley producers in western Canada.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his comments. He had a lot to say about supply management.
    Members may remember that yesterday, during question period, I asked the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board if supply management is next on the hit list. The clear response was that, first, we did not know what we were talking about, and second, the Conservative government has no intention of trying to dismantle supply management.
    They said that we did not know what we were doing, but last night, I had the opportunity to meet two people who are very familiar with the sector, Laurent Pellerin, whom we know well, and Bob Friesen, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. These two men are very well respected in the sector we are discussing today. They are very concerned about the Conservative government's next moves. They are concerned because if the government decides to attack the Canadian Wheat Board—which is working extremely well, has been working well for 70 years, is respected internationally and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars more for farmers—what is to stop it from attacking the entire supply management system next?
    I am sure that Quebeckers are interested because we depend heavily on agriculture. My colleague was wondering why we should trust the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, who says that there is nothing to worry about; there is no problem; the government will not attack supply management; it is focusing solely on the Canadian Wheat Board.
    Why should we believe the minister when he says that?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his judicious comments.
     When he refers to Mr. Pellerin, he is quite right. When I first talked about the concern expressed in Quebec regarding the actions being taken by the Conservative government against the Canadian Wheat Board, obviously, the leaders of the Union des producteurs agricoles were the first who came to see me and tell me they were worried about what was going on in western Canada at the time. That is why we have spoken out vigorously, in the parliamentary committee together with the member for Malpeque, an NDP member and, in fact, the entire opposition, to start making this government understand the enormous importance of the message they are sending on the international scene.
     That is why I just said—and I want to emphasize this for the hon. member—that when the minister says in committee that in any event, no matter what happens, the government is going to sign an agreement at the World Trade Organization, we think: fortunately, the other countries have not signed an agreement. This is unfortunate for the developing countries, because the current Doha round is meant for them. So we are reduced to hoping that the negotiations will fail each time, because we are afraid that our own government will be dropping its most important tools for collective marketing: the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management.
     I agree with the member, but I do not have his answer, because it is up to the minister to answer. What is being done at present to the Canadian Wheat Board—why would the minister not do it with supply management?
     International pressure has always been heavy, at least since we have had supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board. Canada has always been asked, in negotiations, to drop its two collective marketing methods.
     As the member said, if we are going to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board, and ultimately try to dismantle it, in the next stage, the pressure is going to be aimed solely at the supply management system. We therefore have good reason to worry. We are entitled to wonder about this and to be very worried, and we would be irresponsible not to do so, as opposition members, because we have to worry about what will happen to supply management next.

  (1140)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska said in his remarks that even though he is from the province of Quebec he has a responsibility to examine the issue regardless of where he is from. I want to congratulate him on withstanding the attack that we get consistently from government members, which is that because we do not happen to be within the prairie region, then obviously we should not be speaking on the issue. I think that is unfair on the part of those members, and I think it is because they do not have evidence to defeat our argument, so they can only attack us personally. That seems to be the Conservative way.
    I want to expand on the question of supply management, which my colleague asked the member about, because supply management is certainly one of the strong industries in Canada, whether it is in dairy, turkeys or eggs. Supply management is huge in the province of Quebec, where the member comes from. He mentioned in his initial remarks that the key as it relates to the Wheat Board relative to supply management is that the government is moving to prevent collective marketing.
    I think my hon. colleague asked if we can believe the minister. I do not think we can. We cannot believe the government. We know how honest the Conservatives were on income trusts; they said they would not do anything, but they did. We know that on the Canadian Wheat Board issue the member mentioned the hundreds of letters that he is getting, as I am, from Conservatives who are saying they never thought the Conservatives would do this. They thought they might make some changes but not set up a structure that would destroy the board.
    What would the impact of this be on primary producers in his province in regard to what is truly the government's next step? The ideology of the Prime Minister is to go to the open market. That is what he is doing here. He does not care what producers say. He has not allowed them their democratic rights. He has put gag orders on the board, firing the CEO. What does the member for Richmond—Arthabaska think the impact will be on farmers in his province when the Prime Minister gets to his next step, which is--
    Order. The member finally got to a question.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, by referring to ideology he has hit it on the head. This government has an ideology. At the beginning of my remarks, I said that nothing about the Canadian Wheat Board file was off the cuff. The ultimate goal is to obtain the result the government wants and talks about openly. I believe that it is not hiding anything. What it wants is a free market for everything, in all fields, on all issues. It wants the least intervention possible.
     I once heard the Minister of Industry in this House, refusing to defend the bicycle industry, right in his own riding of Beauce, where there was a bicycle manufacturing plant. They are washing their hands of it. They want to let the free market do its work. If you cannot keep up, if you are not competitive, it is because you are no good and you should not be doing what you are doing.
     They refuse to intervene in any way to protect our markets. Yet, we have the right to do that in accordance with the laws of the World Trade Organization. That is the ideology of our government. So, it is not complicated. The impact on a province like Quebec and for a riding like mine where there are so many dairy producers is that the agricultural economy of Quebec would be run into the ground. It would be finished.
     When I say that 40% of the Quebec agricultural economy is supply managed, I think that I have answered the question.
     It is strange because the people who have the same ideology as the Conservative government, the Montreal Economic Institute, which is where the Conservative Minister of Industry comes from, often tell us that from time to time they conduct studies that show supply management does not make sense; that we should put an end to that practice and that we should open our markets to everyone.
     They quote the example of what has happened in Australia. I am sorry, but what has happened in Australia in terms of dairy production has meant that, first, there are many fewer dairy producers than there used to be because they no longer have supply management. Moreover, because of the opening of markets, those dairy producers are making a lot less money than they used to. It must also be said that large processors have now taken the place of small family farms. That is not what we want in Quebec.

  (1145)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Malpeque for making this debate possible. These are difficult times for farmers, not only in the west but throughout Canada. This calls for rational thought and a spirit of cooperation.
    For example, the threat to fire Adrian Measner, a proven CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board, because he happens to disagree with the Conservative government's platform, is wrong. It is equally wrong to stack the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors with two new appointees, one who was fired from the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and the other who has demonstrated an open hostility to the very idea of a Canadian Wheat Board or to any kind of government assistance to farmers.
    We have seen the results of the Canadian Wheat Board elections. Farmers have spoken. Four out of five directors are strongly supportive of a single desk Canadian Wheat Board, with only 20% voting against it. Interestingly enough, the largest margin of victory for Canadian Wheat Board supporters came in the district overlapping the riding of the Parliamentary Secretary (for the Canadian Wheat Board) to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board.
    In District 1, Art MacKlen, a strong Wheat Board supporter, lost his seat by only 205 votes. There has been some suggestion that this may have happened because of the minister's interference in the elections; approximately one-half of farmers found themselves out of this election. In fact, the gentleman who was successful in District 1, Mr. Henry Vos, was himself not happy with this government interference.
    As Mr. Ken Ritter, an elected director for District 4 and chair of the Wheat Board stated in his letter to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food last week, “Since the [Canadian Wheat Board] last appeared before the committee in the month of June 2006, the relationship between the federal government and the CWB has unfortunately not improved”.
     This is due to a number of reasons: first, a July 27 meeting to which the CWB was not invited; second, an unbalanced and anti-Wheat Board task force; third, the minister's order in council restricting the Wheat Board's right to openly communicate with the farmers in the way it sees fit; fourth, changing the director election process in mid-stream; and fifth and most recently, the intention of the minister to fire Adrian Measner.
    As Mr. Ritter states in his letter, “there must be a better way”. Why can the minister not meet with the board of directors and have an open and frank discussion on the board's future? The Canadian Wheat Board is not some kind of stagnant, top heavy bureaucratic monster, as some critics would have us believe. It is willing, in Mr. Ritter's words, “to grow and stretch and accommodate farmers who want more flexibility”.
    For example, at a recent meeting the directors looked at changes that would actually allow small processors to purchase wheat and barley, for human consumption or export, directly from farmers. They also looked at the CWB's policy toward farmer-owned new generation cooperatives that are involved in value-added processing.
    The Wheat Board, as we know, also offers a wide variety of producer payment options. Over 17,600 farmers are availing themselves of the opportunity to price their grain themselves through options such as the fixed price and basis payment contract. For this crop year, according to Mr. Ritter, the CWB is putting in place a pilot program called the delivery exchange contract, which would enable participating farmers to match delivery opportunity with their own individual business needs.
    The point Mr. Ritter makes in his letter is that change should be a gradual process. These types of changes build on the strength of the Canadian Wheat Board without putting the organization at risk and, most important of all, appear seamless to customers so that the Canadian Wheat Board can be counted upon to continue the high level of service to which they have become accustomed. In effect, Mr. Ritter is calling for an evolution, not a revolution.

[Translation]

     All we need to do is take a look at history in general to see that, in many cases, revolutions make life harder and sometimes completely unbearable. Our farmers have been through enough of the difficulties caused by the market and our competitors’ subsidies, especially the United States and the European Union. Up to now the economic effects of such a change have not really been studied or analyzed. However, it is more or less agreed that the Canadian Wheat Board, as we know it, will cease to exist if the single desk is taken away.

  (1150)  

     Let us take Murray Fulton’s report, for example. What are his conclusions? Here are a few of them.
     First of all it will be extremely hard, if not impossible, for the Canadian Wheat Board to survive without a single desk mandate, and it will disappear in the end.
     Grain handling and transportation will be comparable in Canada and the United States. But in the United States there is the U.S. Farm Bill, which shelters farmers from market forces. Our farmers, however, would be vulnerable on an open market.
     The changes would also be irreversible. It would not be possible to have a free market and later decide or ask to restore the Canadian Wheat Board.
     The government often talks about this new Canadian Wheat Board II, which will continue to exist.
     Let us recall the facts though. The new Canadian Wheat Board will not automatically have access to the technical resources and personnel of the current CWB. It will be impossible to find the quantities of grain necessary without a grain-handling system. Independent farmers will thus be at the mercy of the grain companies in place. Furthermore marketing power will be transferred to the grain and railway companies. So the farmers will lose their political clout.
     If there is no more Canadian Wheat Board, the rail rates will increase. At present the Canadian Wheat Board negotiates the best conditions with the railway companies, but they are not likely to be granted to farmers, and this will give rise to higher transportation costs for Canadian farmers.

[English]

    Any changes to the present system must be well thought out and based on valid studies that deal with the economic impact on farmers and to Canada, and not political ideology. It is imperative that this takes place before any changes to the Canadian Wheat Board single desk marketing system be made.
    As was pointed out earlier, we are in a very competitive international environment. It is no secret, and I and my party have said this before, that our competitors would like to see an end to the Canadian Wheat Board, just as they would like to see an end to supply management.
    Underlying this debate, however, is a question that we often do not talk about, and that is of individual rights or the rights of the minority. The question is, should a small group of farmers have the right to bypass the Canadian Wheat Board and sell their wheat and barley on the open market? Knowing that this signifies a possible end of single desk marketing in Canada or the Canadian Wheat Board as we know it, or agriculture as we know it, does this group of farmers have the right to jeopardize the collective system put in place to sell grain on the world market, which the majority of farmers agree to? In my opinion and the opinion of my party, we believe that they do not.
    It is easy to go to market choice, which most agree will see an end to the Canadian Wheat Board as we know it. This is why we need good, valid research to look at the effects of such an approach. In other words, to look at a long term vision. Will our farmers be able to compete on the world stage with prices, transportation and markets controlled by the major multinational grain companies, or will they be thrown to the wolves, so to speak, completely at the mercy of the major world players, with no one to stand up for them as they try to negotiate fair prices?
    These are thoughts coming from someone who has thought about this, not some kind of left-wing radical talking against the multinational corporations. These are valid questions that I think all of us need to answer. That is why we need a gradual evolution that involves close cooperation between government and the farm-based Canadian Wheat Board.
    Mr. Ritter and his board of directors have indicated a willingness to work with the minister to come up with a workable plan. Once this plan is formulated and shows the Canadian Wheat Board's vision for the future, farmers should then have a say. This is what we need, not another revolution.
    With the time left, I would like to quote a bit from a letter that was written to the chairman of our agriculture committee by Mr. Ritter. It states:
    At the CWB, we have followed the committee's work with great interest. Unfortunately, some of the information that has been placed before the committee has been less than accurate. The CWB would therefore respectfully submit the following for the record.
    1. The president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers' Association (WCWGA), Ms. Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, indicated in her testimony that the CWB is not offering farmers the opportunity to capture the rally in wheat prices that is currently lending strength to markets. This is not the case. Opponents of the single desk like Ms. Jolly-Nagel often like to compare spot prices in the U.S. in a rising market with pooled values in western Canada. They raise this issue far less often when markets are falling and pooled values are above spot values...If opponents of the CWB's single desk compared the price of select winter wheat with appropriate protein levels to U.S. values, they would see that the two are close, especially when prices available under the CWB's Producer-Payment Options (PPOs) are used...it would follow that farmers would be using the Producer-Direct Sales (PDS) process to access those values.

  (1155)  

[Translation]

     Another point was raised. The witness stated in her presentation:
    We consider it unjust that farmers in Ontario are free to sell their wheat and barley to whomever they please, including the export market, whereas any western Canadian farmer who attempts to engage in the same activity is considered a criminal and sent to jail.
     This statement is wrong in two respects.
     First, prairie grain growers are not discriminated against. They have as much right as Ontario farmers to decide how to market their grain. The Ontario wheat growers chose a free market through the elected members of their board. This decision was not made by the government. Western Canadian farmers, on the other hand, have always elected a majority of single desk supporters to represent them on the board. We saw that just a few days ago. In addition, the wheat producers in Quebec have decided to sell their milling wheat through a single desk system. Prairie grain growers would not be discriminated against unless they were unilaterally denied this right by the federal government.
     Second, grain growers who want to sell their product themselves can do so through the direct sales process. This enables them to take advantage of all the premiums available in comparison with the prices that the Canadian Wheat Board could get on similar markets.

[English]

    It was also claimed that the Wheat Board deprives western Canadian farmers of the opportunity to take full advantage of their skills as good marketers. This is a statement that is quite hard to defend in light of the growing popularity and extensive use of the Wheat Board's PPOs, 3.5 million tonnes committed to the program so far. Grain producers in western Canada now have the opportunity to lock in prices for their crops based on U.S. commodity prices.
    The Western Canada Growers' Association often points out that a record number of wheat acres were planted in Ontario in 2006 and then makes the inference that the elimination of the Wheat Board single desk would somehow reverse the trend toward less wheat acres in western Canada.
    A farmer's planting intentions are actually determined by a whole host of factors, including: soil conditions, the price of inputs, the price of alternative crops, and management considerations like crop rotation and availability of storage.
     It should also be noted that, while it is true that the average wheat acreage in western Canada has decreased 18% from what it was 10 years ago, American farmers who have another system, who do not have a wheat board, have reduced the number of acres they seed to wheat by 21% over the same time period.
    Other submissions attempt to blame the CWB for a total lack of investments in value-added infrastructure. Yet in summary, malting capacity in western Canada has tripled since 1985 and 75% of domestic malting capacity is now found in western Canada.
     It is clear from the documents provided by the Wheat Board that the Canadian Wheat Board does not impede value-added processing and that it has actually supported real growth in both barley and wheat sectors at rates which compare very favourably to what is happening in neighbouring jurisdictions.
    I have read some of the statistics and I have seen that our malting capacity is actually increasing, as is pointed out here, and that our malting capacity is not suffering. There are other reasons why a plant may want to locate in the United States and it has nothing to do with the fact that we have a Canadian Wheat Board.

  (1200)  

[Translation]

     Witnesses were asked how often oats and canola growers had been the subject of trade complaints from the United States. They claimed that crops not under a single desk system are safe from trade actions. This is definitely not the case, as the pork and beef industries know very well. The lack of complaints about crops like oats and canola has nothing to do with how they are marketed. The real reason is that these crops are not grown very much in the United States and there are no special interest groups pressing Washington to block Canadian imports.
     An organic farmer from Saskatchewan complained about various aspects of the producer direct sales process. He said, for example, that he received a bill for having filled a direct sales order that was three times as much as what he had been told initially. The bill that he had received was an interim bill. Although the bill did not mention it, there were still interim payments and the final adjustment to consider.

[English]

    As we move on and we look at these reasons and counter-arguments presented by qualified professional people in the Canadian Wheat Board, we can see that maybe we are moving too quickly. Maybe we have to stop, think and sit down with the democratically elected board of directors and go over some of these points.
    We mentioned studies by the George Morris Centre, by Sparks and by Drs. Carter and Loyns, which were invoked by the House of Commons. We can see that the growth in the wheat processing industry as compared to expansions in oilseed processing. The former is a mature industry with several long established players. Therefore, it is not valid to compare it to the oilseeds sector.
    The growth in value added processing in western Canada is said to be lagging behind expansion in other parts of the country or in the U.S., when the opposite is true. They say that the CWB is accused of distorting the domestic prices, when in reality prices to domestic mills are directly linked to U.S. milling prices. There is a failure to recognize that domestic mills, most of which are located in proximity to the U.S.-Canada border, are free to get their wheat from U.S. origins if the CWB wheat prices are too high.
    The letter by Mr. Ritter states:
    In summary, the findings of all three Alberta-backed studies lack credibility. As a result, their conclusion that the CWB does not provide Prairie farmers with added returns must be questioned. The existence of CWB premiums—a conclusion which both the KFT and grain studies reached—is, on the other hand, corroborated by a very unlikely source, namely the United States International Trade Commission (ITC). In its 2001 investigation into the CWB's behaviour in the marketplace, the U.S. ITC found that Canadian durum prices were higher than American prices in 59 of the 60 months that were examined.
    Once again I would like to take the opportunity to thank the member for Malpeque for making this debate possible. It is a critical time in the history of farming in Canada. We have yet to form a long range agricultural policy. I know all parties are working on this right now.
    In the meantime, I caution that we must proceed with caution. We should not throw something out that has been around for over 60 years because apparently there is an immediate market gain. What if there is a market gain today and tomorrow there is not? As the Fulton study report showed, this is irreversible.

  (1205)  

[Translation]

     Thank you very much for allowing me to speak on this very important matter.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member. I understand where he is coming from. What I do not understand is does he really know the results of what would happen if barley were taken out of the Wheat Board.
    I believe that happened either in 1991 or 1992. Barley moved to an intercontinental open market. Access to information, of which I have copies, showed that the farmers never saw a better year in their years of farming than they did during that period of time. Access to information showed that the Wheat Board had increased its sales a great deal as well.
    It appears to me that a little competition kind of spurred the Wheat Board on to maybe do a bigger and better than what it had been doing, and it was quite successful.
    We have heard the member say that unless something is proven, we should never move in that direction. Does he not feel that the period of time in the early 1990s, when we had an open continental market on barley, showed there was a working formula there? It was a great year for all the farmers in my riding who simply wanted to have the freedom of choice.
    Mr. Speaker, I emphasize once again that we need to have indepth studies. What happened in 1991 may not be the same situation today, but maybe it is. We need to have indepth economic consultations and studies before we embark on this road. It may be very true that my hon. colleague is right, but it also may be true that he is wrong. Before embarking on this road, we need to be very certain.
    Mr. Speaker, given the fact that producers would have to compete with multinational corporations, which now control the sector, how does he see the single desk being a marketing tool in empowering farmers?
    Also, given that we have a highly trained workforce providing market intelligence at the Canadian Wheat Board situated in the city of Winnipeg, many of whom live in our communities, what impact will the demise of the Wheat Board have? It will certainly impact farmers and their ability to market internationally. Another issue that has not been addressed is the impact it will have on the city of Winnipeg, which many of us fear will have a significant impact.
    Mr. Speaker, from what I have read, specifically the Fulton report, it seems that if we go to dual marketing and the Canadian Wheat Board II, there will be a lot of uncertainty. One of the things that will happen is the large multinational companies will syphon off expertise because people will be uncertain of their futures. They may get offers from Cargill or some other company, which means they probably will move if the companies are not based in Winnipeg.
    In the end result, my point is it is not logical to assume that the Wheat Board will function as it is. Many people will move and seek other jobs. Some may stay. It is not logical to assume that farmers will invest in a new Wheat Board because of the uncertainty in the future. The fact that there would be another corporation, a farmer controlled organization on the international scene, in other words, the Wheat Board, working on behalf of farmers, offers some stability.
    It all seems to point to a lot of uncertainty. One of the points in the Fulton report is that prices will go up for farmers for transportation.

  (1210)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a comment and then a question for the hon. member.
    The member noted he had been doing a lot of reading. I read a blog titled “Small Dead Animals” and I ask him to look at it. There is a comment in the blog about the Canadian Wheat Board by Larry Weber from Weber Commodities in Saskatoon. He is a noted marketing authority. I would like my colleague to have a look at that website and read the comments. After he does, I would be interested in hearing back from him.
    How many farmer producers of wheat and barley are in his riding?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her suggestion to read the blog.
    The impression I get from her question is the fact that because I live in B.C.'s southern interior, which has an apple industry, cattle ranching, some vegetable production and grain farming, I am somehow not qualified to speak on behalf of farmers.
    The point is, and this was brought up before, I happen to be in touch with farmers. I am receiving hundreds of letters from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I have been talking with representatives of the National Farmers Union and other farmers, and I am here on their behalf. What I say is not a lot of my personal views. It is a reflection of what the majority of farmers are saying in western Canada.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Would the member opposite tell us how many wheat and barley producers are in the riding of the Minister of Agriculture? I believe there are none.
    I do not think we can use points of order to ask other people questions other than the person giving the speech.
    The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention in this important debate today. I, too, support the Canadian Wheat Board.
    However, as an urban MP, not many people in my riding have very much experience with this issue. Our experience might be limited to driving by the grain elevators around Vancouver Harbour or watching a train with grain cars, delivering grain to that facility. I also know that many people in my riding understand the adage that farmers feed cities. They want to be supportive of agricultural producers in Canada.
    I know this has a really important meaning for the supply management system in Canada, but it also has implications for food security in Canada, and people in my riding understand that. However, they also want to see justice for farmers.
    Could the member speak briefly, so urban Canadians can understand, on why the Canadian Wheat Board is as important to them as it is to the people who live in the rural parts of Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, what is interesting is often we do not bring in the urban community when we talk about this. It is as if the issue is isolated, that it only concerns rural communities. However, we are talking about food security and about the ability of farmers to continue to survive.
    I was at a meeting of the National Farmers Union a week and a half ago. One of the presentations dealt with the energy crisis and agriculture.
    It is very possible that soon, maybe not in our lifetime, there will not be enough energy to continue the transportation of food all over the continent, that we will have to be more localized, that we will have to revitalize our small communities not with mega-farms but with small family farms and that people will go from the cities back to the small communities to produce food in order to feed the cities.
     When we look at the Canadian Wheat Board and the possible destruction of it because of pressure from the multinational grain companies, the European Union, Australia and the United States that want us to dismantle it so there is more competition, we have to look at this as one way, one step to ensure food security for our nation.

  (1215)  

    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster.
    I am a little flabbergasted after hearing some of the comments and speeches this morning. When I first came to this country from the United States in the late 1960s, one of the first conversations I got in on with agriculture producers was with regard to how they market their grain and the Wheat Board. Where I came from as a farmer I used to load up my truck with grain and I would market my own grain and enjoyed doing it very much. It was instant cash. I had choices of marketing it in a number of places. My father and my brother, who were also in the farming business, and I managed to do that on a regular basis.
    I was rather surprised when I came to this country that it was not how wheat and barley were marketed, and I began to pay a little more attention to what was going on. I thought it was rather strange. This is always a contentious point with a lot of members in the House.
    From my experience as a farmer, when I go out and plant the seed, nurture the crop, pray for rain, hope the hail does not come, sweat, worry about being able to grow a good crop, then come harvest time, it is looking really well, so I am in a hurry to get it harvested and I want to get it into my granary bins. Then suddenly it is not mine. I no longer own it. It is as simple as that. I do not have the right to take that grain out of the bin in which I put it and decide to sell it in whatever fashion that I want and try to get the best price that I can for it. It now is the property of someone else with no guarantees of exactly what is going to transpire and no guarantee of price.
     I used to get fluctuating prices when I was marketing my own product, but it seemed that we had a set thing where we were concentrating on getting an average at best, not the top dollar but a good average across the board where all these things could be levelled out.
    After I decided to get into politics, I started attending a lot of meetings with various organizations, the barley growers associations and other groups of farmers throughout the riding. It became quite obvious to me very early on that following the open continental barley market that we had in the early 1990s where there was so much success for a great number of farmers and good success for the Wheat Board at the same time, that we did not continue down that path because it was really going well. I could not understand why they would want to bring an end to it until somebody pointed out to me that it was illegal for them to do that according to the Canadian Wheat Board Act and that it had to be changed back.
    It is obvious now, after seeing the Liberal government in power for 13 years that it was changed back because that is exactly what the Liberals wanted to see happen. It was after the Liberals were elected in 1993 that the change returned to where barley was back in the Wheat Board with the concession that feed barley would not be, but the top grade malting barley would be under the Wheat Board.
    During some of those years, I remember when Mr. Vanclief was the minister of agriculture and I remember when Bob Speller was the minister of agriculture. They spent a couple of days travelling in my riding and spoke at many farmers' meetings. Because I was there, I know exactly the message they got over and over again from the farmers in Wild Rose, where I happen to know there are several hundreds, if not thousands of farmers.

  (1220)  

    The farmers said loud and clear over and over, with the exception of two or three that I heard, hundreds testified to the minister and to the travelling committee that they wanted choice. Over and over again I hear in this House, particularly from the Liberal Party critic, that the majority of the farmers do not want that. I do not know what majority he is talking about, but in 13 years I have had ample opportunity to keep track of what my farmers in Wild Rose are saying and it is always 80% to 85% of farmers, who are mostly barley growers, who raise a good chunk of the great crop in my riding, they want choice. They consider it to be a matter of freedom.
    That should attract attention on the other side of the House because I have heard lots of debates on freedom and protecting minority rights, that under the charter this should be allowed. It puzzles me why we would have the same group of people who would talk out of one side of their mouth in regard to the marriage law that we debated last week, and out of the other side of their mouth say that the farmers should not have that right to a choice, that freedom. That absolutely makes no sense to me. This is Canada. This is where we have freedom. This is where farmers do an excellent job of growing their crops. They put up with the sweat and toil. They want the choice of selling their product, but they do not have that freedom.
    Regarding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the lack of giving that freedom to the barley farmers, because specifically that is what is grown in my riding and the majority of the crop that deals with the Wheat Board is barley, I wonder how they feel. In all aspects of society we continually push and push for the rights and freedoms of certain individual minority groups, but we do not do the same thing for all the farmers who go to the trouble of working hard to try to raise a good crop and make a decent living for themselves and their families.
    If the farmers feel they could do that, I certainly believe they ought to have the opportunity. I know no one of that group who would want to dismantle or get rid of the Wheat Board. They simply think that it ought to be part of a marketing choice. Since when has it become a bad thing in Canada to allow choice for a farmer to do what he thinks he can do best with his own product? I am really puzzled by that. Besides, if it is such a good thing, why are the farmers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario not all lining up to sign up for the Canadian Wheat Board? After all, it is not the western Wheat Board, it is the Canadian Wheat Board.
    The Liberals continue to talk out of two sides of their mouths when it comes to that issue. Freedom; they have a right. I remember debating child pornography, but we could not do anything about it because people have the right to artistic merit and they have to be able to express themselves. We could not get anywhere with that issue. Then it had to be the public good and we could not get anywhere with that because they have the freedom and the right to do that.
    Tell me, how can it possibly be that a few farmers who grow barley and who would like to have marketing choice do not have the freedom and the right in Canada? They do not have it in Canada because members of the party sitting across the way were in charge and they would never allow that to happen, but I could never understand why.

  (1225)  

    I also had the opportunity to talk to several members from the Toronto region who confessed loudly that they did not have the vaguest idea of what the Canadian Wheat Board was all about. They did not even know what the issue was about. I talked to them personally. Yet they would stand and vote against giving these farmers freedom. One would think that they would be interested in knowing that what they were doing was voting against a producer who works hard to grow his own crop, the 85% of the people in my riding who want the choice, saying no in a dictatorial fashion, “You will do with your product as we say”. That is just not right. It is just not right.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the comments of the member for Wild Rose. I respect the member very much, but the key question is whether farmers should collectively be able to have the freedom of choice to decide on their marketing institutions and its authorities. That is what we are talking about, the freedom of choice to decide collectively and abide by those rules.
    I would correct the member on one point. His interpretation of what happened on the open continental barley market is certainly different from mine. The studies have proven that the open market did not return to the producers the same amount as it would have if they went through the board.
    Is the member for Wild Rose suggesting that in Canada we should not allow marketing through institutions or marketing boards collectively? Is that what he is saying, that we should not allow marketing through institutions or marketing boards collectively, that farmers should not have that choice?
    Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like the member to maybe dig into access to information and get the real facts of what happened in the open continental barley market.
    Second, whenever a group of farmers, and it is the group as a whole, wishes to have a method of marketing their product, I do not think anyone objects to that.
    What I am saying is that the people in my riding who farm, who grow barley, want to have choice. It is not the 1940s and 1950s any more. Many of them have gone to university or college and have taken some courses in marketing. They would like to be able to exercise that. Farming is different now than it was back in those years. They would like to be able to extend their ability to work with the job they have of growing food for our nation into marketing and into value added.
    They just want to have the freedom and the choice to do that. There is no way that any board should be allowed, authorized, or whatever the case might be, to prevent that from happening. There is no doubt about it that if the entire farming association in my riding wanted to use the board, I would be the first one to say that we have to defend the board, but that is not the case.
    This is Canada. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and they are saying that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they should have the freedom to market their goods.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his vigorous intervention on behalf of farmers in his province and riding.
    I was a little astonished. Over the last hour and a half, we have had an opportunity to hear from a member from the Liberal Party, a member from the Bloc and a member from the NDP. The member from the Liberal Party represents Prince Edward Island, which of course does not have a wheat board. The member for Richmond—Arthabaska is from Quebec, which does not have a wheat board. The other member is from the B.C. southern interior, which does not have a wheat board.
    I am just wondering what the member's response would be to members of Parliament representing jurisdictions that do not have a wheat board telling Alberta farmers and those farmers in his riding how they should conduct their business.

  (1230)  

    Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. I indicated in my speech that people who are MPs from the Liberal Party who live in Toronto do not have a wheat board either. The members of Parliament who come from Montreal do not have a wheat board. The city members from Edmonton do not have a wheat board either.
    The point is that those areas where they are obligated by law to market their goods, as they are told, through the Canadian Wheat Board live in the Prairies, in the rural areas. There are some who would like to have the choice. It just sounds so easy to me, that living in Canada that should be made possible.
    The member from the NDP talked about how there should be extensive studies and whatnot. I do not disagree with that, but the Liberals threw all of that open continental barley market back into the Wheat Board and there have never been any studies on it since then. It is just automatic, and that is the way it is going to be whether they like it or not. That attitude needs to change.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in this discussion on what actually started out as a concurrence motion on a report from the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food that I chair.
     The member for Malpeque wanted to somehow send a message to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board as to what should be on the ballot question in the upcoming plebiscite on barley. He had quite a convoluted message to deliver. That is certainly his right as a member of Parliament, whether he sits in the Wheat Board area or not, and I have heard this argument here as well.
    The member for Malpeque has a history within the region that we serve with his leadership of the National Farmers Union some years ago. He was very effective in throwing wheat at Prime Minister Trudeau when Trudeau asked why he should sell farmers' wheat. The member has since joined that party and is basically asking why he should not control the marketing of farmers' wheat? He is now on the side that he used to oppose. I think he was more effective when he was opposing this issue than he is now as a rubber stamp for the former Liberal government's agenda.
    I stood here this morning during the opening of this place with you, Mr. Speaker. We say a little prayer here every day and it talks about how great it is to live in Canada where we enjoy freedom and opportunity. I thought that was quite apropos when I knew this concurrence vote and motion were coming forward today.
    This discussion is about the lack of freedom and the lack of opportunity given to some western Canadian farmers. Some farmers agree with this single desk idea and we saw that reverberate through western Canada in the vote that was just held to elect five directors to the 10 member board. We saw that reinforced by a 51% turnout and a portion of those voted against. What we have is a two-third and one-third situation. Minority rights are being trampled on here.
    The opposition party claims to be the party of the charter. Those members claim to be all about minority rights and all about this and all about that. When the rubber hits the road, they seem to throw that ideology aside or bend it and twist it, and shape it to fit the issue of the day.
    Farmers in western Canada do not only vote for directors. They also vote on the type of product they will grow and market on their own. Some people enjoy growing canola and pulse crops because they are cash crops. These folks defend the board to their last breath. They do not have time to market their wheat and barley so someone else has to do it for them.
    The member before me made a good case for the continental barley market that was selling more barley at a better price in the two months that it existed before the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool took the government to court. One of the cooperatives that the member opposite talked about so glowingly has since hit the brink of bankruptcy because it no longer represented the wants and aspirations of the farmer delegates that it supported. That cooperative is now crawling back from the brink and is one of the proponents of market choice. Imagine that. It had an epiphany on the way to the poorhouse and has come back saying this is what farmers want. It has redesigned itself and reoffered itself as a power of choice, as a power of doing things differently in western Canada.
    The member for Malpeque spoke about the dire consequences of what would happen. He said the multinationals were going to take over. I have heard that statement flown for years. It has not happened. The multinationals, the Cargills, the Louis Dreyfus' and the Bunges, happen to like the Wheat Board very much. The Wheat Board is a monopoly buyer, so these multinationals now have a single desk to go to. They know the quality is there because farmers in western Canada are the best at producing a quality product. They know the quantity will always be there in certain areas of the Wheat Board. They only have to shop at the Wheat Board desk in Winnipeg. They do not have to go anywhere else. They basically get their job done for them.
    The Wheat Board does have an accumulation system, if we want to call it that. It is a great system across western Canada for the bulk commodities that it handles because farmers are growing less of those commodities. It is probably over-designed at this point.

  (1235)  

    The market share of the board has been sliding. As it ramps up to hang on to the single desk and spend a lot of its money on communications and spin, it is losing farmers' support. We are seeing that in the types of crops that are grown.
    I know that certainly in my own farming operation the folks who farmed around me, when I was actively farming before this crazy job, were growing less and less wheat, durum and barley. They grew it as a rotational crop, Mr. Speaker, and you know in your own riding how it is grown. One very seldom sees wheat, durum or barley grown on a summer fallow situation. That also is because of the multi-cropping that is being done and the advent of different farming practices.
    The one farming practice that has never changed over the last 60 or 70 years is the marketing opportunities. We have seen products come and go. We have seen crops come and go under the board, but the basic facet, the single desk, even with the changes that have been made in offering price contracts and futures buying and so on, is that we still have to make use of that single desk. Very few farmers are taking that up and the Wheat Board will spin that it is a new program, it is not known, and farmers are not sure how to access it and how to make it work.
    The farmers that I talk to are very much keen marketers. They tell me it is administratively heavy, bureaucratically obtuse, and the administration of it is extremely expensive. They just do not bother with it. They just do not bother growing those commodities, but do grow the canolas, the pulse crops, and everything else because they know they can make money at it and they can make the marketing choices when they need to.
    I have a real concern. We are coming up to the time of year when the moratorium on clawbacks is about to lift at the end of this calendar year. The Wheat Board, as the vehicle for the cash advance on wheat, durum and barley, has been offering what in my neighbourhood has been averaging way less than $1, in some cases less than 50¢ a bushel on feed barley, but farmers are forced to sell their feed barley, which is of great quantity and quality this year, back through the board because they took the cash advance from the board.
    They have to deliver product to pay off the cash advance. They cannot sell barley as feed barley outside the board, take the $3.50 a bushel they can get now for it and pay off their cash advance. They have to deliver the barley to the board. That is costing them in most cases $3 a bushel right off the top.
    It is also going to cost them by the fact that 50¢ a bushel will not pay back their $2 a bushel cash advance and, therefore, they will be facing interest and penalties, penalties to the tune of 10% of their cash advance, which could be as much as $10,000, and then interest dated the day they took the cash advance out, not the day they were forced into not adhering to it. So, I have some major concerns with that.
    It was great when all the parties agreed to changes to the AMPA legislation that extended those cash advances to other commodities and ramped them up for the grain commodities, but we did not do anything on the punitive side. That is going to come home to bite all members of the House of Commons when our phones start ringing in January. Farmers will be saying they are now being forced into bankruptcy because they were forced to sell their products cheaply, could not address their cash advances which were going to keep them away from the cash advance coming up this year and now the banks are not going to look at them. We have a real avalanche effect coming up in the next couple of weeks.
     That speaks to the intransigence and lack of change and flexibility that we have seen on the board. Sure there are 10 elected officials but 5 are appointed and there is also a little thing called the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
    I happened to bring a copy of that with me today. There are a lot of different things in it that the members opposite and the folks in the media like to use against the minister but one has to read the act. With the changes that the minister of the day made in 1998, the member for Wascana, he actually made the minister of the Wheat Board God in that he controls everything.
    The members on the board, whether they are elected or appointed, have what is called a duty to comply. That is what got our friend, the president, Mr. Measner, and some of his acolytes in trouble. They forgot to read that part of it. They started to think that they could somehow go way out in left field and do their own thing outside of the mandate of the board.
    Nowhere in the mandate of the board does it say, “Spend farmers' money to promote yourself”. It is not in here. The so-called gag order that the minister delivered to them said: “Please check out section so and so that says your duty to comply does not allow this third party standing in lobbying for your own self-interest”.
    The members opposite spin that in a whole different way, but the reality is the Canadian Wheat Board Act is very succinct. It is a very short document and certainly spells out what can and cannot be done. I wish the members opposite would read it.

  (1240)  

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has raised the charter issue and its potential relationship to the Wheat Board. If he believes that in fact this is a charter issue and that farmers ought to be able to defend themselves through the charter against the Wheat Board, does he not agree that we should bring back the court challenges program to enable farmers to actually pay for their right to defend themselves under the charter? If in fact he believes it is important to defend the rights of farmers and other minorities, would he urge his government to reinstate and fund the court challenges program, which would give them that facility?
    Mr. Speaker, the unfortunate part of the court challenges program was that people had to hire some Liberal lawyer in order to make it work. The member opposite knows that specious arguments at best were going through the court challenges program. I certainly stand in defence of cutting it. It was not working in the best interests of Canadians at all, but being perverted for its own use by the party opposite.
    It is interesting that the member brings up court challenges. The Wheat Board has faced 11 or so, if I have not lost count. The member for Malpeque can correct me if I am wrong, but 11 different challenges under the WTO, the NAFTA and so on. We have won all of those. The unfortunate part is that it has cost tens of millions of dollars to western Canadian farmers. The money comes out of the pooling accounts of the Wheat Board to fight those challenges through the courts of the day.
    The only reason why we are facing those challenges is because we are always accused of dumping. That is a catch-all. It has certainly been used as an anti-tariff trade barrier. In reality, those challenges do have merit in that we are still stuck in western Canada alone under the Wheat Board using the KVD, kernel visual distinguishability grading system.
    The Wheat Board buys grain from a producer, or some would say steals it, and it sends it to the United States as No. 3 feed. It gets down to the United States with the kernel visual distinguishability and that is a wrinkled kernel. It is then regraded by the Americans through their technology and they say they do not care what it looks like. They grind it up and call it No. 1 milling flour. Canada is charged then for dumping because we have sent in a feed, when in reality it was top grade milling. My farmers lose that value.
    Mr. Speaker, I suggest to the member who just spoke that he tell the women of Canada his views on the court challenges program. It was the court challenges program that provided many opportunities and made many legal breakthroughs for women from coast to coast to coast. I think it is important that women know that party's views.
    We have heard a lot from the other side about human rights. We have heard a lot from the other side about choice. We have heard a lot about fair practice and the opportunity to be heard.
    I wonder how the members opposite view the processes employed by their government as it relates to choice and human rights, whether it is a gag order, whether it is a selective task force, whether it is selective meetings, or whether it is firing people who disagree with them.
    To my mind this is not what a democratic country is all about. To my mind this is a case study that students across the country will view as a “what not to do in government” as time passes.

  (1245)  

    Mr. Speaker, if that is not the pot calling the kettle black, I do not know what is. The member should check out all the work that has been done on ad scam if she wants to see a court case in what not to do. She should check out the costing of her gun registry to see what not to do in public policy.
    It is interesting that the member talks about jobs and safeguarding jobs. I heard from other members opposite. The member from Thunder Bay is concerned about his port. At the same time he is condemning the Wheat Board for not loading the salties or ocean going ships right at Thunder Bay. Instead, my farmers are forced to pay for the whole system up through the Great Lakes and the canals, then offloading in Montreal and loading back on to the salties.
    At the same time, we have the member who just spoke saying all these jobs in Winnipeg will be lost. I have read reports where the 400 staffers at the Wheat Board do not do any more or better job in volume, quantity and quality, than the five people who do the marketing for Cargill. Why should I and my friends and neighbours as western farmers be forced to support this whole antiquated industry across this country? We cannot do it.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre.
    I am pleased to say that I am from Manitoba, and for the people who are concerned that people from outside the Prairies should not be able to comment on this kind of issue--
    An hon. member: It's a national issue.
    Mr. Raymond Simard: It is a national issue and it has been probably one of most debated issues in the House this fall. As a matter of fact, it was on the front page of the National Post, which is unusual for a western issue.
    If I am not mistaken, this is the third debate that we have had on the Wheat Board. Obviously the Conservatives did not listen to us in the first two. We are hoping that this time they will get the message.
    The Conservatives continue to move ahead with this ridiculous proposal despite the fact that all the opposition parties are totally against this, which is actually quite unusual. It does not often happen that all three are against something. We are listening to our people out there. The Conservatives say they are listening to their people, but we are listening to ours as well.
    The Conservatives continue to move forward despite the fact that farmers continue to vote in favour of the Wheat Board. The farmers continue to support this institution, but that does not seem to bother the Conservatives at all.
     They continue to move forward despite the claim of the premier of Manitoba that “destroying the Wheat Board would have a major economic impact on Manitoba”. The Wheat Board has a downtown location and several employees. I will leave that to my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre to discuss as well.
    They continue to move forward despite the fact that the mayor of Churchill has said to stop the insanity, that it would close down his town and every town along the railroad line. Again, we know how important the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba is becoming with global warming, in which the government does not believe in the first place.
    The Conservatives continue to move forward despite the fact that the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are so frustrated with the anti-democratic process that they are holding their own plebiscites. It is absolutely unheard of for these provinces to hold their own plebiscites; that is how much they trust this Conservative government. They figured they could not count on this government to do the right thing, so they will be doing it.
    I can understand why they would feel such frustration. There was a meeting in Saskatoon at one point, an anti-Wheat Board meeting, to which Manitoba and Saskatchewan were invited, but they were asked to sit in the corner and were told not to comment on any issues. I can see why these provinces are now taking the lead on this and making sure that farmers are represented, at least at one level.
    The Conservatives tried to muzzle the Wheat Board CEO and now are trying to fire the CEO, which is absolutely ridiculous. He is one of the most respected CEOs in the country. When I look back at how people are trying to defend the Wheat Board, what I think is that they are exactly the kind of people I would like running this corporation. I think they are doing exactly the right thing. They are trying to display the other side of this issue and are doing it very successfully.
    The Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food have to admit that this whole process has been a total disaster, and now we have last weekend's election, in which four out of five members of the board of directors who were elected are pro-single desk. I think it is another confirmation that the Conservatives should be changing their idea on this very important issue. It is becoming a major problem for the government. I think it is realizing that its policy is flawed and is not supported by farmers.
    I almost sympathize with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, but I did say “almost”. I can see the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food receiving his mandate letter from the Prime Minister, which would say that he has one basic objective: dismantle the Wheat Board. That is what he has to do.
    Let us think about it for a second. What else has the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food done? He has focused uniquely, through every anti-democratic process he can think of, on dismantling the Wheat Board. I am not sure exactly where the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food stands on this. Internally, he may be thinking that it is absolutely nuts, that he is going against every institution, against the farmers and against the House of Commons. Hopefully the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food does not believe internally that this is the right thing to do.
    When does this stop? When does the government reverse its position on this? It is important to note that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is getting absolutely no support from his Conservative colleagues in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I can tell members that it is very difficult right now to get some of those people to stand up and speak either for or against the Wheat Board. It is absolutely incredible that people who are elected by 80,000 or 90,000 people do not have the guts to get up and speak on behalf of or against the Wheat Board. For God's sake, these members should get it on the record so that in the next election the voters can judge them on it.

  (1250)  

    We even have rural Conservative members of Parliament in Manitoba who have householders out uniquely on agriculture, but with not a word on the Wheat Board. Can members imagine that? It is one of the most discussed topics in the House of Commons this fall and for them it is as if it does not exist. It is absolutely ridiculous.
    Let us try to get these people on the record. Members of the media have told us that they have called some of those members of Parliament nine or ten times, with absolutely no success. The only person who stood up and who has the courage of his convictions is the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette. I believe he has been ostracized for his efforts. We really appreciate the fact that he has listened to his constituents. He has come through. He is doing the right thing.
     I think of the senior minister in Manitoba, who, once again, has said absolutely nothing on the Wheat Board. He is supposed to be there to defend the interest of Manitobans, of Winnipeggers and actually of Canadians, but there is not a word from the minister. He is the regional minister in Manitoba. He has a responsibility to stand up for what is important for Manitobans, but there is not a word from this person.
    I will leave the economic impact of this issue to my colleague as well.
    Why are our Conservative colleagues from Manitoba not up in arms over this? It is very simple: they are muzzled. On every major issue that we have had over the last 10 months, the members of Parliament, elected by 80,000 to 90,000 people, are not able to speak their piece. I think that is a sad commentary in a very strong democracy such as Canada's.

[Translation]

     I would also like to comment on the supply management issue. I come from an urban constituency, and when the people across the aisle say that people who do not live in the Prairies should not comment on this subject, I find that absolutely ridiculous.
     My riding is Saint-Boniface, and it is right downtown. I get calls and e-mails from people who are very concerned, people in the country and people in the city. As the NDP member said earlier, this issue concerns people in cities just as much as people in rural areas. People in the cities all have friends or family who live in rural areas. We have great respect for them and we do not want to destroy the institution that serves them so well.
     This week, a voter in the riding of Portage-la-Prairie, a rural riding in Manitoba, wrote to me: “The loss [of the CWB] would be an economic setback, a failure of global vision regarding trade and a social disaster in our rural areas”. He closed by saying: “I do not want [thePrime Minister ] to sell the farm to Bush”.
     I think there are very serious concerns in rural areas and I am disappointed that people in the Conservative Party are not listening to them. People have to call us in downtown Winnipeg. We see how stressed these people are.
     Like my colleague in the Bloc Québécois, I want to talk about supply management. We have to think that this is coming. I know the Conservatives tell us there is no danger and they will not touch supply management. When I asked the question yesterday in the House, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food replied that there was no cause for concern about the Canadian Wheat Board, everything would be fine, there would be votes and it would be done democratically. We have seen the results so far.
     The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food also told us yesterday that we did not understand anything about supply management. I can tell you that yesterday I had an opportunity, with a few colleagues, to meet with Mr. Pellerin, the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles, and with Mr. Friesen, the president of the CFA. These people are very well respected in agriculture. I think that even members of the Conservative Party will admit that they are people we should listen to. These people are deeply concerned about what is happening. It is being said that if the Conservatives are able to tear down and dismantle an institution like the Canadian Wheat Board, which works extremely well, why would they stop there? Why would the next step, in fact, not be supply management?
     So people are worried. It is not me saying it, it is experts in the field.

  (1255)  

[English]

    It really bothers me that all this is being done without any proof about dismantling the Wheat Board. It is really interesting, as one of my NDP colleagues was saying, that there is absolutely no proof, no evidence, that dismantling the Wheat Board would be favourable to the farmers, and yet the government is moving ahead with it.
    The new government, as it likes to call itself, always brags that its members are defenders of democracy, transparency and accountability. On the Wheat Board file alone, there have been so many transgressions that they are discredited on all three counts.
    What are the government members afraid of? If they think offering choice is a solution, let them put it to a vote. Let them test the market. Let the producers decide, and not with a manipulated list of voters, not by splitting the vote by crop and not by trying--
    Order, please. I apologize to the hon. member, but we are out of time for his speech. The hon. member for Yukon.
    First, Mr. Speaker, the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette did speak for his constituents but had the government vote against his bill to protect hunting and fishing in rural areas. Does the member for Saint Boniface think that was some sort of retribution?
    Second, why are Conservative members in the west not answering journalists' phone calls about the Wheat Board? Has the member heard that they are hiding from journalists?
    Third, does the member see a change in the party from when it was the Reform and then the Alliance, which used to represent constituents? Now, for those who are not in barley, and I am just talking about those farmers who have predominantly wheat, the majority of whom are for the Wheat Board, those members are not speaking for their constituents. Their leader says they should have leadership but should not speak for their constituents.
    Mr. Speaker, those are very interesting questions.
    On the first point, I believe there is no doubt that the whole muzzling factor is quite obvious. We have seen the Prime Minister do it when it comes to the media. We have seen it with his people here in the House. Members of the media have told us that they have been calling some of those members 9, 10 or 12 times to get at least a comment on the Wheat Board, but they get absolutely nothing. They do not even get called back, or else those members say they cannot comment.
    It seems to me that if there is anything that is anti-democratic, that is it. We are elected as members of Parliament by 80,000 or 90,000 people to stand up for our ridings and our constituents. If we disagree with our leader, we should be able to express it in the House.
    Although my Conservative colleagues from Manitoba tell me they are getting absolutely no calls or emails from their constituents in rural Manitoba, I cannot believe that for a second if I am getting them in downtown Winnipeg. I am convinced. There is something wrong with that. Obviously their constituents are concerned and those members should be speaking on their behalf.
    Lastly, I agree with the member. It is not the Joe Clark Conservative Party. It is not the Leo Duguay Conservative Party. I was speaking to friends this weekend who are members of the Conservative Party. They agree with me that this one is a totally different party. It is a right wing, neo-conservative party. Otherwise, it would have let farmers decide their own destiny.

  (1300)  

    Mr. Speaker, in my region of Timmins—James Bay we do have grain farmers. The grain farmers in Ontario made the decision to go to dual marketing. They made that decision because the tonnages are much smaller and most of the grain farms in southern Ontario are very close to the market. It was a very different set-up.
    However, the decision was made by the farmers. It was a very clear decision. We did not have Premier Dalton McGuinty threatening to fire the head of the Ontario wheat board. We did not have him gagging the farmers. We did not have the government holding meetings and kicking people out so that only a certain viewpoint could be heard. The farmers made their own decision.
    What I find confusing here is the attitude from the government members that they do not feel they actually could win a fair vote, so they are doing everything they can to put the squeeze on a farmer-run organization. As New Democrats, we have always supported the belief that if farmers want to choose a form of marketing system that works for them, farmers have a right to do that.
    I would like to ask my hon. colleague a two-part question. First, why does the government have to resort to such tactics to pull this off?
     Second, if the Conservatives are serious in going after this ideological drive for their concept of an open market, what does that mean for the dairy farmers? They do not have open markets. They have to go through the supply management board. What does it mean for our poultry industry? What does it mean for our egg industry?
     Does the member expect that the Conservatives are going to use the same heavy-handed tactics against the supply management system they are currently employing against the Wheat Board?
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague brings up two very good questions. First I would like to thank him for confirming that Mr. McGuinty is a very democratic person. I think it is important that we note that.
    In terms of why the Conservatives have to resort to these tactics, I think it is very obvious. I stated in my presentation that they do not have a leg to stand on in that the farmers are against them. The Liberal position from day one has been to let the farmers decide. We have always said that the government should let us have a free and clear vote without manipulating the lists and without trying to fire or putting pressure on the CEO. Let us have one vote with everybody involved. We will respect that decision as long as the question is clear. But the government could not work that out. I appreciate the comment. Obviously the government is resorting to these tactics because doing it the legal way or the right way would not work.
    Second, on dairy and poultry farmers, again I totally agree. It is a huge issue. I met some people last night who are immensely concerned. I can tell the member that Quebec farmers are watching this very closely right now. They are saying that if these Conservatives can tear apart a democratically elected board of directors and dismantle this institution, why would they not attack them next?
    Mr. Speaker, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster indicated what the government is all about. It is opening the door to U.S. companies to come into Canada. What it could not do 11 different times on the U.S. grain trade, which is to find the Canadian Wheat Board guilty, it is now trying to open the door and trade 460 jobs in downtown Winnipeg for 5 at Cargill. That is the nub of the whole debate today.
    We have heard much conversation about the fact that nobody on the other side, bar one, is speaking up for the Canadian Wheat Board. They are critical of those who come from other parts of the country for daring to speak out on behalf of the Wheat Board. However, what is important to get on the record is the economic impact this will have on the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg.
    As I said before, the government is quite prepared to trade 460 jobs in downtown Winnipeg for 5 jobs at Cargill Grain. Over 2,200 jobs in Manitoba and in Winnipeg are directly dependent on spinoffs from or direct jobs at the Canadian Wheat Board. We are talking about more than $66 million in wages and salaries and over $3 million that goes to the local government. The government would rather have Cargill reap the profits and Archer Daniels come in and take over these jobs.
    The impact on Manitoba and Winnipeg is devastating. As I indicated, the gross provincial income impact is $86 billion. Despite the obvious impacts the Canadian Wheat Board has on the city of Winnipeg, as my colleague has said, there has not been one word of dissent, bar one, from Conservative members across the way. Why are they not standing up? Why are they not looking at the economic impact on the city of Winnipeg, on the province of Manitoba and on the Port of Churchill? Downtown Winnipeg is challenged as is and they are ready to move in and gut it.
     It is as though if they repeat their reality over and over again it will be true. The minister says that dual marketing will have no impact. Countless studies and a court case have shown that should dual marketing come into play, it would be the end of the Wheat Board. However, the government believes that if it repeats it, it will have no impact.

  (1305)  

    It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings at this time and put forthwith the question on the motion now before the House.
    The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): In my opinion the nays have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): Call in the members.
    And the bells having rung:
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): The vote stands deferred until after question period today.

Petitions

Marriage  

    Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to present a petition under Standing Order 36 signed by 121 people from all across Canada.
    The petitioners call upon Parliament to do all that is necessary to preserve marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

[Translation]

Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative   

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to thank my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for this petition from the Maison d'accueil pour sans-abri de Chicoutimi inc. This home is truly afraid that the government will not renew the SCPI program and that it is on the verge of losing front line people.
    This program is mostly for less fortunate individuals and responds to real needs. The program serves a number of people within various agencies and generates a number of direct jobs within this community. These direct jobs will be lost, as will the help for the homeless, if this SCPI program is not renewed.

[English]

Volunteerism  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from 1,500 Canadians from every province across the country.
    The petitioners state that tens of thousands of young Canadians every year are denied an opportunity to serve in an organized volunteer capacity at home and abroad.
    The NGOs are out there and waiting and the youth are there. The petitioners call upon Parliament to legislate or take other measures to enable all our Canadian youth at home to volunteer at home and abroad for these types of volunteer community activities.

  (1310)  

Museums  

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition in the House containing hundreds of names from the good people of Malagash, Pictou, Wallace, Shelburne and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
    They have brought forward a petition concerning museums. They point out that museums generate over $17 billion annually to Canada's gross domestic product; that over 59 million Canadians visit museums every year from coast to coast to coast; that our museums have a positive social and cultural impact on virtually every community in this country; that the museums assistance program is recognized as the most crucial element of the federal support for Canadian museums; that the funding for the museums assistance program today is virtually at the same level as it was in 1972, when I was in grade 4; that the Conservative Party of Canada, which is now leading the minority Parliament in Ottawa, pledged in writing during the most recent election campaign that “generous funding for Canada's museums would be a priority for a Conservative government”; and that on September 25, 2006, the Conservative minority government announced that it cut $4.6 million from the museums assistance program.
    Therefore, they are petitioning Parliament to immediately reverse the funding cut that was announced on September 25 and live up to the commitments made by all parties in the last election to increase funding for museums at the next opportunity and to do so as soon as possible.

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition with 240 signatures from the residents of the town of Caledon, Ontario, who are terribly upset with Canada Post and who want the government to ensure that traditional rural mail delivery continues for the town of Caledon.

Agriculture  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a petition from concerned constituents in my riding to ban terminator technology. This technology is designed to render seeds sterile in harvest and thus prevent farmers from saving and replanting seeds.
    Therefore, the petitioners request Parliament to enshrine in legislation a permanent national ban on terminator technologies to ensure that these are never planted, field tested, patented or commercialized in Canada.

Animal Cruelty  

    Mr. Speaker, I have another petition to present with regard to animal cruelty stating that Bill S-213 will not meet the needs of Canada's animals and, unlike its predecessor known as Bill C-50, will do little to prevent further abuses.
    Therefore, the petitioners call upon the government to veto Bill S-213 and, instead, enact legislation similar to Bill C-50 which would safeguard animals and hopefully lead to less violence.

Homelessness  

    Mr. Speaker, the last petition deals with a subject that has become increasingly important across Canada, certainly in my riding, about homelessness and the fact that homelessness and mental issues are not being addressed.
    The petitioners respectfully request that the House take such actions as are necessary to immediately address the issues of homelessness, mental health and affordable housing.

Employment Insurance Act  

    Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I present several petitions today with respect to the Employment Insurance Act.
    The first petition deals with the 28, unanimously agreed upon, recommendations that came from the all party committee to restore financial governance and acceptability to the Employment Insurance Act. The petition contains hundreds of signatures of citizens from across the northwest area of British Columbia.

Regional Zoning  

    Mr. Speaker, I also have a more specific set of petitions dealing with the actual zoning that HRDC designates across this country. Our region, which represents, by HRDC's standards, half of the province, has a huge diversity and spectrum of employment needs. The petitioners demand that the government finally take a common sense approach to splitting the region in a more justifiable way.

Volunteerism  

    Mr. Speaker, as it is close to the holiday season, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and all my colleagues in the House all the best of the season, Happy Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas.
    I am proud to present a petition on behalf of 264 young Canadians from my riding. The petitioners would like the assurance that young Canadians from across the country will be able to volunteer in communities at the national or international level if they so choose. Our youth are our future. They gain a lot of social skills and ability from volunteering.
    It gives me great pleasure to present this petition to the House.

  (1315)  

Questions on the Order Paper

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate

Speaker's Ruling--Canadian Wheat Board  

[Speaker's Ruling]
    Yesterday, during routine proceedings, the hon. member for Malpeque requested an emergency debate on the subject of the Canadian Wheat Board. I have decided that his request does not meet the exigencies of the Standing Order at this time and, accordingly, there will not be an emergency debate at this time on that subject.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Prebudget Consultations

Hon. Bev Oda (for the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Democratic Reform)  
    moved:
    That this House take note of the Eighth Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, presented to the House on Thursday, December 7, 2006.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their enthusiastic encouragement as I begin to tell the public a little about the report of the finance committee.
    The report contains the recommendations of the finance committee to the government about what should be in the upcoming spring budget, budget 2007. In order to make these recommendations, the finance committee heard over 400 witnesses. There were many hours of consultations with different groups, some individuals and organizations. They had input and some thoughts about what they would like to see in the next budget.
    The theme of the budget was “Enhancing Canada's competitiveness and productivity”.
    I will say a couple of word about the theme of our consultations, competitiveness and productivity. In a way, regular Canadians do not lay awake at night wondering about Canada's competitiveness and productivity. They are busy trying to figure out how they are going to pay their mortgages or their rents. They are thinking about their jobs and family matters. Therefore, I want to remind everyone that Canada is part of a global economy. No longer does trade, commerce and all the economic activities of any country happen in isolation.
    It used to be that countries would trade maybe a little with their neighbours and to a small extent with the far flung corners of the world. Increasingly now Canada's economy is interwoven with that of all other countries on the globe, which has huge impacts for Canada, huge repercussions and huge opportunity.
    Canada has some unique advantages in the global economy. It also has some challenges. These are the things the finance committee looked as to how Canada could maximize the returns to our advantage and how we could deal with the challenges.
    The word “productivity” is used sometimes. What it means is being able to maintain our standard of living and the quality of life. We have built this over the years by hard work, by businesses investing, growing and becoming more able to succeed in the global marketplace and to take advantage of opportunities in and with other countries. All of that gives Canadians a high standard of living, one that is envied in the world. It also gives a quality of life, which is I would say second to none in the entire world.
    We have values and qualities in our way of life that are not only desirable, but that are worth protecting and fighting for by continuing to have strategies so we can have this for many years in the future, not only for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren.
    If we are to shine, if we are to be at the top end of competitiveness on the global scene and if we are to maintain our quality of life with all of its facets, whether it is our social programs, our level of income, or the goods and services we want and need, it takes some planning.
    These advantages do not happen by accident. It takes planning, hard work, good decision making and some capable and smart financing and budgeting by governments, not just the federal government but the provincial, territorial governments and municipal governments as well. The activities of government can have an impact on a country's standard of living and its quality of life. If wrong decisions are made about levels of taxation, spending and preservation of programs and services, then the standard of living and the quality of life is impacted.

  (1320)  

    Our government, and I believe all members of the House, take that duty to Canadians extremely seriously, not just for today but for the future. Leaders are paid to look ahead, to see the challenges and opportunities and to make the decisions today that will ensure we succeed tomorrow. That was some of the framework around our consultations.
     We had many submissions by different groups. It was interesting because some groups said that the government should spend more here and not there. Others had different kinds of spending. Some people said that we were spending far too fast. They said that the level of spending of governments was outpacing the ability of our economy to grow and fund that spending. They said that we needed to be more modest, more reasonable in the growth of spending by government and that we needed to take the burden of taxes away from our job creators.
    A lot of times some members of Parliament talk about business or big corporations. Big businesses, big corporations and big banks are simply those that have succeeded and they are our job creators. These companies or institutions have publicly traded shares and they are owned by individual Canadians. They are owned by pension plans of unions and professional organizations and public pension plans such as the Canada pension plan, the RCMP pension plan and the armed services pension plan.
    Successful businesses not only create jobs for Canadians, but they create secure futures for Canadians. Their growth, income, profit and wealth are shared among the shareholders, which include many retired Canadians.
    We want to ensure that the job and wealth creators of our society are successful as well. That means we have to give incentives, particularly because wealth can move anywhere in the world. We cannot force it to stay within our borders. Wealth and investment capital will go where there are opportunities for growth and profit, and we have to be cognizant of that. We have to ensure that the decisions we make in our budgets, federally, provincially and municipally, reflect those realities. If we make it too tough for job and wealth creation, then those opportunities will go elsewhere. We want them here in Canada.
    These are some of the things we want to balance. We need to balance strong, stable, effective social programs as well, including health care and education. We need to ensure that our infrastructure is conducive to activities of Canadians to succeed in their businesses and professional lives and for those who run businesses to be successful as well. We need to have the capital to fund our social programs, which are so important to us.
    These are the things with which we wrestle, both in the finance committee, in our report, and also in the government, in the Minister of Finance and his officials in crafting budgets.
    Budget 2007 is coming up quickly. It has been very interesting to hear from people and to come to grips with some of the issues to be thought about and some of the decisions to be made.
     Not surprisingly, there are some differences of opinion among committee members. Some differences are on ideological grounds. There is the ideology of what we would call sometimes the left, which calls for more government spending and intervention. Then other members of Parliament, many of them Conservatives, believe the government should enable others to succeed, but the nanny state is not the best way to go. These are legitimate differences of opinion and call for some interesting and helpful debate.

  (1325)  

    Some recommendations in the committee report were pretty much endorsed and agreed to by everyone. There were a lot more where opposition members out voted the government members, as this is a minority Parliament. The three opposition parties voted together and government members did not agree with some of them. That is how democracy and a minority Parliament works.
    Because there were some areas of disagreement, the different parties put in supplementary reports to clarify areas where they did not agree with the main report or they wanted to add some items that did not make it into the main committee report. The supplementary opinions are appended to the committee report and make for interesting reading. I would encourage Canadians to look at these documents on the Internet. Sometimes these short opinions, because they can only be about four pages in length, contain a great deal of condensed thought.
    I want to spend a few minutes advising Canadians and the House about some of the principles the government members of the finance committee felt were important.
     Conservatives believe that government should restrain the growth in spending to a more sustainable level. The GDP is growing by 2% to 3% a year, but government spending skyrocketed to 8% per year on average. Last year it was 15%.
    No householder or business in the world could only have an increase in income of 3% or 4%, but spend 8% to 15% more every year. That just does not compute. It is not sound financing or reasonable spending. Conservatives believe the rate of government spending should increase on services for Canadians, but at a reasonable, moderate and prudent level, which is followed by all Canadians, whether they be individuals or businesses. Therefore, spending is pretty much in line with the increase in income and not above it. Once people spend above that, they get into trouble. That is just not good financing. This is one of the principles that led government members to disagree with some of the opposition recommendations in the report.
    Conservatives believe that recommendations have to be affordable and realistic. Sometimes spending money on things sounds good, but if we look at the bang for the buck, whether there is a benefit for the cost to Canadians, who trust us to spend their money wisely, and it does not justify it, according to the analysis the government believes is a reasonable one, then we cannot support it.
    Conservatives believe the tax burden for individual Canadian businesses should be reduced. We did that in our first budget, a couple of months after we were elected. The budget provided $26 billion in tax reductions for Canadians and businesses over two years. We believe Canadians, business people, entrepreneurs and investors can spend money more wisely sometimes than governments and bureaucrats can.
    That is a shocking concept to some in the House, but we believe it to be so. We believe that the wealth creators in our country are individuals and businesses, particularly small business. We want to give them more of their own money, earnings and wealth to do with as they see fit.

  (1330)  

    We also believe there should be value for money. We hear politicians sometimes saying that we gave this much to this program or organization, as if somehow just putting money out got results. We all know from real life that just spending money does not necessarily give good value. Sometimes we can buy a product that does not do what we thought it would do, that is not high quality, or that does not afford the comfort or the service that we thought it would. These matters have to be looked at carefully and reasonably to make sure that when we spend Canadians' money, they actually get real value for it, that it is not just bragging rights for politicians but it actually delivers some measurable and proper benefit for the Canadian public.
    We noted, for example, that all the other opposition parties say that they oppose another cut to the GST, but we know that the GST cut is the only tax cut that can be given to a multitude of Canadians who otherwise do not pay taxes. This is the only tax they pay and they deserve a tax reduction as well.
    The Retail Council of Canada said that the GST reduction did more than twice as much for Canadians' real disposable incomes than they had been able to do for themselves over the last 15 years and more than was done for them in a strong economy in 2005. The Retail Council of Canada said that the GST cut was a very powerful tool for increasing the incomes of Canadians. We believe that our promise to continue to reduce the GST by a further one per cent over the next four to five years is one that Canadians will benefit from. That is an area where we disagreed with the opposition parties.
    We also believe that money should be spent directly on providing services to Canadians rather than on advocacy or on high and burgeoning administration costs. We think it is extremely important that when money is spent, people see some measurable results, that it just does not end up funding more hot air being blown around, more talk shops, more round tables and more administration.
    We also believe that money spent on the environment should do something for the environment. We heard a lot from the previous government about billions of dollars being spent on the environment, but when the environment commissioner gave her report, we found out that actually we not only were still at square one, we had actually gone backward, that greenhouse gas emissions were 35% more than they were when we started out spending these billions of dollars. How is that fair to Canadians? They work hard. They cough up $6 billion or so. It is spent somewhere, but instead of making progress, we go backward. That is irresponsible. That is a complete abuse of hard-working men and women in our country. We cannot continue to do that.
    We want to have responsible spending. We want to reduce the tax burden for Canadians. We also want to pay down Canada's mortgage, because every dollar by which we reduce a mortgage we save in interest every single year. We reduced Canada's mortgage this year by $13.2 billion above the $3 billion that would normally be paid down. That will free up almost $700,000 every single year from here on out which we can spend on services for Canadians because it is not going to interest.
    Canadians try to pay down their credit card balances because they know they save tons of interest by doing that. So does a country. We are committed to making that kind of sensible debt repayment happen for our country. It is not fair that we spend billions of dollars on interest every year and expect our kids to deal with it. That is irresponsible. It is unfair. It is taxation without representation. We want to get the debt down.

  (1335)  

    We are going to start with what we call the net debt, which is a measure that all countries use and the OECD uses, which is the total debt minus the assets of a country. Once we get the net debt down in 15 years, we will start on other debt reduction measures. This is extremely important for our country because it gives so much more freedom, fiscal freedom and freedom from being beholden to our debt holders from other countries as well.
    We also want to make sure that we have results in excellence in our economy. Roger Martin, the chairman of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and dean of the Rotman School of Management, said in September:
    In 1998, Canada stood sixth in this ranking of our business competitiveness and in 2001 we stood 11th.
    In three years we slipped from sixth to 11th. Then he said:
    Over the years we've drifted down in the rankings as countries like Norway and Japan have stepped up their competitiveness.
    Many of these countries are without the kind of natural advantages that we have. We want to stop that drift. That drift is not what Canadians want and it is not what they deserve. We want to start moving up. We want to be one of the most vibrant, most successful, most productive and most envied economies in the entire world. I believe that is possible because of Canadian know-how and because of Canadian initiative.
    In addition, of course, we want to address the fiscal balance. The finance ministers will be meeting this weekend as a matter of fact. The finance ministers for the provinces, the territories and the federal government again will be having discussions not just on the fiscal balance but on how all of us can work together to ensure that Canada remains a top performer by every measure in the world, and not just economically. Environmentally we have done a lot with the clean air act and other measures to move forward on that. We want to make sure that our health care system is strong. The same is true for our infrastructure, our bridges, our roads, our airports, so that trade and commerce and travel will be easy in our country. All of those things are investments for the future and we are committed to doing that.
    We believe that we need to have a plan, a forward looking vision, instead of just putting money here and money there with no coherent framework without a future goal in mind.
    We have a strong plan called “Advantage Canada”, which was just released in the fall update in November by the finance minister. It is dedicated to making sure that under clear, reasonable, prudent, well thought out management, our country can continue to grow and prosper, that we reverse the slide we have experienced in environmental quality, that we reverse the slide we have experienced in health care wait times, that we reverse the slide we have experienced in the past in our standing in competitiveness and productivity, and instead, now we have measures, a clear plan to move forward.
    Some of the areas where we have gone backward cannot be reversed overnight. We inherited a bit of a mess in some areas, but I believe that with the plans that are in place and the measures that are going forward, step by step Canada is on the road not only to a recovery in some of the areas that are important to Canadians but also to a very strong, vibrant and prosperous future where our quality of life is protected, where it is enhanced and where Canada continues to be the envy of the world and for good reason.
    We are excited about the recommendations in the report. We are excited about the vision that we have laid out in our supplementary opinion. We believe with future measures that will come in budget 2007 and in the framework of the “Advantage Canada” plan that has been put forward by our government, Canada is on the right track. It is in good hands. Our children and grandchildren too will be assured that a well managed and a prudently developed economy will be there for them in the coming years.

  (1340)  

    Questions and comments. I see several MPs rising, so maybe we could have one minute questions and one minute responses so we can accommodate everybody.
    The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
    Mr. Speaker, perhaps this will not be a part of my minute, as I simply want to commend the hon. member on her speech. I think that all committee members had a productive journey together, even though we disagreed on several points.
    My question has to do with the government's extreme unaccountability when it comes to telling Canadians what it is that it is cutting.
    Today we Liberals released an access to information document from Natural Resources Canada which lists program cuts. This is a government document itemizing NRCan cuts totalling $584 million and then saying, “cuts to other government programs $6.8 billion”. We on this side of the House have been trying for months to get the government to itemize those cuts totalling $6.8 billion to Canadians.
    When the Liberals were in government, we did expenditure review. On the very day of the budget, line by line every item was revealed.
    It is many months after the budget and on the very day that the accountability act was signed into law, is it not ironic that on that the government displayed such a lack of accountability on its cuts?
    Mr. Speaker, as my colleague said, we did have a very good time, a very enjoyable time and a very productive time travelling, discussing issues and talking with witnesses together.
    I cannot help him on the specific question he asked without looking into it. I would be happy to do that. I think there has been a lot of information about spending reductions that will be coming forward.
    I know the hon. member himself was heavily involved in a program of spending reductions for government when he was minister of revenue. I think he found a few billion dollars to cut. Programs always seem to grow tentacles and sort of spread outward. Sometimes those have to be pruned back.
    If the hon. member would speak to me afterward, I will see if I can provide him with more information.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech with great interest. It did reveal a bit more of the sort of flat earth economics that is coming forward from the Conservative Party, in particular this notion of a net debt that is being floated, that somehow if we add our assets together, then we do not really have a debt. I do not think the government could tell any Canadian family that if they add up their savings, they do not have to pay off their mortgage.
    I would like to follow up on this notion of a net debt and ask why the Conservatives have not added government buildings and national parks to our assets column. In fact, we could add enough assets that we would not have a debt at all and we would not have to worry about it. This seems to be the economic reasoning that I am getting from the Conservative Party, because a debt remains a debt regardless of whether it is paid. It comes to the idea of a vision of how we make a national economy.
    What we have had is a debt that has been put into education for years. Students are now coming out of school with debts of $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000. That is a real debt. That is a debt made by government decisions.
    We have a debt in the environment as has been pointed out, because we need a commitment.
    We have a debt in terms of infrastructure in every municipality across the country where money has not been put in to upkeep and the costs are being downloaded to municipalities. These bills have to be paid at the end of the day.
     When we look for a vision of a 21st century economy from the Conservatives, they are creating this notion of a net debt and taking every dollar of surplus to pay off this debt. Meanwhile the other debts that remain outside have not been acted on.
    I would like to correct the member's--

  (1345)  

    The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.
    Mr. Speaker, I guess my colleague's accusation may have more credibility, except that the concept of net debt is one that is used all around the globe. It is the international standard. It is what the OECD uses. It is the way countries compare each other. This is exactly the standard that all other countries use. To somehow suggest that it is inappropriate I think maybe the hon. member would want to go to the OECD or the World Bank and make his case, but wiser heads than his, I might suggest, say that net debt is an entirely appropriate standard to start at.
    With respect to the other debts, student debt, the national debt of over $400 billion is a student debt. Guess who is going to get to pay it off. It will be students with their earnings in the future.
    Every dollar we pay down on the nation's debt, no matter what it is called or how we quibble about its measurement or whether we challenge the OECD on it, is a mortgage that our kids are not going to have to pay. That is a good thing.
    Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure of being a member of the finance committee. It was an excellent experience and I thank the parliamentary secretary for her guidance and leadership on that committee.
    We heard many times from opposition members at the committee that they were opposed to any further GST cuts. This really surprised me considering that one of the Liberals' platforms many years ago was to get rid of GST altogether.
    I want to quote:
--the one policy move by the government [the GST cut] did more than twice as much for Canadians' real disposable incomes than they'd been able to do for themselves over the last 15 years, and more than was done for themselves in a strong economy in 2005. This was a very powerful tool for increasing the incomes of Canadians.
    Could the parliamentary secretary tell us what the Conservative view is on tax cuts in this budget recommendation?
    Mr. Speaker, there is a legitimate difference of opinion or debate about whether we should cut tax A, tax B or tax C. However, I think very few people believe that there is not room to return more money to Canadians' pockets. Our federal government has run enormous, and some would say obscene, surpluses for years now and that is, pure and simple, overtaxation.
    We made a plan to return money to Canadians' pockets, which included a 1% reduction in the GST, which we have already enacted, and another one to come. Economists can fight about this but the fact is that it helps the poorest Canadians. It is a reduction that all Canadians can see and it will be very hard for governments to reverse in a sneaky manner because the GST is a highly visible tax. There were some reasons why we picked that tax. I hope the House will support our plan overall.
    Mr. Speaker, one of the topics we discussed in the finance committee was the government's decision to eliminate the GST visitor rebate program.
    As recently as last Thursday, the minister of the revenue agency was before the committee and I asked her if the government had changed its mind on rescinding that decision and she said not that she knew of.
    Yesterday morning, the minister of tourism for Prince Edward Island announced that the Minister of Industry informed him and other tourism ministers that there was a change in the visitor rebate program and that at least part of it would continue to be applied.
    Could the parliamentary secretary tell us whether that is true? Why does the government not extend it to all tourists, not just to those who come in on conventions?

  (1350)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his implied suggestion that I should be the minister of revenue but my colleague is doing an excellent job there.
    This rebate for visitors has two parts. The first part is the rebate of the GST. Not only did only 3% of visitors ever take advantage of that, but the cost of administering it was absolutely enormous. That is one area in which I do not think there is very much dispute. It really was not a cost beneficial program.
    The second part concerns the reductions in GST for tourism conventions, which I think is what my colleague is speaking about. Whether there is discussion about some accommodation with respect to that particular aspect of the rebate program, I do not know as I am not part of those discussions. However, if there is, I expect he will hear about it fairly quickly.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to these issues and to thank all those Canadians from coast to coast to coast who appeared before our committee. Hundreds of Canadians submitted their views on the government's upcoming budget and I, along with all my colleagues, would like to thank them all, as well as to thank the clerk and the House of Commons staff who made our trip very pleasant and very well organized.
    I recall some months ago, when replying to the budget, that I characterized that budget with three words: meanspirited, dishonest and unproductive. The events since the budget and our hearings across the country, as well as the proposals put forward in the fiscal update have simply reinforced those three themes. I would like to make my remarks today under those same three headings.
    I will begin with the notion of meanspiritedness. The $1 billion in cuts that the government announced some time ago came up just as we were crossing the country and meeting Canadians. Of all the people who came before our committee, many were there to protest the cuts and to describe to committee members the impact of those cuts, sometimes in graphic detail.
    We had people come to our committee and decry and criticize the government for its cuts to literacy programs and to explain to us how crucial those were and how meanspirited it was to cut those programs. We had representatives from museums who described to committee members the great difficulties in their communities, sometimes small communities, caused by these cuts to museums. We had people complaining about the cuts to the court challenges program, to the internship program and to the Law Commission.
     I am very pleased that the opposition parties came together on these matters and that we in opposition voted unanimously and with enthusiasm, as one of the recommendations of our committee, to reinstate those meanspirited cuts so that the government would cancel the cuts and restore the funding to Status of Women, to literacy programs, to the museums and so on because that was the clear consensus of Canadians we heard from coast to coast to coast. It also was the clear consensus of all opposition members on the committee.
    I would point out one small example of supreme meanspiritedness. This reflects the disability committee that was advisory to the Minister of National Revenue. It was set up as a consequence of a technical report and when I was minister of revenue I remember inaugurating this committee to advise the minister of revenue on measures affecting disabled Canadians. Most members of the committee were disabled in some fashion themselves and so had first-hand experience on the issues. These people put in a great deal of work and just recently one committee member came to see me to report a couple of things.
     First, he pointed out that the government had summarily terminated the services of this disability advisory committee to the Minister of National Revenue and of all such committees at a cost saving of 1/100 of 1% of the budget of the Canada Revenue Agency. However, this individual, a member of the committee, and his colleagues were enthusiastic about their work. They thought it was important to disabled Canadians so they were continuing their work on a volunteer basis even though they had been disbanded by the government. He also told me that the chair of the committee had written to the minister to ask for an explanation but has not, some months later, received a reply.
    This example, while it is not major in terms of dollars, is a good reflection of the meanspiritedness of the government that it would simply summarily cut the work of a committee to advise the government on how to make the tax system more responsive to people with disabilities and how it would not even respond to the chair of that committee when he wrote to the minister to ask for an explanation.

  (1355)  

    On the subject of meanspiritedness, the $1 billion in cuts, which Canadians across the country opposed and which the committee voted to reinstate, are only the tip of the iceberg. We have been asking questions for months trying to get the government to tell Canadians what it is cutting that amounts to a total of over $7 billion and the government has not come clean.
    We, as an opposition, had to resort to access to information documents and we discovered the detailed cuts for Natural Resources Canada. This government document lists, under the heading “Program Cuts”, NRCan affected programs, six or seven items totalling $585 million. It says that other government programs $6.9 billion. Evidently, the government has at its disposal information on cuts detailed in each and every department and we, in the opposition, despite efforts for months, have failed to convince the government to reveal those cuts to Canadians.
    We do know there are major cuts in post-secondary education and in research. However, unlike our government which, when we did our expenditure review, we itemized every cut line by line on the day of the budget, the Conservative government, months later, has yet to come clean and explain to Canadians who the victims are and where the cuts have been made. We believe this is a matter of basic accountability.
    My first point, to conclude on the question of meanspiritedness, is that Canadians from coast to coast to coast flooded to our committee to tell us the dire consequences of the cuts to Status of Women, literacy, museums and other cuts that have affected the most vulnerable Canadians. We, as an opposition, united in the committee report to urge the government to reinstate those cuts.
    As I said, the $1 billion in cuts are simply the tip of the iceberg. The government has yet to come clean with Canadians. This is a question of a basic lack of accountability. On this day of signing into law the accountability act, the government has yet to tell Canadians who will be affected by the additional $7.4 billion in cuts.
    The hon. member can continue his speech after question period if he so chooses.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

  (1400)  

[English]

Canadian Forces Reservists

    Mr. Speaker, on Sunday I was proud to participate in a Christmas parade of military vehicles along Whyte Avenue in my riding of Edmonton—Strathcona. The annual event was organized by Canadian Forces Reservists at the 15th Service Battalion Edmonton.
    Led by Santa Claus in a light armoured vehicle, the procession made a stop at Edmonton Youth Emergency Shelter, where Santa and members of the unit distributed Christmas gifts. The parade ended at the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Centre for Veterans, where unit members hosted a reception for veterans and their families.
    Reservists raised money throughout the year and presented cheques worth $3,000 to both the Youth Emergency Shelter and the Kipnes Centre. This marks the battalion's ninth parade to share Christmas spirit and support worthy local charities.
    I am proud of the work our men and women in uniform are doing here at home and overseas. Our soldiers exemplify the highest ideal of public service, and it was an honour to support their efforts this weekend.

Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life

    Mr. Speaker, in the presence of my hon. colleagues, I would like to talk about the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life. The relay for life is a unique community event that recognizes individuals who have survived cancer and honours those who have lost their lives to the disease.
    Recently I had the privilege of attending a cancer relay for life in the town of Bonavista in my riding. The event was attended by over 500 individuals from Bonavista and surrounding communities. The opening ceremony was a powerful and moving experience. To witness over 80 cancer survivors parade into the local arena amidst the applause of those in attendance was overwhelming.
    Approximately $40,000 were raised to go toward continuing research for a cure for this devastating disease that has touched nearly every family in Canada and certainly in the Bonavista area.
     I commend the many organizers, volunteers, cancer survivors and the people of the Bonavista Peninsula who participated in making this event such a huge success.

[Translation]

Marie-Vincent Foundation Award

    Mr. Speaker, the Marie-Vincent Foundation award is handed out annually to an agency working to prevent child abuse. This year the award went to La Traversée, an agency in Saint-Lambert helping women and children who are victims of sexual abuse.
    This award points up the merits of an innovative philosophy-based violence prevention program in 10 elementary schools in Longueuil. As Catherine Audrain, director of La Traversée, said so well, this project brings a bit of hope because it reduces violent behaviour in young people and integrates values such as respect, dialogue and tolerance.
    This is a fine example of the work done by an agency committed to respect for women. Unfortunately, it is not by cutting programs for these agencies that the dogmatic Conservative government will help advance the cause of women.

[English]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, members of the Conservative Party continue to struggle against the idea that they are little more than laggards when it comes to the environment. Whenever they make this claim, one of their senior ministers makes a public statement to remove any lingering doubts.
    First, the Prime Minister suggested that it was difficult to predict next week's weather, so how could he possibly believe global warming was a threat to Canadians. Now the Minister of Public Safety was “begging for Big Al Gore's glacial melt when the mercury hit -24”.
    The same minister went on to prove his utter misunderstanding of the pine beetle crisis and the impact that global warming had on it. I wonder if the same minister also still believes there is not enough evidence to prove that smoking actually causes cancer.
    We are at the beginning of a legislative committee that will rewrite Bill C-30 and create what could be the most important environmental legislation in years. The NDP will fight hard to create hard targets and real timelines to ensure we change the course that Canada is on.
    My fear is the Conservative members may have a lot of catching up to do. I strongly urge them to do much study over the Christmas holidays.

Government Policies

    Mr. Speaker, as Canadians prepare for the holiday season, this is a time for reflection, a time when Canadians can celebrate all the wonderful things of the past year. With this in mind, I would like to remind Canadians of the great things that have happened under Canada's new government.
    Canadians are now experiencing a lower GST, as this government reduced it from 7% to 6%. The government has delivered tax credits to all families. We have delivered on our universal child care benefit. We continue to deliver on our get tough on crime bills. We have signed the softwood deal that lingered among Canadians for many years. Today we will finally pass the accountability act, which will say to all Canadians that this Parliament will now become accountable and responsible to the people of Canada.
    Canadians have much to be happy about, but particularly about a government that does what it says. On behalf Canada's--

  (1405)  

    The hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham.

Oak Ridges—Markham

    Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak in tribute to two long serving mayors from my riding, both of whom did not seek re-election in November after many years of public service.
    Mayor Don Cousens of Markham was elected mayor in 1993 and Mayor William Bell of Richmond Hill was first elected mayor in 1988. They were both involved in politics even before then, and have a combined total of almost 60 years of public service to York region.
    I send out my deepest appreciation and warmest wishes to former Mayors Bell and Cousens and wish them good health in their retirement years.
    I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate three newly elected mayors: Dave Barrow in Richmond Hill, Frank Scarpitti in Markham and Wayne Emmerson in Whitchurch-Stouffville. I look forward to working with them in the coming days.

President of the World Uyghur Congress

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome Madame Rabiya Kadeer, the President of the World Uyghur Congress and the nominee for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, to Ottawa.
    Madame Kadeer, one of the most successful business people in China, eventually fell out of favour with Chinese authorities and was tried and wrongfully imprisoned for six long years.
    Since her release, Madame Kadeer has championed the Uyghur cause from her home base in America. She has been all over the world raising the issue of China's human rights abuses with both governmental and non-governmental groups. She offers encouragement to all oppressed people around the world and is a role model that we in the House and Canadians across the country can applaud.
    On behalf of my constituent, Huseyin Celil and his family, we thank her and commend her for the work she is doing to address the travesty of human rights abuses in China. She is a hero to many of us and we are honoured by her presence on the Hill today.

[Translation]

Municipality of Valcourt

    Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I acknowledge today the 150th anniversary of the municipality, parish and township of Valcourt in my riding.
    The history of Valcourt began in 1856, when the parish was built. Since then, Valcourt has flourished through its industrial activities, a source of pride to all. The multinational company Bombardier is the economic driver of the region. We also have the J. Armand Bombardier museum, which presents the life and works of this great inventor and entrepreneur. Valcourt has become the capital of snowmobiling.
    We also have an incredible winter carnival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Each year, two outstanding personalities are named duke and duchess at this carnival.
    Today, Valcourt has 2,500 inhabitants. I want to wish them all a wonderful time as they celebrate the 150th anniversary of their municipality, parish and township.

Bloc Québécois

    Mr. Speaker, in a speech in Quebec City yesterday, the leader of the Bloc Québécois dared to claim that Quebec had regressed in the past year. This is more proof that ridicule never killed anyone.
    Does the Bloc leader really believe that Quebec taxpayers are regressing, when our new government is keeping its promises, cutting taxes and reducing the GST?
    Does the Bloc leaders sincerely believe that families in Quebec are regressing because they are now receiving $1,200 annually for child care?
    Does the Bloc leader really believe that the new generation of Quebeckers is regressing, when our government is putting in place environmental standards for 2011 to reduce new vehicle fuel consumption in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
    How can the Bloc leader claim that Quebec is regressing, when the province's unemployment rate is at its lowest level in more than 30 years?
    The reality is that it is the Bloc that has been causing Quebec to regress for more than 13 years. Our new government is proud to represent Quebeckers within a united Canada.

Poland

    Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, we will commemorate the anniversary of an event that holds great significance for Canada's Polish community.
    On December 13, 1981, the communist government of Poland imposed martial law. This unfortunate event came in the wake of actions by the Solidarity movement to introduce democratic values and respect for human rights in Poland.
    Many people were imprisoned, others died, and many found refuge in Canada.

[English]

    The price the victims of martial law paid was not in vain. Liberty and democracy, values that all Canadians hold dear, prevailed. Today Poland is a sovereign country, a member of NATO and will send soldiers to Afghanistan.

[Translation]

    In recognition of the ideals of the Solidarity movement, the imposition of martial law and the triumph of democratic values should be preserved in Canada's collective memory.

  (1410)  

Exercise of Government Powers

    Mr. Speaker, we have, today, an interesting contrast in leadership. Three years ago, the Liberal member for LaSalle—Émard became Prime Minister, after Jean Chrétien, and added to 13 years of Liberal mess, mismanagement and scandal.

[English]

    The member for LaSalle—Émard's years were especially highlighted by dithering, delay and virtually no action on any file.
    Contrast this with 10 months of strong leadership by our government: accountability in government, done; pension splitting for seniors, done; choice in child care, done; and our GST cut for every Canadian, done.
    The comparisons are very striking. Unlike the last Liberal government, which was dominated by scandal and only looked after its Liberal friends, our government is getting things done for all Canadians. This is what Canadians asked us to do and this is what we are doing.

Marriage

    Mr. Speaker, last week the House voted not to reconsider legislation that opened marriage to gay and lesbian couples. The Prime Minister has said that as far as he is concerned the matter is settled. That is good news for gay and lesbian Canadians, for gay and lesbian couples, who have decided to be married and for those who support them. However, problems still exist with the government's approach to marriage.
    The Department of Citizenship and Immigration has a so-called interim policy for gay and lesbian Canadians, sponsoring a spouse for immigration purposes. It will not recognize a legal marriage performed in another country. It will not recognize legal marriages performed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa or Massachusetts. Instead, these couples must use the common law or conjugal partner application process. This is inappropriate, discriminatory and just plain wrong. It will not survive a court challenge, but couples should not be forced to use that route again.
    The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration must fix this immediately by recognizing all legal gay and lesbian marriages performed in other jurisdictions in exactly the same way heterosexual marriages are recognized.

CRA Disability Advisory Committee

    Mr. Speaker, one of the first actions taken by the so-called new government under the Conservatives was to terminate the CRA Disability Advisory Committee.
    The purpose of this committee was to help the Canada Revenue Agency make meaningful improvements to the tax treatment of people living with disabilities. This all volunteer committee was created with the unanimous consent of the House of Commons, and I might add, with the support of the current Prime Minister.
    Since the committee was terminated last September, the members have continued to meet on a monthly basis simply because the work is too important to be abandoned.
    If the government is really serious about improving the lives of disabled Canadians, I call upon the Minister of National Revenue to immediately recognize the continuing work of the disability advisory committee.

[Translation]

Kofi Annan

    Mr. Speaker, December 31 will be the end of Kofi Annan's term of office as the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations. For ten years fraught with conflict in Africa, including in Darfur, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, he undertook the reforms needed to ensure the UN's credibility.
    He is the first Secretary General to come out of the organization. He started there in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer. He then moved up the ladder to the post of Secretary General.
    In his farewell speech yesterday, Mr. Annan issued a strong warning to the Americans regarding their attitude in the war in Iraq, reminding them, among other things, that major powers intervening in a conflict must do so in a multilateral context.
    The Bloc Québécois congratulates Kofi Annan on his contribution to peace in the world.

[English]

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, 2006 should be a year of celebration for the 25th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW. However, we are not celebrating today.
    The new government has made disturbing decisions to change the funding criteria for women's groups, remove the word “equality” from their mandates, bar them from doing advocacy work and cut the operating budgets and offices of Status of Women Canada. Further, the court challenges program and the national child care program have been cancelled.
    Women in Waterloo region and throughout Canada have been and will continue to be negatively impacted by these changes. It is absolutely unacceptable that women's voices will be weakened by actions taken by a Canadian government.
    Canada, as a progressive country with a reputation of respecting women's human rights, should be leading the way forward, not backward. When will the government honour the principles of equality and fairness that all Canadians value?

  (1415)  

[Translation]

Bloc Québécois

    Mr. Speaker, in Quebec City yesterday, the Bloc Québécois leader dared to suggest that the Conservative government has caused Quebec to regress.
    Does the leader of the Bloc Québécois really believe that recognizing Quebeckers as a nation within a united Canada constitutes a step backwards? Does the leader of the Bloc Québécois really believe that the Conservative government caused Quebec to regress when it put an end to the Liberal culture of entitlement by passing the accountability act, the strongest anti-corruption legislation ever seen in Canada? Does the leader of the Bloc Québécois really believe that Quebec is regressing, while his party supported our Speech from the Throne, our 2006 budget and the softwood lumber agreement?
    Yet, according to the Bloc Québécois, these gains mean a step backwards for Quebec, because the Bloc Québécois' raison d'être is not to defend the interests of Quebeckers in Ottawa, rather it is to defend its own separatist agenda.
    The time allotted for the statements by members has expired.

Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

[Translation]

New Member

    I have the honour to inform the House that the Clerk of the House has received from the Chief Electoral Officer a certificate of the election and return of Mr. Raymond Gravel, member for the electoral district of Repentigny.

New Member Introduced

    Mr. Raymond Gravel, member for the electoral district of Repentigny, is introduced by Mr. Gilles Duceppe and Mr. Michel Guimond.
    I invite the hon. member to take his seat.

Oral Questions

[Oral Questions]

[English]

Government Policies

    Mr. Speaker, through access to information, we have been able to confirm where a part of $7.4 billion in additional cuts will be made. Let us guess where: in areas as vital as research and development, post-secondary education and the environment.
    Why does the government continue to insist on these damaging neo-conservative cuts? When will this stop?
    Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition is wrong. I notice the list of environmental programs he cited. Under the previous government, the Liberals had these Kyoto environmental programs and emissions went up. What this government has committed to is that we are re-examining all the programs and we will bring in programs where emissions will go down instead of up.
    That is why, far from just getting rid of these programs, we will be replacing them with far more effective programs.

  (1420)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has confirmed that $7.4 billion in cuts were made, as the assistant deputy minister told the Standing Committee on Finance on May 10. What we do not know is where the cuts were made. We have obtained part of the answer thanks to the Access to Information Act.
    I am asking for a minimum of transparency from the Prime Minister. He must make public the exact list of cuts that have been made.
    Mr. Speaker, this government announced budget cuts of $1 billion in September. The Leader of the Opposition is referring to our intention to replace certain environmental programs with more effective programs. That is necessary because the Leader of the Opposition, when he was Minister of the Environment, had the worst track record of any environment minister in the world. This country must improve its performance.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would be very pleased to debate with the Prime Minister on his policy about the environment and our policy, but today--
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. Leader of the Opposition has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, today what we need to have is a minimum of transparency from the Prime Minister. For a week we have been asking him when he knew that the Commissioner of the RCMP would change his story. He has been unable to answer.
    Today we are asking him where will he make these cuts. Where will these cuts happen? He is unable to answer. I ask the Prime Minister, how long will he hide the truth from Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition does not like the answers he gets, which is that his facts are wrong.
    I will say that on this side of the House we certainly look forward to debating the environmental record of the Liberal leader. In fact, we will be able to quote his own seatmate from Etobicoke—Lakeshore, who said that he had a chance to do something for the environment and he just did not deliver. The Liberal leader has a record on the environment that is no different from the record of Alfonso Gagliano on accountability.

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday in committee, the Minister of the Environment was asked whether or not Canada's contribution to the UN for the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto protocol had been paid in full. She indicated that it had, and then was immediately contradicted by an assistant deputy minister who stated that Canada was behind on a $1.5 million payment.
    Has the minister now authorized the $1.5 million payment?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I can confirm again what I said at committee, which was accurate. Canada has met all of its obligations. All of our mandatory obligations under the Kyoto protocol were paid up in full. I have the United Nations document here to prove it if the member would like me to table it.
    I would appreciate it if the hon. member retracted the comment.
    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the assistant deputy minister of foreign affairs said that we had not paid, so she must have paid overnight.
    At her first appearance the Minister of the Environment said that she would never use the clean development mechanism to purchase international emission credits. Yesterday she said she would use the clean development mechanism to purchase international emission credits, if they were duly authorized and proven to lead to reductions of greenhouse gases.
    Will she or will she not use the clean development mechanism?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, let me put this on the record once and for all. This government will not use taxpayer money to purchase international credits, period. And we definitely will not do what the last government did which was to spend millions of dollars through the World Bank carbon funds to buy international credits which got us no closer to our Kyoto target than 1%.

[Translation]

Afghanistan

    Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister attended a meeting of NATO member nations, where he half-heartedly asked for greater military involvement by member nations and more support for rebuilding Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, given that he himself was unconvinced of the importance of what he was asking, the Prime Minister returned empty-handed, without having obtained any assurances from NATO members.
    Does the Prime Minister realize that if the Afghan mission does not change, if the mission is not rebalanced and if the member nations refuse to do their part, the mission is doomed to failure?
    Mr. Speaker, our closest allies in the south, such as the Dutch, the British, the Estonians and others, are helping to increase troops in Afghanistan. Clearly, we have a great deal of support, which will help us achieve success in the long term.
    I noticed yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition had spoken out against the mission in Afghanistan. Yet today, the Bloc Québécois website says that despite its reservations, the Bloc supports Canada's military presence in Afghanistan.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister may now have realized that the issue is not whether or not we should be in Afghanistan, but how we should be there as part of a balanced mission.
    The problem with this Prime Minister is his obtuse ideological approach. He sees the world exclusively in terms of good and bad, white and black.
    Will he stop using soldiers, for whom I have the utmost respect, solely for his simplistic ideological aims?
    Mr. Speaker, our soldiers in Afghanistan have a very dangerous mission. They are involved in economic development and humanitarian assistance, but the fact is that the security situation is dangerous. Therefore, their resources are needed. Some soldiers have even been killed recently while engaging in development activities. We must help our soldiers in Afghanistan for the sake of their security.
    The only problem here is the Bloc Québécois leader's political opportunism. He is using our soldiers to play political games.
    Mr. Speaker, last October, General David Richards, Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that 70% of Afghans would side with the Taliban if living conditions do not improve within the next six months.
    Should the government not talk to its NATO partners about making major adjustments to the balance between the humanitarian and military aspects of the mission in Afghanistan?
    Mr. Speaker, NATO statements clearly indicate that there can be no security without development and no development without security. There is no separating the two.
    Once again, the Bloc is being opportunistic. I would like to quote the House leader of the Bloc Québécois. In September, he said: “Even though the mission is difficult right now, immediate unconditional withdrawal would be irresponsible toward our soldiers, toward Afghanistan and toward the other nations to whom we promised we would do this work. We must support our soldiers.”
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister just said exactly what we are saying. We need a better balance for this mission, not a withdrawal.
    Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has a very narrow vision of the operations in Afghanistan where the military aspect has taken over and is pushing a major segment of the Afghan population right into the arms of the Taliban.
    Rather than go along with George W. Bush's strategy, should the Prime Minister not make a major effort to convince his partners to do more in terms of humanitarian intervention?

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, this government is in Afghanistan for a military mission, for economic development and for humanitarian aid. The Bloc Québécois changes its position just to play games at the expense of our military. That is unacceptable.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, a new report on the Arctic Ocean's ice cover indicates that it could disappear completely by 2040. Global warming is having a devastating effect on our health, economy and quality of life.
    Will the Prime Minister act as quickly as possible to impose a ceiling for major industrial polluters in Canada or will he wait for all the ice in the far north to melt?
    Mr. Speaker, we recognize the threats posed by these problems and that is why we are the first government to propose a national law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. It is vital that the parties in this Chamber work hard to pass this bill and to have effective legislation that will give real results.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, under this law, the Prime Minister's targets do not have any real effect until 2050. That is 10 years after the Arctic will have melted. That is not acceptable.
    The oil and gas sector puts out 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions in our country and this government, just like the previous one, wants to continue to subsidize it with massive subsidies. In addition, it refuses to put real controls on the big polluters.
    Will the government support the NDP's call for strong emission caps on big polluters, starting within 12 months from now?
    Mr. Speaker, actually just like the framework bill that the hon. member presented, this government's clean air act outlines a plan to have targets in the next few years all the way to 2050, not starting in 2050 but ending in 2050, short term targets, medium term targets and long term targets.
    We want to make sure we have targets. We are in discussions with industry to make sure we have targets that are attainable and that will achieve results. I think this government has made absolutely clear in the Minister of Finance's tax fairness package that we will have tax fairness for all industries, and all industries, including the oil and gas sector, will pay their fair share of taxes.

Post-Secondary Education

    Mr. Speaker, students and parents were shocked to learn the government is abandoning $2.9 billion worth of programs that help low income Canadians go to university and college. With only 21% of low income youth attending university, the government has put another barrier in their way.
    Why is the meanspirited minority government punishing these Canadians when it was sitting on a $13 billion surplus?
    Mr. Speaker, I think it is time that the hon. member actually worked with the facts for a change. He is confusing his government and the $4 billion that it cut from post-secondary education with the investments that we are making to help students, including $1 billion in infrastructure, including a textbook tax credit and including increased eligibility for Canada student loans.

Government Programs

    Mr. Speaker, the minister says one thing; the government's briefing books say another. It is time for the minister to be honest with Canadians.
    It is clear the Conservative ideology is that if people are poor, if they are homeless, if they are aboriginal, if they have disabilities, they do not count.
    Why has the government turned its back on people who want to learn to read and write or who want a decent job and a better life for their family?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member would like something to look at, I suggest he look in the mirror, because that is where he will see where all those cuts were made.
    This government, Canada's new government, is investing in students, investing in adult learning, investing in over 800,000 working Canadians through our apprenticeship programs, our child tax credits, to create the people with skills that will fill the jobs that are needed, the ones that the previous government did not even bother with.

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, across Canada women are protesting the ideological cuts of the government and the removal of equality provisions. Now there is more evidence that over the next five years $1.8 billion will be cut from skills development programs that directly affect women trying to upgrade literacy and other skills to enter the workforce.
    The minister has carried out the single largest attack on women's services in the history of this country. Does the minister not understand that her job is to defend women, not to attack them?
    The hon. the President of the Treasury Board.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    The Speaker: Order. Order. The hon. the President of the Treasury Board has been recognized to answer this question. The House is going to want to hear his answer.
    Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is certainly entitled to her own opinion, but the member opposite is not entitled to her own facts. I say to the member opposite very directly, where did she find this alleged briefing note? On the grassy knoll?
    Mr. Speaker, it is obvious the minister is not allowed to answer her questions.
    The minister's cavalier attitude toward women knows no bounds. In a letter to me on November 28 she stated that the women's program will receive $10.8 million, but there is no mention of the reallocation of the $5 million that she cut. Now her story has changed. She does not know whether she is coming or going.
    Yesterday, the minister tried to justify closing 12 regional offices by saying women can use the Internet. Does she have any idea how contemptuous that sounds when many women have no access and offices are thousands of kilometres--
    The hon. the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
    Mr. Speaker, I think we have to again reiterate the straight facts.
    Ten point eight million dollars in the women's program was there, is there and will be there. Five million dollars that was found in streamlining and more efficiency for Status of Women will be seen in the next budget for women's projects that are going to help women directly in the community.
    We know that we can provide the resources needed to support women in every community, not just where offices were located.

[Translation]

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence is about to spend $4.9 billion for aircraft that the Pentagon no longer wants because they have so many defects.
    Mr. Speaker, can the Minister of National Defence tell us that if Canada wishes to purchase these planes for $188 million, or three times the cost to Americans, who paid between $44 million and $67 million per plane, it is because the Lockheed Martin officials declared that they have fixed the main defects of these planes?
    We are about to pay three times the price for planes that the Americans no longer want.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I read the news reports. They are based on information provided by competitors that is basically fallacious. There are no technical problems with the C-130 and we are getting them at the proper price.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, official U.S. reports list the main defects of these planes and the U.S. wishes to terminate its contract.
    Does the Minister of National Defence realize that he is no longer a lobbyist and that his job is not to maximize a company's profit at the expense of taxpayers, but to make the best investment with taxpayers' money?
    That is his work. Above all we must never repeat the error already made when we spent millions of dollars to buy old submarines that never worked properly.

  (1440)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the requirements were set by the military. This aircraft meets the requirements. We will not purchase paper aircraft or paper trucks.

[Translation]

Telecommunications Industry

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Industry announced yesterday—and this is by no means good news for the regions—that deregulation of telephone service was a good thing for consumers, because it would lead to greater competition.
    If the minister is so sure that subscribers in outlying regions will not be the victims of this dubious strategy, can he assure us that the regions will not ultimately be paying the price of the short term and short lived rate reductions in the major centres?
    Mr. Speaker, the question is clear, and the response will be equally so. In the document we released yesterday, this government has no intention of changing any of the regulations in Canada's outlying regions. The status quo will remain, and the regions will enjoy reasonable and competitive rates.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister's approach will still prevent regional subscribers from enjoying the same rights as urban subscribers.
    Is this why the minister, who talks of openness and transparency, plans to hold consultations on his proposal in the middle of the Christmas break, between December 15 and January 15.
    Does the minister not realize that he would not have acted any differently had he wanted to impose his opinion and that this approach leaves him looking ridiculous?
    Mr. Speaker, yesterday, we presented a proposal for reform so that all Canadians might benefit from competition. In cities where competition exists, it is not normal for a government body to be setting rates.
    Accordingly, the market will now set the rates. Consumers will benefit from competitive prices, better service and, in the end, the telecommunications industry will provide services that meet consumer needs.

[English]

Maher Arar Inquiry

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister asked members of the House to come forward with all they know about the Arar affair. Let us see, on June 23, 2004, the Prime Minister said that there had been mixed messages, “not just in the House of Commons, but to us privately, even, by--I'm probably not at liberty to say much here--authorities in this country, that had suggested the deportation of Mr. Arar was appropriate. And then we found out later that may be not the case”.
    What did the Prime Minister know on June 23, 2004 that he was not at liberty to disclose?
    Mr. Speaker, I tried to follow that as closely as possible. There was a long sequence of events being articulated there.
    I can tell the House what has happened. The Prime Minister has given very clear direction right from the beginning of this affair which took place under the federal Liberal government. We wanted to get answers. We have received and accepted all 23 recommendations of Justice O'Connor's report.
     I was pleased to table in the House of Commons the second part of the report today and also pleased to table the information relating to an inquest into three more individuals. That needs to be followed up in terms of what happened to those individuals under the previous Liberal government.
    Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House we will support any attempt by the minister to change his profession to that of a comedian because Canadians deserve a minister who will deal with this issue seriously. Canadians expect us to ask these questions. The Conservatives may not like them, but they have a responsibility to answer them.
    Canadians are uneasy given the historical attitude of the Conservatives toward Mr. Arar. We want clear answers. What was the private information given to the Prime Minister about Arar and who gave it to him?
    Mr. Speaker, we are all quite aware in our present profession that a backup position is always a good thing to have, and any assistance members opposite want to provide me for my future, I would be interested in pursuing.
    I can also say that one former minister after another, including the present Leader of the Opposition, sat around the cabinet table and apparently did not even ask questions on this, on the sponsorship scandal nor on funds that went missing. Never mind June 23, on January 23 of this year Canadians made a decision that they wanted parliamentarians who would get answers and get action for them.

  (1445)  

[Translation]

Telecommunications Industry

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Industry played Santa Claus yesterday to the large telecommunications companies by unveiling his plan to deregulate telecommunications, which will create a significant imbalance between rural areas and urban centres.
     Mr. Charles Tanguay of the Union des consommateurs denounced this travesty, saying that this is a huge Christmas present for Bell, TELUS and the other telecommunications companies, but in the end, it will be the consumers who are left to foot the bill.
    Does the minister not realize that, while trying to play Santa Claus, he is in fact acting more like the Grinch?
    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to explain to my hon. colleague what happened yesterday.
    The government made a proposal yesterday that would allow all Canadians to benefit from competitive telephone services. It is not right that Canadians cannot benefit from competitive prices in 2006, and the reform we are currently proposing to Parliament is a pro-consumer reform.
    We believe that consumers will benefit from increased competition, with no negative effect on the industry in Canada's remote areas.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, let me tell the minister what happened in the United States when it had the same deregulation. Consumers not only paid higher prices for their telephone services, but they also have less service and less innovation.
    This scheme that the minister now has announced, without any notice to anybody, cuts the CRTC from setting phone rates, eliminates competition and consumer choice, and forces rural Canadians to finance temporary discounts in urban centres. If the Minister of Industry wants to play Santa Claus to the big telcos, he should do it on his own dime and not out of the pockets of consumers in rural Canada or elsewhere.
    Will the minister admit that he is giving consumers coal in their stockings and a huge Christmas bonus to the telcos with a big--
    The hon. Minister of Industry.
    Mr. Speaker, I am again going to say the same thing. It is very clear that what we want to do is give Canadians the freedom of choice. That is most important. We believe that individuals should be able to choose the services they want at the price they want. We will not touch the rural and remote areas in this country.

Federal Accountability Act

    Mr. Speaker, when Canadians voted for change in the way government is accountable to the people, they voted for our Conservative government. When they were voting to end years of Liberal corruption and mismanagement, Canadians voted for our Conservative government. The federal accountability act has often been referred to as the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history and was brought forward by our Conservative government.
    Could the President of the Treasury Board please advise the House on the status of the federal accountability act?
    Mr. Speaker, I know all members, particularly Conservative members, will be thrilled this afternoon when at 5:30 p.m. the toughest anti-corruption bill to ever go through the House becomes the law of the land. We will put an end to the billion dollar boondoggles that characterized the Liberal Party's time in power. We will clean up government. We will do what we said we would do to restore honesty and integrity to the federal government.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, today Le Devoir reported on a controversy that has been raging in the U.S. It is over Lockheed Martin's C-130J, the plane that the Minister of National Defence seems to be determined to buy.
    The Pentagon's inspector general describes the plane as one that cannot perform search and rescue operations, cannot perform night operations, and has difficulties in cold weather. How can it protect our Canadian Arctic?
    Will the minister please explain to the House how this plane fits into his national defence capabilities plan, the plan he still has not finished?
    Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that this aircraft meets the requirements of the military as a medium lift aircraft and meets all the requirements, including weather.
    Mr. Speaker, that is not the opinion of the Pentagon. It is likely that these planes are going to turn out to be lemons, just like the Victoria class submarines.
    The minister has been running a closed shop on procurement. The Minister of Industry met with Boeing last spring in Washington, a closed door meeting, about helicopters. There are only two companies left to build support ships and the truck contract was written so that only one supplier could possibly fulfill it.
    Inside the department, it is unclear who is driving this process. Is it the minister, is it Rick Hillier?

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should take another acting lesson.
    The requirements set for aircraft, trucks and ships are set by the military and go through a competitive process with the defence department, industry department and public works. We have followed all those processes. Whatever the results are, they are done through a fair, competitive and open process.
    Mr. Speaker, the requirements identified by DND for the purchase of tactical aircraft were designed to eliminate all aircraft except the C-130J. This is very much like a contract directed to Lockheed Martin masquerading as a competition at the expense of the taxpayers.
    Given that the competition in defence procurement always favours better equipment at a better price, why was this process manipulated to limit the competition to one particular aircraft?
    Mr. Speaker, I have answered this question four times today, but I will try again. The military set the requirements for this aircraft. After a rigorous process, it discovered that the C-130J met the requirements and it was the only aircraft that met the requirements.
    Mr. Speaker, during the committee of the whole debate, the minister admitted that he was not aware of the price we were about to pay for the C-130J. The government's purchase price of $3.2 billion suggests a price of $188 million per plane. Italy is paying approximately $80 million for the same product.
    Could the minister tell us why his government plans to pay $100 million more per plane? That is a scandalous $1.7 billion for 17 planes.
    Mr. Speaker, I have also answered this question previously. The price per aircraft is $85 million U.S. That is what we are paying. All the other costs involve spare parts, training, project management, et cetera.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I will repeat the question in French.
    Just when the Department of National Defence is about to spend $4.9 billion, without a call for tenders, on planes that even the Pentagon no longer wants, we learn that the Lockheed Martin C-130J has neither civil certification nor the upgrading capabilities to meet the needs of our armed forces. Some experts even say this plane is dangerous and inadequate.
    How can the minister justify spending $188 million per plane, when the White House wanted to end its contract for these aircraft, which cost that administration under $80 million each? Why does he want to pass these lemons on to us?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it might have been better if some of these members coordinated their questions today. They could have asked some other questions in Parliament. The answer is that the military set the requirements and the only aircraft that met the requirements was the C-130J. The military is quite happy with that choice.
    Mr. Speaker, let us try again the chief lobbyist, the defence man.
    Canada is about to buy expensive flying lemons. The minority Conservative government chose to buy, without any real competitive process, Lockheed Martin's C-130Js as a favour to its buddies in Washington. Not only are we about to pay more than double the original price, $188 million instead of $80 million per plane, but the technology in the flying jalopy has been ruled obsolete by the U.K. and unsafe by a U.S. military auditor.
    How does the minister justify spending $3.2 billion for 17 underperforming planes? Why such--
    The right hon. Prime Minister.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    The Speaker: Order, please. The Prime Minister has been recognized to answer the question and everyone will want to hear the answer.
    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence just pointed out the errors in the hon. member's question. We see here once again the Liberals opposing new equipment for our military under all circumstances, just as they did for 13 long years in office when they starved the military. However, it is amazing to what extent they are prepared to go to do it, saying that the White House and the Pentagon should pick Canada's planes. We are going to pick our own planes.

  (1455)  

[Translation]

Science and Technology

    Mr. Speaker, a number of socio-economic and political stakeholders from the Quebec City area, and the Bloc Québécois, have come out in favour of the creation of the Boîte à science, a science and technology exploration centre for promoting science to young people. Although the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse voiced his support for the project during the last election campaign, the Conservatives voted against this project in the Standing Committee on Finance.
    Can the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec clarify the position of his government on this project and tell us whether he intends to support it?
    Mr. Speaker, during the last election campaign, the hon. member did not support the Boîte à science project very strongly and now, all of sudden, she wants to talk about it.
    That said, the agency is currently asking for a $500,000 contribution from us to get going, if you will, on their feasibility studies for this $30 million project.
    One thing will be clear: if we go ahead with the study, if the Boîte à science is built following a decision in the future, it will have to be viable and not continually subsidized by Canada Economic Development year after year.
    Mr. Speaker, if the Boîte à science project has support from the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse, can the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec tell us why the Bloc Québécois did not receive support from the Conservatives in the Standing Committee on Finance to ensure the development, when we know that the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa has received over $55 million over the past two years?
    Mr. Speaker, this matter is part of the program of my department, Canada Economic Development. Again, we are currently being asked for $500,000, with Quebec and other private partners. If we move forward, this means another $30 million later and there is talk of operating costs to the tune of $7 million annually. Hon. members will understand that before spending a future $30 million, we have to make sure the project is viable.

Agriculture and Agri-Food

    Mr. Speaker, the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles is against this government's decision to take no extraordinary measures to help Saint-Amable producers. They are struggling with an infestation of golden nematodes that prompted the United States to place an embargo on the harvest, thus depriving the producers of income.
    Why is this government condemning producers to watch their crops rot in quarantine warehouses and assume millions of dollars in losses by themselves?
    Mr. Speaker, that is not true. The federal government proposed a disaster relief plan for Saint-Amable. In addition to the $3.4 million CFIP, there is another special program that is giving families in Saint-Amable $2 million. We will continue to work with the farmers of Saint-Amable. The federal government fully supports farmers.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, areas of farmland across Canada have suffered severe drought conditions this past year, including areas of my own riding of Peace River. Farmers are at their wits' end and have been forced to sell off their cattle because they are unable to feed them through this winter. They will be facing additional expenses when they have to buy replacement cattle this spring.
     This situation requires that the government take action. Can the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food tell the House what the government is planning to do to help these farmers get back on their feet?
     Mr. Speaker, our new government is acutely aware of the drought situation in certain parts of Canada and the difficulty these farmers are going through.
    That is why today I am pleased to announce a tax deferral for producers in affected areas who have had to sell their cattle due to drought. The money they save from the tax deferral this year will greatly assist them as they have to restock their herds in the spring.
    This is good news for farmers. It is part of our government's ongoing commitment to farmers. Farmers come first in this caucus.

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday's Globe and Mail carried a picture of the Prime Minister shaking hands with Afghan warlord Mullah Naqib, a man who admits using his influence to free a leading suspect in the masterminding of the suicide bombing that killed Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry and injured three of our soldiers.
    Can the Prime Minister explain Canada's relationship with Mullah Naqib and why he saw fit to meet with him?

  (1500)  

    Very briefly, Mr. Speaker, I met Mullah Naqib when I visited the Canadian provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar, where he met me as part of a delegation of Canadian and Afghan officials. He was introduced to me as an individual who had been involved in the insurgency and was now working on our side.
     I would point out that if the hon. member reads the rest of the story carefully, she will see that much of the allegations in there are speculative.
    Mr. Speaker, this situation gets worse. Not only did the Prime Minister stage a photo op with this shadowy warlord, he rolled out the welcome mat for Naqib to visit Canada.
    Is offering hospitality and a handshake to the warlord credited with subverting the police investigation into these tragic Canadian deaths the Prime Minister's concept of justice for the families of diplomat Glyn Berry and three of our soldiers wounded in action? Or, given Mullah Naqib's close association with the Taliban leadership, is this the Prime Minister's notion of dialogue with combatants? Which is it?
    Once again, Mr. Speaker, I was introduced to Mullah Naqib, and in fact at the Glyn Berry room, at the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar. He was introduced to me as an individual who was assisting Canadian and Afghan government officials.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the Prime Minister sees the charter as an impediment to his goal, which he made public in writing last July, of undermining native based fisheries. The Prime Minister has stood by in silence while the member for Delta—Richmond East campaigns aggressively against new treaties that give first nations access to the Fraser River fishery. At the same time, he slams the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for negotiating the deals.
    My question is straightforward. Who does the Prime Minister stand behind, the member of Parliament who refuses to recognize these constitutional rights, or his minister who wants to uphold them? Which is it?
    Mr. Speaker, the three treaties that have been signed in British Columbia speak for themselves.
    Certainly there are people who have many different points of view with respect to these treaties, including the member who has been referenced. I would point out that he and I have had a respectful dialogue about this subject. This is a free country. Everyone is entitled to their point of view. In our caucus, we have an opportunity for people to speak up, unlike the party opposite.

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, like many Canadians, I am alarmed by the Iranian government's decision to hold a conference questioning the historical accuracy of the Holocaust.
    Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs tell the House how the government will respond to this decision and, in particular, if the government will publicly condemn this outrageous exercise?
    Mr. Speaker, as my friend has referenced, this conference was in fact an outrage. It was an insult to Holocaust victims. It was an insult to their descendants.
     Canada's new government and I am sure many others in this House and around the globe condemn this conference, just as we have previously condemned the Iranian president's comments about the Holocaust as hateful.
    Canada would never take part in such a sham of a conference. However, we would highlight the work of the task force for international cooperation on Holocaust education, remembrance, and research. Canada participated there as a special guest in Hungary last week. We commend this ongoing work that actually serves humanity while this despicable, provocative conference is taking place in Tehran.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency

    Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Labour. Last year more than 85,000 Canadians went bankrupt, yet the government is introducing legislation that is about to make it easier for creditors to seize the retirement savings of bankrupt Canadians. Will the minister please tell Canadians exactly why the government is about to put their savings more at risk?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the member is referring to Bill C-55, which enables employees to collect lost wages in case of bankruptcy. The House unanimously supported this bill under the previous government. That is why there is now a notice of ways and means with respect to the bill.
    If this House wishes to move forward this afternoon or later, tomorrow, we could pass it on first, second and third reading, then refer it to the Senate for thorough study.

  (1505)  

[English]

Presence in Gallery

    I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of Mr. John Steffler, the new Poet Laureate of Parliament.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Committees of the House

Citizenship and Immigration  

    The House resumed from December 11 consideration of the motion.
    It being 3:05 p.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, December 11, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in the name of the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
    Call in the members.

  (1515)  

[Translation]

    (The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
 

(Division No. 95)

YEAS

Members

Alghabra
André
Angus
Asselin
Atamanenko
Bagnell
Bains
Barbot
Beaumier
Bell (Vancouver Island North)
Bell (North Vancouver)
Bellavance
Bennett
Bevilacqua
Bevington
Bigras
Black
Blais
Bonin
Bonsant
Boshcoff
Bouchard
Bourgeois
Brison
Brown (Oakville)
Brunelle
Byrne
Cardin
Carrier
Chan
Charlton
Chow
Christopherson
Coderre
Comartin
Comuzzi
Cotler
Crête
Crowder
Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley)
Cullen (Etobicoke North)
Cuzner
D'Amours
Davies
DeBellefeuille
Demers
Deschamps
Dewar
Dhaliwal
Dhalla
Dion
Dosanjh
Dryden
Easter
Eyking
Faille
Folco
Freeman
Fry
Gagnon
Gauthier
Godfrey
Godin
Goodale
Graham
Gravel
Guarnieri
Guay
Guimond
Holland
Hubbard
Julian
Kadis
Karetak-Lindell
Karygiannis
Keeper
Khan
Kotto
Laforest
Laframboise
Lapierre
Lavallée
Layton
LeBlanc
Lee
Lemay
Lessard
Lévesque
Lussier
MacAulay
Malhi
Malo
Maloney
Marleau
Marston
Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca)
Martin (Winnipeg Centre)
Martin (Sault Ste. Marie)
Masse
Mathyssen
Matthews
McCallum
McDonough
McGuinty
McGuire
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
McTeague
Ménard (Hochelaga)
Ménard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin)
Merasty
Minna
Mourani
Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe)
Murphy (Charlottetown)
Nadeau
Nash
Neville
Ouellet
Pacetti
Paquette
Patry
Pearson
Perron
Peterson
Picard
Plamondon
Priddy
Proulx
Ratansi
Redman
Regan
Robillard
Rodriguez
Rota
Roy
Russell
Savage
Savoie
Scarpaleggia
Sgro
Siksay
Simard
Simms
St-Cyr
St-Hilaire
St. Amand
St. Denis
Steckle
Stoffer
Stronach
Szabo
Telegdi
Temelkovski
Thibault (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques)
Tonks
Turner
Valley
Vincent
Wappel
Wasylycia-Leis
Wilfert
Wilson
Wrzesnewskyj
Zed

Total: -- 164

NAYS

Members

Abbott
Ablonczy
Albrecht
Allen
Allison
Ambrose
Anders
Anderson
Baird
Batters
Benoit
Bernier
Bezan
Blackburn
Blaney
Boucher
Breitkreuz
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Barrie)
Bruinooge
Calkins
Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country)
Cannon (Pontiac)
Carrie
Casey
Casson
Chong
Clement
Davidson
Day
Del Mastro
Devolin
Doyle
Dykstra
Emerson
Epp
Fast
Finley
Fitzpatrick
Flaherty
Fletcher
Galipeau
Gallant
Goldring
Goodyear
Gourde
Grewal
Guergis
Hanger
Harper
Harris
Harvey
Hawn
Hearn
Hiebert
Hill
Hinton
Jaffer
Jean
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lake
Lauzon
Lemieux
Lukiwski
Lunn
Lunney
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Manning
Mark
Mayes
Menzies
Merrifield
Miller
Mills
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Nicholson
Norlock
O'Connor
Obhrai
Oda
Paradis
Petit
Poilievre
Prentice
Preston
Rajotte
Reid
Richardson
Ritz
Scheer
Schellenberger
Shipley
Skelton
Smith
Solberg
Sorenson
Stanton
Storseth
Strahl
Sweet
Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest)
Thompson (Wild Rose)
Tilson
Toews
Trost
Tweed
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Vellacott
Verner
Wallace
Warawa
Warkentin
Watson
Williams
Yelich

Total: -- 122

PAIRED

Members

Cummins
Duceppe
Lalonde
Pallister

Total: -- 4

    I declare the motion carried.

Agriculture and Agri-Food  

    The House resumed consideration of the motion.
    The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion for concurrence in the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

  (1525)  

    (The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
 

(Division No. 96)

YEAS

Members

Alghabra
André
Angus
Asselin
Atamanenko
Bagnell
Bains
Barbot
Beaumier
Bell (Vancouver Island North)
Bell (North Vancouver)
Bellavance
Bennett
Bevilacqua
Bevington
Bigras
Black
Blais
Bonin
Bonsant
Boshcoff
Bouchard
Bourgeois
Brison
Brown (Oakville)
Brunelle
Byrne
Cardin
Carrier
Chan
Charlton
Chow
Christopherson
Coderre
Comartin
Comuzzi
Cotler
Crête
Crowder
Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley)
Cullen (Etobicoke North)
Cuzner
D'Amours
Davies
DeBellefeuille
Demers
Deschamps
Dewar
Dhaliwal
Dhalla
Dion
Dosanjh
Dryden
Easter
Eyking
Faille
Folco
Freeman
Fry
Gagnon
Gauthier
Godfrey
Godin
Goodale
Graham
Gravel
Guarnieri
Guay
Guimond
Holland
Hubbard
Julian
Kadis
Karetak-Lindell
Karygiannis
Keeper
Khan
Kotto
Laforest
Laframboise
Lapierre
Lavallée
Layton
LeBlanc
Lee
Lemay
Lessard
Lévesque
Lussier
MacAulay
Malhi
Malo
Maloney
Mark
Marleau
Marston
Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca)
Martin (Winnipeg Centre)
Martin (Sault Ste. Marie)
Masse
Mathyssen
Matthews
McCallum
McDonough
McGuinty
McGuire
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
McTeague
Ménard (Hochelaga)
Ménard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin)
Merasty
Minna
Mourani
Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe)
Murphy (Charlottetown)
Nadeau
Nash
Neville
Ouellet
Pacetti
Paquette
Patry
Pearson
Perron
Peterson
Picard
Plamondon
Priddy
Proulx
Ratansi
Redman
Regan
Robillard
Rodriguez
Rota
Roy
Russell
Savage
Savoie
Scarpaleggia
Sgro
Siksay
Simard
Simms
St-Cyr
St-Hilaire
St. Amand
St. Denis
Steckle
Stoffer
Stronach
Szabo
Telegdi
Temelkovski
Thibault (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques)
Tonks
Turner
Valley
Vincent
Wappel
Wasylycia-Leis
Wilfert
Wilson
Wrzesnewskyj
Zed

Total: -- 165

NAYS

Members

Abbott
Ablonczy
Albrecht
Allen
Allison
Ambrose
Anders
Anderson
Baird
Batters
Benoit
Bernier
Bezan
Blackburn
Blaney
Boucher
Breitkreuz
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Barrie)
Bruinooge
Calkins
Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country)
Cannon (Pontiac)
Carrie
Casey
Casson
Chong
Clement
Davidson
Day
Del Mastro
Devolin
Doyle
Dykstra
Emerson
Epp
Fast
Finley
Fitzpatrick
Flaherty
Fletcher
Galipeau
Gallant
Goldring
Goodyear
Gourde
Grewal
Guergis
Hanger
Harper
Harris
Harvey
Hawn
Hearn
Hiebert
Hill
Hinton
Jaffer
Jean
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lake
Lauzon
Lemieux
Lukiwski
Lunn
Lunney
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Manning
Mayes
Menzies
Merrifield
Miller
Mills
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Nicholson
Norlock
O'Connor
Obhrai
Oda
Paradis
Petit
Poilievre
Prentice
Preston
Rajotte
Reid
Richardson
Ritz
Scheer
Schellenberger
Shipley
Skelton
Smith
Solberg
Sorenson
Stanton
Storseth
Strahl
Sweet
Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest)
Thompson (Wild Rose)
Tilson
Toews
Trost
Tweed
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Vellacott
Verner
Wallace
Warawa
Warkentin
Watson
Williams
Yelich

Total: -- 121

PAIRED

Members

Cummins
Duceppe
Lalonde
Pallister

Total: -- 4

    I declare the motion carried.

[English]

    I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded divisions, government orders will be extended by 24 minutes.

  (1530)  

Royal Assent

[Royal Assent]
     Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
Government House
Ottawa
December 12, 2006
Mr. Speaker:
    I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, will proceed to the Senate chamber today, the 12th day of December, 2006, at 5:15 p.m., for the purpose of giving royal assent to certain bills of law.
    Yours sincerely,
Sheila-Marie Cook,
Secretary to the Governor General

Message from the Senate

     I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed a bill, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Prebudget Consultations

    The House resumed consideration of the motion.
    Before question period, the hon. member for Markham--Unionville had the floor and he will now be recognized so he may resume his remarks.
    Mr. Speaker, as I said before question period, I had three themes concerning the government's fiscal and economic policy and the first one, which I have already completed, concerned its meanspirited nature.
    The second theme, which I will mention now, concerns what could be characterized as a deceptive, gimmicky or perhaps sometimes bordering on dishonest approach to economic and fiscal matters.
    We all know in this House, for example, that the government raised the income tax at the lowest rate for Canadians, even though for some reason it persists in characterizing that as an income tax cut. We all know that it blatantly broke its promise not to tax income trusts, resulting in a $30 billion meltdown of the hard-earned savings of Canadians.
    Let me turn now to the fiscal update. My text for the more recent cases of gimmicky behaviour comes from an article that appeared in the press only today by one John Williamson, president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Mr. Williamson, generally speaking, is no great friend of Liberals, at least when we were in government. He tends to be on the small “c” conservative side. His article characterizes the gimmicky approach by the government quite well. The article is entitled “Canada's Minister of Gimmick”. If anyone has a doubt, the minister of gimmicks is the Minister of Finance.
    Mr. Williamson gives three examples of why the Minister of Finance is the minister of gimmicks: first, gimmicky behaviour on net debt; second, gimmicky behaviour on the so-called automatic income tax reductions; and third, deceptive behaviour on control over government spending.
    On the net debt issue, as I said to the finance minister in committee, if we have a debt of $480 billion and we pay down $3 billion a year, one does not have to be Sir Isaac Newton to figure out that it will take 160 years to pay down that debt. By throwing out some arcane statistic, the minister seeks to deceive the Canadian public into thinking that he is doing more than he really is. John Williamson refers to this as “phantom debt relief” and “a political gimmick”.
    In the second case mentioned by Mr. Williamson:
    The proposal to pay off $3-billion in debt each year will save taxpayers approximately 10 bucks annually -- a trivial amount.
    Again we have a gimmick. Much is made of this automatic reduction in income tax as the debt is paid down. I am not saying that is a bad thing but, as John Williamson, president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, points out, it amounts to 10 bucks a year, a trivial amount and not all that the finance minister would trumpet it to be.
    The third and final point mentioned in this article, and I quote Mr. Williamson here again, is that the policy “to keep spending under control” is “a policy already in tatters”. He goes on to say:
    But the ink on the update wasn't even dry and the Conservatives already betrayed the commitment to keep spending "below the growth of nominal GDP”.
    This is supposed to be the low spending, frugal government but what did it say in its first fiscal update? it projected an expenditure increase of 7.1% in 2006-07. That is a rate significantly and substantially in excess of the growth rate of nominal GDP, thereby breaking this other promise about keeping government spending growing at a slower rate than the economy.
    In addition to the meanspiritedness, I would emphasize the gimmicks or the lack of honesty, whether we are talking about an income tax rate that is in fact going up and the government says that it is going down, the huge broken promise on income trusts, or this gimmicky behaviour that tries to deceive Canadians on the subject of net debt income tax and the control of government debt.

  (1535)  

    Having dealt with meanspiritedness and deceptiveness, my third theme would be the lack of productivity. On this point I would suggest that the government talks a good game on productivity, prosperity and competitiveness, all those good words, but its actions do not correspond with its words. I will give two primary examples of that point.
    First, if a government really cared about Canada's productivity and competitiveness, the last thing in the world it would ever do is cut the GST. Yes, put money in the pockets of Canadians, but do it in a way that enhances productivity, prosperity, investment and savings, not through reducing consumption taxes. I do not think there is an economist on the planet, with the exception of the Prime Minister, who would disagree with this statement.
    It is not a trivial sum of money. It would cost $12 billion a year if the government were to cut two points off the GST and $60 billion over five years. That is a huge chunk of the government's margin for manoeuvre over the last five years. All of that $60 billion over five years would be committed to something that does absolutely nothing for Canada's productivity and competitiveness. The money could still have been put into people's pockets through income tax or other measures that would have increased people's spending power and, at the same time, enhance the productivity and prosperity of the nation.
    The second reason why the government's words ring hollow is that not only has it given the worst possible tax cut from the standpoint of productivity, but it has cut all the previous government's investments in those things that really matter for productivity and competitiveness, things like innovation, research and education. The $7.4 billion in cuts, which the government chose not to identify, were mentioned in question period today. The government clearly has cut in areas of maximum impact for the productivity, prosperity and competitiveness of the nation, things such as access to post-secondary education, research and innovation, all of which are keys to Canada's future prosperity.
    The Conservatives are totally out to lunch on the productivity and longer term prosperity of our country, both on the tax side where they chose to make the consumption tax cut the least conducive to productivity of any possible tax cut, and on the investment side where they slashed critical investments in post-secondary education and innovation.
    All in all, I am sad to say that the government receives a high grade on meanspiritedness, deceptive behaviour and on the lack of clear focus on the productivity and growth of our country. I am pleased that these points were made very well by the hundreds of Canadians we heard from across the country in the business of the finance committee. Once again, I thank all of those Canadians for taking the time to visit us.
    I am also pleased that we on the opposition side of the House were able to work together to overcome, at least in part, the meanspiritedness, the deception and the lack of productivity of the government. We, as the majority in the House of Commons, were able to come together on many motions involving the GST, investments in post-secondary education and innovation, as well as reinstating the meanspirited cuts that the government has imposed on Canadians.

  (1540)  

    Mr. Speaker, I read a quote this week stating that what politics has become is both sides trying to demonstrate that the other is unfit to govern. I thought of this when I listened to the member's speech because the measures that the government has taken in the plan it has put forward in Advantage Canada are common sense. It has been widely recognized as being a very sound budget for Canada. It has been given high marks and yet we see the Liberal Party opposite doing nothing but mischaracterizing it and using negative buzzwords to describe it.
    I wonder if the member could tell the House if there is anything in the budget and in the government's plan that he approves of and thinks would be good for Canada. It would be good to have a little balance from the opposite side.
    Mr. Speaker, usually I am quicker off my feet, but that is a really difficult question. Can I think of anything at all in those hundreds of words and thousands of pages that I think is good for the country? It beats me.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech with great interest. I found it quite remarkable that he came away from the same hearings that I did with a very different take. I speak of the Retail Council of Canada that specifically remarked that the GST cut was responsible for the single largest increase in real disposable income in 15 years. My goodness, how could he come away from that and think that this was not good for Canada?
     I find it remarkable that he speaks of being meanspirited, yet he is from the government that cut $26 billion from health care and education and now wants to pretend it did not happen. That was meanspirited.
    I find it absolutely remarkable that following the Liberals' shameful record of spending increases of 14.4% in 2004-05 he would stand before this House and suggest that we are being irresponsible in spending.
    Perhaps the member might want to talk about why his government campaigned in 1993 to axe the GST entirely and now thinks that by cutting it by one percentage point we are somehow working against productivity. I would love to hear that explanation.
    Mr. Speaker, actually the hon. member reminds me of an important development that I had forgotten to mention when he talked about the GST. It is not terribly surprising that retailers like a low GST, is it. They are retailers after all. But every economist who we heard, the IMF, the OECD, all of the experts agree that the GST cut does nothing for productivity.
    The hon. member and his colleagues may remember that when we were in several cities in the country, St. John's, Vancouver and others, I did an informal poll of our witnesses. I asked the question of all of our witnesses, “Do you agree with the government that it is a good idea to proceed with the cut in GST from 6% to 5%, or can you think of other things you would rather do with this money?”
    I remember the witnesses in both Vancouver and St. John's were particularly perceptive because to a man, to a woman, they voted unanimously that the GST cut was a bad idea, that there were far better uses for the money. In the other places, I do not remember a single person defending the GST cut, but there were others who, not wishing to go against the government , were agnostic on the subject. Certainly on both coasts there was unanimous condemnation of the second cut to the GST, as compared with far more productive uses to which that money could be put.

  (1545)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask a question of my colleague who sat on the finance committee with me. During his presentation he talked about honesty, which I thought was very interesting.
    My question is very simple. I looked at what the Liberals have added in terms of their supplementary submission. We agree on a number of the 45 or so things that are in there in terms of recommendations that we had supplementary, but honestly, I do not think you were planning on supporting this budget no matter what recommendations were coming from here. Based on what you said in your speech, you are opposed, period.
    If the finance minister takes on some of the Liberal dissenting opinion, how many of those before you support the next Conservative budget, or were you ever going to support a Conservative--
    Order. The hon. member for Burlington knows he has to address his remarks to the Chair and not to the hon. member for Markham—Unionville, who now has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, I guess it is a fair statement that the more of those wise Liberal recommendations the government chooses to accept, the less likely it is that we would vote against the budget
    This is a very long, steep hill that the government has to climb, because having pointed out that the budget and the subsequent fiscal update are not only meanspirited, not only deceptive, they are actually counter to the need for Canadian economic growth and prosperity, productivity and competitiveness. It would take a really radical change in his whole philosophy, I think, for the finance minister to produce a budget that would likely be acceptable to our side, but I can say in all honesty that the more he goes along with the Liberal recommendations, the more likely it is that we might support the budget.
    Mr. Speaker, the member may be able to assist the House in understanding what latitude the government has in terms of making changes which affect the fiscal position of the nation.
     For instance, allowing pension income splitting will, as the member knows, benefit only high income earning seniors who make over $35,600 a year. It provides no benefit to those who make less or have no partner. All of a sudden we are changing the balance in terms of the progressive nature of the income tax system by making major adjustments without even going through the budget process.
    I wonder if the member could advise Canadians how dangerous it is to make significant decisions outside the purview of the budget process.
    Mr. Speaker, that is a perceptive comment by my hon. colleague.
     One gets the impression that the government does tend to make policy on the fly, and I do not think it is limited to economic policy. My colleague raised a very good example. It seems the Prime Minister likes to make his policy literally on the fly, that is, when talking to reporters in airplanes. One thinks of his rather amateur approach on China where he ignored all professional advice, or his rather startling statements on the Middle East over the course of the summer.
     It seems to me that my hon. colleague has chosen a very good example in the financial domain but one could look in many, many other areas and would find a somewhat amateurish policy on the fly that has become a typical characteristic of the government in many different areas.

  (1550)  

    Mr. Speaker, during a meeting on the budget process there was a discussion on what was happening with the GST cut in the tourism area. The hon. member was the minister of revenue a number of years ago. The question was asked, when did the department know about the problems with that program. Sure enough, the member admitted that he was the minister of revenue at the time when he knew about it.
    When he was minister why did he not inform those directly affected that there was a problem with that program and make a move to fix it or get rid of it?
    Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to talk to the member afterward but I am at a loss to understand his point.
    It is true when I was minister of national revenue as I recall the department proposed that we abandon the program that would provide a GST rebate to foreign visitors and I said no at the time. I only wish the government had been as wise because we heard from all of these witnesses from the tourism industry about the high economic cost that the government decision had imposed on it, an industry suffering from many other problems, such as the high value of the dollar.
    I was very pleased to maintain that program because it was effective and it was working. It was instrumental in bringing package groups for conventions and things of that nature. We heard that from many witnesses from the tourism industry, so I am not quite sure what the member is talking about.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I believe the debate we are having is extremely important. The indications we must give to the Minister of Finance and to the government as far as the next budget is concerned are particularly important in a minority government situation. For the Liberals and the New Democrats there are a certain number of things that are essential. The same is true for the Bloc Québécois.
    I want to first point out that we were extremely disappointed by the general direction of the report submitted by the Standing Committee on Finance. We certainly agree with some of the recommendations. However, in our opinion, others could have been better worded. And there are others still with which we completely disagree.
    Two things are particularly disappointing. The first is the lack of willingness by the members of the Standing Committee on Finance, from all parties, to respect the constitutional jurisdictions of the provinces and the Canadian Constitution. That has always struck me ever since I arrived here in 2000. It would seem that the only people who have read Canada's Constitution are the members of the Bloc Québécois. The only people who want to respect the jurisdictions under the Canadian Constitution, are the members of the Bloc Québécois. I think we are the last representatives of this agreement reached in 1867 between two nations around the creation of Confederation. Apparently, across Canada and in the other political parties, there is no willingness to respect the constitutional jurisdictions of the provinces.
    Over the years—particularly since the second world war—the government has taken a series of initiatives that interfere in these jurisdictions. It has used a taxation power it claimed during the two world wars. It has also refused to give back the part of the tax base it should return to the provinces to allow them to assume their responsibilities preferring to implement transfer programs for health, post-secondary education and social programs and a certain number of other programs affecting areas that clearly come under the jurisdiction of the provinces and Quebec.
    The members of the committee thus ignored the Bloc's and Quebec's desire for respect for the province's jurisdictions. This was the Bloc's first major disappointment with the committee report.
    The second great disappointment was the blatant refusal to recommend to the Minister of Finance, to the Prime Minister and to the government any specific measure to resolve the fiscal imbalance. It remains a matter of some importance for the Conservatives. I remind them once again, as I have in committee, that on December 19, in Quebec City—almost a year ago, now—the Prime Minister made a commitment during the election campaign to resolve the fiscal imbalance. It is already a step in the right direction to acknowledge it. The federal Liberals have a hard time doing so. It seems that a resolution was passed in this regard at their convention. However, at the end of the convention, their new leader contended still that the fiscal imbalance was a myth.
    It is a good thing to recognize the fiscal imbalance, but it is a better thing to propose solutions to resolving it than to simply just acknowledge its existence. The members of the committee, with the exception of the Bloc members, refused to propose avenues for a solution to the Minister of Finance. I point out, and cannot say so enough before the budget is tabled, that our support for the budget is conditional upon a resolution of the fiscal imbalance.
    As I have said and will say again, we do not expect everything to be resolved in the next budget. We do, however, expect that the people of Quebec will at least know whether the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have honoured the promise made last December 19, reiterated in the throne speech and reaffirmed in the most recent budget. Next February or March probably, when the next budget is tabled, we will know the solutions proposed by the Conservative government. Once again, we are not expecting a solution to be put in place immediately, but we expect to at least know the scope of the corrective action needed to resolve the fiscal imbalance.

  (1555)  

    We have made known our estimates, which come to approximately $12 billion for the provinces overall and $3.9 billion for Quebec specifically. We want to know how large a correction the government is going to make.
    As well, a schedule for making this correction needs to be agreed on. We have proposed that, within three years, the government correct the fiscal imbalance to the tune of $12 billion for the provinces overall and $3.9 billion for Quebec. This would restore Canada's fiscal balance.
    We also want to know the government's timetable and the measures it will take to correct the fiscal imbalance and inject the equivalent of $12 billion into the transfers to the provinces and Quebec.
    We have made proposals. My colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber and I presented these solutions in committee. Unfortunately, they were rejected. Sometimes, it was strange, disturbing and distressing to see the committee reject, for example, solutions pertaining to transfers for social programs and post-secondary education, proposals that meet with approval across Canada from rectors of universities, professors' associations and unions and students' associations. The same figures came up in Halifax, in western Canada, in Toronto and in Quebec CIty.
    We are the only ones who made this proposal, and all the other parties except the NDP voted against this recommendation, which represents part of the solution to the fiscal imbalance. It is not the whole solution, but it is part of the solution and it meets with approval across Canada. In this case, the Bloc Québécois was the only party that defended the interests of students, not only in Quebec but across Canada. The Bloc Québécois was the only party that defended the interests of university professors, not only in Quebec but across Canada. The Bloc Québécois was the only party that listened to rectors, not only from Quebec, but from across Canada.
    I am astonished that there is a consensus throughout the university and post-secondary system—including the colleges—and yet it is being ignored. There is a consensus across Canada, including in Quebec, but the representatives of the party in power and the Liberal Party of Canada are not paying any attention to it.
    For these two reasons, we were unable to support the general direction of the report, even though, as I mentioned, it contains some extremely interesting proposals. I will come back to this.
    The first thing that we found especially disappointing was the failure to respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.This was not in just one particular area, or it might have seemed merely inadvertent, that my colleagues forgot how the fathers of Confederation divided the areas of responsibility. One could have believed it was a small oversight or lack of historical and constitutional knowledge. This was not the case, because it occurred in all areas of jurisdiction.
    Consider education. Is there any area of jurisdiction that is more exclusive to the provinces and Quebec than education? The government wanted to establish national standards, to put conditions on the transfer payments.
    The government wants to create transfer payments exclusively for post-secondary education. This limits even further the choices that existed at the time of the Canada social transfer, when the provinces could decide how to balance their spending between health, post-secondary education and social programs.
    We now have transfer payments for health. We therefore do not have a choice. The transfer payment must go towards health. I must say, the needs in that area are enormous.
    That left post-secondary education and social programs. Thus, Quebec or any province could choose the balance that most suited its situation. However, now the government wants to introduce a transfer payment exclusively for post-secondary education and a new transfer for social programs, thus limiting the autonomy of the provinces and Quebec.
    And the government goes even further. Mr. Speaker, if you read the committee's recommendations, consider recommendation number 8, at the end. It reads:
    Once the Canada Post-Secondary Education Transfer has been created, the government should introduce guidelines, principles, responsibilities and accountabilities with respect to post-secondary education.

  (1600)  

    These are jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. They want to establish guidelines and, eventually of course, conditions for transfers of money under the guidelines dictated by the federal government. That is encroaching on the jurisdictions of Quebec and all the provinces and territories. That should result in an outcry from not only all the provincial and territorial governments, but also those in this Chamber who believe that we should respect the Canadian Constitution.
    I will give another example, that of health. As you know, this is not the first time that there has been interference in this area. There is a recommendation dealing with mental health. Unfortunately, I cannot find it right now. What is proposed is the establishment of a Canadian mental health commission. Yet, health— whether mental health or all components of health— is a provincial jurisdiction.
    Once again, these are new programs, new encroachments, new conditions for federal transfers for health. They are pushing the envelope in this area just as they are in education. However, we were able to prevent the establishment of a federal department of education, as provided for in the initial bill.
    Municipalities are also touched on. The Minister of Finance mentions them in the economic statement. He wants to promote private-public partnerships. If Quebec is to have a choice, it is in the implementation of infrastructure programs. In the slate of items previously negotiated, Quebec retained control over its infrastructure programs. However, they wish to promote a formula which does not even seek to have the consensus of the Quebec public. Thus, they are interfering directly in the decisions that should be made by Quebec.
    I have found Recommendation 2 which proposes the creation of a Canadian mental health commission.
    They also propose the establishment of a pan-Canadian securities regulator. Recommendation 37 reads as follows:
    The federal government conclude an agreement with the provincial/territorial governments on a single securities regulator no later than 31 March 2007. The regulator should begin operations no later than 30 June 2007.
    The Constitution clearly states that the area of securities is a jurisdiction of the provinces and of Quebec. Furthermore, in Quebec, as you know, we have the Civil Code. How would a pan-Canadian securities commission be able to deal with this reality specific to Quebec?
    As Bernard Landry said, the securities commission is so important that everyone agreed there should be two of them—one for Quebec and another for the rest of Can