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 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 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”.
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 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?
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--
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 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?"
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 '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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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, 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 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 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 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 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 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 , 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.
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 , 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 , 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for 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 —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 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 , 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.
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 , 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.
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.
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.
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 the hon. member for 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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Thank you very much for allowing me to speak on this very important matter.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
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.
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.
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, 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 wanted to somehow send a message to the 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 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 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.
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 , 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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
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 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 and the 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 , but I did say “almost”. I can see the receiving his mandate letter from the , 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 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 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 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 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.
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 . 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.
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 [the ] 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 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 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.
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--