Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to be here today to speak to the proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act. The government puts a high priority on this legislation because farmers have asked for it and we agree that it is high time that this act was brought into the 21st century.
Commitment to producers is shown in our improvement to the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate. In the past, because it includes the phrase “in the interests of grain producers”, it has from time to time resulted in differing interpretations of what that means. Based on the recommendations from both the COMPAS group and the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate will be split into two parts.
Part one will set out the CGC's core mandate to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and to regulate grain handling. Part one is undertaken in the interest of all Canadians, but in the interests of producers we felt that we needed to make sure they were specifically recognized. Therefore, part two will establish that the Canadian Grain Commission shall specifically protect producers' interests with respect to a few things.
The first is with respect to deliveries to elevators and grain dealers, the second is with respect to access to binding CGC determination of grades and dockage, and the third is the allocation of producer cars. We have made changes and improvements to the mandate in order to address the concerns we have heard from the industry across Canada.
The Canadian grain sector stands out as a success story among the considerable accomplishments of Canadian agriculture over the last 100 years. Due to the tremendous work of our producers, Canadian wheat, barley and other grains are known by our customers all over the world for their unequalled consistency, cleanliness and quality.
On a yearly basis, farmers earn about $10 billion from grain production in this country. That money helps to keep the economy of Canada running, both urban and rural. It sustains employment through the grain production chain, from farm input suppliers to elevators, to people who transport the grain and to processors. These dollars support our rural communities, which contribute so much to Canada's economy.
To put it in more concrete terms, it is Canadian grain growers who sustain our health and well-being. They are the people who put bread every day on our tables.
This government has taken concrete action in support of the vital agricultural sector in our economy. The minister has always talked about putting farmers first, and he has done that.
Almost three years ago, one of our first acts as a new government was in the interest of grain producers. We accelerated the grains and oilseeds payment program. It was my privilege and pleasure at that time to work with the opposition parties in the House to get that bill through. We worked on it with all the other parties and were able to get quick passage of that bill and those changes.
We are investing more than $2 billion in the development of biofuels to open up new markets for our grain and oilseed producers, to create new jobs for our rural communities and to create a better environment for Canadians. We have given producers a chance to participate in those programs. These dollars have helped with the planning of new biofuel projects across Canada and will help build biofuel and biodiesel plants.
We have improved cash advance programming by doubling the interest-free portion for producers. We are helping the transfer of family farms to young farmers by boosting the capital gains exemption. At the WTO agriculture negotiations, we remain committed to pursuing an outcome that benefits Canada's entire agriculture sector.
Many of us are working to open up our grain marketing structures in order to provide choice for producers. New marketing opportunities will help Canada get through the current economic uncertainty and come out stronger than ever.
As well, we need to move forward on stable, bankable programs. These programs will also help farmers weather the storm and continue to drive the Canadian economy. That is what the goal of the Growing Forward framework is all about: making Canadian agriculture more stable in the present, and then building a strong agricultural sector for the future.
We are working with the provinces and territories to finalize the suite of non-business risk management programs that will be offered in each province. Our goal is to implement those programs before April 1, and we are making good progress on that front.
In terms of business risk management programs, we find them to be a key part of Growing Forward. In the budget delivered in January, we took steps to ensure that Canada and its agricultural industry emerge stronger than ever from the current economic crisis.
I would like to talk about a couple of the things that were in that budget. We announced a $500-million agricultural flexibility plan aimed at helping farmers with regional market challenges and opportunities. These funds will help farmers cope with the cost-of-production pressures, promote innovation, and ensure environmental sustainability.
We also set $50 million aside to strengthen our slaughter and meat processing capacity. That is to aid slaughter plants other than the big ones that we see in the country.
We set $1 billion aside for a community adjustment fund aimed at helping rural communities adopt and adapt to economic challenges.
I would like to talk a little about Bill , the bill that is before us today, and about our commitment to grain producers. The amendments that the government is proposing to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission are evidence of our commitment to grain producers. I already mentioned the mandate that specifically speaks to the interests of grain producers. Canada's quality assurance system for grain provides a key competitive advantage for our farmers. The amendments that we are proposing will build on that advantage.
When our global customers choose Canadian grain for processing, they count on consistent quality and cleanliness with every delivery. The world-class reputation that our Canadian grains enjoy around the globe has been earned.
First and foremost it has been earned through the hard work of our farmers. Grain handling companies, research scientists, and the Canadian Grain Commission have certainly played a role in building that golden reputation. Our edge in the marketplace is all about quality. Much of the responsibility for quality resides with the Canadian Grain Commission and the quality assurance system that it administers under the Canada Grain Act. That is why this act and the changes that we are making to it are so important.
The grain industry is changing, and the legislative tools required to keep the industry competitive need to change along with it. The Canada Grain Act has not been amended substantially in almost 40 years, so it is time now for us to take a look at that act and make the changes that are relevant to farmers across the country.
The marketplace has evolved. We all understand that. We have a major new customer for grains in the form of the biofuels industry, which has been supported by initiatives put in place by this government.
We have quality management systems that allow amounts of grain with specific qualities wanted by buyers to be kept separate throughout the handling system. That is a huge change from the system that we have had in the past, which has been just a huge bulk handling system. We have new initiatives in place for farmers who want to be able to deliver smaller amounts of grain with specific qualities to their customers.
We have niche marketing. We have processing that is going on in grains across Canada. We also have a broader range of crops in Canada that we need to consider.
In the mid-1990s the reform of the Western Grain Transportation Act triggered a wholesale diversification in western Canada as producers opted to market their grain through livestock or switch to other crops such as oilseed, pulse crops or horticultural crops. In my area, it meant a substantive change; we had probably 80% or 90% grain growing, and now I think we are probably below 50%. Across the prairies, about one-third of the crop land is now growing wheat, and two-thirds are other crops, which we were not growing 20 years ago.
Still we need an act that is relevant to the present and to the future, so I would like to speak to the specific amendments that we are proposing for the Canada Grain Act. These amendments are to help keep our producers competitive by improving the regulatory environment for Canada's grain sector.
The proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission will help the grain sector meet the challenges of a more competitive and market-oriented sector for the 21st century. By removing unnecessary mandatory costs from the grain handling system, the bill works to build a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector for our producers.
We are modernizing the regulatory environment. As all costs in the system eventually work their way to farmers, this will result in a less costly system for farmers.
The amendments that we made just did not come out of thin air. They reflect the direction of both the COMPAS report and the good work that was done by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Both reports reflect extensive consultations that were held with the sector in preparing them. The fact is that this package is built on many of those recommendations, and particularly on the standing committee recommendations. In short, these amendments speak to the will and to the needs of the Canadian grain industry.
I would like to speak specifically about three or four of the changes that we are suggesting.
First, we are suggesting that inward inspection and weighing of grains no longer be mandatory in western Canada. There is no reason to require something that is not necessary, particularly when the cost comes out of the bottom line of farmers and the grain industry.
Currently when farmers deliver gain to the elevator it is graded, the grade is agreed to by the farmers, and then they unload their grain. This will not change. However, currently the Grain Commission is also required to inspect and weight each railcar or truck lot of western grain that is handled by licensed terminal elevators.
The industry has been calling for change in this area for some years now, because mandatory inspections impose costs and are not essential to ensure grain quality. Bill moves to make inward inspection and weighing no longer mandatory. Instead, shippers of grain will be able to request an inspection at their discretion when they feel that the benefit justifies the cost. Elevators will also be required to allow access to private inspectors when an inspection is requested, and that is a crucial availability that farmers need to maintain.
The Canadian Grain Commission would also be authorized to provide grade arbitration if the parties to a transaction request it. This means that if there is a dispute about a grade, the Canadian Grain Commission would be able to impartially determine the grade.
I want to be clear. This does not mean that grain would go through the system without inspection. Outward inspection would still be required when grain is loaded onto vessels for export, and export vessel shipments would continue to require certification by the CGC, based on inspection and weighing by CGC personnel.
With the bill in place, our customers will be assured that they can continue to have confidence in Canada's grain quality assurance system.
To summarize, the Canadian Grain Commission would continue to regulate the grain handling system for the benefit of producers. It would continue to license grain handlers and dealers. It would continue to require them to have proper grading and weighing equipment and to properly document their purchases. It would also require them to continue to ensure that producers have access to grade arbitration by the Canadian Grain Commission.
The bill would actually enhance farmers' protection by extending Canadian Grain Commission grade and dockage arbitration to farmers delivering to process elevators and grain dealers. Currently, if a producer disagrees with the grade or dockage received for a grain delivery at a licensed elevator, he can ask the CGC to determine the grade and dockage and make a binding decision, but he does not have that same opportunity with regard to other facilities or to grain dealers. The bill proposes to extend this service to deliveries to all licensed grain handlers, including process elevators and grain dealers. Farmers have never had this protection before.
Second, the bill proposes that the Grain Commission would get out of the business of collecting and holding security deposits from licensed elevators and grain dealers under the producer payment security program. The present program has a cost: it ties up working capital that then has no return. The ultimate bill lands in the farmer's mailbox.
The present system has holes in it. We all know that there are some notable failures in which producers found out the security systems do not guarantee that they would be paid. These amendments mean that the field would be open for farmers and farm organizations to develop alternative approaches to producer payment security. In fact, the government has been assisting farm organizations in their efforts to find the appropriate alternative mechanisms for themselves.
Through the private sector risk management partnership program, the government is helping the Canadian Federation of Agriculture to study alternatives. We understand and we know that there are concerns across the country with regard to these proposals, and we are certainly more than willing to work with the opposition at committee to make the changes that may be necessary in this area.
An hon. member: That'll be a change.
Mr. David Anderson: I am glad to hear my colleague from across the way agree that he believes he can work with us on this. So it is good to see that we will be able to get that co-operation at the committee that we have had so many other times and on so many other bills.
The proposed legislation has several additional amendments to modernize the act. These amendments would do things such as improve the clarity in the application and the enforcement of existing provisions. They would reflect current practices as things have changed over the years. They would enhance producer protection, which is important. They would also eliminate some of the provisions that are no longer used.
The proposed amendments to the Canadian Grain Act would help the grain sector continue to evolve in a direction of greater competitiveness, greater freedom for farmers to manage risks, and effective regulatory oversight where it is needed.
In conclusion, with these amendments, we have put farmers first. I believe that the amendments proposed in the bill would help build a competitive and innovative grain sector by doing a few things. One of those would be to reduce costs.
As we know, farmers bear the burden of all the costs that are passed on to them. This is one way we could reduce those input costs that we are being told are so heavy on farmers these days.
It would improve competitiveness. It clearly improves regulation, and it provides choice for our producers and others in the grain sector.
However, given the spirited debate that we had here when this proposed legislation was introduced a year ago, we recognize that there are some issues that we may want to discuss at standing committee.
As I have pointed out throughout my speech, we are willing to work with the opposition to make the amendments that will work for western Canadians and, indeed, all Canadian farmers. I welcome that discussion and I welcome the standing committee's input into helping to make this legislation the best that it can be.
Mr. Speaker, as I indicated a moment ago, I am somewhat discouraged to speak at second reading of this bill. I say discouraged because Bill , in the second session of the 40th Parliament, is exactly the same bill with exactly the same extensive flaws and shortcomings that were contained in the old Bill C-39 introduced in the 39th Parliament, originally on December 13, 2007.
I would refer government members, and especially the minister and his bureaucrats at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, to the Hansards of February 1, 2008 and February 15, 2008 where extensive concerns about this bill were outlined in this House at that time.
Where have the minister, the bureaucrats at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and those at the Canadian Grain Commission been for the last year? This bill could have come in this House substantially improved. We could have started at a higher level. However, this bill is coming in with the same old flaws that were in it previously. Very prominent in those concerns was the fact that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food's report on the Canadian Grain Commission was all but ignored.
The chair of the committee at that time, who signed off on that report, was the very minister who now puts forward this flawed bill. One would think the would have more respect for his own signature than to sign a report making certain recommendations and then ignoring those recommendations when he has the authority as a minister to put forward the bill.
However, we all know that the , when it comes to listening to farmers, is about as stone deaf as one can get. Even so, one would think that at least the department or the Canadian Grain Commission would have addressed some of those concerns.
We also know that the person who happens to be chief commissioner at the Canadian Grain Commission is a friend of the minister. In fact, I would wonder if that friend is more interested in protecting the minister's desires and programs than he is of protecting the very producers who he is supposed to represent.
In my question to the parliamentary secretary a moment ago, I outlined that there was absolutely no cost benefit analysis done in terms of this proposal on changes to the Canadian Grain Commission by the government. Now that is not unusual for the government. We know it did not do a cost benefit analysis when it exercised its attack on the Canadian Wheat Board.
Finally, the Parliament of Canada shut the and the minister down in terms of what they wanted to do in undermining the Wheat Board. Even the court system had to come in a couple of times and shut the Prime Minister down in terms of his undermining of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The government has a history of trying to undermine the very institutions that protect farmers in western Canadian, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Grain Commission. The Canadian Grain Commission does have protective measures for grain producers right across the country.
I would like to take the opportunity to put one thing that I probably should put on the record in terms of the way the minister has used his position to attack institutions that in fact protect farmers in this country.
I will quote an article from the Melfort Journal on February 24. The minister stood in this House and attacked the contingency fund losses of the Canadian Wheat Board, which was the wrong thing to do. In fact, that hurt grain producers commercially.
The quote from the Melfort Journal says:
Last year, the CWB registered $7.2 billion in returns for western producers, a year which saw nearly a 50% increase in wheat revenues and nearly a 100% increase in barley and durum revenues from the previous year.
Simply put, the board outperformed its international competitors, an outstanding performance that should be recognized even by the board's most strident critics...and you sure shouldn't expect any government minister to misuse their offices and authority by telling a small portion of the story to advance their political agenda. This is an issue that goes well beyond whether you support the board or not.
I make that point because it is extremely important for Canadians to understand that the minister and the government know no low when it comes to attacking the various institutions that are there to protect the farmer community, because they clearly favour ensuring that greater benefits, greater authority or greater power accrues to the industry side of the equation, mainly the grain companies and the railways.
I was in Alberta on the weekend, at a great event in Edmonton that our party was doing. I could not help but think, when I was talking to producers there and looking back over the years, that when I first went west as a farm leader in the late 1970s, western Canadian farmers had a branch line and railway infrastructure that went into nearly every community. The cooperative movement was strong at that time. Shapiro, from the United States, had come up and talked about a pool system, and farmers in the west set up a pool system. They had Manitoba Pool Elevators, the Alberta Wheat Pool, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and organizations and cooperatives working for the farm community, so farmers had protection on that front as well.
All that is gone. Now we have grain corporations that are interested in their shareholders and the profits of their shareholders elsewhere in the world, and not in those primary producers in those rural communities.
The elevator system within that branch line infrastructure was fully paid for by primary producers. Yes, they were wooden elevators, but they were in every small town and they were fully paid for. There was no debt, and they were paid for by farmers. Now we have a system in which big grain and big railways are trying, almost on a daily basis, to close down branch lines and abolish service to those small communities. As a result, grain has to be trucked on the road, which taxpayers pay for at the provincial level. The steel that Canadian taxpayers paid for on those railways has been sold to the likes of Brazil and elsewhere, and at the end of the day farmers have poorer service and less service. Their branch lines have been torn up and they do not have the protection of the cooperative movement they once had.
The only protections farmers have any more in western Canada are, one, the Canadian Wheat Board, which the has tried everything to undermine and undercut, and two, the Canadian Grain Commission, which this bill is all about. Through this bill the government is trying to weaken many of the protections within the bill itself.
Looking at the bill itself tells much about the attitude of the government. In the 2008-09 report on plans and priorities, the Canadian Grain Commission outlines its mandate. The Canadian Grain Commission administers the provision to the Canada Grain Act. The Canadian Grain Commission's mandate, as set out in the act, is to:
...in the interests of the grain producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets.
The reference to the interests of primary producers is what is done away with in this particular bill. In fact, the mandate changes to say that it is more in the interests of industry than it is in those of primary producers. Again, I think that goes to my original point and my earlier question to the parliamentary secretary, which was that the government has a record of failure when it comes to the farm community. It is even extending it into this bill by making the point that it is taking away primary producers as the main interest of the mandate.
The president of the National Farmers Union, Stewart Wells, made a few key points that I want to put on the record in terms of what this bill would do to the farm community. He says in his correspondence, “The amendments will remove the requirement that the CGC operate as a public interest watchdog that regulates the overall grain industry 'in the interests of producers'. If this bill passes, the grain industry would become virtually self-regulating, and the CGC's role will be reduced to being a passive 'service provider' that provides grading, weighing and inspection services to grain companies on a fee-for-service basis. Farmers' protections will be reduced to a minimal level, while the legislation leaves the door open for companies to be able to circumvent those limited protections”.
He goes on to say:
Canadian farmers have not advocated any weakening of the CGC regulatory role. At a time when grain companies like Viterra, ADM and Cargill are consolidating their hold over the market, it is obvious there needs to be a mechanism in place to provide farmers with protection.
I would make the point that the Government of Canada is undermining that protection in this instance.
Mr. Wells goes on to say:
The current system allows grain inspectors to catch contaminated, off-condition or incorrectly represented carloads while they are being emptied, weighed, and elevated, and before they are mixed with large quantities of other grain. Eliminating this provision will have a negative effect on farmers’ bottom line.
The amendments also call for eliminating the provision that grain dealers post a security bond before they can be licensed by the CGC. This provision was put in place to protect farmers who would be left holding the bag if the grain company goes bankrupt. The last point Mr. Wells makes is this:
Eliminating this requirement will not save farmers any money. It will, however, greatly increase their risk.
This is the end of Mr. Wells' comments, but they are all valid. They show a weakening of farmers' protection.
The amendments weakening farmers' relative position have been part of the minister's overall record of failure. In his December 13, 2007, introduction to the Canadian Grain Commission's performance report, the minister said that he introduced Bill to Parliament. He went on to talk about how his proposed reforms were consistent with the goals expressed in the so-called Growing Forward framework.
I am worried about Growing Forward. I mentioned earlier, in my questions to the parliamentary secretary, that if Growing Forward is the example the minister is using for the government's position, then farmers are in trouble in this country. We have seen 3,600 farmers go out of business each year. We have seen the debt load of farmers go up to $54 billion, four times what it is per farm in the United States. We have seen the government cancel the cost of production program, a commitment by the in the 2006 election. He broke his word, violated his word, and cancelled cost of production in the estimates this time. That is part of Growing Forward.
We know that in times of declining income, AgriInvest and AgriStability in fact pay out less money than the old CAIS program that the hated so much.
If Growing Forward is the way and this is another example of Growing Forward, I say to the farm community, “Wake up and smell the roses”, because it is a decline. It is an undermining and a deteriorating of farmers' protective measures in this country.
As I said, farmers should be worried. Let me point out some of the flaws in this particular bill. Clearly Bill does not reflect the unanimous recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. For the minister to imply otherwise is misleading.
Why is there this contempt for the committee, and why is there this contempt by the minister for his own Conservative colleagues on that committee? His own signature was on it. Therefore, does he even undermine his own integrity?
The fifth recommendation in the committee report called for a cost-benefit analysis. No cost-benefit analysis has been done on the impact of Bill with respect to the contracting out of grain inspections called for in that report. In fact, the government response tabled to the original standing committee report said this:
The government considers that inspection and weighing services performed by CGC employees played a considerable role in enhancing the marketability and reputation of Canadian grain. With this in mind, we need to be cautious to ensure the benefits of any changes in the weighing and inspection services are greater than the costs this may impose on the system. The Government agrees that a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to assess the advantages and costs that would be associated with contracting out these services.
In its response to the committee, the government admitted itself that a cost-benefit analysis should be done, yet no such cost-benefit analysis is provided. Why?
A good friend of the minister is now the chief commissioner of the CGC. He made a couple of points on this issue, and they worry me as well. He said that even without the legislation, the chief commissioner and the Canadian Grain Commission were moving ahead with changes. They have decided to end inspection services at prairie primary elevators this summer, close three prairie service centres and reduce staff.
The chief commissioner said, “The transition away from on-site inspection services means that the CGC will no longer provide official grading and weighing on grain shipments from the Prairies' terminal facilities, nor for export shipments to the United States or domestic mills”.
That is worrisome, because the chief commissioner, prior to the legislation coming in, is already making changes that will undermine our ability to ship the high-quality grain we have become noted for as a country.
I would close by saying this: we believe improvements can be made to the Canadian Grain Commission; however, major amendments will be required of the bill before us. We look forward to that discussion, and I plead with the government to listen to producers this time.