Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in support of Bill . However, I am upset that the opposition has moved to hoist this amendment. It is hijacking this bill which is essential to the grain farmers in western Canada, and I cannot support this hoist amendment because I support changes to the Canada Grain Act.
It is simple. Canadian farm families deserve to be treated equally across the country, but the current legislation forces western Canadian producers to pay costs that are not imposed in other regions. Bill would contribute to building a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. The legislation is based on the agriculture committee report the opposition parties helped write.
Conservative MPs are ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and work on Bill at the agriculture committee. It is too bad the opposition parties are not willing to do that work and treat all regions fairly. This bill illustrates the government's ongoing commitment to putting farmers first, by eliminating costly regulations and unnecessary mandatory programming in Canada's grain sector.
For some years now, the western Canadian grain sector has been undergoing significant transformations. Indeed, the marketplace for grains has evolved, with increased emphasis on niche markets, livestock feed and biofuels, as well as other value-added marketing opportunities.
Despite this ever-changing environment, the Canada Grain Act has not been substantially amended for close to 40 years. As such, the operations of the Canadian Grain Commission, the agency that maintains the standards of quality for grain and regulates grain handling in our country, do not reflect the needs of today's farmers or the industry.
Before I provide additional explanation regarding the proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act, I will provide some brief background.
In 2005 an amendment to the Canada Grain Act was passed that required an independent review of the act and the Canadian Grain Commission. COMPAS Inc. was hired by the Department of Agriculture to conduct this independent review in 2005. Let me point out it was the Liberal government that hired COMPAS to do this.
Its recommendations were presented to Parliament in 2006. The COMPAS report was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which consulted stakeholders and recognized the need for changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission. The amendments are based on recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in its report to the government in 2006.
Throughout these reviews, stakeholders were consulted extensively, including eight public meetings held across the country by COMPAS Inc. Hence, these proposed changes reflect the needs and the will of grain producers and of the industry.
This government is proposing to clarify the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission in the Canada Grain Act. The clarification will stress that the Canadian Grain Commission protects the interests of producers with respect to deliveries to licensees, determinations of grade and dockage and allocation of producer cars.
That said, there have been extensive changes within the Canadian grain industry over the years and the Canadian Grain Commission must reflect that evolution. The number of primary elevators in western Canada has dwindled. Grain companies have consolidated their operations and now much of our grain is shipped from primary elevators to port terminals owned by the same company.
Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission must inspect and weigh all grain received by terminal and transfer elevators. To keep up with the changing environment, the government strongly believes that producer interests are best served by limiting costs and fostering a competitive, efficient grain handling system. Consequently, the government proposes to eliminate mandatory inward inspections and weighing requirements.
The bill would reduce unnecessary mandatory costs from the grain handling system and would work to build a lower-cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. We are reducing the regulatory burden as all costs in the system eventually work their way down to the farmers. This will again result in a less costly system for farmers' benefit.
Nevertheless, inward inspection and weighing do provide value to some producers in some circumstances. The government has proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act that will facilitate private sector delivery of inward services when they are requested. Thus, eliminating the inward inspection and weighing will create business opportunities for private sector providers. It is best left to the shippers themselves to determine when and at what level these services are provided.
As an important and ongoing check on this new arrangement, producers and industry will be able to apply to the Canadian Grain Commission for binding grade arbitration when they are not sure that the right grade has been assigned. The proposed changes will not reduce the capacity to ensure a dependable commodity to buyers of Canadian grain. What is more, international buyers of Canadian grain can rest assured that every overseas vessel will continue to receive the Canadian Grain Commission's certification of grade and weight.
On another topic, the Canadian Grain Commission's producer payment security program has been the subject of debate in the grain sector. Currently, all licensed grain handlers must provide financial security to the Canadian Grain Commission. If licensed grain handlers fail to pay for the grain they have purchased, the Canadian Grain Commission steps in to compensate producers.
Unfortunately, this security program is flawed as it is not 100% effective and adds costs to Canadian grain handling system. These costs negatively affect the competitiveness of Canada's grain sector. We are reducing the regulatory burden. As all costs in the system eventually work their way to farmers, this will result in a less costly system for farmers too.
However, we do recognize that inward inspection provides transactional value in certain circumstances. That is why we are proposing provisions to facilitate private sector delivery of these services when the shipper believes they would add value. Furthermore, producers and industry would have the ability to apply to the Canadian Grain Commission for binding grade arbitration when requested.
To address issues of non-compliance, the Canadian Grain Commission needs additional, simpler means to enforce the Canada Grain Act. That is why this government proposes that the Canada Grain Act be brought under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. This proposed reform follows a recommendation by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food to use monetary penalties to help enforce a grain delivery declaration system.
The bill would provide these tools by allowing for the development of regulations to require grain delivery declarations and the ability to assess penalties against those who declare the content of grain deliveries falsely. These measures will ensure that wheat is properly identified as it moves through the grain handling system and, as such, uphold the grain quality assurance system.
In this environment of change, the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission must be modernized. With these proposed amendments, the Canadian Grain Commission will be better able to provide producers with a more cost effective grain quality assurance system. These amendments are essential to eliminating unnecessary costly regulations to Canada's grain sector.
The government is committed to putting farmers first. The integrity of the Canadian grain quality assurance system and the reliability of Canada brand will be maintained.
The proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission are part of an ongoing modernization of western Canadian grain sector. While historically Canadian grain has been exported as a commodity, it is now increasingly marketed to niche markets and domestic value-added enterprises such as biofuels.
The Canada Grain Act needs to evolve to reflect the changes taking place in the grain sector. The grain sector evolution was accelerated when subsidies for rail transportation, known as the Crow rate, were ended in the 1990s. Since then, prairie agriculture has diversified into a wider variety of crops and has expanded into livestock production. Also, the recent end to KVD has removed a regulatory barrier that prevented western Canadian farmers from accessing high yielding wheats that improve productivity.
In this innovative environment, changes to the Canada Grain Act and Canadian Grain Commission will provide producers with a more cost effective grain quality assurance system. These changes will also help the grain industry to meet the challenges of a more competitive market oriented 21st century.
This government is proposing to clarify the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission in the Canada Grain Act. With a clarification in mandate, the Canada Grain Act will clearly show that the Canadian Grain Commission acts in the interest of grain producers in the specific areas of: delivery access to elevators and grain dealers; access to binding grain grading; and allocation of producer cars.
However, the proposed reforms do not end there.
Over time, there have been extensive changes within the Canadian grain industry. The number of primary elevators in western Canada has decreased significantly. We have seen company consolidations and now much of our grain is shipped from primary elevators to terminal or transfer elevators owned by the same company.
Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission must inspect and weigh all grain received by terminal and transfer elevators. These services are not essential to the grain quality assurance system and impose unnecessary costs.
Hence, the government proposes to remove mandatory requirements for inward inspection and weighing of grain shipments. In so doing, the bill will reduce unnecessary mandatory costs from the grain handling system and work to build a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector.
When I talk to farmers in my riding about the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canada Grain Act, they always wonder why things are done in the manner they are done. They have always ask why we cannot change this or do that. There are a lot of the changes that farmers have asked for and require in the bill in order for them to be profitable in their operations.
What we see happening today is just deplorable. The hoisting of this bill just does not do it for western Canadian farmers. It creates an unfair reality for them. We have asked the opposition parties in good faith to work with the bill in committee. We would like to see the bill move forward into committee.
In conclusion, this bill is very important to western Canadian farmers. I expect this bill to go forward.
Mr. Speaker, before I start the formal part of my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the comments by the member for and the member for . It is nice to have these well thought out agriculture minds looking at this. Maybe they would like to come to committee and start talking about some of these issues, and perhaps the loyal opposition as well, which has only asked three questions in this entire session on agriculture. I can see that this is going to be a lively debate.
It is my pleasure to support the proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act; however, the same cannot be said with regard to the NDP hoist amendment. Clearly this amendment is a transparent attempt by the NDP to continue its attack on western Canadian farmers. The opposition has nothing positive to offer on this bill. So, what does it do? It attacks the very essence of the legislation. Members should work to make constructive changes to this legislation in committee, not hoist a bill so that we cannot even work with it.
This is a piece of legislation which the Canadian Grain Commission is asking for, and which shippers, producers and farmers in my area are asking for. All they are asking is for us to at least bring this to committee so that we can talk about it and have some freedom to make some changes to streamline an act that is 30 years old. Unlike the opposition, our government puts a high priority on this proposed legislation because farmers have asked for it and we agree it is high time this act was brought into the 21st century.
The Canadian grain sector stands out as a huge success story among the considerable accomplishments of the Canadian agriculture and food industry over the last 100 years. This is especially true in the area of Westlock—St. Paul.
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 Canadian grain farmers generate about $10 billion. That money helps to keep the economies of both rural and urban Canada growing. It sustains employment throughout the grain production chain from farm input suppliers to elevators, to transporters and processors. Those dollars support our rural communities which contribute so much to Canada's economy.
To put it in more concrete terms, Canada's grain growers sustain our health and well-being as Canadians by putting the very bread we eat every day on our tables. This government has taken concrete action in support of this vital sector for our economy, not just in this particular legislation, but in other legislation in regard to transportation and food safety. We are putting farmers and Canadians first.
Three years ago our first act as a new government was in the interests of grain producers when we accelerated the grains and oilseeds payment program. We are investing $2.2 billion in the development of biofuels to open up new markets for our grains and oilseeds producers, to create new jobs for our rural communities and to create a better environment for Canadians. Those dollars have helped with the planning of new biofuel projects across Canada and will help build biofuels 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 and doubling the amount of government-backed credit available to young farmers.
While this is something that can be captured in one paragraph of a speech, it is important that each one of these changes have critical effects on our producers and farmers not only in western Canada, but across the country. These are changes that farmers have been asking for, for 20 years. Finally, in the first three years our government has not only moved forward but has accomplished many of these.
The new agriculture loans act would guarantee an additional $1 billion in loans over the next five years to Canadian farm families and cooperatives. The is working hard to open new markets for our grain and pulse farmers around the world. The minister is also delivering real action for our farmers so that they can continue to fuel our economy and remain competitive both at home and abroad.
At the WTO agriculture negotiations, we remain committed to pursuing an ambitious outcome that benefits Canada's entire agriculture sector, not pitting one aspect of our Canadian agricultural economy against another as has happened in the past.
New marketing opportunities will help Canada get through the current economic uncertainty and come out stronger than ever. Stable, bankable farm programs will also help farmers weather the storm and continue to drive the Canadian economy. That is what the growing forward framework is all about, making Canadian agriculture stable in the present day and building a strong agriculture future not only for current farmers but for our future farmers.
Business risk management programs are a key part of growing forward. We have replaced CAIS with programs that are more predictable, more responsive and more bankable. I can assure members that this was a major platform plank in my first election to Parliament. The producers in the areas that I represent, whether they be grains and oilseeds producers, whether they be cattle producers, whether they be supply management producers, wanted a more bankable, more stable, and more predictable system.
We promised to eliminate the CAIS program. We did that. We replaced it with growing forward. We went across this country to hold round-table consultations, not just myself and members on this side of the House but also the . We made unprecedented stops all across this country. Unlike former governments, he did not just get off the plane and stop at the nearby airport to host a meeting. He went out into farm communities, held those consultations and listened to farmers. We came forward to separate agriculture stability from disaster relief, putting in the top tier of our growing forward program. These are programs that our producers have been asking for, and we are delivering.
Business risk management programs are a key part of growing forward. We have replaced CAIS with programs that are more predictable, more responsible and, as I said, more bankable. Those programs have delivered $1.5 billion to our livestock producers in their time of need.
We have worked with pork producers to deliver a $75 million transition program, government-backed loans and international market development. Producers want to make their living in the marketplace. We have delivered $17 million for pork marketing to get more buyers bidding on our products.
Canada's economic action plan is making sure the agricultural industry emerges stronger than ever from the current economic crisis.
We announced a $500 million agricultural flexibility plan aimed at helping farmers with regional market challenges and opportunities. These funds are helping farmers cope with cost of production pressures, promote innovation and ensure environmental sustainability. This money is already supporting action on traceability for our livestock sector.
We also set aside $50 million to strengthen our slaughter and meat processing capacity.
The amendments the government is proposing to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission are evidence of our commitment to grain producers.
Canada's quality assurance system for grain provides a key competitive advantage for our farmers. The amendments we are proposing build on that competitive advantage.
When our global customers choose Canadian grain for processing, they count on consistent quality and cleanliness with every delivery. This world-class reputation that our Canadian grains enjoy around the globe has been hard-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 also played a key role in building that golden reputation that truly enhances the amount of financial recovery that our producers receive at the end of the day.
Our edge in the marketplace is all about quality, and much of the responsibility for the quality of Canadian grain resides with the Canadian Grain Commission and the quality assurance system it administers under the Canada Grain Act.
The grain industry is changing and the legislative tools required to keep the industry competitive need to change along with it. The current Canada Grain Act has not changed substantially in almost 40 years, but the marketplace has evolved.
We have a major new customer for grains in the form of the biofuels industry, supported by initiatives put in place by this government.
We have quality management systems to allow parcels of grain with specific qualities wanted by buyers to be kept separate through the handling system.
We have niche marketing and processing of grains in Canada, and we have a broader range of crops in western Canada than ever seen before.
In the mid-1990s, the reform of the Western Grain Transportation Act triggered a wholesale diversification as producers opted to market their grain through livestock or switch to other crops: oilseeds, pulse crops or horticultural crops. Today, wheat accounts for only one-third of the crop land. In the 1950s, three-quarters of that land was wheat. I know many of my opposition colleagues have never actually seen many of the crop lands in western Canada and they may be surprised to hear that wheat now actually only accounts for one-third, but that is actually a fact.
We are proposing these amendments to the Canada Grain Act to help keep our grain 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 to meet the challenges of a more competitive and more 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. 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 and more effective system for our farmers.
This is an important point. All excess costs in the system are always downloaded on to the backs of our farmers. These amendments will help streamline this act and make our system better for western Canadian farmers. These amendments are amendments that were asked for by our farmers.
The amendments reflect the direction of both the Compas report and the good work done by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food of which I am proud to be a member. Both reports reflect extensive consultations held with the sector in preparing those reports.
The fact is that this package is built on the standing committee's recommendations. I have these recommendations if any of my opposition colleagues would like to take the time to actually read them. In short, these amendments speak to the will and needs of the Canadian grain industry.
Let me talk a little about the amendments that are actually being proposed. First, inward inspection and weighing of grains will no longer be mandatory. There is no reason to require something that is not necessary, particularly when the cost comes out of the bottom line of farmers in the grain industry.
Currently the Grain Commission is required to inspect and weigh each railcar or truck lot of western grain that is received 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 grain quality.
Therefore, inward inspection and weighing will no longer be mandatory. Instead, shippers of grain will be able to request an inspection at their discretion when they feel the benefit justifies the cost.
Elevators will also be required to allow access to private inspectors when an inspection is requested. The Canadian Grain Commission would be authorized to provide grade arbitration if the parties to a transaction request it. This means if there is a dispute about the grade, the Canadian Grain Commission will be available to impartially determine the grade.
However, as my colleagues in the NDP like to point out, and let us be clear, this does not mean grain would go through the system without inspection. This means that our government will stand up and put safeguards in place for Canadian farmers when they request it. Outward inspection would still be required when grain is loaded into vessels for export. Export vessel shipments would continue to require certification by the Canadian Grain Commission based on the inspection and weighing by CGC personnel.
With this bill in place, our customers will be assured that they can continue to have confidence in Canada's grain quality assurance system.
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 purchases and continue to ensure that producers have access to arbitration by CGC.
In fact, the bill would actually enhance farmer protection by extending the 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 primary elevator, the producer can ask the CGC to determine the grade and dockage and make a binding decision.
The grain producer is paid according to this decision. This 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. Canadians have never had this protection before.
More broadly speaking, these amendments would improve the clarity, application and enforcement of existing provisions; reflect current practices; enhance producer protection; and eliminate some provisions that are no longer used.
The proposed amendments to the Canada 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.
While in committee, there were ample opportunities to work on this bill. However, the opposition has now decided to collude together to hoist this bill, which will kill the bill to the detriment of not only Canadians but our Canadian grain farmers. With the amendments this government has made, it is clear that we have put farmers first.
With the strong work ethic and the strong desire that our government has shown in committee to work with the opposition on a number of bills to ensure that we craft legislation that is more effective and more responsible for Canadians and Canadian producers, I find it astonishing that some of the opposition members would not want to bring this to committee, where they still have the majority of the votes, to talk about some of these amendments.
At the end of the day, they have clearly shown time and again that they truly do not care about Canadian farmers.
I believe that the amendments proposed in this bill would help build a competitive and innovative grain sector by reducing costs, improving competitiveness, improving regulation, and providing choice for our producers and others in the grain sector.
I know I only have a few minutes left, but I would be remiss if I did not talk a bit about one of the major aspects of the grain economy in my riding, in my area of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where we were hit by a terrible year this year. We had a late spring. We had frost through almost every month of the year. It has been a tough year for our hay farmers. It has been a tough year for our grains and oilseeds producers. They are not asking for bills. What they are asking for is for the government to get off its back, stand out of their way and give them access to the tools that they need, and to make the changes on their behalf that they are asking for.
One of those examples that I am proud to have worked on with the and the was the tax deferrals that were given earlier than ever this year to our Canadian farmers. In my area, this was a major issue. In the months of July and August they needed to know that they had access and certainty of these tax deferrals. To my dismay, I came back to the House of Commons and watched the opposition vote against tax deferrals for my farmers.
I hope we can continue to work together and work for the betterment of Canadian producers. However, at the end of the day, the opposition needs to do more than talk about it; it needs to actually get to work and help us make the system better and more effective.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and talk about these kinds of issues.
In this corner of the House, the NDP takes no lessons from federal Conservatives about defending western Canadians and western Canadian farmers. In fact, in a very real sense, by putting forward this hoist motion, what we are doing, inadvertently, is saving the Conservatives from the themselves because they have taken for granted the support of western farmers over the last few years.
The Conservatives said that when they became government they would move forward with an agenda that would actually help western farmers. Instead, it is fair to say that the reason more and more New Democrats are being elected in western Canada is because western Canadian farmers are seeing that the Conservative agenda has been very ideological and meanspirited.
Let us look at the record. Since they have come to power, farm receipts now for western Canadian farmers are at the lowest level since the Great Depression. In fact, many farmers in rural communities across western Canada are actually in a negative income situation. We are looking at the highest level of debt for farmers than we have seen since the Great Depression, in real terms of course. It is important to note that the lowest level of farm receipts in the entire country is in the province of Alberta, which has been dominated by provincial Conservatives for the last 30 years. So what is wrong with this picture?
In places like British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba where New Democrats have come to power and had positive, forward looking policies that actually helped western farmers, we have seen that the income crash has not been nearly as significant. Of course farmers in Manitoba are doing the best of all, but in Alberta, where the Conservatives have been in power, farm receipts are the lowest in the country. There is strike one against the Conservatives on how they managed the agricultural file.
Strike two was their meanspirited and ideological attack on the Canadian Wheat Board. What they liked to say was that they would tell farmers in the west what to think and they would tell farmers what they think. What happened? Western farmers had a chance to vote on the Conservative proposals.
There was a straight slate of rabid Conservatives just waiting to dismantle the Wheat Board. They could hardly wait to rip up the Wheat Board, attack the institution, and western farmers overwhelmingly voted for a pro Wheat Board slate and pushed the Conservatives back. That was strike two for Conservatives in western Canada.
Now we have strike three. Even before we talk about Bill , we see that they are not standing up for supply management. I mentioned earlier the whole issue of western farm receipts, that they are at the lowest level since the Great Depression, particularly low where Conservatives are governing because they do not seem to understand agricultural issues or perhaps it is their own ideological bent that means that they mess up the agricultural file.
Supply management and the Wheat Board are now going forward in WTO negotiations. Have they said unequivocally that supply management and the Wheat Board are not on the table? No. We heard today, in fact, that they have missed every opportunity to stand up for supply management, every opportunity to strike back on the working group, that fifth paper that undermines supply management and the Wheat Board. New Zealand was able to get its state trading corporation excluded and the Conservative government was not able to do that.
Let us talk about Bill or, as the member for said, Bill C-23.
Mr. Speaker, I am confused. The member for said it was Bill C-23. I am not sure which bill the Conservatives are debating over there. Nor am sure what record they are debating. They seem very confused, which would explain their record. The record has been lamentable when it comes to western farmers. In the next election campaign in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, we will see a record number of New Democrats return because, quite frankly, western farmers have said enough of this rigid ideological agenda.
This brings me to Bill , and I thank the member for for raising the issue of supply management. He is obviously wrong about this idea that somehow Conservatives are defending supply management. In testimony before the international trade committee today, we heard that they had missed on three occasions the opportunity to get the Wheat Board and to get supply management out of the WTO sellout, which is being foisted on Canada, with Conservative collusion.
Let us talk about the provisions of Bill . This is why I say we are saving the Conservatives from themselves. They are pushing forward this meanspirited attempt to attack the Canadian Grain Commission, but let us look at what exactly they are trying to do. The NDP has put in a hoist motion because we disagree with what they are trying to do. They are telling farmers what is good for them and what they are supposed to think, just like the Wheat Board. I think farmers told them they were wrong on the Wheat Board and farmers are saying they are wrong on the Canadian Grain Commission. What are they wrong with? They are killing the Canadian Grain Commission's inward inspection and weighing service. Why is that bad? Because it leaves grain producers disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies.
Anyone who has grown up in western Canada, like myself, knows full well that there often has been an abuse of power from the grain companies over grain producers in western Canada. In fact, if we go back to the history of how the Grain Commission developed, it was to set up some balance, a level playing field for producers so grain companies, mainly foreign, could not run roughshod over our grain producers.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of the NDP, sprang up in western Canada because grain producers wanted a level playing field. Obviously Conservatives and Liberals were not listening to them, they were only listening to Bay Street. The NDP has always listened to grain producers. That is why we say to kill the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, to kill that opportunity for producers to have an impartial and independent inspection that allows them to offset what the grain companies tell them they will pay for that grain is not a good idea. It is not a good idea to get away from that. It is not a good idea to kill that. It certainly is not in the interests of grain producers to do that.
Bill would do that. It would away that level playing field for which grain producers have been fighting for decades, with the support of the CCF and now the NDP. Essentially that is the first strike against the bill.
What is the second strike? What else would Bill do that the Conservatives are so hot to adopt? It would dismantle the grain appeal tribunal. This protects producers and protects the Canadian Wheat Board from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies. This is the very historic roots of western Canadian farming, establishing a balanced system, establishing a system of checks and balances.
We have a Grain Appeal Tribunal and essentially the Conservatives want to rub that out. That is why we are bringing forward the hoist motion. We are actually listening to western producers. We know that having the ability to appeal these decisions of grain companies is a good thing. How a Conservative could feel otherwise, I do not know. I am sure the members on the other side are well-intentioned. I am sure they are reading their speaking notes diligently from the 's Office, but policy on western farmers should not be set by the Prime Minister's Office or by a bunch of Ottawa bureaucrats. It should be set by what is fair for producers. That is why producers across the country said yes to the Wheat Board despite the Conservatives' mean-spirited attacks on it.
What else would it do? The other problem with Bill is that it essentially would eliminate the obligation by these grain companies, some of which are offshore, to post security bonds and ensure that producers would be paid for the product they produced. That absolutely makes sense. That payment security program is absolutely a fundamental part of fairness. If the company does not pay, there needs to be protection in place for grain producers.
Strike three on Bill is that it would do away with all that. It would do away with that fairness for western producers. It would do away with that fairness for those farmers who have been producing their crops and essentially may not be paid for it.
One might say that the has surely thought of this. There has been some reference to the agriculture committee report that the agriculture minister completely ignored. However, the reality is the agriculture minister, for all his public statements, clearly does not understand how important the payment security program has been.
The minister was publicly quoted as saying that it would only give 30¢ on the dollar. From some reason, 30¢ on the dollar, if that were right, is somehow worse than zero cents, which the Conservatives proposed. It clearly is not right and I will come back to that in a moment because it is important to correct the record. There were no security bonds. If western farmers cannot pay as a big multinational grain company, they are out of luck. They are going to get zero cents on the dollar.
The justified this by saying that the payment security program only gave 30¢ on the dollar, so somehow 30¢ on the dollar is not as good as zero cents on the dollar, which is the offer from the Conservative Party. The trouble is that the agriculture minister is dead wrong. Over the past 10 years, the payment security program has met issuing payments to producers in nine cases of default by grain companies.
Recall that on Bill , the Conservatives do not want any payments or security any more. In those nine cases, producers would be completely out of luck. That is what the Conservatives are bringing to the floor of the House. I see some surprised looks on the other side. Obviously Conservatives were not told this in the prepared speaking notes from the 's Office. I hope that means many Conservatives at the end of this debate will vote for the hoist motion and join the NDP in defending western farmers over the course of Parliament.
In nine cases of default by grain companies, payments were issued. In six of the nine, the payment was 100% of claims. It is important, especially for the Conservatives who are getting new information that they obviously did not get from the 's Office, to note that. In one to seven, it was 99.8% of claims.
We are now looking at virtually 100% in seven of the nine cases of default by grain companies. A company that went bankrupt in 2002, payment reached 51.4% of claims. Another company that went bankrupt in 2004, payment was just under 30%. I think it is fair to say that Conservatives are sometimes arithmetically challenged, particularly on this file.
Despite the fact that there was one case where it was 30% of claims, if all nine cases are taken together, the total payment is 77.15%. In 77.15% of cases, grain producers who had worked hard to produce their crop, did their due diligence, did all of their work and saw the grain companies default were compensated because of the security bond. The Conservatives want to get rid of that protection that has supported western producers nine times in the last decade.
Let us just look at this for a moment. The government wants to get rid of the security bond so in the next nine or ten cases western producers would get nothing. The government wants to eliminate the Grain Appeal Tribunal.
Vancouver gets a lot of the grain that is shipped across the country. The member for spoke of the Port of Churchill. She defends and represents northern Manitoba very ably and effectively in the House. Vancouver, which receives the bulk of grain shipments going to Asia, gets up to 100 appeals in a day during peak season. The Conservatives want to get rid of that.
The Conservatives want to get rid of security bonds and protection for grain producers. They want to get rid of the Grain Appeals Tribunal. They want to kill the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, which provides a balanced playing field for producers who deal with grain companies. However, it is not just that.
The inward inspection service also provides Canada with the highest level of quality in the world. Bill would do away with that service, which would allow for potential mixing with less high quality American wheat. It would diminish our international standing of having the best grain system in the world.
Why would the Conservatives want to mess with something that works? Why would they, in such a ham-fisted way, do away with the institutions that historically were developed to protect western producers and western farmers? The Conservatives will have to answer for that.
That is why we in this corner of the House proposed the hoist motion. Bill was not well thought out. It was not done in consultation with farmers. It was not done in farmers' interests. It was not done following the agricultural committee report.
Despite what we have heard from Conservatives, the consensus report did not talk about gutting the Canadian Grain Commission. In fact, the consensus report talked about increasing funding. The Conservatives have said nothing about that. They will gut, they will take away, they will rip apart. They will not try to build a better system, and that is the fundamental problem.
I have another minute to go, and I do want to mention something that is important to farmers in British Columbia, and that is the harmonized sales tax, the HST.
The government is forcing the average British Columbia farmer to pay about $500 more in taxes through the HST because of this deal with the devil, which was done with the federal Conservatives working with provincial Liberals. A farming family of four people will pay $2,000 more a year because of the HST, imposed by the federal Conservatives with no consultation.
The Conservatives try to distance themselves and claim they are not responsible, but British Columbians know better. They know the Conservatives are responsible for bringing in the HST. If they want to provide their voice, urban British Columbians will be able to vote in the New Westminster—Coquitlam byelection. All British Columbians will be able to vote shortly in a federal election, whether it is held in the next few months or early 2010. British Columbians will have the final word on whether they support the Conservative HST.
We have no apologies to make to anyone with respect to Bill . It is a bad bill for western farmers and western producers. It does not follow on the agricultural committee recommendations. That is why the NDP has moved this hoist motion to set this off so we can actually get smart agricultural policies to help western producers in the grain trade.
Mr. Speaker, with a reception like that from my hon. colleague across the floor, I might decide to run in politics some day.
I do want to thank the House for allowing me to speak on this issue. Certainly at the eastern end of the country, it is not as large an industry as it is in places such as western Canada, but there is a multi-million dollar industry for agriculture in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are affectionately nicknamed the rock, so if we can grow it on the rock, my goodness, it just says how good our farmers actually are.
To a great degree, that certainly does put me in a unique position, to say the least, so I would like to thank again all my hon. colleagues for allowing me this time.
I would also like to say that the principle reason for supporting a hoist motion which will effectively remove Bill from the order paper for this session is that the government has known for more than a year that all three opposition parties have expressed strong opposition not to reforming and improving the Canada Grain Commission, but to being complicit in its undermining and ineffectiveness. Therein lies the gist of the hoist motion to take this from the order paper.
There is a history of that type of mechanism here in the House that we have used on occasion. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago we moved it during the introduction of the Fisheries Act. There was a tremendous amount of opposition toward it, and not only opposition but questions as to how it would affect each and every person. Instead this thing was rammed down the fishermen's throats in much the same way that we are seeing a pattern that continues with this particular situation now with Bill .
In this particular situation, we see a similar pattern occurring here, because what the hoist motion does is take it away for a while. We can then consult with it and bring it across the country as a good starting point for the type of effective changes that we need. In this particular case, that is why we support the hoist motion.
Our concerns with the legislation are these.
The government has to date shown no inclination to amend the legislation, in spite of the fact that during debate on Bill 's predecessor bill, Bill in February 2008, the official opposition as well as the Bloc and the NDP raised the concerns referred to above, indicating clearly the need for consequential amendments.
On the issue of the producer payment security program, the , who is responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, told this House that while the government is eliminating the practice of CGC holding security deposits from grain dealers, under the producer payment program, he confirmed that the government has developed an alternative:
We understand and we know that there are concerns across the country with regard to these proposals.
The issue remains that the legislation, as it stands, will eliminate this provision without any alternative being established to replace it.
The himself, according to a broadcast news wire story from March 5, is reported to have stated that the government will only remove the producer payment protection program when a better alternative is in place. That is interesting.
In fact the was quoted directly in The Western Producer from March 12, when he answered a direct question as to whether farmers would be protected in relation to the bonding issue. He said:
Absolutely. We're not going to leave you hanging with nothing. We'll keep the program that's existing in place until something new comes along.
Here is what the acknowledged as the flawed nature of the legislation. This is from page 1214:
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.
That is what is interesting, “at committee”. What the minister has said is not that Bill needs amending, but that a key element in this bill cannot proceed given the failure of the government to develop an alternative.
The question is this. Can the minister and the government be trusted not to implement the removal of the bonding issue until a better alternative is in place?
Hon. Wayne Easter: No.
Mr. Scott Simms: I would like to thank my hon. colleague from for providing that answer, and indeed I agree, it is no.
An hon. member: And he wins.
Mr. Scott Simms: Yes, he wins hopefully some day good governance.
The government had the opportunity to make the changes to the legislation a year ago when we called for it, and it has failed to do so. As a matter of fact, I think the term is miserably.
Remember that this is the same government that violated the law in its effort to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board. It has refused to allow western grain farmers to have a vote, a plebiscite, to determine the future of the CWB. Trust is not something that we have in the current government, especially on this specific issue.
The minister is already claiming he is about to amend his own legislation, although, if the bill is passed, this so-called commitment will not be contained in the legislation. On the issue of inward inspections, the government has indicated it is removing the role of the CGC.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, in a unanimous report, acknowledged that mandatory inward inspection is not a universal requirement, while outward inspection and weighing is. The committee stated in its report, again one supported unanimously, that:
...several strong factors seem to support optional inward inspection; the inward inspection requirement is already not universal; optional inspection would not affect producer rights of access to the terminal and [for emphasis] producers and the Canadian Wheat Board should not be unduly affected financially if a proper publicly supported infrastructure and pricing system are put into place in light of the public benefits of maintaining an inward inspection capability.
The fact is that while the government is removing the inward inspection provision, the work called for by the committee has never been done, despite what has been happening.
A recent study of the Canadian Grain Commission found the following issues with respect to the loss of the inward inspection. I would point out to my hon. colleagues that this is a very important point.
Inward weighing and inspection that would still be required would be less trustworthy and more expensive.
The grain system would lose an important early detection system for contaminated grain. Eliminating inward inspection by public officials would increase the likelihood of contaminated grain being co-mingled with larger quantities of clean grain. Shipments to Canadian and U.S. markets would lose an important level of protection against contamination. Grain shipped to these markets could bypass official inspection.
Inward inspection provides quality assurance information that makes outward inspection more efficient and certainly more cost effective, in this particular case.
Replacing public sector inspectors with private contractors--which is quite prevalent nowadays, some to the positive and certainly some to the negative, but at this point I will stick to the negative--many of whom would be reliant upon private grain companies for business, would undermine the perceived reliability of the information derived from inward inspection.
With respect to the diminished role of the CGC, the study prepared by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found, for example, with respect to the port of Vancouver, the following problem, bearing in mind Vancouver and Prince Rupert, as of December 2007, moved almost 1.2 million tonnes of grain through its facilities.
At a typical Vancouver elevator, CGC weighers routinely process the unloading of 5 to 100 rail cars during a shift. Documentation on these cars, the parcels, weights and anomalies, and other relevant information, is provided by the weigher to the elevator at the end of each day. Such information is very important, not just in the event of disagreements, but in the routine operations of the elevators. It is unclear how this data would be gathered, and by whom, if public inward inspection were eliminated.
The government has to explain why it has decided, prior to the legislation to downgrade, as expressed in the estimates for the commission under the section which describes the activity as providing “consistent and reliable grain quality”, as we talked about before, “and grain safety assurance to meet the needs of domestic and international markets”, the forecast spending for 2011-12 will be $23.4 million. In 2007, the planned spending was $50.2 million. By the CGC's own records, the government will reduce the ability of the CGC to do its job by a whopping $26.8 million.
The staffing at CGC will be reduced from 664 in 2007-08 to 421 in 2009-10.
Bill would remove the ability of producers who appeal through the grain appeal tribunal. According to a recent Library of Parliament study, under the provisions of the Canada Grain Act, a person dissatisfied with the initial grading may have up to three appeals under the act. Under the scheme which is proposed now in Bill , a person dissatisfied with the grade, an inspector assigned, would have just one appeal and that, of course, would be to the chief grain inspector or his or her delegate.
These are the fundamental reasons the Liberals agree in principle with what is happening with the hoist amendment.
Indeed, under the provisions of the bill, the chief commissioner or any person delegated by the chief commissioner, which is an indication of the ability to possibly contract out that particular responsibility, will have the authority on any appeal. At the same time, Bill would remove the ability of farmers to have recourse to the courts.
However, according to a Library of Parliament analysis of the use of provisions such as those we talked about that are contained in Bill which attempt to remove the ability of farmers to have recourse to the courts, the issue is not that clear cut.
According to the Library of Parliament report, the wording of the privative clause in Bill appears on its face to preclude any appeal or review of a decision of the chief grain inspector. However, that is not the effect the clause would have.
The Library of Parliament states, based upon its research that Parliament and the provinces may not, through legislation, preclude the superior courts from exercising their supervisory jurisdiction. At a minimum, the government must carefully reconsider its attempt to restrict the ability of Canadians, the courts in the face of clear evidence that it might not be able to legitimately do so.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food called for a comprehensive cost benefit report from the government on the proposed changes the government was suggesting, and that was in 2006, with respect to the changes in service for grain inspection. To date, no such report has been produced by the government as to the real impacts of their changes on the primary producers specifically.
The government has indeed failed to produce that report. Yet again this is more evidence why more information and consultation is needed, which belies the true spirit of what we normally call a hoist amendment or, as some people from the east coast of the country would call affectionately, giving it the boot.
Even though this legislation has not received even second reading, the chief commissioner of the CGC, according to a report in The Western Producer, published February 23, 2009, sent a letter to industry indicating that it would end inspection services at prairie primary elevators this summer and would close three service centres and reduce staff.
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 to terminal facilities nor for export shipments to the United States or domestic mills.
In essence, before Bill has been approved by Parliament, the CGC has decided to begin implementing the reduction in services it provides to western grain producers. That is very important. If nothing else, this is a demonstration of contempt for the legislative process by the chief commissioner of the CGC.
As a final point of concern, the minister announced that as of August 1 KVD will be removed. That is kernel visual distinguishability. It will be removed, according to what the minister announced on August 1. The minister was warned in January by senior officials, just weeks before his announcement of February 11, that farmers could suffer a negative impact of this removal and Canada's reputation for quality grain could indeed be undermined. The reason given by the officials, including his own deputy minister, was that no adequate system has been developed to replace the KVD.
The western grain industry needs a strong CGC. What is currently proposed in Bill is a worst case scenario. Removing the CGC from both inward and outward inspections is next to worst because it considerably weakens the role that the CGC plays.
Therefore, the following amendments should be made to Bill : one, CGC-administered producer security should be reinstated; and two, if inward inspection becomes optional, the CGC should accredit and audit private service providers who would be responsible for inward inspection. A key part of this accreditation and audit process will be to institute clear CGC accountability for differences between inward and outward risk.
Therefore, I conclude that part of my speech by outlining three essential elements.
One, our support for the hoist motion is a signal to the government that it cannot simply bring in legislation which it is well aware does not enjoy the support of the House without any effort made at all to amend it.
Two, Bill is Bill from the previous Parliament. Remember that legislation was debated more than a year ago and the debate clearly indicated the government should reconsider its direction on undermining the CGC. It had a year to do so and it has failed to take that opportunity. This particular vote is not a vote against reform of the CGC, but it is indeed a vote against the arrogance of the government.
Let me illustrate that by bringing up a point about a particular case with the hoist amendment and what we did prior to this, about two years ago. I will go back to an example that we use. The lack of consultation was so pervasive. It became abundantly clear upon introduction in the House, as producers in the case of this bill, or fishermen in the case of the Fisheries Act, called us time and time again with questions and concerns. We were inundated at the time. The big thing was that the Conservatives insisted that consultation was taking place. We called the people whose names were provided to us and they said that was not necessarily the case; all they had received was a letter informing them what to do. Therein lies the arrogance.
It's getting serious.
Mr. Scott Simms: It is getting serious, as my hon. colleague across the way can attest to. This is a serious issue.
The problem with this and I commend the NDP, the fourth party in the House, as I have affectionately called it before, for doing this. We agree with it. During the talk about the new Fisheries Act, the NDP members too were with us so it was a re-run of Kill Bill volume one and Kill Bill volume two, I suppose.
I would implore the House to do the most responsible thing which is to take this piece of legislation, Bill , not much change since Bill , off the order paper. Bring it to the producers and the stakeholders involved. They will certainly give it a good vetting. In that way we will have the confidence when returning to the House that we do have the support of the vast majority of the producers and the industry. That way the amendments that the Conservatives so earnestly seek to achieve would be done with a broad consultation. They may complain it may take a little more time and it may cause a few headaches among the bureaucrats in Ottawa, but certainly at the end of the day we can hold it up as a gem, something that is going to be crystal clear, something that is going to be used for the benefit of all agricultural interests across this country.