That, in the opinion of the House, farmers have a democratic right to determine the future of their own supply management tools and marketing boards; and recognizing this right, the House calls on the government to set aside its legislation abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) single desk and to conduct a full and free vote by all current members of the CWB to determine their wishes, and calls on the government to agree to honour the outcome of that democratic process.
She said: It is an honour to stand here today and present our opposition day motion on the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like to point out that the motion is seconded by the member for .
Every so often we have a chance to debate a defining issue. Today we have that chance. Today's motion that we are debating is about what Canadians want. It is about imagining a Canada, a Canada that we have had up to now which in some ways and in some sectors has been shaped by those at the very core of that same sector. Today we are also debating about a Canada that has been shaped by an ideological agenda which is at risk of being further shaped by that agenda against the interests of Canadians and those who are at the very core of that economy, of that sector, of that livelihood we are debating today.
Over the last number of days we have been debating the government's steadfast agenda to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. In doing so, we have talked about a contrast of visions, one that would take Canada back in time and one that would move us forward.
Many decades ago the Canadian Wheat Board was developed at the wish of farmers. Farmers saw the way in which private companies, often not based in western Canada, profited from their hard work and left them little in return. Farmers knew that during times of economic downturn survival meant pulling together. Moving forward meant working together. Together they developed one of the most successful marketing entities in our country.
The Wheat Board developed into far more than a marketing board. It became part of developing and selling the best wheat in the world, Canadian wheat. For decades the Canadian Wheat Board has worked with farmers and entities such as the Canadian Grain Commission to develop a top Canadian brand for export. That brand has belonged not to the Canadian Wheat Board; it has belonged to Canadian farmers. It has belonged to all of us.
I remember visiting the offices of the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg on a few occasions. I saw the dozens of products that we as Canadians export to countries around the world, the products we contribute in terms of producing the final product, from pasta to rice to flour. The hard work of Canadian farmers has reached a level of reputation and is a guaranteed product from which we as Canadians have benefited. That top quality and that top brand has been a source of pride for all Canadians.
The Wheat Board though is more than a single desk. It represents the idea that those who produce the final product ought to have a say in the production. They ought to have a say in the future of their livelihoods. While the running of the Wheat Board has been shaped essentially by farmers, since 1998, 10 out of the 15 directors on the board have been elected by farmers themselves. Farmers have been in the driver's seat of an institution that works on their behalf. We have all benefited as a result of farmers guiding the Wheat Board. As farmers have prioritized the development of the best product in the world, Canada has benefited. As farmers have sought to maximize efficiency and cost savings, transportation routes across the Prairies, including in my home region, such as the Hudson Bay Line, and hubs such as the port of Churchill in my constituency have been utilized. As farmers have sought to create a system whereby stability is sought in an economy of increased uncertainty, farming families have benefited. As the Wheat Board has maximized the returns to farmers, rural communities and urban centres across western Canada have seen results.
Today that reality and that vision are at risk of disappearing. What has taken farmers decades to develop is at risk of being destroyed in a few short weeks, not by big corporations, not by another country, but by our very own government. A government that has claimed to stand for rural and western Canada threatens to bring it down.
The government's agenda on the Wheat Board is profoundly undemocratic. It is ignoring farmers' voices every step of the way. Where is the respect toward the directors of the Wheat Board, those who were elected by farmers, eight out of ten of whom were elected on a pro single desk position? Where is the respect for the plebiscite which indicated that a majority of farmers support the single desk marketing of wheat and barley? Finally, where is the duty of the government to follow section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states that any proposed changes to the Wheat Board's marketing structure ought to be put to farmers for a vote?
That is what we in the NDP are asking for today, that prairie farmers be the ones to have a say in their future and that the government respect farmers' democratic right to speak. As the current chair of the Wheat Board, farmer Allen Oberg, has said, the government's agenda is not about giving farmers choice, but ignoring the choices they have already made.
Members across in recent days have used the word “freedom”. My question is, what about farmers having the freedom to decide their own destiny? What about the freedom to have their democratic vote, as seen through the plebiscite, be respected? What about the freedom to say that they are opposed to the government's agenda in dismantling the Wheat Board?
The irony is that the same government has not been up front or consistent in talking to farmers. Some might call it a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach.
Recently, there was a federal election. We know for a fact that during the campaign many Conservative candidates did not speak about the Wheat Board. The subject was not in their material. If anything, they told a different story in person. There was a very vocal Conservative candidate in Churchill who mentioned a number of issues, but certainly did not mention the Wheat Board. That candidate certainly did not mention what the loss of the Wheat Board would mean to the community of Churchill, whose port depends 95% on the grain product that comes through the Canadian Wheat Board.
What kind of transparency was offered to people across the Prairies as they voted on May 2? Not only was it not made clear in the campaign what the government's agenda would be, but in some instances candidates actually served to hide their message. At a March agricultural forum in Minnedosa, Manitoba, hosted by the member of Parliament for , the told those gathered that the Conservatives “respected the vote of farmers”. He told the crowd, “Until farmers make that change, I'm not prepared to work arbitrarily.” He was also quoted as saying that the farmers “are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.”
Just a few short months ago, this is what the very people who will be most impacted heard from the very who today is turning his back on his commitment. Quite frankly, he is turning his back on democracy. How could the Conservatives possibly have one story during the election and a few short months later have a completely different story? This is also reason for concern in terms of what losing the Wheat Board will mean for the rest of our country, what it will mean for losing marketing structures, what it will mean for losing economic structures that put producers at the centre, and what it will mean not just for the west but for the whole country.
In my home region the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board is an important board that works hard on behalf of fishers in northern Manitoba and across western Canada. If this is the government's agenda on the Wheat Board, will it be the government's agenda when it comes to freshwater fish?
What about the kind of marketing structures on which people in other regions of Canada have been calling for protection?
I would like to underscore the message shared by a number of my colleagues from Quebec: supply management is an extremely important principle when it comes to developing the rural economy and Quebec's economy in general. Does this government also have an agenda for supply management? Even though today the government claims that it is not talking about abolishing it, it has been saying the same thing about the Canadian Wheat Board for months. It says that it will listen to what the farmers have to say. Does the same go for farmers in Quebec and Ontario? Is this only for prairie farmers? We would like to truly understand this government's logic.
If the government is not listening to farmers and is telling a different story on different occasions, then who is it listening to?
Many have said that those who stand to gain the most are the corporations, players such as Cargill, Viterra, Bunge and others that have been involved with agriculture all along. Profit is the bottom line of these corporations, not maximizing the return to farmers, the well-being of rural communities or ensuring that transportation networks across the Prairies are used in the most cost-effective way for farmers and the overall economy.
In a press release dated May 11, 2011, it is noted:
The Canadian government should give the grain industry at least six months to adjust before ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s grain monopoly, the chief executive of Cargill’s...Canadian subsidiary said on Wednesday.
A good time for the change, which would allow Western Canada’s farmers to sell their wheat and barley to anyone they choose instead of just the Wheat Board, would be Aug. 1, 2012, which starts the 2012/13 marketing year--
That happens to be the same timeline the government has chosen. The exact message of Cargill Canada is the Conservative government's message to us as Canadians. Who is making those decisions and in whose interests are those decisions being made?
I would like to reference a letter to the editor wherein one prairie farmer talked about his concern with regard to the story that came out that the grain firm, Bunge, welcomes an end to the Wheat Board. Mr. Don Dutchak mentioned:
Among his egregious opinions, [the CEO] remarks that other countries have eliminated board trade because “it’s not always well managed.”
The Auditor General of Canada and 14 international trade investigations of the Canadian Wheat Board would all beg to disagree. Report after report has spoken of the stellar management of the Canadian Wheat Board not only for the way in which it operates and prioritizes farmers but also for its transparency and accountability. However, that is not the story we are hearing from the corporations that are interested in what will be left when the Wheat Board is gone.
Economist Murray Fulton said that the loss of the CWB's single desk would make the Canadian system more like that in the U.S. where the grain company and railroad competition would fall, the current freight revenue cap would disappear and less value would be returned to farmers. He also said that the changes would be irreversible.
Mark Sandilands of the Lethbridge Herald pointed out that once the Wheat Board is gone, “We can imagine a modern feudal system with farmers at the mercy of multinational corporations who'll decide what to grow and how much to grow”.
The National Farmers Union stated:
Ending the single desk authority of the CWB...would transfer wealth created by Canadian farmers to big private, often foreign-owned grain companies instead of being returned to farmers and spent in their communities.
According to agricultural economist Richard Gray at the University of Saskatchewan, the winners are the big grain handlers. He states:
...big grain handlers such as Cargill, Viterra and Bunge should end up better off. They will face a huge new supply of sellers competing to unload their product and make money off the marketing margin, or difference between the purchase and resale price.
The control these corporations will have will not only set farmers back but will also seek to destroy the reputation Canada has for growing the best quality wheat in the world.
As was pointed out, the Canadian system of seed registration to outward inspection of a vessel is an expensive system that farmers pay for. However, it is worth it because a higher percentage of the world market for both high quality and regular grain is captured because of that consistent quality. That means more money and more sales for western producers.
We cannot compete on volume or price because of our landlocked position and high transportation costs so quality is essential. Donna Welke, former assistant commissioner for Saskatchewan with the Canadian Grain Commission pointed out that producers know that and so do our competitors. She noted that it is in the interest of the United States to blend down our quality to get a competitive advantage for its corporations.
The question that remains is how the government, which has many members who were elected in western Canada and which claims to stand up for rural Canada, can in good conscience say that it is acting in the best interests of farmers when we know by looking at the case of the Australian Wheat Board that it is the corporations that will gain. The farmers will lose in an increasingly insecure economy. The brand we have invested in and have developed over decades will suffer. Our rural communities and regions like western Canada, as well as other regions where people are concerned about the potential risk it would pose to the marketing structures in other parts of the country, will suffer.
How can the government dismiss these facts? How can it stand in opposition to the idea that farmers should be deciding their destiny?
I would also make reference to the level of extreme arrogance we have seen from government members on this issue. As a western Canadian, I am profoundly disturbed by the way in which they claim to know what western Canadians think about and what their interests are with regard to the Wheat Board while all the time they ignore the result of the plebiscite. They make statements such as those made by the regarding the train barrelling down on the Wheat Board or such as that made by the about blowing out the candles.
We know that this kind of arrogance does not go over well in western Canada. We have seen it before with the Mulroney government where in the end it had no seats left in western Canada because people supported the idea of a democratic voice and the need for people at the grassroots level to be heard. It is the kind of arrogance that claims the government knows better with regard to our future.
In closing, as a young Canadian and someone who comes from the west what concerns me the most is what this means for our future. I would like to quote from a letter written to CBC's As it Happens by Sid Stevenson. He said:
As a 24 year old, 5th generation Manitoba wheat grower, I feel compelled to respond to your interview with...[the] Minister of Agriculture.
He went on to say:
Farmers are perfectly capable of determining the marketing system we want. The majority has decided in favour of the CWB, so why is the government not supporting our decision.
Madam Speaker, I want to put on the record that this government cannot support this motion. We will not set aside Bill , as called for by this motion.
Having said that, I read over the motion and there were two words that jumped out at me, “democracy” and, of course, “supply management”, which the opposition is trying to hook into this argument as well.
In repeated surveys by the Canadian Wheat Board, a majority of farmers have asked for choice, and that number keeps going up. As late as last spring, 76% of young and beginning farmers were saying they want a choice, they want an option. That is exactly what this bill would do, and the marketing freedom for grain farmers act would deliver that choice. That is democracy at work.
With regard to supply management, which the opposition is trying to hook in here, unlike the members opposite, this government has actually taken concrete action to support supply management. During the last election, we were the only party to state unequivocally our support for supply management directly in our platform. In addition, we reiterated that commitment to supply management in the throne speech in the spring, something I cannot remember, in my 15 years here, happening on the other side at any given time. We have consistently defended our supply management system on the world stage, most recently at the Cairns Group meetings that I hosted in Saskatoon last month.
Please allow me to quote directly from Wally Smith, the newly elected president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, who was with us in Saskatoon. He said:
We welcome [the minister] underscoring that Canada remains steadfast in its support for what works here in Canada, namely our supply management system.
He went on to say:
[The minister] took advantage of the Cairns Group discussions to promote the Government’s support for our diverse agricultural sectors by broadening the focus to include other agricultural trade issues such as the role science and innovation can play for farmers, the environment and food security objectives.
I would go on with a whole list of favourable comments from industry on our steadfast support of supply management, but I will do that at another time.
The fact is the opposition is doing contortion acts to make a false connection back to this bill for marketing freedom. The two issues are further apart than apples and oranges. It is actually apples and walnuts. There is no link. Producers in the five supply managed industries, dairy, chicken, turkey, egg and boiler-hatching eggs, worked long and hard to establish these systems 40 years ago next year and we will celebrate that with them. The supply management industry is national in scope and that is one of the major differences between it and the Wheat Board.
There was strong support for the implementation of a supply management system before federal and provincial governments put it in place and it is a joint offering, similar to the Canadian Wheat Board in the Canadian Wheat Board area where four of the provinces are involved and three are on-side with us in making these timely and called for changes.
The producers who now participate in the supply managed system are supportive of that system, unlike farmers in the Wheat Board area who want options. Canada's supply management system, unlike the Canadian Wheat Board, does not draw from the public purse to backstop its expenditures where the Canadian Wheat Board, in the last years, has taken $1.3 billion from the public purse to backstop some mistakes that it made. Supply management is a proven system that enables our farmers to produce top quality poultry and dairy products enjoyed by Canadian farmers and, of course, the genetics from those great industries are world-renowned and in demand around the world.
On the other side of the coin is the Canadian Wheat Board, probably not even on the same coin. The Canadian Wheat Board is a regional monopoly. Supply management is national in scope, as I said. As it stands now, if we grow wheat, durum or barley, in western Canada only, and we want to sell it for export or for food use in Canada, then we have to sell it through the Canadian Wheat Board by law. If we wanted to sell our own wheat when the Liberals were in power, they would put us in shackles and leg irons, and throw us in jail. That was a terrible blight and I know that will be celebrated later today, in the movement forward on this act, by the farmers that were jailed.
Far from being universally supported, as is the case with the supply management system, a growing percentage of producers forced into the Canadian Wheat Board Act are demanding an option and we would deliver that. Our long-standing and continuing support for supply management and our commitment to marketing choice for western grain producers reflect this government's understanding of what Canadian farmers need to run their farm businesses effectively and be economically viable.
Motions like these are desperate scare tactics that the opposition, if it really understood agriculture, should be ashamed of. The opposition's fearmongering will not stop marketing freedom from coming, but it would and could destabilize a multi billion dollar western grain industry. It could undermine the livelihoods of thousands of grain farmers of all sizes.
It would be helpful at this time to cut through the rhetoric and review the basic goals of this dynamic piece of legislation. The main goal behind this change is to provide western Canadian farmers with more ways to achieve economic success.
Farmers who want access to a pooling system will continue to have that option through a new voluntary wheat board, while those who believe they can achieve greater success by dealing directly in the marketplace will also have that opportunity.
Canadian goods and foodstuffs are in growing demand around the world. Canadian producers in mining, forestry, energy and food are working hard to be the most competitive and successful producers on the globe. Re-organizing the role of a 68-year-old government monopoly with a transition of up to five years is hardly a radical idea.
The opposition loves to use the word “ideologue”, perhaps because it has been a while since its members put forward an idea with any kind of substance. One does not have to be an ideologue to realize the marketing conditions of 2011 are not similar to those of 1943, when the Wheat Board became mandatory. Canada is simply joining the ranks of major advanced industrialized countries that have abandoned these types of marketing systems.
Refusing to adapt and evolve is not a recipe for success but a guarantee of long-term stagnation. This change has been the subject of debate for many years and is now our responsibility to act on the commitment we have made in every election campaign.
Our objective now is to ensure that there is predictability and certainty to allow grain sellers and buyers to plan effectively for the coming season. This legislation has garnered overwhelming support from farmers, farm groups and industry as a whole.
The government has heard from a great number of entrepreneurial farmers who believe that their own operations will be more successful if they have the marketing choices this bill would provide.
A broadly based working group concluded in a report just last month that this would be the case. The fact is, today's entrepreneurial farmers are proving over and over that they can and will help drive our economy if they have control over their farm businesses and ultimately over their own bottom line.
For the grain industry this means a choice in how they market their grain, a choice in when they sell their crop, a choice in who they sell their crop to, a choice in what price they sell their own commodity for, and ultimately a choice in whether they sell their crop to a new voluntary wheat board or on the open market.
Our comprehensive plan brings certainty and clarity to farmers, industry and the market overall. The government has always maintained that farmers must have a choice in how they market their grain, whether that is individually or in an open market through a voluntary Canadian wheat board.
The act enables the government to provide the Canadian Wheat Board with the initial support required to operate as a voluntary marketing organization, allowing it time to transition to full private ownership. We will work with the board to ensure this transition happens, as soon and as smoothly as possible.
Once passed, the act will also allow farmers and grain companies to immediately enter into forward contracts with the purchase or sale of wheat, barley and durum for execution after the beginning of the crop year, August 1, 2012. This will allow farmers and the entire value chain to plan accordingly and transition in an orderly fashion.
This new freedom also has many economic benefits for communities across the Prairies. There has been a lot of doom and gloom speculated on here, but processors will now be able to open their doors for business, unfettered by the current requirement to buy wheat and barley only from the Canadian Wheat Board.
Canada's grain industry is a powerhouse that brings $16 billion to the farm gate and makes up almost half of our agricultural exports, but what once was Canada's signature crop is lagging behind. Wheat and barley innovation have become stagnant. Competition for acres has weakened, and new crops, such as canola, have surpassed wheat in value on the Prairies.
A C.D. Howe report released this spring confirmed that Canada's share of annual worldwide wheat production has fallen by 50%. Equally, Canadian market share of world barley exports has declined by 40%. With that reduced market share, the Canadian Wheat Board has far less influence on the world stage, and as a result, has become a price taker.
We have seen tremendous growth in value-added opportunities across the Prairies over the last 20 years for crops that do not have a monopoly market, including oats, pulses and canola. We will see these same opportunities open up for wheat and barley as we implement this marketing freedom act.
We will work with farmers and industry to attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger economy. We know that the potential for wheat durum and barley is high, but the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is, is standing in the way.
Look what happened to oats when it came out from under the monopoly. In Manitoba alone the acreage of oats has increased by 175,000 acres since its removal from the Wheat Board's control in 1989. Within weeks of that decision, two new processing plants were announced. Several more plants have been built in the late eighties and early nineties, significantly changing the oat market. This includes Can-Oat in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, which today employs 125 people. Manitoba now processes a half a million tonnes of oats annually.
Just over the border in North Dakota, there are many new pasta plants that have sprung up creating jobs that could have been created in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta for that matter.
We can expect more processors to start up new businesses in Canada. Private marketers of wheat and barley will expand their work forces. Milling firms will be able to purchase directly from the farmer of their choice at a price and time they negotiate. Entrepreneurs will have the option of starting up their own small specialty flour mills and malting and pasta plants.
In fact, just lately we had the honour of turning the sod on a new pasta plant in Regina, Saskatchewan. The company does manufacture pasta worldwide now but has stayed out of Canada because of the monopoly and all the red tape involved in dealing directly with durum producers. The new plant slated to open next year will create 60 permanent jobs and up to 150 temporary jobs. The stage is set. Market forces can come to bear.
Forward-thinking processors like Alliance Grain Traders will be able to deal directly with farmers for the quality and consistency of supply that has gone missing in the ridiculous buy-back program that the Wheat Board has implemented. The business model in Regina is based on more than just that, but at the end of the day, certainly this makes it easier to move forward.
Murad Al- Katib, a young, dynamic businessman from Davidson, Saskatchewan, was unequivocal in stating the removal of the single desk makes this new pasta plant in Regina all that much more possible.
Alliance Grain Traders has built a world-class pulse handling system for lentils, peas and so forth, doing it right here where they are grown not at point of sale, as the Wheat Board claims must be done. It sees that same opportunity for durum pasta and I look forward to celebrating its future successes, successes that would not be possible without this government's important legislation.
As one Saskatchewan farmer told The Globe and Mail recently, “I'm looking forward to selling to them” and I am sure he speaks for other durum growers in his province as well.
All this is great news for Saskatchewan and I know there is more to come. It is simple logic, but it seems to be lost on a lot of the naysayers. More buyers mean more competition and a better price for a farmer's grain. We are already seeing two commodity exchanges on both sides of the border start to compete for farmers' wheat.
For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be accepting futures of Canadian grain. For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be allowing Canadian grain to be used to settle futures contracts.
The Intercontinental Exchange Futures Canada in Winnipeg has announced that its own spring wheat futures contract based in western Canada will be ready for trading as soon as the bill receives royal assent. This is tremendous news, which means that farmers will have an important risk management tool for the day when they begin to market their grain themselves.
We are hearing a lot of fearmongering about big corporations, but the fact is that there are strong Canadian companies in the business who are eager to make marketing freedom work, of course, including a number of farmer-owned terminals across western Canada now who also own their own port terminal in Vancouver.
Mayo Schmidt, the president and CEO of Viterra, again a top-quality Canadian company headquartered in Regina, was quoted this past Friday saying he is eager to work with the voluntary board to move the industry forward. He will handle their grain. This is his quote:
If the Wheat Board chooses to engage with industry to frame out a relationship and access to the (grain-handling) system, which will be provided, I think their prospects will be greater if they do it sooner than if they do it later.
Let us stop holding them up and let the market work. He also said: “The opportunity is now to take advantage of the openness and willingness of all players to welcome them as a participant”. He added that competition for farmers' grain will be fierce, adding that it is bound to increase dramatically as it has since the end of the Australian Wheat Board's grain monopoly three years ago.
As we all know, nothing good ever comes easily. As is evident by our comprehensive plan, our government is working diligently with industry to make the road to an open market as smooth as possible. We are taking every precaution to ensure that the transition period is as smooth as possible for farmers and industry overall.
Canada's farmers grow world-class food in a global marketplace that is ripe with opportunity. We are seeking to put wheat and barley farmers back in the driver's seat so they can seize these opportunities. Our government will free our farmers so they can continue to drive the economy and feed Canada and the world.
The motion from the member for is counterproductive and will only hurt the overall grain industry in western Canada. It is not surprising the opposition seems out of touch with western farmers, as it has no rural seats in the Wheat Board affected area. What is surprising is that opposition members continue to put their own self-interests ahead of ensuring stability and marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.
I urge all members of the House to work for farmers, not against them. Let us show western Canadian grain farmers that their voices have been heard, that marketing freedom is a right they deserve, and vote against this reckless motion.
Madam Speaker, I am certainly grateful for another opportunity to rise and speak to the wrong-headed, ideological attack the Conservative government has perpetrated on western grain farmers and the family farm across Canada.
I am grateful for this opportunity because, sadly, it was not one the government was willing to afford the producers most meaningfully impacted by its reckless decision to kill the single desk marketing and sales arm of the Canadian Wheat Board.
More than the disenfranchisement of western wheat and barley growers, this is about the disenfranchisement of Canadians. The government demonstrated in the last Parliament that it was not about to listen to any voice that opposed its singular branded message. It fired Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. It fired Linda Keen, chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Now every time a Conservative MP talks about his or her mandate, the subtext is subtly “resistance is futile”. Western Canadian grain growers will not be silenced. Neither will we on this side of the House.
Predictably, as it has done with the bill meant to address human smuggling, its omnibus crime bill and its budget bill, the Conservative government gave notice of motion for time allocation after only an hour and a half of debate.
While I understand that listening to the can be tiring even for a Conservative partisan, standing up for western farmers who may disagree with the minister--even Conservative farmers whom the government refuses to listen to--is no reason to cut off debate.
Clearly the Conservative government acknowledged my assertion that we should not be having this debate, since the bill is very obviously in contravention of section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Its response, however, instead of holding a plebiscite, was to bury its head in the sand to a wave of criticism levelled at its illegal actions.
I will remind hon. members that section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act states:
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...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 government is missing a key element in its ideological pursuit of the death of the single desk sales and marketing system: the will of the majority of western Canadian grain farmers. Consequently, the legislation before us over the past week exceeds the authority of the government, based on its neglect in fulfilling all of its obligations.
The institution of the Canadian Wheat Board is considered so sacrosanct that codified in the statute is a mechanism designed to protect farmers from a government arbitrarily removing the strength and clout of an agency that sells wheat and barley at the best possible prices on behalf of all western Canadian grain farmers. Section 47.1 was enshrined in the Canadian Wheat Board Act to prevent the very abuse that is being perpetrated by the minister and the government.
Repeatedly throughout the past few days of debate, Conservative members have lamented the plebiscite and argued its imperfections. On this side, we have never insisted that the government take the word of 62% of wheat farmers and 51% of barley farmers for granted. Instead, like true democrats we have argued that the government, if not satisfied with the plebiscite held by farmers themselves, should hold its own plebiscite, as mandated by the act, and determine the will of farmers.
The Liberal Party is not one to stand in the way should a majority of farmers in the Prairies decide to cut out their marketing and sales arm. They know best. They must decide for themselves, as they have a right to decide for themselves.
We have been clear from the start: let farmers decide. The government will not even allow that to happen. Despite its lamentations on Ontario's ability to market its own grain, the government conveniently forgets that Ontario wheat farmers made their own decision to stop marketing grain through a single desk.
Canadians must know that the marketing of wheat in Ontario and the marketing of wheat in the Prairies are two very different situations. Ontario produces soft wheat used for pastry, cookies and doughnuts, while the red spring wheat from the west goes to making durum and pasta. Ontario flour mills rely on prairie wheat for bread flour.
Moreover, the Prairies produce 80% of Canada's wheat, ten times more wheat than eastern Canada. Ninety percent of Ontario wheat is consumed in Ontario or the northeast United States; meanwhile, 68% of Prairie wheat is exported. It is destined to other countries at greater transportation costs, costs that are kept low by the clout of the Wheat Board. Transportation is certainly less a factor in Ontario, given its close location to its markets.
Why is it, then, that Conservative MPs from the Prairies trust western grain farmers when relying on their votes, but less so to make their own decisions on marketing and selling their grain? Despite their Reform Party ideology, this Conservative Party seems to have forgotten, once having come to power, that western Canadian grain producers deserve the same right to self-determination as that exercised by Ontario farmers decades ago.
Neither the nor the has ever made much of a secret of their single-minded desire for the death of the single desk system, but their reluctance to hear from the Canadian public on the issue is disturbing. Indeed, I have received messages from western producers that their own Conservative MPs are refusing to take their calls or answer their emails in their plight to be heard. So blinded are these western Conservative MPs, so zealous are they in their pursuit, that they have abandoned their responsibilities to their constituents.
Interestingly, heading into an election, the was more than willing to listen to farmers. He assured western Canadian grain producers in Minnedosa, as recited in the Manitoba Co-operator in March, that farmers would have their say on the fate of the single desk system, that he would not act arbitrarily and that a Conservative government would not undertake any action without hearing first from farmers, yet once elected, neither the minister nor the was willing to hear the voice of the majority of farmers.
I hearken to a comment made many years ago by the that he would change the face of Canadian politics. He has done more than change the face: he has disfigured it. Instead, the minister, the and other members of the Conservatives' string puppet orchestra harp on about a mandate.
In August 68,000 ballots were mailed out to farmers. Over the course of that month, meetings were held across the Prairies. Hundreds of farmers came in off the fields for meetings as harvest began, simply to ensure their voices were heard. I and other members of my party were there. We saw the many hundreds for ourselves and we heard their voices, their dismay and anger at the government. Farmers from both sides attended these meetings, listened respectfully and made their points as to why they believed the single desk should go or stay.
There is no mandate to proceed illegally with a bill to jeopardize the livelihood of western Canadian grain farmers. Not even receiving 24% support from eligible voters would give a mandate to tear the marketing sales arm away from Canadian farmers.
In Colonsay, Saskatchewan, in the riding of the minister of western economic diversification, farmers do not believe there is a mandate to kill the single desk system. They gathered there together on Friday in protest and said so. Nor do they believe that in Brandon–Souris, where again farmers gathered to say so, yet apparently their members of Parliament are deaf to the voices of their constituents. Even after three days of debate, not one single Conservative prairie MP has had the courage to stand up and defend the rights of their constituents to hold a government-conducted plebiscite as mandated by section 47.1 of the act.
Later this week, farmers will gather in Winnipeg. While we can only hope that the government will take the time to take notice, we should not hold our breath, because the government does not notice anything or anyone who is not in total agreement with it.
The results of the plebiscite were unambiguous. There was a 56% response rate, a number similar to the turnout in many recent general elections and byelections, including in the minister's own riding. Sixty-two per cent of wheat producers and 51% of barley producers voted to retain their single desk marketing and sales arm under the Canadian Wheat Board. Regrettably, the minister dismissed the results as an expensive survey.
Unfortunately, Canadians do not have the same opportunity to dismiss their muzzled Prairie MPs' own election results similarly.
Strangely, just yesterday Conservative MPs were willing to cite other Canadian Wheat Board surveys only so long as they were in compliance with their own viewpoints. Again I ask the members opposite to remember where they hid their courage before walking into this chamber, and if they are so confident in the will of western Canadian grain farmers, to hold a plebiscite.
Instead the government, through its misguided legislation, has sought to silence farmers in every way possible. Not only does it blatantly ignore the right of western Canadian grain farmers to self-determination through a plebiscite, but it is eliminating the democratic will of farmers through their elected farm directors. Clause 12 of Bill states that:
Every person holding office as an elected director of the Canadian Wheat Board immediately before the day on which this Part comes into force ceases to hold office on that day.
These are farmers chosen by farmers to be on the board and represent their interests, and now there shall be none. Instead of 10 elected directors, the Canadian Wheat Board will consist of five Conservative-appointed directors.
Consistently, eight of the 10 elected directors have consistently supported the single desk system. By reducing the number of directors from 10 elected and five appointed to simply five government-appointed directors on the five-year interim voluntary wheat board, the Conservative government would have it that only its own people, dictated to from the Prime Minister's Office, would speak for the multitude of farmers, thus suppressing any sort of democratic expression. The government places a higher value on ideology than on the experience of farmers.
Many, including the otherwise conservative magazine The Economist, argue that in the fragile state of the world economy, dismantling this single desk system will mean that:
Smaller producers, faced with mounting marketing costs, will inevitably have to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agribusiness companies...devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income.
What is to stop the market freedom government from going further? Janis Joplin once sang that “freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose”. There is more to lose. Once the government dismantles the single desk for Canadian wheat, the only thing left to lose will be the supply management system for poultry, dairy and eggs. I suppose that farmers at that point will not be “nothin' if they ain't free”.
The United States has unilaterally thickened the border in an effort to “stimulate their economy”. The number one trade asked by Americans has always been to get rid of the Wheat Board. Why? It is because it gives our farmers a competitive advantage. Now the Conservative government is kowtowing to our neighbours to the south by not only rolling over on protectionism but also offering up our competitive advantage as an appetizer. This comes from a who criticized our former Liberal government for not deregulating our banking system as the Americans had, and as they wished, wishing instead to walk in lockstep with our neighbours on every issue and getting nothing in return.
There have been 14 challenges to the World Trade Organization from the United States demanding we get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board. In every instance, the WTO has ruled in our favour and allowed western grain producers to maintain their valuable resource. Let us make no mistake: once it is gone, the provisions of our trade agreement say that it can never be brought back.
Just yesterday, the was caught unable to answer why the government feels our future key grain decisions are just as well made in Minneapolis, Chicago or Kansas City, where they will be. There have been no assurances made by the government regarding Canadian food sovereignty. It is one thing that these small family farms will be bought up by massive agribusinesses; it is entirely another to see Canadian farms expropriated by foreign interests, not unlike the purchasing of our mineral-rich lands out west. These interests are concerned with their own national food security and not at all with Canadian food sovereignty.
Last week I asserted that the has become the head chef and bottle-washer to the U.S. trade administration, but I was wrong: to be the head chef, the U.S. would have to come to us. Instead, we will shortly become the all-too-willing caterer to the perpetual buffet of trade concessions.
Regardless of the assertions of the made yesterday respecting supply management, the government could not even make good on its promise to western Canadian grain producers to listen to their voice. What assurances can the remaining five supply managed industries glean? We would be foolish and naive to think that our supply managed industries, poultry, dairy and eggs, are not already now being lined up in the sights of the government for their demise.
Farmers will also be free to be railroaded by CN and CP Rail. Representatives of other agricultural industries have approached me concerned that Canada is regarded as an unreliable supplier of agricultural commodities by virtue of the fact that it cannot get its supplies to port along the railway. In large part, this is a direct result of the ongoing disputes between suppliers and CN-CP Rail.
The agricultural industries anticipated that these concerns would be addressed in the rail service review tabled in March. Meanwhile, seven months later, we are talking about stripping prairie farmers of transportation infrastructure while the government shelves yet another report.
Where is the facilitator for the rail industry? I have spoken to pulse producers and they have asked where the rail service level agreements are for them and other producers across the agricultural industry. Where are the mechanisms to protect farmers and prevent abuse by unresponsive rail companies?
The has been remarkably silent on this issue. Shortline Railway owners are rightfully worried that they will no longer be able to maintain their railways without the support of the Canadian Wheat Board once it has gone. Western grain farmers have turned to the shortlines in response to the closing of sidings and unresponsive railway companies.
Farmers understand the virtue of saving $1,400 per producer car on transportation costs through the CWB's unique bargaining position, a savings that will be lost almost immediately. Presently, it is in a position to negotiate with CN and CP Rail to ensure the adequate supply of producer cars. With the loss of the clout of the Canada Wheat Board, this, too, will be lost.
In my conversations with western Canadian grain farmers, all too often I have heard tragic stories about the treatment of producers at the hands of the railways. The railway companies have such disregard for wheat farmers that often they will send railway cars with holes in them, without any consideration for what grain will be lost along the way. Farmers individually are up against the behemoth where once their collective clout enabled them recourse in the face of such poor treatment.
The government seems intent on spending a conservatively estimated $500 million, in a time when it claims that we are still in a fragile economic state, to demobilize an organization that has yet to require any federal funding. It has been farmer funded for farmer profits and yet the so-called Conservatives are ready to forsake billions of dollars in revenue for farmers while spending hundreds of millions to dismantle it.
Clearly, the protection of the family farm in the prairie provinces is not a priority under a Conservative government. The Conservatives might have done anything else to accommodate the popular will of a majority of wheat and barley farmers and yet decided against it for their own ideological needs.
The legislation is endemic of the government's mean-spiritedness. It is ill-conceived. Just yesterday, the was forced to take down a video on his website that was not only blatantly inaccurate, but contained repeated bigoted racist slurs.
Such is the arrogance of the government that it feels it is no longer responsible to ordinary Canadians for its actions. The legislation made it clear and the will of western Canadian farmers confirmed that the Canadian Wheat Board is an essential institution on the prairies.
Having only passed second reading, the government still has the opportunity to withdraw its legislation and hold a plebiscite to finally determine the will of Canadian farmers. I implore the government to conduct such a plebiscite in the interests of our farmers and in the interests of democracy.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of our party's opposition motion on the Canadian Wheat Board. I am pleased to split my time with my colleague, the member for .
I am very happy to hear there may be some movement on the other side in that members are asking for a plebiscite, which is at the heart of the opposition day motion.
Our motion, as so eloquently introduced by the member for , calls on the government to set aside its legislation abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board and to conduct a full and free vote by all current members of the Canadian Wheat Board to determine their wishes. My speech today will speak directly to this motion, which is a direct reaction to Bill . I support our motion not only because I believe that maintaining the Canadian Wheat Board is important for Canadians, but I also feel Bill undermines Canadian democracy and is another example of how the Conservatives are using their majority power in an irresponsible manner.
There are two critical aspects of Canadian democracy. One of them is with regard to outcomes and the other is with regard to process. With respect to outcomes, those who often judge the health of a democracy examine the extent to which the preferences of minority groups are respected when elected governments make decisions. In terms of process, the extent to which a democracy can be considered healthy rests on the extent to which governments include citizens in both electoral and non-electoral decision making. Our motion speaks to how Bill undermines Canadian democracy with regard to both outcomes and process, and I hope all members of the House will support it.
Before discussing how Bill undermines both the outcome and process of democracy, it is worth stepping back to look at the institution which we support with our motion.
The Canadian Wheat Board is the prairie farmers' marketing organization for wheat, durum and barley. It is the largest and most successful grain marketing company in the world. It is a very impressive institution, proud to be called Canadian and recognized around the world.
The Canadian Wheat Board's roots date back to the 1920s when western farmers began pooling their grain in order to obtain better prices. It was a collective effort supported right across the country. In 1943 the single desk was created, mandating all prairie farmers to market their wheat through the Canadian Wheat Board. The single desk structure provided financial stability, prudent risk management and certainty of grain supply, all important during the war years but also after the war ended.
The Canadian Wheat Board is controlled, directed and funded by farmers. It is not a government organization; it is a farmers organization. The Canadian Wheat Board sells all around the world and arranges for transportation from thousands of farms to customers in 70 countries. About 21 million tonnes of wheat and barley are marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board every year.
Eighty per cent of the wheat grown in western Canada each year is exported overseas. It is not only an important Canadian institution but it is an important organization worldwide. Overseas exports are the Canadian Wheat Board's core business, but it also supplies Canadian millers and maltsters. The Canadian Wheat Board does not set grain prices, which again is an important component of the Canadian Wheat Board, but prices are established by global supply and demand factors. However, its size and market power are used to help maximize grain prices.
The benefit to farmers is clear in the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board and its practice. It helps farmers worldwide. It helps Canadian farmers, but it still operates within the confines of the market. The prices are established by global supply and demand. However, it provides farmers certainty.
The Canadian Wheat Board does not buy wheat and barley from farmers. Instead, it acts as their marketing agent. There is such a big fuss for an institution that is really a marketing agent. We hear the other side talk about monopolies and trampling on minority rights. It is a marketing board that is doing good work for farmers and, in fact, allowing them to survive.
The Canadian Wheat Board negotiates international sales and passes the return back to farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board retains no earnings aside from what is needed to cover the costs and financial risk management.
The Canadian Wheat Board supports its marketing program through a variety of other activities, including market development, strategy, research and analysis, and policy advocacy. Again, this is an organization that is built by farmers, helping farmers to get the best prices possible but still operating within the market. There is nothing insidious here. It only helps. In fact, it is the only way in which a number of small farms survive.
The Canadian Wheat Board also administers assistance for grain delivery and farmer payments, including innovative pricing programs that help producers manage cash flow and risk.
I did not grow up on the Prairies; I grew up in rural Nova Scotia where I was surrounded by farms. Lots of farms cannot make it, especially small farms. They collapse because the risk is so great. The Canadian Wheat Board helps these small farms survive. If we abolish it, these small farms will undoubtedly collapse.
The Canadian Wheat Board mitigates risk for farmers, including when and if they will get paid on time, whether they are willing to sell their grain to the right buyer on the right day and how to get the grain to the buyer.
It is not a government agency or crown corporation. It is not funded by taxpayers. Farmers pay for its operation from their grain revenue. Again, it is not a government agency nor a crown corporation. Here again is an example of an arrogant majority government interfering in an organization that is operated outside the confines of government.
I will return to my two main points about outcomes and process being ways that we can evaluate the health of our Canadian democracy.
In terms of outcomes, Bill proposes to dismantle the farmer-controlled and funded Canadian Wheat Board by eliminating the single desk marketing of wheat and barley.
It establishes a voluntary Canadian wheat board, but no one here believes that this effort is genuine. It is just because the government is afraid to say it is going to abolish the whole thing. It wants to make it seem like it is in steps. The voluntary aspect of the Canadian Wheat Board is merely a way for the government to say it is not completely abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board in one fell swoop.
The Canadian Wheat Board is good for Canada and it is also good for small farmers. This is what we would evaluate in terms of outcomes. If the government manages to pass Bill , how many small farmers will be left in five years? I think that is the important thing to measure.
We need to look at whether the majority government is running roughshod over the will of local farmers. In five years when we look at this and we see all these family farms that have collapsed, we will have to ask if this was the right thing to do.
Our opposition day motion states that we should let farmers have a voice as is mandated in the act. That is what I will speak to here in terms of process.
Probably the most egregious part of Bill is the process by which the government is attempting to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board. It is worth looking at the Canadian Wheat Board Act to see what the process is supposed to be and then contrast it with what the government is actually doing.
Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act states:
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--
There are lots of subsections and lots of things the minister has to pay attention to. The government cannot introduce any changes without consulting with the Wheat Board.
Second and most important:
(b) the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension, the voting process having been determined by the Minister.
What this section outlines is there has to be a plebiscite. This is enshrined in law. In fact the Conservatives themselves used this under a former government.
This is an act by which the government will be judged. It is going to destroy local farms. In five years we are going to see a lot fewer family farms on the Prairies.
The government is showing Canadians how it approaches democracy in this country. Even though it is mandated to have a plebiscite, the government ignores this requirement. This goes against the traditions of the Conservative Party itself.
The Reform Party and the Alliance Party that make up the Conservative Party fought in this House to increase Canadian democracy. I applaud them for that. In fact, Randy White brought in private members' bills to bring in a recall initiative. This goes against that tradition. I am very upset about that and I think Canadians will be, too.
Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in favour of our motion today.
This is an opportunity for the Conservative government to restore faith with the Canadian public and save an institution that has served farmers so well. Although it is seen as a success story around the world, the Canadian Wheat Board is being attacked by Conservatives with an ideologically driven agenda that favours wealthy middlemen at the expense of Canadian farmers.
The Canadian Wheat Board helps to ensure that farmers can sell their grain to the right buyer and that it can be transported effectively to that buyer. We live in a big country and a co-operative approach to accessing markets is a hallmark of our Canadian experience. Now is the time for us to once again commit ourselves to that co-operative approach and uphold our values in the face of corporate greed. In Canada, co-operation has allowed this country to survive and our co-operative approach is not only demonstrated by the wish of our farmers, it is also, frankly, sound economics.
Allen Oberg, a farmer and Canadian Wheat Board chair of the board of directors, stated recently that dismantling the Wheat Board single desk will “jeopardize a $5 billion export sector. It will shift money from the pockets of Canadian farmers into the hands of American corporations”.
Enriching foreign corporations at the expense of our farmers does not seem like good, sound economic management to me. It sounds like the Conservative government is deliberately risking the impoverishment of our farmers in order to benefit foreign corporations that do not need our help.
Results of a recent Canadian Wheat Board ad hoc plebiscite indicated that 62% of farmers voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat. The majority voted to retain it for barley also. With over 38,000 farmers participating, this plebiscite is clearly indicative of the popular vote.
As a gesture of good faith, before any changes are made to the Canadian Wheat Board, the government should study the impact that dismantling the single desk would have on our farmers and economy. The Conservative government should stop its single-minded approach and hear the objections of our farmers and their families. Farm families deserve the government's support far more than a bunch of wealthy agri-business middlemen.
However, the Conservative government seems to lack the will to reflect on its actions. Single-mindedness has led to a complete lack of openness to hearing the other points of view. It certainly has no intention of allowing debate to slow the Conservative express train's transfer of our grain to big city corporate interests.
For example, we had only been debating the bill on eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board single desk for a single day when the government decided to invoke closure and stifle debate. This has to be some sort of a record. The Conservatives are prepared to stifle debate and silence opposition, but to what end? These Conservative Party members used to tell us that they would do things differently and would encourage healthy debate. They seem to have changed their tune.
I will repeat what I said in this House only a few days ago. On March 31, 2004, the leader of the Conservative Party, then in opposition, stated, “The government invoked closure in the House after only six days”.
The leader of the Conservative Party was clearly incensed that a government would be so callous as to invoke closure after only six days of debate that he was willing to call the governing party on it. I completely agree, but the should heed his own advice and reopen the debate on this undemocratic move.
What is the point in forcing an end to debate when the fundamental issue of farmers' rights to decide for themselves has clearly not been heard? The Conservative government seems to have a tin ear when it comes to regional needs. What was its slogan in the last election?
“Our region in power.” It seems to me that the real region in power, at least in the eyes of the Conservative government, is the one between the minister and the boards of multinationals.
The Conservatives seem focused on attacking our regions and everything that affects the families of small and medium-sized producers. In my riding, fishers are the biggest producers of food products. Yet, the government has eliminated the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, which was created in partnership with our fishers. This council was created in 1993, after the cod moratorium was announced, in order to determine exactly what the situation was with fish stocks. Each year, the council took a stock inventory, and fishing quotas were based on that data. It was a wonderful example of co-operation between the government and fishers. It was an independent body that generated reliable data. It was because of this partnership with fishers that the council was so successful at helping us manage a crucial resource for eastern Canada's fishers. The council has a proven track record, yet the government shut it down without any warning.
If we do not support the single desk system that is the Canadian Wheat Board, small producers, fishers and fish plant workers, as well as western farmers and their families, will be the ones who suffer the consequences.
The effect that this will have on grain farmers is not our only concern. We must also think about the spinoffs generated by the Canadian Wheat Board. One example of many is access to railway services. The construction of the railway to Churchill, Manitoba, was completed in 1929. Today, the Canadian Wheat Board is by far the largest user of the Port of Churchill, with its shipments accounting for 95% of the port's cargo. Grain is transported by railway in producer cars at an affordable price.
Without a single desk system, it is doubtful that the Wheat Board's competitors will want to use the Port of Churchill as much as the board does since they have their own port facilities on the west coast and in Thunder Bay. The Port of Churchill does not interest them. We believe that they will even want to favour their own facilities elsewhere. The Port of Churchill and the railway will be at risk if we do not protect the single desk system.
The railway in my riding is also at risk. Most of the forestry companies have shut down, and we find ourselves with a railway whose only reliable customers are passengers. Given the privatization of our railway by CN, like the privatization of the railway leading to Churchill in favour of Omnitrax, the railway must be profitable to be attractive to private companies.
We are not questioning the fact that the main routes must be profitable. They are subsidized without too many questions being asked but, to date, it does not seem as though this government is terribly concerned about the railways.
The people in my riding have been reflecting on our railway. Similarly, the people of northern Manitoba should consider how viable their railway will be if the Canadian Wheat Board single desk system is not supported.
The Wheat Board has a much greater role than simply managing the transportation and sale of grain. The Wheat Board supports the economy and infrastructure of a number of communities.
Canada's northern infrastructure is at risk. Our northern railways and the Port of Churchill have taken years to develop and communities have been built around them. Yet, the Conservative government is telling people who depend upon them and their largest client to just go and let the port shove off.
Removing the single desk will risk lower grain prices for producers, which means that farmers will suffer. Farmers may leave the industry. The lower prices will certainly not be passed on to consumers. No. Experience tells us that middlemen, the large corporate agri-business interests, will profit from lower prices and they will not pass on their savings.
The Conservative members are so fixated on their ideologically-driven agenda, they have become deaf to the voices of the farmers, the very people they claim to be helping. Clearly, it is not the needs of the farmers that are being addressed here. It is the desire of large foreign-owned corporations to have cheap access to our grain. It does not need to be this way.
In taking away farmers' rights without real debate, the Conservative government has proven that it has become too self-righteous for its own good. Against such opposition, how can the Conservatives remain deaf to the needs of farmers? We need a plebiscite, the law requires it, and it is only right.
Mr. Speaker, I generally do not thank opposition parties for all they do, but I have to thank them for continuing to bring the debate on the Canadian Wheat Board to the floor of the House of Commons. This is an issue which is fairly dear to my heart and as I get into my speech everyone will understand why. It is also an issue I am very familiar with.
Before I get into my speech, I need to say a couple of things.
I need to thank the translators who are going to translate my speech. I have a habit of not handing in proper speaking notes and therefore I am a bit more of a challenge for them than most members.
I also want to thank the . Many people have noted he has a particular passion on this issue, and yet he is not from a rural background. To use a term that is used back home, he is a city boy. However, he understands that this is a fundamental issue. It is an issue about freedom and one that goes to the essence and core of who people are in western Canada and the Prairies. I want to extend a special thanks to the , much more than the general thanks members often give to their party leaders. For someone who has represented Calgary in the House of Commons and who originally comes from Etobicoke, he has taken true leadership on this issue.
As I was saying when I began my speech, this is an issue which I understand personally. It is an issue that relates to the history of my family. I come from a prairie riding. The constituency of Saskatoon—Humboldt is now one-third rural and about two-thirds urban, representing the city of Saskatoon, but it is still very deeply tied to the agriculture industry. It is very much about the people I represent, but it is so much more than that for me because this is the story of my family and how they came to Canada.
On my mother's side, my great-grandpa first settled in what was then the Northwest Territories, coming from Manitoba to take up a homestead in the year 1900 in the Hague district of Saskatchewan. That was a time when people looked forward to the great opportunities the Prairies offered. It was before Saskatchewan was a province. Canada was still in its early formation. He settled there because it was about having his own property and freedom. He was born in the Ukraine, Russia and came to a place where he could actually make his own living.
On my father's side of the family tree, my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my dad also farmed in the eastern section of Saskatchewan. I farmed with my dad for a short time. They originally came from Yevpatoriya, Russia via Germany to settle in that area. Coincidentally, and this is interesting, one of the first pieces of land they bought had been owned by Charles Dunning, who later became the premier of Saskatchewan. I guess I am not the first farmer who did not succeed in farming and went into politics. There is a bit of a history.
That is the story. They began to farm, not as opposition members have talked about as big or grand farmers. My dad, my Uncle Ronnie and Uncle Bernie never were big farmers. They were small farmers. My great-grandfather and grandfather were very much the poorest of the poor farmers having come from a prisoner-of-war misplaced persons camp in Germany after the first world war. This is their story. This is a story of prairie people.
Many people from eastern and northern Europe who came to Canada never had the right or ability to own their own land, to own what was theirs. It was either collectivized in later years by the communist socialist governments of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union or by the more futile enterprises of the Austro-Hungarian czarist empire. It was very important to people to own their own land and control their own produce in order to make a living and a future for themselves.
Other provinces were created on the Prairies, but my family farms in the province of Saskatchewan. Farmers began to work together to increase their ability to market their grain to get a better livelihood for themselves.
Although my hon. colleagues across the way have noted the various co-operatives, the pools and various things like that, they failed to mention the institutions like UGG, United Grain Growers, the various pools, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Alberta Wheat Pool and Manitoba Pool Elevators. These were voluntary institutions. The various agrarian and farm organizations got together voluntarily to pool their efforts. That history is often forgotten when we talk about the Canadian Wheat Board.
The legislation the government is proposing, which the introduced and the Conservative members of the House are supporting, is not a bill to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board. It is a bill to eliminate the monopoly provisions contained in the act so that farmers will have the freedom to market their own grain and to return the Wheat Board to a more voluntary institution.
As time goes on, we will see what that voluntary institution is. It possibly will be another co-operative, a re-creation in the same spirit of UGG and the wheat pools from which the original Wheat Board itself was created. We are not quite sure at this point, but it is a possibility.
It needs to be remembered that when the original Wheat Board was created and modified in various forms it did not originally have these monopoly provisions. The Wheat Board began to acquire its monopoly provisions in the 1940s and its ability to control the price of grains, and currently it is for wheat, malt and barley, but it included other commodities during World War II. Corn, sunflower and various other crops come to mind. In 1941 the government of the day gave the Canadian Wheat Board the ability to cap prices and to control the prices. The monopoly provision came to be during the second world war. In 1943, the War Measures Act made selling through the Canadian Wheat Board compulsory.
Members of the House need to understand the co-operative nature of original prairie agrarian institutions, the wheat pools, the UGGs, the original Wheat Board, was very different from the monopoly provisions that were brought in in the 1940s. Those monopoly provisions were put in under the War Measures Act to assist in the Canadian war effort during World War II. They were not put in for the good of farmers.
As the war ended and the provisions in the act came up for review every five years, they would be renewed by the House until 1965, when they were made permanent.
The crops and various other aspects of the Wheat Board have changed over the years. Oats were removed from the purview of the Wheat Board, as were some of the other crops that I mentioned earlier. Since Charlie Mayer , a former minister responsible for the Wheat Board removed oats from it, we have seen how that market has succeeded and grown in western Canada.
Something that needs to be fundamentally understood and grasped is that originally, the Canadian Wheat Board was not a monopoly organization. It was not compulsory. That is fundamentally what we are trying for today.
To bring some present day reality to this debate, I phoned one of my relatives who is still farming, my cousin Dwight in the Yorkton area, and talked with him about the value of it. He was pretty matter of fact. Like a lot of younger farmers, he has moved on from wheat being the dominant crop for making his living. He has gone to canola and flax. Dwight has always been more inventive and a lot more active on various things than either my dad or his dad was. I asked him about grain prices, because I am not as in touch with grain prices as I was when I hauled grain for my dad a few years ago. He said it cost him about $1.50 a bushel right now for losses between what he could market his grain for to the Ontario and Minneapolis markets as to what he would be getting from the Wheat Board. That does not sound like a whole lot, but when the overall price is in the neighbourhood of $6 or $7 a bushel, getting an extra $1.50 means quite a lot.
When they look at the final profit margin, this is very important. That is the economic argument many farmers have been making.
It is not purely the economic argument I am making today in the House. There are broader issues for my family members and for constituents to be more prosperous. There is a broader fundamental issue that needs to be addressed which actually extends it beyond the farmers and agriculture industry to all Canadians.
Most Canadians, myself among them, understand that parties are not perfect ideological or philosophical creatures. However, they do fall into general broad categories.
The opposition New Democratic Party likes to call itself a social democratic party for the particular brand of socialism that it espouses. If we listen to its members' underlying rhetoric, they tend to talk a lot about fairness, which is often a fairly subjective criterion. However, it tends to be in their discourse and that of their supporters.
As with all socialist movements, they tend to be concerned not so much about the creation of wealth but the redistribution of it. They view that the role of the government, an entity set up by the state, is to level the playing field with respect to economic fairness and redistribution. That is why a monopolistic single desk Canadian Wheat Board that would send people to jail for selling their own wheat in their own way fits so clearly with their political philosophy. It is something that meshes with the purpose of the state not being to protect any basic rights but being to collectivize, to spread out and to redistribute wealth.
Parties that tend to be more attuned to free enterprise and at least espouse that, understandably not always perfectly, tend toward the more classical liberal tradition of parliamentary discourse. They believe that the whole purpose of the state is to protect life, liberty and property. We see this in our government's approach to how we are dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board.
People who grew up on a family farm understand very clearly that farming is not just another business. It is not a trade that someone goes into. My dad and my grandpa started farming with their dads. I was driving a tractor, doing summer fallow and hauling grain well before I was legally able to drive vehicles on the bigger roadways. That was part of who I was. When I was six or seven years old, I remember working with my father on the farm. While I might not have been all that helpful, from my perspective it was a total part of my life.
For farmers, this is a fundamental element of who they are as individuals. It is about their liberty. It is about their property. We need to understand that many of the eastern and northern European farmers settled in western Canada because they wanted to have that very bit of property they had been denied. To them it meant freedom. Yet in the Canadian Wheat Board we see this contradiction that the government can effectively collectivize and take away their property, their wheat. They grew their wheat. They produced their wheat. Why can they not market their wheat? If they want to voluntarily join with another group in a co-operative, as was done with the UGG, the wheat pools, the original wheat board, that should be their choice.
That is the fundamental issue we come to. That is why our party, with that broad perception of life, liberty and property, is very interested in defending the rights of farmers to protect their right to market.
There are a couple of issues which my hon. colleagues across the aisle have dealt with. Their main talking point today seems to be the Wheat Board survey that showed a majority of respondents supporting a single desk. I would like to note a couple of things for people who are not familiar with this.
Most people who are engaged in politics know it is much easier to win a vote if the electoral pool can be defined, the question can be chosen and no one campaigns against them. That is effectively what happened with the Wheat Board survey.
On the barley question, a mere 51% said “yes”, which, considering how the vote was done, is effectively an admission of full defeat, because the question was, “Do you want to abolish the Wheat Board or do you want to keep the Wheat Board?”
That is not the question the government is offering in this legislation. It is asking farmers whether they want to keep a Wheat Board through which they can work together with other farmers on a voluntary basis or whether they want the freedom to do what they want with their own personal property. We are taking away the punishment of imprisonment and fines for farmers selling their own wheat.
The second thing I want to deal with is the argument on the other side that this is all about big business, big farms and eliminating the small producer.
My dad was a very small producer. He did other things to make ends meet. He worked as a janitor, did church work and even taught for a few years, because he has his education degree from the University of Saskatchewan. All my uncles who farmed were small farmers too. They all chafed under the oppression of the Wheat Board. They never had that freedom or ability to do it.
As younger farmers, people like my cousin Dwight, grew up, they began to deal with the Wheat Board in a very practical way. They began to grow other crops and look for ways to get around it.
It is not about defending the rights of the large corporations. When we look at what is done there, large corporations did not have to get out there and deal competitively for farmers' wheat, but companies actually have to get out there and create incentives for farmers to grow the other crops they want the farmers to grow. This is something that is not always understood. Maltsters dealing only with malting barley only ever had to deal with the Wheat Board. Companies never had to go out there and give farmers incentives for dealing with them rather than a competitor, because they knew the Wheat Board would offer one basic price and one basic deal to all the brewers of Canada.
We see this in western Canada. There is not one grain company that dominates. We have Viterra, descendant of the wheat pools; we have Parrish and Heimbecker; we have Great Northern Grain Terminals, and we have Pioneer. These companies have flourished over the years; now it is time for these companies to actually compete and go after farmers' wheat.
Some members of the opposition have been stating that with the loss of the Wheat Board there would be major negative effects on the railway system, on the transportation system and on producer cars. I would like to state clearly that producers would continue to have access to producer cars, to elevators and to ports and terminals. It is important to know that these producer cars would continue to be allocated by the Canadian Grain Commission and access to them would continue to be protected by the Canadian Grain Act. Short-line railways and in-land terminals, noted in one of the earlier speeches, would continue to play an important role in getting western Canadian wheat and barley to both domestic and international bards. The Canadian Grain Commission would also continue to protect the quality of Canadian wheat and barley. These things would not go away. We would continue to have short-line railways, producer cars, the Canadian Grain Commission and other aspects of the Canadian grain system that we have come to know.
The one and only thing we would remove in this legislation is the monopoly provisions. This is something that I support because it is about fundamental freedom and because at the end of the day it would improve the farmers' bottom line. It would force grain companies to compete for their wheat. It would provide for more innovation and more diversity. It would support the growth of value added, which would also continue to add to the farmers' bottom line.
As a son, grandson and great-grandson of a small prairie farmer, I am very pleased today to support my , my party and my in the removal of the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
This is a critical issue for farmers. I do not think we should make any mistake or have any illusions about this. Clearly, we are talking about the future of the farm family in western Canada. It is within our power to make a decision on their behalf as to the direction in which they ultimately go forward, whether it is under the single desk, as is presently the case, or under a market deregulation, as my friends on the other side have constantly talked about.
The one group that we seem to be missing in the middle of all this is the group that will be directly affected. Some of our colleagues will be directly affected because they are farmers on the Prairies and they grow grain. They will understand that impact as far as how they want to decide to move forward or to move in a different direction without the Wheat Board.
However, for all those folks who are farmers on the Prairies and who are not here, they deserve that we take the time to listen to them because, ultimately, it is their livelihoods and their farms that we are talking about. We are not doing it necessarily in a vacuum.
I know some friends and colleagues on the other side have farmers in their communities and in their ridings who are saying what direction they want us to go in. However, on the flip side of that coin, there are also farmers within their own ridings who are saying that they do not want to go in that direction.
How does one balance the competing interests between those farmers who are legitimately saying, and there is no question that they are, that they do not want to be a member of the Wheat Board any more?
I have heard the minister and others say it, and some have voted with their air sprayers, their air seeders. However, one can debate whether they decided to get out of wheat and go to canola or go to another crop based on the Wheat Board or based on the fact that, regardless, it was an open market and there might have been more money in canola anyway. It is not really a false argument. It just does not overlap and take into consideration everything that happens.
There is no doubt that the rotation of crops, new crops, how folks decide to do things and how they make the decision on the ground is their right. However, ultimately, why do we not engage them? Some will say that May 2 was our engagement process. The government has been fond of asking myself and my colleagues on a number of occasions what the member for has in common with prairie wheat farmers, or what a member from Vancouver or a member from another large city has in common.
I would suggest to my friends on the other side that members from Calgary, Edmonton or any other major city would have a similar interest, like I, with Canadian wheat farmers. It is no different. Whether folks selected one particular party over another in a particular area was not specific to that question necessarily, as to how people voted because there were more than farmers voting.
It is a little spurious and a bit of a reach to suggest that the Conservatives have a mandate based on one question, on a large platform that talked about many things, that engaged all kinds of folks beyond just farmers but yet we can take the opportunity to ask them. What I would suggest to my friends is that we figure out what question we want to ask them. I have heard from the other side that they want a third option. We need to debate the question that we put to farmers in western Canada who are directly affected and ask them what they want.
In Ontario, my friend from said that there is market freedom in Ontario because farmers decided that. He said that it was not a move by the federal government because it had no jurisdiction. The minister pointed out earlier that the federal government had no jurisdiction over Ontario farmers. The province did but it was the farmers who chose. The province did not tell them what they had to do in that jurisdiction. It allowed Ontario farmers to make a choice. They made a choice and went forward with that choice. It was their right to do so.
We on this side of the House are not standing in the way of western farmers. In fact, it is the opposite. We are standing with them in saying that the government should allow them to make the choice. Surely we all understand that it is the farmers' right to have the choice because at the end of the day it has a direct impact on them.
My colleague for talked earlier about his farming family, his great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncles who have farmed. He gave us that nuanced piece in order for us to understand what it is like. There is no question that there are grievances. Folks did go to jail and people did feel they were treated unfairly, which should never have happened to them. However, now that we know all of those things, there are ways to ensure we fix it and part of our responsibility is to find a way to do that.
We can only use the plebiscite because the government refuses to actually put a question to farmers. The plebiscite is not quite the only tool but it is one of the tools we have. We can see that 62% of farmers want to keep the single desk. We have a smaller group that did not vote, and we are assuming that it did not want to. However, if we assume that is the case, then we have a majority of folks saying one thing and a minority saying the other. How do we engage the majority of folks? We simply apply what the minority wants against the majority situation and say that it is democracy. It is strange that I do not remember learning that in political science class but maybe that is how it is supposed to work in the government's perspective. However, I always assumed that when we looked at a vote, we took democracy in hand and took the majority vote, but that is yet to be seen.
When we look at this democratic process, the amazing thing is that the Conservatives are using words like “tyranny” and “oppression”. Tyranny happened in Libya until we saw the end of Gadhafi. Tyranny and oppression happens in Iran. To suggest that there is something tyrannical or oppressive about the Canadian Wheat Board in the same sentence seems to be a bit of a dichotomy in how we use the language. “Unfair” may be a reasonable word to use about the Canadian Wheat Board for those who do not believe in the single desk. However, to escalate the language to “tyrannical” or “the tyranny of the Canadian Wheat Board”, my goodness, one would think, if that were the case, that people were actually being removed from their land, such as what happened in the Ukraine under Stalin. That is not happening.
What is happening is that folks are asking to be given a choice. We see folks on the Prairies who are clearly upset with the direction of the government. They are making their voices heard and are asking for the opportunity to vote. On this side of the House, we are saying that if the government conducts the vote, we will abide by the farmers' wishes. What could be more democratic than that?
Many of my friends on the other side came here at one point with the old Reform Party and actually used to say things like, “I'll ask my constituents”. In fact, they even went so far as to suggest that maybe the constituents should have a recall provision because that is democratic. I do not know what happened to their roots but they clearly lost them along the way in becoming Conservatives. They do not want to go back and talk to their constituents, the folks who are directly affected, the farmers who produce wheat on the Prairies of this country, and ask them directly what they want and then respect their wishes. On this side, we would do that.
We reach out to members on the other side and ask them to join us in the quest of finding out what farmers want so that we can respect their wishes one way or the other. It does not need to be what we are asking for. Indeed, it could be that the Conservatives are right, but let us find out. If they are right, then we will stop, but perhaps they are not. If that is the case, then they should respect the wishes of farmers, just as we would if they are right. That is how the democratic process works and that is what we fight for. It is why we ask the brave men and women of this country to go overseas, as the government has pointed out to us on numerous occasions, to help them protect themselves and eventually garner democracy.
I implore the government to simply allow western farmers to have that voice and allow them to vote on their future because it is their future.
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to rise in the House in order to defend principles. Today, I am pleased to defend democracy. My distinguished colleague from has moved a motion in the House to defend democracy and the right of farmers to determine their destiny.
The motion asks the government to do three things: consult, step back and accept. The government needs much more practice in order to excel at these activities. I hope it will start practising right now.
The motion asks this government to consult those affected by this ill-intentioned bill: the farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board is managed by the farmers, for the farmers. They control and direct the Wheat Board. Is the government telling us and telling farmers that farmers do not know how to manage their own business? Not only does it believe that the farmer-run board is not doing its job but, furthermore, it does not trust the farmers' ability to decide whether or not their Wheat Board should be dismantled. If the government would allow farmers to decide in a plebiscite, such as the one organized by Ontario farmers, we would be prepared, on this side of the House, to accept that decision.
I know that I am the hundredth person to raise the next point, but it is an important one. Farmers have already voted to keep the Wheat Board: 62% of wheat producers and 51% of barley producers voted to keep it. Certainly, 51% is a close result. However, because this government does not stop repeating that it was given a strong mandate with less than 40% of the votes in Canada, I find that its argument lacks credibility.
I am suggesting to the House that the government does not want to consult farmers because it is afraid of their decision. Farmers have done their homework. They know that if the Canadian Wheat Board disappears, they will suffer the same fate as their Australian colleagues, who saw a dramatic drop of 70% per tonne in wheat prices. This is an ideological decision. It does not respect the farmers, contrary to what is implied by the misleading title of the bill introduced by the .
This motion is not just about the Canadian Wheat Board. I was not joking when I said I was rising to defend democracy. In case the government has not noticed, people are currently demanding their right to speak. They want their voices to be heard. A stunt like this only fuels public cynicism about our respectable institutions. The government has to listen to reason and hear the voice of the people. It has to take a step back and accept the verdict handed down by the farmers.
This government has to stop showing contempt for the public. It has to stop looking down on those who do not share its views. Democracy is much more than just winning elections. Democracy is about holding ongoing discussions with the public. I do not mean it is about controlling the message, as the Prime Minister's Office does; it is about listening to the needs and opinions of the public.
Why is the government refusing to listen to the farmers? Why will the government not consult the farmers? Why does the government not follow Ontario's lead?
Yesterday I was listening to the speech by the hon. member for on Bill . He spoke passionately about the situation with the fishers in his riding who struggle to earn a living from the fruits of their labour. What I gather is that sometimes there is a disparity between different producers in terms of the price they get for the same products. Has the government forgotten that the Canadian Wheat Board is responsible for marketing Canadian wheat?
The strength of the board is its ability to develop markets for our farmers. How do the Conservatives plan to replace the board in that role? It is not an insignificant role when we know that 80% of western wheat is exported overseas. What is the government doing about the role the board currently plays in terms of transporting the goods? Can the government guarantee that western Canadian farmers will have the same access to the railway? Can it guarantee the same favourable prices? No, obviously not. The government is playing with the lives of thousands of farmers. The government is having fun while our hard-working farmers are assuming all the risk.
I am afraid this government has abandoned family farms and small-scale farms. It is not surprising. This government has chosen to side with the multinationals and big oil companies by granting them huge tax breaks, to the detriment of small and medium-sized businesses, taxpayers and consumers. Now it is choosing to side with large agri-businesses at the expense of Canadian farmers, without thinking about the impact this bill will have on their lives, their families and their communities.
The Canadian Wheat Board is the farmers' union, their way of getting better prices. In unity, there is strength. Group insurance exists, which allows people to pay lower premiums than they would individually. Employees' unions allow them to negotiate with their employers for better salaries. Whether my colleagues across the floor like it or not, farmers will be the ones who lose, and they know it. That is why they voted to maintain the Canadian Wheat Board.
I am proud to rise in this House and defend the position they have taken. I am proud to stand up to the Conservative steamroller and defend the democratic rights of all Canadians. I am proud to stand here, alongside my NDP colleagues, and oppose the government's destructive policies. I am proud to do so on behalf of the people of Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert and on behalf of those who are overlooked by this government. We will proudly stand up to the government and oppose every bad bill it brings before this House.
The government's plan to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board without the farmers' consent is just one more example in a list that is already too long.
Mr. Speaker, I just came from something that relates to what I want to talk about, and that is trade and having the freedom to change my businesses. Indeed, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this debate. I am proud that our government introduced the marketing freedom for grain farmers act in the House last week. I am particularly pleased that we have the opportunity to correct those misleading assumptions and predictions some people have been making, that providing marketing choice for wheat and barley producers in western Canada would somehow alter our system of supply management in my home province of Ontario.
Our government supports marketing choice for western wheat and barley growers, and it is entirely a separate issue from that of supply management. Those who try to link the two, providing marketing choice for western grain producers and our government's commitment to support Canada's supply management, are simply making mischief, but more so, they just do not understand it. There is no link.
Producers in the five supply managed industries, dairy, chicken, turkey, eggs and also the broiler hatching eggs, worked long and hard to establish these systems. There was clear support, and that is the important part, in all cases for the implementation of a supply management system before the provincial government and the federal government established and brought it in.
Quite honestly, I remember well that I had not taken over and purchased the farm yet in 1965, when supply management came in. The then minister of agriculture for the Province of Ontario, and I might add, the best agriculture minister that the Ontario has ever had, William A. Stewart, brought in supply management. In 1970, I had the opportunity to start to purchase the family farm.
Supply management was one of the main reasons I understood and was able to continue on, going into the dairy industry. Also at the same time, it was an opportunity for me as a young individual just graduating from college, when I started to buy the farm, to start to purchase land and grow grains and oil seeds. I have had the opportunity of being in both systems, which actually give freedom for marketing in Ontario.
The vast majority, if not all, of the producers who now participate in the supply management system support it. On the other side, the Canadian Wheat Board has a regionally shared governance administration. If farmers grow wheat and barley in western Canada and actually want to sell it for export for food use, then they have to sell it through the Wheat Board. Or the other option is to go to jail.
I do not understand the people on the other side always wanting to give farmers the responsibility to grow the crops, spend the money on the input, make the decision to grow them, but then actually saying they do not have the ability to market it. Quite honestly, it is amazing. They do not mind sending farmers to jail for the long gun registry or for selling wheat, but they do not want to give them the opportunity for marketing.
Far from being universally supported, as is the case of supply management, a large number of these producers involved just want an option. Farmers want an alternative to the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly. We are going to continue to work to give them just that.
Farmers should be in the driver's seat when it comes to making their own business decisions. They make the investments and they build their business, all through hard work and knowledge. They take all the risks. Should they not also have the right to decide how and to whom they market their products? Absolutely, they should.
Whether people are barbers, plumbers, financial advisors, hardware store owners or car dealers, as Canadian business owners, they have the opportunity to make the decisions. They choose to make those decisions, as do the eastern farmers, like myself and my fellow farmers in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Ontario. Why would we not give the western farmers the opportunity to do the same?
The Government of Canada is working hard to give the wheat and barley producers the marketing freedom they deserve. Farmers want the ability to add value to their crops and capture more profits beyond the farm gate. They deserve to have the opportunity to get the best possible return for their product.
Farmers are already making business decisions for commodities such as canola, pulse crops, cattle and even vegetables and a number of other farm products. Farmers know how the open market works. It is amazing to me that we would burden the farmers with all the expense of putting a crop in but the opposition does not want to give them the opportunity, and do not think they have the knowledge, to market it. Quite honestly, that is an insult to the farmers of western Canada.
Our vision for the Canadian Wheat Board is as a strong, voluntary and viable wheat board that farmers can use if they so choose.
Let me talk a little about supply management because, quite honestly, that is what this is all about.
At the same time, the government continues to support supply management at home and on the international stage. The Conservative Party of Canada is the only party that actually talked about the support for and the need to stand behind supply management in the last election.
The third party, the Liberals, had been in power for 20 years. Oh sorry, maybe it was 13; it just seemed like an eternity. They always just talked about it, but actually never did anything about it. As the said at the Dairy Farmers of Canada annual meeting in February, our record on supply management speaks for itself. I cannot say enough about the support that the farmers have for our Canadian agriculture minister as he deals with both supply management and the freedom of marketing across Canada and the vision and goals that he has in mind to keep this incredible industry strong and sustainable.
What have we done on supply management? We have actually acted under article 28 of the GATT agreement to limit the import of milk protein concentrates. We harmonized the compositional cheese standards to bring greater certainty to processors and also to consumers. Canadians know that cheese is made out of milk, and we have made sure that Canadian families know what kind of cheese they are getting when they go to the grocery store.
The government is working also to continue to make sure that the WTO special agriculture safeguards are available if they are needed in the future. Finally, the government is also continuing to defend the interests that are important to supply managed industries in the international trade negotiations.
Clearly, supply management is an issue of paramount importance to all Canadians. Why? It is because supply management creates jobs and prosperity for Canadians. It creates prosperity in our urban areas and for thousands of well-kept dairy and poultry farms from coast to coast, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Supply management provides livelihoods, not only for tens of thousands of Canadian farmers and their farm families, but also for their suppliers, transporters, and everyone right up the value chain from the gate to the plate. It is an economic engine not only in rural Canada but clearly in urban Canada also.
Why would anyone want to tamper with the supply management when it has been so successful and brought so many benefits to consumers, producers and others in the industry right across the value chain? It makes absolutely no sense, and that is our point.
I would suggest that because there has never been any action on the other side of the floor, and in fact during the election they never saw the need or the importance of supply management, that actually they are the ones who are continually pushing to maybe do something about supply management in terms of its dissolution.
The Conservative Party of Canada, the members on this side, are the only ones who not only say we support it, but we will put boots to the ground and put action in place when we are asked and see the need to do so.
On the other hand, grain growers have told us for years that they want the opportunity to make their own business decisions. It is not the case with supply management, where producers have strongly supported their marketing systems and have thanked the government for firmly supporting them.
A long-standing and continuing support for supply management and our commitment to increased options for western grain producers reflects this government's commitment to giving farmers what they need to run their businesses effectively.
We recognize that providing marketing freedom is a major change in agriculture in western Canada. That is why we have consulted extensively. We have gone across the country to talk about the supply chain, from farm to seaport.
Over the summer, a working group comprising experts in the field has done just that, finding out how we market the grain and about the transportation systems and how we can transition the current CWB-run system to an open market that includes the voluntary marketing pools. The working group is one of many ways the government is seeking advice on how we move forward.
The marketing freedom for grain farmers act is part of our commitment to move forward with the programs and processes that are most beneficial to farmers, not just to them but to the entire industry.
We came to office with a set of principles and issues that we promised Canadians we would tackle. We have remained focused and determined to accomplish the things we were told were important to them. One of the issues was providing marketing freedom for western barley and wheat producers. That is why we introduced the .
The Canadian Wheat Board and some members across the way have fought change because they want the status quo. Apparently in their view, farmers just do not know how or do not have the ability to market their grain.
As was mentioned earlier, farmers take all the risks: when to plant, when to harvest, what to put on it, how to grow it, when to market it when they produce it. That is unless they grow barley and wheat in western Canada. It does not make sense.
Where does the idea come from? Oddly enough, it does not come from history. Let us go back a little bit. The Canadian Wheat Board was established in 1935. That is 76 years ago. It was originally established as a voluntary marketing agency for prairie wheat, but the sale of wheat through the board became compulsory in 1943.
In 1949, the Canadian Wheat Board's powers were extended to include prairie oats and barley. From 1949 to 1975, about 25 years, the board was the single desk for western oats, barley and wheat, whether it was for human consumption or for animal consumption. But with changes to the feed grain policy in 1974 and 1976, exclusive marketing rights over prairie grain fed to animals in Canada were removed by the board. Interestingly, the sky did not fall. These changes took effect and in fact the use of grain cereals for livestock has grown significantly since then.
Next, oats were removed from the board's jurisdiction in 1989. Again, it is amazing that the sky did not fall, but what actually happened was that a thriving oats processing sector has since developed in western Canada.
What started out as a monopoly has been evolving over 37 years, until what we are left with is a single desk for barley and wheat for export and domestic human consumption, those two only.
Farmers quickly adapted to the changes that were made, and the Canadian Wheat Board was not missed. What made sense during World War II just does not make sense in the 21st century.
Wheat and barley growers recognize, and so does this government, that the Canadian brewery industries have lost confidence in the ability of the Canadian Wheat Board to reliably supply the malt and barley they need to be competitive in the dynamic international malt and beer markets. Therefore, moving into the 21st century involves looking at the Wheat Board in a totally different way. It means putting on a new set of lenses and looking at what is going to be good not only for farmers but for the industry.
We recognize that this is a major change for agriculture in western Canada. That is why we have been consulting extensively with stakeholders from across the supply chain, from the farm to the seaport. Over the summer, a working group comprised of experts in the field heard a broad range of advice on how the grain marketing and transportation systems could transition from the current Wheat Board-run system to an open market that includes voluntary marketing pools.
I want to be very clear about this. This is not about the abolition of the Canadian Wheat Board. It is about giving farmers the choice of free marketing on their own or using the Canadian Wheat Board, something that opposition parties do not want to seem to comprehend would actually give them choice. They just talk about getting rid of the Wheat Board. The working group is one of many ways that the government is seeking advice on how to move forward.
The government is intent on making tangible progress in reducing the long-standing interference in farmers' business on the Prairies by the Canadian Wheat Board, which has taken the reins away from individual grain farmers when it comes to their very own businesses.
We need the monopoly Canadian Wheat Board, quite honestly, as a monopoly so that it can get out of the way and let farmers conduct their business. We know there are a number of farmers who will want to use it, as they do in Ontario because the wheat board still exists under the Grain Farmers of Ontario, for example. That is why members of the House need to support giving marketing freedom to grain farmers.
By the way, this has nothing to do with supply management, but our government has the same passion for the protection of supply management as we do for the support of the marketing freedom for grain farmers.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
The Canadian Wheat Board was created in the spirit of solidarity and to protect its members. It has existed for over 70 years and still has the unwavering support of its member farmers.
In a referendum conducted by the board, a majority of the 40,000 farmers who participated voted to maintain the single desk system, which has an effective monopoly on sales and prevents competition among farmers. In other words, the board unites western Canadian farmers, while the government's bill will only destroy these connections and divide the prairie farming community. This is just one more clear example of the regressive attitude that taints all of the policies put forward by this government.
The united front created by the board, which operates without public funding, gives prairie farmers peace of mind and financial stability that would be impossible without this institution.
Our farmers, who work tirelessly to provide Canadians with high-quality products, should not have to experience the additional financial stress that the Conservative government wants to impose on them. The Wheat Board protects farmers from the vagaries of the market, ensures that all of them receive a fair and equitable income regardless of their production volume, and prevents money from ending up in the pockets of the middlemen who seek to profit from our farmers' hard work. Chances are slim that the price of wheat will drop on the international market. However, if the Wheat Board is dismantled, farmers' income will certainly be significantly lower.
In economic circumstances such as those we are experiencing today, we cannot afford to weaken our economy's small financial stakeholders. In Manitoba alone, over 3,000 jobs are at risk. The province will be deprived of over $140 million in revenue. Is this a good strategy for boosting our economy or is it a way to line the pockets of large American corporations that are just waiting for the green light from their Conservative friends to invade the Canadian grain market?
The motion of the member for —the motion currently before the House—would ensure that farmers are able to exercise their democratic right to express their views on the future of their institutions. Democracy is a right that all countries have a responsibility to protect. Why is the Conservative government trying to threaten the democratic rights of our farmers? Do the Conservatives feel threatened by such a democratic process?
A number of studies have shown that a single desk model, like the Wheat Board, makes it possible to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars more per year than on the open market. Why then does the Conservative government want to deprive Canadian families of this income? Why do the Conservatives want to deprive farmers and their families of revenue that allows them to actively participate in the economy and be involved in their communities?
The Canadian Wheat Board is the largest and most successful grain marketing organization in the world. Why does the Conservative government want to dismantle this jewel of the Canadian farming community, which allows Canada to shine at the world level? This tactic is clearly part of the Conservative government's strategy to strip Canada of all its international credibility.
Not only do farmers rely on the board to ensure fair access for all, but they do not all have a local market to provide them access to the 70 countries worldwide that are buying our wheat. The board is also synonymous with quality for these 70 purchasing countries because our institution sets quality standards and speaks out against the unlimited use of GMOs. Clearly, our farmers are proud of the high-quality products they provide to consumers, and with a system like the Wheat Board, they benefit fully. They reap their grain and the rewards from their hard work.
All Canadians across the country should feel threatened by the government's bill. Some 80% of the wheat sold in Canada comes from this single desk, or the Prairies in Canada's west. The quality of the products on our shelves is being threatened. If the government goes ahead with its plans and ignores the voice of the majority, then pride in our products and the quality of those products will suffer.
Farming is the foundation of Canadian society, our larder, as they like to say. Canada needs a healthy farming industry in order for all of Canadian society to prosper. Contrary to what the Conservatives are saying, this issue affects more than the Prairies. Ending the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly and dismantling the board jeopardizes the entire Canadian farming industry and threatens the survival of family farms, which are so dear to communities such as Kamloops, British Columbia, Stanstead in my riding, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and Sainte-Marie-de-Kent, New Brunswick; it is an insult to one of the founding professions of our society, our great country of Canada.
I did not think I needed to remind the Conservatives that democracy is also a founding principle of our society. The motion moved by the hon. member for seeks to preserve the democratic rights of farmers to allow them to decide for themselves on the future of the board that they have been running and financing themselves for decades. The Conservatives would do well to vote in favour of farmers and democracy by supporting a motion that stands up for our agricultural workers.
Since the Conservatives champion non-interference in the free market and refuse to intervene in the actual creation of stable jobs, how does they justify their interference where it was not asked for and where it is not warranted? The Canadian Wheat Board is managed and funded by farmers. The government and taxpayers do not fund the activities of this institution. With this bill, the Conservatives are not defending the interests of our farmers in any way. Once again, the Conservatives are completely out of touch with the reality of Canadians and are taking action that is contrary to the will and values of the Canadian public.
The invokes marketing freedom to justify his bill. The Canadian wheat market is currently not controlled by the big American corporations, which are close to the Conservatives. Currently, farmers are free of the financial stress that would be created by dismantling the Wheat Board. The Prairie grain market is free of the Conservatives' regressive attitude. The and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food should allow farmers to express their opinions freely and should set aside this bill.
The Conservatives keep repeating that they were given the mandate to dismantle the Wheat Board in the last election. However, they refuse to prove this support by holding a plebiscite of the farmers who are members of the Wheat Board in order to allow them to have their say and give the government a clear and precise mandate. If the Conservatives are so convinced of the farmers' support for their bill, they will not hesitate to support the motion of the member for , who merely wishes to ensure that our farmers have the democratic right to have a say in the future of their management tools.
Along with my colleague from the riding of , I firmly believe that the government must organize a proper free vote for all current members of the Canadian Wheat Board, so they may again express their will to the government, with the hope that this time the and the will listen to what farmers want to tell them.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion from the member for discussing a central principle of democracy, which is people having their rights, especially having their rights respected. It is bound from a tradition of legislation that has been duped by the government and usurped by the people who have the vehicle of the Canadian Wheat Board as part of their conditions of doing business and their investments, not only in terms of their businesses but their families.
It is important to note that Canada's current challenges stem from a lot of different issues related to our massive geography, our disperse population and a very diverse group of individuals and people across this country with different interests. In the 1920s, the farming community felt enough need to band together to create a collective to be able to compete in the open markets with the wheat product they were providing. It is important because there was motivation at that time to do so, which came about from their personal experiences and their understanding that if they could come together as a collective, at times it would be to their advantage.
We do that even to this day in many respects, and we have in this country in many other fora. The credit unions are an example. When it became impossible for the farming community or others to get access to credit that was reasonable and fair, people got together. Still to this day, in cities we have collectives of financing, accounting and services in the banking industry because the profits then go back to the people. They understand that together they do much better than they do alone.
We also do this when we form cities, municipalities and towns. Instead of having independent police or fire departments, everybody understands that if we work as a collective and pay a fee for this, then we will get that service and that insurance. This is about respecting a tradition that was set up in the 1920s.
In 1943, they went to the single-desk marketing. The legislation that was created for the Canadian Wheat Board calls for it to have vote if it wants to dissolve or change the concept that it has now. To be clear, this board does not bring in a profit for itself. It has democratically elected its members, ten of whom come from the farming community and four of whom are appointed by the government, and it chooses a chair. That is critically important because in the legislation from the government, it would not allow the democratically elected farmers to remain on the Canadian Wheat Board. It would appoint its own people to dismantle it and it would not allow the elected farmers to make those difficult choices, even if they did not want to and are forced to have this legislation.
The member for should be commended for this motion because it goes to an important piece, not only behind the Wheat Board, but understanding that legislation that was a protectiveness chamber, that was here and there are expectations toward it, would be dismantled. That could set a pattern for other legislation. The government is saying that it says that but that it will disregard that altogether.
The member also needs to be commended because there has been a plebiscite with 63% of farmers saying that they would like to keep the Canadian Wheat Board. The farmers have had their vote and they were very clear on that mandate. The Conservatives often talk about having a clear mandate from the Canadian people when they only had 38% of the vote. That is unacceptable. Their 38%, which we hear daily in the House of Commons at question period, ad nauseam, seems to make some type of a mandate for an absolute majority of everything from legislation to discourse that happens not only in this chamber but also in our committees. However, the reality is that Canadian farmers were far louder when they said that they did not want to dismantle the Wheat Board.
When we look at some of the economics of this, with an economy that is fragile right now, world markets in a turmoil and a great deal of uncertainty coming up, why would the government actually do this without an action plan? There has been no study or analysis. We do that as a regular business. Cities and towns do that before making multi-million dollar contracts, awards and services. However, meanwhile, we would have billions of dollars tied up in the future and we are not even seeing an economic analysis presented before us, which is unfortunate because it shows the reckless abandon of ideology that the Conservatives have and the reckless nature of their intent to ram this through as fast as they can. I believe they want to do so because of electoral timing. They want to tear down the Wheat Board and bring in the different changes that will take place before the next election.
Once again, farmers have been out there saying that they would prefer to keep this as the particular option right now. There could be a further debate among farmers about what they want to do. I know in Ontario they had that debate and they had that choice. However, they had that debate first, which was much more effective than what is taking place here.
All the member for is doing is defending the rights of those individuals who have the system in place that they have invested in. They have invested their families, their money and their lifelong interest into their farms and to have that thrown to the wind without an economic analysis and without the due diligence necessary is completely unacceptable.
It is important to go back to the 63% of people who responded. There has been a debate about the type of plebiscite that took place and the different types of problems that they faced. We should go to the suggestion by the member for to have that educated, earnest attempt to let farmers understand the consequences of what is going to take place, to know them and to face them in a very strategic way. However, we need to do so in a responsible way before we undermine ourselves, our country and our farmers, especially when they have the right to make the destiny for themselves, not have it imposed on them by others.