Evidence of meeting #2 for Bill C-18 (41st Parliament, 1st Session) in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was farmers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

8:35 p.m.

Commissioner, Canadian Grain Commission

Murdoch MacKay

We had lengthy discussions on market access, not only to country elevators that were owned by the grain companies but also to all ports and the access to terminal elevators, be they in Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Churchill, and elevators on the river.

We realize there is excess capacity in a lot of the ports, and we also are aware that today the Canadian Wheat Board, as a single-desk seller, has agreements with the majority of terminal operator owners. If we were to move to a system whereby there would be a voluntary Wheat Board, the voluntary Wheat Board, along with other people, other companies who do not have terminal elevators, would be able to negotiate commercial agreements with them to get their grain handled at their terminal elevators.

One thing that everyone needs to understand is that there is excess capacity and that these companies are looking for grain to handle to increase the volume and the throughput for their facilities. So there are opportunities, and the grain companies have all stated that they are prepared to work with the new voluntary Wheat Board. And Quorum Corporation, who made a presentation to the group, mention in their report that all grain companies they have met with stated they would welcome business at their country and terminal operations from the CWB or any other grain companies. So there are operations and things like this that go on today.

So with regard to Churchill, if it works and it's economically viable for a grain company to put grain through Churchill, or if it works for the Canadian Wheat Board, the new Wheat Board, to work with the Port of Churchill and OmniTrax, they can now work on a handling agreements there.

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. MacKay.

That was quite a substantive amount of time you received, Ms. Ashton.

Mr. Zimmer, please.

November 1st, 2011 / 8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Thank you.

Thank you, Chair, for keeping us organized.

The B.C. Grain Producers in my riding are certainly very happy with the many opportunities this bill would provide. We've heard from the current CWB, and its systems are discouraging future generations of farmers from entering the agricultural sector. I know that most farmers are business entrepreneurs at heart. I know my grandpa and uncle and relatives in Manitoba certainly were, and they like to make their own decisions when it affects their substantial financial interests on their farms.

Can you tell this committee, with specific examples, how the open market will encourage these opportunities? I would welcome responses from Mr. MacKay and Mr. Bacon as well.

8:35 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

Mr. Chair, as a way of opening this discussion, I would say that we did meet with farmers. The working group held a panel and we invited six farmers from across the prairies to discuss the issues they saw in transition. We also met with I think about ten associations representing the prairie industry and producers the day before the panel we had with farmers.

I think all of us were struck by the desire of the young farmers to have certainty and predictability and to get on with it, to allow them to use whatever tools they might opt for, whether it was to use pools or forward contracts. I think there was a great deal of optimism as well among the younger farmers that the changes were going to bring new opportunities in terms of innovation and value added, as we already see in the canola and pulse areas.

Let me turn to either Murdoch MacKay--

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Chair, I would also welcome an online response from Mr. Vandervalk. We don't get to see him, so it's easy not to notice him.

Go ahead.

8:35 p.m.

Stephen Vandervalk President, Grain Growers of Canada

Yes, just like in any business, for me as a farmer, cashflow is number one on my farm. With the Wheat Board, cashflow is impossible. You get a price at the beginning of the year and you're not sure that's going stay. It could drop. It could go up. It could do whatever. You don't know how much you're going to be able to haul in. It could be 50%, could be 75%. And then once you do haul that in, you don't get paid for up to 18 months, when your bills are due in maybe three months.

I can give you a perfect example. My younger brother came back to the farm for the first time this year. He's got some land. He could not put wheat in. It's an absolute impossibility for him because he has bills due in November. He doesn't know when he'll be able to deliver his grain and how much he's going to get for it, and when he does that, his cheque won't come for up to 18 months from now. I don't know how anybody can run a business that way, especially a young farmer.

8:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

Gordon, did you want to add?

8:40 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Pulse Canada

Gordon Bacon

I think that the committee looked at the issues related to the change in the marketing system, and we had two things we were taking a lot of time to think about. One was how Canada can be seen as a reliable supplier to customers around the world, and secondly, how we can maximize return to farmers. We had to look at how we can optimize efficiency through the entire system and make improvements along the way. I think what we've really talked about as a committee is a competitive, market-driven system that will ensure that we are serving both ends: farmers, by optimizing their returns from all crops and the movement of all crops, and to also be seen as a reliable supplier to customers around the world.

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. MacKay.

8:40 p.m.

Commissioner, Canadian Grain Commission

Murdoch MacKay

It's interesting—there was one young farmer on the phone, and I remember this because he said, “Listen, you guys, whatever you're going to do, let's get on with it, because I've just finished harvesting my winter wheat crop. Now I want to make some plans for what to put in next year, and I want to forward-price this contract. Let's get this thing going so that today I know how to plan for next year, and not have to wait six to eight months to know what the initial price might be.” His view is that he can plan his life and have a better viewpoint six to eight months sooner, and be looking at things a year down the road. That's the one farmer that really struck it home with me about the future for him.

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Good to hear.

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Zimmer, your timing is impeccable—it has just expired.

Moving on, next on the speaker list is Mr. Rousseau, please.

8:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you very much.

My question mainly has to do with the new members of the Canadian Wheat Board who are going to be designated by the Minister of Agriculture. How can we make sure that sides won't be taken concerning the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, especially since the members will be the ones developing and submitting the plans to the Minister of Finance? They will be the ones approving the plans for borrowing procedures and the conduct of meetings. Ultimately, how can we make sure that sides won't be taken when all the members of the Canadian Wheat Board will be designated by the government?

8:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Greg Meredith

Thank you for the question. I will answer it.

We anticipate that we will have very close ties with the new Canadian Wheat Board. We feel we won't have the same problems that we have right now with the directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. Over the next few years, I think the directors will focus on the success of the Canadian Wheat Board and they won't want to be in conflict with the government. We especially anticipate that there will be a very close co-operative relationship between the government and the Canadian Wheat Board.

8:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

I have another question for you. Do you have a transition plan for the directors who will be losing their jobs and for their team members?