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

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Knubley.

Mr. Storseth, your time has expired.

Ms. Ashton, please, five minutes.

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Thank you very much.

I saw your list of people that were consulted as part of the study, and I saw no reference to any elected Wheat Board directors. As we know, section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act refers to the importance of consulting with farmers. One would hope that the working group would have consulted with those who were elected by farmers as part of your important work. I'd like to know why they're not on this list.

8:25 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

What I can say on this, Mr. Chair, is that Ian White, the president of the Wheat Board, was a participant in working group activities. He also was initially asked to be a co-chair with me on the committee. That resulted in a discussion with the chair of the Wheat Board, Allen Oberg, who called me in mid-July and indicated that he did not feel it appropriate that Mr. White serve as the co-chair but he felt comfortable that Mr. White could participate in our meetings.

8:30 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Oberg is one of the elected directors. There a number of others, eight to be exact, who are pro the single desk, and it seems to me that we're missing a significant part of the story and perhaps the most important part of the story, which is the experience of farmers on the ground and those who, unfortunately because of this government's limitations and efforts to, quite frankly, muzzle the debate, we will not be able to hear their—

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

I'm going to hear a point of order from Mr. Hoback.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Prince Albert, SK

Again, we're here to look at the technical aspects of the bill, not to listen to all sorts of speculation and hype based on nothing but her imagination.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Hoback, on your behalf I will ask Ms. Ashton: while we all have deeply divided opinions on this issue, the nature of questions here is that we do have an opportunity to question these witnesses on the technical merits of the bill, and I would ask you to keep the tenor and the tone of the committee focused on the issue at hand, if you don't mind, please.

November 1st, 2011 / 8:30 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Absolutely. I don't think it's imagining anything to know how many farmers on the ground would have wanted their voices to be heard here today, or tomorrow, or the day after.

My next question is about your first section here that refers to access to elevators, rail, and ports. Having read the section, I don't actually see any reference to ports. As the MP for Churchill, I'm particularly concerned about what the loss of the Wheat Board will mean to Churchill. I think we all know it well, sitting around this table--that with the loss of the Wheat Board, the potential loss of 95% of what goes through the port of Churchill, no small number by any means, spells real danger for the community that depends on the work of people working at the port, certainly those who work on the rail lines that connect to the port.

Not only is there no reference to the impact on ports per se.... I see quite a bit of reference to elevators and rail. At the end, the committee points out that its issues to be addressed by the working group involved looking at access to ports. How is it that you were supposed to be looking at that, yet there is no reference to it? What we do know is that Churchill will be adversely affected.

If I can add to that, what concerns me here is that there is reference to the potential trouble with government intervention. What we do know is that the Conservative government has with great pomp and circumstance announced a $5 million investment in the port of Churchill, which is government intervention, yet your work is speculating about the potential dangers related to that government intervention. So what is it? And why is it that the people of Churchill and the people, quite frankly, of northern Manitoba are being not just not referenced in this document but also seem to be the victims of a very contradictory agenda, where we have the government touting the benefits of government intervention, which we know are completely inadequate if we lose the Wheat Board, and yet here in your very document you express danger with regard to that very government intervention?

8:30 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

On the issue of Churchill, this was discussed briefly in the committee. What was discussed much more at length was the issue of access to ports generally, not singling out any one particular port in that regard. I'll ask Murdoch Mackay to speak to that briefly.

Having said that, I do want to say that the government, as you mentioned, has spent a good deal of time looking at the challenges facing the port of Churchill. It is recognized that 90% of the grain that flows through Churchill is Wheat Board grain. It's in that context that at the time of the announcement of Bill C-18 there were really four elements to the response to Churchill: a $5 million per year incentive for the five-year transition period, to ensure the continued flow of grain for this transition period; an additional $4.1 million investment from Transport Canada for port improvements; a re-profiling, if you like, of some of the investments that have already been made and not been used in Churchill under Western Economic Diversification; and then a commitment to continue to consult with those involved with Churchill in terms of diversification and how it will work in an open market.

8:30 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Thank you very much.

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Ms. Ashton, your time has expired. I'm not going to allow supplementals. We will have more time with the officials. I think you'll have an opportunity to get your question answered.

8:35 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Yes. I've stopped.

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Knubley, you wanted another official to address Ms. Ashton's original question. I'll allow a few more seconds to do that.

8:35 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

Again, I think Murdoch MacKay will speak to the discussions within the working group on access to ports.

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. MacKay, briefly please.