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

November 1st, 2011 / 10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Bob. It's nice to see you again in your capacity with the FNA.

Let me state at the beginning—and I'm sure you probably agree—that this whole process is a travesty. It's a sham. It's a farce to think that a standing committee can deal with such a comprehensive, sweeping piece of legislation in two short evening meetings. Here is something you may not know. Even the clause-by-clause analysis of this bill has been limited to one evening session. No party is allowed to speak for more than five minutes on any clause, even if there are ten amendments on that cause. It's limited to five minutes per party, per clause. And if we're not finished by midnight, we'll be deemed to be finished and this bill will be over.

We're dealing with a done deal, so I can accept.... Even though I know you're a friend of the Canadian Wheat Board traditionally, and have been for probably your entire professional life, I understand why you're coming here with a presentation with ideas for how farmers might cope with the predictable consequences of this piece of legislation.

We're being asked to buy a pig in a poke here, Bob. We're being asked on the whim of the minister to accept this notion that the government says everything will be better for farmers if we get rid of the Wheat Board. They've never presented a single piece of documentary evidence or a single business plan. There has been no cost-benefit analysis, no studies, nothing to prove their case.

Yet their whole focus has been that they want to fast-track this to provide certainty, stability, and predictability in the marketplace. Wouldn't you agree that the best way to ensure stability, predictability, and certainly in the marketplace, in uncertain economic times internationally, would be to do nothing at all? Don't pull the rug out from under the Canadian Wheat Board. At least don't do it now, not this year, when we're just trying to recover from the global international crisis and possibly going into round two of a global international crisis. Why pull the rug out from underneath the rural prairie farm economy like this?

My question to you would be, as a veteran of this industry for many years, why now? Why the hurry? Can you see any rhyme or reason in this, other than the whim and the notion of an obsessed minister and his equally obsessed parliamentary secretary?

10 p.m.

Farmers of North America Inc.

Bob Friesen

Mr. Martin, you will probably be disappointed in my answer. I sympathize with your constituents in your riding. I also know where you're coming from when you talk about process, etc. However, in the discussion in our organization—and perhaps therein lies the difference—I represent a whole host of farmers. Some of them like and rely on the Wheat Board; others would rather not have the Wheat Board. I represent that eclectic group of farmers.

In our organization, we had to sit down and say, “Okay, what's coming? Where will the puck be? What can we do to empower our farmers within that environment?” That's the reason I'm here presenting.

10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

That's a very logical approach.

10 p.m.

Farmers of North America Inc.

Bob Friesen

My role here is strictly to try to, as I said earlier, help be an architect in a system that will facilitate optimizing farmers' revenue, reducing their costs, making sure they're cost-competitive, and empowering them in whatever grain handling, transportation, and marketing environment we have.

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Also, to help them to cope with what you call the far-reaching implications of doing away with the Canadian Wheat Board. I'm glad you came here with concrete recommendations as to how producers might cope. All of your ideas were cost factors. All of your ideas called for government spending to help them cope. This is what's unknown to us. The total cost of this free market flight of fancy of Mr. Anderson's here is untested, unproved, and open-ended. It's a blank cheque they're asking us to write just to fulfill this, as I say, life's ambition, this dream of theirs to abolish the Wheat Board.

I believe everything you have recommended and said to us has merit in helping producers cope with the implications. All of them were cost factors. We heard KPMG estimate $500 million in hard costs just to close up this $6 billion per year corporation. What you're suggesting is there's going to have to be a lot more spending, or else we're going to lose producers. Has your analysis of the implications of this bill led you to believe some producers will in fact leave the family farm as a result? Will small producers be affected to that extent?

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Martin. Your time is expired.

Mr. Friesen, please feel welcome to answer the question.

10:05 p.m.

Farmers of North America Inc.

Bob Friesen

Actually, our look at this has been a little more technical and a little more objective than that. We've been looking at areas in which we think we can help facilitate the process. We haven't done a macro-analysis of the sort you're talking about.

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

It seems nobody has.

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Warkentin, the floor is yours for five minutes.

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Thank you very much. I appreciate Mr. Martin's segue into my questions.

I thank you, Mr. Friesen, for your testimony today and also for your pragmatic approach. I wish the existing directors of the Canadian Wheat Board were as pragmatic about reaching out and seeking to undertake the work that farmers across the western provinces wish they would undertake, which is to be pragmatic and responsible with the resources that farmers have entrusted to them as well as to undertake a plan for the future.

Mr. Martin just referenced smaller producers, and some of the most important smaller producers today in the market are younger farmers, people who are trying to break into the industry. I happen to represent a whole host of young producers who come and speak to me about this issue and their desire to break into new and innovative markets. Some guys want to start organic enterprises. Others want to produce wheat and barley that will be destined for a specific market within the world or will be for domestic consumption.

The word “obsessed” came up when I was speaking to some of my colleagues. I've become obsessed with this issue because my constituents are obsessed with this issue. They want to have maximum freedom and maximum capacity to go and seek new and innovative markets for their products so they can capitalize and get the best return for their smaller farms. Then they may be able to grow, and they may be able to raise their families on the family farm or break into the market as independent farmers.

You spoke specifically about assisting farmers in that enterprise, to seek additional and new innovative markets. I wonder if you could just say a little bit, in addition to what you've mentioned thus far, about your organization's plans to assist younger farmers specifically who know that there are innovative markets out there, who know that there are opportunities for them to create niche products. I think this is a partnership that's going to be very helpful.

What are you going to do for these smaller farmers, or how do you think you might be able to assist these younger and innovative farmers?

10:05 p.m.

Farmers of North America Inc.

Bob Friesen

We think there's opportunity in marketing. In fact, FNA started an entity that we call FNA Foods a few years ago. FNA Foods was there strictly to aggregate, in this case special crops, and find niche markets for those special crops.

We believe there may be a lot of benefit and merit in gathering a group of farmers who want to work together with FNA. FNA is a farmer member organization. When I say FNA or when I say “we”, I include all the farmer members we have. There may be a willingness by some farmers to say “yes, let's work together”. I'm convinced there's empowerment in a group of farmers aggregating, a group of farmers investing in a shortline, a group of farmers marketing their grain together and finding port position. I believe that can happen, and certainly our task force is looking at that and determining where there will be opportunities of that nature.

That's also one of the reasons we suggested the AgriInvest stimulus initiative, because—and this is interesting and a bit of a segue—we know that young farmers look at the industry differently than would guys my age. In my case, I'm there to maintain and try to keep my equity. Younger farmers may be much more willing to stick their neck out. They're willing to bet on the future, and they're in the position to do it. Both of them make perfectly good business sense, but the younger farmers are more willing to stick their neck out and invest in the future. We believe this AgriInvest stimulus initiative is also perfect for them.

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

I appreciate your willingness to work to empower younger farmers. You talk about how younger farmers are willing to stick their necks out. I recently saw a poll. It may be a rural legend, but apparently the Wheat Board looks at farmers and if they're 25 years of age they believe there's a 25% chance that those farmers will support the single marketing program of the Wheat Board. If they're 35 years old, they figure it would be about 35%. If they're 65 years old, there's a good chance that 65% of them are going to support the board.

I don't know if that's true or not, but it seems to be consistent with what I've heard from the farmers in my constituency, where younger farmers are driven to seek alternatives to the current pool system. Younger farmers find it offensive that the federal government imposed the Wheat Board on them as western Canadian farmers, as a war measures act to supply cheap grain to Europe. Many farmers believe this continues to be the policy of the Canadian Wheat Board, and the younger farmers are disturbed by this.

In terms of the access--

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Warkentin, could you get to your question? Your time has expired, and I would like Mr. Friesen to have an opportunity.

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

I do apologize about that.

The point is that younger farmers are looking for change. You obviously are willing to be a partner with them, and I think it's important that younger farmers who are listening to this debate understand there are willing partners who are going to undertake pooling options with your organization, or that this may be an opportunity that can be facilitated through your organization.

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Mr. Friesen, a brief answer, please, sir.