Evidence of meeting #3 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

  • Allen Oberg  Chair, Canadian Wheat Board
  • Ian McCreary  Former Director and Farmer, Canadian Wheat Board
  • Kenneth A. Rosaasen  Professor, University of Saskatchewan
  • Stewart Wells  Director, District 3, Canadian Wheat Board
  • Henry Vos  Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board
  • Ron Bonnett  President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
  • Jeff Nielsen  Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board
  • John Knubley  Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
  • Greg Meredith  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Prince Albert, SK

It comes back to that scorched earth policy they've had.

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Hoback. Regrettably, the five minutes allotted to you have expired.

Mr. Martin is next for five minutes, please.

November 2nd, 2011 / 9:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

I don't know if I'll need all that time, Mr. Chair, but I will begin. Maybe I'll share my time with my colleague, if we have some time left.

We're still not satisfied, Mr. Minister. If you want to give farmers more choice in how they market their grain, why don't you let them vote on it? That's what we keep coming back to.

When the legislation was crafted, they contemplated the fact that at some time we might want to add the grains that fall under the act, or remove the grains from the act. Therefore they put in place a section in the act that made it mandatory to consult with farmers before any unilateral action was taken. You tried to act unilaterally and the courts slapped you down.

When you talk about spending money, the board members have a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of farmers and to return all proceeds to farmers. Mr. Minister, you were carpet-bombing the prairie region with taxpayer-funded misinformation and propaganda. All of your MPs were blitzing with ten percenters, and at the same time a gag order was imposed on the Wheat Board so they couldn't even defend themselves. They had no right to spend a single dollar correcting your misinformation.

To this day you're cranking out this stuff. I don't know what it costs to print hundreds of thousands of copies of this glossy coloured thing that says: Wheat Board bad, marketing freedom good; Wheat Board monopoly, one buyer, versus marketing freedom many buyers. At the very bottom, with a little asterisk in print so fine you can hardly see it, it says, “Subject to parliamentary approval”. That's how much respect you have for the parliamentary process.

You're spending taxpayers' dollars blitzing this PR campaign, following your own narrow ideological and anecdotal notion that there's going to be some kind of nirvana in the free market as soon as you do away with your nemesis, the Canadian Wheat Board. I want to ask some questions about this myth you're propagating about how this windfall of value-adding is going to start.

Isn't it true that in the last 10 years, the milling capacity in the prairie region of western Canada has increased by 11% with four new processing plants? We have the figures and we can table them with you before you go. In malting, up to 75% of all malting takes place in western Canada, up from 50% 15 years ago.

In actual fact, value-adding has been taking place under the Wheat Board's regime. The examples you keep harping on are narrow and anecdotal, and these may be generated now because they think they'll be able to buy product for less. If they buy product for less, doesn't that mean the farmer will get less, as in selling it for less?

Are we misreading this altogether? Does it not mean that hundreds of millions of dollars that used to go into the pockets of prairie farmers will now go into the pockets of the shareholders of the grain buyers who are going to take over this market share?

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Actually, he started talking about section 47.1 of the Wheat Board Act. What that does is commit the government of the day—if they're adding or subtracting a commodity—to work with the farmers affected, those growing the commodity, and that's it. That's all that section calls for. It does not pre-empt the minister of the day from changing legislation. No prior government can handcuff or shackle farmers or the minister regarding change in the future. That's not on, and we're happy to go to court on that.

We're not operating unilaterally, as the member should know there are four provinces involved in the Canadian Wheat Board area: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Peace River area of British Columbia. Manitoba is ideologically against what we're doing, but the other three provinces are fully on board and fully support what we're doing. They're with us every step of the way; and they produce 85% to 90% of the Wheat Board commodities. Manitoba produces 10% to 15%, depending on the year and the weather.

We've got the Grain Growers of Canada, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, and the Western Barley Growers all with us in this. So we're not moving unilaterally.

Our publications probably cost a lot less than the Wheat Board ones, because we actually target actual producers. We don't just lock shoot. Our list is probably a lot smaller and more concise, because we're actually looking for farmers on the ground, the farmers who are actually making business decisions.

When you talk about milling that's been added, yes, there were a couple of small organic mills. I love this idea that capacity is based on population. It's got nothing to do with capacity; it's based a whole bunch more on population. As you know, with Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, you're talking four million, four and a half million people. It's a small chunk of Canada.

So when they make these goofy statements about how the milling has increased based on population, it's ridiculous in the extreme.

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you. Mr. Martin, the time has expired.

Minister, this actually fulfills your obligation that you've committed to for one hour before this committee. So without any further direction, I will suspend for a few moments to allow you to leave, and then we will resume with a new round of questions, starting in the first round with department officials, which will take us to the end of the hour.

9:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Colleagues, let's resume this.

I've spoken briefly with the witnesses from the department. Yesterday when they appeared before the committee, Mr. Knubley and Mr. Meredith were speaking in the context of the working group. Mr. Knubley has asked for just a couple of minutes of committee time to speak to some technical portions of the bill. I believe that would be in the best interests of the committee to hear that.

Mr. Knubley, how many minutes do you think you would require, sir, three or four?

9:25 p.m.

John Knubley Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

I'm calculating it will be two, but it might be four.

9:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

In the interests of not having you go over the time that you've set for yourself, I'll give you three. How does that sound, sir?

9:25 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

Perfect.

I think you'll recall, Mr. Chair, that we did provide to the committee yesterday with some charts that set out the staging of the bill, as well as the transition phases. I'd just like to provide an overview of the legislation that is being introduced.

The intent of the legislation is that it be staged to provide for a dual marketing system, with a five-year transition period.

The bill has five parts. The first part is the governance of the board, which has changed to enable stronger collaboration going forward and to ensure that the board is focused on a new marketing environment. Specifically, future contracts will be possible, as of royal assent. The voluntary board will continue to administer this year's pool. The other major elements of the existing Canadian Wheat Board Act would remain unchanged during this preliminary phase, presumably from January to August 1.

In the second part, beginning on August 1, 2012, the Canadian Wheat Board Act would be repealed and replaced with the Canadian Wheat Board Interim Operations Act. The monopoly is then removed and anyone can buy and sell any grain; in other words, farmers would no longer be required to sell through the board. The government would assist the board with the transition costs for up to five years. Under this interim legislation, the Canadian Wheat Board would continue to offer pooling, which would have government-backed initial payment and borrowing guarantees. A temporary check-off would be established at point of sale to support ongoing research and market development.

In the third part of the act, the Interim Canadian Wheat Board would be required to develop a business plan to capitalize itself and operate as a private company. The intent is to look to the Wheat Board itself to define that business plan. The board of directors would be required to submit such a plan to the minister and would need to become a private entity within five years. The intent of the act here, of course, is due diligence, in terms of taxpayer money. It could be a business corporation, a producer co-op, or a not-for-profit corporation. The business model is for the board to decide.

Part 5 would repeal the Canadian Wheat Board Interim Operations Act and would bring the transition period to an end.

As you can see, these are the five phases set out in the legislation for discussion.

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Knubley.

There is agreement between the parties to proceed in the following fashion: we'll have a five-minute round from the New Democrats, five minutes from the Liberals, and five minutes from the Conservatives.

We're going to start right now.

We start with Mr. Rousseau for 5 minutes.

9:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you.

My question is for Mr. Meredith.

Economic conditions can at times favour the free market but only for short periods. The Canadian Wheat Board ensures the long-term stability that is necessary to the survival of this economic sector that is crucial to this area of the country.

What is the ideological basis, the economic doctrine behind the progressive dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, when we know full well that the new directors will be appointed by the minister, and the board's business plan will be approved by him also?

9:30 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

As I just explained, the purpose of the bill is not to see to it that the minister approve the business plan of a new Canadian Wheat Board. In other words, the idea is simply to review the business plan, in order to ensure that the money paid by Canadian taxpayers in connection with the old organization is well spent.

In other words, that the taxpayers' money was well spent in the transition period.

9:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

I have another question. What will be the consequences of this transition plan on Canada's food sovereignty, which is very important to Canadians, and on small producers, who are often the cornerstone of many rural communities in Canada?

9:30 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

Perhaps I'll refer again to the working group report that we discussed last evening. The expectation is that this dual marketing system for farmers, which will give an opportunity to opt for pooling or for spot market prices, will lead to growth.

What we have seen with the non-Wheat Board grains, such as canola and lentils, over the last 10 years, has been significant growth, while the varieties and the yield in wheat and durum growth have been small relative to those other grains.

The expectation is that there will be a growing market and more exports.

9:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

I am going to give the rest of my speaking time to Ms. Ashton.