House of Commons Hansard #163 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was species.

Topics

Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

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April 24th, 1997 / 10:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are 20 motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper at report stage of Bill C-72. The motions will be grouped for debate as follows. Group No. 1, Motions Nos. 1 and 17.

Group 2: Motions Nos. 2 to 10, and Motion No. 19.

Group No. 3, Motions Nos. 11 to 14. Group No. 4, MotionNo. 15.

Group 5: Motion No. 16.

Group No. 6, Motion No. 18.

Group 7: Motion No. 20.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I now propose Motions Nos. 1 and 17 to the House.

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10:50 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-72 be amended by deleting Clause 2.

Motion No. 17

That Bill C-72 be amended by deleting Clause 10.

Mr. Speaker, we are at report stage of Bill C-72. Clearly it is impossible for the bill to pass. Even if the Prime Minister chickens out at the last minute and does not call an election, it will be very difficult for the bill to pass.

I will refer to the history in brief of Bill C-72. After the election in October 1993 there was division on the prairies over how wheat and barley should be marketed. The minister was very tardy in taking action. Finally in 1995 he initiated the western grain marketing panel. It brought a report back on proposed changes to the Canadian Wheat Board in the middle of 1996.

The minister was not happy with the western grain marketing panel report. It called for more consultation and a letter writing campaign. It was not until December 1996, more than three years after the minister was first elected, that he introduced legislation in the House.

The bill was given first reading in December 1996 but was not referred to the committee until late February or early March. Then there were some whirlwind hearings across the prairies and in the third week of March the government only allowed three days of clause by clause discussion.

Finally here we are on probably the second last sitting day before the House is prorogued and we are at report stage. Yet to occur is third reading and passage by the Senate. Clearly the House would have to sit for several more weeks if Bill C-72 were to have the slightest chance of seeing the light of day.

I want to make clear that the bill is a haywire and bailer twine attempt to reform a terribly outdated Canadian Wheat Board. The Liberals, in drafting the bill, have failed to heed the advice of the industry. They have refused to honestly debate good amendments put forward by Reform in committee. These amendments are supported by a broad range of farm organizations and by a majority of farmers on the prairies.

The Liberals have left no choice for Reform but to oppose the bill. We do not want it to pass because we do not want to further disappoint farmers who have been betrayed many times by Liberal and Tory governments.

We oppose the bill and we will vote against it, but that is not the reason it will not pass in the 35th Parliament. The real reason it will die on the Order Paper is that the Liberals and the minister of agriculture know it is a third rate bill. They are afraid to pass it and let farmers experience how terrible it really is.

The Liberals could have passed Bill C-72 if they really wanted to. I am rather astounded that the minister of agriculture has been publicly saying the opposition has held up Bill C-72. We know very well in this Liberal majority Parliament the Liberals pass whatever they darn well feel like passing. They set the agenda. They place Government Orders. They use time allocation far too often and they use closure. For the minister to blame the opposition for not allowing Bill C-72 to pass is beyond stupidity and lying. It extends to the realm of desperation and bizarreness in the extreme.

Let us examine the bill even though it will not pass. Clause 2 says the bill will be binding on all provinces. We asked the ministers of agriculture of the provinces of Manitoba and Alberta if they had been consulted on clause 2, the clause we are debating in this group of amendments to Bill C-72. Both ministers of agriculture said there had been absolutely no consultation with the provinces on clause 2.

Clause 10 and other clauses in the bill give the minister an ironclad grip on the board. All the discussions across the prairies were to make the board more accountable to farmers and more in the control or in the hands of farmers. The bill fails miserably in accomplishing that. I believe Bill C-72 gives the minister more control over the Canadian Wheat Board than he currently has.

The minister's actions and words clearly say he does not trust prairie farmers to manage their own Canadian Wheat Board. Therefore let us see what powers the minister clutches to himself. The minister will choose the CEO or president of the board over the heads of the board of directors, even though some of the board of directors are elected by farmers. The minister will place the CEO on the board of directors as a voting member, placing him or her in a powerful conflict of interest position.

Time after time we heard representation from farm groups that the CEO of the board should be chosen by the board and should be accountable and responsible to the board, that the board should hire him or her, that the board should set that person's salary and that the board should terminate the CEO's employment on the board if it felt that were proper.

The minister has the power to choose the interim board of directors in its entirety and to tell it how to chose its successors. This is not democracy. This is Liberal arrogance at its finest. It is all pretty cushy.

The minister and his appointees lay all the plans for a partially elected board. It reminds me of Liberal MPs establishing their own fat cat pensions. If they call the rules, if they make the decisions, farmers are left on the sidelines watching to see what kind of a board will unfold, who the directors on the board will be and what kind of rules, guidelines and bylaws will be put in place for the further election and appointment of future directors to the board.

Even more disturbing is the fact the minister can dismiss directors and employees if they are not serving the best interest of the corporation in the opinion of the minister. Farmers who pay for the board are left out in this case. It seems odd employees can be dismissed in the best interest of the corporation, not in the best interest of farmers. Therefore farmers have their hands tied behind their backs. They are not able to adequately make and press for changes in the board as they see fit.

The minister refuses to bend on the request of farmers for a voluntary board even for barley. There is a consensus. Poll after poll indicated the majority of prairie barley producers want a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board even for organic wheat. We heard many organic growers and their associations suggest the Canadian Wheat Board was not the best marketing agency to effectively market organic products.

The minister went against the recommendations of his own western grain marketing panel in denying the ability of the board, at least in a small way, to become a voluntary marketing agency for some products best marketed through other avenues than through the Canadian Wheat Board.

The minister moved in this direction against the wishes of farmers and according to his own Angus Reid poll which indicated a majority of barley producers called for a volunteer Canadian Wheat Board. Furthermore, the minister will allow the Canadian Wheat Board to make cash purchases in a monolithic environment where livestock producers can be destroyed by artificial feed prices and international retaliation for unfair trading practices. We heard this as we travelled across the prairies. The minister has done nothing to correct this problem in the government amendments to the bill at committee.

The government is prepared to add crops to the monopoly. This measure would not go over very well with farmers. In fact, if a few farmers are crossing the border now, if crops such as canola were added to the monopoly powers of the Canadian Wheat Board, I suggest there would be a civil war on the prairies rather than a few farmers taking truckloads across the border to the U.S. in protest.

Obviously the minister does not understand the needs and wishes of the majority of prairie producers.

The minister is acting like the captain of the Titanic, so arrogant as he blindly steams toward the icebergs. His record on the Crow rate is pathetic. His record on grain transportation is tragic. His record on the Canadian Wheat Board is dismal and dangerous. He is responsible for his lack of action over three and a half years. He is responsible for the division over the Canadian Wheat Board on the prairies. He is responsible for this comedy of errors entitled Bill C-72.

Reform has called for constructive changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. Our vision for the Canadian Wheat Board would not only give it a fighting chance, it would give it good odds of being a first class, farmer controlled marketer with a great chance to be a success story in the 21st century.

The truth is that our opposition in the next election campaign will be the Liberals and the NDP suggesting that Reform is trying to destroy the board. That is not true, as are their allegations that we would hurt medicare and seniors pensions. We have shown in our fresh start document that they are wrong on medicare, health care and seniors pensions. They are also wrong on the Canadian Wheat Board.

Ours are the only proposals that will bring peace to a very divided farm community. Ours are the only proposals that will ensure the viability of the board in the future in a climate where farmers want to market through the board rather than have to market through the board, such as members opposite are proposing.

This bill cannot possibly pass through the House of Commons. This is a matter of each party's putting its position on the record, and I thank the House for the opportunity.

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11 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act, commonly referred to as the CWB.

It is important to look at this bill in the current context, but it is also appropriate to go back in time and look at the historical context. When the government created the Canadian Wheat Board, Canada, like every other country in the world, was going through a major economic crisis. It was in the 1930s, more than 65 years ago, that the federal government established the Canadian Wheat Board. At the time, there was widespread famine, and men and women often worked just to put food on the table. Some people starved during this period called the Great Depression.

Western farmers had great difficulties making ends meet. They were often stuck with their crop, because they could not sell it at a fair price. The government, like a good father, created the Canadian Wheat Board and gave it a monopoly. All the grain had to go through the CWB.

At the time, the creation and the existence of the Canadian Wheat Board seemed justified. It would still be justified today were it not for the fact that, over the years, the government lost touch with the grassroots. This is especially true of the current Liberal government, which is totally out of touch with the grassroots. It seems this government only listens to financial interests, to those who contribute to its campaign fund.

Western farmers are very upset. Earlier, I was listening to the Reform Party member who said: "If you want war in western Canada, you will get it with grain producers because they are so upset".

I think he exaggerated. There will not be war, well maybe a verbal one, but that will not be all that bad. I can tell you that, of all the amendments and proposals we put forward in the Standing Committee on Agriculture, very few were approved, although some of our motions were very interesting, but the Liberals, with one exception, after consulting the great one himself, the minister that is, turned around 48 hours later and passed the motion requiring the election of 10 farmers, and 10 was the number put into the bill.

Sixty years ago, there was a need for the Canadian Wheat Board. I think there still is today, but the government should wake up and make some changes. A good number of motions have been introduced, and it could accept a few of them.

It should also be remembered that the Canadian Wheat Board has a monopoly, in the sense that a grain producer living on the border with the United States would not have the right, nor did he before, to sell his crop or a part of it for more than his American neighbours.

The Canadian Wheat Board undertakes to buy wheat and barley from any registered grain producer and is expected, obviously, to get the highest price possible, domestically or abroad, for this wheat and barley.

All wheat and barley for human consumption must go through the Canadian Wheat Board. Even in Quebec, if you need an amount of wheat for human consumption, not for feed, you must go through the Canadian Wheat Board.

There will be 15 on the board of directors. That is already an advantage. Before, with four or five, there were always one or two that had to be reappointed. But the Canadian Wheat Board has often been directed by three people. Now, there will be 15, 10 of them because of the efforts of the opposition, of the Bloc Quebecois, with the support of the Reform Party. Our Liberal friends did not want to include this in the bill so, after 48 hours of consideration, they consulted the great one himself, who said: "All right, the west is making such a fuss that we will give them 10".

I myself would have preferred to see 12, of course, as the Reform Party would have, but the Liberals wanted to hang on to the possibility of rewarding the faithful, because the five others will be appointed by the governor general in council. Although the parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister was naturally not too happy about it, I asked senior officials: "Would you tell us the salaries of those now sitting on the Canadian Wheat Board?". At this point, I would urge all my colleagues in the House to listen very carefully.

Did you know, Mr. Speaker, that the president of the Canadian Wheat Board earns quite a bit more than you do, even though he does not have to go to the polls? His salary ranges from $115,000 to $144,000. I guarantee you, and you can check this out, that the incumbent is not a Conservative, but a Liberal. His assistant earns between $110,000 and $129,000, as do the commissioners. Indeed, it is often a choice spot to dump a member in order to vacate a riding, as will be done in the coming weeks and days, after the Prime Minister calls an election on Sunday.

Someday perhaps the hon. member for Malpeque will be sitting on one of these commissions, earning $144,000 a year, without going to the people, because he knows full well that there is a Conservative wind, and a very strong one at that, blowing on Prince Edward Island. He might be tempted to take a job like that.

The parliamentary secretary is smiling; I know he once condemned such appointments, but that is what political patronage is all about. That is why we in the Bloc Quebecois have always denounced, and quite vigorously so, these appointments.

Do you know who the chair of the employment insurance board of referees in my riding is?

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11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac, QC

The sister of the Liberal candidate in Frontenac-Mégantic.

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11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac, QC

She is a fine young lady, who was recently appointed through the good offices of this government. But the essential qualification, if I may use that word, is to be a Liberal.

Another problem with the blueprint for change to the Canadian Wheat Board is that it applies to all the provinces. And the hon. member for Malpeque supported this, knowing full well that Prince Edward Island produces potatoes rather than wheat or barley. When I asked the secretary of state whether he could promise that 25 per cent of wheat board members would come from Quebec, he said: "That is out of the question. You grow hardly any wheat and barley in Quebec". Why include us on the board if basically there are only three provinces, plus a small portion of British Columbia-say three and a half provinces-where a serious effort is made to mass produce wheat and barley?

We have submitted, and I will conclude on this, very positive amendments to improve the Canadian Wheat Board Act, not to

give satisfaction to Liberal politicians but to please western grain producers. Incidentally, the number of elected representatives was finally set at 10. I should remind the House however that the chief executive officer, the real boss of the Canadian Wheat board, will be appointed by the government, and that I will not stand for.

Therefore, while supporting the first group of motions put forward by the Reform Party, the official opposition will be voting against Bill C-72 as a whole.

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11:10 a.m.

Essex—Kent
Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I find this debate a little questionable. I am hearing a debate not with regard to the merit of the bill or the consultation that has gone on or the efforts that have been put forward to make sure that everyone involved has had their voice heard; I am hearing mud slinging on a grandiose scale. Maybe that is because the election is coming up.

I heard the Reform member a few moments ago suggest fresh start. Reform members told us when they came to the House of Commons that they were going to work in some reasonable fashion, bring their points forward and debate issues on merit. However, that is the last thing they have seemed to do in the last year. It has really been sad the way they have attacked and carried out arguments which may be politically motivated. The reality is there was major concern about the administration and governance of the Canadian Wheat Board and changes had to be made within the wheat board act.

There is no question that we set out to have hearings across the prairies to make sure that hundreds of organizations and individuals with concerns were able to come forth to the prairie panel that was structured to go across the prairies, listen to concerns, listen to everyone's input, give every organization an input so that we would have a pretty clear picture of what those governance changes should be and what changes should occur within the act. The minister then decided that he would structure the recommendations, listen to what people had to say and give the public a chance to respond again. The next step in the process was to take the recommendations of the panel and give the public an opportunity to respond.

These measures take time. That is why the minister has not jumped into the frying pan. He has looked at the concerns expressed to him, dealt with them carefully and formulated a very good package. In this way the whole structure of the wheat board is dealt with in a very appropriate way in accordance with the testimony brought to the grain panel. That was put into a bill which the agriculture committee of the House took across the prairies, listening to the concerns of witnesses in Alberta, the Peace valley, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, as well as every major organization in Ottawa. The committee really did an important job of consultation and listening to the concerns of interested groups.

At that time the government brought forward several amendments to take into consideration all of the issues that had been raised by individuals as well as larger organizations. All were dealt with. Quite frankly, to go through a process where 7, 8, 10, 12 months are used to listen to people and get their concerns on record and then formulate a bill is a daunting task. I was very disappointed when in committee to hear the opposition attack officials who had rigorously worked to formulate the ideas. Did they attack the merits of what was being proposed? No. They just did not like it.

I am certain that no matter what was put forward, the Reform Party would have been against it. That has been their position all along. Even if very good points are involved, they do not admit that anything is positive. There was a tremendous amount of political posturing which I do not think has been the high point in this case.

However, we are dealing with two motions which have been put forward as amendments. The motion would remove the reference to the Canadian Wheat Board Act being binding on Her Majesty in right of Canada or a province. This section of the bill was included to provide greater clarity, since the legal interpretation is that it is already the case and the act is binding on the provinces. It remains important that all participants in the industry be clear that the act is binding on the provinces. In that way we can make sure the proper selling arrangements, which have always been with the Canadian Wheat Board, are maintained. That was the reason it was included. To remove that portion is against the whole nature of the bill. Therefore, we cannot support the changes to that clause.

Section 18(1) of the Canadian Wheat Board Act currently states:

The Governor in Council may, by order, direct the Board with respect to the manner in which any of its operations, powers, and duties under this Act shall be conducted, exercised or performed.

Currently amendments to section 18 of the act are being put forward.

(1.1) The directors shall cause the directions to be implemented and, in so far as they act in accordance with section 3.93, they are not accountable for any consequences arising from the implementation of the directions.

(1.2) Compliance by the Corporation with directions is deemed to be in the best interests of the Corporation.

The directive power already exists in the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The powers already conferred on the Canadian Wheat Board by Parliament are not being diminished by this bill. Therefore there is a continuing requirement to maintain the government's ability to give direction to the Canadian Wheat Board. This power has been

used only rarely and there is no reason to expect that it would be used any more frequently in the future.

The provisions in clause 10 simply ensure that when such direction is given, it will be implemented and provide that the directors, officers and employees will not be held liable for carrying out directions given to the corporation by the government. According to section 3.93(1)(a) of the bill, directors, officers and employees must act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the Corporation. Section 10 defines complying with the government directive as being in the best interest of the corporation.

We have to make certain that people who are working for a corporation such as this have legal protection as long as they are acting in good faith and within the law. We cannot support the amendments brought by the Reform Party on this point.

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11:20 a.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak at report stage of Bill C-72, the legislation that the Liberals have brought in to change the Canadian Wheat Board.

Quite frankly, I am surprised that this legislation ever made it to the House. It should not have. It does not do what farmers in western Canada want done with the board. It does not even do what the Liberal government said it wanted to do to the wheat board.

Throughout committee and during clause by clause, it became very clear that this is extremely bad legislation. It is not legislation that should ever have found its way to the House. I am disappointed that it did. It does not do, by the way, what the panel that studied the wheat board and travelled across western Canada said it should do. It does not even come close. That panel recommended that the wheat board become accountable to farmers.

This legislation, if looked at on the surface, does that to some extent in a very minimal way. Clearly the government and the government appointees will control what happens to the board.

The amendments that we, the Reform Party, presented would have done something had they not been rejected by the government. They would have gone at least a little way toward fixing some of these problems. However quite honestly, this is a piece of legislation that cannot be fixed.

As we know, this legislation will never come to a vote in the House, nor should it. It will be thrown out. Whether we have a government led by Preston Manning coming back, a government led by Mr. Chrétien or a government led by somebody else, we will have to start again. I realize that I have used the names of members and I will refrain from doing that.

This legislation will not do what farmers want. A study done by the Saskatchewan government showed that 56 per cent of farmers want the freedom to either market through the board or directly, either through a grain company or on their own to another country, the United States or wherever. It does not do what that study indicated.

It does not honour the results of the plebiscite held in Alberta. That plebiscite showed that 66 per cent of farmers wanted dual marketing, as its commonly called, or wanted a choice to either market through the wheat board, or through a grain company or somewhere else as they choose.

That is what the panel that was set up by the government recommended. It recommended that barley be sold freely and farmers have a choice either to sell through the board or on the open market as they choose, whether inside the country or outside. The government did not honour the recommendations of its own panel.

In a survey in my constituency of Vegreville done by TeleResearch Inc. roughly 85 per cent of farmers polled by this professional pollster-and I tabled the report with the committee so the government knows what it showed-are in favour of having a choice, dual marketing, marketing either through the board or on their own for barley. It was slightly lower for wheat but not very much. In the Beaver River constituency even a higher percentage wanted to have that choice and did not want the monopoly.

This bill will not do what farmers in either Vegreville consistency, which I represent, or in the constituency that the hon. member for Beaver River, Deb Grey, represents.

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11:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member has done it again. Will he please not refer to sitting members of the House by their names, but by their riding?

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11:25 a.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for that. I do not know what it is with names today. I have been here three and a half years and I have never been stopped from using a name before. Here I am on probably the last day of the sitting of this House and I start using names. Perhaps I am getting into the campaign mode.

If we are going to have apologies, the apologies clearly should come from the Liberal government for ever pretending that this legislation does what farmers want. Members can look at the amendments that we are debating today and they are not going to fix this bill and make it something that is acceptable.

Most farmers want a wheat board which is accountable to farmers. Whether farmers support the wheat board monopoly as a large portion of farmers do, or whether they support a dual marketing system where we have the wheat board operating and farmers who want to market through the board can choose to do that or those who choose not to can also do that. In either case what

farmers want is a wheat board that answers to the farmers. This legislation will not make that happen.

The board is partially elected. In committee the Bloc proposed that 12 out of the 15 directors be elected. The Liberals came back with 10 and that was put in the bill. The board has 10 members elected, which is at least a majority. What difference does it make if they do not have the power to make the changes that should be made to the board? They are given very limited power. The government keeps its hands very tight on the board under this legislation. The directors have virtually no power to make further changes to what the wheat board does and to give a choice to farmers on how they market their grain.

The government has prevented this in different ways, partly through its appointments on the board of the chair and CEO. Partly through those appointments it keeps control, but also through a screening mechanism which makes it that any change the Canada Grain Commission decides is not quite right for some reason would be prevented.

Even if the majority of the board supports these changes, if the grain commission, under the control of the minister, decides changes should not happen, they will not happen. Clearly these changes are not what farmers want and we will find that out during the election campaign.

This is going to come out I believe very clearly during the campaign. This is not what farmers want. I believe the Liberal government will get that message much clearer than it has to date, obviously, during the campaign.

Other concerns that we worked on at committee are with regard to the absolution from responsibility that this legislation gives to the management of the board and even to employees of the board.

If I were an employee for the Canadian Wheat Board, not one of the commissioners, not one of the appointed board members and not the appointed CEO or the appointed director of the board, and we have a lot of competent people who work for the board, I would be very concerned when I look at this legislation. Legal opinions on this legislation have not been clear. It seems that this legislation could easily make it so that the employees could be held responsible for mistakes made where the directors or the management of the board normally would be held responsible.

This legislation should have never been here in the House. I am at least pleased that it will never come to a vote because it does not deserve a vote, quite frankly.

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11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the representative from the Reform Party tries to accuse me of not being a western farmer and I admit that. I am not a western farmer.

I have had tremendous experience out west with western farmers and I feel quite confident in terms of speaking about this great institution, the Canadian Wheat Board. I take issue with a couple of points the member for Vegreville mentioned. He alleged that there is not producer control and we are not giving farmers choice. We are, and that is what this legislation is all about. It is enabling legislation giving producers choice and giving the board more flexibility.