House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was coast.

Topics

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

As I was saying, Madam Speaker, the process of our justice system did take place. There were a variety of appeals. In fact, the determination of the courts ultimately was that the farmers were found to be guilty and they were fined. As a further protest, the farmers decided that instead of paying the fines, they would go to jail. I understand their concerns. Half of them have since paid the fine and are now out of jail.

With that as a background to get the facts on the table, the important issue here is the best interests of our western grain farmers.

When the Canadian Wheat Board was established, a process was established to ensure the best interests of western grain farmers were being presented. There was a consensus among western prairie farmers with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board instructions.

Can the member give the House an indication of where western farmers stand with regard to their support level for the Canadian Wheat Board? Can he confirm to the House that in the event that changes are sought to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, a plebiscite of the farmers and a recommendation of the board of directors is the first way to start?

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4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, the real issue here is whether people have the right to do their own business or not.

In reference to the question that was asked, I would like to point out as I did before that a Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey showed an almost 80% support for change. The Canadian Wheat Board survey showed well over 60%. Our mail-outs show consistently higher than that, 60% to 80%. Other MPs tell me the same thing. The Edmonton Journal survey said that over 90% of people think that farmers should have the freedom to make their own marketing decisions.

The frustration comes from the attitude that the minister has portrayed over the years, which is that he is willing to interfere at every step to keep farmers from getting choice. We will see this in the next few days in terms of the recommendation at the agriculture committee. I ask people to keep an eye on that to see what happens.

The article that we have talked about today talks about the fact that first there needs to be a recommendation from the Canadian Wheat Board. That is not likely to come. The vote needs to be organized by the anti-choice government that is in place. The majority vote would only be persuasive. Then there is a big question about how big that vote should have to be.

It seems to me there is no interest in democracy here. The parliamentary secretary wonders why farmers resort to civil disobedience. Part of the reason is that the Liberal government is so completely out of touch with what is going on in western Canada that there is no chance of the Liberals understanding what is going on there and the feelings that farmers have.

Farmers are so frustrated that they feel they have no other opportunity than to do what was done last week in Lethbridge. Actually there are other farmers who are coming into the same situation. In Saskatchewan within the next couple of months some of the same choices will have to be made by farmers.

The government has continued to persecute and pressure farmers. We need relief from that by giving people marketing choices and the ability to make their own decisions.

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4:25 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about the topic of grain marketing and the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board in western Canada.

First, I want to address how this debate is sometimes characterized by those who would oppose the Canadian Wheat Board and, especially today, the official opposition. As we have seen so far, it likes to depict the grain marketing controversy as a battle between farmers on one side and the government on the other. That is a convenient political portrayal for them, but it is in fact grossly inaccurate.

There is not a case of government versus farmers here. This is a case of different groups of farmers themselves having profoundly different opinions about the marketing system they want. All farmers are not on the same side of this debate. I wish they were, quite frankly, as that would make things quite simple. That would make life rather easy, but it is not reality. The fact is that decent, well-intentioned farmers are on opposite sides of this argument and they hold widely different opinions with very deep convictions on both sides. It is not all black and white. It is not all one-sided. That is what makes policy making on marketing issues so very difficult.

Second, the Canadian Wheat Board is not a marketing system that has been imposed recently upon the grain sector across western Canada. The Canadian Wheat Board came into effect in the 1930s, under a Conservative government at the time, and it got its primary mandate in the early 1940s. It has functioned on behalf of western farmers ever since that time.

So over many decades, the Canadian Wheat Board has been well established and, for the most part, well supported. Given that long history deeply rooted in the prairies, change after all of those years is not a particularly simple thing. It is one thing to decide whether or not to implement in the first place a single desk marketing system where none existed before. It is quite a different proposition to remove a single desk system after it has been up and running for over half a century. What seems to some to be a simple matter of personal freedom is to others the removal of their basic marketing rights and traditions. It cuts both ways.

In recognition of this reality and to make the Canadian Wheat Board more democratic, more flexible and responsive, more agile in the marketplace, and more accountable directly to farmers, the Canadian Wheat Board Act was amended in several major ways in 1998. Accordingly, compared to what the group known as Farmers for Justice was protesting against back in 1996, the Canadian Wheat Board now has changed fundamentally, with the biggest changes in the western grain marketing system in more than 50 years.

The CWB is no longer a federal crown corporation. It is no longer run by a set of government appointed commissioners. The Canadian Wheat Board is now governed by a modern, corporate style board of directors, with a full two-thirds controlling majority duly elected by prairie farmers themselves. The chairman of the board is one of those elected producers, indeed, one who got elected in the first place on a platform about dual marketing and rose through the ranks democratically to become the chair. All of the powers and authorities of the Canadian Wheat Board are now vested in the hands of its directors. Thus, farmers themselves now control the destiny of the CWB, not politicians or bureaucrats, but farmers.

The opposition says that the government interferes with that democracy by still appointing 5 of the 15 board directors who always, they say, vote the government's way, and by holding the power to issue the board certain directives which it must follow. Let me comment on those allegations.

First, let us look at the calibre of the people we have in fact chosen since 1998 to serve in the capacity of these external directors. They are senior people from the world of international finance. They are experienced lawyers and grain marketers. They are distinguished corporate executives from the natural resources sector beyond agriculture, people like Mr. Jim Stanford, for example, the former chief executive officer of Petro-Canada, whose ability and reputation in western Canada and in all of Canada is absolutely beyond reproach.

I would also note that I have never once requested any appointed director, or any director for that matter, to vote in any particular way on any issue. It is entirely up to them to exercise their own skill and judgment.

Similarly, since I first became Wheat Board minister in 1993, I have never once issued any directive to the Canadian Wheat Board as a whole, not once. Incidentally, that same power has been there in the law since at least 1943. It was not invented in 1998.

The opposition criticisms ring false and hollow in the face of both facts and experience. This point about producer control goes directly to the heart of the issue before the House today in this opposition motion.

Is it true that only prairie producers need Canadian Wheat Board export permits to do their own export sales across the border? No, it is not true. Any export sale of Canadian wheat or barley from anywhere in Canada requires an export permit from the Canadian Wheat Board.

Is it true that prairie producers cannot have the marketing flexibilities that Ontario producers have given to themselves under the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board? No, it is not true. Those Ontario flexibilities were achieved through the democratic decisions of the directors of the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board. Since 1998, prairie producers have had that same democratic right and authority because of the changes made to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which I mentioned earlier.

Am I alone in holding the point of view that I have just described? No, I am not. Not judging by the mail that I receive from farmers across western Canada and not judging by the predominant themes of journalists and editorial writers over the past few days while this topic has been a particularly controversial one in the public arena.

Let us take Kevin Hursh as one example. He writes regular columns in both the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader Post as well as many Saskatchewan weekly newspapers all over the province. He is widely quoted and respected. Most important, he is himself a farmer. Last week he wrote a lengthy column about the various sides in the grain marketing debate and the pros and cons of each. He noted the protests by farmers that were going on at the time in Alberta. He also noted the changes in the law that had been made, the ability of farmers to elect directors and to control the Canadian Wheat Board, and the fact that another round of producer elections is underway right now as we speak.

Then he said this about any decision to change the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board:

This isn't a decision for media pundits, politicians or the Regina Chamber of Commerce. The future of grain marketing and the CWB is in the hands of producers, just where it should be.

While the opposition could no doubt retaliate by citing quotations from the anti-Wheat Board Sun chain of newspapers or the National Post or perhaps others, I could fire back with strong commentaries, equally strong, that appear in other various prairie publications including The Western Producer and others. It is interesting that the hon. gentleman quoted The Western Producer earlier today at length and failed to quote the other article in The Western Producer that points out the strength of the Canadian Wheat Board and makes the argument for why the Canadian Wheat Board should be retained. It would be helpful if the whole record and not just part of it were put on the table.

All of this just makes the basic point that this is not a simple issue with public opinion or farmer opinions all on just one side of the argument. It is far more complex than that.

And producer opinion changes. I think of Lorne Hehn, for example, who first came out of the United Grain Growers organization to be appointed by the Mulroney government to be chief commissioner of the Canadian Wheat Board more than a decade ago. Mr. Hehn, when in the private sector, had been a pretty stern critic of some of the Canadian Wheat Board's practices. There was some speculation at the time that he was being appointed perhaps to diminish the ability of the single desk from within. In fact, he became one of the Canadian Wheat Board's strongest advocates and defenders based on what he saw and learned and experienced after his appointment.

Earlier I mentioned the Canadian Wheat Board chairperson, a gentleman by the name of Ken Ritter, a farmer from west-central Saskatchewan. He ran to be elected to the first board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board in the fall of 1998. His platform at that time was very clear. It strongly favoured the principle of dual marketing: get rid of the single desk. But again, based upon the facts and his experience after his election, he changed his mind. He now strongly defends the board and the single desk, and he is still a farmer and still acts as chair of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Perhaps most significantly, let me mention Mr. Rod Flaman, a farmer from Edenwold, Saskatchewan, who was himself a full-fledged and prominent member of none other than the organization known as the Farmers for Justice. He was an active participant in those very protests in 1996 that have been referred to in the House today. He too ran into legal problems and proceedings and penalties, just like those other protesters in Lethbridge last week. No one needs to give Rod Flaman any lessons about how tough the grain marketing debate can be: he has been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

But rather than just posing for the television cameras, he has been very serious about wanting to achieve constructive change, lasting change, change in the interests of farmers, change that will endure into the future. So after he had been a protester, he ran to become elected as a Canadian Wheat Board director the last time the elections were held. Guess what? He won. Last week, Rod Flaman had this to say:

I used to think the same way as the farmers in Alberta. In fact, I took my own grain across the border seven times in 1996. I am here to tell you now that I have changed my mind...The CWB is not perfect, but I now believe that the single desk system is a significant asset for farmers at getting the highest return for their grain. I found myself convinced by the facts.

So said Rod Flaman.

The bottom line is simply this. The Canadian Wheat Board is now a democratic, producer-controlled organization. The government has a clear record of not interfering in Canadian Wheat Board affairs. Even though the law might give me the authority to do so, I have not done so. If farmers indeed want the kinds of things that are implied in today's motion, they can in fact achieve them, but that is for them to decide democratically for themselves.

The lobbying that needs to happen and the convincing that needs to take place should not be aimed at the government or even at the opposition or any of the other parties in this House. It is not primarily the government's business. It is not primarily the opposition's business. It is the farmers' business. Those who advocate an end to the single desk need to persuade their fellow farmers that it is the right thing to do, because that is where the power lies and that is where it should lie, with farmers, and not with politicians, government or opposition, and not with bureaucrats.

Mistakenly, today's opposition motion prescribes a top down, made in government solution. That is the very nature of the problem that the opposition would object to in the first place.

The irony is that the motion is proposing that we do an end run around democracy. Never mind that some 65,000 or 70,000 farmers are voting right now. The opposition suggests that we do not pay any attention to that, that we do an end run around the democratic process.

The motion would also pre-empt the rights and powers of farmers that are vested in their hands. It would substitute a political policy manual for the decision making authority of farmers prairie-wide.

If and when the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board were to be changed, it would come about not because of the partisan conduct of politicians, nor would it flow from the abusive trade behaviour and harassment of either the Americans or the Europeans. It would result from the democratic conduct of farmers making their own decisions for themselves, and that is as it should be.

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4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, in summing up the minister's speech, I would say that the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors is there to administer the monopoly that is imposed by law, under the Canadian Wheat Board, by the House, namely the Liberal government. All that the board of directors is allowed to do under law is administer the act that it is given.

Can the minister tell me of any other economic enterprise in this country where the government and one group of that economic enterprise can tell another portion of producers in that economic enterprise how to do their business? Is this a free enterprise economy? Or is it a command economy by a monopoly imposed by a Liberal government?

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, I would remind the hon. gentleman that the board was established by a Conservative government, not by a Liberal government.

He said the directors have nothing to do but administer the act. In fact the act says, among other things, that the directors must demonstrate their accountability to producers, directly to the producers who elect them. That means taking into account what those producers say and acting on the views of their producer constituencies.

The act also contemplates changes in the board's mandate and lays out a procedure for how those changes can be accomplished. The advice and consultation of the board of directors would obviously be invaluable, indeed legally indispensable, in that process. It is not just administering the status quo. The board is in a position to facilitate change and to build toward change if that is its reading of what producers would want.

In terms of other examples of marketing boards and agencies, they exist in various parts of the natural resources, agricultural and fisheries sectors. There are a whole range of different marketing arrangements that farmers have put in place for themselves.

I would like to deal with the essence of the hon. gentleman's question. He said it is one particular point of view that is imposed upon all. He has touched on the very heart of what makes this issue so difficult. One farmer's point of view that the opposition is advocating is simply a matter of providing freedom. From another farmer's point of view, just as valid, just as honest, and just as legitimate as the first, it is the removal of an ability to market in the way that other farmer would want. That is the conundrum we have.

I do not think any of us in the House should have a vested interest or bias one way or another. What we need to do is be responsive and as fair as possible to all farmers, and there are some on both sides of this tough debate. By moving in one direction, we advantage some and disadvantage others; in moving in the opposite direction, we advantage some and disadvantage others. It is not a simple matter of everything is black and white, and everything is simple. It is a more complex question than that.

What we have put in the law is a process by which that law can be changed and, ultimately, farmers would vote among themselves. I would submit that the 100,000 or so farmers across western Canada are more legitimate in making that decision than the 300 of us who sit in this privileged place. Farmers should hold the whip hand.

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I get tired hearing the government constantly talk about how clean it is, that it is hands-off these institutions, and that it does not have any say. That is utter nonsense.

In the early 1990s, and the minister is familiar with it, the Conservative government lifted the barley sales. There was an open continental barley market. It was one of the most successful periods of time in barley growing history, not just for the farmers and producers in Alberta but for the Wheat Board which was at the same time entering into a competitive state with the barley growers. It was really pleased with what was happening, the increase in sales by both bodies of people and the increase of income. The decent living was looking good.

That is what the farmers wanted and had asked for. The Conservatives opened that door, then in 1993 the Liberal government was elected and it slammed the door. The people over there slammed the door on the open barley market and they have the gall to stand here and say that they do not interfere with the decisions. Hogwash. Tell me about the barley market.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, I know the hon. gentleman from previous experiences in private life and I think his memory may be slipping. The legal proceeding that dealt with the barley market in 1993 was launched by a grain company, not by the Government of Canada. It was launched by a grain company and decided in the courts.

I hate to put some troublesome facts on the table that destroy the myths and rumours, but the fact of the matter is that the legal proceeding that was taken at that time was taken by a western Canadian grain company. That is where the issue got all ensnared.

In the case of barley, there are indeed some issues that the Canadian Wheat Board board of directors need to be particularly attentive to and pro-active about. I do not think it is his or my role to decide for the directors. We can legitimately raise issues and put questions before the directors and draw situations to their attention that they need to fix. There are certain issues in relation to barley, both on the feed side and the malt side, to which the directors for the future, and in the interest of grain farmers, need to pay particular attention.

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

You slammed the door shut.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

No, I did not.

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4:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I am sure the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board would like to hear this question. I have a couple of questions and not so much about barley. Oats was a commodity that was part of the Canadian Wheat Board and it was taken away from the Canadian Wheat Board. It was put into a dual marketing system. The minister has said that change is not simple, that it is very difficult to give up a single marketing system for a dual marketing system.

Could he tell me why oats was taken away and put into an open market system? Not only was production increased by farm producers but it was easy to remove from the single-desk marketing system and put into the dual marketing system.

I also looked at the financials. The credit risk in the Canadian Wheat Board for the Canadian government is $7 billion. Is this the reason why the government is so reluctant to let go of the Canadian Wheat Board?

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, on those two points, it is probably just a little bit of inaccuracy in language. The decision on oats was not a dual market, but an open market. That is an important distinction. It does make the point that just maybe this notion of dual market is not one that is viable. The oats case demonstrated that with a relatively small market it can work in those cases.

Members will note that the volume of oats is substantially different from the volume of either wheat or barley and farmers might have a different opinion with respect to wheat or barley. In the case of oats we should not leave the impression that it was a dual system with both functioning successfully side by side. It was a case of a complete transition to the open market in the case of that relatively small volume commodity.

In the case of the contingency that is in the books, the hon. gentleman will know and this may be the point he is getting to, the reporting of every credit transaction of the Canadian Wheat Board is recorded as a separate transaction. Often the reporting at the end of the day cumulates the total where the real number is somewhat less.

If he has got--

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4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Order, please. The Chair does try to accommodate everybody. I need unanimous consent if we are going to ask any more questions. Is there unanimous consent?

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4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Business of the House
Government Orders

November 6th, 2002 / 4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That when the House is in Committee of the Whole later this day in order to deal with Government Business No. 6, no quorum calls, requests for unanimous consent nor dilatory motions shall be entertained by the Speaker as of 9:00 p.m.