House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from March 2 consideration of the motion.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak on the concurrence motion moved by the hon. member for Malpeque as it relates to the Canadian Wheat Board, particularly its marketing of barley and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's barley plebiscite.

Let me begin my speech by repeating the question I posed during question period today, but before I do that, Mr. Speaker, I want to advise you that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Saint Boniface.

I asked the minister the following question:

--the result of the Canadian Wheat Board's plebiscite on barley is in and, due to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's meddling, the victim is democracy. Never before has Canada seen such a farce, fraud and betrayal of core democratic values, with traceable ballots, no available voters lists and no transparent scrutineers to monitor.

The government is mocking democracy and does not seem to be concerned. When will the government give farmers an honest vote on an honest question?

I ask, when will the government apologize to all Canadians for its blatant disregard of democracy and when will it allow an honest vote to be taken?

Being a member of the House of Commons and having to ask that type of question is not an easy thing to do. To have to question a party's commitment to democracy and freedom of choice is not something I take lightly, but given the government's actions as they relate to the Canadian Wheat Board, I was given no other choice.

People can disagree. It happens every day in the House. It happens in our homes. It happens in our communities. We argue, we discuss, we listen, we retort, and we acknowledge differences of opinion. The party I am part of believes in the Canadian Wheat Board. The party opposite does not. Let it be. People can disagree.

Unfortunately, the minority government has chosen a course of action as it relates to the Canadian Wheat Board that can only leave me questioning its commitment to democracy when it fears that the end result of a fair, legitimate vote will be contrary to what it wants to do. Let me repeat “fair and legitimate” because what the government has undertaken to do in regard to the Canadian Wheat Board has in no way been fair and has in no way been legitimate.

From the outset, the government has engaged in tactics that would have made the most corrupt dictator applaud: rigging voters lists; appointing a sham task force to write a report and issue an opinion that probably was written before it began; imposing gag orders to prevent the Canadian Wheat Board from advocating for and explaining its preferred option; firing pro-Wheat Board directors; cancelling the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food meetings that were to hear from the pro-Wheat Board president and CEO; later on firing that same president and CEO; numbering the ballots on the barley vote so they could be traced back to farmers; issuing more than one ballot to some farmers and then calling the farmers to see which ones they want counted--is that open voting?; asking farmers a muddled, unclear question when a simple yes or no would have sufficed; and finally, today when the results on the barley vote were released, interpreting the numbers in a skewed way so it could claim, and incorrectly I might add, that the majority of voters wants marketing choice.

Let us look in a little more depth at the numbers released today by the Minister of Agriculture. The minister likes to, and I will add falsely, claim that an overwhelming majority of farmers wants to see marketing choice. For the minister's sake, I hope his fingers were crossed when he made that preposterous statement.

What the numbers really show, when looked at in a vacuum, is that there is no clear majority. What the minister chose to do in making his preposterous statement is add two of the options together to form his overwhelming majority. Unfortunately for the minister, when the two supportive Wheat Board numbers are added together, they trump what he would call an overwhelming majority. “Facts be damned,” says the minority government, “we will get our desired results from somewhere, someplace”.

By including a question that allowed farmers to believe that the Wheat Board could co-exist in a marketing system, the Minister of Agriculture is perpetrating a fraud on the farmers he purports to represent. Absolutely no study has said that the Wheat Board can exist in a dual marketing scheme. Even the minister's tainted task force said the Wheat Board cannot co-exist in an open marketing scheme.

Why then was this option included? Was it because the minister knew that had only two questions been asked, he would have lost, and badly, I might add, so he rigged the questions and thus the vote? He did not listen to the farmers. He did not hear the question that they wanted. He disregarded anything coming from the farmers who wanted to speak in a forthright way.

The minister should be ashamed. It was about actions and half-truths. In fact, the numbers show that only 13% of voters support the full dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board. What that really indicates is that the second question was a false question, because we know that the Canadian Wheat Board cannot last when there is marketing choice.

Let us look at the figures from my home province of Manitoba. The Canadian Wheat Board is based in Winnipeg, so nowhere in the country will the Conservative government's actions be felt more harshly than in downtown Winnipeg, although I remember a member opposite saying that “it doesn't matter, Cargill can do it”. One might ask why the Manitoba Conservative MPs are refusing to defend the city of Winnipeg. I have asked that question many times, but that is another issue for another day.

In Manitoba, 3,703 votes were cast. Of those who voted, 50.6% voted in favour of retaining the single desk system of marketing barley. Now I might not be much of a math major, but to me this indicates that a majority of those who voted in Manitoba voted to retain the current system, not when adding two numbers, not when skewing the numbers to one's advantage, and not when abusing democracy. Rather, a clear, albeit slim, majority of Manitoba farmers voted for the status quo. Yet for some reason that I cannot imagine, the Minister of Agriculture in the minority government did not talk about that clear majority. One wonders why.

The government does not have to take my word. The minister of agriculture for Manitoba, the hon. Rosann Wowchuk, confirmed my analysis of the numbers. She also said the questions were flawed.

Since the Conservatives came to power it would not be a stretch to say that they have played loose with the truth, facts be damned. A colleague of mine referred to it as “truthiness”. Today's announcement by the Minister of Agriculture is just another example of the government's embrace of the concept of truthiness: keep spinning; never stop to let people see the facts; if we get them busy enough and repeat the same falsehood over and over they are bound to believe us; keep it spinning; cajole the facts to suit us; and massage the evidence.

This is no way for a government to act. It is time for the government to cease with this charade. The masquerade is over. Canadians can see the facts no matter how hard, how fast and into what shape the government tries to change them. It must stop. The Minister of Agriculture should uncross his fingers and admit that no clear majority exists and that the entire process has indeed been flawed. I would submit that Canadians can see through this spin.

The people of Manitoba know the impact of the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board on its city, on the farmers of rural Canada and on the families of rural Canada. I was just looking at a report from the farm women's association, which talks about the importance of the Wheat Board for them. Everybody understands the importance of a single marketing, strong Canadian Wheat Board. The government is playing with the facts.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, rarely I have heard such a display of partisan politics in the House. I have watched what has gone on with this issue of the Wheat Board and there is something that I have noticed. One thing is that of the two spokespeople from the other side who are favouring the monopoly and who just do not want to free farmers up, in spite of a vote that has been held that has clearly indicated that 62% of farmers favour ending the monopoly, in spite of that, one of the members who is still fighting against this result and against farmers themselves is the member for Malpeque.

Is the member for Malpeque someone who is deeply involved in grain farming or with farmers as their representative in a Wheat Board area? No, he is from Prince Edward Island, which is not even covered by the Wheat Board. There is no Wheat Board monopoly in Prince Edward Island, yet he is the main spokesperson for the Liberal Party on this issue. It seems extremely odd to me that this would be the case.

As for the member who just spoke, why is she so concerned about losing the monopoly?

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Not farmers.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

She is no farmer. In fact, she is concerned because she does not want jobs to be lost in that Wheat Board building in downtown Winnipeg. That is all she cares about. She does not care about farmers.

Those members must respect the will of farmers, those who make their livelihood from the land in growing grain, those who have been restricted so greatly in marketing by a monopoly sales situation. I would suggest that they just give up the battle. We have had the vote. Farmers have spoken on this issue. They should respect the result that farmers themselves have provided.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that I am absolutely astounded to hear a member say that we represent only the very narrow community that we come from, that in this House we can speak only about the issues that are in our own backyard. We are elected as members of Parliament to represent and to speak for all of the issues of all of Canada.

My colleague, the member for Malpeque, has a distinguished career in the farm industry. To hear that kind of attack, that kind of slur on his good name and his longstanding commitment to the farmers of this country, is absolutely outrageous.

Let me also say this. Sure, I care about downtown Winnipeg, and I care about downtown Winnipeg a lot, but I also care about the many farmers and the many farm families with whom I have met over the course of the last number of months and who have great concerns about what is going to happen to them, to their farms, to their futures and to their children's futures if this happens.

As for the narrow, narrow approach of my colleague opposite, I challenge him to ever speak out on an issue that is outside of his own backyard, outside of his community and outside of his province.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I feel compelled to rise. There was what I think was some good-natured banter going on when my hon. colleague was talking about this very important issue. I represent a riding in southern Ontario, so I do not pretend to be an expert on the Wheat Board, but I have to say that I grew up going to school with farm kids and I know how important the marketing boards are in Quebec and Ontario.

Here is what I find egregious about all of this: the duplicity, the dishonesty and the insult to the intelligence of Canadians. That is what I find in this entire exercise in this plebiscite for the Wheat Board. I would ask my hon. colleague if this is not the most egregious part of this whole thing: the misrepresentation of the results of the Wheat Board plebiscite, the fact that they disenfranchised many farmers before they actually had it, and that they had numbered ballots.

I think it is a cause for concern for all Canadians.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre has 10 seconds to respond to that question.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is a textbook case of how not to operate in a democratic system.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre, it is a pleasure and an obligation for me to speak on behalf of the Wheat Board this evening. I have spoken on it at every opportunity and, like my colleague, I do not come from an agricultural background but I can speak intelligently to this topic. I do not think we need to come from the industry to speak on a actual topic.

The Wheat Board is a very important institution to Manitobans and all western Canadians and I think the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is finding that out in a very harsh way. It seems that his only objective, after receiving his mandate letter, was to dismantle the Wheat Board. It seems to me that if there is anything else the Minister of Agriculture has done over the last 14 or 16 months, it is very difficult to identify it. However, that is his objective and that is what he wants to do but he is having one heck of a time.

My colleague from the Conservative Party said, “Respect the decision”. If there has been anything about this whole process, it has been how disrespectful the whole process has been from day one. Starting from the question period today, I think it is very typical of what has been going on here.

In question period today, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food answered a question put to him by my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre by saying that he could finally respond to a critic he could respect. I thought that was pretty telling of what farmers and producers have been putting up with over the last little while.

The critic for agriculture, the hon. member for Malpeque, has visited western Canada on quite a few occasions and I have had an opportunity to go across the rural areas with him. If anything, he is very well respected across the country. One does not need to be from Manitoba or western Canada to have people's ear. In my opinion, he is probably more knowledgeable on the file than the actual minister and he has the ear of people from all parties.

When we talk about respecting decisions, it seems to me that this whole process has been flawed from day one. The lack of respect started from day one. Basically from the time the minister got his mandate letter, things were happening. For instance, the minister held one-sided meetings in Saskatchewan only with people who agreed with him, people who did not necessarily want to keep the Wheat Board and who wanted to do away with the Wheat Board. I thought that was pretty sad. Saskatchewan and Manitoba were literally asked to sit in the corner while Alberta was sitting at the table. This is totally unacceptable.

Tampering with the voters list: 16,000 producers taken off the electoral list. If that kind of thing had happened prior to a vote in any democratic country in the world, it would have been seen as totally unusual. This is Canada, after all. This is not a fascist, third world country. This is absolutely unacceptable.

The next thing is that a gag order was used to prevent the Wheat Board from defending its position. It seems to me that if we want to put up a good fight and we want to express our opinion on something, we need to allow the Wheat Board to also express its position on certain things. I think all of us in this House have indicated that we would respect the producers' decision on the Wheat Board, but at least we should have an even playing field during the process. That certainly has not happened.

There were the firings of Ross Keith and subsequently Adrian Measner, the president and CEO of the Wheat Board. Mr. Measner's reputation world wide is absolutely impeccable. We still hear that it was one heck of a loss for Canada. The Wheat Board has lost a good person and one of the most knowledgeable people in an industry, in a corporation or in a Wheat Board that was the biggest seller of wheat in the world. It seems to me that it was a huge error that people always tried to dismantle Wheat Board from within.

Standard & Poor's dropped the Wheat Board's credit rating from triple A to double A-plus. If we read the report, I believe it was 11 times where Standard & Poor's actually identified the reason for this drop in credit rating and it actually identified it as interference by the current government. It is very clear that once again we are trying to undermine the Wheat Board from within. Now all of a sudden one of the major institutions in Canada is paying for that with a reduced credit rating.

The next thing we hear is that the minister will be announcing the split between the wheat and barley plebiscites. They are two different things. When it comes to barley, a lot of it is actually sold within Canada. I think we all agree that the bulk of it is sold for feed within Canada and, therefore, the Wheat Board is not necessarily as important as it would be, for instance, on the whole wheat thing.

The plebiscite has three questions but not clear concise questions that we were supposed to have as mandated by the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Again, it is a very convoluted plebiscite. People are not sure exactly what is going on. People had three different questions to vote on and, after all that, we found out that the ballots were numbered.

It was one unusual thing after another in a democracy. The ballots were numbered, which means that the government can basically trace the vote back to the producer. Let us think about that for a second. In most countries that would be illegal. As a matter of fact, KPMG, which was the firm responsible, actually called producers back and asked them which one of their votes they wanted applied which way. Therefore, it was traceable.

We could add another thing. Some producers received more than one ballot. I know a producer in Manitoba who received four ballots. Is that not interesting?

When we look at the process, it was absolutely flawed from day one, and I am not making this up. This is factual. I am telling the House right now that the way I am saying this process happened is actual fact.

Today we received the results of the actual plebiscite on barley. It is very interesting that the Minister of Agriculture held a big press conference this morning and said that when we add up the people who wanted an option of the private sector and perhaps the Wheat Board and people who did not want it, the percentage adds up to 62%. He said that we have a majority and it is a strong majority.

If that logic holds, it seems to me that if we take just the opposite, if we take the people who wanted to retain the single desk and people who wanted an option, although we know that is absolutely fraudulent because the option was not a possibility according to every expert that we spoke to and also according to the group that was put together by the minister, but if we put those two numbers together we are looking at 86.2%. If the logic holds for one it must hold for the other.

What is left is that actually 13.8% of the people would like to no longer have a Wheat Board at all. Those are the numbers we are actually working with.

I would just like to comment in French, because it is important.

In my opinion, when barley and wheat were split up, that was also dishonest. In my opinion, that should not have been done. There are two main markets: the first is barley for malt production, the second is feed barley. In Canada, a great deal more barley is sold on the feed barley market. I feel that giving farmers the option of selling barley to the private sector or to the Canada Wheat Board was a false option. In fact, it did not exist. I am extremely disappointed with what happened throughout this entire process.

Colleagues on the other side of the House speak of respect. I insist on stating that for the entire process, at every step of the way, there was a lack of respect. In my opinion, we should set the whole process aside and ask producers a very clear, concise question and start all over again.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, while listening to the member opposite, I was very interested in some of his statements. He indicated that he did not think farmers were smart enough to figure out what they were voting on.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Not at all.