Debates of Feb. 15th, 2008
House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was language.
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(Bill C-37: On the Order: Government Orders:)
February 14, 2008--Consideration at report stage of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, as reported by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration with amendments--Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
Prince George—Peace River
Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip
Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I would like to thank all parties for the negotiations that took place that would allow this. I move:
That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, be deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
Does the hon. chief government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
Some hon. members
The Speaker Peter Milliken
The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members
The Speaker Peter Milliken
(Bill reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)
The House resumed from February 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Canada Grain Act
The Speaker Peter Milliken
When this bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Malpeque had the floor for questions and comments. There are six minutes remaining in the time allotted to the hon. member for questions and comments.
Since there are no questions or comments, we will resume debate.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.
Canada Grain Act
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act. I would like to start by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill, which would modernize the Canada Grain Act.
We are uncertain about some parts of the bill, though. For example, what would replace payment securities for producers? The Bloc Québécois therefore reserves judgment on the bill. We hope to hear comments from producers, but unfortunately very few of them testified before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
In addition, we need to recognize that the bill does not affect Quebec producers directly. We remain vigilant. The reform of the Canadian Grain Commission is taking place in a specific context. The Conservatives are trying to dismantle the marketing mechanisms that protect the interests of producers, such as the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management.
The Conservative government has appointed a friend of the minister to head the Canadian Grain Commission. The Bloc Québécois wonders whether the new commissioner will defend producers' interests or the minister's.
As for the details of the bill, the Bloc Québécois notes that the government is implementing some recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, such as modernizing the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission and eliminating mandatory inward inspection and weighing.
However, the Bloc Québécois is skeptical about the elimination of the Grain Appeal Tribunal and the payment security program, because we do not know what will replace it.
The Bloc Québécois also condemns the fact that the government has not introduced an office of grain farmer advocacy, as the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommended.
The Canada Grain Act has been amended several times since the early 1970, but not substantially. The legislation was last amended in May 2005 to enable Canada to meet its WTO commitments. During the legislative process, stakeholders called for an amendment to require a comprehensive review of the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission.
On August 1, 2005, clause 2.1 of Bill C-40 came into force, adding section 120.1 to the Canada Grain Act, which requires a review of the Canadian Grain Commission. COMPAS Inc., a consulting firm, was hired to conduct the review, which was based on reviews carried out over the previous six years. COMPAS Inc. held extensive online consultations with industry stakeholders as well as public meetings across the country.
The COMPAS report, which was tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate in September 2006, was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for review. The committee issued its report in December 2006.
In summary, Bill C-39 amends the Canada Grain Act.
It clarifies the Canadian Grain Commission’s objects; combines terminal elevators and transfer elevators into a single class of elevators called “terminal elevators”; eliminates mandatory inward inspection and weighing as well as some requirements for weigh-overs at elevators; extends the right to require the Commission to determine the grade and dockage of grain at process elevators and grain dealers’ premises; eliminates the Grain Appeal Tribunals; eliminates the Commission’s ability to require security as a condition for obtaining or maintaining a licence; creates additional regulatory powers for the Commission; modifies enforcement provisions and creating certain new offences; and ensures that some of the requirements and procedures set out are clarified and modernized and that certain language is updated.
The bill also amends the Act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Grain Futures Act as well as another act, and includes transitional provisions and coordinating amendments.
It is important for the Bloc Québécois to quickly describe grain production in Quebec.
The grain grown in Quebec is primarily for domestic consumption, especially for feeding Quebec poultry, cattle and hogs.
For these two reasons, producers in Quebec have never felt the need for a marketing system as centralized as the one in western Canada. Marketing in Quebec is governed by the Act respecting the marketing of agricultural, food and fish products. Under that act, the Régie may, on the application of any interested person, designate a person to inspect grain facilities or to grade or inspect grain. After the inspection or grading, the Régie shall issue a grain grading or grain inspection certificate to the interested person.
The Plan conjoint des producteurs de cultures commerciales, which was adopted and implemented in October 1982, gave the federation of Quebec producers of cash crops the means to negotiate the terms and conditions under which certain crops would be sold.
Until very recently, that federation had a fairly limited mandate in respect to the marketing of crops. In 2005, however, two-thirds of the affected producers agreed to the cooperative food-grade wheat marketing regulations—Règlement sur la mise en vente en commun du blé destiné à la consommation humaine—and that marked the beginning of their collective assumption of control over marketing. This was followed by a mandate from the Quebec National Assembly to establish terms and conditions for the sale of other grains, in particular, centralized payment management, the obligatory provision of information about transactions and a floor-price system.
There are more than 11,000 farmers in Quebec who grow and market such grains as oats, wheat, canola, corn, barley and soybeans on nearly a million hectares of land. Total grain production is about four million tonnes, worth a total of $750 million at the farm gate.
Our grains do have some special characteristics and uses. Quebec is especially responsive to niche export markets, such as GMO-free soybeans for human consumption. Quebec oats are also particularly prized in the United States for horse feed.
Bill C-39 obviously makes some changes to the Canadian Grain Commission. I want to turn now to the most important issues for grain producers—issues that were actually already addressed when the parliamentary committee considered the 100 recommendations from COMPAS.
Let us look at the change in the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate. Through this bill, the government would change it in such a way that, in addition to the interests of grain producers, the Commission would also consider the interests of the industry as a whole, including grain processors.
The Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate will be split into two parts. Part one will set out the CGC's core mandate to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets. Part two will establish that the CGC shall specifically protect producer interests with respect to deliveries to elevators and grain dealers, access to binding CGC determination of the grade and dockage of grain deliveries, and the allocation of producer cars.
At present, the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission is to, “in the interests of producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets”.
Clause 3 of the bill amends section 13 of the Canada Grain Act by removing the words “in the interests of producers” from the purpose for which “standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets” are to be established and maintained.
Like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, the Bloc Québécois supports modernization of the Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate. Our party recognizes that the commission must be able to consider broader interests, such as public health, preserving the enviable reputation of Canadian grain producers, and other interests.
Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is sensitive to the concerns of grain producers who believe that Bill C-39 is drafted in such a way as to reduce the protection it affords grain producers. That was one of the questions we had and we will pursue it in committee.
The National Farmers Union has told us, for example, that it is essential to preserve the language of the existing Act, which includes the expression “in the interests of producers” to describe the purpose of the Canadian Grain Commission and the standards of quality in the regulations respecting grain handling operations in Canada.
We know that the Conservative government is allergic to collective marketing mechanisms and instruments that enable producers to earn a fair market return. Deregulation and reducing constraints on the free market are key components of their ideology.
Agricultural producers in Quebec and Canada are quite right to distrust this government, which has set its sights on the Canadian Grain Commission and would like to dismantle supply management in the milk, poultry and egg industries.
On the question of the object or mission of the Canadian Grain Commission, the Bloc Québécois would support any amendment proposed in committee that could provide grain producers with satisfactory protection.
For that reason, the Bloc Québécois will be very vigilant. It is important that this bill be sent to committee so we can examine it in depth, to ensure that producers feel properly protected. That is what is important to the Bloc Québécois. If the producers have doubts about this bill, the Conservatives will find the Bloc Québécois standing up to them.
Obviously governance is going to be an issue with this bill. It is therefore necessary that the Canadian Grain Commission not be politicized. It is important to have a commission in the Canadian quality control system for grain. That is what guarantees the quality of Canadian exports.
The Commission cannot allow itself to be exposed to criticism. It cannot give the impression that its decisions are based on anything other than science and protecting the economic interests in the grain and oilseed supply chain.
It was extremely unwise of the Conservative government to appoint a former Reform Party MP, Elwin Hermanson, to head the Canadian Grain Commission in December 2007. While he has been a grain producer himself, we believe that his close political ties to the present Prime Minister, with whom he sat from 1993 to 1997, cast doubt on his credibility.
It must also be pointed out that there are very close ties between Mr. Hermanson and the present Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food. According to the minister’s website, the minister was Mr. Hermanson's campaign manager in 1993. He was even Mr. Hermanson's constituency office coordinator from 1993 to 1997. The close ties between the minister and Mr. Hermanson, the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission, could not be clearer.
Those close ties prompt us to ask the question that is on everyone’s lips: will the new Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission stand up for the interests of producers, or the interests of the minister?
Thus, there ought to be an office to defend the rights of grain farmers. As regards the protection of the interests of agricultural producers, the Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that the government rejected the third recommendation of the parliamentary committee, proposing the establishment of an office of grain farmer advocacy that would have reported directly to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
The mandate of the office of grain farmer advocacy, whose role would have been similar to that of an ombudsman, would have been to ensure that producers understand their rights under the act, and to defend their interests in disputes with other stakeholders.
Like the parliamentary committee, we think that such an office would have ensured that the interests of producers are defended in disputes with other stakeholders involved, including the Canadian Grain Commission.
We believe that the communication, consultation, liaison and complaint investigation responsibilities assumed by such an office would have helped strengthened Canada's grain quality assurance system.
As for the elimination of grain appeal tribunals, it goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois has a problem with that part of the bill. Let me explain what the bill does. The grain appeal tribunal hears the complaints of grain producers and companies that are not satisfied with the grades given by the Canadian Grain Commission's inspectors. The chair of the tribunal is an authorized grain inspector, but acting at arm's length. The other members of the tribunal come from the grain industry.
The tribunal's position within the Canadian Grain Commission limits its legitimacy and perceived effectiveness.
Clause 14 of the bill proposes to abolish grain appeal tribunals, which are currently established under sections 35 to 38 of the Canada Grain Act.
We understand that, in case of a disagreement over a ruling made by the chief inspector, who is the first level of appeal, grain producers will no longer be able to turn to the grain appeal tribunal. They will have to turn to the regular courts, which is a costly, long and frustrating process.
That is why the Bloc Québécois maintains that the parliamentary committee did not rule on this issue, and notes that the COMPAS report stated that the Canadian Grain Commission's grain appeal tribunal “has earned some plaudits for effectiveness”.
COMPAS continued, saying, “We believe that the tribunal is respected for the role it plays in disputes over grades, even though some stakeholders may have occasionally felt that the office of the Chief Grain Inspector exerted undue influence”.
The Bloc Québécois is waiting for the government to explain this amendment. We think it is important to refer this bill to committee as quickly as possible so that our party can change it, fill in what is missing, and improve it.
With respect to eliminating inspection and mandatory inward weighing, this is what the bill would do. Weighing and inspection of grain is carried out by the Canadian Grain Commission and is mandatory on bulk shipments overseas but not for container movement or for exports to the United States, where these are optional. Inward inspections are the weighing and grading that take place when railcars or trucks arrive at transfer elevators or terminal elevators. The Canadian Grain Commission then provides third-party weighing so as to forestall errors and to provide assurance to producers.
The government is proposing that inward inspections take place only at the request of the shipper, but that outward weighing and shipping remain mandatory. Terminal and transfer elevator operators will be required to allow access to service providers who will do the weighing and inspection.
While the Canadian Grain Commission will no longer be involved in the delivery of this optional service, both shippers and elevator operators will have access to binding Canadian Grain Commission arbitration in the event of dispute over a grain grade.
Like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, The Bloc Québécois supports optional inward inspection, as proposed by the government. We agree with this provision of the bill because inward inspection is no longer universally required. Such inspection does not seem to be required in the case of grain shipped to the United States, among other destinations, or by container. The cost of this inspection makes Canadian products less competitive. Grain companies, particularly those that ship grain to companies abroad, want to avoid costs that are not essential to their ability to manage their affairs efficiently. According to COMPAS, “half of the cars unloading grain at terminal elevators come from primary elevators belonging to the same company.”
Mandatory outward inspection and weighing of grains is maintained, and this will help protect the reputation of Canada’s grain products at the international level. We must be careful, however. Since inward inspection is optional, this could increase unit costs and prices by decreasing economies of scale. Making it optional would likely put smaller grain companies that do not have a terminal elevator at a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness. Inspection and weighing fees are collected from the farmer at the primary elevator. Optional inward inspection would benefit larger companies that have a terminal elevator by allowing them to avoid payment of the fees and offering a better price to farmers. Grain companies that have a better geographic location will be in a better position to take advantage of mixed shipments.
The Bloc Québécois believes it is important to promote competition in the grain handling system by helping the smaller companies. That is why our party believes that the Canadian Grain Commission must have sufficient funding so that the commission can maintain efficient and timely services for both producers and smaller handlers who need such services for transactional purposes.
What does the bill do in terms of guaranteeing payment for farmers? The Canadian Grain Commission has long been demanding that licensees provide farmers with guaranteed protection in case of bankruptcy. The guarantee can be in the form of security bonds, cash deposits, credit letters, guarantee insurance or payables insurance in sufficient amounts to cover the eligible liabilities, that is, the amount to be paid to the farmers, or any other acceptable financial instrument. All companies must report their eligible liabilities to the Canadian Grain Commission on a monthly basis. In the past, the amount of the guarantee has been enough to cover most of their obligations to the farmers in most cases of bankruptcy, but not all.
According to COMPAS, since 1982 there have been 19 failures of licensed, bonded companies. Of these 19, there are three instances where the payout was less than 100%, one of which was 98.4%. There are two other instances where the CGC paid producers 100% for failures of companies that were not licensed or carrying security. The CGC made payments in addition to or in the absence of security provisions in a total of five cases.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes, as did the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, that modernization of the system requires an effective and flexible mechanism for contractual security for all participants. Because they are at the beginning of the chain, grain producers need to be contractually protected against breakdowns that could occur down the line.
Our party has noted that the federal government does not require eastern Canada's grain industry—or producers of other crops—to participate in similar guarantee programs.
The Bloc Québécois has noticed that the current system has created a great deal of dissatisfaction. For example, the Western Barley Growers Association recommended a study of costs and benefits.
It is therefore important to understand that the Bloc Québécois believes that this bill should be sent to committee quickly because it is important that changes be made in the interest of grain producers.
We need to take a hard look at this position. This bill must be modernized, but in the interest of producers. The Bloc Québécois will see to it that the interests of producers are respected.
Canada Grain Act
Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB
Mr. Speaker, during the beginning of the member's speech, he mentioned that the bill would in no way affect producers in Quebec but then he proceeded to go on to say that he would be watching it very closely and that he would be defending the good of the farmers.
The fact is that western farmers, I think, have a sense of wanting to determine their own destiny and they are telling those of us in the west that they want to have more ability to market their product freely. They want a choice. They want to be able to use the government agency if it is to their advantage, but there are many times, right now for example, where they could get triple the amount of income if they had some marketing freedom.
How can the member justify saying, out of one side of his mouth, that this would not affect them when, by their own declaration the people in that corner have consistently said over the years that I have been here that they want to get out of Canada, which I feel badly about, but they keep saying it? However, now he seems to be so very interested in what is happening in western Canada. How does he reconcile that?
Canada Grain Act
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, the answer will be quite simple. I will take this opportunity to outline the situation.
Quebec has grain marketing legislation and a board called the Régie. Quebec producers have their own organization.
We are closely monitoring this bill as are Quebec farmers. With respect to all aspects of supply management and the Canadian Grain Commission, the Conservative government has demonstrated that it does not support any system put in place to protect producers. These protection systems go against the Conservatives' philosophy. We will be very vigilant in this regard because western producers are asking us to intervene. The member should know that.
As long as Quebec remains in Canada, the Bloc Québécois will defend the interests of the men and women of Quebec. In this case, agricultural producers from Quebec and from the rest of Canada are asking us to step in. For us, this is important. If farmers do not feel protected by this bill, the Conservatives will find the Bloc Québécois on their heels. In our view, it is important that supply management and the other marketing protection tools acquired over the years by the farmers remain intact. This is why we are interested in seeing this bill quickly referred to the committee, which will hear farmers and be able to improve the bill in the interest of the men and women of the farming industry.
If, one day, the Conservatives start undermining collective marketing by the Canadian Grain Commission, this could trigger a domino effect. Supply management would be affected. There would be a very negative impact on producers in Quebec.
The Union des producteurs agricoles is asking the Bloc Québécois to be vigilant and to protect the western farmers. Obviously, we are happy to do it as long as we remain members of this House. We would not want this bill to have negative consequences on the existing legislation which provides marketing protection to other producers, for other types of crops.
Canada Grain Act
Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is important to have this debate. The Canadian Grain Commission is the result of an act of 1912, which established three grain commissioners to oversee the regulation of the movement of grain from the country elevator to the point where it was loaded for export or processed in Canada. It has functioned in the interest of farmers. One of the main reasons it exists is to retain quality, so the wheat we send overseas has a stamp of quality from Canada.
Today, approximately 700 dedicated employees arbitrate disagreements over grain and weight, inspect grain passing in and out of terminal elevators, license and regulate elevators and grain companies and, most important, administer the Canadian grading system. Canadian grains are trusted and respected throughout the world due to the honesty and thoroughness of the Canadian Grain Commission.
I point out that we have specialists, people who have studied and learned what they are doing, working on behalf of farmers in Canada. Unfortunately, the way the bill stands now approximately 200 people stand to lose their jobs in the name of deregulation and privatization. That is one thing of which we have to be aware.
Grades like number 1 or number 2 Canadian western red spring wheat correspond to established specifications based on measures such as a percentage in the shipment of damaged or broken kernels or other kinds of seeds and of foreign matter such as dirt, as well as moisture content and the weight of grain. The grades assigned by the Grain Commission are under the control of the western and eastern grain standards committees, which meet and make decisions about any changes or additions to the grades that may be necessary because of changing market and crop conditions. Each year they also establish standards samples for each grade.
I mention that to underline the fact that the Grain Commission has a useful function. Any time we want to change or modify the way it works, we have to tread very carefully.
Bill C-39, as it stands, has a potential threat to Canadian grain producers. We know the Grain Commission has served as an independent referee to settle disputes between Canadian grain producers and the powerful companies that buy and export. It is no secret that our system of doing things in Canada is under attack. When I posed the question to our chief negotiator at the WTO last week during committee, he admitted, for example, that there was pressure internationally for us to do away with our state trading institutions, namely the Wheat Board. That same pressure exists to modify or to eventually make the Grain Commission not as serving as it is today. We have to be careful.
The commission has also served as the body that determines the amounts farmers are paid based on the Grain Commission determination of the weight and quality of grain before it goes to market. These roles would dramatically diminish if Bill C-39 becomes law, leaving producers newly disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies when it comes to determining grain quantity and quality.
The producer can hire a private company to grade and weigh the grain even though no such companies exist today. The bill would also expose grain producers to financial harm in the event of a grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay.
The feeling among many people who are in the business is that this will also undermine Canada's international reputation as an exporter of top quality grain. For example, the proposed elimination of inward inspection will likely result in diminished quality of Canadian grain exports. Currently, inward inspection by the Canadian Grain Commission ensures grains of different quality can be segregated to protect higher grades from being diluted by lower quality grain.
It took me a while to wrap my head around this, but I understand that when the grain goes to the elevator, for example, in Vancouver, which I have visited a number of times before with my farmer uncle from Saskatchewan, that the grain is put in bins and that quality is retained. The quality is there because of outward inspection when the grain is loaded on to ships.
Therefore, the way I understand it, there is the possibility, if there is no inward and outward inspection, there could be a mixture decreasing the quality of the grain, tarnishing Canada's reputation as an exporter of quality grain.
There is something called kernel visual distinguishability, or KVD, which is performed by the Grain Commission with this inward inspection. The bill proposes to do away with this.
I refer to an article by Mr. Wade Sobkowich, who is the executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association. In general, the feeling is that we have to be very careful before doing away with KVD. Technologies are in the process of being worked on and finalized that can replace this famous black box, which we were told about at committee. However, to date nothing really exists to replace KVD.
Right now only certain varieties are eligible for a particular class and KVD means that a trained person can differentiate between the classes through visual inspection. Any grain that contains an excess of varieties outside of the intended class is downgraded to the Canada feed grain. In other words, if I understand this correctly, by having KVD, we are able to retain, with qualified people who understand it, a quality in the grain we export.
KVD is a consideration used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency when deciding what varieties should be registered.
The biggest problem, according to Mr. Sobkowich, with removing KVD is the obvious one. It exists to protect the farmer because it allows settlement at the time of delivery.
Just as an aside, one of the problems with the bill, which goes contrary to one of the recommendations we made in committee, is it does not put the farmer first and foremost. The farmer is lumped into all the other segments of the agriculture industry.
Therefore, KVD protects the grain handler because the certificate final is based on a visual grading system. It protects the marketer by giving assurances that the customer is receiving what he or she has ordered. It protects the end use customers by providing confidence that they are receiving grain that meets the processing requirements.
The Western Grain Elevators Association is not saying that we have to keep KVD forever, that this is ingrained in stone. What it is saying is let us be very careful. Let us tread lightly. Let us ensure we do not replace something until we have something better to act in the interest of farmers.
What has been happening with the government is it appears to be willing to act very quickly and often recklessly with regard to the Wheat Board and the Grain Commission. Yet it seems to drag its feet when it comes to immediate aid that is needed for pork and cattle producers, which we saw during the debate. Somehow the government can act quickly if it wants, but if it does not want to, then we have the spin that it cannot get aid to people right away. Therefore, we have to tread very carefully.
So why is Bill C-39 flawed? Instead of having a study done by a parliamentary committee, the government used a report prepared by a polling firm whose very existence depends on contracts from government and large corporations.
COMPAS, which conducted the study that led to Bill C-39, had a favourable—I repeat, favourable—bias for deregulation and privatization right from the start.
So I ask the following question: how can a firm conduct a study if it has a favourable bias for deregulation from the get go. When a study is done, it is expected to be based on an examination of both sides of the issue.
Moreover, due to lack of funding, the Canadian Grain Commission has not been able to fulfill its mandate, and these failures are being used as an excuse to deregulate or privatize services to farmers.
What we have here is a ploy that involves cutting funding. We have seen the same thing in the health system. Then the government claims that the system is not working, but the reason for that is the lack of funding. If one looks at the commission's recommendations, one will see that one of these recommendations is to allocate sufficient funding to the commission so it can do its job properly.
Again, I want to stress the fact that this bill benefits large corporations rather than farm families. If we pass it in its current form, farmers will no longer have their say.
I will continue reading from a press release by the National Farmers Union, which states:
Many of those recommendations [in the report] would accelerate the economic leverage of large grain companies and railways at the expense of farmers, according to the NFU. “The mandate of the [Canadian Grain Commission], since the Act was first implemented in 1912, has recognized that farmers have less power in the marketplace and need certain protections,” said Boehm. He noted the Compas report specifically recommends “narrowing the mandate to protect producers' rights from a broad over-arching principle, down to some very specific limits.”
Boehm refuted the claim by the authors of the Compas report that they had heard no positive feedback about the CGC during their consultation process. “Such a claim is categorically not accurate,” said Boehm. “Particularly given our direct experiences at the public meetings in Saskatoon and Regina. Grain producers at both those meetings unequivocally expressed support for the CGC, particularly the role of the Assistant Commissioners.”
I would like to take an aside here and tie this in with what we have been experiencing with the whole debate on the Canadian Wheat Board. We have been told time and time again by the government that we have to move ahead for marketing choice, that we have to dismantle single desk, and that farmers are wanting this choice at this time. Yet in my office I have over 700 individual letters from people, some handwritten, some typed, which say that we have to be careful. These people say they do not want to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board and the single desk.
Then there is the spin we get from the government, which is that all these letters came from the same fax. Certainly. They are from members of the National Farmers Union. The National Farmers Union provides a service to its members. A member sends a letter and the NFU faxes it to me and other MPs. These are not form letters. These are individual letters. There are many gut-wrenching letters asking what the government is doing and why it is moving so quickly to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. I would say that this is the same sentiment that there is out there among many farmers in regard to the Canadian Grain Commission.
I will move on to an article from the Winnipeg Free Press, in which we see that the minister has decided not to work with the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board and is actually threatening to introduce legislation, I think he said within 10 days, if he does not get his way.
Since I became a member of the agriculture committee and have taken up this file, I have always thought how nice it would be if the current minister--or the previous minister--would sit down with those elected officials who are there on behalf of farmers. It would be nice if he would sit down with all farmers' organizations, especially an organization such as the National Farmers Union, which represents thousands and thousands of farmers.
The minister could sit down, hammer out a solution and try to work with the system as it is. As we can see, the Wheat Board is trying to introduce new programs. The majority of the board's directors want the federal government and the malt and barley industry “to give their new CashPlus barley marketing initiative a chance”. As well, states the Winnipeg Free Press article, “The program seeks to put more money into farmers' hands sooner than with the current pooling system”.
So it is not as if the Wheat Board directors are stuck in a time zone. They understand what is happening, but at the same time they want to ensure that the market power stays with the farmers and they are not at the mercy of the big multinationals.
It is disturbing when we hear a minister give ultimatums. I will quote him from the article in the Winnipeg Free Press:
“They can lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” he said.
What is that? What kind of a statement is that from the Minister of Agriculture of our country?
Now we will move on. Yesterday I received a letter from the president of the National Farmers Union, who was extremely upset over the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in debate the other night.
It is incredible. I will quote what he is saying:
One of your other defamatory allegations in the same emergency debate is that acting as the President of the National Farmers Union, I have “disappeared on this issue [the CWB] this year”. Again, although you know this to be opposite to the truth (I have attached my recent press releases on the CWB issue as you are pretending that you haven't seen them), you seem to think you can mislead your fellow members of the House of Commons, and this is a further disgrace to yourself and your party.
In the last paragraph, he poses a question to the parliamentary secretary:
Do you have the integrity required to stand in the House of Commons and apologize to your colleagues and then make a further apology to me for your unsubstantiated, defamatory, and incorrect remarks?
I will pose the question to the Parliamentary Secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board: does he have the integrity to do this?
I hope that when we come back to the House he in fact will stand up and apologize, because it is time to work in a spirit of cooperation. Farmers want to work in a spirit of cooperation with the government. The government is doing some good things. It is not a time for confrontation.
It is not a time for shenanigans, as we saw yesterday in committee when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture tried to stop debate on Bill C-33 and rush it through, back to the House, even though he knew witnesses were lined up to be heard on this important issue. The issue of biofuels is not something that we just move through. It has to be looked at and we must at least put on the record that there are concerns.
Thankfully we have a committee chairman with integrity who stood up and made the right decision. I would like to applaud him for that.
In the minutes I have remaining, I would like to quote from a letter dated January 18 from the organization called Save My Canadian Wheat Board:
[Bill] C-39 includes some of the amendments proposed in the review and is sure to cause further controversy. For one, it proposes to remove the phrase from the act that requires the [Canadian Grain Commission] to regulate the entire grain industry “in the interests of grain producers”. Instead of the focus of the act being the protection and promotion of the interests of grain producers, the interests of producers that would be protected by the act are spelled out specifically and narrowly.
That is just one example from friends of the group, Save My Canadian Wheat Board. Further on, the letter states:
Likely to be highly controversial, and certainly not recommended by the 2006 review, [Bill] C-39 removes the requirement that companies wishing to be licensed by the [Canadian Grain Commission] as primary elevators must post adequate security to cover potential losses farmers may incur if the company goes bankrupt. The security posted by companies in the past has not always been adequate, but it has certainly protected farmers from huge losses in some cases.
I would like to once again emphasize that we have to take the precautionary approach before we move quickly. Often the government has not done that in dealing with health and with the environment and now in dealing with the lives of farmers and our grain industry.
The precautionary approach means that we tread very carefully before we move in to throw something out and bring in something new when we are not quite certain what the future will bring. This is especially so in light of the fact that today in the world there is this thrust, this feeling, in regard to Canada that other countries and the WTO want us to do away with any protection we have for our farmers. That is a threat not only to the Canadian Wheat Board, but also to supply management. We can see it.
I would like to conclude by saying that the bill as it currently stands certainly does not receive my support or the support of my party. I hope we have a chance to look at it and turn it into a bill that reflects the interests of all farmers in Canada.
Canada Grain Act
David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board
Mr. Speaker, it is great to be able to get up on this issue one more time. I want to address some of the accusations the member made against me, but first I think I need to suggest to him, and I know many of my colleagues would suggest this to him as well, that he needs to go to more than just the NDP's farm wing, the NFU, for his advice. He needs to get a broader perspective of the agricultural industry, particularly in western Canada.
With regard to his comments about what I said the other night, I found it very strange. I have always been a strong advocate of organic farming in western Canada. I think it presents some great opportunities. That is why I was extremely puzzled when Mr. Stewart Wells claimed that I had defamed him the other night when I called him an organic farmer.
It seemed to be an extremely strange response from him and the National Farmers Union, unless we know that this year the Canadian Wheat Board has given virtually a zero buyback to organic farmers. They can buy their grain back and they can market it however they want.
I am told by his neighbours that Mr. Wells is an organic farmer. He refuses to actually answer the question as to whether he is or is not. If he is, he is able to take advantage of that opportunity, while 98% of farmers in western Canada cannot access that same buyback. They cannot access the ability to market their own grain.
My questions to Mr. Wells have been as follows. Is he an organic farmer? If he is an organic farmer, has he been able to take advantage of the buyback? If so, why has he not stood up and suggested that it would be good for the rest of western Canadian farmers to have the same opportunities that he has? Those are simply the questions that I was raising the other night.
The NFU's extremely aggressive and angry response to me tells me that maybe he needs to answer those questions and that he is trying to avoid answering the questions as to whether he is an organic farmer and has been able to take advantage of that tremendous opportunity offered by the buyback, which the rest of us would love to have.
If Mr. Wells is not an organic farmer, I would be glad to apologize to him for that. I also understand that if he is not one he is probably wishing he was so that he could take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that organic farmers have, because they can market their own grain this year.
I would like the member from the NDP to explain to the House today why the NDP would be taking a position that would allow some farmers in western Canada to buy back their grain for eight cents and then market it themselves, which we think is a tremendous thing, but then tell other farmers that they cannot even get a buyback, that they can take a price from the Canadian Wheat Board that is less than half of what organic farmers are getting.
Canada Grain Act
Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC
Mr. Speaker, as for this debate on the Wheat Board and the position we are getting from the government, we have heard it over and over again. The fact remains that there are many hundreds and thousands of farmers who do support the system, the Canadian Wheat Board, the way it functions today, and they have a democratically elected board of directors. Any changes made to that organization have to be made by farmers, not by the kind of heavy-handed approach that the government is taking.