House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about market freedom and the access the Conservatives are trying to accomplish here. She noted the markets in her riding around southern Ontario.

I know that in southern Ontario if a person were to catch a certain amount of fish, he or she could put it out to any market he or she wished. However, there is an entity in Manitoba called the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, and it is a single desk. Assuming that the member truly believes in the free market, does that mean the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation will also be relieved of its single desk incentive?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us not lose focus on what we are talking about here. We are talking about marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers. We received a strong mandate on May 2 to make sure that this legislation moves forward so that the western Canadian farmers like my late grandfather have an opportunity to market their businesses under the circumstances they wish to do so.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I think the representative of the government's position should reflect on what was provided in that particular exchange. The government has been insisting that principles of fair and free market access by individual producers should be allowed, and I think the glaring inconsistency of the argument has now been exposed. A very precise and very real example was provided where there is a single market seller for freshwater fish species for producers in western Canada and the Arctic.

Why is it that principle is not the word of the day in that argument, but principle seems to be the word of the day in this particular argument? What happened on May 2 for freshwater fish producers?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, once passed, this bill would allow prairie farmers to seek their own contracts. We are talking about the Canadian Wheat Board. Our government is committed to giving western Canadian grain farmers the marketing freedom they deserve.

We encourage the opposition to ensure the swift passage of this legislation so that western Canadian farmers can plan for the future.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a Newfoundlander, with a particular interest in the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries. Last week, for example, I introduced a private member's bill, the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery rebuilding act. I rise to speak out against the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board and to warn against it.

The bays and harbours, the cliffs and crags and the fishing grounds of Newfoundland and Labrador may be a world away from the western provinces, but fishing and farming have much in common these days across Canada. At this moment in our history, what they have in common is that they are under direct attack by the Conservative government. In the Prairies, the Conservatives are attacking the livelihood of farmers with their attempts to kill off the Canadian Wheat Board. On the west and east coasts, the fisheries are their target, with ongoing moves to gut what little is left of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

What the Conservative government should realize, and must realize, is that its buddies on Bay Street cannot feed Canadian families. That is a simple fact of life.

I do not understand why the Conservatives have it in for Canada's primary producers, fishermen and farmers. Why? Who will that benefit? Who will that threaten?

Ultimately, such actions could jeopardize our food supply, could threaten the family farm and family fishing enterprise, the small businesses on which our country was built.

As a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, I am particularly baffled over why the Canadian Wheat Board is being targeted.

At the same time that the federal Conservatives are attempting to kill off the Wheat Board, back home in my home province, the Progressive Conservative provincial government is moving toward the creation of a marketing board for fish. Therefore, the federal Conservatives are killing off the Wheat Board, which markets and brands Canadian wheat and barley around the world, at the same time that the provincial PCs in Newfoundland and Labrador are attempting to create a similar type fish board to market and brand our seafood around the world. It does not make sense to me. If anything, it shows that there should be more study, more investigation and more review so smart decisions are made.

The federal Conservatives are killing the Wheat Board, while the provincial PCs are birthing a fish board. I just do not get it. How does that make sense? The responsible and right thing to do would be to carry out a cost benefit analysis.

The Canadian Wheat Board is the largest and most successful grain marketing company in the world. That is an indisputable fact. It is also a fact that the Wheat Board is a Canadian success story, with a proven track record of providing the best possible returns for farmers and minimizing their risk.

Why mess with a good thing? Why mess with something that is working?

As the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has pointed out in the House on numerous occasions, there has never been one shred of evidence that farmers would be better off without the Wheat Board. That is a point that has resonated with me and it should resonate with everybody in the House and with all Canadians,

How can the Conservative government, which bills itself as being a great steward of the Canadian economy in these tough economic times and which are destined to get tougher, be so reckless and irresponsible, to use two other words from the member for Winnipeg Centre, as to turn the prairie farm economy on its head without even doing a cost benefit analysis? That does not make sense to me.

Bill C-18 proposes to dismantle the farmer-controlled and funded Canadian Wheat Board by eliminating the single desk marketing of wheat and barley across Canada, but do farmers want that? Apparently not.

On September 12, a majority of farmers voted in a plebiscite to keep the Wheat Board. A total of 38,261 farmers submitted mail-in ballots during that plebiscite. It had a participation rate of 56%, which was, as I understand it, on a par with the last three federal elections. The result was that 62% of respondents voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat, while 51% voted to retain it for barley.

Allen Oberg, chair of the Wheat Board's farmer-controlled board of directors, reacted by saying this:

Farmers have spoken. Their message is loud and clear, and the government must listen, Western Canadian producers have voted to keep their single-desk marketing system for wheat and barley. They cannot be ignored.

Sure, they can be ignored. Have they not heard of the Conservative government? For years, fishermen on the east coast of Canada, the fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador, warned that they were not being listened to. The fishery eventually collapsed. One of the largest fishing companies, Fishery Products International, was later broken up and sold off piecemeal, including its marketing arm.

Today Newfoundland and Labrador PCs are moving toward a marketing board for Newfoundland and Labrador seafood products. The Conservative government is trying to move away from it.

Part of the marketing strategy would be to set up a council to promote Newfoundland and Labrador seafood in general. The government would also facilitate a consortium of companies so they could work together on branding their seafood products. Maybe they will even call it the Canadian fish board. Would that not be ironic?

The New Democrats say that the Conservative government should withdraw Bill C-18. In the interests of large American grain companies, the Conservatives are meddling to erode prices and market security for our own farmers.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a single desk. Farmers in western Canada sell their wheat and barley together through the Wheat Board, their sole marketing agent. The structure helps ensure farmers get their highest overall return, as it has an effective monopoly on the sales. Farmers have more strength when they act as one. It just makes sense. Fishermen have more strength when they act as one. Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen know this and prairie farmers know this. Why does the Conservative government not know this?

Western grain farmers can look to Australia to know what is in store for them once the single desk is eliminated, and it is not pretty. When Australia had its single desk power, Australian wheat could command premiums of over $99 a tonne over American wheat, but by December 2008, it had dropped to a discount of $27 a tonne over U.S. wheat. In three short years, Australia's 40,000 wheat farmers went from running their own grain marketing system, selling virtually all of Australia's wheat, to becoming mere customers of Cargill, one of the largest agribusiness corporations, which is privately owned by the U.S.

If we are not careful, the family farm and the family fishing enterprises of this great country will be no more. We should learn from the mistakes of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery. We should listen to fishermen and farmers. We are stronger—

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting to listen to his speaking notes. Is he actually serious that Australian farmers were getting $3 a bushel more than U.S. farmers at one point? I do not think so. That is not even realistic.

However, he quoted the survey of the Wheat Board and he gave great credence to it. I want to ask him a couple of questions about some of the ballots. I know an older lady whose husband died last year. When it came time for the survey, she received a ballot for herself, a ballot for her dead husband and a ballot for the estate as well.

I know another little old lady who approached one of our political leaders and said that she wanted to talk about the Wheat Board. She told him that her brother and sister, who were both dead, received ballots for the Wheat Board vote. I also point out that I know some folks who farm 10,000 acres who are identified as pro-choice. They did not get ballots at all.

Could he explain some of those inconsistencies and why does he give credence to such a flawed survey?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, in terms of particular ballots for the plebiscite, I have no idea. I know that when I read the final tally, that 62% of respondents voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat, I wonder how the Conservative government cannot see the results of this plebiscite as a warning signal. There is as a storm brewing. There is a problem with the fact that the government is killing the Canadian Wheat Board. How does the Conservative government not recognize the 62% as a warning sign?

I have a question for the member opposite. It makes sense to carry out a cost benefit analysis. The member for Winnipeg Centre has consistently brought it up in the House. Why is there no cost benefit analysis? Is he afraid of the result?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl a general question with which all members of Parliament should be concerned. He is a relatively new MP, but I am sure he is aware of the code of conduct and conflict of interest guidelines that all of us are duty bound and honour bound to uphold.

The member of Parliament for Cypress Hills—Grasslands, who was harassing him with some nuisance and mischief questions, is a grain farmer. It is the position of his government that grain producers in the prairie region will be able to sell their grain for more if it gets rid of the Wheat Board. If what he says is true, does that not put him in a direct conflict of interest and should he not be duty bound and honour bound to recuse himself from that vote, just as the member for Macleod, the member for Yellowhead, the member for Prince Albert, the member for Crowfoot, the member for Red Deer, the member for Vegreville—Wainwright, possibly the member for Peace River and possibly the member for Blackstrap would be? Should not all of those grain producers recuse themselves from this vote because they stand to benefit personally and directly if their own rhetoric and profit—

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, a shorter answer please.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right. I am a relatively new member of Parliament. Prior to my election this past May as the MP for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, I was a journalist. I spent 20 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. I can say for the member for Winnipeg Centre that if I have ever heard anything that sounds like a conflict of interest, it is exactly this.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, the government's main priority is the economy, in which the agricultural industry plays a huge role. Canadian producers feed families around the world. They deserve the freedom to choose how to market their products, whether it is done individually or through a voluntary pooling organization.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate and to correct some incorrect hypotheses and assumptions, such as that allowing wheat and barley producers in western Canada to choose how to market their product would undermine our supply management system.

Our government's support for marketing freedom for western wheat, durum and barley producers is an issue entirely separate from our support for supply management. There is no link between these two issues, and those who try, such as the opposition, to make links between providing marketing freedom to western Canadian grain producers and our government's commitment to support Canada's supply-managed system are doing so at the expense of farmers.

Such efforts are scare tactics that the opposition should refrain from, because its arguments are untrue and because these tactics do not serve farmers well. This is fearmongering. It is not productive because it unnecessarily destabilizes farmers who are not affected by the Wheat Board legislation.

I am a member of Parliament from eastern Ontario. I am very familiar with supply management and I wholeheartedly support our supply management system and the farmers who depend on it. I would like to explain some of the differences between the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management.

Producers in the five supply-managed industries--dairy, chicken, turkey, egg and broiler hatching eggs--worked long and hard to establish these systems. There was clear support by farmers in all cases for the implementation of the supply management system before federal and provincial governments put it in place. Producers who participate in our supply-managed system are supportive of it, and they thank our government for our strong defence of supply management.

This is clearly not the case with the Wheat Board. There is no unanimous support for the Wheat Board and its monopoly.

Supply management works with quotas that are based on consumer demand. That is not the case with the Canadian Wheat Board. In addition, the supply management system applies to all regions of Canada, while the Canadian Wheat Board applies only to western farmers.

It is important to note that supply management is focused on domestic consumption. The Wheat Board, however, is largely focused on export markets.

I congratulate the opposition in recognizing that both supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board relate to agriculture, but the opposition's lack of understanding is exasperating, because the similarities end there.

It is important to recognize that the vast majority of opposition MPs are from non-rural ridings in provinces not under the control of the Wheat Board.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a regional shared-governance organization. Right now, if you cultivate wheat, durum or barley in western Canada and you want to export it for food purposes, you must sell it to the Canadian Wheat Board. The board is far from being universally accepted, as is the case with the supply management system, and many producers want the same freedom enjoyed by farmers in the rest of Canada.

The Canadian Wheat Board itself conducts an annual survey of its producers, and the most recent results showed that a majority of prairie wheat producers, 58%, said that they would prefer either to have a market with no Canadian Wheat Board at all or to have the choice to deal with the Canadian Wheat Board or not.

Marketing choice, or dual marketing, which is what our bill proposes to implement, was the most popular choice when wheat producers were asked to choose between three options of no change to the Canadian Wheat Board, no Canadian Wheat Board at all, or a dual market. Apparently the CWB did not like the answer, because it decided to hold its so-called plebiscite.

This plebiscite was deeply flawed in its design, only offering farmers an all-or-nothing scenario. The option of marketing choice was not even provided to farmers, even though the CWB has been told for years that when given the option, this is precisely what the majority of western grain farmers want. This may lead one to question whether the CWB intentionally framed the questions on its so-called plebiscite in such a way as to produce the answers that it wanted.

The official opposition should also take note that we supported supply management in our election platform. But the NDP election platform made absolutely no mention of it.

The NDP's veiled position on supply management during the election and its feigned indignation today do not fool anyone in the agriculture sector.

Over the past 40 years, supply management has been a source of stability and prosperity for dairy, chicken, turkey and egg producers right across the country. Supply management is important to the rural economy of Canada from British Columbia all the way to Newfoundland. Supply management creates jobs and prosperity for Canadians. Supply-managed producers listen to consumers and deliver what Canadians want. We promote and defend supply management because it has been so successful and has brought so many benefits to consumers, producers and others in the industry right across the value chain.

However, grain producers in western Canada have been saying for years that they want the opportunity to make their own business decisions. A consistent majority of barley producers have said that they do not want to be forced to sell their product solely to the Canadian Wheat Board.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not the case with supply management, whose producers strongly support their marketing systems. Our long-standing and continuing support for supply management and our commitment to marketing choice for western Canadian grain producers reflect our government's dedication to giving farmers what they need to succeed. We believe that all Canadian farmers should be able to position their businesses to capture the marketing opportunities that are open to them. An open market for western Canadian grain producers would attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger Canadian economy.

Our government is committed to implementing the most profitable programs and processes for producers and the industry as a whole

I implore the members to think seriously about this bill and remember that if it is passed in a timely manner, producers will be reassured and will be able to plan their activities for the coming year.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the question I have for the member is with regard to why the government appears not to want to respect the wishes of a majority of the prairie wheat farmers.

Does the member across the way believe in principle that the grain farmer, who is directly impacted by the government's decision, should have the ability to have some input as to what the government is doing today? Would he support prairie farmers being able to have direct influence on what is happening with the Wheat Board?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, my response to my colleague is that it is obvious that we support western Canadian grain farmers. I point out to my colleague that when he talks about feedback from western Canadian grain farmers, I mentioned that the Wheat Board itself conducted a survey or poll of its farmers, which it does every single year, and when it did, it offered three choices. This was before the so-called plebiscite. They offered three choices to farmers: no Wheat Board at all, a Wheat Board monopoly or marketing freedom, meaning that the Wheat Board would exist but that farmers would be free to choose whether they would use it. Fifty-eight per cent of western Canadian wheat farmers chose wanting to have marketing freedom and to have a choice in whether or not to use the Wheat Board.

After that, the Wheat Board conducted its so-called plebiscite and only asked two questions. It offered all or nothing: either the Wheat Board with its mandatory lock on western grain farmers or no Wheat Board at all. The third question was missing. I have to ask why.

The other thing I will point out is that it is interesting to note that there are 57 MPs who represent grain farmers in western Canada affected by the Canadian Wheat Board. Of those 57 MPs, 52 are Conservative and 5 are opposition. That is very telling. We just had a federal election in May. The member is asking if we represent Canadian wheat farmers. We absolutely do, 52 seats out of 57.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture is from Ontario, and I want to thank him for all that he does and has done for agriculture across Canada, not just in Ontario.

The comments from the other side illustrate that the Wheat Board, in some way, seems to be the farmers. The farmers have grown quality wheat. Could the parliamentary secretary clarify whose wheat it is, who grows it and what the Canadian Wheat Board in the west actually does with the wheat?