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 wheat.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The Chair has notice of a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt, however, the House has granted consent for a take note debate on the subject on Thursday.

The member for Scarborough—Agincourt is rising on a point of order.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. There was some confusion as to the date that the emergency take note debate would take place. Last week the House unanimously agreed that we needed to move on the issue and the government was given marching orders, yet last weekend there was a disagreement as to when the debate would be held. There was a general consensus that the debate would take place on Monday. However, now it is to take place on Thursday.

Mr. Speaker, I withdraw my request. However, I want the House to know that we are ready for the debate to take place tonight and unfortunately the government is not.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There is no need to engage in debate on this. The House did not grant unanimous consent last week for a take note debate to take place tonight. However, it did grant consent today for that to take place on Thursday. It is a simple matter in the eyes of the chair.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was consent and the parties talked about the debate taking place Monday night. Perhaps you were not privy to that information but there are members who were.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The Chair can only comment on things that happen within the chamber in these types of instances.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board--Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 18, 2011 by the member for Malpeque concerning the admissibility of Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts.

I would like to thank the member for having raised this matter, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the Minister of State and Chief Government Whip, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House, and the members for Guelph and Winnipeg North for their interventions.

In raising his question of privilege, the member for Malpeque stated that the government had violated a provision of an existing statute by having introduced Bill C-18 without having previously allowed grain producers to vote on any changes to the structure and mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board as is required in section 47.1 of the existing Canadian Wheat Board Act.

In doing so, he claimed:

...my privileges have been violated due to the expectation that I will be required to engage in and cast a vote upon legislation that begins from the premise of a deliberate and overt violation of statutes passed by the House with the expectation that those provisions would be respected most of all by members of the House.

The member for Malpeque explained that he was not asking the Speaker to rule on the legality of section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, but rather whether his privileges were violated as a result of the government introducing legislation he claimed contravened an existing statute passed by Parliament.

The government House leader countered that the Chair was in fact being asked to make a ruling on a matter of law by interpreting provisions of a statute, despite the well-established practice that it is not for the Chair to rule on legal or constitutional matters.

He also challenged the member for Malpeque's contention that section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act rendered the consideration of Bill C-18 unlawful, arguing that such an interpretation was tantamount to asserting that the enactment of a statute could fetter the House's consideration of future legislation.

He suggested it:

...would result in a delegation of the ability of this Parliament to make decisions to individuals outside of...Parliament, effectively giving them the power to legislate the law of this land rather than Parliament--

He emphasized that Parliament is free to consider whatever legislation it sees fit, including legislation to amend existing statutes.

In addressing this very point, Peter Hogg's Constitutional Law of Canada, Fifth Edition, Volume 1, on page 352, notes:

Not only may the Parliament or a Legislature, acting within its allotted sphere of competence, make any law it chooses, it may repeal any of its earlier laws. Even if the Parliament or Legislature purported to provide that a particular law was not to be repealed or altered, this provision would not be effective to prevent a future Parliament or Legislature from repealing or amending the “protected” law.

This citation rightfully underscores Parliament's continued right to legislate.

The government House leader also spoke to the role of the Speaker in preparing rulings, and quoted from House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 261. For the benefit of the House, I would like to cite the full passage, which reads:

Finally, while Speakers must take the Constitution and statutes into account when preparing a ruling, numerous Speakers have explained that it is not up to the Speaker to rule on the “constitutionality” or “legality” of measures before the House.

The footnote to this citation, footnote 75 on page 261, refers to an April 9, 1991 ruling by Speaker Fraser at pages 19233 and 19234 of Debates, in which the Speaker ruled that the Chair must avoid interpreting, even indirectly, the Constitution, or a statute. This is a well-entrenched practice that remains in force today and to which I alluded when this matter was first raised on October 18, 2011.

Accordingly, it is important to delineate clearly between interpreting legal provisions of statutes—which is not within the purview of the Chair—and ensuring the soundness of the procedures and practices of the House when considering legislation—which, of course, is the role of the Chair.

The hon. member for Malpeque has offered the House his interpretation of a law, in this case section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act. He has concluded that the government has not respected its provisions and is therefore precluded from proceeding with Bill C-18. For my part, like my predecessors, when faced with similar situations, I must decline to follow the hon. member's example. It is not for the Chair to interpret the meaning of section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act. I have confined my review of the matter to its purely procedural aspects.

Having carefully reviewed the submissions on this matter, I must conclude that, while the member for Malpeque may feel aggrieved by the government's approach and by its introduction of Bill C-18, there has been no evidence offered that the government's actions in this case have in any way undermined the ability of the member to fulfill his parliamentary functions.

Therefore, the Chair cannot find that either the introduction of Bill C-18 or the fact that members are being asked to consider the bill constitutes a prima facie question of privilege.

I thank all members for their attention.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, an Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-18. However, I am disheartened by the method the government is using to kill the Canadian Wheat Board and deny farmers their legitimate say in the process. This attack on a Canadian institution that was placed under farmer control in 1997 I believe is unprecedented in Canadian history.

We see many countries around the world moving to democracy, some as a result of support received from the Canadian military, yet here at home we see the very principle of democracy being taken away under the iron fist of this regime. The government is violating a law passed in Parliament. It is denying farmers the right to a vote that was established in law at one point in time as well as eliminating the ability to use access to information a little further down the road. Also, the minister, and his parliamentary secretary specifically, have violated their oaths of office. As well, there has been an unbelievable amount of misinformation and propaganda about the Canadian Wheat Board and its farmer-elected directors by this particular regime.

For quite a while we have seen this taking place by the government. Since it came into power in 2006, it has set out on a concerted attack against the board.

It fired directors who were appointed by the previous government specifically to further the efforts of primary producers around the world. They were experts in international law and marketing. They were replaced by government toadies whose objective in life was to destroy the board while working within it.

Against the wishes of the Canadian Wheat Board's elected board of directors, the government fired its former CEO, Adrian Meisner, who was working on the farmers' behalf. It put a gag order on the Wheat Board.

When farmers were to elect directors to the Wheat Board's board of directors, in every election the constituency offices of government members were used to spread propaganda against the Wheat Board in an effort to have anti-board directors elected. This failed every time because eight out of ten of the directors were in fact pro board.

If this was happening anywhere else in the world, some would suggest that we send in the military. That is how I feel about it.

These actions go well beyond the Wheat Board. Canadians should be concerned. This has happened to one law in one institution using the methods by which the government operates. However, the denial of legitimate rights to one group is an infringement on the rights of all.

I just cannot imagine how backbenchers in that party can sit there and not speak up. I asked a question of the member for Crowfoot earlier today as to why he does not quote those who are opposed to what the government is doing. We are receiving many calls from producers who tell us that the response they have received from Conservative members is that there is a difference in ideology and that they do not want to talk to them. Elected members of Parliament have a responsibility to all constituents, not just to the Prime Minister who seems to be their boss and is destroying the Canadian Wheat Board based on ideology.

In this instance, we are talking about orderly marketing. The same principles that allow for orderly marketing, i.e., through the Canadian Wheat Board's function, make supply management possible.

The same principles that allow single desk marketing to function on the Prairies are the same principles that apply in terms of maple syrup and beef in the province of Quebec. A similar principle applies to collective bargaining for unions.

In this case, the government is denying the rights of the majority, as was clearly spelled out in the vote that was held by the Canadian Wheat Board itself. Eight out of ten of the farm-elected directors oppose what the government is doing and 62% of producers oppose what the government is doing. What I find amazing is that others, like supply management groups, fail to speak out in the Wheat Board's defence.

I am going to ask this very directly. Is it the fear of the jackboots approval of the government that makes others voiceless in this country? Is it the fear that if supply management speaks out against what the government is doing to the Canadian Wheat Board, it will feel the wrath of the government? Where is the farm leadership in terms of support of the Wheat Board? Supply management tells us privately that it supports orderly marketing and opposes what the government is doing, but it fails to speak out.

My question to the backbenchers over there is this. When they have an issue or a law that they are concerned about, who will stand up for them when their time comes and the government, based on ideology, wants to target them rather than somebody else?

The minister in this case is selling out to United States grain interests. What is he doing? What is the minister actually doing for Canadian farmers? Let us again look specifically at the bill. Bill C-18 begins from the premise of denying farmers their legal right to determine their own future. If the government believed it had the support of the majority of farmers, a plebiscite would have been held under section 47.1, as the legislation demands.

Who is the Minister of Agriculture really working for? Bear in mind that United States grain interests have accused the Canadian Wheat Board under United States and international trade laws of trading unfairly on 14 different occasions. The United States has lost every time. I submit that the Minister of Agriculture is serving up the Canadian Wheat Board to those United States interests on a silver platter.

An economist working with the office of the chief economist of the U.S. department of agriculture, with regard to the United States' efforts to challenge the Wheat Board, stated the following:

The U.S. wheat industry has persistently claimed that the CWB is able to undercut commercially offered export prices in select markets or sell higher-quality wheat at discounted prices, but can offer only limited anecdotal evidence to support those claims.

In fact, it has no claims.

The Canadian Wheat Board sells as a single desk seller and prevents the deterioration of the lowest sellers setting the price and through the Canadian Wheat Board, it is the highest seller, maximizing returns in the marketplace back to primary producers. The Canadian Wheat Board has shown that time and time again, but the minister is selling out to United States interests and farmers will be the losers.

In a May 26, 2011 statement supporting the elimination of the CWB, the United States wheat associates acknowledged the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board could, “initially mean more Canadian wheat moving to parts of the United States...However, the huge price incentive that currently drives that desire would dissipate very quickly”. The president of the United States wheat associates had this to say on an earlier occasion on the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board, “There could be opportunities created for U.S. farmers to access markets in Canada and we can access the transportation systems as well”.

Further, a study prepared for United States Senator Kent Conrad stated, “If the CWB's single desk authority is eliminated...the United States may become more competitive in offshore markets.

That same report also found that by eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board:

The U.S. and Canadian markets would become more integrated without the CWB. It would be possible for multinational grain companies to buy wheat in Canada and export it from U.S. ports.

The bottom line is, clearly, this is a bill that would give advantages to American producers, takes advantages away from Canadian producers, gives advantages to the multinational grain trade, and Canadian farmers would be the losers. The government is doing that, imposing that on Canadian farmers without allowing farmers their right to vote under the law.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member has made a lot about the vote that was taken, or plebiscite, I should say, by the Wheat Board. Even the Wheat Board itself admits that this should not be taken as representative of all farmers. Many farmers in my riding did not receive a ballot. This vote was not a legitimate vote.

In fact, this weekend, we took a straw poll in my riding of 20 farmers. We did not select these farmers. This was a random sample.

I wonder if the member would comment on the fact that not one of those farmers wanted to maintain the status quo. Every one of the 20 who were called wanted to have choice. That is what is happening on the ground.

That vote was not representative because many farmers did not receive a ballot who should have received a ballot.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. If the member really believes what he is getting in his straw polls, then why does this law and order party not abide by the laws that are on the books?

I find it amazing that the Minister of Agriculture and several colleagues, obviously with speaking notes from the PMO, stood and talked about the fact that the Canadian Wheat Board was designed in 1943 and that there have been no changes since.

Yes, there were. In 1997, the board was changed to include 10 farmer elected directors, time at a time, and by the way it includes the director in the parliamentary secretary's riding who is pro-board. They win 8 out of 10 every time. That is 80%.

The minister has the right under the act, has the responsibility under the act, to hold a vote, and the government fails to do it.

If they are people of their convictions, then allow that vote to be held and let us see where the chips fall. We will support what producers want, if it is done by way of a legal plebiscite.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have read in The Economist statements that have been made about the deterioration of small farms in western Canada, along with it the deterioration of small economies in smaller towns and villages in western Canada.

Then we read in The Wall Street Journal how it is heralding the opportunities that dismantling Wheat Board would give large Canadian and international grain companies which would now be sucking the profits out of farmers out west and keeping them for themselves and their shareholders.

I wonder if the member for Malpeque would express any concern he might have for western Canadian small farms and communities.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that there is a concern for western farmers, western wheat and barley growers, as a result of this particular legislation.

There have been statements after statements made by grain companies, by directors of grain companies, and Viterra believes its shares are going to go up. The U. S. wheat associates is very pleased with what is happening. This is going to be a gain-gain for the grain multinationals of the world.

The Canadian Wheat Board has been the vehicle that has been willing to challenge the railways. It has been able to glean money back from the railways that goes back to primary producers. Who is going to stand up for producers against the railways when the Wheat Board is gone? It has the economic power to stand up against them. The winners will be the railways. I maintain we will see loss of producer cars and short line railways over four or five years. The international grain corporate sector is going to be gaining and the losses are going to be the primary producers.

Just who is the minister working for?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to speak to the changes that we are making to the marketing of wheat and barley in western Canada.

The member for Malpeque, who just spoke, has had the opportunity his entire farming career to market outside of the Canadian Wheat Board because of his location in this country. Unfortunately, my constituents and my family have never had the opportunity to capitalize on market situations not only domestically but around the world and take advantage of those opportunities and put those dollars directly into their own pockets.

This has been an extremely divisive issue in my riding of Selkirk--Interlake, and a lot of that is because of the fear and smear that has been spread by the opposition and by the Wheat Board directors themselves. It is really unfortunate because we market all sorts of other crops, like oil seeds, and we do not have these types of divisive debates over whether or not farmers have the right to sell their own products.

It is completely unacceptable that in a democracy individuals in a certain region of Canada do not have property rights over their own personal property, that they are subjected to an organization that has been empowered by the Government of Canada to take away their production and market it for them, whether they like it or not.

I have many friends who are farmers. I am a farmer myself, although I have never been a wheat farmer, and I put that out there right now. I am a cattle producer. However, my family does grow wheat and barley and other commodities.

This has been a divisive issue. I have said throughout this whole debate that some of my friends support the monopoly at the Wheat Board and some are against it. On this issue, I stand with my friends. What I mean by that is that farmers on both sides of this issue have things that are important to them from a personal perspective.

I have talked to farmers over the last several years since I have been a member of Parliament and before that when I was in farm politics for several years. I have always made the point that the Wheat Board, in its new format, has to be there for those producers who still want to collectively market their product, who want to pool their resources. This legislation would do just that.

My father and my brother are farmers. They are organic producers. Because they grow organic crops, the Wheat Board has never been a viable option for them to truly capitalize on the market opportunities that exist in the organic industry. They can sell directly their oats, their flax, their organic canola, but when it comes to wheat, they have to sell it through the Wheat Board. So, for years my father and my brother have not grown organic wheat because the premiums in the marketplace are removed from them and subjected to the pool, so they can never profit from it.

However, there is the buyback option. The member for Malpeque is going to jump in and say they can buy it back. They can buy it back at the price being offered in the marketplace. They sell it at a commodity price to the Wheat Board and then buy it back at the premium value as an organic commodity. There is absolutely no advantage of being able to move that market directly to the consumer. It is wrong.

This legislation would provide those producers in my riding and across western Canada who want to be involved in the Canadian Wheat Board with a great opportunity. The government is still going to support the new voluntary Wheat Board. The government is going to underwrite the pool accounts. The government is still going to help set initial prices. The Canadian Wheat Board fund is going to be moved over into the new voluntary Canadian Wheat Board.

The producer cars that the Wheat Board always took credit for are still going to remain with the Canadian Grain Commission. It will ensure that producer cars are available to farmers who want to ship directly.

I am a huge fan of the Port of Churchill. Our government is going to ensure that the Port of Churchill receives up to $5 million per year over the next five years to help it deal with any losses it may incur if there is a reduction in the volume of wheat and barley shipped through the port. More important, the Port of Churchill's future is going to depend upon the voluntary Canadian wheat board making use of that port and opening up new railway opportunities, such as the Hudson Bay rail line in northern Saskatchewan that CN Rail is now abandoning.

That line has been out of service for about 20 years and unfortunately it has not moved grain from northern Saskatchewan through the Wheat Board position at Port of Churchill. That in itself is a savings of $7 per tonne in shipment for each and every farmer in northern Saskatchewan if they can capitalize through the Wheat Board on making use of the Port of Churchill.

My colleague from Yorkton—Melville just made this point about the Wheat Board plebiscite. The question on that plebiscite is whether every producer had the right to exercise a vote in that plebiscite. So many producers over the last 10 years have walked away from the Wheat Board and have grown alternative commodities so they do not have to deal with the Wheat Board. Those farmers were never given an opportunity to vote.

The other thing that is really skewed in the whole process is that we never had all the opportunities or all possibilities on the ballot. It said “Do you support the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board, yes or no?” It never mentioned “Do you support a voluntary Canadian wheat board?” If we talked to most of those producers who supported the Canadian Wheat Board on that plebiscite question, most would say that they would support a voluntary Canadian wheat board, especially one that has the built-in safety net that we are providing from the Government of Canada.

We do not have a clear question. We do not know who really had a chance to vote. Not everyone had an opportunity in the agriculture industry to vote in the plebiscite. We know in the fundamentals of democracy the one thing true in the House of Commons is that we respect the minority position. Because we won government, we do not make every Canadian and every member in the House of Commons become a Conservative. We do not do that because we need to have a robust opposition. However, under the Wheat Board plebiscite, it is all or nothing according to the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. This means that farmers, whether they support the Wheat Board or not, have to become a component of the Wheat Board monopoly, or some people might say dictatorship. That is not the right way to do business.

Aside from respecting the minority position of farmers in western Canada, there is the whole issue of respect for personal property rights. That is a key fundamental value of any democracy anywhere in the world.

Aside from questions around the plebiscite, the questions around whether producers want or do not want a monopoly or a volunteer wheat board, we have to look at this from the whole aspect of agronomics, the dollars, the opportunities and the increased value of products that can be produced in the prairie region. Farmers are finally allowed to make true market-based decisions on what they can find in the marketplace. Under the bill, they would have the opportunity to be free to contract directly with buyers, processors and grow the exact varieties that they need. I hear from maltsters and millers that they would love to contract directly with farmers to grow certain varieties. Through the Wheat Board process that is extremely limited.

This will also engage farmers who have opted out of the monopoly of the Wheat Board to now re-enter the marketplace because they have the freedom and the ability to market and risk manage their own commodities. They do it already with oilseeds, with coarse grains, with pulse and other specialty crops. Now they can take that expertise and apply it to growing and marketing wheat and barley for export. They can contract specific varieties or contract specific months of delivery, pricing options, bases options with various companies out there.

This will provide more value-added activity. We are already seeing that with the announcement of the new durum milling plant in Regina. We have already experienced this my home province of Manitoba when we took oats outside of the Wheat Board. Can-Oat Milling setup and developed a great new mill. It has increased the number of acres of oats grown in Manitoba by over 250,000 acres. This is just one plant having that type of impact in one province.

The agronomics is great. It is good for crop rotation and people can make better decisions that way.

This has been a divisive issue, but all the farmers out there, their friends and neighbours do not have these types of battles over their other commodities. At the end of the day, they will still be friends and neighbours with a voluntary Canadian wheat board.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the idea that the voluntary wheat board could operate is nothing but government hypocrisy. The fact is the board is moving. The government, through this bill, would fire the farmer-elected directors, who were elected by the farm community, and it would either appoint or leave in place its appointed toadies from the last board, one of which the agriculture committee had said was not qualified to do the job.

The member talks about the Wheat Board. The Wheat Board has asked for several things, and I would ask the member if the government is willing to provide them all. It has asked for $225 million in capital to finance grain inventories, financing and borrowing guarantees, $200 million to fund a risk reserve to back-stop cooling, guaranteed access to elevators and port facilities and regulated authority to direct farmers' grain to the right port. That is what the elected board of directors has asked for, and the government is only providing guarantees.

Why has the government chosen, once again, to ignore what the elected board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board is saying is required for this voluntary board to work? Is it just a farce, or what?