House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's reference to such an esteemed publication as The Economist which clearly states the writing is on the wall, that dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board is not only bad for farmers but it is also bad for rural communities and western Canada. It is a vision based on ideology and corporate interests put forward by the Conservative government that seeks to silence farmers.

We are proposing a vision that would allow farmers to decide their destiny and would allow Canadians to talk about what would benefit our communities and regions, not corporate interests or other countries, and certainly not the friends of the government as we have heard mentioned throughout these last few weeks.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech.

She spoke about structures in place for farmers. In Quebec, there are concerns that the government, which is going after the Canadian Wheat Board today, will go after supply management tomorrow. That would hurt Quebec's economy.

Could the member speak to these concerns?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, and also for the connection that he and a number of my colleagues from Quebec have made between what is happening with the Wheat Board and the potential threat to the supply management system in Quebec.

How can we believe a government that, just a few months ago, said that it would respect the farmers' vote and democracy and is now changing its mind? The same thing could happen with supply management. What Canadians across this country are seeing with the Wheat Board could happen to them soon enough if we consider this government's agenda and its complete lack of respect for what Canadians want and for the decisions we want to make for our economy and our future.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

October 25th, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Madam Speaker, during the campaign there was a clear discussion with very clear positions set out on the issue. The NDP advocated for a single desk. The Conservative Party advocated for freedom of choice for western Canadian farmers.

The result of that is the member is the only rural member of Parliament in western Canada for any of the opposition parties in the Prairies. I ask the hon. member, is that why she chose to have the motion on this very important issue that affects western Canadian farmers seconded by a member of Parliament from Ontario?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, the idea of what was or was not said in the election is quite comical to hear being referenced here today.

In March, at an agricultural forum in Minnedosa in my own province, the Minister of Agriculture, whose agenda is to dismantle the Wheat Board, said that he would “respect the vote of farmers”. He said, “Until farmers make that change, I’m not prepared to work arbitrarily. They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too”.

I do not think that the farmers in Minnedosa, the people of Manitoba, or the people of western Canada are simple enough to think that was a reference to May 2. In fact, it was a reference to the Canadian Wheat Board, which is important to every single one of us, not just in western Canada but across Canada.

I would urge the government to be transparent and tell us who it is really working on behalf of. It is working against farmers and for the corporations.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity to put a question to my colleague across the way, who comes from the same home town as I do. There is the suggestion that the Port of Churchill would be impacted by this change. The member has referenced this often. However, would farmers not continue to ship their grain through Churchill if it was economically viable to do so? Basically, can we find another way to support that line and not make the farmers support it?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would certainly hope that the member across would know quite well, given our common geographic background and the fact that he has visited Churchill, the reality is that once the Canadian Wheat Board is gone, 95% of what goes through the Port of Churchill would be gone. These are the facts.

If the government does not want to debate fact, which is clearly the case, then it will keep telling a story that simply is not true. However, if the Wheat Board is gone, then a massive base, not just in terms of products but employment and livelihood, would be gone in Churchill. We welcome investment, but to think that anything could substitute for the loss of the Wheat Board as we know it is absolutely ludicrous.

We are talking about listening to farmers and the people who want the Wheat Board to exist because it does provide benefit to communities like Churchill, communities like Winnipeg and across western Canada.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, I want to put on the record that this government cannot support this motion. We will not set aside Bill C-18, the marketing freedom for grain farmers act, as called for by this motion.

Having said that, I read over the motion and there were two words that jumped out at me, “democracy” and, of course, “supply management”, which the opposition is trying to hook into this argument as well.

In repeated surveys by the Canadian Wheat Board, a majority of farmers have asked for choice, and that number keeps going up. As late as last spring, 76% of young and beginning farmers were saying they want a choice, they want an option. That is exactly what this bill would do, and the marketing freedom for grain farmers act would deliver that choice. That is democracy at work.

With regard to supply management, which the opposition is trying to hook in here, unlike the members opposite, this government has actually taken concrete action to support supply management. During the last election, we were the only party to state unequivocally our support for supply management directly in our platform. In addition, we reiterated that commitment to supply management in the throne speech in the spring, something I cannot remember, in my 15 years here, happening on the other side at any given time. We have consistently defended our supply management system on the world stage, most recently at the Cairns Group meetings that I hosted in Saskatoon last month.

Please allow me to quote directly from Wally Smith, the newly elected president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, who was with us in Saskatoon. He said:

We welcome [the minister] underscoring that Canada remains steadfast in its support for what works here in Canada, namely our supply management system.

He went on to say:

[The minister] took advantage of the Cairns Group discussions to promote the Government’s support for our diverse agricultural sectors by broadening the focus to include other agricultural trade issues such as the role science and innovation can play for farmers, the environment and food security objectives.

I would go on with a whole list of favourable comments from industry on our steadfast support of supply management, but I will do that at another time.

The fact is the opposition is doing contortion acts to make a false connection back to this bill for marketing freedom. The two issues are further apart than apples and oranges. It is actually apples and walnuts. There is no link. Producers in the five supply managed industries, dairy, chicken, turkey, egg and boiler-hatching eggs, worked long and hard to establish these systems 40 years ago next year and we will celebrate that with them. The supply management industry is national in scope and that is one of the major differences between it and the Wheat Board.

There was strong support for the implementation of a supply management system before federal and provincial governments put it in place and it is a joint offering, similar to the Canadian Wheat Board in the Canadian Wheat Board area where four of the provinces are involved and three are on-side with us in making these timely and called for changes.

The producers who now participate in the supply managed system are supportive of that system, unlike farmers in the Wheat Board area who want options. Canada's supply management system, unlike the Canadian Wheat Board, does not draw from the public purse to backstop its expenditures where the Canadian Wheat Board, in the last years, has taken $1.3 billion from the public purse to backstop some mistakes that it made. Supply management is a proven system that enables our farmers to produce top quality poultry and dairy products enjoyed by Canadian farmers and, of course, the genetics from those great industries are world-renowned and in demand around the world.

On the other side of the coin is the Canadian Wheat Board, probably not even on the same coin. The Canadian Wheat Board is a regional monopoly. Supply management is national in scope, as I said. As it stands now, if we grow wheat, durum or barley, in western Canada only, and we want to sell it for export or for food use in Canada, then we have to sell it through the Canadian Wheat Board by law. If we wanted to sell our own wheat when the Liberals were in power, they would put us in shackles and leg irons, and throw us in jail. That was a terrible blight and I know that will be celebrated later today, in the movement forward on this act, by the farmers that were jailed.

Far from being universally supported, as is the case with the supply management system, a growing percentage of producers forced into the Canadian Wheat Board Act are demanding an option and we would deliver that. Our long-standing and continuing support for supply management and our commitment to marketing choice for western grain producers reflect this government's understanding of what Canadian farmers need to run their farm businesses effectively and be economically viable.

Motions like these are desperate scare tactics that the opposition, if it really understood agriculture, should be ashamed of. The opposition's fearmongering will not stop marketing freedom from coming, but it would and could destabilize a multi billion dollar western grain industry. It could undermine the livelihoods of thousands of grain farmers of all sizes.

It would be helpful at this time to cut through the rhetoric and review the basic goals of this dynamic piece of legislation. The main goal behind this change is to provide western Canadian farmers with more ways to achieve economic success.

Farmers who want access to a pooling system will continue to have that option through a new voluntary wheat board, while those who believe they can achieve greater success by dealing directly in the marketplace will also have that opportunity.

Canadian goods and foodstuffs are in growing demand around the world. Canadian producers in mining, forestry, energy and food are working hard to be the most competitive and successful producers on the globe. Re-organizing the role of a 68-year-old government monopoly with a transition of up to five years is hardly a radical idea.

The opposition loves to use the word “ideologue”, perhaps because it has been a while since its members put forward an idea with any kind of substance. One does not have to be an ideologue to realize the marketing conditions of 2011 are not similar to those of 1943, when the Wheat Board became mandatory. Canada is simply joining the ranks of major advanced industrialized countries that have abandoned these types of marketing systems.

Refusing to adapt and evolve is not a recipe for success but a guarantee of long-term stagnation. This change has been the subject of debate for many years and is now our responsibility to act on the commitment we have made in every election campaign.

Our objective now is to ensure that there is predictability and certainty to allow grain sellers and buyers to plan effectively for the coming season. This legislation has garnered overwhelming support from farmers, farm groups and industry as a whole.

The government has heard from a great number of entrepreneurial farmers who believe that their own operations will be more successful if they have the marketing choices this bill would provide.

A broadly based working group concluded in a report just last month that this would be the case. The fact is, today's entrepreneurial farmers are proving over and over that they can and will help drive our economy if they have control over their farm businesses and ultimately over their own bottom line.

For the grain industry this means a choice in how they market their grain, a choice in when they sell their crop, a choice in who they sell their crop to, a choice in what price they sell their own commodity for, and ultimately a choice in whether they sell their crop to a new voluntary wheat board or on the open market.

Our comprehensive plan brings certainty and clarity to farmers, industry and the market overall. The government has always maintained that farmers must have a choice in how they market their grain, whether that is individually or in an open market through a voluntary Canadian wheat board.

The act enables the government to provide the Canadian Wheat Board with the initial support required to operate as a voluntary marketing organization, allowing it time to transition to full private ownership. We will work with the board to ensure this transition happens, as soon and as smoothly as possible.

Once passed, the act will also allow farmers and grain companies to immediately enter into forward contracts with the purchase or sale of wheat, barley and durum for execution after the beginning of the crop year, August 1, 2012. This will allow farmers and the entire value chain to plan accordingly and transition in an orderly fashion.

This new freedom also has many economic benefits for communities across the Prairies. There has been a lot of doom and gloom speculated on here, but processors will now be able to open their doors for business, unfettered by the current requirement to buy wheat and barley only from the Canadian Wheat Board.

Canada's grain industry is a powerhouse that brings $16 billion to the farm gate and makes up almost half of our agricultural exports, but what once was Canada's signature crop is lagging behind. Wheat and barley innovation have become stagnant. Competition for acres has weakened, and new crops, such as canola, have surpassed wheat in value on the Prairies.

A C.D. Howe report released this spring confirmed that Canada's share of annual worldwide wheat production has fallen by 50%. Equally, Canadian market share of world barley exports has declined by 40%. With that reduced market share, the Canadian Wheat Board has far less influence on the world stage, and as a result, has become a price taker.

We have seen tremendous growth in value-added opportunities across the Prairies over the last 20 years for crops that do not have a monopoly market, including oats, pulses and canola. We will see these same opportunities open up for wheat and barley as we implement this marketing freedom act.

We will work with farmers and industry to attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger economy. We know that the potential for wheat durum and barley is high, but the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is, is standing in the way.

Look what happened to oats when it came out from under the monopoly. In Manitoba alone the acreage of oats has increased by 175,000 acres since its removal from the Wheat Board's control in 1989. Within weeks of that decision, two new processing plants were announced. Several more plants have been built in the late eighties and early nineties, significantly changing the oat market. This includes Can-Oat in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, which today employs 125 people. Manitoba now processes a half a million tonnes of oats annually.

Just over the border in North Dakota, there are many new pasta plants that have sprung up creating jobs that could have been created in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta for that matter.

We can expect more processors to start up new businesses in Canada. Private marketers of wheat and barley will expand their work forces. Milling firms will be able to purchase directly from the farmer of their choice at a price and time they negotiate. Entrepreneurs will have the option of starting up their own small specialty flour mills and malting and pasta plants.

In fact, just lately we had the honour of turning the sod on a new pasta plant in Regina, Saskatchewan. The company does manufacture pasta worldwide now but has stayed out of Canada because of the monopoly and all the red tape involved in dealing directly with durum producers. The new plant slated to open next year will create 60 permanent jobs and up to 150 temporary jobs. The stage is set. Market forces can come to bear.

Forward-thinking processors like Alliance Grain Traders will be able to deal directly with farmers for the quality and consistency of supply that has gone missing in the ridiculous buy-back program that the Wheat Board has implemented. The business model in Regina is based on more than just that, but at the end of the day, certainly this makes it easier to move forward.

Murad Al- Katib, a young, dynamic businessman from Davidson, Saskatchewan, was unequivocal in stating the removal of the single desk makes this new pasta plant in Regina all that much more possible.

Alliance Grain Traders has built a world-class pulse handling system for lentils, peas and so forth, doing it right here where they are grown not at point of sale, as the Wheat Board claims must be done. It sees that same opportunity for durum pasta and I look forward to celebrating its future successes, successes that would not be possible without this government's important legislation.

As one Saskatchewan farmer told The Globe and Mail recently, “I'm looking forward to selling to them” and I am sure he speaks for other durum growers in his province as well.

All this is great news for Saskatchewan and I know there is more to come. It is simple logic, but it seems to be lost on a lot of the naysayers. More buyers mean more competition and a better price for a farmer's grain. We are already seeing two commodity exchanges on both sides of the border start to compete for farmers' wheat.

For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be accepting futures of Canadian grain. For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be allowing Canadian grain to be used to settle futures contracts.

The Intercontinental Exchange Futures Canada in Winnipeg has announced that its own spring wheat futures contract based in western Canada will be ready for trading as soon as the bill receives royal assent. This is tremendous news, which means that farmers will have an important risk management tool for the day when they begin to market their grain themselves.

We are hearing a lot of fearmongering about big corporations, but the fact is that there are strong Canadian companies in the business who are eager to make marketing freedom work, of course, including a number of farmer-owned terminals across western Canada now who also own their own port terminal in Vancouver.

Mayo Schmidt, the president and CEO of Viterra, again a top-quality Canadian company headquartered in Regina, was quoted this past Friday saying he is eager to work with the voluntary board to move the industry forward. He will handle their grain. This is his quote:

If the Wheat Board chooses to engage with industry to frame out a relationship and access to the (grain-handling) system, which will be provided, I think their prospects will be greater if they do it sooner than if they do it later.

Let us stop holding them up and let the market work. He also said: “The opportunity is now to take advantage of the openness and willingness of all players to welcome them as a participant”. He added that competition for farmers' grain will be fierce, adding that it is bound to increase dramatically as it has since the end of the Australian Wheat Board's grain monopoly three years ago.

As we all know, nothing good ever comes easily. As is evident by our comprehensive plan, our government is working diligently with industry to make the road to an open market as smooth as possible. We are taking every precaution to ensure that the transition period is as smooth as possible for farmers and industry overall.

Canada's farmers grow world-class food in a global marketplace that is ripe with opportunity. We are seeking to put wheat and barley farmers back in the driver's seat so they can seize these opportunities. Our government will free our farmers so they can continue to drive the economy and feed Canada and the world.

The motion from the member for Churchill is counterproductive and will only hurt the overall grain industry in western Canada. It is not surprising the opposition seems out of touch with western farmers, as it has no rural seats in the Wheat Board affected area. What is surprising is that opposition members continue to put their own self-interests ahead of ensuring stability and marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.

I urge all members of the House to work for farmers, not against them. Let us show western Canadian grain farmers that their voices have been heard, that marketing freedom is a right they deserve, and vote against this reckless motion.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to challenge the statement that none of us is elected from a Wheat Board affected area. In representing Churchill, I cannot think of a community that stands to be, along with so many others, as affected by the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board.

I heard the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food talk a lot about the well-being of farmers. Obviously in line with what we are debating here today, my question for the minister is: What is wrong with allowing farmers to vote on the future of the Wheat Board? If we are talking about the potential benefit for farmers, why are he and his government not allowing farmers to vote when it comes to deciding their own future? What is he afraid of? What is his government afraid of? Is it because the plebiscite showed that a majority of farmers support the single desk?

My question is: If we are talking about their benefit, why do we not let farmers decide?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, in that vein, I am hopeful that the member who represents Churchill will actually let Churchill help her decide that this is a good piece of work.

The incentive we put forward for Churchill maintains the incentive, the dollar incentive. It would provide $5 million a year for five years, to ensure farmers are incented to bring product through Churchill.

We have gone one step further than just Board grains. We have allowed that incentive to now cover non-Board grains, canolas, pulses. There were a couple of ships of pulses shipped through Churchill last year. This is a great incentive to ensure they can diversify and continue to move forward.

There is also a $4 million investment from Transport Canada to upgrade some of the docking facilities to make sure that, when those ships come in, they do it safely and efficiently.

Also, some money that was allocated from western diversification a few years ago will be extended so they have time to actually make use of that money.

Of course, that all builds on the $30-some million that was put into Churchill in budget 2008, I think, which of course she voted against.

So, I am hoping that she stands on behalf of Churchill and votes with them. She should call the mayor, call Mike, and find out from him that this is a great initiative. He wants it. She should support it.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, I have said in this House many times before, through you, that while we may not live in the prairie provinces, we do know where our food comes from and we know it does not come from the grocery stores. We know it comes from the hard work of western Canadian farmers.

That being said, the minister speaks of the choice of farmers. In Minnedosa, he did say to them that he would not act arbitrarily. He did say to them that he would conduct a vote.

I would ask the minister, through you, Madam Speaker, what exactly he meant when he said to those farmers in Minnedosa, “You will be allowed a vote. I will not act arbitrarily”. What exactly did he mean?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, words that were said in Minnedosa are taken out of context on this point. We were discussing the election of the directors at that time. I said, “I'm not going to speak out against what farmers have elected”.

We were also talking about a barley plebiscite that we did in 2008 that the Wheat Board overruled through court action. That was against what farmers wished for at that time.

Having said that, I do agree with the member opposite that farmers in Canada do produce top-quality foodstuffs. However, they do need a direction to move forward.

I am not moving arbitrarily. This government is not moving arbitrarily. We now have, and have always had, the support of three of the provinces involved in this Canadian Wheat Board area. They are on our side moving forward. British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which produce 85% to 90% of the Wheat Board commodities, are on side with us. The major farm groups, the Grain Growers of Canada, western wheat growers and western barley growers, are on side. Farmers who have their boots on the ground in western Canada want this to happen and need this to happen. So there are no arbitrary moves here. The member for Guelph should actually talk to the farmers who want this to happen.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I find this debate somewhat interesting. It might be confusing for Canadians watching the debate. We have this motion put forward by the NDP. It is seconded by the member for Welland. And the most prominent spokesperson in the Liberal Party is my good friend from Guelph.

I would like the minister to clarify. What impact does the Canadian Wheat Board have on farmers from Welland or the Guelph area?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, actually, the farmers of Ontario are privileged to have an optional Ontario wheat board, run by Barry Senft. It is doing an excellent job. I was reminded by the chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, Don Kenny, of the change that was made in 2003. We used his farm as a backdrop to make this announcement the other day. And of course, Barry Senft was there as well. They talked about the changes made in 2003, how farmers in Ontario have embraced that. They are now growing 50% more coarse grains; whereas, as I outlined, in western Canada we have lost 50% of our wheat production and 40% of our barley production. So Ontario at this point is literally eating our lunch. That is not a bad thing because it drives processing here in Ontario. The member for Welland and the member for Guelph will tell us that there is a tremendous amount of processing going on here at point of production.

We want to see that happen in western Canada. It is not allowed under the Wheat Board Act. We are going to change that.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat Board
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry for mentioning Welland on more than one occasion in the House. It is always a great joy when other members recognize my riding without my having to do it myself.

Let me be clear about why I would second it or not and why folks in Ontario are or are not in support of the Wheat Board. What I said in the House yesterday and what I am saying today is that in Ontario, as the minister has pointed out, there was a difference in 2003 because farmers chose that. It was not an act of government; the farmers chose it in Ontario. All we in the NDP are asking for is that western farmers make the choice.

I absolutely agree that there is a divergent viewpoint among farmers themselves, not just among members in the House. Certain prairie farmers want to do it one way, and other farmers want to continue the single desk. The simple question to the minister is: Why not allow them to have a choice? Why do we not debate the question we should ask and make it a fair question? I understand it may not be this or that; there may be another option. We should make it a fair question and let the farmers decide.

Ultimately, an election is not necessarily about farmers deciding, especially, as was pointed out by some members, if they live in downtown Toronto. Do people who live in downtown Edmonton really know about prairie farmers any more than downtown Torontonians do? It begs the question on that.

I would ask the minister to respond as to why we do not give farmers the choice to decide for themselves.