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 farmers.

Topics

Ending the Long-gun Registry Act
Routine Proceedings

October 25th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 115 will be answered today.

Question No. 115
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

With regard to the government's support of social partnerships, as outlined on page 132 of Budget 2011: (a) what actions will the government take to support social partnerships in Canada and to address local issues; (b) what federal departments and stakeholders will be engaged as part of the government’s development of plans to support social partnerships; (c) what private sector stakeholders will be consulted as part of the process; and (d) how much money has been allocated for the work of the Task Force on Social Finance from April 1, 2011 through April 1, 2014?

Question No. 115
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), the June 3, 2011, budget recognized that social partners, such as businesses and charities, are working together to develop innovative ways to address local challenges such as homelessness and persistent unemployment.

Recognizing that often the “best solutions to tackling these difficult problems are found locally”, the Government of Canada committed in this budget to “take steps to complement community efforts by encouraging the development of government/community partnerships, enabling communities to tackle local challenges and testing new approaches to improve performance”.

Moving forward, the Government of Canada is exploring these new approaches and ways to foster more effective partnerships that would help to streamline the management of grants and contributions, reduce red tape for community organizations, support social innovation, and ensure a focus on results in addressing persistent social challenges. Examples of how Human Resources and Skills Development Canada programs support social partnerships include the following:

In January 2011, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Awards to recognize the exceptional contributions of volunteers, local businesses and innovative not-for-profit organizations in improving the well-being of families and their communities.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is providing support to partners Volunteer Canada and Manulife Financial to create a pan-Canadian web-based volunteer matching service that links volunteers with opportunities in their communities.

With regard to (b), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is the lead on the social partnerships file. Consultations have begun within the federal government, and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has met with officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Industry Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Finance Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and Public Safety Canada.

Provinces, measurement experts and literacy and essential skills experts will continue to be engaged by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to address literacy and essential skills challenges for Canadian adults.

With regard to (c), various social partnership projects are planning to undertake stakeholder consultation in addition to preparing to issue calls and requests for proposals.

With regard to (d), the government has not allocated money for the work of the Task Force on Social Finance.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-317--Income Tax Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the point of order raised by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh regarding my private member's bill, Bill C-317. The thrust of the argument was that my bill would do something that only the government is allowed to do.

The history behind this is that, within our parliamentary system of democracy, only ministers of the day have the authority to propose new taxes. Before they are allowed to propose a tax, they must bring forward a ways and means motion to notify the House of Commons of their intention.

At page 900 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, it states:

The House must first adopt a ways and means motion before a bill which imposes a tax or other charge on the taxpayer can be introduced. Charges on the people, in this context, refer to new taxes, the continuation of an expiring tax, an increase in the rate of an existing tax, or an extension of a tax to a new class of taxpayers.

Thus, this has been a limitation on the use of private member's bills.

No one is suggesting that Bill C-317 proposes a new tax, or is the continuation of an expiring tax, or an increase in the rate of an existing tax. The member is only trying to object to my bill on the grounds that it is the repeal of an existing alleviation of taxation and an extension of a tax to persons who are not already taxpayers--in other words, a new class of taxpayer.

If that were the case, then he would be correct to suggest that the bill be discharged. However, my colleague has read more into my bill than actually exists. He is mistaken because he fails to recognize the limited purpose and effect of the bill, which is to simply require more complete and public disclosure of a union's finances on a regular basis.

First, his assertion that the bill “repeals the existing alleviation of tax” is incorrect. The bill does not remove any tax deduction. Bill C-317 maintains the status quo and does not grant the Canada Revenue Agency any powers, including any taxation powers, that it does not already have. The CRA is already empowered to compel financial disclosure. It can do so as a result of its mandate to ensure that organizations with tax exempt status do not engage in activities that would no longer justify that status. This power, the power it already has, is a simple function of its mandate to ensure compliance with the Income Tax Act. It is a mandate that the CRA exercises in respect of all classes of taxpayers who must comply with the act.

It is true that the bill would change things. The failure to comply with the additional disclosure proposed by the bill could also result in a union losing its tax exempt status. However, this loss of tax exempt status would result from the already existing enforcement provisions of the Income Tax Act and not from any provision contained in Bill C-317.

In other words, if a union violates the current requirement to disclose, the CRA can remove its tax exempt status. That is true whether my bill passes or not. All my bill would do is increase the quantity and public nature of that disclosure with the same enforcement authority that the CRA already has.

My colleague also raised the issue of my bill creating a “new class of taxpayer”. According to the Income Tax Act, the term “taxpayer” is defined to include “any person whether or not liable to pay tax”. Even if an individual earns no income, he or she is still a taxpayer. However, the class contemplated in the member's unlikely example of a labour organization that chose to violate the Income Tax Act already exists. This existing class is the class of taxpayers who pay union dues. He is trying to pretend that the class is those who are in one tax bracket or another and who may change their tax bracket and tax payable as a result of a union losing its tax exempt status.

In the context of the loss of dues deductability, differentiating on the basis of income tax brackets is irrelevant to identifying a class of taxpayer. In fact, those who are affected by the loss of the union's tax exempt status have only one thing in common: they are a single class of taxpayers under the Income Tax Act who pay union dues.

The legislation only has the potential to affect this already existing class of taxpayers. Their tax bracket does not matter. The point is their loss of dues deductibility. That is their class and it is an already existing class. Whether they pay more or less tax as a result of rulings by the CRA is a function of the CRA's normal day-to-day operations, not the result of this bill. In other words, this class of taxpayers is already subject to fluctuations in the level of taxation to which it may be subject under the current legislation and CRA 's interpretations and administration of the act.

I have one more point to make in response to my colleague's point of order. He claimed that the ruling in Bill C-470 from the 40th Parliament should be distinguished from this case because union members would be obligated to pay dues while charitable donations are discretionary. Even if it is accepted that the bill may have the effect claimed by my colleague, and I do not concede that it would, it must be pointed out that union members whose union has lost its tax exempt status for refusing to disclose have the right to exercise certain options. Those options include the option to be represented by another union, a union that has maintained its tax exempt status. This would serve to ensure that member dues continue to be eligible for a tax deduction. Therefore, the ruling in Bill C-470 is a relevant precedent to be relied upon on this particular point.

Those points conclude my response to the point of order raised by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Bill C-317--Income Tax Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the member for his comments. I can assure the House that I will take this matter under advisement and will come back to the House in due course.

The hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh.

Bill C-317--Income Tax Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the opportunity to consider the member's argument. I am not prepared to do that at this point. I am not likely to want to submit anything further since the argument that we heard from the member had so little merit. However, just in case, I would like to review it and I will get back to you, Mr. Speaker, within 24 hours.

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

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, farmers have a democratic right to determine the future of their own supply management tools and marketing boards; and recognizing this right, the House calls on the government to set aside its legislation abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) single desk and to conduct a full and free vote by all current members of the CWB to determine their wishes, and calls on the government to agree to honour the outcome of that democratic process.

It is an honour to stand here today and present our opposition day motion on the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like to point out that the motion is seconded by the member for Welland.

Every so often we have a chance to debate a defining issue. Today we have that chance. Today's motion that we are debating is about what Canadians want. It is about imagining a Canada, a Canada that we have had up to now which in some ways and in some sectors has been shaped by those at the very core of that same sector. Today we are also debating about a Canada that has been shaped by an ideological agenda which is at risk of being further shaped by that agenda against the interests of Canadians and those who are at the very core of that economy, of that sector, of that livelihood we are debating today.

Over the last number of days we have been debating the government's steadfast agenda to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. In doing so, we have talked about a contrast of visions, one that would take Canada back in time and one that would move us forward.

Many decades ago the Canadian Wheat Board was developed at the wish of farmers. Farmers saw the way in which private companies, often not based in western Canada, profited from their hard work and left them little in return. Farmers knew that during times of economic downturn survival meant pulling together. Moving forward meant working together. Together they developed one of the most successful marketing entities in our country.

The Wheat Board developed into far more than a marketing board. It became part of developing and selling the best wheat in the world, Canadian wheat. For decades the Canadian Wheat Board has worked with farmers and entities such as the Canadian Grain Commission to develop a top Canadian brand for export. That brand has belonged not to the Canadian Wheat Board; it has belonged to Canadian farmers. It has belonged to all of us.

I remember visiting the offices of the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg on a few occasions. I saw the dozens of products that we as Canadians export to countries around the world, the products we contribute in terms of producing the final product, from pasta to rice to flour. The hard work of Canadian farmers has reached a level of reputation and is a guaranteed product from which we as Canadians have benefited. That top quality and that top brand has been a source of pride for all Canadians.

The Wheat Board though is more than a single desk. It represents the idea that those who produce the final product ought to have a say in the production. They ought to have a say in the future of their livelihoods. While the running of the Wheat Board has been shaped essentially by farmers, since 1998, 10 out of the 15 directors on the board have been elected by farmers themselves. Farmers have been in the driver's seat of an institution that works on their behalf. We have all benefited as a result of farmers guiding the Wheat Board. As farmers have prioritized the development of the best product in the world, Canada has benefited. As farmers have sought to maximize efficiency and cost savings, transportation routes across the Prairies, including in my home region, such as the Hudson Bay Line, and hubs such as the port of Churchill in my constituency have been utilized. As farmers have sought to create a system whereby stability is sought in an economy of increased uncertainty, farming families have benefited. As the Wheat Board has maximized the returns to farmers, rural communities and urban centres across western Canada have seen results.

Today that reality and that vision are at risk of disappearing. What has taken farmers decades to develop is at risk of being destroyed in a few short weeks, not by big corporations, not by another country, but by our very own government. A government that has claimed to stand for rural and western Canada threatens to bring it down.

The government's agenda on the Wheat Board is profoundly undemocratic. It is ignoring farmers' voices every step of the way. Where is the respect toward the directors of the Wheat Board, those who were elected by farmers, eight out of ten of whom were elected on a pro single desk position? Where is the respect for the plebiscite which indicated that a majority of farmers support the single desk marketing of wheat and barley? Finally, where is the duty of the government to follow section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states that any proposed changes to the Wheat Board's marketing structure ought to be put to farmers for a vote?

That is what we in the NDP are asking for today, that prairie farmers be the ones to have a say in their future and that the government respect farmers' democratic right to speak. As the current chair of the Wheat Board, farmer Allen Oberg, has said, the government's agenda is not about giving farmers choice, but ignoring the choices they have already made.

Members across in recent days have used the word “freedom”. My question is, what about farmers having the freedom to decide their own destiny? What about the freedom to have their democratic vote, as seen through the plebiscite, be respected? What about the freedom to say that they are opposed to the government's agenda in dismantling the Wheat Board?

The irony is that the same government has not been up front or consistent in talking to farmers. Some might call it a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach.

Recently, there was a federal election. We know for a fact that during the campaign many Conservative candidates did not speak about the Wheat Board. The subject was not in their material. If anything, they told a different story in person. There was a very vocal Conservative candidate in Churchill who mentioned a number of issues, but certainly did not mention the Wheat Board. That candidate certainly did not mention what the loss of the Wheat Board would mean to the community of Churchill, whose port depends 95% on the grain product that comes through the Canadian Wheat Board.

What kind of transparency was offered to people across the Prairies as they voted on May 2? Not only was it not made clear in the campaign what the government's agenda would be, but in some instances candidates actually served to hide their message. At a March agricultural forum in Minnedosa, Manitoba, hosted by the member of Parliament for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food told those gathered that the Conservatives “respected the vote of farmers”. He told the crowd, “Until farmers make that change, I'm not prepared to work arbitrarily.” He was also quoted as saying that the farmers “are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.”

Just a few short months ago, this is what the very people who will be most impacted heard from the very Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who today is turning his back on his commitment. Quite frankly, he is turning his back on democracy. How could the Conservatives possibly have one story during the election and a few short months later have a completely different story? This is also reason for concern in terms of what losing the Wheat Board will mean for the rest of our country, what it will mean for losing marketing structures, what it will mean for losing economic structures that put producers at the centre, and what it will mean not just for the west but for the whole country.

In my home region the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board is an important board that works hard on behalf of fishers in northern Manitoba and across western Canada. If this is the government's agenda on the Wheat Board, will it be the government's agenda when it comes to freshwater fish?

What about the kind of marketing structures on which people in other regions of Canada have been calling for protection?

I would like to underscore the message shared by a number of my colleagues from Quebec: supply management is an extremely important principle when it comes to developing the rural economy and Quebec's economy in general. Does this government also have an agenda for supply management? Even though today the government claims that it is not talking about abolishing it, it has been saying the same thing about the Canadian Wheat Board for months. It says that it will listen to what the farmers have to say. Does the same go for farmers in Quebec and Ontario? Is this only for prairie farmers? We would like to truly understand this government's logic.

If the government is not listening to farmers and is telling a different story on different occasions, then who is it listening to?

Many have said that those who stand to gain the most are the corporations, players such as Cargill, Viterra, Bunge and others that have been involved with agriculture all along. Profit is the bottom line of these corporations, not maximizing the return to farmers, the well-being of rural communities or ensuring that transportation networks across the Prairies are used in the most cost-effective way for farmers and the overall economy.

In a press release dated May 11, 2011, it is noted:

The Canadian government should give the grain industry at least six months to adjust before ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s grain monopoly, the chief executive of Cargill’s...Canadian subsidiary said on Wednesday.

A good time for the change, which would allow Western Canada’s farmers to sell their wheat and barley to anyone they choose instead of just the Wheat Board, would be Aug. 1, 2012, which starts the 2012/13 marketing year--

That happens to be the same timeline the government has chosen. The exact message of Cargill Canada is the Conservative government's message to us as Canadians. Who is making those decisions and in whose interests are those decisions being made?

I would like to reference a letter to the editor wherein one prairie farmer talked about his concern with regard to the story that came out that the grain firm, Bunge, welcomes an end to the Wheat Board. Mr. Don Dutchak mentioned:

Among his egregious opinions, [the CEO] remarks that other countries have eliminated board trade because “it’s not always well managed.”

The Auditor General of Canada and 14 international trade investigations of the Canadian Wheat Board would all beg to disagree. Report after report has spoken of the stellar management of the Canadian Wheat Board not only for the way in which it operates and prioritizes farmers but also for its transparency and accountability. However, that is not the story we are hearing from the corporations that are interested in what will be left when the Wheat Board is gone.

Economist Murray Fulton said that the loss of the CWB's single desk would make the Canadian system more like that in the U.S. where the grain company and railroad competition would fall, the current freight revenue cap would disappear and less value would be returned to farmers. He also said that the changes would be irreversible.

Mark Sandilands of the Lethbridge Herald pointed out that once the Wheat Board is gone, “We can imagine a modern feudal system with farmers at the mercy of multinational corporations who'll decide what to grow and how much to grow”.

The National Farmers Union stated:

Ending the single desk authority of the CWB...would transfer wealth created by Canadian farmers to big private, often foreign-owned grain companies instead of being returned to farmers and spent in their communities.

According to agricultural economist Richard Gray at the University of Saskatchewan, the winners are the big grain handlers. He states:

...big grain handlers such as Cargill, Viterra and Bunge should end up better off. They will face a huge new supply of sellers competing to unload their product and make money off the marketing margin, or difference between the purchase and resale price.

The control these corporations will have will not only set farmers back but will also seek to destroy the reputation Canada has for growing the best quality wheat in the world.

As was pointed out, the Canadian system of seed registration to outward inspection of a vessel is an expensive system that farmers pay for. However, it is worth it because a higher percentage of the world market for both high quality and regular grain is captured because of that consistent quality. That means more money and more sales for western producers.

We cannot compete on volume or price because of our landlocked position and high transportation costs so quality is essential. Donna Welke, former assistant commissioner for Saskatchewan with the Canadian Grain Commission pointed out that producers know that and so do our competitors. She noted that it is in the interest of the United States to blend down our quality to get a competitive advantage for its corporations.

The question that remains is how the government, which has many members who were elected in western Canada and which claims to stand up for rural Canada, can in good conscience say that it is acting in the best interests of farmers when we know by looking at the case of the Australian Wheat Board that it is the corporations that will gain. The farmers will lose in an increasingly insecure economy. The brand we have invested in and have developed over decades will suffer. Our rural communities and regions like western Canada, as well as other regions where people are concerned about the potential risk it would pose to the marketing structures in other parts of the country, will suffer.

How can the government dismiss these facts? How can it stand in opposition to the idea that farmers should be deciding their destiny?

I would also make reference to the level of extreme arrogance we have seen from government members on this issue. As a western Canadian, I am profoundly disturbed by the way in which they claim to know what western Canadians think about and what their interests are with regard to the Wheat Board while all the time they ignore the result of the plebiscite. They make statements such as those made by the Prime Minister regarding the train barrelling down on the Wheat Board or such as that made by the Minister of Agriculture about blowing out the candles.

We know that this kind of arrogance does not go over well in western Canada. We have seen it before with the Mulroney government where in the end it had no seats left in western Canada because people supported the idea of a democratic voice and the need for people at the grassroots level to be heard. It is the kind of arrogance that claims the government knows better with regard to our future.

In closing, as a young Canadian and someone who comes from the west what concerns me the most is what this means for our future. I would like to quote from a letter written to CBC's As it Happens by Sid Stevenson. He said:

As a 24 year old, 5th generation Manitoba wheat grower, I feel compelled to respond to your interview with...[the] Minister of Agriculture.

He went on to say:

Farmers are perfectly capable of determining the marketing system we want. The majority has decided in favour of the CWB, so why is the government not supporting our decision.

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

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Perhaps the hon. member can complete her comments during questions and comments.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

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

10:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member's speech. She spoke a lot about democracy and respecting democracy. However, she has unfortunately completely misrepresented the debates of the last election campaign.

The NDP made a promise during the last election campaign. It stated:

We will support the Canadian Wheat Board as the single desk marketer for Canadian wheat and barley.

That was the NDP's promise on page 16 of its platform.

The Conservative Party's promise on page 59 of its platform stated:

We will continue to work with Western Canadian grain farmers to ensure that the results of the barley plebiscite are respected and that they are given the freedom to choose whether to sell grain on the open market or through the Canadian Wheat Board.

These were very clear promises. Of the 56 members of Parliament who were elected in western Canada in the last election, 51 are Conservative, 3 are NDP and 2 are Liberal members.

I ask the hon. member why does she not respect the democratic results of the May 2 election?

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

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, we are talking about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board and the plebiscite contained within the act which would allow farmers to be heard with regard to the future of the Wheat Board. As for the May 2 election, as has been pointed out by many people who were campaigning on the ground, that was not about the Wheat Board. In fact, the Minister of Agriculture is on record telling people in Minnedosa, Manitoba, a region that is now represented by a Conservative member, that he will respect the democratic right of farmers to vote.

Therefore, my question for the government members is what are they so afraid of? Why will they not follow the act? Why will they not allow farmers to vote on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board?

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

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I am interested in the question posed by the Conservative member. I think the operative words there are “work with”.

The difference between the views of the Conservatives and the Liberals on this issue is that the Liberals respect the idea of holding a plebiscite whereas the Conservatives do not.

If the Conservatives believed that the prairie wheat farmers would support what they are proposing in this bill I suspect they would have held a plebiscite. However, the government knows that the prairie wheat producers do not support what it is doing. That is the reason it will not hold a plebiscite. It realizes it would lose the vote.

Having said that, the evidence is clear that the bill is detrimental and would prove devastating for the prairie farmers as well as for many rural communities.

The following is a quote from The Economist:

Smaller producers, faced with mounting marketing costs, will inevitably have to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agribusiness companies. Eventually, this should lead to consolidation and fewer, bigger farms—making Canada a more competitive wheat producer, but devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income.

I ask the member to provide a comment on that.