House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is important to get on the record at this time that, in fact, there was a plebiscite conducted by the Canadian Wheat Board because the Minister of Agriculture was negligent in not meeting what many would argue was a legal, definitely a moral, obligation to conduct a plebiscite to see what the farmers really wanted. The plebiscite that was conducted clearly indicated that a vast majority of the prairie grain farmers wanted to retain the Canadian Wheat Board.

Could the member provide further comment on that issue?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the plebiscite that was conducted by an independent agency by the Wheat Board, because the government would not do it, indicated that 62% of farmers believed in single desk selling of wheat, 51% in terms of barley. Single desk is what makes the system operate. That is what farmers want. There were young farmers in Ottawa this week demanding that this happen.

Earlier the parliamentary secretary mentioned that the Wheat Board had been around a long time, and that technology had changed, and yes it has. However, the Wheat Board is needed more than it ever was in the past. The prairie wheat pools are gone. Many short lines have been abandoned. The Wheat Board is there to protect producer cars and short line railways, and the consolidation in the grain industry is just about unbelievable. The Wheat Board is the only power—

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, the time has expired for this particular round.

Resuming debate.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence is rising on a point of order.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, a few minutes ago in question period I said in this House, in reply to a member's question, that there was no plan to change the colour scheme on any of the airbus aircraft that the government possesses. I would like to be perfectly clear that there has been no decision in that regard and to ensure that the record reflects that additional clarification.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his intervention. I am sure that the House appreciates the clarification.

The member for Malpeque is rising on the same point?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to figure out what the parliamentary secretary is saying. Is there a plan or is there not a plan to paint the Prime Minister's aircraft in the colours that the Prime Minister wants, at great cost? Is there or is there not?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

We have heard the parliamentary secretary's clarification to an earlier part of debate today. Other points on this I am sure are really just a matter of debate. We are not going to redo question period.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak in the House today as part of a debate that, in my opinion, is critical to the future of western Canadian farmers.

The legislation that we are discussing today has been a long time coming. It gives western Canadian durum and barley farmers a right they have called for and richly deserve, and that is the right to choose how best to market the grain they grow.

As the House reviews this legislation, it is important to keep in mind why Canada has a reputation for the quality of our wheat, durum and barley. The answer is quite straightforward and it has nothing to do with the Canadian Wheat Board. Our grains are second to none because the farmers who produce them are committed to quality.

Organizations like the Canadian International Grains Institute and the Canadian Grain Commission play a big role in ensuring the quality of our world class grain handling system. CIGI and the CGC have always operated independently from the CWB and will continue to do so.

We encourage the Canadian Wheat Board to work with us in order to ensure a smooth transition toward marketing freedom in the best interest of the industry. We hope that the Wheat Board will continue to work with the many other stakeholders, such as brokers, buyers, sellers, inland terminals, export elevators, and the ports, not to mention the very large marketing network.

However, regardless of whether the Canadian Wheat Board participates, as we move toward marketing freedom, our government will continue to make every effort to ensure that everything is clear and certain for farmers and for the entire value chain during the transition period.

Our government is aware that the town of Churchill, which depends on the Canadian Wheat Board's grain shipments, may be affected by the industry's transition to an open market.

Our government understands the importance of the port of Churchill as a valuable asset, and has demonstrated its support and commitment to the north.

As part of the ongoing commitment to farmers and the importance of the port as the Prairies-Arctic gateway to the world, our government will provide an economic incentive of up to $5 million per year over the five year transition period to support shipments of grain, including oilseeds, pulses and special crops through the port.

The government will also provide support through funding of up to $4.1 million over three years to sustain infrastructure improvements and maintenance of the port during the transition period.

In addition, the deadline will be extended to 2015 for projects to be funded through an agreement with the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation. We are looking at a number of initiatives to continue to diversify the economy of Churchill.

We are also working with stakeholders across the agriculture industry, as well as other industries, to explore development opportunities for the port. We recognize that this major change brings with it not only many benefits, but also some challenges, and we do not shy away from these challenges. We share Canadians' concerns about job loss, the port of Churchill, and our short line railways and producer cars.

Mike Ogborn, managing director of OmniTRAX, the company which owns the Churchill port facility and the Hudson Bay Railway Company, told The Western Producer on July 14 that OmniTRAX is optimistic about the future of Churchill's port and railway. OmniTRAX understands how the change to an open market may be a challenge. But more significantly, the company sees it as an opportunity for economic diversity and for growth.

Our government is confident that Canadian grain companies will continue to use the port as long as it remains a competitive method of transporting their grain. Our government is also committed to improving rail service for agriculture shippers through the rail service review.

Further, the right to producer cars is protected in the Canada Grain Act. Currently, the CWB manages the marketing of grain shipped in producer cars, so that shipments are related to a sale.

Under the new rules, producers and short lines will be able to make commercial arrangements with grain companies or the voluntary CWB to market their grain. Short line railways are expecting some adjustments as they will have more options of marketing partners for the grain volumes they can attract from producers.

While we see some job losses for Manitoba initially, the future looks very bright. We can expect more processors to start up new businesses in that province, which is my home province, and across western Canada.

Milling firms will be able to purchase directly from the farmer of their choice, at whatever price they negotiate. Entrepreneurs will have the option of starting up their own small specialty flour mills and pasta plants. Just over the border from Manitoba in North Dakota many new pasta plants have sprung up and created jobs that should have been created in the Prairies. This, along with increased trade, has the potential to create many jobs.

Our government is confident that farmers will make marketing choices based on what is best for their own businesses. We want to put the farmers back in the driver's seat so that they can continue to drive our economy. We think an open, competitive grain market has room for a viable, voluntary pooling option. We are ready to work with the Canadian Wheat Board to chart the way forward.

Marketing freedom was a cornerstone of our election platform from day one and was included in last spring's Speech from the Throne. Grain farmers in western Canada want the same marketing freedom and the same opportunities as other farmers in Canada and the rest of the world. With this freedom, grain farmers will be able to sell their products based on what is best for their own businesses.

I am proud that we are keeping our long-standing promise to give western Canadian grain farmers the freedom to market their own grain.

I urge hon. members to give this bill some serious thought and to keep in mind that its timely enactment will help give farmers the certainty they need to plan for next year. What is more, it will give our clients here in Canada and in the rest of world the assurance that they can still count on the regular supply of high-quality Canadian wheat and barley.

I welcome any questions from my colleagues.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and I would also like to congratulate her on her work on the Standing Committee on Finance.

With regard to the debates, cutting the time allocated for debate and, consequently, allowing less time for speeches is an attack on democracy. There has been another attack on democracy in this matter. The Conservatives promised to listen to farmers and to hold a plebiscite. Can the hon. member tell us why the government is not interested in listening to farmers and holding a vote on the future of the board?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. It is truly a pleasure to work with him on the Standing Committee on Finance, and I appreciate his question. I would like to make it clear that farmers across Canada have been discussing this bill for years. We consulted western farmers many times about this matter. We even stated in our election platform that we would move forward on this issue. For that reason, most seats in the Conservative caucus are held by representatives of regions where farmers live. That is why we were elected by farmers. They were expecting us to introduce this bill to promote freedom for western farmers and farmers in other parts of the world and Canada.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint Boniface took a lot of liberty with her comments on the Canadian Grain Commission and CIGI.

The fact is the Canadian Wheat Board is very much intertwined with the Canadian Grain Commission in the work they do. In fact, and I spent 10 days taking its course in the city of Winnipeg, the Canadian Wheat Board started CIGI.

Will the member not just admit that both those institutions, with the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk selling, will be in jeopardy if the bill moves ahead?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, with regards to destruction, it was most destructive that the Liberal Party did not put forward these measures when it was in power for 13 years. It is most destructive that a member who resides in Atlantic Canada, whose farmers have freedom of choice to market their grain in any way they desire, would stand here and destroy the hopes and dreams of farmers in western Canada, who have been waiting and begging for this. The member takes this moment to somehow change all the questions that he puts to the House to make it appear as if he is actually concerned about western farmers. I call bull on that.

When we talk about freedom and fairness, we cannot trust the Liberals to put forward any freedom or fairness for our western farmers.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, coming from the province of Manitoba, I have not yet been able to figure out why members from Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada are making these strident comments in respect to the defence of the Wheat Board, which only impacts farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and a small part of British Columbia. They do not want to see the same system imposed on their farmers. Why is that? Is it for the economic advantage of their farmers to the detriment of the farmers in my riding?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his hard work in this place. I reiterate what the minister just stated.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism stood just moments ago and asked the member for Malpeque why he was not willing, if he really believed in this policy, to put forward a national Wheat Board that would make Atlantic farmers in his home community succumb to this arbitrary and restrictive pooling and selling of wheat through only the Wheat Board.

The member for Malpeque knows very well that if he were to do that, he probably would not be re-elected. That is what almost happened when he did not support the gun registry abolition that he had promised to do way back when he was first in the House.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their excellent speeches, and I want to join them in defending the interests of farmers in western Canada.

After all the discussion we have heard so far on Bill C-18, I am sad to see that the government is undermining the principle of democracy by not honouring its commitments. The government was clear: it would not attempt to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board without first consulting its members.

To respect the democratic process, we must ensure that members of the Canadian Wheat Board have the right to decide their own destiny through a referendum. Excessive political interference has no place in a democratic country like Canada. Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised to see that every day, the Conservative government uses misinformation to get what it wants. In fact, in its own press release on the bill to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board, the government said that it had consulted with stakeholders from across the value chain before making a decision. Does this mean that farmers, including all those who want to keep the board, are not part of the value chain for their own products, since they were not consulted?

If western farmers are part of this value chain, why did the government not listen to the majority that spoke out during the plebiscite? Why is it turning a deaf ear? I am sure that western farmers will be shocked to hear that this government has excluded them altogether from the value chain for the products they have produced by the sweat of their brow and that it does not want to hear their opinion.

Also in the news release, the government explains that, and I quote:

[it] has listened to individual farmers who just want the chance to succeed by being able to sell their wheat, durum and barley at the time and to the buyer of their choice.

But what about those who want to sell their wheat, durum and barley through the Wheat Board desk? Were they also heard, or were they deliberately kept out of the discussions because their wishes were at odds with the government's intentions? The government is ignoring these people and, meanwhile, is outrageously continuing to impose its ideology, erode democracy and misinform the public.

I would also like to use my time to discuss the idea of majority, which has already been widely discussed in relation to this bill. I want to make sure that the hon. members across the way understand the concept.

Indeed, they appear to have a good grasp of the concept here in the House, ever since May 2, but the meaning of respecting the principle of a majority seems to become a little fuzzy when it comes time to talk about the issues they want to tackle. To set the record straight, I think we need to take a closer look at the numbers together: 22,764 wheat farmers voted to maintain the board as is, compared to 14,059 farmers who voted to end the monopoly. That works out to a majority of 62% against 38%.

People who respect a majority decision respect the principles of democracy, an example that this government could learn from. In an open letter, the Conservative government, in the person of the Minister of Agriculture, explained that the vote in last May's federal election gave the necessary legitimacy to advocates of change. Can someone explain to me how a federal election can legitimately interfere politically in an organization that is managed, controlled and funded entirely by western farmers, one that is not a crown corporation? Since when do election results legitimize and govern any unilateral actions the government wants to take without any consultation or impact studies and without listening to the people, even though we live in a democracy?

Is it because they have a majority? Oh, yes; they respect that majority scrupulously. It is the same old story: another double standard.

In addition to this so-called legitimacy, the other point that should be mentioned here is the lawfulness of the act itself.

The laws currently in effect require Ottawa to consult the directors of the Canadian Wheat Board before amending the act that created the board. The potential dismantling of the board without prior consultation is a direct violation of this act.

I am very sorry to see that we have before us a government that legitimizes its actions, which are not based on any valid foundation or democratic principle.

In the speech he gave several weeks ago now, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board even went so far as to say that it was time to put an end to the tyranny of the Canadian Wheat Board.

On this side of the House—the NDP side—we maintain that, instead, it is time to put an end to the tyranny of the government, which went so far as to outrageously cut off the necessary debate on this bill, as it has been constantly doing since the beginning of this session of Parliament.

I am the member for the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. The members opposite may be wondering why a member from Quebec would stand up for the interests of people who are so far from her riding. To that, I say that one would have to be pretty gullible not to understand that the mechanisms of the world economy are felt from one end of the country to the other and throughout the world.

Any bad economic decisions that are made for western Canadian agriculture will affect the entire country. The negotiating power lost with the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board will weaken the position of western farmers on the world market.

This weak negotiating power to sell our Canadian wheat at the best possible price on the market will eliminate the smallest producers to the benefit of the large multinational grain companies. Less negotiating power for the sale of Canadian wheat means our wheat will be sold at a lower price. Selling at a lower price means less income for our families and farmers. This vulnerability will be felt throughout Canada, not just in the west.

Canada's economic health is an issue we must deal with together so that all Canadian households get what they deserve—a prosperous future.

In conclusion, the NDP is demanding no less of the government than respect for the democratic process so that western farmers can have an independent say when it comes to their own future and their own destiny.

The NDP will proudly stand up for farming families in western Canada and will listen to what they have to say, demanding nothing short of abandoning Bill C-18, which does not address the needs of the public and which is completely out of touch with Canada's current economic reality.

And closer to home, the Quebec families I represent today will unanimously support the families in western Canada in their fight to protect their income, their retirement and, ultimately, Canada's economy.