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

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that during this debate a couple of ministers have tried to sway the discussion away from the democratic principle that is at stake, and that is why farmers were not given the right to a vote, which was legislated. What is at stake, as I asked the parliamentary secretary earlier, is whether there is a choice between single desk and the open market under the new Wheat Board, and we know there is not. The single desk no longer exists.

The province of Quebec has two single desk marketing agencies, the maple syrup board and beef, I believe. What does she think would happen in Quebec if government, without a say and without proper hearings, took the right away to have the single desk, without people being given a voice?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

We firmly believe that in unity, there is strength. That is a principle of economics 101. As soon as a bill like this is introduced, it becomes dangerous. If the framework is dismantled, small producers lose the ability to work together to get a better price. The same thing will happen to maple syrup and eggs with the supply management bill. In the end, families and small farmers in the west will pay the price. And in Quebec, our farmers will soon pay the price.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech. She just spoke about the fact that producers have a right to organize and said that in unity, there is strength. Will the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board not deal a blow to small producers, who benefited from a single desk? Does the member think that small producers will benefit from the government's decision?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I personally believe that the small producers will suffer the most from this bill when it comes into force. Companies like Cargill will benefit from the legislation.

Earlier, the hon. member spoke about improving infrastructure—ports and railways. Why not do this for other existing infrastructure that is in dire need?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the speech that my colleague just gave on the Canadian Wheat Board, especially the parts about democracy and the impact on Quebec.

I represent a riding where the land is nearly 80% agricultural and where all of the farmers stand together. Currently, 38,000 western Canadian farmers voted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk—that represents 62% of those who use it—yet the government has still decided to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.

Does my colleague feel this decision is democratic? Could she delve a bit deeper and make some additional comments on this subject?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, to use a term that is floating around a lot right now, I want to say that there are many people who are outraged. The people involved in the occupy movements in Toronto, Montreal and Wall Street are all outraged. And there are members here who are outraged at this obvious mockery of democracy. A law exists and the government is not above the law. It must consult with farmers; that is the law. Once the law changes, if it is no longer obliged to consult farmers, then it will not have to do so. But right now, it must comply with the current law and it must consult them.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this historic legislation which is opening such an exciting time for farmers in my home province of Manitoba and right across western Canada.

Contrary to what the members opposite think or say, our government was elected on a platform to deliver marketing freedom to farmers, and we are following through on that with this legislation.

As other members have already said, this bill will end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over the sales of wheat, durum and barley in western Canada. It will give wheat and barley farmers across western Canada the same rights that farmers in Ontario and the rest of Canada enjoy.

It is interesting how members on this side of the House present this debate versus how members opposite present the debate. All the members opposite ever talk about is process. I am not going to comment on the process that they are criticizing. What we focus on is results, good policy creating good results for western Canadian farmers and rural communities.

Policy is very important. The focus of this government on good policy that will generate real and tangible results is the right thing to do.

The removal of the monopoly will allow farmers to sell their grains directly to a processor, whether it be a pasta manufacturer or a flour mill, or any other venture that adds value at the farm gate. That not only grows businesses for the farmers, it creates new jobs for the rural economy.

I am being approached with increasing frequency by constituents who have terrific value-added ideas for what they can implement after the Wheat Board monopoly has been changed. In fact, just last week during the break week, two young entrepreneurs approached me with a very exciting plan to build a microbrewery in my constituency. I can hear applause from all across the chamber, and I can understand why.

These young constituents are the kind of creative entrepreneurs that Manitoba, western Canada and all of Canada need. Two young men with a great idea want to make a difference for their communities. They specifically pointed out to me that the removal of the CWB monopoly is the trigger that is going to make their enterprise work. They are very excited.

We in rural western Canada simply cannot continue to export jobs south of the border to places like North Dakota. An open wheat market will bring jobs back to the west and to cities like Winnipeg. This legislation will reduce costly red tape and inefficiencies, leaving farmers more time to drive our economy.

We saw a perfect example when a previous Conservative agriculture minister removed oats from the Wheat Board monopoly. Almost instantaneously Can-Oat Milling, a company in Portage La Prairie, sprang up. It is in the constituency of my good friend, the member for Portage—Lisgar.

The Can-Oat plant in Portage La Prairie employs 125 people. These are well-paying jobs in a rural community. What is really neat about Can-Oat as a company is that it has become the largest industrial processor of oats in North America. That is what happens when the creative power of entrepreneurs is unleashed.

I listened with great interest to the member for Malpeque's speech. I can refute every single thing he said with one word: canola.

What happened with canola after some very important research was done to create a crop that the marketplace really hungered for is that the production of canola on the free market and marketed through free market principles absolutely exploded. I think it has eclipsed wheat as the Cinderella crop in western Canada. Not only that, it is a very high-value crop that is marketed through the “evil grain companies” that members opposite are so quick to denigrate. Farmers are growing canola in droves, and the price right now is very high.

In addition, 30% of the canola that is produced in western Canada is processed in western Canada and represents 1,000 full-time jobs. There are more canola plants going up all the time.

Once the changes are made, there will be added demand from farmers for strong marketers, business analysts and other specialists in the grain trade. Even the promise of an open market is encouraging the value-added investments that I am so excited about in western Canada.

In September the Prime Minister was in Regina to celebrate the launch of the first commercially significant pasta plant for Canadian durum in the west. Members on that side talk process; we deliver results. That is the difference. This facility will create an estimated 60 new full-time jobs and 150 construction jobs.

Again, as a member who represents a rural, agricultural, western Canadian constituency, I have lived there long enough to see the population decline in many prairie rural communities. If the Wheat Board was that good, why did that occur?

I am convinced that policies that promote the export of raw product from an area really are not that good for small communities. Processing what we grow at home is what will help grow our rural economy.

Western Canadian processing plants are expanding for all crops, except for wheat. Now with wheat and barley, we will see this expansion and the pasta plant in Regina is just a beginning.

A very important concern for Manitoba MPs in particular and many Saskatchewan MPs too is the port of Churchill. Under this change there will be a period of adjustment for the port of Churchill, as it admittedly relies heavily on CWB grains. However, it is no secret that Canada's north is the cornerstone of our agenda. We understand the importance of the port of Churchill as a valuable asset, and it will remain the Prairies' Arctic gateway to the world.

Jim Carr, president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba agrees with us. He said that the business council sees Churchill as more than a port for grain, but as the Arctic gateway.

When our new bill is passed, the port of Churchill will remain an important shipping option. It is no secret that our government has already provided significant support to the port over the years, and we will continue to support it for use by businesses across the Prairies.

I have met with the Hudson Bay Route Association. Many of the municipalities in my constituency belong, and they see some tremendous opportunities.

As part of our ongoing commitment to farmers and the importance of the port as a shipping option, our government is making significant investments to ease this transition and help the port continue to be a viable northern shipping gateway.

We will provide an economic incentive of up to $5 million per year over the five year transition period. Our 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 this transition period.

In addition, projects with the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation will be given more time to finish, with an extension of two years, or until 2015.

These significant investments are complementary to our other strategic investments, such as Transport Canada earmarking more than $13 million to implement upgrades to the Churchill airport. This is in addition to operating the Churchill airport and subsidizing VIA Rail service.

Since 2007 the government has also committed $20 million for rail line improvements, $4 million for port improvements and $1 million for marketing and development of the port.

I will finish with a quote from Mike Spence, the mayor of Churchill, who said:

I'm the type of person who is always optimistic. I'm looking in a positive direction, hoping that we'll be able to secure more grain and the port will diversify.... I think we can do that.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to ask a government member a question, because this is an important one that we often forget to ask. It has to do with something that all Canadians have a right to know: the cost of dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board. Many numbers have been tossed around, but I think a government member like him should be able to tell us exactly how much it will cost. Canadians have a right to know that information in order to decide if they agree with the government's position.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, those of us on this side of the House certainly agree that nothing comes for free, but, having said that, the benefits of dismantling the board and allowing farmers marketing freedom will greatly outweigh any costs that may occur.

Transitions for many people and change for many organizations is difficult, but if the Wheat Board is as good as it says it is, a voluntary board where farmers will have marketing choice to either use the board or use the open market will allow the market to sort that particular decision out. Overall, there will be a net benefit to western Canada with this change.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette missed the point when he talked about canola. I figured he would stand there and thank previous Liberal governments for the public research that canola came out of. It is just too bad that the current government cut that.

I have been in the member's riding many times in a previous life as a farm leader and I know there are many farmers in that community. However, how can a backbench member of the government allow the minister, who is putting together his private fiefdom, and we need to keep in mind that this is a government-run agency, to put his hands in farmers' pockets and take $200 million out of the contingency fund to cushion that government-run agency in the future? How can he allow the minister to pickpocket farmers in his region whose share of grain sales put that money in the contingency fund in the first place? How can he allow that to happen? Why does he not stand up and be counted?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, members on this side of the House, especially those of us representing rural agricultural constituencies, will take a backseat to no one in defending our communities.

In terms of canola, I, too, am a strong supporter of public research and very much agree with the member that the canola story is nothing but good news, regardless of who happened to be in power at the time.

Regarding the CWB contingency fund, it has always been separate from the pool accounts. Mr. Oberg, the current chair of the CWB, has already wasted millions of farmers' money on his personal political agenda. It is truly unclear what liabilities he will leave behind with his scorched earth policy. We took this prudent measure to protect the future of western Canadian farmers and Canadian taxpayers.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member caught my attention when he mentioned the magic words “artisanal brewery” earlier in his comments. I want to return to that because it is a subject that is close to my heart and, based on experience, is close to the hearts of one or two other members in the House as well.

The creation of a differentiated value-added product that comes from an agricultural base, like microbrewed or artisanal beer, is fundamentally based on a differentiated original product, a high value product that is not mass produced or commodified. That is true whether it is grapes for wine, we all understand that, apples for cider, rice for sake, and it is equally true when it is grain for beer.

I am guessing that the member believes that the opening of a freer market will allow for a greater differentiation of that original product, adding money into the pockets of farmers and also allowing for the greater participation of people like craft brewers. I would be interested in his comments on that.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend is exactly correct. Specialization and selling it to niche markets and doing things that no one else is doing is the way to success for a small business.

I have been privy to some commercial secrets from some constituents of mine, so I cannot talk too specifically, but we have a market now that is searching for authenticity. Therefore, prairie homegrown grains, making a niche, outstanding micro-products that can only be purchased in one or two spots will be very attractive in this new marketplace.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to stand proudly with our farmers and my party in opposition to this very bad bill that would dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.

In recent weeks, we have seen the powerful symbol of farmers with tape on their mouths to symbolize that the Conservative government is not listening to them. However, we, in this party, along with others, have heard our farmers. Here in Ottawa and across the prairies, farmers are rising to say no to this. It is time to stop this Conservative steamroller that is bent on doing the bidding of the agribusiness giant corporations.

Western farmers are being taken for granted. As my hon. colleagues from Churchill and Winnipeg have said, the recent CWB plebiscite indicated that a majority of farmers are opposed to the Conservative plan. The Conservative arrogance of not supporting those farmers is an indication of the way in which the government is failing to listen to western voices.

Sadly, we see the Conservative arrogance on too many files here in Ottawa and across the country.

I saw the Conservative arrogance when I was in Washington this week. Incredibly, the Conservatives were expressing their outrage that elected members of Parliament in a democratic country were there to tell Americans that there were better alternatives for our economy and the environment than the Keystone project.

I would like to add that, since I was in Washington, I have received numerous emails from Americans thanking us for bringing the Canadian voice, the real Canadian voice, to Washington.

We see the Conservatives' arrogance and hypocrisy in defending provincial rights until provinces tell them that they are wrong about their law and order bills or wrong in destroying the data of the long gun registry.

I would like to use my time here today to speak to what this bill would do to farmers and what would be a fair position to take for our farmers. As an Ontario MP, I will also talk about how illogical it is to use what happened with the wheat farmers in Ontario and what might happen now to the prairie farmers without the CWB.

Bill C-18 proposes to dismantle the farmer controlled and funded Canadian Wheat Board by eliminating the single desk marketing of wheat and barley in Canada. Just like the provinces, when the farmers disagree with the government, they are given no choice whatsoever with respect to their decision on the CWB.

The Conservatives claim that this would benefit farmers by opening the market for them and giving them choice. This flies in the face of all the evidence we have now, with the depressed economy and market debt left behind. Left alone, it would wreak havoc on our farmers. The bill is reckless. It would spell economic hardship for prairie farmers during these tough economic times.

It is beyond me why any government representing Canadians would side with the interests of large American grain companies and assist in eroding prices and eroding market security for our own farmers.

The farmers in western Canada are much like the farmers in my own riding of Nickel Belt. They do not expect or want a free ride. They work very hard. They want to be in their fields farming, with a market that is fair to all and not to only a few. They have a right to expect fairness from the Canadian government.

Canadian farmers want to be heard. They have the right to be listened to.

In a time of economic instability, the federal government is jeopardizing $5 billion in exports and forcing grain farmers into an open market without the Wheat Board's protection.

Bill Gehl, a Saskatchewan farmer and chairperson of the non-partisan farm group, the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, has said, “local food advocates should be concerned about the end of the Canadian Wheat Board”.

Gehl went on to explain:

Today Canadians can be confident that the grain in all the bread, pasta, and most of the beer they consume is still grown by Canadian farmers. However, if [the Prime Minister] succeeds in killing our Wheat Board, private corporations will then control our basic food stocks and will simply buy the cheapest grain they can from any source.

As an Ontario MP, I want to comment on the argument made by some Conservatives that the Ontario experience with removing the single desk can be applied to western farmers. This is truly illogical. It is comparing apples to oranges. We need to be clear: Ontario wheat farmers ended their single desk through a farmer-led democratic process.

Ontario wheat farmers produce wheat that is used for pastries, cookies and cakes and has a ready market available locally. They produce less than one-tenth of the volume of wheat that prairie farmers produce. Ontario wheat farmers sell about 90% of their product within Canada or to northern U.S.A. They have low transportation distances and costs. Worst of all, Ontario wheat farmers now pay grain companies more to handle their crops.

On the other hand, prairie wheat farmers voted in favour of keeping the CWB and face having it taken away against their will. Prairie wheat farmers produce hard red spring wheat used for bread and durum used for pasta, which does not have an extensive local market.

A crucial difference in terms of understanding the impact of this bad bill is that the prairie wheat farmers produce 80% of Canada's wheat. They also must pay freight costs to transport grain long distances to inland terminals and to ports. Prairie wheat farmers rely on the CWB to ensure fair market access for all, including users of producer cars.

Our position is clear: the NDP believes that any decision on the future of the board should be made by farmers for farmers. Grain farmers have expressed their opinion: a majority of them want to keep this single desk system. The bill should be withdrawn. Before any changes are made to the board, the government must study the impact of dismantling it and examine the effect this will have on Canadian grain farmers. Otherwise, it is gambling with the prairie economy and the income of western farmers.

Allen Orberg, a farmer and chair of the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors, said that this government does not have a plan, has done no analysis and did not even consult farmers. He also said that the government's approach is based solely on its blind commitment to free markets. Yet here it is, about to dismantle, in just a few months, a marketing system that has been working very well for 75 years.

The facts are clear: the CWB mitigates a risk for farmers. It helps determine when and if they will get paid on time, whether they are selling their grain to the right buyer on the right day and how to get their grain to the buyer, which is a significant issue given the vastness of the prairies.

Farmers pay for the operations of the CWB from their revenue. The CWB is not a government agency or a crown corporation. It is not funded by taxpayers.

There is the example of Australia to know what is in store for our farmers when the single desk is eradicated. This is alarming to say the least. When the Australian wheat board had its single desk power, Australian wheat commanded premiums of over $99 a tonne over American wheat. However, by December 2008, it had dropped to a discount of $27 per tonne below U.S. wheat. In three short years, 40,000 wheat farmers in Australia, which had 12% of the world's wheat production worth about $5 billion, went from running their own grain marketing system and selling virtually all of their wheat on their own behalf to being mere customers of Cargill.

I recognize this bill for what it is: Conservative ideology and politics trumping what is best for our farmers and best for Canada. The CWB is currently controlled, operated and funded by farmers for farmers and the government is meddling where it is not wanted. This bill must be defeated.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

November 18th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt on a very informed and thoughtful speech.

We are talking about the Canada Wheat Board and the merits of keeping it. We have heard passionate arguments on both sides of the House, but the key question for me comes down to what the farmers of western Canada want. We know that the legislation requires that a plebiscite be held for those farmers to tell us what they want.

I have two questions. First, why will the government not honour that legislation and allow farmers to have a vote so we will know once and for all what the farmers of western Canada want, instead of hearing people say what they want?

Second, did the Conservatives, during the last election campaign, tell the farmers of western Canada that they would get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board without a vote?