House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prairie.

Topics

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech.

One thing that surprises me in this debate is the apparent contrast being made here between freedom and democracy. We hear a lot about freedom from the government side. I would like the hon. member's comments on democracy. If what the government is proposing is so wonderful, why is the government afraid to consult farmers as it should, and why is it that we cannot have a healthy debate for as long as it takes to do it democratically? I would like to hear his comments.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Louis-Hébert for his question.

We are doing great work together in committee, standing up for the interests of entrepreneurs.

This really comes down to the fundamental question about freedom to sell to whom they want to sell. In terms of a plebiscite, that question has been raised many times by members opposite and various plebiscites have been taken. However, if just one farmer wanted to have that freedom to sell to whomever he or she wanted to sell, then that should be enough. There is no reason to jail any farmer for selling crops to whom he or she wants to sell. That is all the science we need. It is a basic fundamental human freedom to sell a crop.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Churchill.

Canadian democracy is falling apart. We need only look at the protests happening across Canada and Quebec to see that this is the case. Bill C-10 is another example. Instead of dialogue, the Conservatives issued a gag order to force the passage of a very controversial bill on safe streets and communities. They are doing the same thing with Bill C-18. I will briefly go over what this bill proposes.

It proposes that we dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board; put an end to the single-desk marketing of wheat and barley; replace the board with an interim structure with voluntary membership; and privatize it or dissolve it completely if, in the coming years, it is not profitable for any private firms. Bill C-18 is a reflection of the neo-liberalism that underlies this government's economic policy.

Representatives of prairie farmers and other independent experts have raised concerns about the repercussions that dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board would have on farming families and on the economy, not only in the Prairies, but also in Canada as a whole, during this period of economic uncertainty. But the Conservative government is obsessed with its own ideology and it refuses to listen and take these concerns into consideration.

The Canadian Wheat Board is an economic structure that has proven its effectiveness and its impact on the prairie economy. Since it sells Canadian farmers' grain products in about 70 countries around the world, there is no doubt that the Canadian Wheat Board contributes to our country's international presence and helps improve the living conditions of the farmers for whom it brings in some $4 billion to $7 billion a year. In other words, it pumps billions of dollars into our economy.

The numbers prove that the Canadian Wheat Board is economically viable. There is absolutely no doubt, and the Conservatives' arguments in favour of dismantling it were ripped apart by speakers before me. The Conservatives are using the failure in Ontario, which withdrew from the single-desk system, to justify dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board. That argument is indefensible. It does not apply to the reality facing farmers in western Canada. To compare the two is specious and even irresponsible.

It is not possible to compare apples to oranges on the grounds that apples and oranges are both fruit. In fact, it was through a democratic process—led by farmers themselves—that Ontario farmers decided to abolish their single desk. Prairie farmers, in contrast, voted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board. Furthermore, the wheat grown by Ontario farmers is used only in pastry, cookies and cakes for local consumption. The wheat grown by prairie farmers is used for bread and pasta for which there is no significant local market.

While Ontario's farmers rely more on grain companies to handle their crops, prairie farmers, on the other hand, count on the board for fair market access for everyone, including those who ship in producer cars.

The Conservatives claim that Bill C-18 will improve farmers' ability to market their wheat and barley by giving them a choice of who to sell their grain to and how to do so. But the reality is quite different: this bill is not compatible with their desires. It removes some freedom of choice from the farmers. At present, the board is controlled, managed and financed by farmers, for farmers.

With Bill C-18, the government will begin to intrude rashly into the board's management, which is the responsibility of the farmers. They do not need the government's help.

We have to wonder whether the Conservatives' desire to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board is not driven by major grain companies, especially American ones, which are rubbing their hands together at the thought of having free access to Canadian grain.

The Canadian Wheat Board owes its impact to a certain number of parameters that we must remember in order to make an informed decision. Before coming back to the repercussions that dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board will likely have, I should mention that the Canadian Wheat Board manages a supply chain from the farm to the table. The international reputation it enjoys, because of the quality of its constant supply and the quality of the services it provides, is envied by other countries.

It has a flexible and democratic organizational structure. Since it is not a grain corporation, the Canadian Wheat Board, which the government is seeking to dismantle today with Bill C-18, does not have any grain handling infrastructure—such as grain elevators or port terminals—to receive the grain production from the farmers and to load it onto ships. It is not overly staffed either. What is more, it does not run on a very big budget. Its only major asset is, and remains, its mandate, defined by a law authorizing it to sell western Canadian wheat, durum and barley through a single desk.

In light of these many advantages, we are appealing to this government to maintain the Canadian Wheat Board, because abolishing it would be disastrous, not only for the prairie economy, but also for the lives of prairie families, for whom farming is their bread and butter.

In closing, I would like to point out a few of the repercussions I alluded to. First of all, abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board will reduce profits for large-scale farmers. Indeed, since it is the sole seller of western Canadian wheat and barley, the board generates significant premiums for prairie farmers. With a single-desk model, not having competition among suppliers means that prices are not driven down for the same grain buyer.

Second, abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board will jeopardize the funding of activities for any future entity. Indeed, under the Canadian Wheat Board Act, the board cannot keep any profits or own any real assets. As a result, it has no financial base. It will have to acquire a significant financial base in order to prosper in a free market.

Third, abolishing the board will require whoever liquidates it to pay all the costs associated with the liquidation, so that a new entity cannot be forced to take them on. Given that the government—and not farmers—wants to liquidate it, farmers should not have to assume the cost of this government's ill-advised decision.

Fourth, abolishing the board will have negative repercussions on producer car shippers and on short line railways.

This bill is dangerous. It will be disastrous for prairie farmers in these difficult economic times. We believe that any decision on the future of the board should be made by farmers for farmers.

These are some of the reasons why we oppose abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it was said by Socrates, “Nobody is qualified to become a statesman who is entirely ignorant of the problems of wheat”. I am afraid that comes into this realm.

Could the hon. member discuss what will happen when we have the ability to continue the pooling options for wheat, durum and barley but be able to include other grains as well? If the rhetoric is it is going to kill the Canadian Wheat Board and if she recognizes that is all that it is, as far as the Canadian Wheat Board is concerned, the pooling options that are there will give the opportunity for 100% of the people to use that option if they wish to do so.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

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

I would like to mention that a great deal has been said about freedom and democracy in these debates, but I believe that the terms “freedom” and “democracy” have unfortunately been tarnished by this government. In the bill before us, Bill C-18, there has been no real analysis or consultation of farmers. The government just promotes market freedom, which will definitely throw the grain industry into disarray. That is what will happen with this bill.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

November 28th, 2011 / 5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier my colleague from Guelph made a comment about the very negative repercussions experienced in another country doing this kind of deregulation.

On Friday, I attended an urban farming forum in Vancouver, which was well-attended. People are interested in what kind of government framework or supports there are for small farmers or young people who want to get into farming or organic farming for more direct farm-to-urban table approaches. It appears to me that this deregulation of wheat growing will go in exactly the opposite direction than what is needed.

What might the effect be on smaller farms and family farms compared with the larger farms after this deregulation of wheat marketing?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

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

I believe that this deregulation will affect small farmers. We know that the CWB negotiates sales internationally and that it gives the premiums to farmers, and to the most disadvantaged farmers. That will no longer be the case with an open market and deregulation. Farmers are stronger and more competitive because of the CWB. Acting as individuals, they will be destroyed or substantially impoverished. Those are the consequences of this bill.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Saint-Lambert has aptly described the many negative repercussions of Bill C-18.

In particular, farmers will be subject to greater risks and uncertainty. Small farms will be impoverished. People on family farms will have to work harder in order to survive. In addition, consumers will pay more for food and the quality of wheat will be lower.

I would like my colleague from Saint-Lambert to explain why the cost of food will increase and the quality of wheat will decrease.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question.

I want to come back to an important point about this bill that I think we must truly keep in mind. We are witnessing a rather odd phenomenon: the flouting of democracy. The government is dismantling a powerful tool for farmers, a tool that promoted some fairness and equality for the sale of grain products. Furthermore, the livelihood and well-being of farmers deserved a real debate in the House. Unfortunately, the farmers were not heard and the debate was not held.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, today Canadians are witnessing the anti-democratic, ideological agenda of the Conservative government.

Western Canadians are today witnessing a government take a position without listening to the very voices of the people they claim to represent. Today many Canadians will realize the way in which the federal government does not represent us and why it is time to talk about the need to have real representation about the real issues that matter to Canadians.

I want to begin by responding to the allegations made in the House these last few days that have involved my name. I am very disappointed by the allegations made by the member of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre and the Chief Government Whip.

The government whip approached me last week after a disruption in the gallery and accused me of organizing it. I made it clear that this was not the case. In Parliament we are all hon. members and the acceptance of the word of a member of Parliament is fundamental to the functioning of the House.

Instead of accepting my word as a member of the House, the Chief Government Whip approached me in this very Chamber and indicated to me the phrase “you will get attacked”. He went on to repeat the fictional story that he and his colleagues shared in this House.

I want to make it clear that I provided gallery passes to a group of western farmers who support the Wheat Board. I provide passes, like so many members of Parliament, to people who visit their House of Commons. I had no knowledge there would be a disruption. For the record, that member of the public who protested in this gallery just hours later apologized to me and noted that I had no knowledge of his intentions and certainly had no part in organizing.

The government members, instead, were eager to make unfounded accusations and attempts to intimidate me. This attitude is not fitting for a government that was elected to represent Canadians. The House operates on the basis of honouring members, of honouring the word of members and of honouring the fact that we have been elected to represent Canadians.

I believe the whip should withdraw his statement and apologize to the House. This attitude is a reflection of the government's contempt for anyone who disagrees with them.

I want to make one thing clear. I will not be intimidated by members opposite. I know they have a difficulty with the fact that I represent a rural western Canadian riding. I have news for them. If they continue down this path of arrogance, ideology and contempt for the voices of western Canadians, they will see lot more New Democratic Party members of Parliament representing western Canada.

The lessons of the government's desire to pursue its extreme ideological agenda on Bill C-18 and dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board is a reflection of patterns we have seen in history before. Might I reference the Mulroney Conservatives who after taking western Canada for granted time and time again were rewarded by being re-elected with only two seats in the House of Commons, and none of them were from western Canada.

That process led to the beginning of the social movement and a political movement in western Canada known as the Reform Party. Many of those members of Parliament came out of that movement. Some have since retired, some are still, today, here. Those people came out of a movement that spoke about democracy, that talked about listening to the grassroots, that talked about respecting the democratic voice of people across western Canada. They talked about the west wanting in and people from western Canada wanting to be heard.

These very same people, these same members of Parliament, have today denied western Canadian farmers the right to vote. Along with that, they have denied western Canadians--the people who live across the prairie provinces and whose livelihoods depend on the work of the Canadian Wheat Board--the ability to speak to oppose them.

The Conservatives talked about having campaigned in the election to dismantle the Wheat Board. For many of our constituencies, that statement is completely and utterly false. They buried it in a platform, and we have heard from people across the Prairies that nowhere was it actually talked about in debates, in campaign events or in the pamphlets that they handed out during the election.

I can speak to the fact that in Churchill the Conservative candidate, who was based in the community that stands to lose the most directly from the loss of the Wheat Board, never once made public reference to the government's plan to dismantle an institution on which so many of the people I represent depend.

We even have the minister's quote in Minnedosa, Manitoba, when he talked about respecting farmers' right to vote. However, days later, after winning a majority government, the government became extremely arrogant and became dismissive of its own commitments during the election campaign. It became so dismissive of the very statements government members had made to western Canadians that we now have it pursuing the exact opposite approach. The government has put forward an agenda and a timeline in this debate that is unprecedented in the way in which it has been able to muzzle any kind of opposition across Canada.

For the last while, I have had a chance to talk a lot about the old politics, the politics of this government, the politics that Canadians are sick and tired of, the politics of hidden agendas. They are tired of hearing one thing during the election and then, upon electing a government, hearing something completely different. Once the Conservatives got a majority, they were willing to steamroll the rights of western Canadians and steamroll anyone in their way who might have a different point of view.

The Conservatives have brought in closure time and time again, and in a most shocking way when it comes to Bill C-18. This is a tool that signifies their complete lack of respect for Canadians' voices, Canadians who have something different to bring to the table, Canadians who simply want to be heard.

Instead of listening, they have managed to keep busy in a number of other ways. They have kept busy by making videos that insult aboriginal people in the statements they make and videos that demean western Canadian producers.

They have sought ways to bury debate. They use public relations stunts and government money for ads in order to take away the important role that Parliament has to debate these very issues. Instead of being up front, they obfuscate and hide the facts that we need to know as we move forward.

On the contingency fund, it is clear that the government is taking the money from farmers and putting it toward its own state-run agency, having lifted the ceiling, instead of giving that money back to farmers.

I want to acknowledge the work of people who were elected to represent western Canadian farmers: Stuart Wells, Bill Woods, Allen Oberg, Cam Goff, Kyle Korneychuk, Rod Flaman, John Sandborn and Bill Toews. The voices of young farmers such as Sid Stevenson and Matt Gell and the voices of the people of Churchill, of the Bay line, of Winnipeg, as well as voices across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and even parts of British Columbia need to be heard in this House. These are the people the government is taking for granted.

The Conservatives should mark our words: as we stand here to bring voice to those very people, to western Canadians and to all Canadians, we are going to make sure that they know that the arrogance, the ideological agenda and the undemocratic approach of this government is unacceptable, and that next time around we will build a government that actually represents Canadians.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I have to comment on the disruption in the gallery last week that my hon. friend from Churchill mentioned during her intervention. She mentioned that she felt the chief government whip had intimidated her. I can assure this place, as she well knows, that all the chief government whip was doing was giving her a heads-up that there would be an intervention coming from our side the following day. It was an act of courtesy and certainly not one of intimidation.

I would also point out, as I did in my intervention that day, that our main argument was that the demonstration showed a contempt for Parliament, and that members of her party were encouraging and condoning that contempt. That is unacceptable, and it should always remain unacceptable.

With respect to the member's comments on the Wheat Board, she says that there is some hidden agenda. We have been talking about this issue for over 20 years. There are farmers who have travelled a great distance to be in Ottawa today because they support everything we are doing to give them the freedom they need. It is costing producers money; it always has.

The final point is that if the Canadian Wheat Board were as valuable an institution as the member suggests, no producers would want to leave it. Producers are doing so because the Wheat Board is not benefiting them.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps it is important that I remind my colleagues across that this House is built on the very principle of honouring a member's word. That is exactly what did not happen last week in my interaction with the chief government whip or as the member continues to repeat that story.

Let me clear the record: I was not intimidated, but there was every effort to do so, and attempting to do so was an insult not only to us but to the very people we represent.

Let me bring it back to this question: why is the government so afraid, and why has it been so afraid, to allow western Canadian producers a vote? That is my question. Today we know that the government has no answer.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Wheat Board is an organization operated by farmers for farmers. The bill goes against what a majority of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta grain farmers want. The response by the Prime Minister was best said on October 7 in The Globe and Mail:

It's time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down the prairie track. You're much better off to get on it than to lie on the tracks because this is going ahead.

The Prime Minister treated our prairie farmers like trash when he made those comments.

The prairie grain farmer has spoken. Shortly we are going to have a vote on this bill, and we appeal to the government members to respect the prairie grain farmers, over 20,000 of whom voted overwhelmingly to keep the Wheat Board. We appeal to the government to respect the wishes of those prairie farmers and withhold support for the bill today.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we are talking about a government that is fundamentally taking for granted western Canadians. It is a government that has refused to give western Canadians a voice in the House of Commons through its failure to respect the Canadian Wheat Board plebiscite, through its failure to live up to the election commitment of the Minister of Agriculture in my home province of Manitoba, through its failure to follow legislation that commits a vote to farmers and through its failure to hold proper debate both in the House and at committee.

Why does the government have so much against standing up and listening to the voices of Canadians who might have a different point of view? Today it is the Wheat Board. Tomorrow it is other marketing boards, the CBC and medicare.

We in the New Democratic Party will make sure Canadians know that Canadians will not be steamrolled.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Peace River.

I am pleased to stand and address this issue, which affects the livelihood and future of western Canadian farmers. Farmers, like any other business people, want to make the right decisions for their farms. They already decide what to plant, when to plant, when to spray and when to harvest. They make marketing decisions on their canola and pulse crops, their peas, lentils, beans, oats and many other crops, and they want the very same marketing freedom for their wheat and barley.

As with anyone in business, farmers take the risks and live with the consequences of their business decisions. Whether barbers, plumbers, hardware store owners or Ontario grain growers, Canadian business owners make the decisions. Western farmers want and deserve this same freedom.

Our Conservative government trusts farmers to make their marketing choices based on what is best for their own businesses. We want to put farmers back in the driver's seat so that they can continue to drive the economy, and that is what the marketing freedom for grain farmers bill is all about.

There is much negativity and fearmongering from the opposition MPs and from the Wheat Board itself around the issue of grain marketing in western Canada, and it is unfounded. We believe that a voluntary wheat board could and would be a viable part of a reinvigorated western Canadian grain industry. As the president of the Grain Growers—