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 farmers.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Environment
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

November 28th, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The Chair has a request for an emergency debate on the same subject by two different members. I will hear the member for Etobicoke North first and then the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

The Environment
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to ask for an emergency debate regarding federal leadership on our international obligations with respect to climate change.

As the world's nations, which have committed to action on climate change, begin meeting for COP 17 in Durban today to negotiate a fair, ambitious and binding deal to address global climate change, our own government is threatening to eschew its international obligations.

The latest round of negotiations is particularly important because the existing framework expires next year and the window to keep climate change to the 2°C limit, a threshold associated with dangerous climate change, is fast approaching.

I therefore request an emergency debate to ask the government to show leadership by providing a clear plan to demonstrate how it will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets, reversing any climate change and ozone monitoring cuts at Environment Canada, and taking a leadership role in negotiating in good faith at Durban.

The Environment
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, while our requests to adjourn for an emergency debate are in the same subject area, they are slightly different.

I am requesting an emergency debate on a specific and important matter regarding urgent consideration. It is specifically in reference to Canada's negotiating position at COP 17 taking place and opening today in Durban, South Africa.

In this House, we have not had an opportunity to debate and as I laid out in my letter to you, Mr. Speaker, we have been denied positions within the official delegation, which means no opposition members of Parliament will be capable of advising our government as it goes forward in negotiations.

I did put a question to the hon. government House leader on Thursday as to whether there would be an opportunity to debate climate change in the very narrow window we have to influence the Canadian government, that being the time before the hon. Minister of the Environment himself leaves to go to Durban to lead our delegation in those negotiations.

This is very urgent. It is very specific. If there were ever a time for an emergency debate in this House, it would be on this issue on this day when we have also just learned through the media that there is an intention from the government, without having consulted the House, to actually withdraw from our legal commitments.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, with the number of precedents which I have cited for you, that your discretion be exercised toward allowing the members of Parliament in the House of Commons, here present, to have an opportunity to debate the urgent issue of our negotiating position going toward COP 17.

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I appreciate the fact that there may have been a slight difference in the request for emergency debate. The main thrust of the subject matter was in the same general context, so that is why I chose to treat the requests at the same time.

I regret to inform the members that I do not think it meets the very high threshold established for granting emergency debates at this time.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary has three minutes left to conclude her speech.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar
Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I will quickly summarize what I began my speech with and that was the great benefits that the farmers and the producers in my riding and throughout the province of Manitoba will receive once Bill C-18 is passed and they have true marketing freedom in order to market their wheat.

I also couple that with the fact that all of us want to see a successful Canadian Wheat Board, a voluntary Wheat Board. We want to see it maintained and be successful. We think that we can have a successful Wheat Board as well as marketing freedom for Canadian western wheat farmers.

I was also giving some quotes from some of the farmers in my riding, who indicated their support for us giving them freedom and choice. I want to quote Lorne Hulme. He is from Hulme Agra Products, which is in MacGregor, Manitoba, a great little community in my riding. This is what Lorne said:

I should have the right to decide what to do with my grain. Not to be dictated to by people who have little or no involvement in western Canadian agriculture…I strongly encourage you to continue on your path to assure that each farmer in western Canada has the right to market his/her grain as they see fit.

Then he thanks us all for our efforts and encourages us to not give up. I am pleased that we have not given up on this and we will be ensuring marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.

I did receive correspondence, emails and phone calls, and I had discussions with individuals in my riding who wanted to keep the monopoly. They were concerned that the Wheat Board would fail if a monopoly was not intact. Therefore, about three years ago I met with members of the board of directors from the Canadian Wheat Board in my office. At the time I told these individuals that as leaders they needed to see that progress could not be stopped. Progress can never be stopped in a democratic and free nation.

Individual farmers and farmers groups were asking for marketing freedom, so my message to those members of the board of directors was for us to work together to have a win-win scenario where we can have a viable Wheat Board which is voluntary and also marketing freedom for farmers.

Unfortunately, their message to me was that they got up and walked out of the room and said they would not be party to that, that they did not want to see that happen.

I can say that the opposite was true when I would talk to farmers who wanted freedom. None of them were interested in destroying the board. They still wanted to see the board viable. They just wanted their own freedom and options. Therefore, it is very disappointing to see some of the approaches that have been taken by certain supporters of the monopoly and specifically some of the board members.

Can a board survive without a monopoly? Absolutely. We see it each and every day. We see it in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan where voluntary pools and marketing boards are successful.

I met last week with members of Peak of the Market, which is a very successful voluntary board, who market their potatoes and other vegetables.

That is the example we need to follow in this debate as well as with respect to the issue of marketing freedom. We need to give individual farmers the ability to market their grain. At the same time, we need to see a voluntary Wheat Board with a new attitude, maybe some new blood, maybe new ideas, and maybe a board of directors who do not want the Wheat Board destroyed, but truly want to see it successful for those farmers who choose to use it.

I urge all members to support the bill.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. I found it funny that, in the last three minutes of her speech, she talked about farmers having the right to choose what to do with their grain, even though this government is not even allowing them to decide what to do with the Canadian Wheat Board. So, that is the first question. Do farmers not have the right to decide whether to keep or abolish this board? The government made that decision without consulting them.

Does she plan to hold a referendum to really know, once and for all, what farmers want to do with the board and with their grain?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would be very happy to take the member to my riding and have him visit some farms where individuals are growing not just wheat or durum, but all kinds of other crops that they are marketing freely. As I mentioned, Peak of the Market is a voluntary vegetable marketing board. The beauty of this bill is that the Canadian Wheat Board will still be in existence but it will be a voluntary board. Individuals can absolutely choose to be part of that board and to market their wheat through the Canadian Wheat Board, but those who choose not to can go another way.

The beauty of our country is the freedoms that we all share and we take for granted. I am not sure if the hon. member represents farmers but he should try to understand the restraints and the ball and chain that has been put on western Canadian wheat farmers because of this mandatory Wheat Board and its monopoly.

We have seen farmers go to jail because of this. We have seen farmers abandon the whole wheat industry. We have seen many value added industries go to the U.S. or not be here in Canada. This is a good bill because it is a balance.

We do not want to destroy the Wheat Board. We want to see the Wheat Board be voluntary and viable but we want individual farmers to have the rights that they deserve as Canadians.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree at all with my colleague's comments, and she is well aware of that.

I have a very genuine and sincere question to ask. I am not looking for pre-fab lines that have been prepared. Where does the member stand with respect to supply management? She keeps talking about freedom for farmers. Surely that must include freedom for dairy farmers, egg farmers and poultry farmers. Could she tell us where she stands on supply management?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question because I am also very proud to represent dairy farmers in my riding. I am not sure if my hon. colleague represents dairy farmers. I do represent dairy farmers, as well as grain and livestock farmers. My dairy farmers are very happy with the way supply management is working. It is a successful program that our government supports.

The member opposite needs to be honest about something. As I said to the Canadian Wheat Board members three years ago, we cannot stop progress. When young, innovative farmers are saying that they want to be set free from a monopoly and a Wheat Board that they do not want to be a part of, it is our responsibility to lead the way. Many times, the people we represent are far ahead of us on a lot of these issues. We just need to open up our eyes and lead the way on issues like this.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to expand on what this means for value added on the Prairies. For us in Saskatchewan, Regina and the area, will benefit very much from a brand new processing plant that has investors who will be making major investments. I would like the member to expand on value added.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, across western Canada, farmers are excited and getting ready for this change because there are so many new innovative ways that they can add value. We will be seeing new plants springing up across our provinces. We will see jobs created and more value added for our agricultural industry.

It is time to get on board. The opposition somehow seems to think that when there is a free market it will mean cheaper grain. That has to be the most irresponsible logic I have ever heard. We live in a country where we have commodities, where we sell our products, then add value to it and we sell the product here in Canada. It is good business and our farmers are some of the best business people in the country.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.

It is with a great deal of sadness that I rise to speak to Bill C-18 today. Ever since I was elected in 2006, we on this side of the House have done all in our power to prevent this reckless dismantling of farmer control by the Conservatives.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the National Farmers Union convention in London, Ontario. There, I saw many farmers, both young and old, who believe that the government is on a disaster course. In his speech to the delegates, the chairman of the CWB, Allen Oberg, raised a number of interesting issues, such as with the firing of elected directors, the government effectively takes control of this farmer controlled institution. This is obviously a blatant example of the further erosion of farmer influence on agriculture in our country. According to Mr. Oberg, the factors driving the Conservative agenda are, in order of their importance: ideology, industry, U.S. and European farmers, and lastly, the interests of Canadian farmers.

Clearly, the interests of the big corporations and farmers are not the same. The main objective of these companies is to increase profits by increasing the margin made from individual farmers. It is, therefore, difficult to see why this small group of farmers against the single desk does not understand it. They believe that somehow they will be able to compete and obtain a premium price from the very companies that wish to maximize profit.

We must not forget that all profits generated today by the CWB, some $530 million to $655 million annually, go back to farmers. The value of the Canadian Wheat Board mechanism for direct farmer influence on the marketing agency cannot be overstated. The small and medium sized wheat and barley farmers have an agency that provides a level of service that neither single nor even a small co-operative of even the largest wheat and barley farmers in western Canada could emulate.

The CWB has both the trust of the buyer and the seller. It ensures that the product is delivered with consistent quality, on time and to the scale required, while it connects with markets to negotiate the best price and to guarantee farmer payment.

With the loss of the single desk, this capacity will be gone. No longer will the CWB be able to put farmers first against the railway monopolies, provide a strategic advantage to ship from Churchill, protect against WTO harassment and maintain producer cars, fight against GM wheat or maintain a quality reputation in the world.

A very disturbing article appeared in the Leader Post on November 26. It mentioned that, under direct orders from the minister, the CWB's contingency fund was raised from $60 million to $200 million. The author of the article, Bruce Johnstone, said that this did not “have anything to do with putting more money in farmers' pockets”. He went on to say:

In fact, farmers are going to help bankroll the Tories' new voluntary wheat board whether they want to or not.

[The]...government wants to use the contingency fund to cover the costs of operating the new wheat pool company and wind up the old farmer-directed board, including severance payments for CWB officials.

These wind-up costs are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including liability costs of breaking or renegotiating contracts, obligations, pensions, severance payments and other asset purchases. Allen Oberg estimates this to be between $200 million and $400 million. In other words, money will be taken from farmers to advance the government's agenda so it can ram this through.

This does not make any sense and, I would submit, it is morally wrong. Shame on the Prime Minister and shame on his corporate stooges.

We need to look at the cost factor of this massive, tragic transformation. Most analysts predict that grain prices will fall after the elimination of the single desk. Another likely outcome is industry consolidation as large producers squeeze out smaller producers. Large grain companies, such Viterra, Cargill and Bunge, will have a huge new supply of sellers competing to unload their products.

In Australia, with the loss of the single desk, the market share of the Australian wheat board collapsed to 23% of Australian exports, as its reputation for quality is being lost.

The CWB grains account for 95% of shipments through the Port of Churchill. This does not cost the government any money at all but the government is now proposing to provide $5 million of taxpayer money per year for five years to support the shipping of grain.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the CWB contributes a gross output of $94.6 million to the city of Winnipeg. The employment spinoff from the CWB is 2,000 jobs, with a total labour income impact on the city of more than $66 million and, at the provincial level, $140 million.

What is tragic is that there has not been an economic analysis by the Conservatives of this legislation. Based on analysis of the situation on the open market, it can be expected that there will be a reduction of between 16% to 23% on return to farmers and losses in the millions related to payment defaults and arbitrary reductions by grain companies.

Today, the CWB earn farmers between $500 million and $655 million every year. No one will be able to influence any of the big five grain companies that will take over. There will be no pooling of premiums. These will go directly to the company, which does not guarantee payment to farmers for all grains delivered.

In the past, the CWB has also assisted farmers in legal challenges, such as the lawsuit against CP Rail. There is no credible evidence that any single farmer on the prairies has the resources to do any of this. Based on historical precedence, there will be losses in the millions of dollars per year to farmers on demurrage charges, as well as freight rate overcharges. There is also credible evidence that the farmer-loaded producer car option will end. This will results in a direct loss to the farmer of between $1,000 and $1,500 per year.

This is a black day in the history of our country. Whether we are dealing with the issue of crime in this country or the collective interests of farmers, we have a Conservative government, elected with only 27% of the vote of eligible voters, that is determined to transform this country based on an ideology and not on sound analysis or research.

Farmers in western Canada have spent many years building an organization that provides them clout in dealing with their trading partners and transnational corporations at no cost to the taxpayers. In their wisdom, through the election of their directors in the recent plebiscite, they have chosen to retain a strong, collective, united front through a single desk.

What we are seeing here is a battle of ideologies. The co-operative position of strength versus this rugged, every person for himself individualism. Some will survive but many will not. The tragedy is that this ideological agenda will further erode the family farm and the quality of our western Canadian rural life. Unfortunately, there will be no turning back once farmers' rights and powers are taken away.

In closing, we could say that history will be the judge as we see the dismantling, and it is a dismantling. The evidence and the research that I have read and we have seen on this side of the House is that a single desk entity will not be able to survive in today's ruthless market when we have the United States, through the WTO, unsuccessfully challenging the Wheat Board 13 times, but this organization has been able to stand up on behalf of farmers.

We will see in a few years what will happen. Those of us on this side believe that this is not a happy day and it is not as exciting as many on the other side think that it will be.