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  • Her favourite word is food.

NDP MP for Berthier—Maskinongé (Québec)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 39.60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Agriculture and Agri-Food April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, during the clause-by-clause examination of the grain transportation bill, we learned that the Conservatives did not include an actual timeline in their bill, despite a great deal of testimony regarding the major delays faced by farmers.

The Conservatives made sure that the bill's provisions are only temporary. A new crisis could arise at any time. What is the minister going to do to ensure that real action is taken in the long term?

Agriculture and Agri-food April 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have been paying attention. I spoke on Bill C-30, and we have been studying it in committee every day.

I want to know when the Conservatives will stop taking these farmers for granted and actually take action.

The minister knows full well that increased interswitching limits do not compensate farmers and that Bill C-30 is not a long-term solution. These changes will cost rail companies more, and these higher costs will be passed on to farmers. While a few grain companies will fight over the profits, it is farmers who are paying more.

Will the minister accept our constructive amendments at committee?

Agriculture and Agri-food April 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, 20 million tonnes of grain in the west are just sitting there. The inventory at the port of Vancouver is at a historic low. More than $8 billion in potential sales have already been lost, and the situation will only get worse. Every week at least $140 million is lost as a result of this grain transportation crisis.

When will the Conservatives stop letting themselves be bossed around by the rail companies and finally start listening to and defending farmers?

Agriculture and Agri-Food March 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, last week, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs proposed amendments to create new mandatory service agreements. Today, the CEO of CN said that other key players in the supply chain had to be held to account for their performance. The Conservatives had a chance to take action six months ago, but they chose to reject the NDP's call to implement service level agreements.

Will the government finally listen to farmers and agree to these amendments?

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech and say we are all on the same page here. I want to clarify that the NDP is ready to work as long as it takes on the agriculture committee to accommodate all the witnesses who would like to come before our committee.

We recognize there is not much time to get this done. We have about two weeks, which means four meetings, but we are ready to work as long and as hard as permitted by the government. It will be up to the Conservatives to agree to how much we can dedicate to the witnesses coming before committee for Bill C-30.

I wonder if the member could comment on Saskatchewan's agriculture minister, who wanted targets set to 13,000 cars a week with daily fines of up to $250,000. Right now we have fines up to $100,000, but that is up to $100,000 and it is not paid to farmers who are being so heavily hit because they have done a great job. They have a bumper crop, but if they are not able to move it, they are not being paid. Could the member comment on some of the suggestions by the Saskatchewan agriculture minister?

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree that we have to get this moving and start working on it as soon as possible.

The next meeting of the agriculture committee is on Monday. Personally, I am willing to work longer hours. I want to have as many witnesses as possible come and share their testimony. I know it is not much notice, but we could send out a request to people we want to have come to the committee.

I am completely open to working longer hours and having more meetings. However, that is not my decision and I cannot say that will happen. I am open to it, but it all depends on whether the government is willing to work together with members so that Bill C-30 will become a better piece of legislation. It is a question that the government will have to answer, but we in the NDP are open to that idea.

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for asking that question, because there is a domino effect. We are having problems domestically transporting. Some businesses have been touched to the point that people work on shiftwork at bakeries. Some businesses have been close to not having that shipment, so they have been almost to the point where they have not been able to bake those buns. This has a domino effect across the country, but also internationally. Canada has a real black eye.

There was a ship that came from Japan that was not able to fill up, so it went to the States. We have a black eye internationally. This is not good domestically, and it is not good internationally.

It is very frustrating, and I am hoping that there is more collaboration among parties. We all agree that something needs to be done. We all want to get grain moving. We all want to make sure that there is security and that we can regain the confidence we have lost because of this grain crisis. Let us work together.

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question and for her hard work with the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. It is always a pleasure to work with her.

During the recent two-week constituency break, I had the opportunity to visit Saskatchewan and Regina, where I met with many farmers, economists and stakeholders in the field, people who work on the ground. They are worried, frustrated and desperate. You can see in their eyes and hear in their voices that they are at the end of their rope. They have to borrow money, because the government is telling them to wait and to borrow money if they have a problem. This government's failure to act and its lack of vision are frustrating. How many months did it take for them to introduce this bill?

Now the Minister of Agriculture has a chance to save face. There is a lot of pressure from people who are angry and disappointed in the Minister of Agriculture regarding grain transportation and the crisis they are going through. They are also frustrated by the Conservatives in general, because they cannot trust the Conservatives. How can anyone trust a government that turns its back on farmers? They are desperate. That is why we are standing up for them.

When the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food examines this bill, I hope we have the opportunity to hear from many witnesses. We will also then have the opportunity to make some amendments to Bill C-30 in order to make it better.

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I actually have an article here, and I would like to quote the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He said:

Without a consistent car supply, western Canadian shortlines and the loading facilities located on them are left in an extremely precarious position.

He goes on to say that the long-term solution to the crisis lies in mandatory service level agreements between shippers and railways, with reciprocal penalties during times of poor service.

I think he is actually standing up because this has been going on for months. I know that both opposition parties have worked very hard. We have asked questions. Last year, when Bill C-52 came to committee, we worked very hard and had a lot of amendments to make sure that it had more teeth and was a good piece of legislation that would help.

People are standing up across the country and saying that this is not enough. Now we have some members getting up, shortly after the tabling of this bill, to say that it is not enough and that we should work together to make it a better piece of legislation.

I am really hoping that the government will work with us, because on committee we are outnumbered. I can do the math. I am hoping that there is more openness and that the government members will actually listen to witnesses and to us when we come forward with amendments to make this a bill that will actually work and prevent long-term problems.

Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act March 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act and to provide for other measures.

The new measures set out in this bill include the extension of inter-switching limits from 30 km to 160 km in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan; shipping contract provisions, particularly with regard to the sanctions imposed when a contract is broken and dispute resolution; and the regulatory powers set out in the Canada Transportation Act with regard to foods that will be monitored to determine whether shippers are abiding by the agreements concerning the quantity of grain that must be shipped.

I am going to talk more about the content of this bill, but first I would like to provide some background information.

For a number of months now, grain farmers have been extremely frustrated with the problems they are having moving the grain they harvested last summer. These transportation difficulties are resulting in a drop in the quality of their grain and thus a drop in its price. They are worried that they will not be able to transport future harvests. Between $14.5 billion and $20 billion worth of grain is sitting in bins and cannot be moved. That is huge and unbelievable. It is estimated that the backlog is between 17 and 27 million metric tons.

This situation is all the more untenable since business partners are losing confidence. Not everyone is aware of this, but those who are dealing with consequences of the grain transportation backlog on a daily basis can tell you that this is a serious situation.

For a long time, Lynn Jacobson, President of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, has been asking shippers to increase their capacity to respond to the need. We have been asking the same thing for months. Like everyone, Canada's grain farmers have bills to pay and loans to repay, and the banks will not wait.

For months, we have been urging the government to take action in order to achieve tangible results for farmers. It is completely unacceptable for hard-working farmers to be unable to ship their grain. In my opinion, this bill does not go far enough.

Two weeks ago, I was in Saskatchewan and met with farmers who told me what effect this transportation crisis had on their bottom line. I had a chance to better understand the situation and how complex it is. One farmer I met with made a map for me. This map now hangs in my office and has come in quite handy. A few things have become clear to me thanks to his explanation, such as prices, for one. Producers are seeing a large gap between the farm gate price and what they are seeing at the port. The most recent numbers I have seen are from March 19. The price in Davidson was $5.75 per bushel, and the price at the port of Vancouver for the same period was $10.60 per bushel. That is half.

I am disappointed to see that given the crisis, which is costing $8.3 billion in lost sales, there is still no direct compensation for farmers. I would have liked to have seen measures in this bill that would have compensated farmers for their losses.

When I met with farmers in Saskatchewan, one of them told me that he felt lucky, because his crop had been destroyed by a hail storm recently. He was lucky, because he had crop insurance, and he came out ahead of most farmers, despite that hail storm. This is not how farming should work. If our farmers produce a record bumper crop, they should be able to reap those rewards, not be penalized for years to come.

Another farmer told me that he sold high-grade grain for feed, because he could get a higher price than he could shipping it. That might be good news for the hog industry. We might be seeing some very healthy hogs this year, but for the grain producers, this is completely unacceptable.

The other thing I understand from the map is that transportation logistics is extremely complex in this country. Some of the farmers I met mentioned that there is no plan to replace the important work of the former iteration of the CWB. The NDP opposed the undemocratic and reckless gutting of the Canadian Wheat Board. We can see how important it is to have strong institutions representing our farmers and helping solve logistical issues in their interest.

I want to talk briefly about grain capacity. When the minister presented the order in council on March 7, farmers knew right away that it would not be enough. The minister is requiring that the rail companies move one million metric tonnes a week. That amount is what the railways always said they could do. Therefore, in the end, the government is forcing the railways to do something they were already going to do.

I will quote Lyle Stewart, the Minister of Agriculture for Saskatchewan, who stated:

...at first blush...the legislation itself is deficient.

We made some substantial asks and they weren't numbers that we pulled out of the air. They were numbers that we got from industry and we knew that they were achievable. We believe that 13,000 cars a week of grain could be unloaded, for instance, without handicapping other commodities that need to flow from Western Canada and we thought that $250,000 a day penalties were not out of line for non-compliance.

It is clear that the government could have required more from the railways.

It is time the government took action, but this bill does not go far enough. The minister is trying to clean up a mess that he should have predicted and prevented. The measures being imposed will expire in two years. This is not a long-term solution that will keep this from happening again.

The government lacks vision. Many agronomists and public servants at the agriculture department have said that harvests are only going to get bigger. The bill does not attempt to find long-term solutions for farmers. In addition, the majority of the measures proposed in the bill will be implemented at a later date, but the issue is all too real right now.

The fact that the measures will expire in two years demonstrates, yet again, that the Conservatives see this as a short-term issue. In reality, this is a structural issue that farmers are faced with. The problem could well resurface in just a few harvests.

The minister did not respond to requests from the hardest hit provinces. They wanted stiffer fines, compensation for grain farmers and higher minimum targets for grain cars. As I said earlier, we condemn the fact that farmers have not received any compensation. This crisis has cost farmers $8.3 billion since it began, yet there is still no direct compensation for them. The NDP would never do that to farmers.

We have long been calling for better arbitration and tougher penalties for breaking service agreements. The Conservatives refused to pass those amendments six months ago. Now that they are facing a crisis, they have started listening to us. They should also listen to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

I would like to end my remarks on the bill by reflecting on the policy direction of the government. I would like to see the government have a comprehensive vision for agriculture in this country. Agriculture is so important. It represents one in eight jobs in this country. It is vital to our economy.

The minister is bringing in pieces of legislation that seem to be reacting to issues, rather than leading the way on ag issues. It seems that we only have a chance to debate agriculture-related bills in the House when something goes wrong. The latest grain transportation crisis is a good example of this. The government has waited months and months before acting. Then it has scrambled together a bill that could help farmers get their grain moving. This government only acts when it needs to, and it delays action as much as possible.

I wish we could work together. I am looking forward to having witnesses at committee. I am really hoping the government can agree to accept amendments and work together.

I am looking forward to seeing this bill go to committee, where we can hear witnesses and make this a better bill that will actually support farmers, get grain moving, and prevent this problem from happening in the future.