An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Gerry Ritz  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of Oct. 8, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Grain Act by

(a) clarifying the Canadian Grain Commission’s objects;

(b) combining terminal elevators and transfer elevators into a single class of elevators called “terminal elevators”;

(c) eliminating mandatory inward inspection and weighing as well as some requirements for weigh-overs at elevators;

(d) extending the right to require the Commission to determine the grade and dockage of grain at process elevators and grain dealers’ premises;

(e) eliminating the Grain Appeal Tribunals;

(f) eliminating the Commission’s ability to require security as a condition for obtaining or maintaining a licence;

(g) creating additional regulatory powers for the Commission;

(h) modifying enforcement provisions and creating certain new offences; and

(i) ensuring that some of the requirements and procedures set out are clarified and modernized and that certain language is updated.

The enactment also amends An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Grain Futures Act as well as another Act, and includes transitional provisions and coordinating amendments.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

October 8th, 2009 / 3 p.m.
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Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that normally in response to the Thursday question, I talk about what government business we will be continuing to debate in this place.

However, because of the NDP House leader, we have not even gotten to government orders yet today. Instead of debating government business this morning, we debated an NDP procedural motion.

Bill C-23, the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, began second reading debate on May 25, five months ago. Thanks again to the NDP, we are still debating it at second reading.

We keep seeing the NDP leader on television, telling Canadians that he wants to make Parliament work. However, in this House, his main operative, his House leader, is doing everything she can to make Parliament dysfunctional.

I would suggest that he should either stop running his television ads or actually do what he is telling Canadians and make Parliament work.

However, in response to my hon. colleague's questions about the business for the remainder of this week and immediately following the break week, when we eventually, hopefully, get to orders of the day, we will be calling Bill C-13, the Canada Grain Act, followed by Bill C-44, the Canada Post Corporation Act, and then on to Bill C-23, which I mentioned earlier.

We will continue this business tomorrow.

As my hon. colleague said, next week is a constituency week.

Finally, I would like to designate October 19, the first day back, as an allotted day.

To his question about the report, it will be coming in due course.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 3:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in support of Bill C-13, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act. However, I am upset that the opposition has moved to hoist this amendment. It is hijacking this bill which is essential to the grain farmers in western Canada, and I cannot support this hoist amendment because I support changes to the Canada Grain Act.

It is simple. Canadian farm families deserve to be treated equally across the country, but the current legislation forces western Canadian producers to pay costs that are not imposed in other regions. Bill C-13 would contribute to building a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. The legislation is based on the agriculture committee report the opposition parties helped write.

Conservative MPs are ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and work on Bill C-13 at the agriculture committee. It is too bad the opposition parties are not willing to do that work and treat all regions fairly. This bill illustrates the government's ongoing commitment to putting farmers first, by eliminating costly regulations and unnecessary mandatory programming in Canada's grain sector.

For some years now, the western Canadian grain sector has been undergoing significant transformations. Indeed, the marketplace for grains has evolved, with increased emphasis on niche markets, livestock feed and biofuels, as well as other value-added marketing opportunities.

Despite this ever-changing environment, the Canada Grain Act has not been substantially amended for close to 40 years. As such, the operations of the Canadian Grain Commission, the agency that maintains the standards of quality for grain and regulates grain handling in our country, do not reflect the needs of today's farmers or the industry.

Before I provide additional explanation regarding the proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act, I will provide some brief background.

In 2005 an amendment to the Canada Grain Act was passed that required an independent review of the act and the Canadian Grain Commission. COMPAS Inc. was hired by the Department of Agriculture to conduct this independent review in 2005. Let me point out it was the Liberal government that hired COMPAS to do this.

Its recommendations were presented to Parliament in 2006. The COMPAS report was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which consulted stakeholders and recognized the need for changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission. The amendments are based on recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in its report to the government in 2006.

Throughout these reviews, stakeholders were consulted extensively, including eight public meetings held across the country by COMPAS Inc. Hence, these proposed changes reflect the needs and the will of grain producers and of the industry.

This government is proposing to clarify the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission in the Canada Grain Act. The clarification will stress that the Canadian Grain Commission protects the interests of producers with respect to deliveries to licensees, determinations of grade and dockage and allocation of producer cars.

That said, there have been extensive changes within the Canadian grain industry over the years and the Canadian Grain Commission must reflect that evolution. The number of primary elevators in western Canada has dwindled. Grain companies have consolidated their operations and now much of our grain is shipped from primary elevators to port terminals owned by the same company.

Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission must inspect and weigh all grain received by terminal and transfer elevators. To keep up with the changing environment, the government strongly believes that producer interests are best served by limiting costs and fostering a competitive, efficient grain handling system. Consequently, the government proposes to eliminate mandatory inward inspections and weighing requirements.

The bill would reduce unnecessary mandatory costs from the grain handling system and would work to build a lower-cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. We are reducing the regulatory burden as all costs in the system eventually work their way down to the farmers. This will again result in a less costly system for farmers' benefit.

Nevertheless, inward inspection and weighing do provide value to some producers in some circumstances. The government has proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act that will facilitate private sector delivery of inward services when they are requested. Thus, eliminating the inward inspection and weighing will create business opportunities for private sector providers. It is best left to the shippers themselves to determine when and at what level these services are provided.

As an important and ongoing check on this new arrangement, producers and industry will be able to apply to the Canadian Grain Commission for binding grade arbitration when they are not sure that the right grade has been assigned. The proposed changes will not reduce the capacity to ensure a dependable commodity to buyers of Canadian grain. What is more, international buyers of Canadian grain can rest assured that every overseas vessel will continue to receive the Canadian Grain Commission's certification of grade and weight.

On another topic, the Canadian Grain Commission's producer payment security program has been the subject of debate in the grain sector. Currently, all licensed grain handlers must provide financial security to the Canadian Grain Commission. If licensed grain handlers fail to pay for the grain they have purchased, the Canadian Grain Commission steps in to compensate producers.

Unfortunately, this security program is flawed as it is not 100% effective and adds costs to Canadian grain handling system. These costs negatively affect the competitiveness of Canada's grain sector. We are reducing the regulatory burden. As all costs in the system eventually work their way to farmers, this will result in a less costly system for farmers too.

However, we do recognize that inward inspection provides transactional value in certain circumstances. That is why we are proposing provisions to facilitate private sector delivery of these services when the shipper believes they would add value. Furthermore, producers and industry would have the ability to apply to the Canadian Grain Commission for binding grade arbitration when requested.

To address issues of non-compliance, the Canadian Grain Commission needs additional, simpler means to enforce the Canada Grain Act. That is why this government proposes that the Canada Grain Act be brought under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. This proposed reform follows a recommendation by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food to use monetary penalties to help enforce a grain delivery declaration system.

The bill would provide these tools by allowing for the development of regulations to require grain delivery declarations and the ability to assess penalties against those who declare the content of grain deliveries falsely. These measures will ensure that wheat is properly identified as it moves through the grain handling system and, as such, uphold the grain quality assurance system.

In this environment of change, the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission must be modernized. With these proposed amendments, the Canadian Grain Commission will be better able to provide producers with a more cost effective grain quality assurance system. These amendments are essential to eliminating unnecessary costly regulations to Canada's grain sector.

The government is committed to putting farmers first. The integrity of the Canadian grain quality assurance system and the reliability of Canada brand will be maintained.

The proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission are part of an ongoing modernization of western Canadian grain sector. While historically Canadian grain has been exported as a commodity, it is now increasingly marketed to niche markets and domestic value-added enterprises such as biofuels.

The Canada Grain Act needs to evolve to reflect the changes taking place in the grain sector. The grain sector evolution was accelerated when subsidies for rail transportation, known as the Crow rate, were ended in the 1990s. Since then, prairie agriculture has diversified into a wider variety of crops and has expanded into livestock production. Also, the recent end to KVD has removed a regulatory barrier that prevented western Canadian farmers from accessing high yielding wheats that improve productivity.

In this innovative environment, changes to the Canada Grain Act and Canadian Grain Commission will provide producers with a more cost effective grain quality assurance system. These changes will also help the grain industry to meet the challenges of a more competitive market oriented 21st century.

This government is proposing to clarify the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission in the Canada Grain Act. With a clarification in mandate, the Canada Grain Act will clearly show that the Canadian Grain Commission acts in the interest of grain producers in the specific areas of: delivery access to elevators and grain dealers; access to binding grain grading; and allocation of producer cars.

However, the proposed reforms do not end there.

Over time, there have been extensive changes within the Canadian grain industry. The number of primary elevators in western Canada has decreased significantly. We have seen company consolidations and now much of our grain is shipped from primary elevators to terminal or transfer elevators owned by the same company.

Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission must inspect and weigh all grain received by terminal and transfer elevators. These services are not essential to the grain quality assurance system and impose unnecessary costs.

Hence, the government proposes to remove mandatory requirements for inward inspection and weighing of grain shipments. In so doing, the bill will reduce unnecessary mandatory costs from the grain handling system and work to build a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector.

When I talk to farmers in my riding about the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canada Grain Act, they always wonder why things are done in the manner they are done. They have always ask why we cannot change this or do that. There are a lot of the changes that farmers have asked for and require in the bill in order for them to be profitable in their operations.

What we see happening today is just deplorable. The hoisting of this bill just does not do it for western Canadian farmers. It creates an unfair reality for them. We have asked the opposition parties in good faith to work with the bill in committee. We would like to see the bill move forward into committee.

In conclusion, this bill is very important to western Canadian farmers. I expect this bill to go forward.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and talk about these kinds of issues.

In this corner of the House, the NDP takes no lessons from federal Conservatives about defending western Canadians and western Canadian farmers. In fact, in a very real sense, by putting forward this hoist motion, what we are doing, inadvertently, is saving the Conservatives from the themselves because they have taken for granted the support of western farmers over the last few years.

The Conservatives said that when they became government they would move forward with an agenda that would actually help western farmers. Instead, it is fair to say that the reason more and more New Democrats are being elected in western Canada is because western Canadian farmers are seeing that the Conservative agenda has been very ideological and meanspirited.

Let us look at the record. Since they have come to power, farm receipts now for western Canadian farmers are at the lowest level since the Great Depression. In fact, many farmers in rural communities across western Canada are actually in a negative income situation. We are looking at the highest level of debt for farmers than we have seen since the Great Depression, in real terms of course. It is important to note that the lowest level of farm receipts in the entire country is in the province of Alberta, which has been dominated by provincial Conservatives for the last 30 years. So what is wrong with this picture?

In places like British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba where New Democrats have come to power and had positive, forward looking policies that actually helped western farmers, we have seen that the income crash has not been nearly as significant. Of course farmers in Manitoba are doing the best of all, but in Alberta, where the Conservatives have been in power, farm receipts are the lowest in the country. There is strike one against the Conservatives on how they managed the agricultural file.

Strike two was their meanspirited and ideological attack on the Canadian Wheat Board. What they liked to say was that they would tell farmers in the west what to think and they would tell farmers what they think. What happened? Western farmers had a chance to vote on the Conservative proposals.

There was a straight slate of rabid Conservatives just waiting to dismantle the Wheat Board. They could hardly wait to rip up the Wheat Board, attack the institution, and western farmers overwhelmingly voted for a pro Wheat Board slate and pushed the Conservatives back. That was strike two for Conservatives in western Canada.

Now we have strike three. Even before we talk about Bill C-13, we see that they are not standing up for supply management. I mentioned earlier the whole issue of western farm receipts, that they are at the lowest level since the Great Depression, particularly low where Conservatives are governing because they do not seem to understand agricultural issues or perhaps it is their own ideological bent that means that they mess up the agricultural file.

Supply management and the Wheat Board are now going forward in WTO negotiations. Have they said unequivocally that supply management and the Wheat Board are not on the table? No. We heard today, in fact, that they have missed every opportunity to stand up for supply management, every opportunity to strike back on the working group, that fifth paper that undermines supply management and the Wheat Board. New Zealand was able to get its state trading corporation excluded and the Conservative government was not able to do that.

Let us talk about Bill C-13 or, as the member for Selkirk—Interlake said, Bill C-23.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am confused. The member for Selkirk—Interlake said it was Bill C-23. I am not sure which bill the Conservatives are debating over there. Nor am sure what record they are debating. They seem very confused, which would explain their record. The record has been lamentable when it comes to western farmers. In the next election campaign in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, we will see a record number of New Democrats return because, quite frankly, western farmers have said enough of this rigid ideological agenda.

This brings me to Bill C-13, and I thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake for raising the issue of supply management. He is obviously wrong about this idea that somehow Conservatives are defending supply management. In testimony before the international trade committee today, we heard that they had missed on three occasions the opportunity to get the Wheat Board and to get supply management out of the WTO sellout, which is being foisted on Canada, with Conservative collusion.

Let us talk about the provisions of Bill C-13. This is why I say we are saving the Conservatives from themselves. They are pushing forward this meanspirited attempt to attack the Canadian Grain Commission, but let us look at what exactly they are trying to do. The NDP has put in a hoist motion because we disagree with what they are trying to do. They are telling farmers what is good for them and what they are supposed to think, just like the Wheat Board. I think farmers told them they were wrong on the Wheat Board and farmers are saying they are wrong on the Canadian Grain Commission. What are they wrong with? They are killing the Canadian Grain Commission's inward inspection and weighing service. Why is that bad? Because it leaves grain producers disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies.

Anyone who has grown up in western Canada, like myself, knows full well that there often has been an abuse of power from the grain companies over grain producers in western Canada. In fact, if we go back to the history of how the Grain Commission developed, it was to set up some balance, a level playing field for producers so grain companies, mainly foreign, could not run roughshod over our grain producers.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of the NDP, sprang up in western Canada because grain producers wanted a level playing field. Obviously Conservatives and Liberals were not listening to them, they were only listening to Bay Street. The NDP has always listened to grain producers. That is why we say to kill the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, to kill that opportunity for producers to have an impartial and independent inspection that allows them to offset what the grain companies tell them they will pay for that grain is not a good idea. It is not a good idea to get away from that. It is not a good idea to kill that. It certainly is not in the interests of grain producers to do that.

Bill C-13 would do that. It would away that level playing field for which grain producers have been fighting for decades, with the support of the CCF and now the NDP. Essentially that is the first strike against the bill.

What is the second strike? What else would Bill C-13 do that the Conservatives are so hot to adopt? It would dismantle the grain appeal tribunal. This protects producers and protects the Canadian Wheat Board from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies. This is the very historic roots of western Canadian farming, establishing a balanced system, establishing a system of checks and balances.

We have a Grain Appeal Tribunal and essentially the Conservatives want to rub that out. That is why we are bringing forward the hoist motion. We are actually listening to western producers. We know that having the ability to appeal these decisions of grain companies is a good thing. How a Conservative could feel otherwise, I do not know. I am sure the members on the other side are well-intentioned. I am sure they are reading their speaking notes diligently from the Prime Minister's Office, but policy on western farmers should not be set by the Prime Minister's Office or by a bunch of Ottawa bureaucrats. It should be set by what is fair for producers. That is why producers across the country said yes to the Wheat Board despite the Conservatives' mean-spirited attacks on it.

What else would it do? The other problem with Bill C-13 is that it essentially would eliminate the obligation by these grain companies, some of which are offshore, to post security bonds and ensure that producers would be paid for the product they produced. That absolutely makes sense. That payment security program is absolutely a fundamental part of fairness. If the company does not pay, there needs to be protection in place for grain producers.

Strike three on Bill C-13 is that it would do away with all that. It would do away with that fairness for western producers. It would do away with that fairness for those farmers who have been producing their crops and essentially may not be paid for it.

One might say that the Minister of Agriculture has surely thought of this. There has been some reference to the agriculture committee report that the agriculture minister completely ignored. However, the reality is the agriculture minister, for all his public statements, clearly does not understand how important the payment security program has been.

The minister was publicly quoted as saying that it would only give 30¢ on the dollar. From some reason, 30¢ on the dollar, if that were right, is somehow worse than zero cents, which the Conservatives proposed. It clearly is not right and I will come back to that in a moment because it is important to correct the record. There were no security bonds. If western farmers cannot pay as a big multinational grain company, they are out of luck. They are going to get zero cents on the dollar.

The Minister of Agriculture justified this by saying that the payment security program only gave 30¢ on the dollar, so somehow 30¢ on the dollar is not as good as zero cents on the dollar, which is the offer from the Conservative Party. The trouble is that the agriculture minister is dead wrong. Over the past 10 years, the payment security program has met issuing payments to producers in nine cases of default by grain companies.

Recall that on Bill C-13, the Conservatives do not want any payments or security any more. In those nine cases, producers would be completely out of luck. That is what the Conservatives are bringing to the floor of the House. I see some surprised looks on the other side. Obviously Conservatives were not told this in the prepared speaking notes from the Prime Minister's Office. I hope that means many Conservatives at the end of this debate will vote for the hoist motion and join the NDP in defending western farmers over the course of Parliament.

In nine cases of default by grain companies, payments were issued. In six of the nine, the payment was 100% of claims. It is important, especially for the Conservatives who are getting new information that they obviously did not get from the Prime Minister's Office, to note that. In one to seven, it was 99.8% of claims.

We are now looking at virtually 100% in seven of the nine cases of default by grain companies. A company that went bankrupt in 2002, payment reached 51.4% of claims. Another company that went bankrupt in 2004, payment was just under 30%. I think it is fair to say that Conservatives are sometimes arithmetically challenged, particularly on this file.

Despite the fact that there was one case where it was 30% of claims, if all nine cases are taken together, the total payment is 77.15%. In 77.15% of cases, grain producers who had worked hard to produce their crop, did their due diligence, did all of their work and saw the grain companies default were compensated because of the security bond. The Conservatives want to get rid of that protection that has supported western producers nine times in the last decade.

Let us just look at this for a moment. The government wants to get rid of the security bond so in the next nine or ten cases western producers would get nothing. The government wants to eliminate the Grain Appeal Tribunal.

Vancouver gets a lot of the grain that is shipped across the country. The member for Churchill spoke of the Port of Churchill. She defends and represents northern Manitoba very ably and effectively in the House. Vancouver, which receives the bulk of grain shipments going to Asia, gets up to 100 appeals in a day during peak season. The Conservatives want to get rid of that.

The Conservatives want to get rid of security bonds and protection for grain producers. They want to get rid of the Grain Appeals Tribunal. They want to kill the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, which provides a balanced playing field for producers who deal with grain companies. However, it is not just that.

The inward inspection service also provides Canada with the highest level of quality in the world. Bill C-13 would do away with that service, which would allow for potential mixing with less high quality American wheat. It would diminish our international standing of having the best grain system in the world.

Why would the Conservatives want to mess with something that works? Why would they, in such a ham-fisted way, do away with the institutions that historically were developed to protect western producers and western farmers? The Conservatives will have to answer for that.

That is why we in this corner of the House proposed the hoist motion. Bill C-13 was not well thought out. It was not done in consultation with farmers. It was not done in farmers' interests. It was not done following the agricultural committee report.

Despite what we have heard from Conservatives, the consensus report did not talk about gutting the Canadian Grain Commission. In fact, the consensus report talked about increasing funding. The Conservatives have said nothing about that. They will gut, they will take away, they will rip apart. They will not try to build a better system, and that is the fundamental problem.

I have another minute to go, and I do want to mention something that is important to farmers in British Columbia, and that is the harmonized sales tax, the HST.

The government is forcing the average British Columbia farmer to pay about $500 more in taxes through the HST because of this deal with the devil, which was done with the federal Conservatives working with provincial Liberals. A farming family of four people will pay $2,000 more a year because of the HST, imposed by the federal Conservatives with no consultation.

The Conservatives try to distance themselves and claim they are not responsible, but British Columbians know better. They know the Conservatives are responsible for bringing in the HST. If they want to provide their voice, urban British Columbians will be able to vote in the New Westminster—Coquitlam byelection. All British Columbians will be able to vote shortly in a federal election, whether it is held in the next few months or early 2010. British Columbians will have the final word on whether they support the Conservative HST.

We have no apologies to make to anyone with respect to Bill C-13. It is a bad bill for western farmers and western producers. It does not follow on the agricultural committee recommendations. That is why the NDP has moved this hoist motion to set this off so we can actually get smart agricultural policies to help western producers in the grain trade.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, with a reception like that from my hon. colleague across the floor, I might decide to run in politics some day.

I do want to thank the House for allowing me to speak on this issue. Certainly at the eastern end of the country, it is not as large an industry as it is in places such as western Canada, but there is a multi-million dollar industry for agriculture in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are affectionately nicknamed the rock, so if we can grow it on the rock, my goodness, it just says how good our farmers actually are.

To a great degree, that certainly does put me in a unique position, to say the least, so I would like to thank again all my hon. colleagues for allowing me this time.

I would also like to say that the principle reason for supporting a hoist motion which will effectively remove Bill C-13 from the order paper for this session is that the government has known for more than a year that all three opposition parties have expressed strong opposition not to reforming and improving the Canada Grain Commission, but to being complicit in its undermining and ineffectiveness. Therein lies the gist of the hoist motion to take this from the order paper.

There is a history of that type of mechanism here in the House that we have used on occasion. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago we moved it during the introduction of the Fisheries Act. There was a tremendous amount of opposition toward it, and not only opposition but questions as to how it would affect each and every person. Instead this thing was rammed down the fishermen's throats in much the same way that we are seeing a pattern that continues with this particular situation now with Bill C-13.

In this particular situation, we see a similar pattern occurring here, because what the hoist motion does is take it away for a while. We can then consult with it and bring it across the country as a good starting point for the type of effective changes that we need. In this particular case, that is why we support the hoist motion.

Our concerns with the legislation are these.

The government has to date shown no inclination to amend the legislation, in spite of the fact that during debate on Bill C-13's predecessor bill, Bill C-39 in February 2008, the official opposition as well as the Bloc and the NDP raised the concerns referred to above, indicating clearly the need for consequential amendments.

On the issue of the producer payment security program, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, who is responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, told this House that while the government is eliminating the practice of CGC holding security deposits from grain dealers, under the producer payment program, he confirmed that the government has developed an alternative:

We understand and we know that there are concerns across the country with regard to these proposals.

The issue remains that the legislation, as it stands, will eliminate this provision without any alternative being established to replace it.

The Minister of Agriculture himself, according to a broadcast news wire story from March 5, is reported to have stated that the government will only remove the producer payment protection program when a better alternative is in place. That is interesting.

In fact the Minister of Agriculture was quoted directly in The Western Producer from March 12, when he answered a direct question as to whether farmers would be protected in relation to the bonding issue. He said:

Absolutely. We're not going to leave you hanging with nothing. We'll keep the program that's existing in place until something new comes along.

Here is what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture acknowledged as the flawed nature of the legislation. This is from page 1214:

We understand and we know that there are concerns across the country with regard to these proposals, and we are certainly more than willing to work with the opposition at committee.

That is what is interesting, “at committee”. What the minister has said is not that Bill C-13 needs amending, but that a key element in this bill cannot proceed given the failure of the government to develop an alternative.

The question is this. Can the minister and the government be trusted not to implement the removal of the bonding issue until a better alternative is in place?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Yes, he wins hopefully some day good governance.

The government had the opportunity to make the changes to the legislation a year ago when we called for it, and it has failed to do so. As a matter of fact, I think the term is miserably.

Remember that this is the same government that violated the law in its effort to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board. It has refused to allow western grain farmers to have a vote, a plebiscite, to determine the future of the CWB. Trust is not something that we have in the current government, especially on this specific issue.

The minister is already claiming he is about to amend his own legislation, although, if the bill is passed, this so-called commitment will not be contained in the legislation. On the issue of inward inspections, the government has indicated it is removing the role of the CGC.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, in a unanimous report, acknowledged that mandatory inward inspection is not a universal requirement, while outward inspection and weighing is. The committee stated in its report, again one supported unanimously, that:

...several strong factors seem to support optional inward inspection; the inward inspection requirement is already not universal; optional inspection would not affect producer rights of access to the terminal and [for emphasis] producers and the Canadian Wheat Board should not be unduly affected financially if a proper publicly supported infrastructure and pricing system are put into place in light of the public benefits of maintaining an inward inspection capability.

The fact is that while the government is removing the inward inspection provision, the work called for by the committee has never been done, despite what has been happening.

A recent study of the Canadian Grain Commission found the following issues with respect to the loss of the inward inspection. I would point out to my hon. colleagues that this is a very important point.

Inward weighing and inspection that would still be required would be less trustworthy and more expensive.

The grain system would lose an important early detection system for contaminated grain. Eliminating inward inspection by public officials would increase the likelihood of contaminated grain being co-mingled with larger quantities of clean grain. Shipments to Canadian and U.S. markets would lose an important level of protection against contamination. Grain shipped to these markets could bypass official inspection.

Inward inspection provides quality assurance information that makes outward inspection more efficient and certainly more cost effective, in this particular case.

Replacing public sector inspectors with private contractors--which is quite prevalent nowadays, some to the positive and certainly some to the negative, but at this point I will stick to the negative--many of whom would be reliant upon private grain companies for business, would undermine the perceived reliability of the information derived from inward inspection.

With respect to the diminished role of the CGC, the study prepared by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found, for example, with respect to the port of Vancouver, the following problem, bearing in mind Vancouver and Prince Rupert, as of December 2007, moved almost 1.2 million tonnes of grain through its facilities.

At a typical Vancouver elevator, CGC weighers routinely process the unloading of 5 to 100 rail cars during a shift. Documentation on these cars, the parcels, weights and anomalies, and other relevant information, is provided by the weigher to the elevator at the end of each day. Such information is very important, not just in the event of disagreements, but in the routine operations of the elevators. It is unclear how this data would be gathered, and by whom, if public inward inspection were eliminated.

The government has to explain why it has decided, prior to the legislation to downgrade, as expressed in the estimates for the commission under the section which describes the activity as providing “consistent and reliable grain quality”, as we talked about before, “and grain safety assurance to meet the needs of domestic and international markets”, the forecast spending for 2011-12 will be $23.4 million. In 2007, the planned spending was $50.2 million. By the CGC's own records, the government will reduce the ability of the CGC to do its job by a whopping $26.8 million.

The staffing at CGC will be reduced from 664 in 2007-08 to 421 in 2009-10.

Bill C-13 would remove the ability of producers who appeal through the grain appeal tribunal. According to a recent Library of Parliament study, under the provisions of the Canada Grain Act, a person dissatisfied with the initial grading may have up to three appeals under the act. Under the scheme which is proposed now in Bill C-13, a person dissatisfied with the grade, an inspector assigned, would have just one appeal and that, of course, would be to the chief grain inspector or his or her delegate.

These are the fundamental reasons the Liberals agree in principle with what is happening with the hoist amendment.

Indeed, under the provisions of the bill, the chief commissioner or any person delegated by the chief commissioner, which is an indication of the ability to possibly contract out that particular responsibility, will have the authority on any appeal. At the same time, Bill C-13 would remove the ability of farmers to have recourse to the courts.

However, according to a Library of Parliament analysis of the use of provisions such as those we talked about that are contained in Bill C-13 which attempt to remove the ability of farmers to have recourse to the courts, the issue is not that clear cut.

According to the Library of Parliament report, the wording of the privative clause in Bill C-13 appears on its face to preclude any appeal or review of a decision of the chief grain inspector. However, that is not the effect the clause would have.

The Library of Parliament states, based upon its research that Parliament and the provinces may not, through legislation, preclude the superior courts from exercising their supervisory jurisdiction. At a minimum, the government must carefully reconsider its attempt to restrict the ability of Canadians, the courts in the face of clear evidence that it might not be able to legitimately do so.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food called for a comprehensive cost benefit report from the government on the proposed changes the government was suggesting, and that was in 2006, with respect to the changes in service for grain inspection. To date, no such report has been produced by the government as to the real impacts of their changes on the primary producers specifically.

The government has indeed failed to produce that report. Yet again this is more evidence why more information and consultation is needed, which belies the true spirit of what we normally call a hoist amendment or, as some people from the east coast of the country would call affectionately, giving it the boot.

Even though this legislation has not received even second reading, the chief commissioner of the CGC, according to a report in The Western Producer, published February 23, 2009, sent a letter to industry indicating that it would end inspection services at prairie primary elevators this summer and would close three service centres and reduce staff.

The transition away from on-site inspection services means that the CGC will no longer provide official grading and weighing on grain shipments from the Prairies to terminal facilities nor for export shipments to the United States or domestic mills.

In essence, before Bill C-13 has been approved by Parliament, the CGC has decided to begin implementing the reduction in services it provides to western grain producers. That is very important. If nothing else, this is a demonstration of contempt for the legislative process by the chief commissioner of the CGC.

As a final point of concern, the minister announced that as of August 1 KVD will be removed. That is kernel visual distinguishability. It will be removed, according to what the minister announced on August 1. The minister was warned in January by senior officials, just weeks before his announcement of February 11, that farmers could suffer a negative impact of this removal and Canada's reputation for quality grain could indeed be undermined. The reason given by the officials, including his own deputy minister, was that no adequate system has been developed to replace the KVD.

The western grain industry needs a strong CGC. What is currently proposed in Bill C-13 is a worst case scenario. Removing the CGC from both inward and outward inspections is next to worst because it considerably weakens the role that the CGC plays.

Therefore, the following amendments should be made to Bill C-13: one, CGC-administered producer security should be reinstated; and two, if inward inspection becomes optional, the CGC should accredit and audit private service providers who would be responsible for inward inspection. A key part of this accreditation and audit process will be to institute clear CGC accountability for differences between inward and outward risk.

Therefore, I conclude that part of my speech by outlining three essential elements.

One, our support for the hoist motion is a signal to the government that it cannot simply bring in legislation which it is well aware does not enjoy the support of the House without any effort made at all to amend it.

Two, Bill C-13 is Bill C-39 from the previous Parliament. Remember that legislation was debated more than a year ago and the debate clearly indicated the government should reconsider its direction on undermining the CGC. It had a year to do so and it has failed to take that opportunity. This particular vote is not a vote against reform of the CGC, but it is indeed a vote against the arrogance of the government.

Let me illustrate that by bringing up a point about a particular case with the hoist amendment and what we did prior to this, about two years ago. I will go back to an example that we use. The lack of consultation was so pervasive. It became abundantly clear upon introduction in the House, as producers in the case of this bill, or fishermen in the case of the Fisheries Act, called us time and time again with questions and concerns. We were inundated at the time. The big thing was that the Conservatives insisted that consultation was taking place. We called the people whose names were provided to us and they said that was not necessarily the case; all they had received was a letter informing them what to do. Therein lies the arrogance.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

It is getting serious, as my hon. colleague across the way can attest to. This is a serious issue.

The problem with this and I commend the NDP, the fourth party in the House, as I have affectionately called it before, for doing this. We agree with it. During the talk about the new Fisheries Act, the NDP members too were with us so it was a re-run of Kill Bill volume one and Kill Bill volume two, I suppose.

I would implore the House to do the most responsible thing which is to take this piece of legislation, Bill C-13, not much change since Bill C-39, off the order paper. Bring it to the producers and the stakeholders involved. They will certainly give it a good vetting. In that way we will have the confidence when returning to the House that we do have the support of the vast majority of the producers and the industry. That way the amendments that the Conservatives so earnestly seek to achieve would be done with a broad consultation. They may complain it may take a little more time and it may cause a few headaches among the bureaucrats in Ottawa, but certainly at the end of the day we can hold it up as a gem, something that is going to be crystal clear, something that is going to be used for the benefit of all agricultural interests across this country.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently as my friend from Newfoundland talked about a bill that largely affects western Canada.

As a farmer myself and former chair of the agriculture committee that studied this issue originally, I find it rather absurd to suggest shelving the bill for the next six months with the hoist amendment proposed by the NDP. It is even more troubling to hear him suggest that we need to go through a whole round of hearings again.

That is exactly why we have committees. We already had a whole process of hearings, talking to stakeholders and talking to producers. We already had the solid recommendations supported by all parties in the House to move forward with the recommendations that are in Bill C-13.

Now the member is suggesting that was not good enough. If he actually lets the bill come to full debate at second reading and send it off to committee, then we can do a fulsome study as we do with all legislation when it comes before committee.

Then the stakeholders can again be called forward to talk about the bill. There are always a few that are out there who are concerned about it, but largely it is time to get moving on this legislation, making the changes and modernizing the Canadian Grain Commission.

The only way we can do that is if Bill C-13, which industry, producers and stakeholders want to see, moves forward so that we can have that debate, make the necessary amendments that are needed rather than playing games which the member suggested.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2009 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague certainly has a valid point when it comes to the issue of bonding. There is no doubt about it. There are many mid-level and smaller producers in that particular situation. In my case, they are mostly harvesters in the fishing industry. Many of them become exposed to all of the losses at the upper levels. That is an unfortunate part about it.

In his speech, my hon. colleague for Malpeque said that it changes the mandate from being in the interests of producers to being in the interests of the industry. He talked about one other thing and this will add some credence to what my hon. colleague from the NDP is talking about. He did mention that the hoist amendment came in several months ago. In that period of time, the message was that we needed some fundamental changes, more so than what the government was considering. Nothing was done. It is a pattern that has been going on for three years now.

The reason why the opposition is taking such a strong stand against the bill is the government's failure when it comes to primary producers. Nowhere is that evidence of failure more clear than this particular bill, which is a rehash of the last one, going from Bill C-13 to Bill C-39.

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October 8th, 2009 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act.

However, it is a sad day, in fact, a very sad day when the opposition plays games once again with the livelihood of western grain farmers with this motion to hoist this very important bill.

The facts are simple, Canadian farm families deserve to be treated equally across the country, but the current legislation forces western Canadian producers to pay costs that are not imposed in other regions. It sounds kind of like the Wheat Board, which also applies only to western Canadian farmers, but yet the opposition seems so intent on forcing it on western Canadian farmers.

Bill C-13 would contribute to building a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. This legislation is based on the agriculture committee report the opposition parties helped to write.

Conservative MPs on the agriculture committee, including myself, are ready and willing to get down to work, to roll up our sleeves, and work on Bill C-13 at the agriculture committee. It is just too bad the opposition parties are not willing to do that work and treat all regions equally. It is what our farmers would expect.

In committee there will be ample opportunities to work on this bill, but the opposition has decided to collude to hoist this bill which will essentially kill the bill to the detriment of our western grain farmers.

The amendments the government is proposing to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission are evidence of our commitment to grain producers. Canada's quality assurance system for grain provides a key competitive advantage for our farmers. The amendments we are proposing would build on that competitive advantage.

When our global customers choose Canadian grain for processing, they count on consistent quality and cleanliness with every delivery. This world-class reputation that our Canadian grains enjoy around the globe has been earned. First and foremost it has been earned through the hard work of our farmers, but grain handling companies, research scientists and the Canadian Grain Commission have also played a role in building that golden reputation.

Our edge in the marketplace is all about quality. Much of the responsibility for the quality of Canadian grain resides with the Canadian Grain Commission and the quality assurance system it administers under the Canada Grain Act.

The grain industry is changing, and the legislative tools required to keep the industry competitive need to change along with that. The Canada Grain Act has not changed substantially in almost 40 years, but the marketplace has certainly evolved.

We have a major new customer for grains in the form of the biofuels industry, supported by initiatives put in place by this Conservative government. We have quality management systems to allow parcels of grain with specific qualities wanted by buyers to be kept separate through the handling system. We have niche marketing and processing of grains in Canada, and we now have a broader range, in fact, a much broader range of crops in western Canada.

In the mid-1990s, the reform of the Western Grain Transportation Act triggered a wholesale diversification as some producers opted to switch to other crops, such as oilseeds, pulse crops and horticultural crops. Today, wheat accounts for only one-third of our crop land. In the 1950s, three-quarters of our land was in wheat.

Some of the changes being proposed include: inward inspection and weighing of grains will no longer be mandatory. There is no reason to require something that is not necessary, particularly when the cost comes out of the bottom line of farmers in the grain industry.

Currently, the Grain Commission is required to inspect and weigh each railcar or truck lot of western grain that is received by licensed terminal elevators. The industry has been calling for change in this area for some years now because the mandatory inspections impose costs and they are not essential to ensure grain quality.

Inward inspection and weighing will no longer be mandatory. Instead, shippers of grain will be able to request an inspection at their discretion, letting them choose when they feel the benefit justifies the cost.

Elevators would also be required to allow access to private inspectors when an inspection is requested, and the Canadian Grain Commission would be authorized to provide grade arbitration if the parties to a transaction request it. This means that if there is a dispute about the grade, the Canadian Grain Commission would be available to impartially determine the grade.

Let us be clear. This does not mean grain would go through the system without inspection. Outward inspection would still be required when grain is loaded into vessels for overseas export. Export vessel shipments would continue to require certification by the Canadian Grain Commission based on inspection and weighing by Canadian Grain Commission personnel.

With the bill in place, our customers will be assured that they can continue to have confidence in Canada's grain quality assurance system. The Canadian Grain Commission would continue to regulate the grain handling system for the benefit of our producers. It would continue to license grain handlers and dealers. It would continue to require them to have proper grading and weighing equipment and to properly document purchases, and continue to ensure that producers have access to grade arbitration by the Canadian Grain Commission.

The bill would actually enhance farmer protection by extending Canadian Grain Commission grade and dockage arbitration to farmers delivering to process elevators and grain dealers. Currently, if a producer disagrees with the grade or dockage for a grain delivery at a licensed primary elevator, the producer can ask the Canadian Grain Commission to determine the grade and dockage and make a binding decision. The grain producer is paid according to this decision. The bill before us proposes to extend this service to deliveries to all licensed grain handlers, including process elevators and grain dealers.

Farmers have never had this protection before and with these amendments we have put farmers first, which I would call the opposition parties to do as well. It is simply shameful that the three opposition parties will not consider the interests of farmers first. They have shown time and time again that they just do not care about the concerns, wants or needs of western farmers.

Let me delve into a few other examples. The opposition members had the opportunity to stand up for farmers but, once again, failed to do so. I want to talk about a vote we had just this week on Bill C-51 and an element contained in that bill. It has been a brutal year for producers in parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta particularly. Producers in west central Saskatchewan got off to a very poor start due to a dry fall and very low snow coverage. This was compounded by a cool, dry spring, resulting in low water supplies and poor pasture and hay growth. Things were certainly no better in my part of the world, in central Alberta, where producers faced seeding without any significant rainfall since the summer of 2008.

There is no denying that the risks and unpredictability of farming will always be there. The last thing a producer who is battling drought needs is a bill from the taxman. That is why the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Finance worked together on provisions to allow those producers, forced to sell off their breeding animals due to the drought, to defer the tax on that income for one year. In 2009, we proposed to expand the program to include areas hard hit by excess moisture.

For 2009, the ministers have already announced tax deferrals for producers and some of the municipalities hardest hit by the drought in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and areas where excess moisture is a big problem in Manitoba. This will help producers in these areas replenish breeding stock in the following year. However, yet again, the opposition Liberals voted against the best interests of western Canadian farmers.

Let me talk about one other area where this is the case, and that is the Wheat Board. Again, this only applies to western farmers and yet we have members from other parts of the country who seem to have decided that they know better and they know what is best for western Canadian grain farmers. They think they know better than the farmers what they should do with their products and the choices that they should be able to make for the market, and they want to limit those choices.

Our government wants to see farmers choose how they market their products, whether they choose to use the Wheat Board to market their products or whether they choose to sell those products on their own. That is a fundamental right that everybody in this country should enjoy and yet opposition parties tell us that western farmers just cannot decide for themselves.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2009 / 11:05 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004.

This bill is exactly the same as former Bill C-39. The number C-13 may be unlucky, because the government does not seem to have learned from its mistakes. The previous bill had serious shortcomings. My speech today will focus on many aspects of the bill that should be improved so that it better serves grain producers and the industry.

Canada is in the midst of an economic crisis. Since the government introduced Bill C-39, we have learned that there will be job losses related to the proposed changes to the Canadian Grain Commission. It is expected that jobs will be lost because of the elimination of the Grain Appeal Tribunal, the end of registration and the cancellation of receipts, and the end of inspections and mandatory weigh-overs. In all these areas where the government wants to make changes, jobs will clearly be lost. This does not come as good news at a time when thousands of jobs are being lost. Passing this bill will unfortunately cause collateral damage, to use more military language, and people will find themselves on employment insurance.

The job losses will be concentrated in the ports of Vancouver and Thunder Bay. Jobs will also be lost in Winnipeg, mainly in inspection. In the longer term, other jobs could be cut in other regions, including Quebec. Grain is weighed and assessed in the ports of Montreal and Quebec City.

The most telling proof that this bill is a product of the Conservative ideology is that the government has not followed a single one of the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, a committee on which you, Mr. Speaker, have had the pleasure of sitting for some time and where we have had the opportunity to work together. That committee examined Bill C-39 and made recommendations. It also studied a report from Group Compass Canada. The government has changed not one word in Bill C-39, now Bill C-13.

There are, therefore, a number of elements of uncertainty in this bill. We must remain vigilant. The reform of the Canadian Grain Commission is taking place in a specific context. We know the Conservatives are trying their best to dismantle the collective marketing mechanisms that protect the interests of producers. I am thinking of course of such things as the Canadian Wheat Board, but also of everything surrounding the current Doha round of negotiations in Geneva. Moreover, once again last July there was a text on the table that placed the supply management system in jeopardy. That text was studied by seven countries, but Canada was not one of them. We did, however, have two ministers there, the present Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the former Minister of International Trade, Michael Fortier, who was not re-elected.

The two of them were in Geneva to follow the discussions. The text that was on the table placed the supply management system in jeopardy. At the end of the negotiations, which fortunately did not result in an agreement between the countries, the two ministers expressed disappointment that it had not. Understandably, the sword of Damocles is still hanging over the heads of supply-managed farmers, and I need hardly tell hon. members there are very many such farmers in Quebec. The supply management system accounts for over 40% of Quebec's agricultural economy.

That being the case, great vigilance is required when we are examining any government bills relating to agriculture. What is more, the Conservative government has appointed a friend of the minister to head the Canadian Grain Commission. One might well wonder whether the new commissioner will defend the producers' interests or the minister's, particularly since the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission has been modified. It is no longer required to act in favour of producers.

It was clearly written into the commission's mandate, yet it has disappeared from the bill. Any time bills deal with issues that directly affect producers, our focus should continue to be the economic health of agricultural producers.

I was talking about the chief commissioner, Elwin Hermanson, a former Reform Party member from 1993 to 1997. The Minister of Agriculture was Mr. Hermanson's campaign manager in 1993 when he first ran for election, and from 1993 to 1997, the minister was the constituency office coordinator for Mr. Hermanson, who appeared before the committee. In any case, while I do not mean to impute any motives, we can nevertheless ask ourselves if the head of the commission will have our producers' interests, first and foremost, in mind.

The government is implementing some recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, such as modernizing the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission. One might now wonder if it did so correctly. I want to make it clear that, based on the speeches I have heard from my various colleagues and what we have also talked about in committee, everyone agrees that the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate must be modernized. The question we must now ask, and what we need to gauge here today is this: does Bill C-13 address the worries and concerns that have been raised, any more than Bill C-39 did in the past?

The Bloc Québécois is skeptical about some of these measures. That is important to note. We are skeptical about the elimination of the Grain Appeal Tribunal and the payment security program, because we do not know what will replace it. The Bloc Québécois also condemns the fact that the government has not introduced an office of grain farmer advocacy, as the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommended. I will have more time later to talk about some of the committee recommendations that have not been included in this bill.

What does the bill do? The government is changing the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission in such a way that, in addition to the interests of grain producers, the commission would also consider the interests of the industry as a whole, including grain processors.

In order to clarify the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate, it will be split into two parts by Bill C-13. Part one will set out the CGC's core mandate to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets. Part two will establish that the CGC shall specifically protect producer interests with respect to deliveries to elevators and grain dealers, access to binding CGC determination of the grade and dockage of grain deliveries, and the allocation of producer cars.

At present, the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission is to, in the interests of producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets.

I would like to point out that clause 3 of Bill C-13 amends section 13 of the Canada Grain Act by removing the words “in the interests of producers” from the object to establish and maintain “standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets”.

As we stated earlier, like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, the Bloc Québécois supports modernization of the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate. Our party recognizes that the commission must be able to consider broader interests, such as public health, preserving the enviable reputation of Canadian grain producers, and other interests.

The Bloc Québécois is also sensitive to the concerns of grain producers who believe that Bill C-13 is drafted in such a way as to reduce the protection it affords grain producers. It should be understood that since Bill C-39 was first introduced before the election was called, therefore dying on the order paper, much water has flowed under the bridge. We have had all kinds of meetings, correspondence, telephone calls, visits from different people affected by the changes to the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission.

That gave us a chance to weigh the pros and the cons of this bill. The cons are definitely adding up.

The National Farmers Union has told us that it is essential to preserve the language of the existing Act, which includes the expression “in the interests of producers”, to describe the purpose of the Canadian Grain Commission and the standards of quality in the regulations respecting grain handling operations in Canada. In fact, the first recommendation in the COMPAS report was as follows:

The Standing Committee supports a redefined mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission as more in line with the practical reality of the Canadian grain industry and it recommends that any eventual bill clearly protect the interests of grain producers.

We know that the Conservative government is allergic to collective marketing mechanisms and instruments that enable producers to earn a fair market return. Deregulation and reducing constraints on the free market are key elements of their ideology, elements that, unfortunately, come through in this bill, as I will demonstrate.

The Canadian Grain Commission must not become another Canadian Food Inspection Agency. That organization has lost a lot of credibility over the past few years because it has been forced to choose between the two components of its dual mandate. Agricultural producers in Quebec and Canada are quite right to distrust this government, which has set its sights on the Canadian Grain Commission. It is clear that deregulating everything under the sun has not produced the desired results with respect to protecting producers.

The Bloc Québécois is ready to look at what can be done with the Canadian Grain Commission's mission. We are ready to do that. Can a bill like this really be amended? A lot of people have their doubts.

One of the problems with this bill is that it suggests that an office of grain farmer advocacy is no longer necessary. I strongly disagree. As for the protection of the interests of agricultural producers, we deplore the fact that the government rejected the third recommendation of the parliamentary committee, proposing the establishment of an office of grain farmer advocacy that would have reported directly to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

One might wonder if this is not another sign that the government wants to divest itself of any responsibility and thus deregulate the services of the Canadian Grain Commission. The mandate of the office of grain farmer advocacy, whose role would be similar to that of an ombudsman, would be to ensure that producers understand their rights under the act, and to defend their interests in disputes with other stakeholders.

We had a short briefing, an information session, with officials on this, and I asked a question on this very subject. I can report that I was not at all satisfied with the answer.

Like the parliamentary committee, we think that such an office would have ensured that the interests of producers are defended in disputes with the other stakeholders involved, including the Canadian Grain Commission. We believe that the communication, consultation, liaison and complaint investigation responsibilities assumed by such an office would have strengthened Canada's grain quality assurance system.

Another problem is the elimination of grain appeal tribunals. What does this bill do? The grain appeal tribunal hears the complaints of grain producers and companies that are not satisfied with the grades given by the commission's inspectors. The chair of the tribunal is an authorized grain inspector, but acting at arm's length. The other members of the tribunal come from the grain industry.

The tribunal's position within the Canadian Grain Commission limits its legitimacy and perceived effectiveness. Moreover, clause 14 of the bill proposes to abolish grain appeal tribunals, which are currently established under sections 35 to 38 of the Canada Grain Act. From a reading of clause 31, on page 12, the proposed subsection 70(5), we understand that, in case of a disagreement over a ruling made by the chief inspector—who is the first level of appeal—grain producers will no longer be able to turn to the grain appeal tribunal. They will have to turn to the regular courts. Hon. members will understand that the message being sent to producers is quite simply that that have to fend for themselves, using their own money, as if they had any to spare, and defend themselves before the courts. That not only can be very costly, it can also take a very long time before a ruling comes down. We know all the things that can slow down the regular courts.

We note that the parliamentary committee did not address this issue. The COMPAS report commented that the Canadian Grain Commission's “grain appeal tribunal has earned some plaudits for effectiveness”.

COMPAS continued, “Our impression is that the Tribunal is respected for its role in grading disputes, although at times some stakeholders sensed excessive influence on the part of the Office of the Chief Inspector.” We heard that in committee as well. It was also stated that there is always room for modernization and improvement, but in my opinion that does not mean abolishing the tribunal. The Bloc Québécois awaits the government's explanations for this amendment.

Then there is the elimination of inspection and mandatory inward weighing, which is what the bill would do. Weighing and inspection of grain is carried out by the Canadian Grain Commission and is mandatory on bulk shipments overseas but optional for container movement or for exports to the United States.

Inward inspections are the weighing and grading that take place when railcars or trucks arrive at transfer elevators or terminal elevators. The Canadian Grain Commission then provides third-party weighing so as to forestall errors and to provide assurance to producers.

With its Bill C-13, the government is proposing that inward inspections take place only at the request of the shipper, but that outward weighing and shipping remain mandatory. Terminal and transfer elevator operators will be required to allow access to service providers who will do the weighing and inspection.

While the Canadian Grain Commission will no longer be involved in the delivery of this optional service, both shippers and elevator operators will have access to binding Canadian Grain Commission arbitration in the event of dispute over a grain grade.

Like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Bloc Québécois supports optional inward inspection, as proposed by the government. We have been told that inward inspection is no longer universally required. According to COMPAS, “About half of railcars unloading at terminal elevators originate at primary elevators of the same company.”

Rather than proceeding with complete deregulation, we should find a compromise for such cases, perhaps continuing to pay the costs for those who opt for this inspection. However, we also have questions about food safety inspections. I will come back to that if there is time.

We also agree with the arguments presented in the committee report to the effect that the Canadian Grain Commission could abandon kernel visual distinguishability when this method is replaced by one that is more efficient, according to recommendations 5 to 7 of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Contracting out of inspection services must be evaluated in a pilot project and the government, after three years, must evaluate the real impact.

We must be careful, however. Since inward inspection is optional, this could increase unit costs and prices by decreasing economies of scale. Making it optional would likely put smaller grain companies that do not have a terminal elevator at a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness. Inspection and weighing fees are collected from the farmer at the primary elevator. Optional inward inspection would benefit larger companies that have a terminal elevator by allowing them to avoid payment of the fees and offer a better price to farmers. Grain companies that have a better geographic location will be in a better position to take advantage of mixed shipments.

It is therefore important to promote competition in the grain handling system by helping the smaller companies. That is why we believe that the Canadian Grain Commission must have sufficient funding so that the commission can maintain efficient and timely services for both producers and smaller handlers who need such services for transactional purposes.

There are many other elements I could talk about, but I will just mention certain irritants in this bill. As I said, we received a huge amount of correspondence indicating that there were serious flaws in this bill. For example, the Agriculture Union said that if Bill C-13 were passed, some 200 commission employees, most of them front-line service providers, would lose their jobs.

The Agriculture Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, represents most of the employees of the Canadian Grain Commission. Obviously, these people met with us and shared their concerns.

I also want to mention that I have here a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that talks about the problems with this bill. The report is entitled Threatened Harvest.

It is important that the members of this House be aware of this report and the other elements that show that Bill C-13 has huge flaws.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2009 / 11:25 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague very much for his question.

At the end of my speech, I spoke of the report that was presented. Bill C-13 does take food safety into account. We are aware of the possibility of certain risks. According to the report, Bill C-13 is forgetting the lessons learned about the danger of reducing public inspections. The bill would, in fact, eliminate the independent governmental inspection of grain delivered to the main silos in Canada, and would leave the grain companies free to organize their own inspections.

Not wishing to rub salt into any wounds, I would point out that this was exactly what we learned in committee. We were told that a permanent employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was let go because he provided his union with a document indicating that the government was preparing to deregulate, and in fact had already begun, as far as the number of inspectors was concerned. We are all aware of what happened in the listeriosis crisis. There is reason for the general public, and the consumers of food items, be they meat or grain, to be very worried about the direction the government is taking with respect to food safety.

“Keeping pesticide-treated grain, glass, rodent excreta and other dangerous contaminants out of Canada’s food grain system is too important a responsibility to hand to grain companies,” said Scott Sinclair, senior researcher for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study I mentioned earlier. We certainly have reason to be concerned about this government's policy.

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April 2nd, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I, too, listened to the member's remarks and appreciated them. As well, I appreciate the tremendous work that this member does on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

I know that he was there during the original hearings that we had on the Canadian Grain Commission. In the last Parliament the government introduced Bill C-39. There was a lot of opposition to Bill C-39 and it died on the order paper. I would have thought that the government, by introducing Bill C-13, would have changed the bill to accommodate those concerns, and there are many. I outlined them in my remarks earlier.

I think the key concern is that the bottom line principle in Bill C-39, previously, and Bill C-13, now, changes the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission from being in the interests of producers to being in the interest of industry.

This Canadian Grain Commission has been around for a long time. In fact, it has put Canada as the number one reliable supplier of quality grains in the world. This undermines our being a quality grain supplier, but more so undermines the protection for producers.

Is the government just not listening? Does it not care about producers? How is this government bill going over in Quebec relative to that issue? I wonder if the member could comment.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2009 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is once again a pleasure to be here in front of a full House. I am sure I will get a standing ovation from all of my colleagues after my speech.

I am happy to speak to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act. As has been said earlier on, the all-party Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food had made a number of recommendations. For example, it recommended that any eventual bill clearly protect the interests of grain producers. We are seeing that this bill does not address that explicitly. Another recommendation was to conduct a cost benefit analysis of contracting out services prior to any further movement on this issue. Of course, this has not yet been done.

Another recommendation was to support pilot projects in contracting out services for grain inspection. In other words, to try and see on a small scale if this would work. To my knowledge, this has not yet been done. Another recommendation was for the Canada Grain Commission to receive adequate funding to improve its services, particularly regarding the flexibility of authorizing overtime. We have not seen any substantial increase in funding for the Canada Grain Commission.

All members of all parties recommended that the federal government report back to the standing committee prior to the tabling of new grain legislation on the various models that could be implemented for protecting grain farmers. As we see, to date, this had not been done.

As we debate this bill, the question we have to ask ourselves here is: Are we moving ahead without the proper groundwork? Are we moving ahead without having conducted the necessary study and evaluation of what this could mean for the history of the grain industry in Canada?

After studying the report, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food tabled a report in the House, and many of the recommendations in that report are reflected in the bill. The committee recommended first and foremost that any eventual bill clearly protect the interests of grain producers. Bill C-13 makes major changes to the structure of the CGC that have producers afraid that the commission will not be required to act for the benefit of the grain industry as a whole. There is a difference here: by putting the interests of grain companies and farmers on the same footing, the government is not taking into account the power imbalance between them.

Bill C-13 does not provide for creating an independent office of grain farmer advocacy, as the committee recommended in order to protect producers' interests. If the commission does not have the authority to act decisively for the benefit of producers, the grain companies will try, slowly but surely, to have it eliminated completely.

Once again, we see this bill as a step toward the deregulation of the agri-food industry here in Canada. We must be very careful before making such a decision.

Instead of helping Canada's grain producers in these troubled economic times, the amendments to the Grain Act could and would shift the purpose of the Grain Act away from protecting producers' interests and expose them to financial harm by eliminating the requirement for grain buyers to post security bonds.

It would also dismantle the Grain Appeal Tribunal, which protects producers from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies, and eliminates the commission's services that independently determines the quality and quantity of grain delivered, returning producers to the position of not knowing if they are receiving fair payment.

Agriculture union president Bob Kingston says:

These changes will hurt grain producers just like the Conservative’s effort to strip farmer control of the Canadian Wheat Board. They also threaten the quality advantage Canadian producers enjoy over competitors.

The Canadian Grain Commission has served as an independent arbitrator working to settle disputes when they arise about the quality and quantity of grain that producers bring to the market. Typically this function protects producers and makes sure that they are fairly paid by the powerful companies which buy and export.

Canada's reputation for top quality grain is protected by the grain inspection services supplied by the Grain Commission. We understand that if this bill is accepted, there will be around 200 jobs lost, in other words, inspectors who are there to ensure quality and to protect Canadian citizens and our customers.

The commission also provides independent, objective and comprehensive information about the quality and quantity of Canadian grain that is crucial to the international marketing efforts of the Canadian Wheat Board.

The proposal that we have before us would diminish the Canadian Grain Commission by killing the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, leaving producers disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies when it comes to determining grain weight and grade.

With a loss of the commission's weighing and grading service, producers may not be paid for the quantity and quality of grain delivered. Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission routinely revises upward grain grades and corrects quantity measurements, resulting in fair payment to producers. While producers have the option to hire a private company to grade and weigh their grain under the Conservative proposal, no companies capable of this task exist today, so once again we are moving forward without crossing the t's and dotting the i's.

We do not have a plan. We have not done the research to ensure there will be no problems if we move ahead with this bill.

Another point of this bill will eliminate the requirement for grain buyers to post security bonds and expose grain producers to financial harm in the event of grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay. It also dismantles the Grain Appeal Tribunal, which protects producers and the Canadian Wheat Board from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies.

In Vancouver alone it is normal for more than 100 appeals to be launched in a day. These changes may result in increased costs to producers with a shift to a for profit service delivery model.

I would just like to emphasize that the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian Wheat Board's collective marketing strategies that we have developed exist to protect producers, often from the profit-making motivations of the large multinationals. We have seen that before and we see that today.

What is also disturbing is that Bill C-13 poses a risk to Canada's international reputation. Our grain is in demand because no other country offers a quality guarantee backed by a system of government inspections as stringent and as comprehensive as is done in Canada.

It is also there to protect our quality brand. Canada even has programs and procedures to prevent Canadian grain from being mixed with imported U.S. product to ensure the integrity of Canada's quality guarantee. According to the report “Threatened Harvest: Protecting Canada’s world-class grain system”, put out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, there could be a problem with the quality and safety of the grain because of a lack of inward inspection.

Along with Canada's international reputation as a producer of the highest quality at risk is the quality premium paid to Canadian producers. Once this quality incentive to ship Canadian grain separate from American grain is lost, we expect Canadian grain will be shipped over land, mixed with the lower quality American product and shipped through U.S. ports.

We do not have to be experts in agriculture or have a PhD. to understand that, by doing this, the quality of our product goes down. As the quality goes down, then our reputation as an exporter of grain goes down.

I would also like to quote from a press release from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which says:

The bill would also end an established security program for farmers that guarantees they are paid for the grain they deliver, thereby increasing farmers’ risk of catastrophic financial losses if a buyer cannot, or will not, pay for delivered grain.

“In this global economic downturn, and with no workable alternative in place, the government is kicking away a key pillar of financial stability for Canadian grain producers,” says CCPA Research Associate Dr. Jim Grieshaber-Otto.

I have met Mr. Grieshaber-Otto, who wrote the report. We need to pay attention to what he said. The press release goes on:

If these and other controversial government proposals are implemented, they would:

reduce the reputation and competitiveness of Canadian wheat in international markets;

decrease the price premium Canadian producers now receive for a distinctive product;

increase the risk of food-safety problems; and

augment the power of huge U.S.-based multinational grain companies at the expense of Canadian producers.

I would also like to quote from a press release put out by the National Farmers Union, another group that is very upset with the bill. It represents many farmers across western Canada. It states:

The bill will add tens of millions of dollars of extra cost to farmers. The CWB and farmers will have to spend their own money to replace the destruction of independent testing by the Grain Commission. Regardless of the extra money spent by farmers, the tests will still not be seen to be independent and unbiased. Regardless of whether it is the Canadian Wheat Board that does the test or a contracted private testing company, the testing results will not have the credibility or standing that the current Canadian Grain Commission test has.

According to the National Farmers Union press release:

Bill C-13 is aimed at deregulating the grain industry, and would fundamentally change the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission...“It removes the requirement that the CGC operate as a public interest watchdog that regulates the overall grain industry in the 'interest of producers'. Instead, it changes the CGC's role to become a passive service provider that provides grading, weighing and inspection services to grain companies on a fee-for-service basis. Farmers' protections will be reduced to a minimum, with plenty of loopholes for companies to circumvent those limited protections.

Bill C-13 would eliminate inward inspection and weighing of grain, thereby undercutting the CGC's ability to maintain high-quality standards, and putting grain farmers and consumers at risk.

It is for this reason that today I move:

to delete all the words in the motion following “That”, and replace them with the following:

“Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, Chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and Chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004 be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence”.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2009 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague and his fairly severe criticism of Bill C-13. He gave bit of history on the Canadian Grain Commission as well.

He spoke to one of the key areas, and I am not sure if I am quoting him quite correctly, because he did not elaborate a lot on this. He talked about the risk to Canada's international reputation. As we see it on our side, the way the government has proposed the bill, there is a real concern for producers. The government is clearly favouring the corporate sector over primarily producers by the way it is moving forward with the amendments to the bill.

We see problems with the loss of inward inspections in the quality of grains potentially moving into the domestic market and possibly into the United States. There is a real concern for producers over the loss of bonding. However, as to the risk to Canada's international reputation, could the member expand on that issue, because is a serious matter?

Canada is seen as the most reliable supplier of high quality grains around the world. Whereas the United States is seen as a residual supplier and does not match our quality in any shape or form. It seems the government may be moving to Americanize our system, which I think would be a sad thing. Does the member have any comments on that?