Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.
It is with a great deal of sadness that I rise to speak to Bill C-18 today. Ever since I was elected in 2006, we on this side of the House have done all in our power to prevent this reckless dismantling of farmer control by the Conservatives.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the National Farmers Union convention in London, Ontario. There, I saw many farmers, both young and old, who believe that the government is on a disaster course. In his speech to the delegates, the chairman of the CWB, Allen Oberg, raised a number of interesting issues, such as with the firing of elected directors, the government effectively takes control of this farmer controlled institution. This is obviously a blatant example of the further erosion of farmer influence on agriculture in our country. According to Mr. Oberg, the factors driving the Conservative agenda are, in order of their importance: ideology, industry, U.S. and European farmers, and lastly, the interests of Canadian farmers.
Clearly, the interests of the big corporations and farmers are not the same. The main objective of these companies is to increase profits by increasing the margin made from individual farmers. It is, therefore, difficult to see why this small group of farmers against the single desk does not understand it. They believe that somehow they will be able to compete and obtain a premium price from the very companies that wish to maximize profit.
We must not forget that all profits generated today by the CWB, some $530 million to $655 million annually, go back to farmers. The value of the Canadian Wheat Board mechanism for direct farmer influence on the marketing agency cannot be overstated. The small and medium sized wheat and barley farmers have an agency that provides a level of service that neither single nor even a small co-operative of even the largest wheat and barley farmers in western Canada could emulate.
The CWB has both the trust of the buyer and the seller. It ensures that the product is delivered with consistent quality, on time and to the scale required, while it connects with markets to negotiate the best price and to guarantee farmer payment.
With the loss of the single desk, this capacity will be gone. No longer will the CWB be able to put farmers first against the railway monopolies, provide a strategic advantage to ship from Churchill, protect against WTO harassment and maintain producer cars, fight against GM wheat or maintain a quality reputation in the world.
A very disturbing article appeared in the Leader Post on November 26. It mentioned that, under direct orders from the minister, the CWB's contingency fund was raised from $60 million to $200 million. The author of the article, Bruce Johnstone, said that this did not “have anything to do with putting more money in farmers' pockets”. He went on to say:
In fact, farmers are going to help bankroll the Tories' new voluntary wheat board whether they want to or not.
[The]...government wants to use the contingency fund to cover the costs of operating the new wheat pool company and wind up the old farmer-directed board, including severance payments for CWB officials.
These wind-up costs are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including liability costs of breaking or renegotiating contracts, obligations, pensions, severance payments and other asset purchases. Allen Oberg estimates this to be between $200 million and $400 million. In other words, money will be taken from farmers to advance the government's agenda so it can ram this through.
This does not make any sense and, I would submit, it is morally wrong. Shame on the Prime Minister and shame on his corporate stooges.
We need to look at the cost factor of this massive, tragic transformation. Most analysts predict that grain prices will fall after the elimination of the single desk. Another likely outcome is industry consolidation as large producers squeeze out smaller producers. Large grain companies, such Viterra, Cargill and Bunge, will have a huge new supply of sellers competing to unload their products.
In Australia, with the loss of the single desk, the market share of the Australian wheat board collapsed to 23% of Australian exports, as its reputation for quality is being lost.
The CWB grains account for 95% of shipments through the Port of Churchill. This does not cost the government any money at all but the government is now proposing to provide $5 million of taxpayer money per year for five years to support the shipping of grain.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the CWB contributes a gross output of $94.6 million to the city of Winnipeg. The employment spinoff from the CWB is 2,000 jobs, with a total labour income impact on the city of more than $66 million and, at the provincial level, $140 million.
What is tragic is that there has not been an economic analysis by the Conservatives of this legislation. Based on analysis of the situation on the open market, it can be expected that there will be a reduction of between 16% to 23% on return to farmers and losses in the millions related to payment defaults and arbitrary reductions by grain companies.
Today, the CWB earn farmers between $500 million and $655 million every year. No one will be able to influence any of the big five grain companies that will take over. There will be no pooling of premiums. These will go directly to the company, which does not guarantee payment to farmers for all grains delivered.
In the past, the CWB has also assisted farmers in legal challenges, such as the lawsuit against CP Rail. There is no credible evidence that any single farmer on the prairies has the resources to do any of this. Based on historical precedence, there will be losses in the millions of dollars per year to farmers on demurrage charges, as well as freight rate overcharges. There is also credible evidence that the farmer-loaded producer car option will end. This will results in a direct loss to the farmer of between $1,000 and $1,500 per year.
This is a black day in the history of our country. Whether we are dealing with the issue of crime in this country or the collective interests of farmers, we have a Conservative government, elected with only 27% of the vote of eligible voters, that is determined to transform this country based on an ideology and not on sound analysis or research.
Farmers in western Canada have spent many years building an organization that provides them clout in dealing with their trading partners and transnational corporations at no cost to the taxpayers. In their wisdom, through the election of their directors in the recent plebiscite, they have chosen to retain a strong, collective, united front through a single desk.
What we are seeing here is a battle of ideologies. The co-operative position of strength versus this rugged, every person for himself individualism. Some will survive but many will not. The tragedy is that this ideological agenda will further erode the family farm and the quality of our western Canadian rural life. Unfortunately, there will be no turning back once farmers' rights and powers are taken away.
In closing, we could say that history will be the judge as we see the dismantling, and it is a dismantling. The evidence and the research that I have read and we have seen on this side of the House is that a single desk entity will not be able to survive in today's ruthless market when we have the United States, through the WTO, unsuccessfully challenging the Wheat Board 13 times, but this organization has been able to stand up on behalf of farmers.
We will see in a few years what will happen. Those of us on this side believe that this is not a happy day and it is not as exciting as many on the other side think that it will be.