Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It brings back some memories, and I would say good memories, being back in committee. Not too many times have I sat as a witness, although I have sat as a witness before committee in the past. I have sat in the chairs of the honourable members and I found it a very rewarding experience. I feel honoured that I would be asked to appear before your committee this morning.
I have a statement that I believe is less than 10 minutes. To make sure that it is, I'll undertake it right away.
Honourable members, I am pleased to appear before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food today. I understand that the principal reason you have invited me to appear before you today is to discuss my appointment as chief commissioner to the Canadian Grain Commission. I would first like to make a brief statement and then I would be pleased to answer any questions.
To begin, I would like to underline what an honour it is for me to work on behalf of Canadian farmers and Canadians at large as the chief commissioner of the CGC. As Canada's grain industry regulator, the CGC is responsible for Canada's grain quality and quantity assurance systems, grain research, and producer protection. As chief commissioner to the CGC, I am personally committed to these important objectives and to upholding Canada's world-class brand reputation.
As you know, my appointment comes at a time of change and modernization for the CGC, as reflected in Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, which was recently introduced in the House of Commons. The CGC needs a strong management and sound guidance to lead it during this period of transformation.
Throughout my career, honourable members, I have displayed strong skills both as a leader and as a manager. I have an extensive background in agribusiness and public service in Canada, with 32 years of farming and elected experience at both the federal and provincial levels. As a farmer, I managed my family farm in Beechy, Saskatchewan, which is a diversified operation producing grains, pulse crops, and oilseeds, and it includes a commercial cow-calf operation. At the federal level, I served as a member of Parliament for the Saskatchewan riding of Kindersley--Lloydminster from 1993 to 1997. During that time I served on the same committee as you represent today, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. I also demonstrated my leadership skills participating on the steering subcommittee and working as the leader of the official opposition from 1999 to 2004 in the Saskatchewan legislature.
Throughout my career, one of my priorities was the development and the communication of agricultural policy. I'm proud to say that my political success was founded upon my knowledge of the agriculture sector. In fact, my years spent in public service have depended on strong support from farm communities and farm families. I accepted the position of chief commissioner to the CGC because of my profound desire to serve Canadian farmers and Canadians generally.
As I mentioned earlier, my appointment as chief commissioner comes at a time of change and modernization for the organization. I must say it's an exciting time to be grain farming. I recognize that it's also an equally difficult time in the livestock sector. The Canadian Cattlemen's Association is in town. I've run into some of them, and we certainly feel for the economic pressures they're feeling now. But commodity prices are at an all-time high for cereal grains, and oilseed producers are finally beginning to reap the benefits of what they sow.
While Canadian farmers continue to serve traditional export markets, new opportunities are becoming available. Canadian grain is increasingly marketed to niche markets and domestic value-added enterprises such as livestock and biofuels processing. To sustain this growth, both farmers and the grain industry are seeking more opportunities and a more cost-effective grain handling system.
Many grain sector stakeholders, including farmers, have been requesting updates to the Canada Grain Act for many years. In this context the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food introduced Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, to the House of Commons last December. Bill C-39 represents the Government of Canada's vision of a modern CGC, one that is positioned to meet the changing needs of today's grain sector. The government is focused on reducing mandatory regulations and unnecessary costs while maintaining the advantages of Canada's grain quality assurance system.
Honourable members, I understand that while your respective parties have agreed on the need for modernization of the act, they may not all completely agree on the details of that change. The final outcome of a bill must be decided by members of Parliament, and it is the role of the chief commissioner to administer the Canada Grain Act as passed by Parliament. While it is the duty of the CGC to support the government's agenda and policy direction, I will not, nor will the CGC, prejudge the outcome of Parliament's deliberations.
I want to clearly state the commission's principal responsibility is to administer the Canada Grain Act.
The chief commissioner must lead the organization to ensure ongoing protection for producers and Canada's reputation for high-quality grains and must be supportive of the government's agenda. This leads me to discuss recent criticism of an op-ed article I produced for two different western Canadian publications.
First, I would like to clarify that the op-ed article was intended as a personal introduction to farmers and the grain industry in my new role as the chief commissioner of the CGC. Second, my objective was to reassure producers, grain industry stakeholders, and customers of Canadian grain that Bill C-39 will not weaken the grain quality assurance system. Third, farmers need to be reassured that producers will continue to be protected under the Canada Grain Act.
Honourable members, before I respond to your questions, I also wish to address one final issue, the CGC memo to employees. The CGC memo has been referred to as a government gag order in both the media and in the House of Commons. There is no government gag order, and the allegations of political involvement are unfounded.
No one in the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food or in the Prime Minister's Office requested that CGC management issue this memo. It is an internal document that was produced by the CGC senior management on its own in response to employee questions about political activities regarding Bill C-39.
The CGC directive to employees regarding their political activities is based on the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service. It states that public servants are free to express their views about the amendments to their members of Parliament as long as they don't publicly criticize the government. The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service also clearly states that public servants must loyally implement ministerial decisions lawfully taken. I would also like to clarify that this code has been in effect since 2003.
In closing, honourable members, it is clear that the CGC is facing an exciting period of modernization and change. I also wish to reiterate that it is the CGC's duty to support the government's agenda and policy direction. I am confident that the integrity of the grain quality assurance system and the reliability of Canadian grain exports will be maintained; in fact, I'm committed to that outcome.
Finally, it's with a deep sense of pride in this 96-year-old institution that I assume the position of chief commissioner to the CGC. I look forward to serving farmers and all Canadians in my new position.
Thank you very much.