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Evidence of meeting #3 for Bill C-18 (41st Parliament, 1st Session) in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was farmers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Allen Oberg  Chair, Canadian Wheat Board
Ian McCreary  Former Director and Farmer, Canadian Wheat Board
Kenneth A. Rosaasen  Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Stewart Wells  Director, District 3, Canadian Wheat Board
Henry Vos  Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board
Ron Bonnett  President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
Jeff Nielsen  Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board
John Knubley  Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Greg Meredith  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Storseth.

Go ahead, Mr. Valeriote.

9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

It looks like Mr. Knubley or Mr. Meredith may have an answer they may be willing to give me, while understanding and complying with the restrictions that Mr. Storseth has introduced here. I'm hoping that you'll allow Mr. Knubley and Mr. Meredith to answer the question, at least to the extent they're able.

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Valeriote. I appreciate the interventions by Mr. Storseth and by Mr. Valeriote.

Mr. Knubley, you are an experienced bureaucrat. You understand the context in which you're able to provide information to this committee, as pointed out by Mr. Storseth. If you have something to offer in response to Mr. Valeriote's question, it should be in accordance with those rules.

9:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

What I think I can speak to is the nature of director liability set out in the act itself. I was going to ask Mr. Meredith to speak to that.

9:40 p.m.

Greg Meredith Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Yes. As you pointed out, the act does allow for all directors to be appointed. On the issue of director liability, the act does protect directors from incurring personal liability, as is the normal case in most corporate situations.

You asked about the ability of the government to direct the new entity. That's a direction-order power that exists in the current act. It has existed for quite some time. It exists in the Financial Administration Act, as well, and gives the government power to direct crown corporations.

It's generally used sparingly, but it does ensure that there is some corporate control by the government over the behaviour of crowns, and in this case, over the new board.

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much.

Mr. Valeriote, regrettably, your time has expired.

We'll have Mr. Merrifield, for five minutes, please.

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses from the department for being here to answer questions as we look forward. In actually assessing the witnesses—and here we're at the end of the deliberations with witnesses—you kind of put it all together.

There were some challenges from Mr. Allen that the survey done wasn't so trumped up and that having dead people is an anomaly that happens from time to time with surveys. Perhaps that's true.

I've been farming all my life. My son has taken over the family farm. I don't know how many years it has been. It's been a half-century or more. We never got a ballot in that trumped-up survey. We saw those anomalies happening right on the table. So you can't just see the survey as a justification or a valid survey.

We've heard other things, such as whether dual marketing is a legitimate language. We understand that this comes right from the Wheat Board's own survey.

We've heard from the Wheat Board, and I think it all boils down to this: The existing Wheat Board is saying that once you open it up to dual marketing as an option for farmers to sell their own wheat and barley, it will cost western farmers. We've had other surveys and testimony here saying that there will be tremendous savings and opportunities for farmers. The minister was just here saying how much opportunity there is for new mills--pasta mills, noodle mills, and flour mills--and the number of jobs that are going to be created.

You know, I'm a farmer. I want to look at it as a farmer as much as I look at it as a politician. As I assess it, when you allow the option, those who want the Wheat Board and believe that they can get the best value from it will exercise that option. Why wouldn't they? I've never seen a farmer sell, when given two options, to the lower bidder. They'll sell to whomever they find is the best option. Those who can find a better option will exercise that option. We're really arguing about whether it's good or bad for western farmers. The reality is that farmers will decide. What I like about this piece of legislation is that it allows for that. It allows those farmers to have a comfort zone and an existing Wheat Board—a pooled option. It will allow those farmers who want to exercise another option to have that opportunity as well.

It will ultimately be the farmers who will decide. This is very exciting to me.

There are some questions on the technical side, and we've talked about how important it is to have the rail freight service review looked after and to have service agreements for those shippers. We're seeing some of the large corporations that move grains, such as Viterra and Cargill, and so on, working aggressively to get those rail agreements in place, preparing for this.

I do have a technical question for the department with regard to the railways. What is important for the small farmers out there who may be watching on television and assessing how this is all going to work is whether it is going to be a clumsy system for moving their grain on producer cars. Are they going to have template agreements that will be able to smooth that system and the transition?

These are the kinds of things they're asking about. I'm wondering if the department has actually done some work with regard to that. I know that the minister referred to some of the work he's done with railways on the transportation of products across western Canada. I wonder if either of you have any comments with regard to that.

9:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

John Knubley

As you know, the work of the department has been done very closely with Transport Canada. Even in our working group, as you know, Transport Canada participated in that work.

The rail review itself, as you know, has four elements, including a facilitator—now Mr. Dinning—and establishing service-level templates, and looking at the dispute settlement resolution mechanism. That will ultimately lead to legislation.

There is a commodity supply chain table and a grain supply chain study, and this is where we will work very closely with Agriculture Canada, Transport Canada, and representatives of the agriculture sector, working together on that grain supply chain study.

The minister mentioned as well that we're working through our various value chain round tables with all grain producers—whether pulse, wheat, or barley producers—sitting down and understanding what the challenges and opportunities will be as we move forward into the new open system. So we have been doing that. Gordon Bacon, who was testifying here yesterday, has been particularly active in developing some of those discussions.

9:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Knubley, and Mr. Merrifield. I believe we've honoured the agreement that was put in place.

I would like to thank you, Mr. Knubley, and Mr. Meredith, for appearing for two days in a row before this committee and providing answers to committee members' questions.

For the edification of committee members here, we will convene a meeting tomorrow for clause-by-clause review of this piece of legislation. We have some very strict rules of governance about how that's going to happen. I would encourage members to review those before they come to the committee meeting tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night we will start as a public meeting. We will be joined by a legislative clerk, I believe Mr. Wayne Cole, who is going to be here, as well as officials from the department who will be providing any advice on how that legislation was drafted and what the intent of that legislation might be.

With that, the meeting is adjourned.