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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

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Mr. Vos, I'm going to turn the time off right now and I'm just going to provide some clarification here.

I will respect members of Parliament's privileges. They do have a limited amount of time to ask their questions. Mr. Valeriote does have that right as a parliamentarian.

However, Mr. Valeriote, you would also know as an experienced parliamentarian that the rules do allow for a full answer to the question, so I--

7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Chair, he gave me the answer.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

In this case, Mr. Valeriote, let me finish my ruling, please. I think I've been more than fair and judicious in the governance of the rules of this committee.

Mr. Vos, I'm going to let Mr. Valeriote continue with his time. I'm sure you'll find an opportunity to get your point across in a future line of questioning.

7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Bonnett, very quickly, the Wall Street Journal talked about the extra profits that large agribusinesses were now going to make. The Economist magazine said: “Smaller producers, faced with mounting marketing costs, will inevitably have to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agribusiness companies. ...devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income.”

I'm concerned about the social impact of this legislation as a farmer, albeit not a wheat farmer. Do you think the prognostications of the Economist are accurate? Will there be farmers who will close? Is there a threat to small towns?

7:55 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Ron Bonnett

As I said at the start, I'm not a grain farmer. If I got involved in the debate as to whether a single desk or open marketing was the right method, I think I would be challenged on that. But what I can't be challenged on is making sure that there's really good, sound consultation.

With a change being made that's this dramatic, I think we are going to have to take a look at the speed that it's going forward. I mentioned farm organizations in western Canada being involved in the discussion. I mentioned some of the issues that we've identified as needing to be addressed. I would suggest that the key to making sure that it's good legislation is making sure that those views are heard.

7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Nielsen, and Mr. Vos, could you each answer yes or no. Your resignations as directors may be curiously coincidental with the timing of this legislation. I'm going to be direct, and I make no apologies for this question, but were you offered a position by this government, either in writing or verbally, if you quit at that point to be a director on the new voluntary wheat board?

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Mr. Valeriote, your time has expired. The questioners can answer.

7:55 p.m.

Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

We've heard the answer clearly.

Thank you very much, gentlemen.

We'll move on to Mr. Dreeshen, for five minutes.

November 2nd, 2011 / 7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I welcome all our guests.

I'll ask my questions to Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Vos.

First, to Mr. Nielsen. Your predecessor, Jim Chatenay, was one of my neighbours, a friend, and fellow farmer. As a matter of record, Mr. Chatenay mentioned that he was bullied to a point that his family was getting letters saying he could have legal action launched against him that might cost him his farm. That isn't even to talk about the time he spent in jail because he had taken grain across the border without following the rules of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Have either of you ever been threatened by the Canadian Wheat Board or by fellow directors of the Canadian Wheat Board?

7:55 p.m.

Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board

Jeff Nielsen

Thank you, Earl, for that question.

Personally, no. As Henry mentioned, I have been sanctioned a couple of times on issues and for speaking my mind for District 2 people.

As you mentioned, Mr. Chatenay is one of the farmers who went to jail for his belief that he could market his grains. He spent his full term in jail. He is quite the character, as we all know.

No, I haven't been threatened, but I have been sanctioned for speaking on behalf of the people of my district. I get more calls from outside my district from people who want to see this bill passed than even from my own district. It's a given in District 2 that this will happen.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Vos, what has your treatment been like?

I spoke about the treatment Mr. Chatenay received in terms of threats against him of potentially losing his farm. I was wondering whether you have had anything similar to that.

I know it was a recent departure by you. Do you have any comments on that?

Perhaps we could expand it a little further and go into board governance. Apparently you have had experts come in to talk about board governance.

8 p.m.

Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board

Henry Vos

That's a good question.

In my time at the Wheat Board, I worked in the best interests of the organization and to fulfill my duties as a director. I had the opportunity to attend the Directors College in my term. It was a good organization and very clear on what a director's role was, that there were certain things you did and certain things you didn't do as a director.

Confidential information to me was very understandable. I went through the whole election period last year knowing that the laker decision was on the table. I didn't say a peep to anybody, because we had an agreement at the board table that it would be confidential because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. I couldn't even talk to my farmers about these quotes, because I was under the confidentiality requirement. I respected that: It was okay, it was fine, because that was the decision and it was sensitive commercial information. You were always aware that you needed to be careful about what you said, because if somebody took offence to it, you were in trouble.

I had a reporter with half of the facts—and about as much talent—wanting to write a story on me suggesting that I had breached board confidentiality. Our code of conduct gives us the opportunity to have independent counsel. Thanks to the farmers of western Canada and about $6,000 later, I did not breach board confidentiality—but I learned a whole lot about it. So there was a constant something in the room to the effect, watch what you do or you're going to get--

I want to pass around a letter, if I could. It's in French as well.

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Could you push that through the chair initially, please, so I can verify the admissibility of that particular...?

8 p.m.

Former Director, Canadian Wheat Board

Henry Vos

I'd like to draw your attention to the second paragraph--

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Just give me one second and we'll distribute it so that members have it in front of them when you're discussing it, Mr. Vos.

After conferring with the clerk, who is more able to determine both official languages than I am, I am satisfied there are two copies in each of the official languages, and I will circulate these now.

I will remind you, Mr. Dreeshen, that you only do have about 30 seconds left.

Mr. Vos, when you resume speaking about this letter, keep that in mind.

8 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

On a point of order, could you ask the clerk to hold those copies for a second?

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Certainly.

8 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

I know you've ruled on it, but could you at least relate to me how you see the relevance of this particular document versus the bill in front of us?

I know you've been very lenient, and we really appreciate that leniency—and this may be part of that leniency—but I'm looking for an explanation as to what exactly you feel is the value this particular document in regard to the bill before this legislative committee. That's all.

8 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

I'd like to briefly respond.

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

I'll allow a brief response to the point of order.

8 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Dreeshen's question was directed to board governance, which is pertinent, as the opposition has already mentioned. Mr. Vos is simply providing evidence. We don't know what he's about to say, but he's providing evidence on board governance, the way governance has been in the past and how he hopes it will go in the future. I think this is absolutely germane to the bill.

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Okay, thank you.

Colleagues, I have—

8 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.

I'm not sure what's in the document. Your eyes have seen it and the clerk's eyes have seen it. Would there be any violation of confidentiality or a violation of the fiduciary duties that Mr. Vos had to the corporation while he was a director?

Before that document is released, could you give that some thought?

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. Valeriote.

I have conferred with the clerk on this. Your question was whether this document appears to be acceptable according to the rules and procedures we have as a committee. My eyes have seen this document: It is supporting the testimony that Mr. Vos is giving in the line of questioning that Mr. Dreeshen proceeded on pursuant to board governance. I don't see any reason for me to rule that this document is unacceptable. It meets the criteria of both officials languages. Unless I hear something to the contrary, I don't think there's anything preventing this.

Now, if Mr. Vos wants to take the risk upon himself of tabling this document, for whatever action it might cause—and I need to find this particular reference in the book I just read a few moments ago that testimony given at a committee is protected by parliamentary privilege—this document, I would assume, would be covered by that parliamentary privilege. So unless somebody is objecting to this, I think the most important thing we can do right now is to circulate the document.

I'll allow committee members a few seconds to review it, but my ruling is that the document appears to meet all of the requirements that we need for it to be accepted at this committee.

Clerk, please circulate the document.