This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

My question to you is, do you think this issue has been adequately researched and has the impact study been assessed to a degree that we should move forward with this irreversible action?

Any of you?

6:35 p.m.

Prof. Kenneth A. Rosaasen

I have not seen a viable plan for moving forward. There are all kinds of uncertainties and many, many bridges to cross.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Is there is anybody else who wants to address this? We have to move on, then.

Your time has expired, Mr. Martin. Thank you very much.

We'll move on to the Conservatives. Mr. Hoback, for five minutes, please.

6:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Mr. Chairman, you asked if there was anyone else who wanted to address this question, and I believe Mr. McCreary would like to.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Briefly, then, Mr. McCreary.

6:35 p.m.

Former Director and Farmer, Canadian Wheat Board

Ian McCreary

Thank you.

I think it's important to reiterate that on the ancillary pieces, there have been statements made in the press that are simply not correct. They're not defensible statements and there's been no economics done. I think that is ultimately an issue that should cause us all pause regardless of which side of the debate we're on.

I would encourage everyone to take a look as to whether you've had any rigorous economic analysis done of some of the ancillary implications of what is about to be proposed.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Thank you, Mr. McCreary.

Mr. Hoback, five minutes, please, sir.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming here this evening. I appreciate your time, and I thank you for being here.

I look at this, and I'm just amazed. This debate has been going on in the Prairies for 20, 30, 40 years. There's nothing new you've brought forward today, Mr. Rosaasen, which hasn't already been discussed and debated. We could debate it for 30 hours and it wouldn't change anybody's opinion, whether a person agrees with you or not. Nor will anyone discuss whether or not you're paid by the board for past research or your colleagues' past research.

When you go onto the Prairies, it doesn't matter if you do a plebiscite; it's the question that becomes the factor. Who asks the question? What's the question that you ask? That's the issue.

It doesn't matter what is being said, because people have already said that they've heard all sides of the story. It's the opposition members who are disappointing. I don't blame them. They're not in the designated area, so they don't necessarily have the background that some of us farmers here on the Conservative side have. This debate has been going on forever.

When I farmed, I actually attended a combine-to-customer course and another. I actually went through the Wheat Board training and went through and saw the type of work you did, the value-added work you were doing. I was actually very impressed with that work. In fact, I was very impressed with the staff and the people you had working with me.

That's what kind of threw me off on this. You knew this was coming. In fact, in 2005-06, you issued a report called Harvesting opportunity. Mr. McCreary, I think you even presented it in Ottawa, if I remember correctly. You talked about looking forward and how to position the board for the future. You looked at different types of pricing programs and how to try to compromise with farmers. But you would never go far enough to solve this for the group of farmers that wanted freedom.

When you talked to the farmers who wanted to build a durum plant in Weyburn, the final answer was no, yet there are seven durum plants across the line in North Dakota. There has been bullying. There has been intimidation practised on the Prairies by your organization, and it's been going on for way too long. And that has to change.

What really disappoints me right now is that you've known that the change was coming. It was signalled far enough ahead that it was coming, maybe not this year, maybe not two years ago, but maybe five years from now with the WTO. Who knows? But you had to make a plan for change. I asked you over and over again if you had a plan B for change, if you had a plan B to protect these employees and to make sure that the farmers that wanted to use the CWB would have an option and have the ability to do that. Have you thought through that process?

We went to your guys to ask you to be part of the working group and to be involved in the change and transition. I understand that Mr. White did participate, but I understand, Mr. Oberg, that you did not participate. You chose not to participate.

Instead of actually going through and signing up farmers and acres and going to your customers and accredited exporters and saying, “You know what, guys? The change is happening, but we have x number of farmers, 22,000 supposedly, who support us and have committed their acreage, and we've gone ahead and signed them, and we have all these bushels of grain that we're going to have for the next two or three years,” you didn't. You could have done that. You could have gone to the market and the durum plants and said, “Hey, we have all this volume, so relax, it's okay”.

Then they wouldn't have come to Ottawa to say to me that they couldn't source milling durum or wheat in March and April of next year. But you didn't. You proceeded with an ideological battle, and that's what disappoints me the most.

Instead of looking at what's in the best interests of farmers, which is what I'm doing, and what the minister has done in changing the board of directors, you proceeded to go down a road of Thelma & Louise, saying that if you can't have it your way, you're going to run this thing off a cliff and make sure that it doesn't work for anybody.

Mr. Rosaasen, you talked about instability in the marketplace. Well, that's exactly what you did in the way you handled things here this summer. And that's disappointing, because you were not elected to destabilize the marketplace. You were not elected to create insecurity in the marketplace. You were elected to market grain. That's what you were elected to do, and you chose not to. You chose to go the other route and actually do more harm than good based on ideology. And that's very disappointing.

Mr. Oberg, how can you justify this? How can you justify it to farmers when you go back into your riding and say, “I told the NDP to destabilize things, to stall and stall and destabilize it”? How do you justify that? How do you justify spending money to defend a single desk, when a majority of farmers do not want you doing that? When you have a court order saying that you should not be doing that, how do you justify that?

6:40 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Wheat Board

Allen Oberg

Thank you, Mr. Hoback. You've covered a great deal of ground there. I have written down six or seven questions.

I am going to start with your comments about an ideological battle. I want to tell you a story about the first time I met with--

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

You're going to have to be quick. Stories take too long, and I only get five minutes.

6:40 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Wheat Board

Allen Oberg

No worries.

When I met with Minister Ritz--

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

I don't mean to interrupt, but Mr. Hoback, your time has actually expired.

So, Mr. Oberg, if you could keep your response as brief as possible, I would appreciate it.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The witness should have the same amount of time as the questioner. That's the way these meetings should operate.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Mr. Easter, I don't believe you're a member of this committee and--

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

I may not be a member, but I am a member of Parliament and I'll have my say.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

You will refrain from interrupting this committee, sir, unless you are a member of this committee, or I'll ask Mr. Valeriote to.... I'll subtract the time you're taking from Mr. Valeriote.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Why don't you bring in the Sergeant-at-Arms?

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Mr. Oberg, please answer the questions as effectively and as quickly as you possibly can.

6:40 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Wheat Board

Allen Oberg

All right, and I will be brief and concise.

Mr. Hoback raised the issue of ideology. I always believed that this was an organization controlled and paid for by farmers and that they should be the ones who decide its future. When I spoke to farmers this summer all across the Prairies, I was very straight with them. Whatever the majority of farmers voted in regard to changes to the Canadian Wheat Board, I, as chair of the board, would do.

Let me finish.

I challenged the minister on many occasions and I'm challenging you, Mr. Hoback, right now. Obey the law. Have a plebiscite among farmers and settle this issue the right way. If I'm willing to abide by the results, you should be willing to do the same.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Of course, we are obeying the law. We--

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Blaine Calkins

Mr. Hoback, your time has expired.

Moving on to Mr. Valeriote for five minutes, please....

November 2nd, 2011 / 6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Oberg, I'm going to give you two and a half minutes to respond to Mr. Hoback. But before you do that, think about the questions he asked.

Mr. McCreary, I have two questions for you. You spoke of an almost an umbilical tie between the availability of producer cars and the single desk system. So I want you to speak about that first.

Secondly, Murdoch MacKay from the Canadian Grain Commission was here yesterday, and he made it sound like, don't worry, be happy when it comes to the issue of grain quality. I understand that's also an issue when marketing your grain and that, too, is umbilically tied to the single desk system.

So could you speak more about those two issues, and if you could take about two and a half minutes, I'll time you. Then I want Mr. Oberg to take the rest of the time to respond to Mr. Hoback. Thank you.

6:40 p.m.

Former Director and Farmer, Canadian Wheat Board

Ian McCreary

Thank you.

First, I'll deal with grain quality very quickly and very simply.

The Canadian Grain Commission sets the grades, but ultimately the value that's created for the different grades happens because the single desk can price discriminate. It's that simple, but that's a big part of where the piece goes. When you look at the marketplace, you say we've got grades for No. 1 and No. 2 peas, we've got grades for No. 1 and No. 2 lentils, but we only get paid for No. 2 or better. There's no premium for No. 1 lentils and No. 1 peas. That's because there's no single desk to price discriminate in those crops. There is in wheat. That's where part of the market premium comes from.

In terms of producer cars and a single desk system, there are two really important ties. The key for a producer car shipper is they have to have a liquid market that allows grain to change ownership in port position, because instead of selling it on the basis of the elevator, they sell it on the basis of the port position.

Canada tried to have price discovery in port in canola in the seventies and eighties, and we didn't have the capacity to manage price discovery in port in canola, which was a 2 million tonne crop. There are 20 million tonnes of wheat, so price discovery can't happen. The value goes out of the producer cars and, ultimately, if you don't get value, you don't ship them, because it's a lot easier to just deliver the grain to a local elevator. There's no work involved in that, and that's why there are ultimately no producer cars or very few producers cars. Less than 3% are non-board grains.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Will all of this be compromised when the single desk is gone?

6:45 p.m.

Former Director and Farmer, Canadian Wheat Board

Ian McCreary

Yes, without question, the economics comes off the table. The value is no longer there and, ultimately, the government is creating a train wreck for a lot of short-line railways and a lot of infrastructure in Saskatchewan.