Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.
I farm on a full-time basis with my wife and two sons in central Saskatchewan in the village of Bladworth. As mentioned in the introduction, I was an elected producer to the first farmer-elected board of directors when the Canadian Wheat Board was initially privatized and turned over to farmers in 1998.
I would like to address the committee with four specific points.
The first one is about process. I see that Allen has spoken to some of the process issues, and I will attempt not to reiterate those.
The second is the loss of marketing premiums. In the process of the government renationalizing the Canadian Wheat Board, that essentially is going to be a loss for prairie farmers. Again, I won't spend a lot of time on that.
The piece that I think is most important concerns the ancillary issues in the future that are going to be created by this government's reckless approach to the Canadian Wheat Board.
And finally, the fourth point I would like to make is that there were many options. The process and the speed and the failure to have open hearings have left the government in a position where it cannot consider the options before it for achieving what I consider are many of the government's stated objectives, without wreaking as much havoc on the supply chain as is potentially possible in the current legislation.
So in terms of process, as I mentioned, I was elected in the first producer election when the Board was initially turned over to farmers in 1998. At that time, the then-minister of he Canadian Wheat Board came to meet with the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.
It's probably important to note that in order to win an election in that process, you have to get 50%-plus-one support in your district. So each of the 10 of us had done that. The then-minister said here it is, that ultimately this organization had been turned over from government control to farmer control. For the time period that followed, the then-minister of the Canadian Wheat Board, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, had a form letter that said that this organization had been turned over to farmers and if people had a concern with this organization they should talk to their farmer director.
Ultimately, farmers were told in meeting after meeting, both by elected directors and by politicians, that any change in the future of this organization would be done by a farmer vote and any change in the control and direction in the way it was run would happen through the elected official. And as that elected official, I can assure you that those voices did come to those of us at the board table.
Allen has mentioned the process at hand, through this bill, which is essentially that of the government seizing back that control and going through a process that in the farm community is becoming known as the renationalization of our marketing organization. I don't need to dwell on that further. I think Allen has covered the points on the process.
On the marketing premiums, as an initial board of directors, we came together with viewpoints as divergent as those within the farm community. We needed to engage in a process that measured the marketing performance of the organization and its capacity to get premiums through the single desk, because we had very divergent views. With very divergent opinions, we agreed on a process. That process was then verified with external academics, who were both proponents and opponents of that organization. And then using that methodology, we as a board evaluated our staff and found there were $400 million to $600 million in annual price premiums that wouldn't happen in the absence of a single desk.
That was critical in the galvanization of the board. The voices of those who had been elected as so-called dual marketers, like Ken Ritter, who passed away last Monday, Rod Flaman, and Ross Keith, who was one of the appointed players, would all have held that view prior to their election, and engaged in that process and said that the value was real and important to western Canada.
And there is no debate among people who are familiar with that process. As Allen has said, the single desk makes more money for farmers, and this government is in the process of taking somewhere in the order of $400 million to $600 million out of farmers' pockets on an annual basis from the process of marketing grain.
Those are the known pieces and I think, by and large, are accepted as such.
The piece I want to talk about in the future is what I would call the ancillary impacts on the grain handling and transportation system of the activities that will fall out from this government—a forward looking piece, if you will.
The board has been an important and critical component of the grain handling and transportation system and, ultimately, there will be significant fallout as a result of the removal of the board from the piece. Perhaps the most politically charged fallout will be the commercial pressure on producer cars. The plain economics of it is that the presence of a central marketer levels the playing field of how farmers want to do business with the marketing agent. In the absence of a single player, the companies that ultimately will do the international marketing, the very large players, will be in a position to set values when that grain changes hands in Vancouver.
You don't have to have a master's degree in economics to work through all of this; all you have to do is look at the data. The fact is that non-board producer car shipments in the last four years have averaged 2.825% of the total producer car shipments. And if you want to wander around western Canada and tell farmers that the short lines are going to operate once you have 2.8% translated back, then good luck, because the farmers know better.
The simple problem is that you can't get price discovery. You can't get a resale market in Vancouver and have the transparency of price discovery in a port that needs to operate with fast throughput. That's not a question, but a problem, and you guys have fast-tracked this to the point where you don't have a solution to that problem.
Once you take those producer cars off the table.... The short line railways ultimately rely completely on producer cars. There's the question of infrastructure that the provinces and the municipalities will have to come back to once they see the devastation that is likely to happen in the absence of some economic alternative to the current package on producer cars.
The Port of Churchill, which is not owned by one of the main line companies, relies completely on an ongoing east coast export program, where a capacity to move customers to Churchill with a continuous flow arrangement is required and where an organization like the Canadian Wheat Board was able to commercially operate that successfully. I was at one time the marketing manager for eastern and western Europe immediately out of university. I was part of that program that brought customers into the Port of Churchill and I was able to do that with a huge economic return to the pool, because you could transfer that grain on a continuous flow basis, grain that otherwise would have gone through the seaway. You need a whole bunch of commercial pieces in order to make that viable, and none of the independent operators have the same sets of incentives that a pool does when you're looking at simply the return-to-farm gate as your only economic indicator.
The Port of Churchill will likely be in a lot of commercial difficulty in the absence of this and, fundamentally, there hasn't been any curiosity, let alone understanding, about why that will come into play.
As for those without port capacity, I noticed with interest the absence of a freight adjustment factor in the current legislation when you look at the sections that were deleted versus that. Certainly, a private grain company that's being set up—your new crown agency or whatever you want to call your federal grain company—couldn't operate with a FAF. I'm not arguing that it should, but the FAF is an important piece to understand because it was the commercial tool used to allocate the constrained capacity of the west coast handling facility in an economic way that allowed the optimal customers to be transferred to the other port. In the absence of that, everyone is going to want to push that through the west coast. You will have tremendous economic pressure on the west coast.
I can tell you what happens in a market when you have pressure on port capacity. Does anybody know, when the export embargo by the Soviet Union was in place, what happened to the cost of moving grain through U.S. west coast terminals? For those who watch markets, the difference between a rail offer and a port offer on dark northern spring wheat following the introduction of the freight embargo was $3 a bushel.
That's right. It was $100 a tonne.