moved that Bill C-51, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and respecting certain regulations made pursuant to that act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce for second reading today this legislation to amend the Canada Grain Act. These amendments will contribute substantially to the competitiveness of our grain industry and the well-being of the many communities, families and individual Canadians who earn their livelihoods in this very important sector of the Canadian economy.
As members of this House will be aware, the Canada Grain Act is administered by the Canadian Grain Commission. Under the act the commission is responsible for regulating the handling of grain in Canada and for establishing and maintaining standards of grain quality. The commission plays an essential role in maintaining the international reputation which Canada enjoys for high quality grain products.
I therefore wish to take a moment as we begin this debate to acknowledge the hard creative work performed by commission employees from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Baie Comeau. I would also like to thank commission staff for its contributions to the preparation of the amendments that I am bringing before the House today. In expressing these sentiments I am sure I am speaking for all members who appreciate and understand the challenges which we as legislators place before the men and women who work in Canada's public service.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the weighty contribution to this bill that has been made by Canada's grain industry. These amendments are the product of lengthy, detailed consultations throughout the Canadian grain industry with producers, grain industry executives and farm organizations which represent the full spectrum of that important industry.
I want to outline the consultation process so members of this House can share the confidence that I have that the legislation we have before us today does represent the needs, the expectations and the views of the overwhelming majority of stakeholders from all sectors of our grain industry.
In February, 1991 the Canadian Grain Commission initiated a review of licensing and security issues arising under the act. The commission circulated a discussion paper and held face to face consultations with the representatives of 45 organizations. These organizations represented grain producers, elevator companies, grain dealers and so on.
Then in August, 1991 the commission circulated a policy proposal which was the subject of wide discussion throughout the grain industry. The grain commission met with the representatives of 57 organizations. This second round of consultations produced much useful feedback and resulted in a revised proposal being circulated in November of 1991. Each group that had participated in those earlier consultations received a copy and was asked for additional written comments and recommendations.
Based on the responses to this round of consultations the grain commission produced a revised proposal and circulated it again in February 1992. Additional suggestions were made in discussions with stakeholders that occurred during the 1992 federal regulatory review process.
The legislative amendments that I bring before the House today are rooted in this consultation process and form an essential part of government's general commitment to strengthening Canada's competitive position in world markets.
For purposes of our discussion today I would group the amendments that we have before us in three broad categories. The first deals with enhanced competitiveness. The second deals with more protection for grain producers. The third is focused on new safeguards for Canadian taxpayers.
I would like to deal with the issue of enhanced competitiveness. The grains industry in this country is changing and the pace of change is accelerating. To remain competitive in global markets, markets in which Canada sells most of its grain, we need a regulatory and legislative framework which protects the shared interests of all of the stakeholders.
At the same time it must assist individuals and groups within the industry to compete successfully, adding value where possible to their efforts. Our proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act are designed with these concerns in mind.
The Canada Grain Act will be amended to strengthen the role that quality plays in Canada's grains industry. This will help reinforce the many things we do in Canada which ensure that only the best grain varieties are developed, marketed and transported through our bulk handling system. This amendment affirms that as Canada's grain sector evolves quality will continue to be a cornerstone of the Canadian grain marketing strategy.
Canada's commitment to grain quality will be strengthened in other ways as well. The definition of contaminated grain will be clarified and the responsibility of elevator operators for the safe handling of hazardous compounds and the safe disposal of contaminated grain will be clearly spelled out.
As well, an amendment will confirm the commission's authority to set standards for the drying of grain. This is perhaps more important than first might appear. Because improperly dried grain often cannot be detected until it is actually processed the first sign of a problem in this area could be a dissatisfied customer, and that is obviously too late.
This amendment provides the commission with another means by which to maintain Canada's reputation for grain quality. This translates into enhanced competitiveness for Canada's grains industry.
In the spirit of removing unnecessary laws, process elevators will not be required to undergo weigh-overs. A weigh-over is a procedure in which an audit is conducted to verify tonnage in store by grade. Weigh-overs obviously serve a useful purpose when conducted at terminal and transfer elevators because in those instances the elevators are often handling grain they do not own. By contrast, process elevators own the grain they have in stock and therefore weigh-overs serve no useful purpose.
A central objective of this government is to remove laws and regulations which have outlived their usefulness and this amendment supports that objective.
As I announced in July 1994, the grain commission will no longer be required to set maximum tariffs for elevators. Elevator tariffs are the fees that grain elevator companies charge for their services. Government regulation of tariffs dates back to a time when producers were much less able to protect themselves from the setting of unfair prices. However, because producer owned or controlled companies now control the majority of elevator capacity in Canada, there is no need for government to continue to regulate tariffs on behalf of producers.
This deregulation of maximum tariffs will proceed in two stages. First, during a two-year transition period, the commission will retain the authority to set tariff ceilings by order. I would not anticipate any significant problem with this process.
In the current crop year terminal elevator operators were given the power by commission order to set their own elevation tariffs. For the most part, their increases were relatively minor and on the whole fair. This bodes well for the future and I am confident that allowing the market to function more freely will provide benefits to everyone concerned.
At the same time, even after the two-year transition period the commission will continue to have the authority to deal with maximum tariffs if that should become necessary. During and after the transition period the grain commission will perform an ombudsman role, responding to complaints and seeking remedies.
I wish to stress that this amendment arises from our commitment to regulatory reform, removing regulations that hinder the competitiveness of Canadian industry, and developing a regulatory regime which adds value to the efforts of Canadian enterprises to compete in international markets.
Bill C-51 will remove the requirement that only public carriers transport grain interprovincially. This will benefit producers, providing them with transportation options that may help them to reduce some of their marketing costs. Other amendments will allow the grain commission to stipulate that electronic transmission of transactions may replace paper documents. This will save money and time for the grain commission and for the industry as a whole.
I would now like to turn to the issue of protection for grain producers. The Canada Grain Act of 1912 established the Canadian Grain Commission in large measure to protect the interests of Canadian grain producers. This remains a central feature of the act, and several of the proposed amendments
before us today are designed to maintain this protection function.
They include granting authority to the grain commission to act against companies that illegally use Canada Grain Act grade names. The bill also includes provisions that require licensed grain dealers to use Canada Grain Act grade names in all of their transactions with producers, provisions to specify the way in which grade, dockage and moisture content are determined and recorded at the country elevator, and provisions to allow the suspension of licences of primary elevators where overages exceed allowable limits.
Overages are discrepancies between the amount of grain an elevator has in store and the amount that it should have according to records of shipments and receipts. The amendments will also include provisions that confirm the authority of the grain commission to require operators to fully ensure the grain in their elevators.
The current reporting requirements are not as effective as they should be under the law for determining the financial health of a prospective licensee. Therefore, this bill contains provisions that require prospective licensees to provide specified financial data which demonstrate their financial viability.
I would now like to turn to the issue of enhanced protection for taxpayers under this proposed legislation. The amendments will provide such protection for the taxpayers of this country. Members will recall that in 1991 the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the grain commission was liable for losses sustained by producers in the early 1980s when two licensees went bankrupt and their security posted with the commission did not cover their liabilities.
As a result of this, Canadian taxpayers were required to pay more than $3.9 million, an amount equal to the difference between the security posted by the companies and their actual liabilities to grain producers.
While the Federal Court of Appeal has obviously disagreed, it is the view of many in the industry that the Canada Grain Act was not intended to provide unlimited protection for grain producers in all circumstances.
Unlimited business protection of the kind apparently envisaged by the Federal Court of Appeal judgment is unknown in virtually any other sector of our economy. Most producer organizations understand how it can lead some producers into making unwise business decisions.
Therefore, while protection by security posted by licensees is one of the rights producers have under the act I believe, and the majority of producer organizations with which the commission consulted agree, that grain producers need to assume somewhat more responsibility for their own business dealings.
While certain of our amendments give the commission more authority to deal with licensees whose security may be insufficient, other amendments place an onus on the farmer to help minimize his or her own risk. These provisions include, first, an amendment that will provide by regulation protection for producers for a prescribed period from the date of delivering their grain to a licensee.
If producers decline to accept payment for their grain within that specified period, they will not be eligible to be paid out of the licensee's posted security should that company ultimately fail. Based on consultations which the grain commission has conducted with producers and the industry the prescribed period will be 90 days. There will be a requirement that the farmer must notify the grain commission within 30 days of a failure to pay or default by a grain company.
The amendments will also place a responsibility on the farmer to determine if he or she is in fact dealing with a duly licensed company. As only licensed companies must post security with the grain commission, claims will not be valid if the farmer is dealing with an unlicensed company.
A provision will require the producer to obtain grain commission authorized documents from grain dealers and other grain commission licensees. The amendments will permit the commission to set percentage limits on security coverage. The commission would not however be able to use that particular regulatory power without governor in council approval. Currently coverage is 100 per cent. I expect this will remain the case for the foreseeable future.
Finally, the amendments explicitly limit the ability of the Canadian Grain Commission to have the amount of security posted by licensed companies through the commission. This provision is designed to bring the protection enjoyed by producers more in line with security provisions common in many other areas. It is a bit analogous to the limits placed on what the government will guarantee depositors in a financial institution that fails.
These provisions are not a cure-all. No legislation can ensure that grain companies will not make bad decisions. No law will prevent bankruptcies. Nonetheless, these amendments will place more responsibility with the producers for dealing with licensed, viable companies. As well these provisions will encourage producers to refrain from taking unnecessary risks when dealing with any company, licensed or otherwise.
These amendments will reduce the risk which has been borne in the past by the taxpayer. As I said in my first introductory remarks this package of amendments was preceded by a series of
in depth industry consultations across the grains industry in this country.
These consultations demonstrate conclusively that the industry has changed, strengthening our conviction that Canada's legislation has to respond to those changes. I believe the amendments before the House today have the support of the majority of participants in our grains industry. These organizations share my belief that these amendments will produce substantial benefits for producers, taxpayers and the grains industry as a whole. I recommend the amendments contained in Bill C-51 to the House for approval.