Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer the question on the Crow benefit raised by my hon. colleague, the member for The Battlefords-Meadow Lake.
It is not as simple as he makes it sound. The Minister of Transport and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food together are currently in the process of meeting with shareholders in the grains and oilseeds industry regarding changes to the Western Grain Transportation Act, which I will call WGTA for short.
Under the new GATT regulations the WGTA on shipments through the west coast and Churchill fall within the definition of an export subsidy. These subsidies must be reduced, as he knows, under the terms of the new GATT. This means that we have choices. We can change the WGTA so that it is no longer an expert subsidy, or we can pay the railways but only within the new GATT rules.
The second option would lead to an immediate and severe restriction on the volume of grain shipped through the west coast and Churchill that would be eligible for subsidies. In other words as volume limits for products were reached, shippers would suddenly be saddled with the full WGTA rates on shipments.
Given this context there are now two proposals which have been put forward as alternatives to paying the railways. The first, presented by the producer payment panel last June, recommends payments to producers based on cultivated acres and then gradually phasing into payments based on arable acres. It also recommends some of the WGTA be put into safety nets and research.
However the second proposal put forward by the Government of Alberta and endorsed by the present Saskatchewan government recommended provincial variations in the program within a set a principles. It also recommended against putting WGTA money into safety nets.
After their current discussion with all interested parties about these two options, and perhaps other suggestions may come up, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Transport will make a comprehensive set of recommendations to cabinet about the overall reform to the Canadian grain handling and transportation system.
These recommendations must be fiscally responsible and consistent with our international trading obligation, as the hon. member knows. They must also reflect the concern of all those in the grains and oilseeds industry. In finalizing the government's position with respect to the WGTA we must ensure that Canadian agriculture and Canadian farmers are positioned to take on the world and to win.