Mr. Speaker, I am rising tonight as frustrated as I am angry.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, because I am a New Democrat I do not have the opportunities to ask questions of ministers in this Chamber as often as I would like. I consider it an honour and a privilege when I am called upon to raise matters with ministers of the crown on behalf of my constituents and Canadians everywhere who share my views.
However, when a minister refuses to respond with a correct answer when he has it at his fingertips, he is not only wasting my valuable time, he is also wasting the time of the Chair and he is insulting the Canadian people.
On Tuesday, November 15, I asked the Minister of Agriculture to clarify his position with respect to grain transportation financing in Canada. There were conflicting reports from government printed in the media. Because the issue of the Crow benefit is of incredible importance to the farmers and the communities that they support in northwest Saskatchewan as well as across the prairies, I thought it was appropriate to clear the air and let farmers who are now just starting to plan next year's crop know where they stand going into that crop year.
Those conflicting reports were numerous. During the month of October when he was touring Asia, the Minister for International Trade said he wanted Canada to eliminate all farm export subsidies including the Crow benefit and indeed prohibit any new ones.
At the same time, the federal Minister of Transport said he was looking for ways to reduce spending within his department and the Crow benefit appeared to be on the block. Late last week the minister's deputy minister, Mr. Nick Mulder, told the semi-annual meeting of the Canadian Grains Council that it is time to update Canada's railway policy, including the grain subsidies. In fact he said that if Transport Canada had its way a new transportation policy would include a significant change in the Crow benefit method of payment. To quote Mr. Mulder, he said:
The view is that we ought to make a method of payment change sooner rather than later; we have to move in another direction.
During the recent political convention of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party in Saskatoon, the delegates voted on a transportation motion and decided it was time to pay the farmer rather than the railway. Therefore I thought, since the minister of agriculture had been saying that as far as he was concerned the issue was one to be resolved in consultation with farm groups, that it was time the minister came forward with his own thoughts on the matter.
On Tuesday afternoon of this week I asked the minister if he was the defender of the Crow benefit and if it was the federal government's intention to keep grain moving by rail by ensuring that the Crow benefit remained in place. The minister did not surprise me by saying once again:
Over the course of the next couple of months the Minister of Transport and I will be canvassing all the major farm organizations in the country so that we might present recommendations to our current cabinet colleagues early in the new year.
The minister did not answer my question but at least he was consistent in his answer. Mr. Speaker, you can understand my surprise and my anger when I picked up the newspaper on Wednesday morning to read that on Tuesday night, barely five hours after the minister of agriculture had answered my question, he met with prairie ministers of agriculture and told them that the Crow benefit was on its deathbed. The federal government will betray the commitment to thousands of prairie farmers and introduce legislation early in the new year to end payments to the railways in favour of payments made directly to producers.
A great number of farmers in northwest Saskatchewan and I continue to support the Crow benefit. We want the federal government to maintain the current method of payment. It would appear the minister, the cabinet and the Liberals across the way are not prepared to listen or even understand our concerns. We are also appalled that when he had a chance to put his position on the table in the House of Commons where it belonged, the minister of agriculture chose to conceal that information until he was in a private meeting later that day.
An issue of this importance deserves the attention of the House. Our time in question period is too valuable to be ignored, and it appears that is exactly what this minister of agriculture did on Tuesday.