House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.


Points Of OrderRoutine Proceedings

September 27th, 1994 / 10:25 a.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I have given the Chair notice of a point of order arising from comments made in the House during a debate on Bill C-41 on Tuesday of last week.

I will state my point of order briefly. It arises pursuant to the provisions of Standing Order 18 of the House. That standing order lists a number of groups and states:

No member shall speak disrespectfully of-nor use offensive words against either House or against-any Member thereof.

It goes on from there.

On Tuesday of last week the following words were spoken in the House: "The reference to sexual orientation in the code and its proposed inclusion in the human rights legislation gives recognition to a faction in our society which is undermining and destroying our Canadian values and Christian morality". It goes on to state: "Homosexuality is not natural. It is immoral and it is undermining the inherent rights and values of our Canadian families and it must not and should not be condoned".

Those words, spoken by the member for Central Nova, clearly in my view give rise to a point of order pursuant to Standing Order 18. As a gay man, indeed as the only openly gay member of the House, I want to point out that certainly I am not the only homosexual in the House. Indeed there are gay people on both sides of the House and in the other place. I dare say there always have been, just as gays and lesbians are found in all other walks of life.

Pursuant to Standing Order 18, I want to ask what could be more offensive, to use the words of Standing Order 18, than to suggest that my very existence is immoral, unnatural, destroying Canadian values and must not be condoned. If similar hateful words had been directed toward another minority, be they Jews, Blacks, Chinese Canadians, people with disabilities or aboriginal people, all of whom are represented in the House, it is inconceivable the Chair would not have intervened and called the offending speaker to order. Therefore I want to ask why the standard should be any lower in the case of hatred directed at gays and lesbians in the House.

Finally, just to conclude, it is not good enough to suggest that just because these words are not directed at a specific individual therefore they can be spoken with impunity. If the words are unparliamentary if spoken with reference to one individual member, why should they lose that character if spoken of an unnamed general group of members?

Points Of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, I feel I have a right and an obligation to respond to the point of order. I point out to the Chair this is not a point of order that the member for Burnaby-Kingsway raises.

If any member has the right to rise on a point of order arising from our debates on the floor of the House on Tuesday, September 20, 1994, it would be me. I have a right as a parliamentarian to express unequivocally what I feel is appropriate on debate when scrutinizing legislation.

If anyone has any concerns it should be this member because of the comments made by the member for Burnaby-Kingsway. In Hansard the Speaker will see where he refers to me making statements on the floor of the House that I did not in fact make on the floor of the House. He specifically makes reference to select words and uses the words out of context, words arising from a debate on May 15, 1994 on the CBC prime time news program ``On the Line''. The issue discussed and debated was what rights should gays be entitled to and questions were posed by both the commentator and the public at large.

The member for Burnaby-Kingsway stood on the floor of the House and used select words and put to other members of the House his opinion of what I said. I will quote specifically from Hansard at page 5913. He states: ``Will she now stand in her

place and retract those hateful comments?" He makes reference to words that I used on the floor of the House as being hateful.

Second, he indicates that I have no place in the Liberal Party. He then refers to me at page 5912 as "the hon. member, and I use those words advisedly". That is not proper parliamentary language.

At page 5916, speaking to another member when I was not present in the House, on four occasions in the same commentary he referred to me as "she". Not once did he refer to me as the member for Central Nova. I object to that. That is improper. He is a senior parliamentarian and I expect respect on the floor of the House, particularly when I am not present.

At page 5919 the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway in a commentary to the hon. member for Yellowknife said: "The hon. member was present in the House", referring to the member for Yellowknife, "when the Liberal member of Parliament for Central Nova made comments, among other things, suggesting that homosexuality is immoral and unnatural when she suggested that AIDS was a scourge to mankind which had been inflicted upon the country by homosexuals".

Nowhere in Hansard will it be seen that I made those comments on the floor of the House. I demand a public apology.

Points Of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to make a few brief comments which may assist the Chair.

I think it is obvious that two members of Parliament have made statements in the House on which they obviously have strong views and have disagreed with each other. One member said that another member had suggested that AIDS was a scourge and so on. I do not know whether those comments were made anywhere but they were not made on the floor of the House. To repeat them here in the House certainly is not helpful to any hon. member nor to the debate nor even to decorum.

On the other hand it is quite true that from time to time members of the House do make statements with which others disagree. I think the issue before us this morning is whether or not Standing Order 18 has been breached, notwithstanding all other considerations.

Standing Order 18 reads:

No Member shall speak disrespectfully of the Sovereign, nor of any member of the Royal Family, nor of the Governor General or the person administering the Government of Canada; nor use offensive words against either House, or against any Member thereof. No Member may reflect upon any vote of the House-

I think those words in our rules have traditionally been interpreted by you, Madam Speaker, and by other occupants of the chair as meaning that a member of Parliament cannot accuse another member of having done a particular thing which is offensive. I cannot accuse another member of Parliament personally of having committed a criminal act, for instance. I cannot accuse another member of other types of wrongdoing in the House and get away with it.

The reason that standing order is there is obviously so that the occupant of the chair can remind members that anyone in the House who makes an accusation personally against another member is forced to withdraw in order to have proper decorum and order in the House.

We have before us today a case of strong disagreement between two people. I am not judging the disagreement. I am suggesting that Standing Order 18 has not been breached in this particular case.

Points Of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Lethbridge Alberta


Ray Speaker ReformLethbridge

Madam Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. I would urge you to rule that this is not a point of order that is before us but a matter of debate where two members of the House of Commons have put a point of view forward and it is part of debate.

When I look at the circumstances here in referencing Standing Order 18, the member as I recall from what I heard was not referencing a specific member but was talking to a general circumstance. I think that must be taken into consideration when you make your ruling, Madam Speaker.

I believe that as members of the House of Commons we are given the privilege of speaking about a variety of subjects, of giving our opinion personally or on behalf of other individuals or on behalf of our constituents. When we do that we take the responsibility for those opinions and those words as we set them before the House. Those are items of debate in the House and do not come under what we are referencing today or considering a point of order. We have that privilege. Sometimes we are going to say things in the House that are not deemed to be politically correct. That may not be acceptable to some people but in general in referencing freedom of speech they are acceptable and can be said as a member of the House of Commons.

Points Of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

I rise on a point of order, Madam Speaker. It has been brought to my attention that I made reference to the hon. member for Yellowknife and I wish to apologize if there were problems arising from that. It is the hon. member for Yellowhead. I apologize if there was any confusion there.

Points Of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

The Chair realizes the seriousness of the matter before it. We will take it under advisement and come back to the House very shortly.

I wish to inform the House that, pursuant to Standing Order 33(2)(b), because of the ministerial statement Government Orders will be extended by 20 minutes.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan


Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

moved that Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, last October the government was elected based on a comprehensive plan for Canada known as the red book, which was our platform. In that red book we made a number of commitments to the people of Canada. I am very pleased that within our first 11 months in office we have made considerable headway on a number of fronts.

As Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food it is my great pleasure to speak today about one of these initiatives, namely the government's commitment to research and development specifically in the context of Bill C-50.

I recall attending my very first meeting with producers as a new minister. It was a meeting of the Manitoba pool elevators last November in Winnipeg. There were a number of issues on the minds of delegates at that meeting. They wanted to talk about GATT and about trade issues. They wanted to discuss transportation and safety nets. All of these issues have been moving forward at a very rapid pace and some of them with much public fanfare and media interest.

I also recall at that meeting another important issue that was raised by one of the delegates, one which received less fanfare and less public attention. The question was about research. I told the delegates at the Manitoba pool convention what I have been telling farmers and farm organizations across the country throughout the course of this past year. I believe agricultural research is an extremely important issue, one where we must continue to focus our resources.

My department already has a very good track record in selecting research and development projects with a high return for Canada. We are continually reviewing our research priorities and programs to ensure that we are getting the best possible value for every research dollar. We are also nurturing our partnership approach to industry responsive research by inviting our industry, academic and producer partners to take responsibility with us.

We are placing a strong emphasis on matching funding and joint projects with stakeholders in all facets of our operations. This allows us to use the market for direction.

Some might say this approach reduces the federal commitment to research or that my department may use the check-off proposed in Bill C-50 as an excuse to reduce expenditures in wheat and barley research. While it is likely that overall government spending will decline as we battle against the deficit, as we must, I want to emphasize that innovation and a strong research program are essential to Canadian agriculture and will be a priority for my department.

I make no apologies for sharing the responsibility of the future of agriculture with our industry and producer partners. Some members may have heard me talk about the matching investment initiative which we have launched this past year. Under this program we will spend some of our existing R and D dollars in a new way. Where industry identifies research projects that are of commercial interest we will match industry's investment dollar for dollar. This is not new money but money we have redirected from lower priority activities.

This approach makes sense and allows us to move forward on research while maintaining fiscal responsibility to Canadians. Producers have told me they want to play an important role in research since the results of research directly affect their operations and ultimately their livelihoods. This shared approach gives us the best of both worlds.

Good research is not a frill or an ivory tower pursuit to be thrown aside in tough times. Dedicated and focused research is a necessity for survival particularly in tough times. Dedicated and focused research supplies the technology that creates opportunities for market development and new exports which are so vital to the sustainability of our industry.

One of the most important initiatives with significant long term implications for the future of agriculture generally and the grains industry in particular is in plant breeding. Today we are considering Bill C-50 which is legislation that will lead to an additional $4.7 million in annual investments in plant breeding research.

This investment has the potential in about 10 years to translate into a $400 million increase in gross returns to prairie farmers annually. It is an investment which will cost wheat producers about half a cent a bushel or about 20 cents a tonne. I think any investor would be more than just a little interested about such an attractive rate of return.

What I am talking about today is a research partnership, the result of a proposal put forward by producers through the Western Grains Research Foundation. The proposal calls for a voluntary producer levy or a check-off program to support plant breeding research programs for wheat and barley. The federal

government is acting on this recommendation from the foundation.

For the past several months my department has been working very closely with the Western Grains Research Foundation to develop a check-off program which will enable grain producers themselves to supplement existing research budgets. To make this happen we require some legislative amendments. That is why I am recommending that the act which governs the Canadian Wheat Board be amended to allow voluntary levies to be deducted for the explicit purpose of supporting plant breeding research. Such deductions are simply not possible under the existing Canadian Wheat Board Act.

I bring this legislation to the House today and I am asking members to support it based on the knowledge that this program is a joint effort among government, industry and the research community. This check-off plan has been developed in close consultation with producer groups as well as with scientists from universities and from my department.

As I stated earlier I am a firm believer that the best way we can accomplish our research objectives is for both industry and government to invest in research in a partnership approach. This effort before you, this specific check-off plan, is supported by the Canadian Wheat Board and has already received strong support from a majority of farm organizations. And well it should since the concept has been a producer initiative from day one, an initiative which we have been working on with producers to make it a reality.

This program will generate additional research funds through the voluntary levies on wheat and barley sales. The levies will be deducted from Canadian Wheat Board final payments to producers. They will apply to board sales of most wheat in the four western provinces and the sales of barley in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and B.C. Alberta sales of soft white wheat and barley would not be subject to this levy as producers of those commodities already have check-offs in place provincially.

Some people might point to reduced wheat acreages and suggest that producers will not want to support a so-called declining crop. To these people I would say that despite ongoing diversification of crops, wheat is still a major crop for many producers on the prairies. Last year it contributed $2.7 billion to the Canadian economy.

Despite the recent and dramatic surge in the importance of canola as a crop in Canada, with better world prices in the last number of weeks wheat may have regained its rank as our most valuable crop. It is important to remember also that wheat is not one crop but actually is seven. Some varieties such as durum, extra strong, and white prairie spring are gaining acreage and gaining market share.

I would like to provide the House with a bit of background about why research levies are needed and what we hope to achieve with them. I would like to explain how the grain producers on the prairies in partnership with government came to the decision that such levies are a necessary and important key to the future of prairie agriculture and the grains industry in Canada.

The Western Grains Research Foundation is a federally chartered public organization with a proven track record in supporting effective pure research. It was established just over 10 years ago to allocate research funds. Its economic base came from the interest earned on $9 million left over from the prairie farm assistance act when it was repealed.

Currently the foundation distributes about $900,000 a year in interest funds. It has done some very good work with that money. It has focused on vital issues such as the problem with fusarium head blight in Manitoba. The foundation is quick in its reaction time and it is targeted on vital issues.

The foundation is run by a board of directors representing its member producer organizations and includes a representative from the research branch of my department. What this means is that the research decisions of the Western Grains Research Foundation are made by producers and the foundation is accountable for those decisions to all of its producers as well as the federal government.

To carry out its new research objectives the foundation will establish two research advisory committees, one for wheat breeding and one for barley breeding. These committees will be responsible for developing operational plans and co-ordinating research programs designed to achieve our plant breeding objectives. They will decide which research projects to fund in western research centres and the emphasis will be on funding work that will meet a future market need.

Western plant breeding centres receiving funding will report on their progress annually to the Western Grains Research Foundation. This progress will be reviewed by the advisory committees who will make decisions about continued support. Furthermore the foundation will report annually to all prairie permit book holders giving an accounting of the money received and how it has been used to accomplish the research goals.

The role of the Canadian Wheat Board in all of this is purely administrative. All major decisions will be the responsibility of the Western Grains Research Foundation which is ultimately accountable to its producers and to the Government of Canada. I feel very comfortable with the accountability process which the Western Grains Research Foundation has established for itself under this proposed program.

In supporting these amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act hon. members of the House will be in very good company. They will in fact be joining a team of supporters from

12 prairie farm organizations which make up the Western Grains Research Foundation.

Those member organizations are: United Grain Growers; Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association; Manitoba Pool Elevators; Prairie Canola Growers Council; Flax Growers of Western Canada; Saskatchewan Wheat Pool; Keystone Agricultural Producers; Western Barley Growers Association; Oat Producers of Alberta; Alberta Wheat Pool; Canadian Seed Growers Association; and the Unifarm organization of Alberta. There are recent indications that other groups and organizations wish to join this team of research oriented and progressive farm organizations.

These organizations are key players in the Canadian grains industry. All of them have backed the voluntary check-off proposal and they have consulted with their producer members. It was the decision of these organizations that dedicated research funds be collected and applied explicitly to plant breeding research.

What we have here is a program that producers want. It is one we will be supporting through the legislative amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act now before the House in the form of Bill C-50. Simply put, the program will enable producers to do what they have asked for: to invest a portion of their own money into the future of their crops, their industry and their very livelihoods.

Canada's grains industry is highly dependent on exports. Today's grain customers are demanding both a stable supply and a high quality product that meets their end use requirements. I have consistently maintained that we must be able to respond quickly to changing market conditions if we are to remain competitive in those vital global markets.

The proposal before the House will help us to improve our competitive advantage while also improving farm incomes. New varieties of wheat and barley will be developed. New varieties will lead to improved field performance, higher yield potentials, increased resistance to disease and insect pests, earlier maturity and reduced harvest losses, all improvements which will reduce per tonne production costs for farmers.

The development of new varieties with specific qualities required by the marketplace will improve sales through the development of new market opportunities. This will keep Canada on the fast track in meeting marketplace demands.

For example, Canada must be able to respond rapidly to new demands for varieties of wheat suitable for specific uses such as frozen bread dough, Asian type noodles, or new varieties of malting barley that are needed in markets like Korea and China. In fact we do have a variety of wheat that is suitable for the frozen bread dough requirement, but so far it is not grown in large enough quantities.

Meeting the demands of these changing trends in food consumption preferences could mean significant new market potential and increased profits for western producers. Sound investments in crop research will pay off in better market returns to farmers in the future.

Will Canada be ready when opportunity knocks in terms of these new markets? With the benefit of research initiatives such as this voluntary check-off proposal contained in Bill C-50, I firmly believe Canadian farmers will be in a better position to compete in that very tough and demanding international marketplace.

As I said earlier, the program has the potential to bring plant breeding research almost $5 million in additional funding each year. The House will note that I used the word additional. This is important. I know concern has been expressed in some quarters that governments might take advantage of the contributions made by producers under this program to reduce the government spending on wheat and barley breeding programs.

We all know that cuts have occurred throughout government and that overall spending reductions are likely to be a fact of life in government for the foreseeable future. My department will not target wheat and barley research for special reductions just because of the contributions made by farmers under the program. Funding levels for wheat and barley research will be held in proper proportion to the amount being spent on research for other grain crops within the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Here is how this voluntary check-off will be implemented. It will work in the simplest form possible through deductions from Canadian Wheat Board final payments before that money is distributed to farmers. When I say "as simple as possible" I mean just that.

There are no huge administrative costs or red tape. I would suggest that the administrative costs proposed in Bill C-50 will be lower than the costs of other similar types of programs already in place in some provinces.

Annual operating costs are estimated to be in the order of $106,000 a year or about 2 per cent of revenues. That amount will be deducted from the total amount of levies collected. Western producers of wheat and barley would pay levies of 20 cents per tonne on wheat and 40 cents per tonne on barley. The barley levy is higher to partially offset the lower volume of barley deliveries.

The amount to be levied will be fixed by order in council. The levies will be deducted from Canadian Wheat Board final payments beginning with those for the 1993-94 crop year and those final payments in the ordinary course of events for 1993-94 would be made in January 1995.

The funds collected, beginning in the coming year and in subsequent years, will be automatically transferred by the Canadian Wheat Board to special accounts set up and administered by the Western Grains Research Foundation.

This program is not intended to duplicate or replace current check-off programs already in place in some provinces. Producers who choose not to participate may opt out if that is their preference. Any farmer wishing to opt out of the levy on an annual basis can do so by a simple notice in writing.

However early indications are that we can anticipate a participation rate in this check-off program in the order of 90 per cent. We have confidence in that participation rate because this program has been initiated by producers and producer organizations. It has had their keen support throughout its developmental stages to the point now where legislation is ready in the House of Commons.

Research and development spending cannot be simply turned on and turned off like a tap. Such an attitude toward research only results in inadequate and inconsistent support and missed opportunities. Inaction on the research front would negate the day to day efforts of hardworking farmers across the prairies and Canada would risk losing its competitive edge in wheat and barley markets. We absolutely cannot run the risk of our wheat and barley breeding programs falling behind those of our competitors. For years now our major competitors like Australia, the United States and the European Union have been taking a direct role in renewing public plant breeding programs in wheat and barley. Incidentally, much of their research has been implemented as a result of producer funded programs. A check-off or a producer levy in Canada is required to keep up with that international competition.

I am pleased to bring forward this producer initiative to increase funding for plant breeding research in Canada. The proposed wheat and barley check-off is a very good example of how producers and government can work constructively together to achieve something that will benefit the industry as whole and will translate into benefits for future Canadians.

I recommend that the House approve Bill C-50 amending the Canadian Wheat Board Act to allow voluntary levies to be deducted in support of this important research program. I am anxious to hear the comments and remarks of members of the House who I hope will indicate their support for this particular direction.

I would draw to the attention of the House, this being Tuesday morning, that I have a commitment in cabinet to which I must attend. I regret not being able to stay to listen to the remarks that will be offered by other members in the course of the debate.

I am very pleased that the secretary of state for agriculture and agri-food and my parliamentary secretary will both be here and listening to the remarks of hon. members. I suspect they will be participating in the debate. I very much look forward to the reaction of members to this important bill.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Madam Speaker, as the new agriculture critic for the Bloc Quebecois, the Official Opposition, I am happy this morning to speak to Bill C-50 on the Canadian Wheat Board.

According to the information we received at our meeting this week with Agriculture Canada officials, this bill results from a Western grain producers' initiative. What they want is simple: they are willing to cut back on their profits in order to invest in research aimed at improving the genetic quality of wheat and barley. This bill will allow the Canadian Wheat Board to make deductions from wheat and barley producers' final payment cheques for the purpose of increasing private research funding.

As the single marketing agent for Canadian wheat and barley, the Canadian Wheat Board buys almost all grain produced. Deductions of 20 cents per tonne of wheat and 40 cents per tonne of barley will be made from payments on delivery. These figures were calculated by estimating research needs in millions of dollars and dividing the total by the number of tonnes bought.

As a Quebec farmer, I know much more about beef, pork and milk production than about grain production. So I was surprised to learn that although the bill only refers to wheat, the officials who explained Bill C-50 to us assured us that amendments affecting wheat would automatically apply to barley under the regulations. It also appears that two separate funds will be established, one for wheat and the other one for barley.

The deduction rates I mentioned will be set by order-in-council and not by legislation. This provision could exempt some classes of grain or some provinces. Alberta, for instance, will not participate in the barley deductions since the Alberta Barley Commission already makes such deductions.

Again, as a Quebec farmer, I was also surprised by the fact that deductions are optional. Officials said they were very confident that grain producers would participate based on the current rate of participation in the Alberta Barley Commission deductions program. We, in Quebec, have a similar process for marketing and advertising milk, but participation is compulsory.

A method like the one proposed here would not work in Quebec. As you see, we are really distinct in every way. With this 90 per cent participation rate, the commission intends to collect $4.7 million, of which $3.8 million is for wheat and $900,000 for barley, according to the estimates.

This money will then be used to subsidize research on improving the genetic quality of wheat and barley. Also, increasing the yield per acre makes the varieties more resistant to diseases and parasites and helps find new varieties to better meet new market requirements.

The first question that comes to our mind is of course the funding that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada allocates to research on wheat and barley. We are told that the budget for it now is $18.7 million. If so, why must producers fund parallel or complementary research out of their own pocket? Do not misunderstand me. I think it is quite laudable to encourage farmers to take charge and proceed with the solutions that they know are best for them.

Nevertheless, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada should not shift its responsibilities to the private sector nor should it be dependent on the private sector. Last week, the Department of Agriculture tabled a bill that, among other things, clarifies its mandate by specifying the department's involvement in research and development. Despite this restructuring, western grain growers conclude that they have to pay twice to benefit from research that meets their needs.

All taxpayers, which of course includes farmers, already pay $18.7 million for research and development on wheat and barley. Nevertheless, farmers will have to invest $4.7 million more to orient the research to their priorities. The department explains that funding for research and development is going down and that the private sector must take over. In the future, will the Liberal government lower its share to increase the contribution from the private sector, namely farmers?

Certainly, research and development is the key to remaining competitive on foreign markets. Initiatives such as this must be encouraged and the participation of the private sector, producers and industrialists, must be increased so that more research and development is carried out. But I think it is fundamental for the government to play its role and to finance agricultural research and development equitably. Earlier, I asked the hon. member for Matapédia-Matane if maple syrup producers in his riding had problems disposing of their production.

In my riding, and more specifically in Plessisville, the world capital of maple syrup, we have a surplus. I urge the federal Department of Agriculture to promote research on maple syrup and sugar in order to find new markets. Surpluses are enormous. Our producers must sell their maple syrup for roughly the same price as they did nine or ten years ago. Production costs are constantly increasing, while the selling price remains the same or is even lower than before.

In any case, what we are looking at this morning is the financing of a private research group, namely the Western Grains Research Foundation, which has already looked at the issue. Private financing of research offers some benefits to that sector. It meets specific needs identified by those who finance that research. On the other hand, the information gathered may remain confidential. Regardless of what we may think, the reality is that those two factors may influence grain producers.

The budget allocated by the department is insufficient. That department is all in favour of finding new markets, but it does not provide the necessary tools to that end. The money spent by the department on research and development for wheat and barley is not in line with priorities in that sector. This second finding shows a certain lack of understanding of the industry's needs.

I will conclude by emphasizing the importance of avoiding-and the minister alluded to that issue earlier-any duplication or overlapping between the department's research projects and those of the private sector. As the member representing the Quebec riding of Frontenac, I know what I am talking about when it comes to duplication and overlapping.

The most recent example is the referendum held in 1992. Quebecers are very familiar with the issue of duplication. We pay double and we keep our mouth shut. Last week, at a briefing on this bill by Agriculture officials, we were told that research initiatives will be discussed with the stakeholders in that sector, precisely to avoid any duplication or overlapping. It seems that the projects to be financed will complement each other but, unfortunately, the legislation is totally silent on that aspect.

Right now, we support Bill C-50, except for a few minor details. When the time comes to review this bill section by section for the benefit of western farmers, we will try to coax the Liberal government, the minister, as well as the new parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Beauséjour.

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Champlain will also discuss Bill C-50 in a few moments.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, it is truly a pleasure to be here today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act to allow a refundable check-off from wheat and barley which will be taken from the producers' final payment for the explicit purpose of plant breeding research.

I would like to start by summarizing provisions of the bill. The bill would allow deductions from the farmer's final payment checks for each pool period unless the farmer files with the Canadian Wheat Board to be exempted from the deduction. It places revenue into a special account set up and administered by the Western Grains Research Foundation.

The Canadian Wheat Board must estimate how much money it will take from farmers to put into the account and then estimate the share for the research agency. The Canadian Wheat Board will then give the money to the research funding agency after paying the administration costs to the board for administering the fund.

The research funding agency would then distribute the money received to persons or plant breeding centres engaged in the research into new varieties of wheat and barley. An additional reserve account will also be set up into which a portion of the money collected will be put. This reserve account is there to cover the costs of research contracts if there are insufficient deductions in a particular pool period.

An annual report must be submitted to the agriculture minister on its operations and affairs no later than the end of June, three months after the end of the previous fiscal year.

The deductions would start immediately and would be retroactive to August 1, 1993, with farmers having to file notice before February 25, 1995 if they decide that they want to have their contributions deducted or refunded.

The governor in council may make exemptions to the program on the basis of the class of wheat sold or on the province or region in which the wheat was produced.

The rationale behind the bill and the assumed benefits are to give producers a role in supporting and directing agriculture research. It will give farmers control to more closely link agriculture research to farmers' priorities and to marketing priorities and needs, and to develop new wheat and barley varieties which will assist the competitiveness of Canadian farmers by providing $4.7 million in additional research money which certainly seems to give a good payback to farmers.

Another rationale behind the bill is to develop new market opportunities and to improve farm income to reduce unit production costs. This is a rationale behind the bill.

I do have some concerns about the bill. The first is a concern about the possible overlap in deductions. There are some farmer groups such as the barley commission in Alberta which have check-offs in place now. Will there be an overlap with the wheat board check-off? It is a concern. There is no fixed levy and the rate of the levy may be increased in the future. That is a concern as well.

The plan focuses on producing new crop varieties. However, for reasons of efficiency, farmers should probably be moving to completely different crops in some cases. I think it is important that this be considered. If the money is simply not in the agriculture department's budget for this type of research then I have a concern that the department should do some priorizing regarding research projects under its existing budget and not merely download this expense on to farmers.

Another concern is that in the last Auditor General's report it was revealed that research efforts within the department of agriculture were very poorly co-ordinated. It is important that is worked on and not just allowing a separate fund to deal with the targeting of research money.

There would certainly be an increase in the cost of administering the program. There would be new administration costs taken from research funding. This is always a concern and I think it has to be carefully monitored.

The Reform Party and I do support the bill, however. The reasons for our support are that the contributions to the research fund are automatic, although they may be refunded on an annual basis upon a written application by the farmer. We propose that the application for refund be made easier by having a box on the Canadian Wheat Board permit application form which gives farmers a choice of whether they want to take part and want to have the deduction refunded.

Another reason for support is that farmers and industry representatives seem to support the program. There seems to be widespread support among farm organizations certainly, and there is some support among farmers.

Another reason for support is that the program will bring an additional $4.7 million of research to be targeted for wheat and barley, which has already I believe taken a bit of a hit in terms of research funding due to research money going into research on other crops such as peas, lentils and canola.

The research funds I believe will be in the hands of farmers and farm organizations; they will direct the funding. It is certainly a positive step any time we can get farmers, the people who are going to benefit from the research directly, involved in allocating the funding. That is a possible move.

Again the Reform Party supports the bill. We will be proposing some amendments in committee. We will do that when this matter is discussed in committee.

I am extremely disappointed that any bill which opens the Canadian Wheat Board up to discussion was not far more broad and substantial. If there is any doubt at all that there is a need for major reforms of the Canadian Wheat Board then I would like to demonstrate with the scenario I am going to present now.

Last Thursday on a farm in southern Manitoba a group of seven RCMP officers, special officers and customs officials arrived at a farmer's door, knocked on the door and seized a wide variety of documents from a farmer. In a neighbouring town the same morning at the same time another group of RCMP officers, special officers and customs officials arrived at a door of another farmer and seized documents.

What heinous crime had these farmers committed to have this large group of RCMP officers, special investigators, customs officials seizing their documents? Was it a drug bust? Were they suspected of some kind of embezzlement? Was it a crime like that? No. The crime they were accused of was shipping grain to the United States without a Canadian Wheat Board permit.

Canada signed a free trade agreement with the United States which allows for free movement of wheat and barley across the United States-Canadian border. We signed the free trade agreement but the crime those farmers were accused of was shipping wheat or barley across the border without a Canadian Wheat Board permit. Now that is a heinous crime.

The government, the minister of agriculture and the revenue minister are using these heavy handed tactics on farmers who are only trying to make their business profitable and in one case to save the farm which is close to being foreclosed by the Farm Credit Corporation. Instead, why does the government not change the law that applies to the Canadian Wheat Board which prohibits farmers from taking advantage of the free trade agreement? I think the crime is that the government refuses to act in spite of a groundswell of support among farmers for these changes.

I believe that we do need major reforms to the Canadian Wheat Board. These reforms must centre around giving farmers direct control over their organization which they fund. Farmers pay the complete operating costs for the Canadian Wheat Board.

The Canadian Wheat Board was set up for farmers. It was much needed when it was set up and it probably still has an important function to serve but farmers must be given control. No longer is it good enough to put the control of the Canadian Wheat Board in the hands of government appointed commissioners.

The change must start by having farmers elect a board of directors so they gain control of their Canadian Wheat Board. Beyond that I am not sure the direction in which the board would go. Farmers have told me some of the things they would like to see, but it is up to them to determine the change once they do get control.

I propose that shortly after the board of directors is elected a mechanism should be put in place with different options for how the Canadian Wheat Board would look. These options can be put forward to farmers and they can decide what the make-up of their organization will be and what it will look like.

Some of the things I have heard from farmers is that they want competition to be allowed with the Canadian Wheat Board. They want the freedom to take advantage of the free trade agreement by shipping their wheat and barley into the United States and other markets. That is what farmers have told me. Farmers have said that once competition is allowed to the Canadian Wheat Board but certainly not before, they would be open to the idea of the Canadian Wheat Board handling other grains and oilseeds and specialty crops besides wheat and barley but only after they have the right to compete.

Farmers have told me they want the wheat board to continue to guarantee loans on wheat sold abroad only as long as other countries continue to do the same.

Those are some of the things farmers have told me. Once again, I cannot understand why this government seems so opposed to giving farmers control over their organization. Why is it so determined not to have this happen? I do believe that farmers absolutely will not put up with it much longer. The movement is there. There are more and more groups and more and more farmers all the time who are supporting this change in the Canadian Wheat Board.

I am not talking about getting rid of the Canadian Wheat Board. I am talking about improving it so it truly works for farmers and not just for the sake of the organization itself. Make it democratic.

When talking about the wheat board the argument has been raised from time to time that one of the advantages of the Canadian Wheat Board is that because it is a monopoly, because it totally controls the export sales of wheat and barley, it should give farmers a better price. It has that bargaining power.

First, whenever there is a monopoly involved in a market the market does not function well. Second. when it comes to buying for export the Canadian Wheat Board does have a monopoly, but when it comes to selling it is competing against all the other sellers in the world. The monopoly argument just does not work. The wheat board is one in an oligopoly, many sellers all of which do have some influence on the market.

The argument along that line has changed since the wheat board was put into place. When the wheat board was originally put into place wheat was not nearly as diverse a commodity as it is today. Back then there were far fewer different grades and types of wheat and markets. Customers did not demand a very specific product. In the market today however there are dozens and dozens of different types of wheat. No longer is wheat just wheat. Customers are looking for a very specific commodity. This of course changes the influence of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Instead of looking at huge markets we are often looking at the smaller, harder to find markets which want a very specific commodity. I believe as do many farmers that the wheat board just does not do a good job in finding and taking advantage of those smaller markets. Farmers and their agent grain companies do a good job of that and they must be allowed to do that job. They must not be interfered with by the Canadian Wheat Board.

Let us realize that times have changed. Customers are very demanding in terms of the products. We are looking at smaller more lucrative markets. Let us change the board and allow farmers involvement to accommodate that.

Some have suggested that the first step in changing the board might be to put a continental barley market into place. This may well be a place to start but it does not go nearly far enough. It is interesting to note that both the minister of agriculture and the Prime Minister during the election campaign promised to hold a plebiscite on a continental barley market very shortly after the election. It was a promise. They thought it was a good idea.

I would like to know why they are not honouring their promise. Farmers also want to know and they want them to honour their promise now and that is only reasonable. Farmers expect the government to keep its commitment and honour its promise. I expect that, as do the farmers.

The government continually takes pride in talking about how it consults with people before it makes a decision. I am not going to talk about the general consultations in other areas, but I do want to talk about consultation in agriculture. The government's consultation in the area of agriculture has been almost exclusively with government organizations and with farm organization leaders.

Farm organizations are extremely useful bodies. They do a lot of good in promoting their particular commodity or their area of interest, but it is time for government to talk to farmers about what they want in terms of their future in agriculture.

There are plans for the committee to travel to study agriculture. The unfortunate thing is this plan does not allow for focused and organized consultation with farmers. Reform has put forth in committee over the past several months a very specific plan as to how this consultation program could be improved immensely.

We have proposed focus groups with properly trained conciliators running them to determine what issues are important to farmers, what issues they want to talk about. These focus groups would lead to a public consultation process, public meetings where everyone would be welcome but the discussion would be focused based on the results of the focus groups.

It would be a travesty and a misuse of taxpayers' dollars if this committee did not allow some type of process similar to what Reform has proposed. I am not saying necessarily we have the only process, but it will work and it will work much better than what the plans are now. I strongly encourage this minister to go ahead with that.

I will conclude by saying that we do support Bill C-50. Being as the Canadian Wheat Board Act has been opened up, it is a real shame there were not far more broad and sweeping changes. I compare this change to adjusting a rearview mirror on an old beat up car that really needs to be replaced with a brand new model. I encourage this government to go out and let farmers tell them what brand new model they want.

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11:40 a.m.


Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to give notice that the members on the government side from now on in this debate will share their time, 10 minutes and 5 minutes questions and comments, until further notice.

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11:40 a.m.


Georgette Sheridan Liberal Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the bill today, the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, particularly so in view of the comments I just heard from my colleague in the Reform Party. I shall be splitting my time with my colleague from Dauphin-Swan River.

As the minister said earlier the amendment will allow a check-off to Canadian Wheat Board sales of wheat in the four western provinces and of barley sales in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

There are two very good reasons the bill deserves the support of all in the House. The amendments will pave the way for an additional $4.7 million annually in research funding, specifically in the area of plant breeding. I raise for the consideration of the House why the Reform Party would favour a long consultation process with the farm groups that are already supporting these amendments which would delay that kind of valuable research. It makes no sense to me because we already have grassroots support for the initiative.

Second and more important, and it ties into the point I was just making, Bill C-50 is a result of a specific request by the grain industry. The speedy response of our government to the request recognizes the importance of such research initiatives as well as the fact that no longer can government solely be relied on for research. Results can be achieved only through strategic alliances with industry.

My riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt includes a portion of the city of Saskatoon and a large rural area. It is an urban rural split of about 60:40 respectively. In fact this time last year I spent many hours on the road driving around the farm area of my riding during the election campaign. I remember stopping along the road north of Domremy to talk to a couple of farmers. I guess the Reform Party would call that consulting with the farmers on

their views. Lawrence and André Georget took a moment to tell me some of their concerns.

Just last week I had a most enjoyable and informative half-hour meeting with one of the Canadian Wheat Board representatives from my province of Saskatchewan. We discussed many things, including the check-off provisions which are under discussion today. That fellow made the point, and I think it is a good one, that the additional research that will be carried out as a result of these amendments will benefit not just the producers but all Canadians. All Canadians will have the benefit of better credit as a result of increased research funding.

How did this check-off scheme come about? It should be noted that the Western Grains Research Foundation, made up of 12 prairie farm organizations, asked the government to enact legislation that would enable producers to invest a portion of their own profits into plant breeding research.

The Western Grains Research Foundation is accountable directly to the producers as well as the federal government for the way in which research funds are spent. Producers believe that plant breeding research will help find new varieties and, in turn, enable the industry to maintain and increase its market share. All of this, for a farmer's investment of about half a cent a bushel or 20 cents a tonne.

Another interesting point is that studies have shown the return on investment in agricultural research can be more than 50 per cent. In the case of the legislation before the House this could translate into an extra $400 million to prairie farmers annually. That is because research and plant breeding has a potential to lead the development of varieties that are 15 per cent higher yielding and equal in protein content to existing varieties.

This brings me to another point. As I noted in my opening remarks, my riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt includes a large rural area as well as approximately one-third of the city of Saskatoon. That one-third of the city of Saskatoon includes the University of Saskatchewan and our College of Agriculture, which was one of the founding colleges in 1907 and enjoys a stellar reputation in the area of agricultural research.

Just north of the university in the lovely area along the South Saskatchewan River bank we have Innovation Place, a business research cluster whose focus is biotechnological research, development and commercialization. Hence my particular delight in having an opportunity to speak to the bill before the House today.

Producers know that research is vital to our agricultural industry. They know that their future livelihood depends on their ability to grow crops which will meet the shifting demands of the marketplace. Producers know as well that unless they start investing in research they risk lagging behind their competitors.

Farmers in Australia, United States and the European Union have been taking a direct role in renewing plant breeding programs in wheat and barley for years. In the United States over 15 states have check-offs on wheat. These are made at the state level and are deducted at first point of sale. The check-offs are generally voluntary and enjoy a high level of participation as we anticipate this will be. The Australian wheat board has had a non-voluntary levy in place for the past five years.

I mentioned partnerships between government and industry in my opening remarks. The industry strongly supports Bill C-50. This producer initiative has enjoyed broad industry support in its development and it will continue to do so, supporting a form of 12 prairie farm organizations that make up the Western Grains Research Foundation.

Perhaps not everyone is aware of who the members of this organization are: the United Grain Growers, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Manitoba Pool Elevators, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Alberta Wheat Pool, Prairie Canola Growers Council, the Flax Growers of Western Canada, Keystone Agricultural Producers, Western Barley Growers Association, the Oat Producers Association of Alberta, Canadian Seed Growers Association, and Unifarm.

Five of these organizations are also members of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and, most important, all these organizations have taken this issue to their membership and have received a strong vote of confidence. Again I would suggest this indicates some form of consultation. I doubt very much if the membership of those organizations would thank the government for going through yet another consultation period, at the taxpayers' expense, to find out the answer to the question that producers are in favour of this kind of research check-off.

What contribution does government currently make to agricultural research? Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spent over $2.5 million on wheat research in the last crop year and a further $8 million on barley research. The department will continue its commitment to research but this check-off proposed by producers will help us catch up to our competitors by providing additional research funding. These additional funds will allow us to double our wheat and barley breeding research programs. Government cannot do it alone and that is why we are so pleased to enter this research partnership with Canadian producers.

I would like to take a moment to review the minister's explanation of how the system will work. Western wheat and barley producers will pay voluntary levies of 20 cents a tonne on wheat and 40 cents a tonne on barley.

I should point out for some of our urban listeners that this constant reference to check-off has nothing to do with Russian literature. These levies or check-offs from the Canadian Wheat Board payments will be put into the research fund.

The amendments before us today are necessary to permit the use of the moneys collected by the Canadian Wheat Board for this cause. The Canadian Wheat Board will not be distributing the moneys collected. The funds from the check-offs will be distributed under the direction of the producer driven Western Grains Research Foundation.

The foundation will establish two research committees, one for barley and one for wheat. These committees will ensure research moneys are spent on research projects in western research centres that focus on the development of improved wheat and barley varieties.

Participation in this check-off is voluntary. Producers who want to opt out need only to submit a written request. As I said earlier, this check-off will garner additional research funds. It does not replace existing funding for agricultural research.

Supporting the legislation will mean that the levies collected will assist in providing the Canadian agricultural industry with the means to develop and use new technologies, technologies that will boost our competitive edge.

The ultimate objective of the legislation is to improve farm income through two main mechanisms; first, by improving the field performance of barley and wheat through new varieties that mature earlier, have higher yields and offer increased resistance to disease and insect pests; and, second, by maintaining and improving sales of wheat and barley by developing varieties with specific qualities required by the marketplace.

The government is committed to strategic partnerships to secure our research goals. We have invited the industry to share the responsibility for the future with us as equal partners and it has accepted.

I recommend the legislation be enacted to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act for the purpose of initiating voluntary producer levies in the interest of plant breeding research. We will be financially supporting the legislation because it is directly accountable to the producers of western Canada and because at its heart the legislation is motivated by producers who want to work with government in partnership to increase their competitive edge.

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11:50 a.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed the comments of the member for Saskatoon-Humboldt. I recognize that she represents an agricultural riding. I want to follow up by getting her thoughts on the idea of consultation with farm groups.

I understand that in the hon. member's comments she suggested that farm groups are supporting this check-off bill. As a result of what my colleague from Vegreville said I suggest that it might be important to broaden the base of the consultations in these ongoing hearings that agriculture is putting forward to meet with individual farmers.

Although there is support from farm organizations, these organizations may not speak for the majority of individual farmers. If the hon. member checks the membership she might find that out. Would she agree it would be important to consult agriculture producers in large numbers, and not just the farm organizations, to build support for this check-off?

Also would she agree it might be important for the Canadian Wheat Board to have elected directors as opposed to those appointed by the federal government? Would that not also boost the kind of support that we need in order to build a strong agricultural industry?

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11:50 a.m.


Georgette Sheridan Liberal Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. The point I would like make on consultation, and where I had some concern with the remarks made by the member for Vegreville, has to do with what appears to be a mixing of strategies.

The amendments before the House today deal specifically with amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act that will permit an additional $4.7 million to go into research funding. There seems to be broad grassroots support as represented by the 12 members in the foundation, who, I would expect, speak in a large part for their membership, for the producers themselves.

My comment to my colleague earlier had to do with the wastefulness of delaying the accumulation of these research dollars that can be immediately put into plant breeding research for the benefit of the producers, the industry and, as I said in my comments, all Canadians.

Perhaps I misunderstood the member for Vegreville, but it seems to me what he was suggesting was a giant overview of the Canadian Wheat Board and how it functions. That would be time consuming. It would involve delay and it would impede the very valuable contribution that this research initiative as proposed in Bill C-50 would have. Those were my comments and that was my intention.

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11:55 a.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, just to clarify matters for the member who just spoke, I did say very clearly that Reform supports the bill. I also said that the bill is a very small change to the Canadian Wheat Board compared to what we need. We need substantial, wide sweeping, major changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. I was just pushing for these changes to happen, some time in my lifetime I would prefer, and the sooner the better.

I just got a call from my assistant who said she had taken a call from a constituent who was wondering who this Bill Checkoff is and what team he plays for. Does he play for the Edmonton Oilers? He did not really know. She explained that no, it is a check-off bill we are talking about, not Bill Checkoff, a hockey player. I just wanted to clarify that.

The hon. member mentioned a figure for the number of dollars spent in research in agriculture. What benefit is derived from those dollars spent? I would prefer her to talk about the benefit derived and not so much the number of dollars spent, as though we are bragging about the number of dollars spent. I would like to ask the member to respond to that. What was the benefit?

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11:55 a.m.


Georgette Sheridan Liberal Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I am happy to respond to anyone in the Reform Party at any time. I thank him for his support of the bill and our colleagues in the Bloc who have endorsed the broad picture that is before us today.

Admittedly it is a small change. I do not think we get anywhere in this life by saying that if we cannot do the whole thing today we will not do it at all.

I also would like to question the member for Vegreville on his support of the new politics we are supposed to be seeing from the Reform Party, in particular having the decency to come forward from time to time and say: "Yes, this is a good initiative. We give it our support. Let's get this done today and if there is another aspect that we need to worry about, yes, we will continue with that".

The minister has indicated his willingness to constantly be improving and helping the effectiveness of the Canadian Wheat Board. Perhaps that is a matter for another day. We welcome the member's input to that process and consultation can take place in that regard.

For the moment we have before us a bill that will permit increased research funding right away. We should just get down to it and keep our minds focused on what we are talking about.

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11:55 a.m.


Marlene Cowling Liberal Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, as the member for Dauphin-Swan River, I would like to share with you and my hon. colleagues a brief but fascinating snapshot taken from the pages of Canadian history.

I do this in support of the legislation that has been introduced to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The amendments are required to make way for a voluntary wheat and barley check-off that would help fund plant breeding research in western Canada. This initiative is producer driven and is expected to generate an additional $4.7 million a year to research funding. These funds will be administered by the Western Grains Research Foundation, a federally chartered public organization comprised of 12 prairie farm organizations.

Wheat was first introduced into western Canada in 1812 by the Selkirk settlers in Manitoba's Red River valley. The names of the wheat they brought with them were not recorded. In 1842 Mr. David Fife received a sample of red fife from a friend. It was a contaminant in a winter wheat sample obtained from a shipment in Poland. When this seed was grown a few heads appeared to be more vigorous than the rest. These were carefully selected and increased to become red fife, which was first introduced in Manitoba in 1870. Red fife quickly became the main variety of spring wheat grown in the area and went on to become the international standard of high milling and baking quality typical of Canadian hard red spring wheat.

As the wheat growing area of western Canada gradually progressed north and west, it soon became apparent that the relatively short summer would eventually limit the wheat area. Plant breeders began to focus their attention on the development of early maturing varieties of wheat.

That is when Dr. Charles Saunders entered the picture. Dr. Saunders was a plant breeder at Agriculture Canada's Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. He was the son of William Saunders who founded the farm in 1885. It was the young Dr. Saunders who in the summer of 1892 began experimenting with a cross between the famous red fife and an early ripening variety of hard red spring wheat from India.

Following 10 years of plant breeding experiments, Dr. Saunders led the way in the development of a wheat cross called marquis. Marquis became a world renowned wheat variety and is said to be the single most important factor in establishing Canada's reputation as a producer of high quality wheat. Its performance was so remarkable that all inferior varieties were practically eliminated from production and marquis was to remain the varietal standard for Canadian bread wheat for most of this century.

Since the days of Dr. Saunders more sophisticated breeding techniques have evolved but the original challenge of human versus nature remains. Plant breeders have continued their efforts, developing subsequent varieties for qualities such as plant vigour, early maturing, resistance to chatter, resistance to rust and a number of other problems that were bane to the early prairie farmers.

Canada has originated some of its most eminent varieties from the search for better stem rust resistance, all the while retaining excellent milling and baking qualities.

I believe this brief historical overview is necessary to our discussion on the importance of the proposed amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, amendments which will provide for a voluntary producer of wheat and barley check-off. The check-off will provide western Canadian plant breeders with additional research funding to continue developing new varieties which

will in turn help Canada maintain its competitive edge and ensure a future for our industry.

Plant breeding enables us to produce new varieties more resistant to diseases and insects, to give larger yields and a higher grade and better quality. Specific varieties are needed to adapt to specific conditions. For example, varieties of eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba must be resistant to the rapidly changing races of leaf and stem rust. Varieties for western Saskatchewan and Alberta must have resistance to drought. For northern wheat growing areas the new varieties must be early maturing to minimize losses from early autumn frost.

Since the early 1930s over 600 crop varieties have been introduced into Canada and since 1990 more than 70 varieties of seed crops resistant to disease, cold and stress have been released.

One might say after all these years we must be getting very close to the perfect variety. It is much more complex than that. Our plant breeders have achieved wonders in developing varieties best suited for the full range of Canadian growing conditions and challenges. However, it must be remembered that the industry is constantly facing new crop threats. The pests and the diseases we fight do not always go away but when they do they are replaced by new ones.

It must also be recognized that a variety that suited our purposes extremely well over five or ten years ago may no longer be in great demand in the marketplace.

One of the key roles of today's scientists is to help develop the varieties that will enable us to meet the new and diverse international market demands. It is plant breeding research that gives us the ability to grow crops that can be made into the products such as frozen bread dough or into Asian type noodles with just the right consistency to beat out all of our other competitors.

The costs of research extend beyond the need for a lab where trained scientists experiment in crossing two varieties of wheat. To find the required gene, such as a gene resistant to a particular strain of stem rust, the wheat breeder may have to find it in native wild grasses. Information is needed on the milling, baking and other qualities of potential plant breeding material. Above all, new varieties must possess the high quality milling and baking qualities which are the characteristics of Canadian wheat and which meet the needs of the end user.

Tests must be performed on new varieties to be recommended for registration. A new variety must perform for at least two and normally three seasons to the satisfaction of a committee of specialists recognized by my hon. colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. All varieties must be registered prior to sale.

Is it costly? Yes, it is. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Specialists in the field believe that a well co-ordinated and adequately funded research program over 10 to 15 years in all western wheat classes would bring significant results such as the development of varieties that are 15 per cent higher yielding and equal in protein content to current varieties. This would be above and beyond any yield increases resulting from existing research funds.

If the price of wheat were $125 per tonne this would translate into $400 million annual increase in gross returns to prairie farmers. Perhaps this explains the foresight of Canadian producers who have asked for this check-off and who are quite willing to invest what amounts to less than one cent a bushel or about 20 cents an acre. I call it an excellent business decision on the part of producers.

I strongly recommend that the Canadian Wheat Board Act be amended to allow voluntary wheat and barley levies to be deducted in support of plant breeding research.

Support will give producers the research program they want, one directly accountable to the producers who fund it. Members will be supporting this government's commitment to continued research through a framework that includes the industry as a strategic planner or partner with a shared responsibility.

In backing this legislation members will be recognizing the need for the Western Grains Research Foundation to continue the important work carried out by the David Fifes and the Charles Saunders of the country. Most important, members will be supporting the future of plant breeding research which offers Canadian producers a strong presence in the international marketplace.

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12:05 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate our colleague who has just spoken, so optimistically, to Bill C-50. Past events do not, however, warrant her boundless optimism today.

Would the member indicate to this House the minimum number of producers needed to participate in this voluntary deduction scheme at 40 cents and 20 cents a tonne respectively for wheat and barley, in order to raise the $4.7 million anticipated by the Minister of Agriculture?

The Minister of Agriculture estimated that 90 per cent of Western grain producers will participate willingly, but there is, of course, a clause allowing grain growers to opt out if they wish.

My question is as follows. If, five years down the road, only 40 or 50 per cent of producers actually pay for research and development, while the others are benefiting from the fruits of the research, will voluntary participation still be tolerable?

Another of my fears is that a future Liberal government might gradually withdraw from agricultural research and development. This is a constant danger, one we cannot ignore.

I must tell you, Madam Speaker, that I do not have all that much confidence in the Liberal Party when it comes to agricultural research and development.

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12:10 p.m.


Marlene Cowling Liberal Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, that was an excellent question from the member across the way. He mentioned being optimistic. I want to remind the member that this is a new government on this side of the House.

Of course I am optimistic about the future. I am a farmer. I come to this House with a long record of community involvement and have been involved in major farm organizations across the country developing agriculture policy. I know how important it is to have a voluntary wheat and barley check-off that will fund plant breeding research for western Canada.

Farmers have been saying this for a long time and that is why it is so important that as a government we move ahead. As a Liberal government we are keeping our promise to those people out there producing that grain.

In my constituency of Dauphin-Swan River, Jim Parker, one of my constituents from Gilbert Plains, was a pioneer in plant breeding. He was an optimistic gentleman and clearly an example of the producer-farmer involvement in plant breeding. Parker developed a more rust resistant variety of wheat. This illustrates how farmers are committed to the research and recognize its importance.

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12:10 p.m.


Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague from Frontenac and critic for agriculture, has covered all the issues raised by Bill C-50 on the Canadian Wheat Board. I must say that I do agree with him that it is essential to support initiatives from people who want to take charge of their development, as in the case of western grain producers.

Since last October's elections, we have heard the term consultation used to mean just about anything most of the time. It means meeting with many groups from a given sector, talking a lot and listing their recommendations in a neat document that will end up on a shelf. For once that bureaucracy does not get in the way of the public will, we are certainly not going to object to an initiative grain producers consider desirable.

Two elements of the proposed legislation caught my attention however. First, the means by which the Canadian Wheat Board will pay the balance of research funds to the agency concerned, and second, the voluntary nature of deductions. The bill states that the Board must pay the research funding agency back no later than 180 days after the end of each pool period.

In the present case, this would be the Western Grains Research Foundation as the agency that offered to raise the contributions. The Foundation, which represents 12 Prairie farm associations, seems the most logical choice. According to the Foundation, producers would derive a gross revenue of approximately $400 million from research. The bill also provides that the Board will decide which agencies will receive research funding. In that case, the choice appears to be unanimous. But, for the protection of the producers' money, it could be suggested that the bill be amended to provide for the selection of the agency to be made by a vote among representatives of the wheat and barley producers. In the event the Foundation were dissolved or new ones emerged, it would be better to have a consultative process than to let the Board decide alone.

By the way, while board members come from the agricultural sector, all five of them are appointed by the minister. As for the voluntary nature of the 20 or 40 cent deduction, it would not get very far in Quebec, where mandatory deductions are favoured.

I understand that a different approach be taken in the West, particularly given the different historical development of farming in the Prairies. The voluntary approach could be criticized for allowing individuals to benefit from research without having contributed to its funding. On the other hand, it also enables lower income producers who cannot afford to contribute to the research fund to benefit from it anyway. It may nonetheless be advisable to set a minimum participation rate below which the deduction mechanism will have to be reviewed or abolished.

In addition, as the deduction rates are set by order in council, on the advice of the Canadian Wheat Board, it should be specified that could only be changed after consulting all agencies representing western wheat and barley producers.

One last word of warning in closing. The research this bill will help finance should be geared towards meeting the needs of all producers. It would be unfortunate if it focused on problems peculiar to businesses of a specific size.

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12:15 p.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings Ontario


Lyle Vanclief LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food

Madam Speaker, I will now congratulate the first speaker from the Bloc, the member for Frontenac, on being appointed critic for agriculture and agri-food as we could not make comments after his first comments in the House today.

I also want to comment on some of the concerns that the Bloc has raised. One is the statement made by the Bloc inadvertently that the wheat board buys Canadian wheat and barley. The wheat board does not buy Canadian wheat and barley. The wheat board

sells Canadian wheat and barley on behalf of producers in western Canada. It does not buy the product at all.

Regarding the other concern of some overlap or concern about spending taxpayers' dollars, one really tremendous thing about this amendment to the act which I want to clarify for them is that this will cost Canadian taxpayers absolutely nothing.

The cost of administration within the wheat board and in the research foundation will both be subtracted from the fees collected voluntarily from the producers.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, we are always concerned about program overlap and duplication but I think it will not be the case here. At least, we hope not, so that Western grain producers will not be at a disadvantage. As it is, with their contributions of 40 cents and 20 cents, they already pay twice for research.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Glen McKinnon Liberal Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I deem it an opportunity to speak on Bill C-50 with a backdrop of optimism and accomplishment in this harvest season throughout our country.

Our agriculture and agri-food sector is positioning itself to tackle the future with increased confidence and fundamental strength. We must ensure the decisions we make today and the initiatives we undertake in the future are part of a comprehensive long term plan for a modern progressive industry that is nothing less than the best in the world.

Research is fundamental to this government's goal of making Canada the world agriculture and agri-food leader. Without research the grain farmers of the Canadian prairies would never have gained their reputation as producers of the highest quality wheat in the world, a reputation that is well deserved and one that the government intends to preserve, protect and promote.

In our platform outlined in the red book the government made a very strong commitment to research. Currently the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food spends about $21.5 million on wheat research and $8 million on barley research each year. The industry has recognized that we need to do more to keep up with our competitors and the industry has recognized that government cannot and probably should not do it alone.

It has looked at what we need to maintain our international reputation and keep up with competitors like Australia and the EEC which have been investing heavily in their wheat and barley production and programs for several years. They have realized we need to spend additional money on research.

This is why I am recommending the House support the proposed amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act that we are discussing today. These amendments are required to make way for a voluntary wheat and barley check-off that would help fund plant breeding research in western Canada. It is estimated that the proposed wheat and barley check-off will result in about $4.7 million additional cost per year added to the funds already mentioned earlier today.

What do prairie producers hope to accomplish with the additional infusion of funding into plant breeding research? They hope to continue to develop new strains, to meet new and developing markets, and to better meet changing climatic conditions.

As the minister outlined earlier this morning plant breeding research gives us new varieties to resist disease and insects, to increase yields and produce higher grades. The voluntary check-off program was brought to the government by the Western Grains Research Foundation. The foundation has a track record in supporting effective, purer research in the west.

The idea for the check-off came about when the producer organizations making up the foundation were discussing the problem how to innovatively boost research funding. They did not come to the government asking for additional funding. They did not throw up their hands in despair because the money was not handed to them. They came with a plan of action. They said they wanted to place some of the responsibility squarely on their own shoulders.

Since that time the Western Grains Research Foundation had been working with my colleague, the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, to develop the mechanism to make their proposal a reality. The proposal is being brought to the House today for additional member support. I believe that this legislation is indeed an excellent example of a partnership initiative which will benefit the entire sector.

While the legislation before the House today calls for amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, all funds will be managed by a third party with emphasis on funding work that will meet future marketing needs. The foundation will be accountable to the very producers who pay for it, accountable through an annual report to all permanent book holders and accountable to producers who have the ability to opt out at any time. Any producer who does not wish to participate may so indicate in writing and indicate that they are not supportive of the program.

The projections however are that a 90 per cent participation will be in place because of the producer driven initiatives mentioned earlier.

In conclusion, through partnership efforts such as this leading edge research and development will continue to receive support. The grain producers of western Canada may ask for your support of these legislative amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, legislative amendments which will allow them to divert a portion of their income toward their future, a future that they can secure through technology.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like the hon. member for Brandon-Souris to give me his opinion. In his speech, to which I listened very attentively, he talked about the importance of research and development.

Does the hon. member for Brandon-Souris undertake today to put pressure on his good government to release funds?

I would be satisfied with $700,000 or $800,000 a year for R&D on maple syrup products which, fortunately or unfortunately, come almost exclusively from Quebec.

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12:25 p.m.


Glen McKinnon Liberal Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, in relation to the components of the bill, we are talking only of wheat and barley.

I would bring to the attention of the members opposite the fact that if we are talking about the $21 million that agri-food and agriculture have in place right now, I believe those allocations are put through the budgetary process from this department.

If we are talking about the half cent, the $4.5 million that we are discussing here today, we are only talking about wheat and barley research. I can only comment that I would not support additional funding out of this allocation for anything other than barley and wheat research.

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12:25 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on Bill C-50, especially as the bill relates to the Canadian Wheat Board, one of the superior marketing agencies not only in Canada but in the world.

Much of my comments will be directed to the Canadian Wheat Board as it is this agency that will allow a check-off on board sales of wheat in the four western provinces and sales of barley in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and B.C.

It is important to note that this check-off is voluntary. I as a member of Parliament oppose the idea of imposing on farmers a check-off that could be viewed as another form of taxation. In part in response to the previous question, we as a government must be committed to research and development from public revenues. The public of Canada as a whole benefits greatly from the increased economic spin-off of research and development and especially so in the agriculture sector.

This voluntary aspect shows the principle of co-operation of farmers working together through the Canadian Wheat Board and other agencies in terms of achieving greater research and development as they already do in terms of marketing.

It is designed as the wheat board was in the very beginning to challenge the inequities and the inefficiencies of the bare bones marketplace.

It is significant to note that Alberta barley is not contained in the bill. I will have some questions later at committee stage on that point. I need to know and I will question whether there will be duplication of research. I need to know and I will question whether Alberta barley producers are given a choice in terms of whether their funds go to research in Alberta or through the Canadian Wheat Board system.

Let me for a moment talk about the bill specifically. The purpose of the bill is to bring in additional plant breeding research. The plant breeding research funded by the proposed check-off is anticipated to improve farm income through two main mechanisms: first, by reducing unit production costs through improved field performance due to increased disease and pest resistant varieties and, second, by maintaining and increasing exports through the development of varieties with desired market qualities.

A key point is exporting and marketing those improved varieties in a way that enhances and maximizes producers' returns. That is where the Canadian Wheat Board really comes in.

It is important at this stage to review where the government is at in relation to the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like to go back to our policy announcement in May of last year. I will quote from the red book. I am sure members in the Reform Party will want to hear this. The book states: "An effective and efficient agri-food strategy must provide policies and programs such as orderly marketing boards, the Canadian Wheat Board and stabilization programs to minimize the impact of market price fluctuations and ensure adequate returns to producers, processors and other efficient managers in the system".

I stand by that commitment and I fully support the Canadian Wheat Board. I used to be involved extensively in the west. I continue to get calls from farmers in the west emphasizing that this government should maintain that support with the onslaught from some of the industry at the moment.

Yes, there are some who are attacking the Canadian Wheat Board and have been for a number of years. It should not surprise us. They are looking for short term personal gain at the expense of the industry as a whole. They are attacking Canadian institutions when they should be attacking the fundamental

problem in terms of the grain industry, the use of the export enhancement program south of the border.

In fact I would suggest that some of those groups have fallen victim to the American corporate interests and are fostering their agenda rather than a truly Canadian agenda.

Yesterday I was shocked as members of the Reform Party stood in their places and condoned the illegal practices of those breaking the law in terms of Canadian Wheat Board marketing. It really amazes me that a party that talks about law, order, justice and following the law would condone those practices. All I can say is shame.

The two key characteristics which distinguish the Canadian marketing structure which is focused on the wheat board are single desk selling and price pooling. I think I had better speak for a moment on those. Through single desk selling, the Canadian Wheat Board is the only accredited agent for the selling of Canadian wheat and barley in export markets. This ensures that the needed quality and quantity of grain is provided to the marketplace. It ensures that the Canadian Wheat Board has negotiated power and flexibility, enabling it to provide farmers with the best possible return. That is an agency that maximizes returns to primary producers, works in their interest, finds those markets and does the market intelligence on behalf of all wheat board area producers.

The second major component is price pooling. Under that the Canadian Wheat Board ensures that farmers benefit equally from sales regardless of when and where their grain is sold. Returns are deposited into one of several pool accounts. All farmers delivering the same grade of wheat will receive the same return at the end of the crop year. The federal government ensures that any shortfalls are covered.

The member opposite is raising funny questions here. The reason I feel so emphatic about that principle is that I come from the east coast and I can see those of us in the potato industry missing opportunities because we do not have an agency like the Canadian Wheat Board that maximizes returns and works in the producers' best interests. I have seen that concept operate. I realize that an agency like the Canadian Wheat Board works far better than the absolute bare bones marketplace that I talked about earlier.

A very important component relative to the Canadian Wheat Board is the Canadian Wheat Board advisory committee. I will just take a moment to explain. The advisory committee consists of 11 elected members who represent more than 130,000 permit book holders throughout western Canada. Elections are held every four years. The committee provides good advice to the Canadian Wheat Board in terms of its marketing initiatives.

I think I am running out of time. I would have liked time to talk about the challenges, certainly the Americans. The Reform Party members seem to be the only ones out to attack the Canadian Wheat Board and try to do away with that really good structure of marketing. Members will note that in the four challenges from the United States we won every one.

In closing, it is very critical the Liberal government stands behind our commitments to the Canadian Wheat Board, those commitments that we ran on in the last election across the west and won. Although I am from eastern Canada, I stand fully behind that board in terms of its ability to maximize returns to primary producers.