Mr. Speaker, the premise of this motion is that the Canadian Wheat Board and the legislation it supports lack flexibility and cannot serve the best interests of its clients. The record does not support that premise. It is a retread of a previous motion that was brought forward in June. The premise is flawed.
The purpose of a two-year opting out provision contained in today's motion appears to be a return to the motion made in June by the hon. member and his colleagues. I would suggest that the letter of this motion does not match its spirit if, as the hon. member's motion suggests, this desire is an outcome that produces benefits for producers when what we are talking about is consensus and careful actions.
The Canadian Wheat Board has demonstrated a desire to expand its accountability to farmers. In return the board and the marketing system it maintains enjoy the support of a clear majority of our primary producers. This support is not unconditional. It reflects the commitment of the Canadian Wheat Board to improve service and organizational renewal. These efforts will be aided by the government.
We are taking steps to ensure that the Canadian Wheat Board keeps pace with the needs of its clients. As set out by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in his October 7, 1996 policy statement, the government aims to renew and strengthen the wheat board.
There will be changes to the management of the Canadian Wheat Board. A board of directors will be appointed by the government in 1997 and that group will have a majority of producer representatives. This interim body will give way to elected members in 1998 which will also have a producer majority.
The necessary amendments to the legislation are expected to be tabled in the House before the Christmas break. With these changes the future mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board can be adjusted in a democratic fashion according to the preferences of prairie grain farmers. The way the board does business will also be improved with changes designed to make price systems more flexible, payment processes quicker, a change on the bottom line so to speak.
The hon. member's motion also speaks of developing niche markets for grain. Talk of such niche markets must begin with the recognition that markets are inherently unpredictable, more so when there are no stable influences in those markets such as those provided by a single desk seller. We cannot discuss niches without reference to the large markets and the forces that shape those markets.
The presence of the Canadian Wheat Board has meant price stability and security of markets. The potential of niches for individual producers nowadays is traceable in no small part to the work of the board on behalf of the wider community of producers.
One might argue that the business environment in grain markets achieved through the Canadian Wheat Board has contributed to the potential of niche markets. It has also ironically led to the mistaken view taken by some of the board's harsher critics that the board is an obstacle. It certainly is not. The Canadian Wheat Board actually pursues many niche markets throughout the world.
There is a real possibility that having both a single desk marketing system in the form of the Canadian Wheat Board and the arrangement envisioned by the proponents on the right to opt out of the system may actually deliver the worst of both worlds to our producers. We would have a wheat board with reduced leverage in the marketplace and thus greater exposure to producers to violate market forces that can drive down prices and drive down profits for all Canadian farmers.
The message from farmers themselves is clear: You may be able to opt out of the wheat board system but you will not be able to opt out of the consequences that could result in harsh action. What is to be done in the marketplace is not easily undone or turned about. Returning to the benefits of a proven marketing system is not assured once you have been given the problems that could exist with two marketing systems.
Furthermore, the pursuit of opportunities by a few may reduce the opportunities of the many. That is plainly going to be a concern of those who make their livelihood producing grain in Canada. In some ideal world we can wish for perfect win-win situations but we
do not live in such a world. If the pursuit of alternative marketing arrangements by the minority determines or diminishes the benefits of single desk selling for the majority, then it is not a win-win situation, it is a lose-lose situation.
Long before the hon. member offered this motion for debate today, before he was even a member of this House, the Canadian Wheat Board took the initiative of evaluating itself and its operations, demonstrating a flexibility that we can applaud. Certainly the wheat board has always been committed to providing the best possible service for western Canadian grain farmers. In recent years that commitment has led to some very critical re-examination and re-evaluation.
In recent years the board has reviewed its operation and management structures in order to improve its long term planning, budgeting, management and reporting systems. In addition it has also introduced a new system of performance evaluation. It would have been enough for some, had the wheat board stopped there, to say that the Canadian Wheat Board was neither complacent nor unwilling to meet the challenges of the changing times, but as the House knows, the wheat board undertook further measures.
The board now conducts an ongoing department by department audit of its expenditures. It has expanded the information it provides to its producer clients. It has also emphasized direct contact between its staff and clients. The men and women on the prairies who produce wheat and barley are better informed today. At its most fundamental level, these people are the western Canadian grain farmers and the western Canadian grain industry itself.
Over the past few years new services have been provided to these women and men on the prairies, new services such as pool return outlooks and price forecasting, new market development initiatives and business tools for enhanced risk management. The board has also strengthened its worldwide business information networks and opened a new office in the People's Republic of China.
In summary, the Canadian Wheat Board has met the test of organized managing in tumultuous times. It has adapted, adopted and improved in order to provide the best possible service for its clients. The board and its management have made great strides in meeting the needs of its clients and the challenges of global markets in the late 20th century. All this has been accomplished within the existing legal framework of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Amending the act is necessary in certain ways to put the Canadian Wheat Board on an even better business footing and to meet the demands of the western Canadian grain farmers for more accountable management. This can easily be distinguished from the kind of amendment contained in the hon. member's motion which does not contribute to the modernization of the wheat board. This motion also fails to meet the test of proposing change that has broad base support among the western Canadian grain farmers and that can dramatically improve sales of wheat and barley to its customers.
The motion put forth by the hon. member for Wild Rose does not recognize the flexibility and benefits of both the Canadian Wheat Board and the legislation underlying it. I do not share his presumption. I choose to support the farmers and the institutions and reject the motion.