That, in the opinion of this House, wheat and barley producers in western Canada should be given greater flexibility and more choices by amending the Canadian Wheat Board Act to include a special two year opting out provision for those farmers interested in developing niche export markets.
Mr. Speaker, over the past two years, but more recently, I have followed up on my many discussions with farmers in my riding of Wild Rose. I questioned the farmers, asking what they wanted me to do. The result is this motion. The farmers are asking for the opportunity to opt out of the Canadian Wheat Board for a period of two years in order to see how marketing their niche produce goes.
The question I put to the farmers was: "Should farmers be allowed to opt out of the Canadian Wheat Board?" and 835 said yes, 70 said no. That represents about 90 per cent of the returns. As well, I used information I picked up at different gatherings when I was talking to individual farmers at town halls. It was obvious to me that they desire this. They want the opportunity.
As elected officials I believe we are obligated to give them that opportunity. As the representative for Wild Rose I put forward this motion with the idea that possibly they could have that opportunity.
Let us make it perfectly clear right off the bat, before the Liberals send out any more documents from the Prime Minister's office, these 90 per cent or 835 farmers do not want to scrap the wheat board. Nor does the Reform Party of Canada want to scrap the wheat board. Let us make that perfectly clear before the Liberals send out any more of their dumb propaganda that tells the public what we are all about and it is not even close to the truth.
Neither the Reform Party of Canada nor the farmers of Wild Rose want to see the wheat board scrapped. What they are asking for is freedom of choice. Freedom is something that a democratic society expects, something that producers across the land expect. Unless, of course, you are a western prairie farmer of wheat and barley. Then you must do as the government says or face the mighty, heavy hand of the law.
Mr. Speaker, you know what law I am talking about. It is the law that puts violent criminals into alternative measures programs, the law that allows bail for sex offenders the very same day they commit the offence, the law that allows bail for other violent crimes. It is the same law that puts a man behind bars without bail for selling his own product in violation of the law of the Canadian Wheat Board, literally throwing away the key, the heavy hand of the law.
Clearly farmers across the prairies desire to have a choice in the way they market their grain. Clearly a plebiscite on the issue would be in order. The red book said there would be one. It has not happened though and most likely will not. After all, the results may turn out to be against what the agriculture minister believes. We could not have that now, could we? That is an obvious fact after the minister selected his hand-picked panel to study the issue of the wheat board. When some of its recommendations came back, if the minister did not agree with them, then that was that.
It is well past time for this place and this government to start listening to the people of this land, the people whom we are supposed to serve and not dictate to. For nearly 30 years this place has continually ignored the wishes of the people and does what it wants. It uses dictatorial methods to continue to ram legislation down our throats. I am one Canadian who is getting tired of that kind of attitude. This place really needs an attitude adjustment. We need the kind of adjustment that would make things a little different.
For example, if members listened to the Canadian people and paid attention to the petitions that land in this place, section 745 of the Criminal Code would disappear. But no, this place knows best, we always know best.
Over the past 30 years things have been absolutely thrown into this House, debated and passed which have been dead against the wishes of the Canadian people. Think of the GST days. I could
even go as far back as the time the metric system was first brought in. Remember how the Canadian people felt about that? There are a number of measures I could mention. Rather than listening to the Canadian people and trying to implement legislation that is pleasing to them, we shove it down their throats.
Many have said that those who support choice are young farmers who do not understand. Gordon Reed of Cremona, Alberta, Jack Morgan and Nels Eskenson of Sundre, Alberta along with scores of other long time farmers, those who began farming before there ever was a wheat board, are the very ones who tell me they want choice. They all stated that what was good in 1946 is not what is needed in 1996, and they want some change.
In 1993 when the open barley market was put in place, not only was there a tremendous upswing in the sales of barley by private entrepreneurs, but the board as well experienced an increase in sales and profits. Actually the competition was probably healthy for it. It got off its backside, went out and began to do a little selling, a little promoting, and it worked.
Many niche producers are looking for buyers of their products and are finding markets for their specialty. One of these specialties is chemical free barley. These markets are not met by the buyers the board is aware of and have contact with. But these buyers do have a number of contacts with these niche producers and would very much like to purchase certified chemical free grains. Creating natural food for consumption would be their whole idea. There is a growing demand for that kind of product.
No organic producer receives sales help from the wheat board so why should they not be allowed to search on their own? There are a number of good reasons why farmers as entrepreneurs should be able to seek out and sell to their own markets, and that is just one of them.
When they go out, they work the land side by side with members of their families, and they try to produce something that they find is increasingly in demand. They try to meet the expectations of the buyers they have in mind who they were able to find on their own. Then they cannot sell them the product. It must go through the wheat board, and the best price they can expect from the wheat board are feed barley prices. It gets very discouraging. Many people who are out doing these very things are working for the livelihood of their families and are striving hard to save their farms from going under during tough times.
It is time for the government to look at modern times, at the modern way of doing things. We would like to see the wheat board democratized. We have said that on many occasions and I will repeat it once again so there is no confusion on that side. We do not want to scrap the wheat board. No one in the Reform Party has ever said that, nor has it ever been part of our platform.
We do need some changes. The wheat board needs to be more producer driven and more producer sensitive. We need to stop patronage appointments to those kinds of positions. An elected board is needed, one that is elected by the producers to serve the producers, to go out into the world to look for those new markets, not just the global market and whatever price is set by the global market, but to get out and do some work and search and find those kinds of markets that would benefit those people who are working so hard.
We need a body of people who have open books and who are accountable to the people of Canada. I really find it strange that we can get no information whatsoever regarding revenues, costs, expenses and what is happening at the wheat board. It is an absolute closed society. If that is the norm of a democratic country, then we really need some changes.
The Reform Party has tried in the past to make this kind of an item votable. There are criteria for what makes a private member's motion or bill a votable item. If the material that we submit regarding the motion or the bill follows the criteria right to the letter, follows it so that all 12 requirements to make it votable are in place, then it should be votable.
There are members on both sides of the House who have introduced private member's bills and have come away wondering why their item has not been made a votable one. If the criteria and the regulations are in place and all the rules are followed, then it should be a votable item and we should be able to stand in this House to cast our votes on behalf of the people we represent.
I have often wondered why that does not happen, that when these things do meet the criteria they still are not votable. There is only one conclusion we can come to. It is because of a few people sitting in the front row on that side of the House. If they decide something should or should not happen, then that is the way it is. That is democracy in this land.
They will come into this place of debate, turn around and look at the 177 members on the benches behind them and tell them: "This is the way you will vote. If you do not vote that way, we will kick you out of the party". I am sure the Speaker knows what I am talking about. I also believe that when people are forced to do what they do not want to do with respect to the legislation that comes before this House, when they are not given an opportunity to have their say, that is not democracy.
The agriculture minister has promised a plebiscite. Why has there not been one? Is it truly because the results will be unfavourable to what the government has already decided should happen?
This place really needs an attitude adjustment. It is time we started listening to the people who pay us. It is their money which brings us here. It is their money which lets us sit here to debate these issues. It is their money which helps us to decide what we
should do on their behalf. Consequently we come out of here making decisions daily on what we think is best and ignore their wishes completely. That has to change.
I would like to give the members of this House an opportunity today to change that attitude, to give the people of Canada and the prairie farmers of western Canada the opportunity to truly be entrepreneurs so that they can sell their products in the market which is best for them and have the freedom to do it. We could do that by making this a votable motion and giving every member of this House an opportunity to truly represent what Canadians would like to see. It is with that thought in mind and with the consent of the House I would ask that this motion be made votable.