That this House support the creation of an environment in which agricultural producers make their own decisions on how their products are marketed.
Mr. Speaker, it is good to be in the House when everyone is in such a good mood. I hope that mood continues as we discuss agricultural issues.
Mr. Speaker, you read the motion but I want to put it on the record again:
That this House support the creation of an environment in which agricultural producers make their own decisions on how their products are marketed.
This is a motion, because it deals with a principle rather than with specific legislation, in which case it would have been a bill.
I want to quote from Reform's agricultural broadsheet which was printed prior to the 1993 election and which also supports this principle. It states: "The Reform Party believes that producer organizations, including marketing boards, commissions and co-operatives, should receive their direction from producers who should structure their organizations in any manner in which they believe will best serve their interests. In consultation with producers, Reformers will seek to provide for a viable, self-reliant market driven industry to create an environment in which producers make their own decisions on how products are marketed".
This was the policy our party membership approved in 1992 prior to the 1993 election. It was these principles and others like them on which we campaigned and on which we were very successful in many rural ridings.
This is an issue today with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board. It is an issue in supply managed industries. It is an issue pervading much of agriculture.
This principle was one Reform took before there were any plebiscites of producers such as the one in Alberta, before some of the data that is more scientific was done by polling organizations. It proves that Reformers have their ear open to the public, have their ear open to businesses and in this case, have their ear open to what those in the agricultural sector are saying. We have been proved to be correct by recent developments in the industry. Therefore I would hope that the speakers that follow me will endorse the principle I have put forward in the motion.
The industry sectors which producers are debating are about having more input and influence over the marketing of grain and also in the supply managed sector. This includes the matter of pork marketing. It has become an issue in Manitoba whether producers should have new marketing options and who actually calls the shots when it comes to marketing pork in that province.
Far too often the operations of marketing boards and commissions become removed from the individuals they are meant to serve. As a result the decision making process is left in the hands of individuals who do not necessary have the best interests of the producer at hand or share the need for good timely decisions on marketing that are required. Many producers feel that they need more options for their marketing. I want to focus my comments primarily on the Canadian Wheat Board. One of my colleagues will follow and spend a bit more time dealing with the supply managed area.
There has been controversy regarding the Canadian Wheat Board during the past few months even though the controversy in general has raged on for as long as I can remember. It seems to be increasing in intensity and often even makes the news today.
A plebiscite was held in the province of Alberta last year. The results of that plebiscite on the marketing of wheat and barley clearly indicates a growing trend toward a system in which producers will have the opportunity to decide how their products will be marketed.
In the Alberta plebiscite 66 per cent of barley growers voted in favour of having the right to sell barley to any buyer. That is two-thirds of the barley producers in Alberta. Sixty-two per cent of wheat growers voted in favour of having the option to sell wheat to any buyer. That is a substantial majority and must be taken heed of and not cast aside. It is an important factor.
The producers were asked: Are you in favour of having the freedom to sell your barley to any buyer, including the Canadian Wheat Board, into domestic and export markets? Are you in favour of having the freedom to sell your wheat to any buyer, including the Canadian Wheat Board, into domestic and export markets? The answer was a resounding yes. Participation in the plebiscite was extremely high with thousands of voters taking the time to cast their ballots because they felt the issue was important.
That is Alberta and Alberta may not represent the views of all of Canada. I know that Albertans' views are important but I happen to represent a riding in Saskatchewan and so the province of Saskatchewan is important to me. My colleague from Lisgar-Marquette has to have his ear open to what producers in Manitoba are saying.
The Government of Saskatchewan did a scientific poll of its producers, asking their opinions on the Canadian Wheat Board. From this survey some interesting statistics are available to us.
Approximately 80 per cent of Saskatchewan producers indicated some level of support for the board. This does not surprise me because there has always been strong support for the Canadian Wheat Board in the province of Saskatchewan. I happen to be one of those 80 per cent. My party is part of that 80 per cent that supports the Canadian Wheat Board. Some people have indicated otherwise but that is simply not true, and we have not said that in this House. We did not say it in our campaign material and we are not about to change our minds unless our members tell us we are on the wrong ground and our constituents tell us we are not moving in the right direction.
On further study of the survey some very interesting opinions are expressed by Saskatchewan's producers. For example, while a majority of producers believe that the monopoly powers of the Canadian Wheat Board give it market power internationally, producers are divided on whether or not the Canadian Wheat Board gets the highest price. There is a saw-off on that one.
More significantly, 58 per cent of Saskatchewan producers believe that participation in the Canadian Wheat Board should be made voluntary. This is not some cooked up poll. This poll was done by the Government of Saskatchewan, probably the provincial government in Canada that most strongly supports the Canadian Wheat Board. Its survey which it commissioned and paid for suggests that 58 per cent of producers in Saskatchewan want to see selling to the Canadian Wheat Board be more voluntary.
A major of producers were in favour of selling grain to the domestic food markets without having to go through the Canadian Wheat Board. They were about equally divided but a small majority in favour of being allowed to make direct sales into the United States.
A majority of Saskatchewan producers were in favour of the federal government having less control and influence over the Canadian Wheat Board.
There was a breakdown of the demographics with regard to this survey. It indicated that younger producers were more open and in fact even requesting change than were older producers. It tells us
that those who will be farming in the future are in the majority in wanting to see changes to the Canadian Wheat Board.
It is interesting that they want to see structural changes to the board. They talked of discussing a dual market, domestic versus export and how that would be handled. The primary focus during the last election campaign was that the Canadian Wheat Board needs to be made more accountable and it needs to be more responsive to the producers it is supposed to serve. There is overwhelming support in this survey for the Canadian Wheat Board to be made more accountable to the producers that it is supposed to serve.
Currently the Canadian Wheat Board is controlled solely by the federal government. It is answerable to the minister of agriculture and, by extension, to the Privy Council. The commissioners are appointed by the Privy Council. Their term lasts until they reach the age of 70. Their benefits are extremely luxurious and in their jobs there is little for which they can be held accountable. It is not what the producers are calling for.
Two-thirds of the respondents to the survey said that the federal government should have less control and influence over the Canadian Wheat Board. That aligns perfectly with the motion I brought today. The producers should be able to make their own decisions on how their products are marketed.
Farmers may recommend that certain alterations be made to the Canadian Wheat Board, but the decision to implement those changes is still solely at the discretion of the federal government. Farmers are powerless. The wheat board advisory board is powerless to make changes to the board, even though it is supposed to be the elected body which has influence over the board.
The board is a crown corporation and the government retains the power to direct the board with respect to the manner in which any of its operations, powers and duties are performed.
More recently, a number of occurrences involving the Canadian Wheat Board have called into question the ability of the board to represent the interests of all producers. I could talk about its mishandling of the fusarium disease in southern Manitoba, its mishandling of frozen durum in southern Saskatchewan and its mishandling of the export of barley in the last crop year, just to mention a few.
This has created a lot of unhappiness in the farming community. A few farmers want out from under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board. However, the way the wheat board act is written they are not allowed any freedom whatsoever.
A group of farmers called "The Farmers for Justice" has been formed. I am not in the House to condone some of the things which that group has done. However, I would say that the reason we have a group of farmers in the prairies that goes under the banner of "The Farmers for Justice" is because they feel they would like to have the ability to market their produce outside the board. Currently, the way the wheat board act is written, they are restricted. They cannot export their wheat into the United States without a Canadian Wheat Board export permit even though they might not have a wheat board permit or a contract with the board.
I am not suggesting that farmers should break contracts. If a farmer contracts with the Canadian Wheat Board, they should live up to that contract. Farmers across the country accept that. When farmers make a deal, for the most part, they stick with it. However, these farmers have no choice in this matter. If they choose not to contract with the Canadian Wheat Board, their wheat is not their own. They have no choice in the matter but to apply to the board for the right to market their wheat.
These farmers are asking that this be changed but they are not getting any co-operation from the government. They are taking steps that are beyond what we would like to see. They are doing things I cannot condone. However, they are frustrated, simply because there has not been any movement either within the board or within the Liberal government to correct the situation.
I belong to a political party. Many Canadians support my party. If they want to get involved they can buy a $10 membership and they will have a voice in the way my party functions. They can have an equal vote on the policies which my party espouses and they can have a choice in the selection of candidates. If they are not happy with the Reform Party and they want to join another political movement of lesser quality, such as the Liberal Party, they have the right to buy a membership in that party. If they are not happy with my party I would rather they were in the Liberal Party because I would like to see them involved in a way in which they are comfortable.
The farmers in western Canada do not have that choice. They are bound by the Canadian Wheat Board Act to market through a board in which they have no voice. They have no ability to assist in the formulation of the board's policies. They have no ability to select the commissioners who sit on the board. There is no democracy in the board. It has become a very political institution.
There have been some reports and studies done on the Canadian Wheat Board in recent months. One was recently commissioned by the board, the Kraft report. This report is called the performance evaluation of the Canadian Wheat Board. It was commissioned by the board and paid for with the farmers' money. It was apparently given confidential information to determine whether the Canadian
Wheat Board was doing a good job. That is fine. The board should be looking at itself internally and evaluating itself. I do not find fault with that.
However, the problem is there was another study commissioned by the board, the Deloitte & Touche evaluation, which was kept under raps and never revealed to farmers until a copy was made available through Reform a few weeks ago. This was a 1992 study which found many serious deficiencies in the Canadian Wheat Board.
I hear the member for Kingston and the Islands agrees with me. He is also concerned about these deficiencies in the board because he seems to be very interested in the matter.
As a result of the hiding of this study, we have no idea whatsoever whether the board has acted on the recommendations made by its own auditors.
We had another study commissioned by the Government of Alberta, pushing for dual marketing in wheat. It is the government which launched the plebiscite and did a study called the Carter study. It comes to an opposing position to the Kraft report. The Carter report suggests the wheat board is a more costly institution than it has been letting on and it costs more to market through the wheat board than we have been led to believe.
Because producers do not have any direct say in the board it is hard for them to determine whether the board is being run efficiently. Because it is not transparent, they cannot tell how good a job the Canadian Wheat Board is doing. They also have no option to market outside the board.
It is good to do these studies but it is much more important to give this board to the producers it is supposed to serve.
The Ontario Wheat Producers Board serves much the same function as the Canadian Wheat Board expect that it is controlled democratically by Ontario farmers. Ontario farmers elect the directors of the board. They divide Ontario up into districts. They have an organization and the wheat producers in Ontario choose the directors who serve on the board.
They do not have to go to the Government of Ontario or come to Ottawa because they can choose those directors themselves. Prairie producers do not have that opportunity. They have no voice whatsoever in selecting the commissioners.