Mr. Speaker, as you know, I have the honour of representing the riding of Lotbinière. This evening my riding association is gathered in my riding office, and I want to congratulate it on the good work done and the support I have been given. So, I say a big thanks to the whole team.
The riding of Lotbinière is one of the largest agricultural ridings in Quebec. Accordingly, agricultural matters are of particular interest to me because I want to be up on what my constituents are facing. Furthermore, I sit on the House Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
That said, although the farmers in my riding are not those most affected, the motion brought forward today by the member for Kindersley-Lloydminster has a much greater impact on farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and certain parts of British Columbia. Because of professionalism and my membership on the agriculture and agri-food committee, I consider it important to take part in this debate. When I refer to the prairie provinces, this is the territory served by the Canadian Wheat Board.
I certainly am not feeling a need to defend the Canadian Wheat Board at all cost, but it seems important to look at what it is all about. It may be considered a crown corporation, because it is responsible to Parliament. In legal terms, it comes under the Canadian Wheat Board Act, but in practical terms, it is responsible to the farmers, because it is funded by some 130,000 wheat and barley farmers in the provinces I named earlier.
Let us have a look, if you will, at the board's history. There are in fact two Canadian Wheat Boards. Let me explain. The first, the CWB, was established in 1917 to counter the major economic upheavals caused by World War I. Then, with the economic crisis
of 1929, Parliament had to bring it back definitely. This is what I call the second board.
Since then, there have been numerous changes, some of which I would like to point out, in order to illustrate the board's flexibility and ability to adapt.
First of all, in 1949 the board was given responsibility for marketing oats and barley. These two markets were added to the responsibility it already had for wheat.
It was not until August 1, 1989 that oats were removed from the board's mandate. Furthermore, four years later, on August 1, 1993, barley destined for the continental market was removed from its mandate by order in council. In this particular case, there was opposition, and the matter was referred to the courts.
Following a decision, and subsequent appeal, in which the government's decision was declared ultra vires, the board was left with responsibility for barley. The problem lay in the fact that barley had been removed from the board's mandate by order in council. And the Federal Court had to rule that the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate could only be modified by Parliament and not by mere order in council.
In conclusion, barley is therefore still under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board. The board relies primarily on the system of pooling. This system allows all producers to receive an initial identical payment year round. The final payment supplements the initial payment in order to reflect the value set by the market during a crop year.
In other words, the pooling system is used to level out price fluctuations. The pool price is representative of the price variations. The way the pool price is calculated results in each category of grains within a pool gaining neither advantage nor disadvantage from various factors.
It must be kept in mind that, although a pool system may attenuate the fluctuations that are inherent in any commercial transaction, the asking price remains subject to outside competition. Remember the strong downward fluctuations in grain prices in the second half of 1980. Some pools recorded marked deficits and these were absorbed by the federal government.
In normal circumstances, the Wheat Board balances its various pools, and this was a definite advantage during that time in the Eighties. It seems to me that memories are short on the Reform side about the advantages the Canadian Wheat Board has conferred in the past. It seems that the wind has changed, in that the present market offers advantageous prices, and that is what has prompted a group of barley and wheat producers to want to take advantage of greater flexibility in marketing their grains. Some will accuse the CWB of being timid in its actions and in its offers to develop new outlets, new markets. They focus on this in demanding changes, forgetting the advantages of the system. In fact, for them, it seems more advantageous to pull out of a rigid system that is focussed on long term stability.
The hon. member for Kindersley-LLoydminster and his Reform colleagues are trying to make political hay with this motion. They too are feeling the gusts of electoral winds, which may well get stronger this fall.
The Reformers, lacking popularity and visibility, want to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act to include a special 2 year opting out provision affording prairie producers the flexibility and choice to market their products outside the jurisdiction of the board.
When we look at the motives of the Reformers, we see they are working for themselves and not to really come to the aid of barley and wheat producers in the west. This motion raises a lot of questions in addition to those about the real motives and intentions of the Reformers.
I can understand, obviously, that certain barley and wheat producers want to get out of the CWB, but do they all? Should we give up a system that works relatively well for all wheat and barley producers for a small group?
They want to make money. The current economic situation is in their favour. I understand they want a special clause to opt out for two years. After that, will they have to return to the ranks of the Canadian Wheat Board? Who will keep track of things? The system proposed by the Reform Party is impractical. The new system will make the job of the Canadian Wheat Board difficult, I should say perilous.
In fact, this House should debate the whole existential issue of marketing boards such as the Canadian Wheat Board. Which is better, to stabilize the prices received by barley and wheat producers on a median basis, or to ride out market cycles? In general, everyone is seeking security and stability, both financially and materially, as well as emotionally.
Few people would like to see their salary drop, and yet three highly respected economists from western Canada took a look at what it would mean for western producers if the Canadian Wheat Board were to disappear. According to them, the loss of the pooling system would be accompanied by a loss in revenues for western farmers.
Try to imagine the scene. Things are fine, for the Canadian Wheat Board is no longer wanted. I spoke to you earlier about the present situation. Do you know that there was a decrease in world stocks of wheat in 1993-94, that there was a drop in production in the former Soviet Union countries, that there was a drought in Australia in 1994? These are all factors that influence price.
We are headed toward the global village foretold by Marshall McLuhan, a native Albertan. McLuhan thought that people had to be constantly clear-headed and aware of what was happening to them. Today, no one can deny what is happening on the other side of the planet, even from the point of view of climate, because we
feel the effects in our own environment. When money is not involved, it is another story. I am thinking here of the volcanic eruptions of Mount St. Helen.
The proposal by the Reform member is designed, in the medium and long term, to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. The Reform tell us today that they want only to allow farmers not to lose any business opportunities by offering them flexibility and marketing choices for wheat and barley.
Taking note of their arguments, and faced with the imminent possibility of the PM calling a general election before long, one wonders if the Reform members are not making political hay with this. Yes, political hay. No one need fear calling things by their right name.
The Bloc Quebecois position is clear. We are opposed to the motion the Reform is proposing today, for it is our opinion that the Canadian Wheat Board must, if it is to remain efficient, stay as the only body empowered to market barley and wheat overseas and in the United States.
Let us not forget that the CWB exported wheat to 69 countries in its last crop year. Nothing to be sneezed at. You know, in a trade negotiation situation, the Canadian Wheat Board with its monopoly is the only possible contact for anyone wanting to purchase Canadian wheat. We cannot play ostrich, with our heads in the sand, thinking that this means it can demand higher prices than would be asked if there were several suppliers. The CWB, if it had no monopoly, would find itself in direct competition with the other sellers of Canadian grains, and the market price would be in danger of plummeting rapidly.
Finally, let us not forget that the CWB can, at any time, set different prices according to the markets, without eating into revenues from preferred markets.
The Reform motion would also undermine the level of price pooling and risk reduction. In a sense, what is being said is: "The heck with the security and stability that the current Canadian Wheat Board provides". The Reformers, with their inappropriate motion, are simply trying to set up a parallel system wheat and barley marketing system. This new system would only limit the actions of the Canadian Wheat Board.
There is another not insignificant aspect. As you know, the Canadian government supports the funding of the Canadian Wheat Board when it borrows on international markets. Can you imagine the rate of interest the CWB would be able to negotiate allowing producers to withdraw for two years? Would it be able to negotiate rates as advantageous as those it gets now?
In all loyalty, we owe it to ourselves to challenge a motion like the one by the member for Kindersley-Lloydminster. Even Prairie Pools, the strongest pressure group or lobby among western grain producers supports the continued existence of the Canadian Wheat Board.
As you know, there is no such thing as a perfect system or a perfect member of Parliament. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the board is by far and away the best marketing tool and an excellent partner for barley and wheat producers.
In another area, are you aware that the milk producers in my riding of Lotbinière, in Quebec and in Canada still prefer to live with the inflexibility of a system that provides for a stable income rather than challenge it.
I have a really hard time understanding the Reformers. They either head upstream in an effort to make political mileage or they divert attention from more important events that we as Parliamentarians should be paying attention to.
This is not the first time that Reformers have struck at the Canadian Wheat Board. They already called for a plebiscite to elect producers to the board of directors of the CWB. You know, allowing producers to choose whether or not to take part in decisions will always be an option when barley and wheat prices are high, but it is a much less attractive option when markets are saturated and prices fall because of production costs. Remember the second half of 1980 I was telling you about earlier.
Right now, there is an advisory board of producers elected by their peers that makes known its ideas, although it has no actual power.
The marketing of barley and wheat is an huge undertaking. Canadian Wheat Board sales are approximately four billion dollars. Operating costs alone are $41 million, approximately one per cent of total sales. Over 500 full-time and temporary employees and some 16 regional representatives work daily on behalf of barley and wheat producers.
People may say that the Canadian Wheat Board is not perfect, but to scuttle it in this underhanded manner through the motion the Reformers are presenting today borders on Reform mania. After Liberal mania, we know what the new one is.
The Canadian Wheat Board is the institutional embodiment of a marketing system developed to truly help producers.
It rests on three fundamental pillars. The first is its exclusive authority in foreign sales of wheat and barley. In the case of the United States, it is for wheat only.
The second pillar is the pooling of resources with respect to prices. When we pool resources, we can do interesting things. Here, I am thinking of the Mouvement Desjardins.
The third pillar of the Canadian Wheat Board is the partnership between producers and the government. Grain producers individually have little leverage to sell their products and a lot less weight to penetrate foreign markets, where market forces are more or less fair.
In short, this is the essence of my opposition to the motion of the Reform Party member.
Do you know how the Petit Robert defines a reformer? It talks of a tendency to reform. Under the definition of the adjective, it provides ``advocate of political reform, individual wanting to improve capitalist society through reform''. Parenthetically, it provides that such people are the opposite of revolutionaries.
What they are after is in fact a step by step revolution. The first step is to destabilize the Canadian Wheat Board. The next is to claim the difficulties it faces as the result are a sign of its illness and to use this to demand nothing less than its abolition. Why not go directly to Go? Well, no, they will not, because basically they know the board plays a very important role.
Once again they are only after political mileage. I think it is shameful to go after it on the back of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Western producers need protection, and for years it has been provided. I have to say it must not be abolished. I said earlier that they want to abolish it for two years. But how, at the end of the two years, will they pick up again? I see the Prime Minister indicating his agreement with me. It is not easy. For sure nothing is perfect. But to go from there to knocking everything down and not providing an alternate structure or some other means is going too far in the opposite direction.
What I can say is that my party supports the Canadian Wheat Board and we will work hard to keep it and to have it continue to help western producers.