Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your elevation to your new position.
I say to my constituents that this is the first time I have had a chance to speak at any great length in the House and I really appreciate being returned to the House after a short vacation of three and a half years. I am certainly pleased to be back and I will do my best to represent their interests.
Bill C-4, the Canadian Wheat Board bill, is a difficult issue. It is very complicated and there are a lot of stakeholders and many positions, as my colleague from Brandon—Souris reported a while ago. The government had to take a position on this issue.
There are four options available. It could get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board altogether which 37% of farmers recently voted in favour of, quite an astounding vote to toss the wheat board out completely. This certainly expresses a great deal of frustration and anger for 37% of the people to say throw it away and we will go our own way.
The second choice would be to leave the status quo, and I do not thank anyone agrees that is a realistic possibility. The third option would be change the board and have influence from the primary producers, and this is what Bill C-4 does.
We would have preferred some voluntary participation so that farmers would have a choice. How would the fast food industry react if a small group or majority group of fast food operators said that all fast food operators would operate a certain way without choices? This would not be acceptable. It would be the same with the steel industry and with the fishermen in my part of the country. If a majority of fishermen said they were going to sell their fish and produce to a certain group of people and that the rest of the fishermen would have to comply, it would not be acceptable.
Farmers should have an option. It should be voluntary participation in the Canadian Wheat Board like every other industry. This goes well with the general direction of global economy and privatization.
We are willing to support certain aspects of this bill but we will require amendments. We will be making positive amendments, not nuisance amendments. One area we are concerned about is the inclusion clause. We do not understand it nor do we understand the purpose of it. There is no support from the farmers we have talked to. It seems to be a backward step in the age of global economy and privatization.
The exclusion clause is positive and it does acknowledge the needs and the desires of some people to have voluntary inclusion in the program. But it is very complex and vary cumbersome to implement the exclusion clause. We would like it made a little more flexible and available to more people.
Ten out of fifteen people on the board of directors are from the industry. Four of the fifteen members and the CEO will be appointed. The previous speaker said he wanted to put farmers in the driver's seat. If we are going to put them in the driver's seat why do we not let them drive and have all of the board members from the industry rather than just ten?
In Ontario the industry drives the system. In the Ontario Wheat Board all members are elected. We do not see why the members of the Canadian Wheat Board are not also elected. The CEO should definitely be elected from the board, by the board of directors, as in any other format.
The indemnification clause bothers us. The board members are allowed to set their own pay, benefits and make all the decisions. It says, however, that they will not be responsible for any errors or omissions. This is unacceptable. They must be responsible if they are responsible for their own pay, benefits and working conditions. In any case this is still a monopoly the way it is set up. There must be accountability. The way Bill C-4 sets it up there is indemnification and there is no responsibility on behalf of the board members. With a monopoly there must be openness. There must be access to information, freedom of information and there must be accountability. We will probably put forward an amendment on that.
Another area which was brought to our attention by industry people is the contingency fund. If farmers are to take the responsibility for the contingency fund and not the federal government, why are there still five federal appointees on the board? Farmers see no place for the federal government's board members if they are to be responsible for the fund. They think all members should be elected.
There is a big hole in Bill C-4 the way I see it as the transportation critic. Transportation is not mentioned in the bill at all and there are no issues with respect to transportation. The second biggest issue in grain handling in this country is transportation. It involves every aspect of the business, rail operators, elevator operators, port operators, pilotage organizations, pool operators and the primary producers, the farmers. Most people we have talked to have indicated that the issue of transportation is equal to all others. It must be addressed.
One aspect that is extremely cumbersome is that the Canadian Wheat Board has total control over the allocation of wheat cars. This makes it almost impossible for the farmers to have access to the cars.
It means that empty ships are waiting in Vancouver harbour and full train cars are sitting in the port of Vancouver but with the wrong product. The wheat board has determined that the wrong product should be shipped to port. It is a mistake. We think this should be completely reviewed and the primary producers should be involved in what grain goes in what train cars and is delivered to what port and when. They must play a role in it.
Another issue is pilotage charges. It has been brought our attention that pilotage charges are expensive. With new technology there is no need for these pilotage charges, especially on the west coast. In the end the grain industry pays for them.
We are pushing for a review of the Canadian Wheat Board issues and on wheat transportation issues in general. We believe the system cannot respond quickly anymore to changing market demands. There is no accountability in the transportation system in the wheat transportation business. There is no penalty for non-performance. Many market opportunities are missed because of full train cars sitting on the wharf, empty ships in the harbour and the wrong grain in the train cars.
This system is designed to fail in the global economy. It clings to the assumptions of a bygone age and it means the system cannot work. We think the system must change and we have a plan. We would like to see the new system have accountability. Farmers are accountable for delivering the right grain in a timely manner. Railways are accountable for moving grain according to agreed on terms. Shippers are accountable for loading the grain at the right time in the right place.
We think market forces should be responsible. We think market forces should determine what grain goes where and when. We think those people who buy grain should determine when it moves, not the people producing it and not the people in the Canadian Wheat Board. The demand should determine what grain goes where. We think there should be just in time delivery so farmers do not have grain sitting in elevators for months at a time or sitting in train cars at the port of Vancouver.
There are many things. We want choice for the grain companies. We want them to have choices for transportation as much as possible. We want transparencies so the rules are clear to all participants in the system. We want a reasonable transportation cost. As much as the Canadian Wheat Board is a monopoly, so is the rail system a monopoly. With deregulation and changes in rail costs coming down, the transportation costs for wheat should be coming down. They are not. We would like to see some control over costs that way.
We have a lot to say on this bill. We want it to proceed but we want it to proceed with the amendments the industry is demanding.