House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Ways And MeansRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Willowdale Ontario


Jim Peterson LiberalSecretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1) I wish to table a notice of a ways and means motion respecting the imposition of duties, of customs and other taxes to provide relief against the imposition of certain duties and taxes and to provide for other related matters.

At the same time, I would ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of a motion.

Firearms ActRoutine Proceedings

October 7th, 1997 / 10 a.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-236, an act to repeal the Firearms Act and to make certain amendments to the Criminal Code.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to table my private member's bill to repeal the Firearms Act and to require that persons convicted of using a firearm to commit a crime must serve five years in prison; and that the sentence is increased to ten years if the firearm is actually fired.

This bill is important because the Canadian people want a serious crackdown on the unlawful use of firearms rather than legislation which aims primarily at law-abiding gun owners.

(Motion deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-237, an act to provide for a national referendum to authorize the Government of Canada to negotiate terms of separation with a province that has voted for separation from Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table my private member's bill entitled the negotiation of terms of separation act. This legislation provides the principles to determine whether a provincial vote to separate is valid and would require partition of any provincial electoral areas not voting to leave Canada. It would require a clear statement on a separation ballot of what a yes vote truly means. If Parliament agreed that such a vote was valid, then the Government of Canada would be required to hold a binding national referendum to authorize it to negotiate terms of separation.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Fiscal Responsibility ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-238, an act to establish principles of responsible fiscal management and to require regular publication of information by the Minister of Finance to demonstrate the government's adherence to those principles.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to introduce this bill. It is quite lengthy and sets out requirements for the Minister of Finance to state his intentions over the next few years to forecast the finances of the country and to give reasons on a yearly basis as to why he is not meeting his targets.

In addition, it requires the publishing at least three months before the start of each fiscal year of a complete budget policy statement using standard accounting practices so that all the obligations of government are listed.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Consumer Packaging And Labelling ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-239, an act to amend the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (recombinant hormones).

Mr. Speaker, this bill is directed toward the ethical and health components of new technology. Genetic engineering is evident with bovine growth hormone. This bill would make certain that those individuals who wish to have the choice to use or not use milk produced in this way would have the product labelled. The bill has larger implications in terms of genetic technology in general. It will also look at labelling of other foods that are genetically engineered.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Debt Servicing And Reduction Account ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-240, an act to amend the Debt Servicing and Reduction Account Act (gifts to the crown).

Mr. Speaker, this bill would put an end to a process that has been taking place over the years. There has always been a debt reduction and servicing account where people could make gifts to the crown, supposedly to reduce the debt. But the government has always had access to that account and could play this sort of shell game where it pays off a bit of the debt and then borrows the money back again.

My bill would make sure that any money given specifically to the crown to pay down the debt would have to stay in trust until such time as there were surpluses, then it could be used to pay down the debt.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Immigration ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-241, an act to amend the Immigration Act (right of landing fee).

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce my private member's bill in the House today. This bill amends the Immigration Act to prevent the assessment of the right of landing fee on immigrants in addition to the application fee. This will prevent economic discrimination against immigrants from low income countries which may be caused by such fees.

Canada is a land of immigrants and the current right of landing fee placed on people coming to Canada in addition to their application fee is discriminatory and regressive.

This practice goes against our history and against our vision of our country. Almost everyone can trace their roots back to immigrants and even today immigrants continue to play an important role in Canada's development.

This bill is a step in returning Canada back to its vision regarding immigrants. This bill was introduced in the second session of the 35th Parliament and I hope that members of the House will seriously consider the bill's intent and purpose.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present a petition from my constituents who point out that they are opposed to the potential legislation on dietary supplements that would significantly and very negatively impact on the health and well-being of thousands of Canadians, especially the elderly and the chronically ill.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to table a petition from citizens across Canada who are concerned about national unity.

They ask that Parliament confirm that Canada's boundaries can only be resolved either by a free vote of all Canadians or through amending the Constitution by means of the amending formula.

This is one of the most critical issues facing our country and I hope the government will give serious consideration to these constructive suggestions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present petitions today from hundreds of people from the St. Joseph Island and Desbarats area of my riding.

The petitioners are concerned with the court decision in Ontario last year overturning a conviction of a women who went topless in public. They ask that the federal government do something about this matter.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I suggest that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


Bill C-4. On the order: Government Orders

September 25, 1997—The Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board—Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food of Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan


Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board


That Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open the debate on the proposed new law to change the Canadian Wheat Board, and to bring about the biggest changes in western grain marketing in more than half a century. At the outset I want to thank the government House leader for ensuring that this new legislation, Bill C-4, is before the House of Commons at a very early stage in this new Parliament. It is getting prompt, priority attention which is important to prairie farmers.

I noticed one urban news reporter complaining the other day that Bill C-4 had “suddenly” been introduced in the House. It may have escaped that reporter's attention that amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act have been under consideration for more than two years. The consultations and analyses have been both exhaustive and exhausting, probably the most comprehensive in history. The whole process has been thoroughly public and transparent.

We promised to move quickly in this new Parliament to make the Canadian Wheat Board more democratic, more accountable and more flexible and to place more decision-making authority in the hands of grain producers than ever before in history. Bill C-4 fulfils that undertaking.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a $6 billion enterprise doing business in 70 countries worldwide. It ranks among the top 10 Canadian exporters. It is the country's biggest single earner of foreign exchange. Once Bill C-4 is enacted, farmers will be in the driver's seat like never before.

Throughout its history the Canadian Wheat Board has been governed by a small group of up to five commissioners, all appointed by the Government of Canada without any requirement that anybody be consulted and legally responsible only to the Government of Canada. But in today's dynamic and changing marketplace, producers have made it clear that they want the Canadian Wheat Board to be more accountable to them. They want more control, and that is what Bill C-4 will provide.

Under the new law for the first time in history, the CWB will be run by a duly constituted board of directors. There will be 15 directors in total and two-thirds of them, 10 directors, will be elected directly by prairie farmers. That is a solid controlling majority. If Parliament is able to deal with this bill promptly, the elections to select these new directors can be held before another crop is planted.

The law will provide that all of the powers of the Canadian Wheat Board are vested in the hands of its directors. Because two-thirds of them will be elected, they will be directly accountable through the democratic process for how they manage the CWB's multibillion dollar business.

In addition to their general power to run all the affairs of the CWB and in response to specific recommendations from farmers, the directors will have the explicit authority to choose their own chairperson, to set the salaries of the directors, the chairperson and the president, to conduct regular performance appraisals on the president and to recommend his or her dismissal if thought necessary.

Contrary to erroneous assertions of some of the wheat board's more strident critics, like that gaggle of political drifters who make up the so-called Saskatchewan Party in my home province, neither the CWB nor the government will retain any power to fire any elected director.

To ensure that farmers are well served, the directors will be entitled to full disclosure of all facts and figures about CWB operations, including but not limited to audited financial statements. They will be able to examine the prices at which grain is sold, the price premiums achieved, all operating costs and whether the CWB is truly efficient.

Through its elected directors the CWB will gain the benefit of the practical expertise of real producers. If they are not satisfied with how the CWB deals with farmers or its sales strategy or the way it does business, they will have the authority to change things as they see fit democratically.

One group that has been particularly outrageous in its attacks on the Canadian Wheat Board is the National Citizens' Coalition, a funny bunch that would not know a bushel of barley from a handful of rice. It alleges, wrongly, that this new legislation would give the directors and the officers of the CWB free rein to ignore and break the law. That is patently false. If you have any doubt, just read the bill.

The directors and officers of the CWB will be under an explicit obligation to act honestly and in good faith, exercising all reasonable care, diligence and skill. If they fail in that duty they will expose themselves to legal liability. They will carry a very heavy fiduciary responsibility.

The provisions in Bill C-4 on this point are virtually identical to provisions that appear in the Canada Business Corporations Act which applies to all federally incorporated private sector companies in the country.

Despite the structural changes in governance and accountability, the Government of Canada will continue to provide the Canadian Wheat Board with very substantial financial guarantees, covering not only the initial payment set at the beginning of each pooling period and the CWB's credit sales program, but also all of its general business borrowings.

Since the CWB is a multibillion dollar enterprise, the amounts outstanding under these guarantees are often very large. Historically, because of the wheat board's strong performance, the federal guarantees have been called on in only rare and isolated circumstances, but the Government of Canada is on the hook if something suddenly goes wrong.

For this reason the government will continue to have a window on Canadian Wheat Board affairs, in addition to that line of accountability directly to western farmers.

Such a window is also necessary because any Canadian exporter of wheat or barley, whether on the prairies or elsewhere, requires a Canadian Wheat Board export permit. Consequently, the government will select a minority of the CWB's directors, five in total, including the president.

Please note that under the new law the choice of president requires consultation in advance with the other directors. The directors as a whole will have the right to set the president's salary, to appraise the president's performance and to recommend dismissal if necessary. Farmers will always hold a two to one majority among the directors over all.

To enhance the Canadian Wheat Board's flexibility, to give farmers more choice in how they are paid for their grain and to speed up cash flows to producers, Bill C-4 will enable the Canadian Wheat Board to make cash purchases of wheat and/or barley, increase initial payments quickly whenever market conditions warrant, close and pay out pool accounts at any time, provide an early pool cash-out option, fully use modern risk management tools, issue negotiable producer certificates, offset storage costs, facilitate deliveries to condo storage systems and receive grain through on-farm mobile elevators.

This new law will also empower producers to determine democratically what is and what is not under the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing jurisdiction. If farmers want to exclude some type of grain, in whole or in part, from the Canadian Wheat Board's current single desk system, that can be done, subject to three clear conditions. First, the CWB's directors must recommend it. Second, the Canadian Grain Commission must approve an identity preservation system to protect quality standards. Third, if the proposed exclusion is significant there must be a vote among producers to approve it.

Conversely, if farmers want to include rye or flax or canola within the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate, that too can be done, again subject to three very clear conditions. First, the farm organization which represents the producers of that commodity must make a formal written request for the inclusion. Second, the CWB's directors must recommend it. Third, there must be a vote among farmers to approve it.

These provisions are balanced and fair both ways, for either exclusions or inclusions, and in either case the authority is vested where it belongs, not in politicians but in the hands of farmers themselves.

Virtually every marketing innovation which farmers have debated over the past several years will be possible under this new law. In a nutshell, that is what Bill C-4 is all about, empowering producers, enshrining democratic authority which has never existed before, providing new accountability, new flexibility and responsiveness, and positioning farmers to shape the kind of wheat board they want for the future.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Preston Manning ReformLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and other acts. In doing so I have two purposes.

The first is to draw the attention of hon. members, in particular members from urban ridings, to the importance of agricultural reform. Second, to express my disappointment that the bill before us is such a pale and timid imitation of what is required to prepare the Canadian Wheat Board and to equip Canadian grain growers to succeed in the 21st century.

There was a time when a majority of the members of the House had rural and agricultural backgrounds. That is now not the case. There was a time when at least two or three of the leaders in the House would have come from farm backgrounds. That is now not the case. In fact, of the five party leaders in the House, I am the only one that actually grew up on a farm. I trust hon. members will forgive me if I engage for a moment in a little nostalgia before turning to the subject matter of the bill.

My grandfather on my father's side homesteaded in Saskatchewan at the turn of the century. He broke prairie sod with oxen south of Rosetown, Saskatchewan. With his three sons he went through the technological transformation of the agricultural industry, from ploughing with oxen, to ploughing with horses, to the old days of steam machines, to the days of gasoline and diesel tractors. He also went through the economic and political transformation of the agricultural economy, from the homesteading days of unregulated markets through the period of exploitation by the railways and the grain companies, to the agricultural reform period of the twenties and the thirties. That established the pools, ultimately resulting in the creation of the Canadian Wheat Board and the foundations of the current grain handling, production and marketing systems.

My father entered politics in Alberta during the depression. Throughout the years that he was a cabinet minister and the premier of Alberta we operated a dairy farm east of the city of Edmonton. We operated a farm that milked about 70 cows. We went through the evolution of supply management and the transformation from hand milking to mechanical milking, from stanchion barns to loafing barns with milking parlours, all the time subject to the cost-price squeeze that has become characteristic of trying to operate a family farm.

I recount this to say that almost all of us, no matter what we now do, if we go back far enough, will find family roots in the agriculture industry. I am also reminded that no matter how far away we may now be from the farm, if we are still in the habit of eating three times a day, we have a vested interest in the state of agriculture and in agricultural reform.

Therefore, I hope that when bills like this are brought before us and when agriculture questions are asked in the House, members from urban ridings, like me, will not simply turn glassy eyed and ignore what is being proposed or what is said. I trust that we will continue to give agriculture and members from predominantly rural communities the attention that their traditions, industries and concerns deserve in this country.

I would like to turn to the subject of the reform of the Canadian Wheat Board. No federal political party holds more grassroots, public political meetings in the west than Reform, meetings at which this subject has been discussed at length for years. If I can briefly survey what we have found over the last number of years it can be summed up in three positions.

First, there are those who would abolish the wheat board. There are those who favour doing away completely with the Canadian Wheat Board. They point out that the whole world is moving toward a more market driven free trade in the agricultural and food product sector. They maintain that the trend cannot be arrested nor should it be arrested and that in that environment the Canadian Wheat Board is a monopolistic anachronism. This is not the position of the Reform Party but we are aware that that position exists among some producers.

Second, there are those who want to keep the Canadian Wheat Board essentially as it is or as it was. Many of these are older producers who remember the exploitation of farmers by the grain companies and the railways in the early days of the west. Many of these are producers who are uncomfortable in having to deal with the complex and ever-changing market forces of the international grain trade. They believe the future prosperity of the grain farmer lies in the direction of following marketing principles that have served well in the past.

It is not the position of the official opposition that the Canadian Wheat Board should remain as it is or as it was. We are convinced that many of the old marketing principles, however valid they might have been in the past, are no longer a reliable guide to capturing the markets of the future.

There is a third option and this is the option favoured by the official opposition and by an increasing number of producers. That option is to fundamentally reform the Canadian Wheat Board to make it more market sensitive and more accountable: more sensitive to a freer, more diverse, more competitive market and trading environment, and more accountable not to the government and the minister but to the consumers and producers it is intended to serve. This is the position of the Reform Party and the opposition.

When we look at the bill we see a feeble attempt to appear to be reforming the Canadian Wheat Board without any real or substantive changes required to make real reform a reality. Only a government and a minister hopelessly committed to the status quo would regard the tinkering in the bill as substantive change, to use the words of the minister. The minister tries to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, a feat beyond the competence of this minister.

My colleague, the member for Prince George—Peace River, and other Reform members, will discuss the defects of the bill in detail and will present some real reform alternatives. The bottom line of our analysis is that Bill C-4 fails to improve the market sensitivity of the Canadian Wheat Board and fails to substantially improve the marketing options open to producers.

The bottom line of our analysis is that it fails to significantly improve the accountability of Canadian Wheat Board producers in the manner that is being demanded by producers and required for the 21st century.

Because of the importance of grain marketing to Canada, especially in the west, I urge all members to give the bill the attention it deserves and to take counsel from the members among us speaking particularly from rural and agricultural ridings.

For the foregoing reasons which will be expanded by my colleagues, I urge members to defeat the bill, to send it back to the minister and the department, and to demand a real Canadian Wheat Board reform act suitable for preparing the board and the producers it serves to cope with the demands of the 21st century.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this morning on Bill C-4, formerly C-72. Thanks to the lack of foresight by the government during the 35th Parliament, we have to partially repeat the work the hon. members had done in this House on Bill C-72.

First of all, it must be made perfectly clear that the Canadian Wheat Board we are today trying to modernize, to update for the year 2000 and beyond, affects the grain producers of Quebec only very slightly. In reality, the Canadian Wheat Board is important in four provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and part of British Columbia.

Unlike the Reform Party, the Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of Bill C-4, because we find it a reasonable attempt to modernize the Canadian Wheat Board, its board of directors in particular.

Thanks to the contributions by the Bloc Quebecois members sitting on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee, we have managed to get the number of directors elected by the grain producers themselves raised to 10. Before that, the good old federal government, with all of its great foresight, and particularly with its great generosity, was the one making the appointments. Obviously, we always tried to select the best, but the best is usually an acquaintance or a friend, someone who has done us a favour in the past.

For example, the government has just appointed Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache, a colleague of the Prime Minister, the former chairman of the yes committee in the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown accord and a great friend of this country's federalists. Our fine Prime Minister, the member for Saint-Maurice, propelled this judge into a seat on the supreme court and it will be this judge who decides on Quebec's right to sovereignty.

In the riding next to mine, the very beautiful riding of Beauce, the member, Gilles Bernier, was an independent. In order to free this riding for a Liberal member, Mr. Bernier was also given an appointment. Although he had no previous experience, the government appointed him ambassador to Haiti.

When I was relatively young, the Trudeau government appointed the Créditiste member for the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska, my friend Lionel beaudoin, to the Canadian Wheat Board. A byelection was then called, and Alain Tardif was elected, and sat in the House until 1984, when the Conservative Party arrived in force. Funnily enough, he too was appointed a judge, but with the tax court.

You can see how it works. Where is the usual process for appointing people to the important jobs?

From now on, only five members of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board will be appointed by the Governor General in Council, the ten others will be elected democratically by the grain growers as a whole. The majority of the board of directors will be elected—a significant change—and under the control of the producers themselves.

Four appointments will be made by the Governor General in Council, that is friends once more. They will not be members of the Reform Party, but certainly friends of the Liberal régime will be sitting on the board.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

An hon. member


Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Fundraisers perhaps, as we saw in Quebec in March and in previous months.

A major difference—and I want to say a word about it—concerns the appointment of the president. The governor in council will have to consult the 14 other directors already sitting on the board in order to appoint number 15, who will become the president.

We in the agriculture committee managed, thanks—and I say it in all humility—to my intervention and also to the support of my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Malpeque, to include in the bill a provision whereby the remuneration is fixed by resolution of the board.

So, if a nitwit is appointed, board directors will have the power to decide that this person's salary will be one dollar per year. This way, the nitwit will not hang around for too long and will quickly give up his position. The board of directors will also have the power to include or exclude certain grain categories.

Let us take the case of canola, for example. Canola is currently not covered by the Canadian Wheat Board. Of course, should canola producers wish to join the Canadian Wheat Board, three very specific rules will apply. However, the most important decision, the biggest hurdle, will be to obtain a mandate from registered canola producers. A vote will be held, but it will not be by show of hands, since some people can then move quickly and vote two or three times. There will only be one vote per producer.

If a majority vote yes and the other two conditions, which I will deal with later, are met, then all canola growers will have to join the Canadian Wheat Board.

That is not what some members of the official opposition were hoping for, which is for producers to join the Canadian Wheat Board one year because it suits them, and leave the next year, because they were able to sell their grain on their own. In other words, producers will not be allowed to join the commission when prices are down and then to opt out when prices go up. Either you're in or you're out. Either all producers join the Canadian Wheat Board or they're out.

In closing, I would like, of course, to congratulate the new Minister of Agriculture on his appointment. For once, the Prime Minister brought in someone who knows agriculture well. I find it unfortunate however that the responsibility for the Canadian Wheat Board was given to another minister, who no longer heads the Department of Agriculture. Like all members of this House, I think this is most unfortunate. Even among government members there is discontent.

What is the rationale? When the current minister was agriculture minister, he was naturally put in charge of the Canadian Wheat Board. Like the Canadian Dairy Commission, the wheat board falls under Agriculture Canada, not under External Affairs or Justice. This decision is fraught with consequences the Prime Minister will have to live with for years to come.

To conclude, members of the Bloc Quebecois will support this government initiative, which they believe is a step forward. It may be a small step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless in modernizing the Canadian Wheat Board.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to be able to speak to Bill C-4, the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board.

I am proud to serve the area of Palliser. It is an area of Saskatchewan that includes all of Moose Jaw, a portion of Regina and a good swath of farming country that surrounds those two fine cities.

The constituency of Palliser is named in honour of a former British army captain, Captain John Palliser, who was sent out 140 years ago in 1857 on an expedition to southern Saskatchewan to see whether the climate was hospitable for agriculture. Captain Palliser became famous, or perhaps infamous, for saying that the region was “unfit for human abode”.

Captain Palliser was wrong. There have been developments in agricultural technology that he could not possibly have foreseen. The Regina plains he found so inhospitable that many years ago have now become one of the best grain growing regions in the world.

The climate can be as harsh as he described it, but people in Palliser and throughout the prairies have used the tools of community and co-operation to overcome the obstacles of climate and distance. The Canadian Wheat Board is one of those tools of co-operation. It has served western farmers well since 1935 and they made it clear in the barley plebiscite last February that they want to keep the Canadian Wheat Board as a single desk seller for their grain.

The minister in charge of the wheat board introduced amendments to the act in December of last year. Those amendments were sent quickly to the agriculture committee. In fact our caucus at that time in the 35th Parliament believed that the reference to committee was too hasty. We did not understand the minister's great hurry and we thought there should have been more opportunity for debate in the House prior to the referral. Len Taylor, our former agriculture critic from The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, made known his and our party's unhappiness with the government's procedure at that time.

I note that in Bill C-4 the minister is once again making the same speedy reference to committee and again we are concerned about that. We feel that members of the House would have valuable contributions to make in the debate prior to the legislation being referred to committee. We do not understand the minister's undue haste.

In any event, today the wheat board legislation is back before the House as Bill C-4. Our caucus has looked carefully at the bill and we are pleased to see that it makes some important concessions based on amendments proposed by the agriculture committee that I referred to earlier. I want to review the most important of those changes and to indicate where our caucus can support them and where we feel further amendments are required.

Most important, Bill C-4 contains an inclusion clause. That means that grains can now be added or included as opposed to what was in Bill C-72 when they could only be deleted or excluded. This is a major change and a concession on the minister's behalf. It was the wise course to take and the right thing to have done.

We do however have some concerns about how the process to achieve the inclusion of a new grain would be triggered. It is not clear to us which farm organizations would have the right to ask for such an inclusion. I flag this for the minister to suggest that we do have questions and that we may have suggestions to offer.

Second there are also some welcomed changes in governance. Bill C-4 stipulates as the minister said that 10 of the 15 members of the board of directors are to be elected by farmers with the minister naming the remaining five. The directors will now choose their own chair rather than leave that power with the minister. These are improvements over Bill C-72 but we do not believe that they go far enough yet. We have no problem with the government naming some members to the board of directors.

The government will continue after all to guarantee the wheat board's initial price on grain purchased from farmers. Our caucus insisted that the government continue these financial guarantees and we are pleased that they have been maintained. If the government is going to have considerable financial exposure, then it is only reasonable that it have some window into the board's operations.

However under Bill C-4 the minister maintains the authority to choose the president of the board of directors, a person who will double as the wheat board's chief executive officer. Our caucus opposes this. We believe this gives the government too much control over a board of directors that should really be accountable ultimately to the farmers and it gives the government too much control over the day to day operations of the wheat board itself.

In contrast to the proposal, we believe that the board of directors should have the authority to choose the president and chief executive officer and we urge the minister to make this amendment. We believe that the federal government will have enough influence by its appointment of one-third of the 15 members of the board of directors.

There are those who insist that the government should have no participation on the board of directors. Too often these are the same people who would like to sever all connections before the government and the board. This is a cynical exercise using the rhetoric of democracy as a tool to do away with the wheat board itself.

We believe that the minister has addressed an important issue on the inclusion of grains and has made some improvements on the issue of governance. However there is a third area of concern to us in which the minister has made no concession and that is in the area of cash purchases of grain.

For decades the Canadian Wheat Board has earned the confidence of farmers because they knew that they would all be treated equitably in the purchase of their grain. The board bought grain from farmers at similar prices and under similar conditions. This practice known as price pooling has been the bedrock on which the Canadian Wheat Board was built.

Both Bill C-72 and now Bill C-4 the son of C-72, would give the board the ability to buy grains from anyone, anywhere at any time. This in effect undermines the principle of price pooling. We believe that it would also undermine the farmers' confidence in the board and thereby diminish the board's credibility and effectiveness.

The minister argues that these arrangements would allow the board to adapt more quickly to market developments especially when the board needs a certain grain quickly and supplies are not immediately forthcoming. While there is logic in this reasoning, we fear that the board could in the search for short term flexibility undermine its longer term credibility with farmers. At the very least we would want the legislation to be quite specific as to when the board could resort to cash buying.

We in this caucus believe that it is time to end the uncertainty which has surrounded the Canadian Wheat Board. This uncertainty has been foisted onto the board and onto western farmers by the actions of some of our trading competitors, but what is even more damaging are the activities of that vocal minority of farmers who would do away with the board altogether.

Although the Leader of the Opposition did not refer to what his party is going to propose, undoubtedly it will be a form of dual marketing. We suggest that dual marketing is no more a solution in the agricultural area than two tier health care is in the medicare field.

Despite our lingering concerns about this government's longer term trade agenda, we believe it is best to get on with Bill C-4. This bill makes some important concessions and improvements from its previous incarnation based on amendments proposed by the agriculture committee in the last Parliament. Our caucus supports Bill C-4 in principle but we reserve the option of making further amendments to this legislation in committee.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak in the House for an extended period of time so I would like to congratulate you and the other members of the Speaker's chair. I sit beside you and we have a good working relationship. I expect that will continue.

I would also like to thank the electorate of Brandon—Souris for putting me in this wonderful position in the House and for being able to speak today on Bill C-4 on their behalf.

I would like to begin debate on the bill which is now before us with the prophetic words of one hon. member of Parliament. He was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party and represented my riding over 40 years ago. He was the Hon. Walter Dinsdale. His words on the subject matter outlined in Bill C-4 are very relevant for someone who spoke on the issue 40 years ago:

Wheat is still the economic lodestar of the prairies—. Wheat made possible the building of Canada's first transcontinental railway, and I sometimes think the construction of the CPR was the last major effort on the part of this dominion government relative to the prairies.

It was also the rapid development of our wheat economy that made possible the great waves of immigration in the early years of this century and opened up that part of Canada to popular settlement.

Important as the wheat trade undoubtedly is, it nevertheless leaves our prairie economy in a particularly vulnerable position because it means that we are tied to a one-product economy. When disturbances inevitably occur in world economy and are reflected in our internal economy, it is the agricultural industry that is the first to suffer.

In this regard I would like to add, Mr. Speaker, that the wheat board has been particularly effective in smoothing out extreme swings in the economic cycle. The only difficulty with the wheat board is that it has tended to become used as an instrument of political manipulation, and wheat policies have been adapted to the welfare of the party in power.

I would add, though, that marketing boards do not necessarily increase the price to the producer. They merely iron out some of the wilder fluctuations. In the final analysis it is demand that determines price.

It is ironic reciting these words on an issue which was brought to the attention of the then Liberal government over 40 years ago by a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament. Is it not funny that 40 years later the current Liberal government continues to put a deaf ear to the concerns of western members of Parliament. It is sad how little things have changed around here. It is really sad for the producers who have to deal with a federal government which is so adamant on preventing change when it concerns the interests of farmers across western Canada.

I appreciate the fact that the government in power has a very difficult issue facing it today. I have spoken to many stakeholders across the country and I can say that they have very divergent needs. Some say to get rid of the board entirely and we recognize who those people are. There is also the range on the other side which says to leave it exactly the way it is, the status quo with no changes whatsoever. We recognize where that comes from.

There is in the middle however a number of stakeholders, a number of producers, who would like to see change, some of them within the Canadian Wheat Board system and some of them on a voluntary basis, so they would have the right to choose in which fashion they would market their grains.

The government today had an opportunity to embrace change going into the 21st century. It had an opportunity to show leadership with respect to marketing western Canadian grains. In fact with Bill C-4 before us right now, it has failed to show that leadership. The government has tinkered with the existing Canadian Wheat Board.

I am not naive enough politically to believe that we on this side of the House are going to change the direction of government. In saying that, when I came to this House I said to my constituents that I wanted to bring positive criticism, constructive criticism to the government. I would like to in the next little while show some of that positive criticism.

The first issue I would like to deal with in Bill C-4 before us today is that of the inclusion clause. I had the opportunity to actually speak to the commissioners of the Canadian Wheat Board. When I asked the question why must there be an inclusion clause to include canola, flax, rye and oats, the answer I received was if there is going to be an exclusion clause, then we should have an inclusion clause.

Never did they speak to the ability to market better. Never did they speak that it would be better for the producers. Never did they speak to the fact that it was the best way to market in the world today. They simply said because there is exclusion, there should be inclusion. This is not good enough. The majority of shareholders and stakeholders in agriculture do not want inclusion of those crops.

On the board of directors, it is a very good move considering the legislation that is before us. There should well be an elected board of directors. I agree with that. Of the 15 board of directors who have been identified, all 15 should be elected by the producers, not appointed by government.

They are going to say “but the government has an involvement in this financially”. In the Ontario Wheat Board right now, the government has involvement financially. All 10 board of directors are elected by producers and not appointed by government. There should be an elected board of directors, not one that is appointed by government.

In saying that as well, the CEO form of governance is great. I do not believe nor have I ever believed in management by committee or by commissions. I believe the CEO form of governance is a good direction this government has taken. In saying that, I also believe that the CEO should be appointed by the board of directors, not by government.

If the CEO is given the proper opportunity and the proper vision to plan for where we are going in the 21st century, I believe it is a step in the right direction. Give the chief executive officer the opportunity to put his or her positions forward on the basis of the board, not on the basis of politics.

The last thing I would like to speak to right now is that of accountability. The Canadian Wheat Board in the opinion of the stakeholders has not been accountable to the producers. It is a closed shop. They do not have the opportunity of getting the information that we would like to see.

The Canadian Wheat Board along with CSIS are the two organizations that are not affected by the access to information legislation. That is not right. There has to be transparency. There has to be openness and there has to be accountability by the Canadian Wheat Board to the people that they serve, the producers of western Canada. That accountability can come with a chief executive officer who is appointed by an elected board, and with the elected board.

In closing, there are improvements within the existing Bill C-4 over previous legislation on the Canadian Wheat Board. What I would like to see are those changes I talked about previously as well as the possibility and the opportunity of perhaps some voluntary co-operation of producers with the Canadian Wheat Board, an opt in and an opt out opportunity for producers. This has not been talked about. It has not been discussed.

Trust me, when it gets to committee I am sure there will be plenty of time to debate these very, very positive and constructive criticisms of this bill.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings Ontario


Lyle Vanclief LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and make some comments on Bill C-4. I am pleased to speak in support of the motion to refer Bill C-4 to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food.

I congratulate my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, for the work he has done in the process of developing the bill over the last number of years.

For 62 years the Canadian Wheat Board has been one of the cornerstones of our nation's success in agriculture and agri-food. Changes in Bill C-4 build on that success by providing for a more modern Canadian Wheat Board, one that is more accountable to farmers, more flexible and more responsive. Farmers will have a direct role in shaping the operations and directions of the corporation. They will have more power to take on the very real challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Throughout the preparation and debate on the legislation we have done everything possible to ensure that everybody with an interest in this complex issue has a had a full and fair opportunity to voice an opinion.

In July 1995 my predecessor as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food established the western grain marketing panel to conduct a comprehensive examination of western grain marketing issues. One year later after extensive consultations, including 15 town hall meetings and 12 days of public hearings across the prairies, the panel completed its report and submitted it to the minister.

The minister distributed a summary of the report's recommendations to all farmers in western Canada and invited their feedback. In one way or another more than 12,000 individuals and organizations responded to the panel's recommendations.

In December 1996 Bill C-72 was tabled in the House of Commons. In February 1997 the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, which I chaired at that time, held a series of meetings across western Canada. We visited Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Grande Prairie. We heard from more than 40 groups and a similar number of individual farmers during those committee hearings.

As a result of those hearings we made more than 20 amendments to the bill before we reported it back to the House in April 1997. I am pleased to note that the amendments were retained in the new bill. The system does work.

Over the course of the past summer the minister responsible for the wheat board continued to conduct informal consultations with the grains industry officials to hear views on the legislation. In early September he requested views from farm organizations on the appropriate principles to govern the election of the directors. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the future of the Canadian Wheat Board has been exhaustively discussed and debated.

The purpose of the amendments is to respond to some of the major concerns raised during the debate and to ensure that the CWB is well positioned to continue as a reliable, responsive single desk seller of Canadian wheat and barley in the years ahead.

Our objective is to build on the proven strengths of our existing marketing system while enhancing its accountability, improving its responsiveness to changing producer needs and opportunities, providing more flexibility and faster cashflows, and minimizing future complications in international trade.

We are taking action on all of the points raised by the panel with regard to the accountability of the Canadian Wheat Board. As the minister responsible for the wheat board has explained, under the legislation the current commissioner structure of management would be replaced by a part-time 15 member board of directors.

It would be comprised of ten producer elected representatives and five government appointees including a full-time president. Both the chief executive officer and the full-time president would be responsible for the day to day operations of the board.

The CWB status as an agent of the crown and crown corporation would end when the new board of directors assumes office. The Canadian Wheat Board Advisory Committee would be terminated when deemed appropriate by the minister responsible for the wheat board but not before the end of its current mandate at the end of 1998.

The changes in the bill would also allow the Canadian Wheat Board to offer farmers more options in terms of pricing and timing of payment for their grain and provide it with greater flexibility in the way it acquires grain. At the same time the amendments leave intact the basic principles of single desk selling.

The legislation also includes provisions for adding additional grains to the marketing mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board. I want opposition members to listen to the process that has to take place. In such a case the request would first have to come from a recognized commodity group and the board of directors would have to recommend the inclusion. Then a vote on the inclusion by the producers of that grain would also have to be held. There are a number of steps. After that the changes to the marketing mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board could then be made through an order in council.

The amendments in the bill would also give the board of directors the power to exclude specific types, classes or varieties of wheat or barley from exclusive Canadian Wheat Board jurisdiction in the domestic or export market. This authority would be exercised only upon the recommendation of the board of directors. There would have to be assurances from the Canadian Grain Commission that the necessary quality control measures were in place to avoid co-mingling of grains.

If the board of directors considers the exclusion to be a significant change, a vote of the producers would also have to be held. Again a number of steps would have to take place.

A Canadian Wheat Board governed by a board of directors comprised of a majority of producer elected members would improve accountability to and communications with producers. It would also result in an increased sense of producer ownership of their marketing organization.

While the self-sufficiency of the Canadian Wheat Board would increase, the government would still have an important role to play in supporting it. For example, the government would continue to provide financial backing for initial payments, borrowing, and for such programs as the credit grain sales program. The changes would provide the board with more flexibility in the acquisition and the pricing of wheat and barley enabling it to operate more efficiently, increase returns to farmers and reduce the risk to government.

As I have discussed the bill responds to views expressed by numerous stakeholders. It is important to note, however, that the amendments do not constitute the full response of the Government of Canada to the concerns of the Canadian grain producers and the recommendations of the western grain panel. We are also pursuing many other avenues to address other issues that they brought forward related to grain marketing and transportation.

For example, last November our government introduced legislation to modernize the Canada Labour Code. Among other things those amendments stipulate that while grain handlers and their employees will retain the right to strike and lockout, in the event of a work stoppage involving other parties in port related activities, services affecting grain shipments must be maintained.

On another important issue, specifically the efficiency of our transportation system, the Minister of Transport, the minister responsible for the wheat board and I met this summer on July 25 with key members of the grain industry in Winnipeg. As as result of that meeting the grain transportation industry has developed and put in place a monitoring program and a contingency plan to ensure efficiency in the movement of grain.

Through Bill C-4 and other actions the Government of Canada is demonstrating it is listening to the concerns of Canadian grain producers. It is taking action to address those concerns. It is laying the foundation for continuing growth and prosperity in the grain sector and Canada's rural communities.

I call upon all the members of the House to lend their support to the amendments contained in the legislation.

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11:05 a.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I wish I could say at the outset that it is a pleasure to rise today to address Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act, but the simple truth of the matter is that it is not. A vast majority of western Canadian grain farmers whom the bill will affect and I hoped the minister and his government would have listened to them.

Just to digress for a moment, I noted during the brief remarks of the hon. minister of agriculture a moment ago he referred to some 20 amendments the agriculture committee had made that were ultimately incorporated into the bill before the House today, Bill C-4.

It is important for people watching the debate today to realize that those amendments are very superficial. With the possible exception of the so-called inclusion clause, there is not a lot of substance to those amendments. They do not go nearly far enough to address the real concerns being echoed across the prairies by Canada's western grain farmers.

As with the bill's predecessor, Bill C-72, the minister has accomplished the near impossible by alienating everyone. Where is the support for what he is about to do? If this is the way to proceed and the majority of grain producers support his latest retread legislation, why are they not applauding him? One has to speculate the point of consultations, submissions and hearings undertaken by the minister and his government over the the past year if in the final analysis they do not intend to listen to and incorporate those ideas.

I note the western grain marketing panel and all the debate that took place, as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food just mentioned, on Bill C-72 both in Ottawa and during the travelling show across the prairies. Where are the substantive arguments put forward by the farm groups and farmers that appeared before that panel? We do not see them in the legislation.

The simple truth is that farmers will not substantially benefit from the legislation, and the Liberals know it. The government is intent on forging ahead despite the cries of the vast majority of producers that it simply does not address their needs.

Part of the government's strategy is to bring forward the bill for 180 minutes of debate with 10 minute speeches and no questions and comments. We in the opposition ranks cannot do an adequate job of discussing such a comprehensive piece of legislation in a 10 minute speech.

In the few moments I have left I will touch briefly on a number of points. I certainly applaud the intervention of the Progressive Conservative member. It is interesting to note that he and his party have picked up on the lead that Reform took on Bill C-72 in the last parliament. They are now basically in line with some of the main points we are raising.

The bill does not include anything that would take the Canadian Wheat Board toward being a voluntary organization. We see a real demand by producers for freedom to choose. We do not see any real options in the bill. That has to be one of its most fundamental flaws.

The minister may bring about the total demise of the Canadian Wheat Board with the legislation. With its all or nothing inclusion and exclusion clauses, a future board of directors could gradually exclude grades and types of grain until eventually the wheat board would be just a shell that does not market anything.

Farmers may divide on their support for the Canadian Wheat Board. Other speakers have referred to the two extremes. The bulk of farmers are in the middle. Between 75% and 80% of farmers want to see some change which ranges from minor change to very substantive change. I have found the majority of farmers are opposed to the contingency fund. They view it as simply another tax being imposed upon them by the government. In a situation where it is mandatory to belong to the Canadian Wheat Board this contingency fund is another tax at a time when farmers cannot afford any more input costs.

Another perplexing part of the legislation is the question of how elected directors will ultimately be held accountable, as my hon. colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party noted.

Like CSIS this organization is highly secretive, ultra secret. It does not have to adhere to access to information and it cannot be audited by the auditor general of the country. We think those are major flaws. Again this was an opportunity for the government to address very real concerns, to open up the board and make it more accountable. I would ask all hon. members and people viewing this debate to answer this question. Can they imagine any other corporation, club, or charity to which they belong answering questions concerning decisions made at an annual general meeting by saying “I can't answer that” or “If I told you that I would have to kill you”. It is absolutely ridiculous.

We have to open up the Canadian Wheat Board. Farmers are demanding it. For the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board to suggest that this bill is going to make it more accountable is actually ludicrous.

Fourth, yet another anomaly contained in this legislation is the issue of the legal liability for directors, officers and employees of the Canadian Wheat Board. If directors act honestly and in good faith, as it states they must in this legislation, then why do they require protection from criminal activities? If they have shown that they have complied with clause 3.12, then could they not simply prove that in a court of law as other Canadians are required to do without having this other clause 3.13 which basically exempts them?

I also note that one of probably twenty changes that the minister was bragging about a while ago is the deletion of the term “employees”. Yet we find that other persons are also covered under that clause. In view of that the clause stating “person or persons acting at the request of the corporation” would certainly include the employees, at least I think it would.

Finally, there are a lot of concerns across western Canada about the timely and efficient movement of grain to market. This was an opportunity for the government to include in the bill or some other bill the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board from the present position it has across the country with transportation. I support that we should be looking at ways in which we can decrease the bureaucracy inherent in the grain transportation sector. One of those ways would be to have the board take an at port position.

I have one underlying question. Is this the best the Liberals could come up with? Earlier the minister took great pains to justify his rush to get this recycled bill back through the House. He said that extensive consultations had already taken place regarding the legislation. He is correct on that point, but obviously, as I said earlier in my presentation, the simple fact is that he is not listening. He is not responding to the very real needs of producers.

Those producers are crying out for fundamental change and some freedom to choose. In a free and democratic country like Canada it is absolutely ridiculous that we still have this mandatory monopoly left over from the second world war.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


David Iftody Liberal Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this debate on the motion to refer Bill C-4 to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The changes to the Canadian Wheat Board that are proposed in Bill C-4 have been designed to respond to the wishes of western Canadian grain farmers. Some western grain producers and producer groups have been asking for more flexibility in the marketing of wheat and barley. The question arises, would Bill C-4 allow aspects of a dual market or voluntary marketing through the Canadian Wheat Board? The short answer is yes, subject to the democratic will of the farmers themselves.

The tool, Bill C-4, would enable the Canadian Wheat Board to provide additional marketing options to farmers while maintaining the integrity of pooling and single desk selling. However, the board of directors, two-thirds of whom will be elected by farmers, would also be empowered to recommend changes that would result in a marketing system with some of the features of a dual market, if that is what producers want.

Part IV of the current Canadian Wheat Board Act provides the Canadian Wheat Board with single desk control over the export of wheat and barley, while part III deals with the acquisition of grain from producers, pooling and initial payment.

Part IV also provides for monopoly control over interprovincial trade of wheat and barley which has, of course, long since been removed for domestic feed grain. As members can see, producers currently have three options for selling their feed wheat and feed barley. They can sell it to the Canadian Wheat Board. They can sell it to the private trade. Or they can sell it directly to a domestic customer. None of this will change if Bill C-4 is passed. In fact, it has been made more explicit to remove all doubt.

Right now the option of selling to the Canadian Wheat Board, the private trade or directly to the final customer exists, but only for domestic feed grain. However, under the exclusion clause in the new legislation it will be possible for this option to be extended to “any kind, type, class or grade of wheat and barley.” This clause provides for the exclusion by regulation of any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley from the provisions of part IV of the Canadian Wheat Board Act. But it would still allow the Canadian Wheat Board to continue its activities under part III. This would mean that the Canadian Wheat Board would still be able to purchase the grain from producers and at the same time operate a pool.

For such an exclusion to occur three conditions have to be met. First, a new farmer controlled board of directors would have to recommend it. Second, the Canadian Grain Commission would have to approve an identity preservation system to safeguard quality. Third, a producer vote would have to be held if the board of directors decided the exclusion is indeed significant. If all three conditions were met, the minister would recommend the exclusion and the governor in council would pass the legislation.

Balancing the exclusion clause is an inclusion clause. This clause allows for the extensions of part III or part IV or both to grains not currently covered by the Canadian Wheat Board Act. I should point out that this inclusion clause is confined to crops that fall within the definition of grain now in the Canadian Wheat Board Act, that is oats, flax, rye and canola.

It is subject to the commodity organization which best represents the producers of that grain asking for it. And of course, the Canadian Wheat Board directors, as I said, those who were duly elected, would have to agree and farmers would have to approve it by a democratic vote.

Suppose that all these three conditions were fulfilled and suppose that the Canadian Wheat Board Act were thus extended so that part III applied to rye, but not part IV. Remember, part III refers to pooling while part IV refers to single desk selling. Extending part III but not part IV would create a situation as I have described under the exclusion clause, that is, farmers would be able to sell rye not only to the Canadian Wheat Board but to others. If the decision is to extend both parts III and IV, this would result in both pooling and single desk selling.

Another provision of Bill C-4 would allow for cash purchasing. The Canadian Wheat Board would have the flexibility to purchase grain at a price other than the initial payment. If this were used extensively for a particular grain such as feed barley, the result could be that prices for feed barley in Canada would differ from prices in the United States only by actual transfer costs. In such circumstances, licences to export feed barley to the U.S. would likely be granted with no charge for buy back, although there might well be conditions imposed to ensure that such feed barley exports would not adversely affect the Canadian Wheat Board malt barley exports to the U.S.

This situation would be somewhat comparable to a dual market or voluntary marketing through the Canadian Wheat Board.

Finally, part VI of the Canadian Wheat Board Act allows marketing plans for voluntary pools to be established for grains, varieties, grades or classes that are not required to be marketed through the Canadian Wheat Board.

Such a marketing plan can only be set up after an association of producers or an association or firm engaged in the processing and marketing of grain submits a proposal for the establishment of a marketing plan to the minister and is approved by the governor in council. Such a marketing plan would include guaranteed initial payments, however, the guarantee would only cover a maximum of 90% of any losses incurred.

The provision for marketing plans is in the current act but it has never been used. If it were it would result in a voluntary pool for grain covered by the marketing plan. Under this provision the administrator of the plan must be designated. It is conceivable that after it becomes a mixed enterprise the Canadian Wheat Board might qualify to be an administrator.

In conclusion, there are several ways that a dual market or voluntary marketing through the Canadian Wheat Board, or similar results, could be achieved under Bill C-4. All of them would require as a minimum that the producer controlled board of directors take a conscious decision to do so. In most cases farmers would carry the ultimate authority through a democratic producer vote. It comes down to producers deciding what producers want. They will elect the majority of the board of directors and they will vote on inclusion or significant exclusions of crops.

Like many other aspects of the legislation these tools are enabling. They put power in the hands of producers, allowing them to shape the Canadian Wheat Board to the needs of Canadian farmers.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, I am very honoured to take part in the House of Commons debate on Bill C-4 to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

I would like to begin by saying that, strictly from the standpoint of principle, the Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-4, with a few reservations that I will mention.

First of all, it is good to see the decision making power of the Canadian Wheat Board put in the hands of farmers, who represent ten of the 15 members on the board of directors. In addition to making them accountable, their presence means the Canadian Wheat Board is more plugged in to what they actually experience.

The level of trust and agreement between people in the same profession is very high. Quebec farmers are no exception to the rule and want to see their colleagues in the west benefit from this new arrangement of the Canadian Wheat Board.

The fact that elected producers form the majority on the CWB will leave the Board less vulnerable to challenges regarding international trade rules from our trade partners.

Quebec, which prides itself on promoting orderly and harmonious marketing of agricultural products, can only be glad that the Canadian Wheat Board has greater flexibility in marketing its products.

There are, of course, major advantages to streamlining the Canadian Wheat Board's operating method and making it more functional. However, with billion dollar transactions involved, what mechanisms will be introduced to ensure good risk management?

In addition, Quebec taxpayers are not ready to see their tax dollars go toward making up the Canadian Wheat Board's deficits. It will be recalled that these deficits were in the several hundreds of millions of dollars in 1991. Business is business. This is a marketing agency that must be able to assume its deficits in the long term if there are annual losses. Let us hope that the reserve fund does enough to allay that concern.

It is worth pointing out that Quebec wheat purchasers, that is the mills and the bakeries, have appreciated the consistent quality of the products delivered under the auspices of the Canadian Wheat Board, and they hope those same quality standards will be maintained in future under Bill C-4. There are provisions for implementation of quality control.

A reading of the bill raises some questions. This is a bill for western Canada, since 95% of the volume administered by the CWB comes from the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and parts of Ontario and British Columbia, that is the region designated in Bill C-4.

The Bloc Quebecois must, however, look after the agricultural interests of Quebec, both its present and its future interests.

A reading of clauses 24 through 26, which indicate that the CWB may, under certain conditions, recommend that certain types of grains be excluded from or added to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board, leaves one confused. The bill states that the minister may not make the recommendation for exclusion unless the board of directors so recommends and the Canadian Grain Commission has approved a procedure for identifying the grain in question, so as to preserve its identity. If the board is of the opinion that the exemption is significant, the producers will also have to vote on this.

First of all, who are these producers? How will they vote? And most of all, can they be from outside the designated region? In this connection, Quebec is justified in asking questions, since it has to go through the Canadian Wheat Board if it wants to export. What if Quebec were to become an exporter of any of these products?

The federal government retains considerable control over the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. Let us hope that opening it up to the producers is something real, and not just caving in to community pressures.

Bill C-4 contains a good 60 references to the minister. The federal government is, therefore, maintaining considerable control over the Canadian Wheat Board. For example, the federal government is the one to decide how farmers will be elected to the board of directors. The president of the board of directors is appointed by the governor in council on the recommendation of the minister. Why can the elected directors elect the president of the board but not the president of the commission? The president holds office for the period of time set by the federal government. The government is also requiring the Canadian Wheat Board to prepare a corporate plan annually, under clause 19. Obviously, the Minister of Finance must approve the plan.

With this right of review, the Minister of Finance retains control. How much autonomy will the Canadian Wheat Board have? On the one hand, the government allows farmers to speak when it can no longer stand the pressure from the farming community. On the other, the government is keeping the decisions affecting them centralized. You wonder who really has their hand on the tiller.

We in the Bloc Quebecois will be on the watch.

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11:30 a.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-4, the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

In essence this bill is a further refinement of the previous Bill C-72 of the last Parliament on which the agriculture committee held extensive hearings across the Canadian Wheat Board area. This new bill encompasses much of what we heard from the farm community during those hearings and tries to establish a balance between the various views within the farm community.

I hold strong views on the Canadian Wheat Board and personally maintain that commissioners appointed for their expertise and marketing still makes a lot of sense but I am, based on views put forward by the farm community during those hearings, willing to accept the approach of the board of directors and the kind of flexibility that Bill C-4 encompasses.

I would express to those strong Canadian Wheat Board supporters that they will have to be extremely vigilant in the election process because big money from the merchants of grain with allies like we have just heard from the Reform Party is really out to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board over time.

I suggest that those strong supporters of the wheat board be very vigilant in terms of seeing that people are elected to that board who are pro-wheat board supporters, as we have shown can happen through the Canadian Wheat Board advisory process through which the majority of pro-board supporters were elected.

The Canadian Wheat Board has shown itself to be a model, an institution second to none in marketing intelligence and ability through its operating structure to maximize returns back to primary producers.

The three pillars of single desk selling, pooling of returns and government guarantees are essential for the Canadian Wheat Board to maximize those returns back to primary producers. Those pillars remain under this legislation.

The role of the Canadian Wheat Board is to sell western Canadian wheat and barley in the international marketplace at the very best possible price. All proceeds from sales less the marketing costs are then passed back to farmers.

With annual revenues of more than $5.8 billion, the Canadian Wheat Board is one of the country's largest exporters and one of the world's largest grain trading organizations. That is very different from the private grain companies that often work on exploitation of primary producers, the kind of system that Reform members opposite seem to support. The wheat board works on farmers' behalf.

Since its founding in 1935, the Canadian Wheat Board has been able to return premiums to farmers through pooling and single desk selling. Its status as a single desk seller of western Canadian wheat and barley exports has given strength and market power to prairie farmers.

Today instead of competing against one another, Canada's 110,000 wheat and barley farmers sell as one and can therefore command a higher price for their product.

Single desk selling also enables the Canadian Wheat Board to take a unique approach to market development. It is both product and consumer oriented in nature, resulting in long term relationships and a better consumer understanding of Canadian grain. Longer term marketing relationships are to the benefit of farmers and all of Canada.

Through the Canadian Wheat Board all sales are deposited in one of four pool accounts, wheat, durum wheat, feed barley or designated barley. This ensures that all farmers benefit equally regardless of when their grain is sold during the crop year. The system of initial in term adjustments and final payment has worked well.

Even that will be improved in this legislation and the government will continue to guarantee the initial price. As well, the government continues to guarantee the Canadian Wheat Board's borrowings. This allows the CWB to finance its operations at lower rates of interest, again to the benefit of farmers and the country as a whole.

The Canadian Wheat Board, without a doubt, has provided exceptional service to western Canadian farmers for more than half a century. The 1995-96 annual report tabled in this House states:

A performance evaluation conducted during the 1995-96 crop year showed Canada ranks highly with its customers in such areas as quality of product, customer service, technical support and dependability of supply. Another study conducted by three economists showed that the CWB's single desk system generates an additional $265 million per year in wheat revenue for farmers, thereby enhancing Canada's competitiveness. It also showed the CWB provides a low cost marketing service to farmers.

Another thing I should mention is what our competitors are saying. To those who want to undermine the ability of the wheat board, let me quote what our competitors are saying in the U.S.

Robert Carlson of the National Farmer's Union said:

From a competing farmer's perspective, we in the U.S. do not have a vehicle like the CWB to create producer marketing power in the international grain trade. We basically sell for the best price among our local elevator companies and lose our interest in our grain after that point.

Our export trade is dominated by a few large corporations who are interested in buying low and selling high to enhance the earnings of their owners, who are not generally the same people.

If we destroy the various institutions that farmers in many countries have built to help themselves survive economically, we will have nothing left but producers standing bare among the ruins of structures that once empowered and protected them in a marketplace dominated by giants.

Our objective through this legislation, Bill C-4, is to continue to empower our farmers and make the Canadian Wheat Board an even better marketing institution. I would show these Reformers opposite the annual report of the Canadian Wheat Board, “Marketing for the Future”, and that is what this legislation is all about.

Through this legislation, our government is responding to recommendations made by farmers with concrete action. Under Bill C-4, 10 out 15 Canadian Wheat Board directors will be elected by prairie farmers before the end of 1998. That establishes the two-thirds majority farmers called for.

There will also be changes to the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing mandate and greater empowerment for farmers. There will be changes to allow more flexibility in wheat board operations and improvements in cash flow.

In addition, under Bill C-4 the Canadian Wheat Board will be able to adjust management adjustment payments during any crop year much more quickly by removing the need to first obtain cabinet approval.

The legislation also provides for a contingency fund to manage risk consolidated with cash trading. As the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board has said, the operations of the CWB will also be improved by the access it will have to modern risk management tools that would allow a forward contracting system.

I believe that these changes, along with many other important adjustments proposed in Bill C-4, will effectively build on the principle of more direct producer input into the priorities and operations of the Canadian Wheat Board while also enabling the Canadian Wheat Board to become an even more flexible and effective marketing agent for western Canadian grain farmers in the century ahead.

As it says on the cover of the wheat board annual report, “Marketing for the Future”, this government is willing to empower the Canadian Wheat Board while those opposite are wanting to undermine it. We will succeed in the empowerment of the wheat board.