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.