Madam Speaker, first I would like to offer my apologies for a raspy, scratchy voice. I beg the indulgence of members of the House to hear me out this morning.
Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate you on your appointment to the Chair. I am sure you will do a good job.
This being my first opportunity to give a speech in the House during this Parliament, I want to take the opportunity to say thanks to my constituents for returning me to the House of Commons for a third term. I thank them for placing their confidence in me once again.
One of the reasons I am happy to speak on Bill C-4 is because the Canadian Wheat Board's home is in my city, the city of Winnipeg. In fact many employees of the Canadian Wheat Board are constituents of mine who live in the riding of Charleswood—Assiniboine.
I would like to outline some of the changes which distinguish the new bill from its previous incarnation in the last Parliament, that is Bill C-72. I would also like to detail the proposed amendments that are aimed at both rejuvenating and modernizing the Canadian Wheat Board and putting control over its activities squarely in the hands of producers.
Throughout its 62-year history the board has been an agent of the crown answerable solely to the Government of Canada and governed by a small group of up to five commissioners. Bill C-4 provides for a big and immediate change in the way the board is governed. Under this proposed legislation a board of 15 directors of whom 10 would be directly elected by producers would govern the operation of the wheat board.
Therefore under the new bill the Canadian Wheat Board would become a mixed enterprise, and for the first time in its lengthy history it would become accountable in a very direct way to the producers it serves. This means that producers will have a larger and more direct voice in the way in which their marketing system operates. These changes are consistent with the majority recommendations put forth by the Western Grain Marketing Panel.
As many of the members of the House may recall, in 1995 an extensive consultative process was undertaken that involved literally tens of thousands of producers across western Canada. The goal of that process was to determine how best to revitalize and modernize the operations of the Canadian Wheat Board. It culminated in a set of recommendations made by the Western Grain Marketing Panel in July 1996.
While the debate among western farmers with respect to grain marketing is a sharply polarized one, it makes it all but impossible to arrive at one all-encompassing solution. The minister responsible for the wheat board has listened to the concerns of western farmers and has answered their calls for a more responsive, accountable and accessible wheat board.
The evidence is before the House today in the form of Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. This legislation proposes major changes to the Canadian Wheat Board that will empower farmers as never before.
What has changed from Bill C-72? Although Bill C-4 resembles very closely Bill C-72, there are a few changes that differentiate it from its predecessor. Foremost among these is the elimination of the interim appointed board of directors provided for in Bill C-72. This was to be a transitional measure, however the government has responded to farmers who saw no need for this step.
Under Bill C-4 the Canadian Wheat Board would be governed by a board of directors with a majority of its members elected by farmers and accountable to them. I repeat elected to farmers and accountable to farmers. This board of directors should be in place by December 1998 at the very latest. Ideally it would be in place as soon as next spring. The draft bill no longer provides for an interim bill.
The second major change in Bill C-4 is the provision that allows for the inclusion or exclusion of grains under the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate. Similar to an amendment tabled by my colleague the hon. member for Malpeque during the last Parliament, this provides that such a change in the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate can only be triggered if certain conditions are met.
If producers wish to remove a type of grain from the mandate of the board, they will be able to do so subject to three conditions. First there must be a recommendation to do so from the board of directors. Second the Canadian Grain Commission must approve an identity preservation system to ensure quality standards remain intact. Remember Canada has a great reputation when it comes to our wheat and we want to maintain that. Third if the exclusion is viewed as significant by the board of directors, a vote among producers must be held.
Similarly if producers wish to add additional grains to the wheat board's mandate, this too could be possible subject to three specific conditions. First the farm organization representing the producers of that commodity must make a written request for the inclusion. Second the inclusion would have to be recommended by the wheat board's board of directors. Third producers themselves must vote in favour of the addition. That is pretty democratic in my estimation.
These new provisions are balanced and fair both ways for either exclusions or inclusions. In either case the decision making authority lies where it should be, directly with producers themselves. The clear goal is to put farmers in the driver's seat when it comes to any future changes in what grains the wheat board markets.
It should also be noted that when Bill C-72 was originally drafted, both the Financial Administration Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act were used as models for various provisions. Subsequently it was decided that it would be more appropriate if provisions in the CWB act relating to the duties of directors and officers were the same as those in the Canada Business Corporations Act which applies to private sector corporations. Accordingly, a few revisions have been made.
Hon. members opposite might wish to note that references to employees in provisions relating to the duty of care, duty to comply, limit of liability and indemnification have been deleted. These changes will result in employees of the Canadian wheat board being placed in the same position as employees of any corporation. To me that makes a lot of sense. If they are acting in good faith and within the scope of their employment, then they would have the same protection under common law as would employees of private corporations.
As for the directors and officers of the Canadian wheat board they will naturally be required to abide by the law. They will also have the duty 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.
In addition to the changes that I have mentioned, all of the amendments made to Bill C-72 in the last Parliament have been retained in Bill C-4. It reflects the essence of the Western Canadian Marketing Panel's recommendations on Canadian wheat board governance and operational flexibility and also establishes the criteria and general process for making changes to the wheat board's marketing mandate. These changes usher in a new era of accountability and flexibility within the Canadian Wheat Board, ensuring that it is well positioned to compete with in the global marketplace as the dawn of a new millennium approaches.
Canada has roughly a 20% share of the world market in grain. This is in no small way as a direct result of our having a single desk seller of wheat and barely that combines size, global reach and marketing clout to bring about the best possible returns from its world markets. Because of the not for profit nature of the Canadian Wheat Board the cost to farmers for the premiums commanded by the board amount to mere pennies per bushel. This is well worth reiterating.