Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-4. As a matter of fact I am so enthused I was able to persuade my colleague the member for Qu'Appelle to share his 10 minutes. So we will be taking five minutes each on this issue.
There is an old saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. We have seen the Reform Party members stand in this House and try to give a little history lesson as it has been rewritten by the Reform Party, not quite going back to the dirty thirties where there were no marketing boards working co-operatively to market farmers' grains in this country. They fail to remember that part of history where farmers were having a very difficult struggle in this country to make ends meet but we will see what happens down the road.
In the last Parliament the NDP caucus opposed Bill C-72 which is now Bill C-4 which is before the House. We opposed it as it was originally introduced in December 1996 for a number of reasons and I want to summarize some of those reasons today.
One was cash buying. The board's great strength and its success are based on its practice of buying grain from farmers at an initial price, marketing it as a single desk seller and distributing any surplus earnings equitably as final payments. We were concerned about provisions in Bill C-72 for the board to buy grain for cash from anyone, anywhere at any time. We felt cash buying had the potential to undermine the board and as a result farmers' confidence in it.
We were concerned about governance. Given the language of former Bill C-72 we feared that the government and not farmers would control the board's destiny. For example it was not clear then how many directors there would be. Nor was it clear how many of the directors would be appointed by the minister and how many would be elected by the farmers.
My colleague the member for Palliser has outlined what changes have been made as a result of our interventions in the previous Parliament. Of course two-thirds of the board are now going to be elected in 1998.
The minister also retained the power to appoint the chair of the board of directors as well as the president of the board. This has not been changed in Bill C-4. We still support this component of the remake of the CWB.
What concerned us most was that Bill C-72 allowed for the exclusion of grains from the wheat board's jurisdiction but made no parallel provisions for grains to be added to that jurisdiction. We felt that this was clearly hostile to the board and we could not understand why this provision was in the legislation. For the information of the House it is now in Bill C-4 and we are very pleased that grains are being included as opposed to being excluded.
Bill C-72 was introduced in December 1996 but the legislation was soon overtaken by events. The minister decided that farmers should vote on whether they wished to continue to market export barley through the wheat board. In a certain sense he was experimenting with the exclusion clause of Bill C-72 even before it became law.
The barley vote occurred amid great controversy. A few farmers who were stubbornly opposed to the board had earlier chosen to break the law. Rather than sell to the board, they ran to the border with truckloads of grain. Some of these farmers and their soulmates in the Reform Party and the National Citizens' Coalition as well continued to use every available opportunity to attack the wheat board as we have heard today in the House of Commons.
The Alberta government even mounted a constitutional challenge to the board's right to buy and sell grain on behalf of farmers. The courts have now spoken, ruling in the board's favour.
But all of that is history. As we know the barley vote was held last February and the great majority of farmers left no doubt as to where they stand. Fully two-thirds of barley growers voted to continue to have the wheat board act as the single desk seller for their grains.
The Reform Party always boasts about how democratic it is, about how it believes in referenda and plebiscites as a means of making political decisions. Here is a perfect opportunity for Reform Party members. Two out of three farmers voted in favour of wheat board marketing. We might expect that Reform would now honour its commitment to democracy and accept the wishes of the majority. But as I said earlier, those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them and that is Reform's tombstone in my view.
The Reform Party rhetoric is one thing and principled action is completely something else as far as Reformers are concerned. Based on what I have seen and heard from Reformers, they will continue to attack the wheat board. They have no intention of respecting the wishes of the majority of farmers when it comes to the wheat board. I think that speaks volumes about the integrity of that party.
Finally, I want to congratulate former New Democratic Party members Vic Althouse and Len Taylor who worked very hard in the committee prior to the election being called to establish some of these major changes on behalf of the wheat board, on behalf of farmers throughout Canada.