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.