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.