Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise today and speak to Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. As you know, I represent an agricultural riding in Quebec, but it has no wheat or barley producers.
To be frank, the area governed by the Canadian Wheat Board covers the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. However, as a member of the official opposition, to the great displeasure of our colleagues in the Reform Party and, naturally, of the member for Calgary Southwest, I must take part in the debate, as will my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois later on, concerning this bill of such importance for many producers.
I know that we are here in this House to defend the interests of Quebecers. We are in this august place for the purpose of promoting sovereignty, but we must also use this forum to which we have access through our functions as members of the official opposition to speak to other nations. This also includes the nation of Canada. There is a lot of talk, with the Bloc Quebecois leadership race, about partnership between equals.
It is very simple: with 52 members, we are the representatives of the nation of Quebec, whether the members for Saint-Maurice and Sherbrooke like it or not. In addition, I must add that, for as long as Quebec is paying taxes to the federal government, it will be our duty and our right to find out how this money is spent. I would add that we must claim our fair share.
The bill before us was tabled following a clear and urgent recommendation for change by the panel of experts. The Liberal government stepped in in order to serve its own interests. Of course, it wants to see a democratic approach. It wants to give general responsibility for managing the Canadian Wheat Board to a board of directors.
At first blush, the Bloc Quebecois can only be pleased with the government's proposal by which this board of directors would henceforth be composed of a majority of producers, instead of three to five commissioners appointed by the minister. This shows a wonderful spirit of democracy. Perhaps we will influence the Liberal members with our fine example of democracy. I refer to my party's leadership race, and if that is the case, fine.
I am, however, still sceptical about the attitude and the real motives of the Liberal government, and here is why. According to the bill, future members of the board of directors will be elected by their peers or by the grain producers. The Liberal government, however, is taking care not to specify how many of these producer-elected members will be on the board.
In the documentation on this bill, care is taken not to set out a number of elected farmer members. It is stipulated that the majority of the new board will be composed of elected farmers, but there is no indication of when this will happen. What is more certain is that we are proposing an interim board for 1997.
Obviously, never a day goes by on this Hill without talk of the possibility of a 1997 election. It is certain that we will be having byelections at least, in Jonquière and Calgary West. That I can announce, if we go by the established rules, but as for a general election, I will leave it up to the hon. member for Saint-Maurice to tell us when that will be held.
I am making reference to a possible election so as to clearly situate ourselves in a pre-election context. You will understand that, when the Liberal government speaks, through its minister, of appointing an interim board in 1997, it would be a real temptation for them to make political appointments, what we call patronage appointments. This would not be the first time, and it is a pretty sure bet that it will not be the last, either.
I always find it scary to see one or another minister making appointments. It is not very reassuring at all, frankly. It was not reassuring with the Canadian food inspection agency, so why things be any different a few weeks later? Now the minister confirms that a majority of members of the CWB board of directors will eventually be elected producers, which assumes that there could be some members selected by the minister. The minister would always be tempted to appoint friends, partisans of the
regime, or financial backers. There is nothing new under the sun-a well-known, and unfortunately very true, saying.
My party, the Bloc Quebecois, can only support the federal government's principle of finally giving grain producers a voice on the Canadian Wheat Board. One cannot help but be pleased to see such a change taking place. We know that the government is not doing this willingly. It is prepared to make changes, not as an unselfish gesture or out of a sudden desire for a more democratic approach but because it has been pressed to do so. By whom? By farmers who keep telling the government that the system is obsolete and does not meet their needs. Why do you think the panel recommended changes in the executive? Why would they want to switch from a board of three to five commissioners to a board of directors consisting of duly elected farmers? Because the latter will be in a better position to respond satisfactorily to their needs.
It does not take a genius to realize this. It is plain common sense. Now, western farmers have some very specific complaints. Transborder farmers are demanding a double grain marketing system, in other words, to be able to choose between a free system or working through the Canadian Wheat Board.
It was high time the government decided to look into this. You will recall that not long ago, the hon. member for Wild Rose presented a motion demanding a two-year opting out right. This did not come out of the blue.
I commented on this motion as follows: "Producers could be granted more control over the board's operations, or the board could be given more room to manoeuvre". It is true that a number of producers know there are some good business opportunities out there. I know why they want to market their grain without going through the Canadian Wheat Board. In the present situation, the board, through its sales on the American market, is taking advantage of rising prices.
In any case, the board has been around for more than 60 years. Its job is to sell a quality product, to offer customers outstanding service and to maximize returns for western farmers. Here again, the system is not perfect. There is always room for improvement. Does this mean government will have to forego these opportunities for patronage in order to adopt a bill that provides for more flexible operations and improved cash flow? No, hon. members. I see the benefits, but I also see the opportunities for patronage.
They will have to get people from the agricultural sector, people who know this area, and who better than farmers, grain farmers, as members of the board of directors of this Canadian Wheat Board?
And then they will have to be elected. I think this is an excellent decision, but wait, let us see how this works. The government wants to make the rules. I do not think it will call on an outside firm as they do for the 6/49 draws or ask Mr. Kingsley, the chief electoral officer.
That being said, in spite an apparent willingness to make changes, the federal government wants to maintain its control over the Canadian Wheat Board with this bill. How? You will not believe this. Did you notice that in subsection 3.6(2), our government reserves the right to remove all elected members of the board of directors, including the farmers?
Earlier I mentioned how they could be elected, but I forgot to point out that the chairperson of the board is still appointed by none other than the minister. He is appointed by the Governor in Council on the minister's recommendation, so we might as well say he is appointed by the minister.