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House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 10 petitions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, today I have two petitions to present to the House.

The first is with regard to the Community Action Program for Children. It is signed by people right across Prince Edward Island. The petitioners ask the government to forgo the cuts that are being proposed to the program. Possibly there is good news in today's budget with regard to this petition. I look forward to this evening verifying that it will be enhanced and not cut.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is with regard to the national highway system. The petitioners are citing that 38 per cent of the national highway system has fallen below accepted standards and they are looking for a directed tax in order to build up our trans-Canada system.

These petitioners are from right across Prince Edward Island, from the western end of Prince Edward Island to the riding of Egmont.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present a petition pursuant to Standing Order 36 concerning our national highway system. I think this is the fourth such petition I have presented from residents of my constituency. The residents signing this petition come from the city of North Battleford, the town of Cochin, Unity, Gallivan, Wilkie, and Meota.

The undersigned petitioners note that 38 per cent of the national highway system in Canada is substandard and that the national highway policy study identified a number of matters including job creation, economic development, national unity, saving lives and avoiding injuries, lower congestion, lower vehicle operating costs and better international competitiveness as benefits of the proposed national highway program.

The petitioners urge the federal government to join the provincial governments to make the national highway system upgrading possible.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from people in and around Edmonton, some of whom live in my riding of St. Albert.

These petitioners draw to the attention of the House that 38 per cent of the national highway system is substandard, that Mexico and the United States are upgrading their national highway systems and that the national highway policy study identified job creation, economic development, national unity, saving lives, avoiding injuries, lower congestion, lower vehicle operating costs and better international competitiveness as benefits of the proposed national highway system.

They have petitioned Parliament to urge the federal government to join with provincial governments to make the national highway system upgrading possible.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from some scores of people in the Peterborough riding who are concerned about literacy and the taxation of reading materials. The petitioners urge all levels of government to demonstrate their support of education and literacy by eliminating sales tax on reading materials. They ask Parliament to zero rate books, magazines and newspapers under GST.

As the provinces and Ottawa consider harmonizing their sales taxes, reading materials must be zero rated under provincial sales taxes as well as GST.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have another petition from people of the Peterborough area who are concerned about people living in the Moosonee-Moose Factory area of James Bay. They point out that there is no road going from Cochrane to Moosonee, which of course is the route taken by the

Ontario Northlands Polar Bear Express. There is no road and that isolates the people in the Moosonee area.

These petitioners call on Parliament to allocate funds for a highway to be built from Cochrane to Moosonee to end the isolation of the people of that region.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to present a petition from a number of people in the national capital region.

The petition draws to Parliament's attention the economic benefits of the national highway system as well as the improved safety and contribution to national unity of a national highway system in good shape. It also calls on Parliament to work with the provinces to make the national highway system as good as it can be.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have a petition from people from Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, Omemee and Lindsay asking Parliament to enact legislation to ensure that Canada remains one country, undivided from coast to coast to coast.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 it is my pleasure to present a petition on behalf of the constituents of Simcoe Centre.

The petition concerns the age of consent laws. The petitioners ask that Parliament set the age of consent at 18 years to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present petitions signed by over 3,000 residents of British Columbia concerning the mandate review of Canada Post, co-ordinated by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Pacific region.

The petitioners note that the Liberal government has ordered Canada Post Corporation to withdraw from the delivery of economy unaddressed ad mail, that this withdrawal reduces the options of companies that wish to advertise their products and services at an economical rate.

Therefore the petitioners wish to have economy ad mail delivered to their homes by Canada Post ad mail employees. They believe that Canada Post Corporation has been providing an excellent and reliable service through the delivery of economy ad mail, which they wish to see continued.

They call on the government to reverse its decision with respect to economy ad mail and allow Canada Post Corporation to continue to provide this economical and reliable service to citizens of Canada. I certainly concur with this petition.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the question of the Canada's decaying national infrastructure. It calls on Parliament to not increase the federal excise tax on gasoline and to strongly consider reallocating its current revenues to rehabilitate Canada's crumbling national highways.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the third and final petition deals with the issue of Canada's proposed sale of CANDU nuclear power reactors to China and notes that the export of CANDU reactors to China places the Government of Canada in an indefensible economic, political and environmental position.

Therefore the petitioners call on Parliament to cancel the planned sale of CANDU reactors to China and to immediately withdraw from all arrangements concerning financial and technical assistance to China for nuclear reactor technology.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

February 18th, 1997 / 10:10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On the Order: Government Orders:

December 3, 1996-The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food-Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food of Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Richmond B.C.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Liberalfor Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

moved:

That Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the debate on the motion referring Bill C-72 amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Once again we have decided on this route in order that members who serve on the committee and interested groups may, if they wish, make submissions and the opportunity to speak in advance of the proposals that will improve the bill. Today I would like to outline in general the thrust of the legislation before this House which will modernize the operations of the Canadian Wheat Board.

While no set of proposals could possibly satisfy all the sides in that it is all too often a sharply polarized debate among farmers with respect to grain marketing, the government's approach is aimed at meeting the responsible expectations of the majority of western grain producers. Our policy objective is to build upon the improved strengths of our existing marketing system while modernizing the governance structure of the Canadian Wheat Board, enhancing its accountability, improving its responsiveness to changing producer needs and opportunities, providing more flexibility and faster cashflows and minimizing future complications in international trade.

Many of the changes we are proposing will empower farmers with a bigger and more direct say in how their marketing system works, consistent with the majority of recommendations put forward by the western grain marketing panel. Overall, the changes fall into three broad categories, governance and accountability being the first.

The first relates to the governance and accountability of the Canadian Wheat Board. The overall governance of the wheat board will be placed in the hands of a board of directors consisting of between 11 and 15 members, the majority of whom will be farmers. To help make the transition to that new corporate structure a full set of interim directors will be appointed by the Government of Canada in 1997. Again the majority will be farmers. Then beginning in 1998 the producer majority among the directors will be replaced by directors elected by the farmers themselves.

Bill C-72 is written in such a way as to enable all this to happen. This is consistent with the advice of the western grain marketing panel, that is, to structure our amendments in the form of enabling legislation.

A number of farm groups appear to want the new law to be more precise in this area: specifying the date by which directors will be elected; confirming that the number of directors so elected will constitute a majority; and making this governance change irreversible, except of course by future amendments to the act.

The minister of agriculture has no difficulty with these ideas. They are completely consistent with the policy principles announced last October. The existing draft of Bill C-72 will enable them to be implemented. If the arguments presented to the standing committee are clearly to the effect that farmers would be more comfortable with the new law being more precise and less flexible with respect to the election of producer directors, then the minister would be happy to entertain the appropriate amendments to bring that about.

On the matter of accountability, Bill C-72 provides for a big change. For nearly 62 years the Canadian Wheat Board has been a crown corporation accountable only and solely to the Parliament of Canada. Under Bill C-72 it would evolve into a mixed enterprise. For the first time in history it would also become accountable to producers directly.

The essence of the Canadian Wheat Board's accountability to farmers will lie in demonstrating its marketing success and effectiveness. If the Canadian Wheat Board's performance is not satisfactory, then its board of directors including a majority of elected farmers can implement operational changes or ultimately trigger a process to change its marketing jurisdiction.

The essence of the Canadian Wheat Board's accountability to Parliament will lie in demonstrating its financial competence. This flows from the unique guarantee which Bill C-72 provides in relation to all of the Canadian Wheat Board's borrowing, not just initial payments, not just credit grain sales, but also all of its day to day financial transactions on the world's money markets. This amounts to billions of dollars annually backstopped by Canadian taxpayers if and when necessary.

As an agent of Her Majesty accountable only to Parliament, the Canadian Wheat Board automatically had this type of broad guarantee. For this mixed enterprise it is not automatic. It has to be written into law as Bill C-72.

The track record of the existing Canadian Wheat Board in relationship to its global financial transactions as a crown corporation is superlative. It enjoys a strong international credit rating. It has managed its day to day finances in a profitable manner gaining the benefit of the best possible interest rates and thus augmenting its pool returns to producers.

Will these exceptionally high standards be maintained as it becomes a mixed enterprise under a different governance system and will the different accountability expectations be reached? We

fully expect so, but since Bill C-72 will provide the new Canadian Wheat Board with a unique legislated guarantee backed by taxpayers, it is not unreasonable for the new law also to include some safeguards to protect the taxpayers' position.

That is what Bill C-72 seeks to accomplish: getting the balance right between accountability to producers and accountability to Parliament. It will be important to weigh the pros and cons of having fewer safeguards for the taxpayer against having a less comprehensive guarantee.

It should also be noted that the Canadian Wheat Board has now and will continue to have decision making authority over matters which affect producers elsewhere in Canada outside its designated area, the authority to issue export permits for example. This is another reason why accountability to Parliament will continue to be important.

The second group of changes relates to more flexible operations and improved cashflow. Under these changes the wheat board will be able to make cash purchases of wheat and barley; manage adjustment payments during any crop year on an expedited basis; terminate pool accounts at any time and pay out farmers' returns as rapidly as possible thereafter; issue negotiable producer certificates; fully utilize modern risk management tools in dealing both with farmers and with consumers; defray farmers' grain storage and/or carrying costs; allow open farm deliveries to condo grain storage facilities; and procure grain using new technology, such as on farm mobile elevators.

These new flexibilities will help put more money from wheat board operations into the hands of farmers more quickly. To backstop cash purchases and to help the Canadian Wheat Board manage adjustment payments more quickly, the board will be allowed to establish contingency funds as a financial cushion.

The third category of changes relates to the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate. The legislation does not alter the Canadian Wheat Board's existing mandate but we are putting more decision making authority into the hands of the farmers themselves. In future the wheat board's mandate may be adjusted conditionally upon three things: first, a clear recommendation to that effect by directors of the Canadian Wheat Board; second, if the quality control issue is improved, the concurrence of the Canadian Grain Commission that a change can be made safely without damaging Canada's reputation or quality and consistency; and third, if the proposed change is significant or fundamental, then an affirmative vote among farmers would need to be a prerequisite.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a very effective marketer of Canadian grain. It has the support of the majority of western grain farmers. They want realistic and sensible Canadian Wheat Board changes but they do not want a scenario that would lead inevitably to the board's destruction.

Now just how valuable in the overall scenario and scheme of things is the Canadian Wheat Board? It sells some $5 billion worth of grain per year at a marketing cost of a few pennies per bushel. It retains no profit margin; all the rest goes to the farmers.

The board is one of Canada's most significant business enterprises. Doing business in more than 70 countries around the world, it is the fifth largest exporter and our biggest net earner of foreign exchange. It has earned for itself and for Canada a positive reputation in the eyes of the global customers, not so much on pricing issues-the board targets to extract price premiums-but on intrinsic quality, cleanliness, consistency, technological support, long term dependability, customer service and contract execution. The Canadian Wheat Board has been rated by its customers as number one in the world.

These characteristics coupled with the size of the board, its global reach and its marketing clout result in Canada having roughly a 20 per cent share of the world market and realizing the best possible returns from those markets. The Government of Canada believes that it is worth preserving.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is much committed to the principles that have been announced and which are embodied in the legislation presented before the House. Nevertheless there are a number of mechanical ways by which these principles to which I have referred can be accomplished. The minister is open to input from members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food as to how the legislation could be improved.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today at second reading of Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Bill C-72, which is under debate this morning, is of little concern to the agricultural community in Quebec. While there are some wheat and barley growers there, their numbers are far fewer than in western Canada. However, because of the mission and role that have been given the Bloc Quebecois, it is our duty to express our opinion on the matter and more importantly to try to ground the current government's aspirations to control just about every field of activity in this immense country.

Our intervention in the issue is all the more important because it permits an objective analysis of the situation that will lead to a better understanding between the government and the 130,000 wheat producers and because, first and foremost, it allows us to fulfill the role we were given of protecting Quebec's interests.

So long as Quebec continues to pay billions of dollars in taxes to the federal government, we will continue to demand equal services and, more importantly, equitable financial benefits for Quebec.

This morning, the headlines in most of the francophone dailies read: "The Minister of Finance in Ottawa again denies Quebec's claim for justice in the collection of the federal GST within Quebec". Quebec will have a shortfall of nearly $2 billion. The Minister of Finance, a man of intelligence, said yesterday that Quebec is not losing any money in harmonizing the GST with its sales tax, whereas the maritimes would lose five tax percentage points.

However, he must be aware nothing is created and nothing is lost in nature. The maritime provinces preferred to have a higher sales tax rather than personal income tax, which was not the case in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, for example.

However, this five per cent means we are paying the equivalent of $250 million to enable three maritime provinces to harmonize. A fine example of inequity. So, as long as Quebec continues to pay its $30 billion in income tax to the federal government, we will be around to demand justice.

You know as well as I do how difficult it is for the Liberal government to grasp this rather simple concept of equality. This prompts me to add that the government should devote as much energy to developing a long term dairy strategy promoting the growth of the dairy industry, particularly in Quebec, since more than 47 per cent of all industrial milk in Canada is produced in Quebec.

In this context, I must warn the government that we will not be satisfied with a policy statement based on little more than empty promises, as the Liberal government has a habit of doing. In our view, while representing a laudable effort to modernize the Canadian Wheat Board, the blueprint for changes to the commission is clearly insufficient in the present situation.

Several wheat and barley producers called for a more flexible operational framework for the board, especially at the higher management level, and mainly for increased input from the producers themselves in the development of long term marketing strategies.

Whether the hon. parliamentary secretary agrees or not, Bill C-72 addresses to some extent these long-standing demands of the producers, while at the same time not giving them the freedom and flexibility they want and need to achieve their production objectives.

I was listening a moment ago to the parliamentary secretary who said over and over that a majority of western grain producers were happy with this bill. It is not normal for groups of western farm producers to hold referendum after referendum calling for changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. Granted, the Canadian Wheat Board has played and continue to play a major role in the sale and marketing of wheat and barley in western Canada. I am speaking honestly when I say that no one in this House can tell what would have happened to the economy and the farming industry in the three western provinces had it not been for the Canadian Wheat Board.

However, after 62 years, time has come to update this institution which, unfortunately, has strayed slightly from its goal. And when the government keeps making partisan appointments without-and that is a shame-looking at the primary qualifications of the commissioners, this goal is lost.

I am saying it and I will say it again. The secretary of state might get annoyed and say: "Sure, but the member for Frontenac sits in the opposition and knows full well he will never have to appoint a director to the Canadian Wheat Board". This is true. However, in my riding, for example, one can see that, over the last three years, a number of appointments were made strictly because of services rendered to that party, because of the funding provided to that party, with little consideration being given to qualifications.

This pattern is becoming the trademark of the Liberal Party and therefore of this Liberal government.

It is well known that the Liberals give with one hand and take away with the other. Instead of acceding to the producers' requests, the government is trying, through devious and illusory means, to maintain control over the CWB. The bill provides that the board's social structure and the directors' status will be changed by electing a board of directors that will include a number of people from the industry.

However, given that this body will no longer be an agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada, producers should have priority as members of the board. Unfortunately, the government refuses to make a greater commitment to this issue. It refuses or at least fails to specify the number of farmers who will sit on a rather flexible new board of directors that will have anywhere from 11 to 15 members.

I am concerned about the Liberal Party's attitude, a party which has managed to appoint a fair number of its supporters to various government bodies since it came to office. Given its new structure, the Canadian Wheat Board will continue to leave the door wide open to this kind of partisan appointments, rather than give producers the place that is rightfully theirs in managing their interests.

I will conclude by pointing out that the Canadian Wheat Board accounts for close to 23 per cent of world exports of wheat and barley, which reflects the importance of its role. This is very

significant. These exports are estimated at close to $5 billion, in current dollars.

Since we will support the bill at second reading, we will make a few suggestions to improve Bill C-72 and if you accept them-

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, but the hon. member's time is up. The hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster has the floor.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are addressing the motion to refer Bill C-72 to committee. This is something that we have pressed the government to do, not because the legislation is good but simply because the public, particularly the farm community, needs to be exposed to this legislation so they realize how bad it really is.

The minister has made absolutely no progress on reforming grain marketing under the Canadian Wheat Board, just like he has made no permanent progress to reduce transportation inefficiencies in the movement of prairie grain, and just like he has made no progress in correcting the wrong-headed approach to cost recovery.

This is not because the minister is unaware of the issue. He is a Saskatchewan boy. He wandered around in the political wilderness of Saskatchewan for what seemed like 40 years as the leader of the provincial Liberal Party, after he was elected for a very short period to the House of Commons. The people of Saskatchewan very seldom vote for the Liberals but when they do, they boot them out sooner rather than later.

There is a real possibility, if the Liberals call a spring election, that this bill will not receive final approval from Parliament. It is unforgivable that the government has delayed bringing forward reforms to the Canadian Wheat Board.

We are now in the second half of February and this bill is just being referred to committee. It needs to be dealt with by the committee, come back for third reading, go to the Senate and receive royal assent. On top of that, it is a very flawed bill and needs a lot of work.

The probability of this bill passing at this point seems rather remote unless the government has a change of heart and is prepared to make significant changes to the bill.

Bill C-72 is a clear message to the prairie grain industry that the minister wants to fail at market reform. If he does not want it to fail, then he thinks he can pull a fast one on the industry by trying to mask minimal changes to the board, particularly its governance, leaving himself securely as the commandant of the board.

Bill C-72 is badly drafted legislation that needs a series of major changes, and I stress major changes, to make it acceptable to the prairie industry and, more importantly, to individual farmers who are going to find out that this board is not the more accountable, more flexible Canadian Wheat Board that they were promised by the Liberal government.

The purpose of the bill is to change the governance, to make the board of directors an elected one rather than appointed commissioners. It is supposed to make it a more responsive, more communicative and more open marketing institution but it does not accomplish this.

We believe the government's proposed amendments to the board are weak, ineffective and a slap in the face to prairie producers. The government is telling them that they cannot manage their own marketing affairs, that in some way they are inferior to the producers of Ontario, Quebec and other commodities within Canada where producers are able to very effectively and capably manage their marketing affairs.

It is a matter to be seen whether or not the Liberal government will allow the wholesale changes to Bill C-72 that are permitted under the rules where a bill is referred to committee prior to second reading. Based on our experience we have found that amendments have been few and far between, usually cosmetic in nature and not very substantive.

Many farmers are beginning to believe that the minister of agriculture has manipulated the wheat board reform process. This has resulted in uncertainty, division and fear among western farmers. I have never seen an issue develop into such a divisive issue with the encouragement of the minister. At every opportunity he has poured gas on the fire rather than try to bring some positive, constructive and conciliatory measures forward to bring an end to some of the division and hard feelings that are mounting in the prairies over this issue.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

No leadership.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

The member from Peace River says that the minister has failed to show leadership and I certainly concur in that observation.

First he delayed making any changes to reform the board for more than two years. That allowed the uncertainty and mistrust to fester. Next he created a political charade in the form of the western grain marketing panel. After it came out with a half decent report, he ignored it, particularly the most important compromises it suggested. Based on the results of secret polls the minister decided the only way he would win a vote on barley marketing was by basing it on an all or nothing type question: no flexibility, no middle ground.

Now the minister thinks that by appointing a partially elected, part time board with minimal power that farmers demanding significant change will be satisfied. Then he will be able to wash his hands of the issue. The minister is certainly mistaken.

Some of the more substantial problems with the bill include the fact that it strengthens the government's control over the board rather than passing that control and responsibility on to the producers who actually pay for the services of the Canadian Wheat Board. The board will only be partially elected. The bill states that one or more directors may be elected. We know that the minister will agree to changes to that clause in the bill simply to mask some of the other controls that he does not want to let go, such as the government will appoint the chairman and president or chief executive officer instead of those people being selected by the directors who are elected by the farmers.

The government can dismiss a director at any time without cause. This is extremely unacceptable. This is the way tin pot dictators operate. I am ashamed that the minister of agriculture would bring in such an inferior piece of legislation. It shows no confidence in farmers to elect capable and competent directors to run the board.

The new board of directors must follow any directions it receives from the federal government, even if the directors believe such orders are not in the best interests of farmers.

The legislation allows the board to restore its authority over the feed grain market. This has been fairly controversial. Lorne Hehn, the chief commissioner of the board said it was a mistake, an error, and that it should be changed. However, the minister said no, it was not an error and that people misunderstood the bill. It certainly has the minister of agriculture for Alberta rather concerned. It is absolutely necessary to change this in the bill to make sure that we do not revert to 1973 marketing of prairie feed grains where barley could not even be moved across a provincial boundary without breaking the law. It is bad enough that our farmers cannot move their grain across international boundaries without breaking the law. If this bill is not corrected we may be breaking the law by moving our grain from Alberta to Saskatchewan or vice versa. This has to be changed.

This bill reduces the possibility of future changes to the board's mandate. In order to make a significant change to the board's mandate farmers must go through an excessive approval process. First the board must recommend change. Then the Canadian Grain Commission must approve the change. Then there must be a producer vote held with a question determined by the minister. It sounds pretty rigged to me and it is certainly not showing any confidence of farmers to manage their own Canadian Wheat Board. Even after the vote, however, the minister would not be compelled to act on the results. Talk about arrogance and a lack of confidence. I find this measure in the bill absolutely disgusting.

No other political party has stated its position more clearly and more openly than Reform on matters related to the Canadian Wheat Board and the current barley plebiscite. Reform has repeatedly stated that we support and will work toward a reformed Canadian Wheat Board that is more accountable, more flexible and a board in which participation is voluntary. That is the debate that is out there among prairie producers and we know that is where support is growing. No matter what the minister does, eventually farmers will persist and will accomplish what they want.

We believe that only constructive changes to the board today will ensure its survival and effectiveness into the future and we do not advocate destruction of the board; only our political opponents are making those claims on our behalf.

In closing, the minister of agriculture has done more to damage the board, more to bring its usefulness into doubt in farmer's minds and more to hurt us internationally than anyone, all of us who have suggested that the board should be changed constructively to prepare producers to market in the 21st century.

The minister is moving us backwards; we want to move forward. This is bill is unacceptable in its present form and must changed substantially. I call on members of the committee to do that.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Glen McKinnon Liberal Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague in our party who spoke earlier very clearly indicated that the wheat board is one of the institutions in the agricultural enterprise that is working solely for farmers. It is sharing with the farm community all the benefits of single desk selling at a fraction of the cost of revenues that are earned by that institution.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has explained the main objectives of Bill C-72 and I would like to discuss how we arrived at this legislation.

The Canadian Wheat Board has been serving Canadian farmers efficiently and effectively for over 60 years. During that time it has helped our grain sector build an international reputation for quality and reliability and has realized the best possible returns from the market for Canadian farmers. And as my colleague indicated earlier, shipload and boatload after boatload, the consistency is there and it is well received by those who are doing business with us.

The business environment is changing. We are doing business in an increasingly liberalized and competitive international marketplace. At the same time changing customer demands, reducing subsidization, new applications of biotechnology, booming markets for value added food products and a host of other changes mean that today's grain sector must be more innovative, more

self-reliant and market responsive than it was historically in the past.

In that context, the future of the Canadian Wheat Board has for several years been the subject of a sometimes very intense debate among farmers and other stakeholders in the grain sector, particularly in western Canada. As an aside I might indicate that in my riding of Brandon-Souris there have been court cases for those individuals who feel that they need to challenge the very authority of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and, for that matter, the whole method of marketing grain throughout the world.

The purpose of these amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act is to respond to some of the chief concerns that have been raised during that debate and to ensure that the Canadian Wheat Board is well positioned to continue as a reliable, responsive, single desk seller of Canadian wheat in the years ahead.

In preparing this legislation our goal has been to ensure that everyone on all sides of this tough issue has had a full and fair opportunity to have their say.

In 1995 the minister established the Canadian Western Grain Marketing Panel to develop recommendations in consultation with all stakeholders in the grain industry. That panel did an excellent job in fulfilling its mandate and in providing a forum for producers and other stakeholders to discuss the future of the Canadian Wheat Board rationally, openly and transparently on the facts rather than on rhetoric.

It was the most extensive consultation regarding western grain in modern history, one which involved a series of town hall meetings in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It was in this forum that farmers and others gave their perspective on the current marketing system for western Canadian grain. Alternative arrangements were also brought forward.

The panel also held 12 days of hearings in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton, during which it heard 69 briefs and an additional 78 submissions from individuals and organizations who did not appear before the panel but made submissions for its information.

Following the publication of the panel's report last July, the minister invited interested parties to forward written responses to those recommendations. After the panel submitted its report last summer the minister further distributed a summary of its recommendations to every farmer in western Canada and invited their feedback.

All in all, from that process, 12,000 individuals and organizations responded. I am confident that the legislative changes we are putting forward today represent the views of the vast majority of western farmers and will address many of the key recommendations of the Western Grain Marketing Panel report.

One way or another we are taking action on all points raised by the panel with regard to wheat board governance. One of the major recommendations of the panel in this area was that the Canadian Wheat Board Act be amended to provide for a change in governance of the Canadian Wheat Board and to provide for greater flexibility in its operations and in the services which it provides to farmers. In fact, of all the recommendations contained in the panel's report, this one received the strongest consensus of support among farmers.

Under this legislation the overall governance of the board will be placed in the hands of a board of directors, most of whom will be farmers. To help ease the transition of the new corporate structure, an interim board of directors will be appointed by the government next year and the intention is that by the beginning of 1998 a majority of the directors will be elected by farmers.

The election of directors will have some fundamental impacts on the operations of the board, mainly because the board will be no longer a crown corporation. As much as possible, however, we have tried to minimize those impacts.

For example, as an agent of Her Majesty, the wheat board's borrowings are automatically guaranteed by the Government of Canada. To minimize changes, the Government of Canada will continue to guarantee the board's borrowings. In addition, the government will continue to guarantee initial payments and the Canadian Wheat Board's credit grain sales.

Nevertheless, there are still implications of moving to an elected board of directors that need to be fully examined. That is why the legislation is permissive in this area. Farmers need to be aware of what they have now and compare it to what they will have with an elected rather than an appointed board so they can make an informed decision regarding their ultimate preference in this particular area.

Another major group of amendments relates to more flexible board operations and improved cash flow. Under these amendments the board will be able to, first, make cash purchases of wheat and barley. Second, it will be able to manage adjustment payments during any crop year on an expedited basis. Third, it will be able to terminate pool accounts at any time and pay out farmers returns as soon as possible. Fourth, it will be able to issue negotiable producers certificates. Fifth, it will be able to defray farmers grain storage and/or carrying costs. Finally, it will be able to fully utilize modern risk management tools in dealing with both farmers and customers. In addition, to allow cash purchases and to help the board manage adjustment payments quickly, the wheat board will be allowed to establish a contingency fund.

It is important to note that these amendments do not constitute the Government of Canada's full response to the concerns of Canadian grain producers and the recommendations of the Western Grain Marketing Panel. We are also pursuing many other avenues to address other issues related to grain marketing and transportation. Last November our government introduced legislation to modernize the Canada Labour Code.

Among other things, these amendments stipulate that while grain handlers and their employees will retain the right to strike and lock-out, in the vent of a work stoppage involving other parties in port related activities, services affecting grain shipments must be maintained.

With the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act and many other changes we are making with regard to grain transportation and marketing, the Government of Canada is demonstrating that it is listening to the concerns of grain producers. It is taking actions to address those concerns and to lay the foundation for continuing growth and prosperity in the grain sector and Canada's rural communities into the next century.

I call on all members of the House to lend their support to this important legislation.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

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.