Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-66. I would like to talk about three main areas in my presentation. First, I would like to talk about the current situation in the grain industry and the problems that farmers are facing because they cannot move their grain from the farm to the coast. These are not new problems, but I want to talk about that a bit.
Second, I would like to talk about why we are in this situation and what changes should have been made by governments that would have made the situation that we are in unlikely to happen.
Then I am going to talk about what Reform has done in this area. I am going to include the amendments that we proposed to this legislation, amendments which unfortunately were not accepted by the government and throughout I will be referring to this bill.
As any member in the House who knows anything about western Canada and the agriculture industry would know, a crisis situation exists once again on the prairies. Grain is not moving. As a result grain is backed up on the farms, bins are full, grain is piled in the fields and spring is coming on. That is a dangerous situation. A lot of spoilage is a possibility.
Farmers are facing the difficulty of purchasing inputs for this year's crop, having sold very little of last year's crop. Although I certainly do not know what sales the wheat board, or others in the case of non-board grains, had lined up, the major reason is that the railways are not moving the grain. Why is that? I am going to talk a bit about that later.
I have had farmers tell me, and I have no reason to doubt what they say, that they will not be able to afford to put in a crop this spring if they do not move some grain and move it quickly. It is bad enough that the projections the wheat board made for the price of wheat are not anywhere near being met. The price of wheat is about two-thirds of what the board estimated, and in some cases lower. In many areas of the prairies the quality is very low, so that has further reduced the price.
Farmers are not going to have nearly the income that they anticipated they were going to have. This is a reality that farmers deal with from year to year. Added to that, even the grain they do have, whether it is low quality or not, is not moving.
This problem keeps coming up again and again. Even since I have been in the House we have had to deal with back to work legislation for grain handlers at the west coast. The second speech I gave was on that subject. I am going to talk a bit about that later.
Farmers and grain companies are captive shippers. They have no economic option for moving their grain other than by rail. I acknowledge there are others in the same situation. Coal, forestry products and potash are in a similar situation of being captive shippers, having no other economically viable options for moving their products.
Through no fault of their own, once again, the livelihood of farmers is being threatened. It is a very serious threat. In my part of the country I believe there will be farmers who will lose their farms as a result of grain not moving. They just will not have the money to purchase inputs for this year's crops. The banks are getting really tight with operating money for farmers who have had problems year after year.
In my part of the province farmers have had a lot of difficulty over the past several years due to drought and due to poorer quality grain than normal. That is the situation.
The situation we are in has led to income instability and uncertainty that their product will get to market so that they have income when they need it. The situation of grain not moving as it should has led to lost sales. This is a long term problem many farmers and I are extremely concerned about. We have had stoppage after stoppage and problem after problem in the system that cause serious economic loss to farmers. Lost sales is one of their biggest losses.
In the 1994 lockout grain was not moving through the west coast. Estimates were presented at that time of the loss in long term markets. The estimates were in the hundreds of millions of dollars of lost sales. There is no way to absolutely determine the value of lost sales and future lost sales, but clearly many of our customers for grains, oilseeds and similar type products are getting tired of Canada being an unreliable shipper. Canada is viewed by many buyers around the world as an unreliable shipper.
Is the problem one of farmers not being able to produce or not producing? No, not even in drought years is that the problem. They can produce enough to meet expected needs. Is it a problem of farmers not getting it into the system, to their local elevators or to an inland terminal or wherever? No, that is not the problem. Farmers will deliver whenever the opportunity is there and often even if the price is not what they think it should be. They know the system does not work well and they had better take advantage of any chance to move grain. That is not the problem.
The problem is the grain movement system from one end to the other, from the local elevator system to the rail system and the
handling system on the west coast or through the lake system. That is the problem and that is where the legislation comes in.
The legislation deals with changes to the labour code. It deals with work stoppages that affect grain shipment, as well as the shipment of other commodities. Unfortunately the small part of the legislation that deals with grain movement directly is not adequate. It is one clause of over 90. I will talk a bit about that later.
Farmers have clearly been put into a situation once again that is not right. It should not be happening again. The problem is caused by grain movement. What will the legislation do to improve grain movement? Maybe this question should be asked: What has past legislation the government has put through done to improve the transportation system? I would argue it has done very little. In some ways the system may not be as good as it was before the changes.
Reform supported, for example, the elimination of the Crow benefit. We had a plan that would help deal with the problems that would result from that elimination. The government ignored the plan but eliminated the Crow.
I do not remember Liberal members across the floor campaigning on eliminating the Crow benefit. I do not remember these members across the floor campaigning on major changes to the Canadian Transportation Act or privatizing CN Rail. I do not remember them campaigning on those things. I never heard it in one single speech because they were not proposing during the election campaign major changes that affect many Canadians.
They made changes and we supported some of them such as getting rid of the Crow benefit. We had a plan to help deal with some of the problems. Certainly the privatization of CN was the thing to do, but there were many problems with the bill.
We argued throughout the whole process about the three major pieces of legislation: the budget implementation bill that eliminated the Crow benefit, the major change to the Canadian Transportation Act, and the privatization of CN. We argued that changes must be made before the legislation passed. We argued for changes that would first make the system competitive and would therefore help to drive costs down.
In grain we argued for changes to the car allocation system. They still have not come. They should have come before any of these changes were made. That was crucial. We pointed this out again and again. It did not happen. We are in a mess.
The government has to start listening to farmers and to us because we are the voice of western Canadian farmers more than any other political party.
We also called for changes that would have given captive shippers like grain farmers some power to deal with a railway that was not performing as it should. That was ignored.
In terms of labour laws specifically we called for changes starting from my second speech in the House on February 8, 1994. I heard the hon. member across the floor say that he wished he had never heard it or something to that effect. I can understand that because the chances of him winning his seat in the next election are very slim. It is because we have been saying these things. It is because we have been proposing these things. Western Canadian farmers know that so I can understand his concern.
On February 8, 1994 we started with my speech on ending the lockout on the west coast. I proposed that we put in place final offer selection arbitration as a way to prevent future disputes from happening. The hon. member for Lethbridge tabled a private member's bill which we debated in the House. Had it passed it would have put in place final offer selection arbitration.
Those changes would have made it so there would be no stoppage in grain movement right from the local elevator to the coast. It would still allow the collective bargaining process to take place. It would allow both things. It was the real solution to the problem. Every time a dispute and a deadline would come up the final offer selection arbitration could be put in place. If the collective bargaining process did not work as it should and so often does with unions and management, the arbitrator could call for the best final offer from both labour and management. The arbitrator could pick either all of one offer or all of the other. There could be very serious offers from labour and from management in this situation. The collective bargaining process could take place right down to the final stage.
It is very effective. It really leads to honest negotiations between labour and management. It would help to end some of the hard feelings built up between labour and management as a result of bad labour legislation. That was the solution we proposed. Had it been in place I am convinced we would not have many of the problems we have had related to labour-management disruptions.
The member for Wetaskiwin is guiding the bill through the House for the Reform Party. He proposed final offer selection arbitration. Our agriculture critic, the member for Kindersley-Lloydminster, also proposed that solution. So far the proposals have fallen on deaf ears. Having heard from labour on the matter, while there is not open arm support for the proposal it is a very weak negative reaction. It knows this is far better than the solution
chosen by the government and by former Conservative governments. Their solution was to let the whole thing collapse, to let the collective bargaining process collapse. Management and labour know that when it collapses Parliament steps in and puts in place back to work legislation. That is their solution to the problem.
Is that allowing the collective bargaining process to take place? I think not. That is not a reasonable way to deal with these problems at all. Yet that is what the government has done. In fact that is what past governments have done for the last 20 or 30 years.
As a young fellow I grew up on a grain farm. We depended on grain and livestock but we depended on grain to quite a large extent for our livelihoods. Time after time during my formative years my father was pacing the floor and was put under unreasonable stress for any bread earner because we could not move our grain. Often it was because of a dispute between management and labour. That should not have happened.
The government says that these issues are issues between management and labour. It is not entirely true that they are the only people who are important in these negotiations. For example, tens of thousands of grain farmers rely on the system working. Management and labour can beat it back and forth and what do they really lose? They will lose some wages and that is difficult for them as breadwinners in the family, I am sure. However what about farmers? They have lost businesses year after year after year. Yet they have no place at the table in these negotiations. They are innocent victims who have no say whatsoever. That has to change.
The final offer selection arbitration will help change that. It is time the government looked to our proposals and avoid partisanship when they are probably the best options that have been presented. These are not only Reform MP solutions. They are solutions from farmers across western Canada and indeed others.
I just had pointed out to me by one of my colleagues that the hecklers across the floor do not rely on the grain handling system for their livelihood. They do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board.
We called for other changes to the Canadian Wheat Board so that farmers would have a choice to ship through the board, through a private grain company or on their own. That would result in competition for the board.
The board can continue its work but if farmers choose they can ship around the board. That too was one of the changes that should have been made before any of the legislation was put before the House. I am talking about legislation that eliminated the Crow benefit and changed the Canadian Transportation Act.
In conclusion, the things I have been saying are important to Canadian farmers and to people in the potash industry, in the forestry industry and in the mining industry who are captive shippers. They are innocent victims who have no place at the bargaining table. They will not be helped one iota by the legislation presented to the House.
The one clause dealing with grain reaching the west coast being put through the system just does not cut it. It is a positive part of the legislation but it does not help its movement from the elevator to the west coast.
Unfortunately I have to say I cannot support the legislation. It is a backward move rather than a forward one. I hope the government sees the error of its ways and brings in final offer selection arbitration as an alternative.