Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Bill C-66, we must be cognizant of what this act attempts to do. It is an attempt by the government to change the framework somewhat for the collective bargaining process.
I want to put on the record that sometimes the Reform Party's position with regard to collective bargaining is misunderstood. This should be made clear at this point in time.
We believe that the collective bargaining process is a fair way in which results can be brought about so that there is fair remuneration for work performed in industry or in government and, on the other side, that management is treated fairly and is able to continue its business or the public is able to afford the results of the collective bargaining process.
We also believe that the collective bargaining process does include the right to strike, that it is part of the process that should
be there. In saying that, I also have to say that those are the conditions under normal circumstances where there is management and there are employees who wish to negotiate. The two are able to negotiate and participate actively together and both be represented adequately at the bargaining table.
My colleagues and I have great concern with this bill that there are circumstances that are not normal, that those participants who have to pay for the results of the collective bargaining process are not at the bargaining table. We believe that something should be done to protect their interests and their rights when they are not at the table.
As has been made very clear in the House by the member from Kindersley, the member from Alberta, the member for Vegreville and the member for Wetaskiwin, the farmers, the producers of grain and a variety of farm products, including alfalfa or hay products that are shipped into the international market and in high demand because they are a quality product, are not being dealt with in the collective bargaining process in a fair way. We believe that something should be done in terms of protecting their rights.
What solution have we arrived at? We should look at final offer selection arbitration as an option. We put that before the House. We said that it would prevent the opportunity for all those unions, some 30 of them, between the farm gate and the hold of the boat, from striking and causing a circumstance whereby grain cannot reach the port on time and be shipped into the international market. We know the results of a labour strike because of what happened in January and February of 1997 whereby our grain was not able to reach the coast and it became a major cost to the farmers.
Mr. Hehn of the Canadian Wheat Board has said that the latest intervention in our rail traffic to the coast has cost the farmer, in his estimation, at least $65 million. However, there most likely are many additional indirect and direct costs that are not accounted for in that $65 million. It could most likely reach up to $100 million. It is a major cost.
If we look at the province of Alberta, $100 million would mean that every farmer on an acreage basis would receive a cheque for at least $14 per acre from that $100 million. I have worked with a variety of programs whereby we have delivered cheques to farmers in Alberta, and $100 million divided on an acreage basis is about that much per acre.
If we look at that in terms of the cost of fuel to operate one's irrigation equipment, which is around $19 to $20 an acre, $14 is a substantial loss to that farmer. If we look at it in terms of fertilizer, where fertilizer is anywhere from $30 to $60 per acre or more in some cases, such as in specialized crops, that $14 or $15 is a substantial loss to the farmer.
We could go on down the line in terms of taxes and fuel costs which are $10 to $15 an acre in terms of farming an acre of land. That money is taken out of the hands of the farmer, wasted and in most cases is paid in demurrage which we all know is about $10,000 per boat. In the last couple of weeks there were some 32 boats circling around the Vancouver harbour and $320,000 per day was being given to those boats. Those people take the money into their home harbour, which is certainly not Canada, and all of that money is lost to the economy of Canada. That is just an unacceptable thing to happen in the farm communities.
Something has to be done about this. We made the suggestion that one of the solutions is final offer selection arbitration.
In Bill C-66 there is a reference to farming but, as usual, farming is at the bottom of the list. The mention here is with regard to the work stoppages and lockouts that could be dealt with in terms of the process relative to the grain industry.
We must be clear about what this does. If the wheat gets to the harbour and the strike occurs, that wheat must be put in the hold of a boat. But what about all those other unions between the farm and the hold of a boat? They can stop the flow of grain into the market and, as I said earlier, that would result in a major cost to the industry. Something has to be done about it.
One of the other things we have suggested in the House is that the government should deal with the Canadian Wheat Board. We should look at a dual marketing system rather than the single marketing desk system we have in Canada today, especially for western Canadians. We have this special law called the Canadian Wheat Board Act under which we must behave as farmers and produce our product while we do not have the right to market it without the intervention of the Canadian Wheat Board. That causes problems.
If we relate that situation to Bill C-66 in terms of marketing of our grain, it creates a major problem. We sell our wheat into the pools with the Canadian Wheat Board monitoring what goes on. The Canadian Wheat Board has a lot to say about what rail traffic is available to us, about the cars that are available to us to take our grain to the coast so we can put it into the holds of boats and ship it to the international market. There is an intervention there that does not let the free market system work. It is not possible for farmers to use that kind of system without the intervention of government.
There is this secondary intervention, although in a sense it is primary. Because of the way it is, if there is an intervention via a strike by any one of those unions, farmers are affected because that is the route by which our grain is shipped between the farm and the boat. The alternate routes down into the United States by truck or by a variety of other routes are restricted because of the intervention of the Canadian Wheat Board. That is actually an unfair
intervention that we do not need. It is just another good argument for a dual marketing system for grain in western Canada.
As an independent farmer, if I wish to move my grain around the west coast shipping facilities, through Montana to Washington where I can ship it through an American shipping facility, I could do so. But today I cannot do that kind of thing. Immediately when I start to do that I have an intervention by the Canadian Wheat Board. There is this intervention in the free market system.
Some people say that all farmers would not have access to that kind of facility. They can group together as a co-operative group if they want if they believe in that kind of format or legislative framework under which they can work. They can legally set themselves up as an entity if they wish. They can work through the Alberta Wheat Pool, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool or any other united grain growers or any other type of grain marketing agency to market their grain. They can contract with other private grain marketers in the field and they would have options and alternatives to what is there.
Has this government really done anything? Has it looked at anything new? No, it has not. It has protected the historic system. It says "we'll nudge the collective bargaining process a bit, we'll do a little intervention at the ports, we'll do a little intervention in terms of one labour group, in terms of the longshoremen". But that does not resolve the problem. The labour act is only paying lip service to the major problem we have here in Canada. The government is not dealing with it, not at all.
Why does the government not look at alternatives? Who could expect a Liberal government to ever look at alternatives? The Liberals want to preserve the status quo. They want to keep things the way they are. They want to keep their heads down and the only ambition they have in life is to have political power where they have position and authority, supposedly to run this country, but that is where it ends in terms of new ideas, options and alternatives and trying to look at doing things in a more progressive and positive way.
The minister of agriculture tried to resolve the latest intervention in terms of moving grain from farms in Alberta Saskatchewan and Manitoba to British Columbia and off to the ports.
What did he do? There was a last minute knee-jerk reaction to a problem. It was a crisis when he finally called a meeting in Calgary. He brought in those who were responsible, the grain companies, the CPR, the CNR and a variety of shipping agents, to sit at a round table. I hope he brought in a few farmers, but I doubt it. He brought in government officials and they talked about the problem.
The only solution they arrived at was that there was a crisis and it would be six weeks before the grain was moving again. In the interim farmers lost millions of dollars.
Why did they not come up with some solutions? Why did the minister not come back into the House and say that he would deal with the problem and come up with solutions?
What are some of the solutions? It is time farmers are not the only people who take the knife in the back from the government, the unions, management and people responsible for getting their product to the coast. It is time somebody else started to pay such as grain companies and the management.
When there is a slowdown in shipping or when there is a stoppage in shipping it is time the grain companies and management pay because they are not alert to making it happen. It is time the Canadian Wheat Board stood up. It is farmers' money again but it is not sharing in the cost the way it should.
The Canadian government has a responsibility. As it stands right now the only representation farmers have at the bargaining table, often in a very informal way, is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Labour. They should be held accountable. If they are acting on behalf of other taxpayers and farmers are losing money they had better share in the cost of the loss. It is time to bring accountability to a broader group than farmers. It is time farmers stopped paying the whole bill.
Then there is another big group that walks away scot-free, the longshoremen who belong to various labour organizations. They strike. Most longshoreman who work on the coast have never been on a farm. They do not even understand the problems at the farm. We pay their wages but we have nothing to say about their remuneration or their actions. When they go on strike they had better start paying the farmers' bill. The producers should not suffer.