House of Commons Hansard #158 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wheat.


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10:15 a.m.

Saint-Léonard Québec


Alfonso Gagliano Liberalfor the Minister of Justice

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

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10:15 a.m.

Lethbridge Alberta


Ray Speaker ReformLethbridge

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Are we moving to the vote on Bill C-46 at third reading?

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10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We are now at third reading stage.

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10:15 a.m.

Lethbridge Alberta


Ray Speaker ReformLethbridge

Mr. Speaker, we understood the government was to make a few remarks in opening the debate and our speaker was to follow. We do not have a number of speakers but there are some remarks we would like to make on the matter.

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10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It might be easier if the parliamentary secretary spoke and then members of the Reform Party.

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10:20 a.m.

Prince Albert—Churchill River Saskatchewan


Gordon Kirkby LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to speak in support of Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the production of records in sexual offence proceedings.

I have outlined the specific amendments proposed and have described the problems the amendments seek to rectify when I addressed the House on February 4.

I applaud the efforts of the justice minister in crafting progressive reforms to Canada's sexual offence laws, reforms that reflect the charter guarantee of equal protection and benefit of the law.

As a society we do not tolerate abhorrent behaviour. We rely on our criminal law for protection. We rely on our criminal law to prosecute vigorously those who contravene the law.

Sexual offences are unlike other offences. They are the most invasive, violative and degrading offences that a person could experience. Any one of us could become a victim of crime, but we all know it is more likely that a woman or a child will be the victim of a sexual offence.

Outdated attitudes in sexual offences and the women who are victimized by sexual offences are changing but are changing slowly. Many myths and stereotypes persist in society and within the criminal justice system in relation to sexual offences.

This creates a climate that undermines our confidence in the justice system designed to be fair and just. As has been pointed out, sexual offences are unique in the sense that there are rarely any witnesses.

Consent and credibility are the central issues in the prosecution. There appears to be more of a stigma associated with being a victim of a sexual offence than being charged with a sexual offence. The complainant's credibility and character are under a microscope.

Sexual assaults and other sexual offences are grossly underreported. The true rate of sexual assaults can only be estimated through victimization surveys but police statistics provide some indication. Approximately 110 sexual assaults were reported annually per 100,000 population, but only about 10 per cent of all sexual assaults are reported.

We should not be proud of these statistics. That so many sexual assaults occur in a year is shocking. That so few are reported is even more shocking.

I am proud to be part of a government committed to improving the criminal justice system, committed to enhancing public safety and committed to removing many of the barriers that impede a victim's access to the justice system.

The plundering by the accused of some of the most personal and private records of the complainant is more than simply embarrassing. It is an assault on the complainant's dignity, personal autonomy and integrity.

I want to be able to say with confidence that the law will protect us from crime and that the law will provide for the prosecution of offences consistent with the principles of fundamental justice which are fair to both accused persons and victims. The amendments proposed in Bill C-46 go a long way to meeting this goal.

The legislation will ensure that relevance is the basis for demands for records. In all other criminal proceedings courts seem to have no difficulty in determining whether evidence is relevant or whether materials requested for production or disclosure are relevant.

In sexual offence proceedings it appears that false statements by defence counsel about why they apparently need certain records are enough to warrant a violation of the complainant's privacy. We cannot seem to rid our society of these attitudes.

I welcome the proposed legislation which will guide the courts in determining whether the records are relevant and in ensuring that only the relevant parts of such records will be produced to the accused.

I would like to focus on a few significant features of the bill. The bill includes a preamble which has become a fairly familiar feature in new legislation. A preamble is an effective way to assist the courts in interpreting legislation and to clearly state Parliament's intention in bringing forward these amendments.

The preamble in Bill C-46 refers to our concerns regarding violence against women and children and the need to ensure and promote the charter rights of all people. It recognizes the impact that compelled production of private and confidential records has on complainants and witnesses. In other words, it squarely addresses the mischief the amendments seek to rectify.

The preamble notes the need to ensure that requests for the production of such records is carefully scrutinized and determined with regard to the charter rights of both the accused and the complainant or the witness.

The Supreme Court of Canada has emphasized that there is no hierarchy among charter rights. Competing or conflicting charter rights must be accommodated and reconciled to the greatest extent possible. The amendments proposed reflect the goal of accommodating charter rights that may come into conflict.

The minister has emphasized that the amendments are narrow in their focus. While they require the accused to demonstrate the likely relevance of the records and require the court to carefully scrutinize applications for records in accordance with detailed substantive and procedural provisions, the new production regime applies only to sexual offences.

The extensive consultation process the Minister of Justice and his officials followed has revealed that the overwhelming majority of applications for records occur in sexual offence proceedings. The case law bears this out. A wide range of personal records is sought in sexual offence proceedings that is simply not requested in other prosecutions. Therefore this type of production regime appears not to be necessary or warranted to govern the production of records in other criminal proceedings.

While the amendments apply only in sexual offence proceedings and are carefully drafted and tailored to sexual offences, they will protect a broad range of records. The legislation will define a record generally as any form of record that contains personal information for which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The definition is capable of encompassing a variety of records in any form and adapting to new situations that present themselves in the future.

In addition, the definition specifically includes certain records to ensure that there is no doubt in anyone's mind that they are captured by the production regime.

I commend the Minister of Justice for his initiatives. Bill C-46 reflects a fair and balanced approach to a difficult problem. In developing the legislation, the minister has listened attentively to the views of those most affected by the production of records: victim service providers, equality seeking women's groups, crown attorneys and the defence bar. The legislation has benefited from their participation. Yet no one view has dominated.

In conclusion, Bill C-46 is an excellent example of a law which puts into practice the values we promote as parliamentarians: fairness and equality. I would appreciate the support of all members in the House for Bill C-46.

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10:25 a.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak in a debate on legislation whose purpose is to make some contribution towards reducing violence against women.

The subject is of particular interest to me, as the official opposition critic for the status of women. The purpose of Bill C-46 is to regulate the production of records of victims of sexual assault, most of whom are, unfortunately, women and children. This bill became necessary following a judgment handed down in December 1995 by the Supreme Court of Canada in the O'Connor case.

This was a case of sexual assault in which a man accused of sexually assaulting four young girls demanded access to the school, medical and counselling records of the complainants. In a majority decision, the Supreme Court ruled that, in some cases, the accused had the right to access the complainant's records.

We should see this in the context that existed at the time. For a number of years, victims of sexual assault had been protected by new provisions in the Criminal Code which provide that the accused cannot attack the reputation of the victim, especially the victim's sexual reputation. You will recall that these provisions were adopted following decades of abuse of victims by the accused. The latter could, and most often did, try to tarnish the credibility of their victims by putting the latter's sexual past on the public record. Thus the myth was maintained that a woman who was no longer a virgin deserved to be raped.

Times have changed. Women have gradually acquired equal rights, including the right to sexual freedom. The battle has been long and arduous, and it is not necessarily over. We see this regularly when certain judges publicly vent their private thoughts about women.

Women had won a measure of judicial protection. This protection is important because it provides an incentive for women who are victims of sexual assault to press charges. It is also an incentive to persevere, once the initial charge has been laid. Legal protection also allows victims to minimize, to the extent possible, the impact of the aggression against them, by encouraging them to find help within the community and from professionals.

This context of legal protection is vital to the women's struggle and explains the importance of having laws that afford the accused a full and complete defence but also protect the victims' access to the courts. This access guarantees equal rights for men and women. How can we talk of equality between men and women, when men can continue to sexually assault women with impunity, because the women refuse to report the assault for fear of having their private lives dragged out for all to see?

If we want a society where men and women are equal, we must take every means at our disposal to ensure they enjoy the same right to integrity and security. The best guarantee of these rights, despite its imperfections, continues to be the legal system.

On the subject of rights protection, I will address the first bone of contention: that of the balance between the rights of the accused and those of the victim. The bill, in its preamble, refers to the accused's right to a full and complete defence and the victim's right to privacy and equality. It also mentions that a balance must be struck between these rights to the extent possible.

These last words and the notion of balance underlie the arguments of the parties opposing this bill. On the one hand, defence lawyers want greater access to victims' files, basing this request on the fact that the accused has an absolute right to make a full answer and defence. The philosophy behind this is that it is better to let 1,000 guilty individuals be set free than to have one innocent person sentenced unfairly.

On the other hand, according to those speaking on behalf of the traditional victims of sexual assault, that is to say, women, hardly any lawsuits are instigated on the basis of false accusations, and the right of women to privacy and to not be assaulted demands that access to records be strictly forbidden. Where is the middle ground between these two extreme positions? How can a balance be struck between the rights of the accused and those of the victim? At present, it would appear that the rights of the accused are better protected. Let me explain.

As we all know, the right of the accused to a full defence has been entrenched in the Constitution since 1982. But this right was already afforded enough protection by the courts before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted. As I said earlier, it is already part of our judicial standard to protect the innocent against wrongful conviction at any cost. Indeed, especially since passage of the charter, the courts have developed a whole slew of rules and criteria to provide even greater protection for the right to a full defence. A whole series of rulings have been made on this provision of the charter, with still more to come.

But much less known is the right to privacy and the right to personal safety, which have not yet made it into our legal and popular culture. Because fewer judicial decisions having a strong impact have been made on this subject, it is wrongly viewed as less important, when in fact, both rights are mentioned in the charter and nowhere does it say that they are less important. Why is this? I think this is, unfortunately, a reflection of the lesser prominence traditionally given to women's rights.

As Toronto Star journalist Michele Landsberg pointed out, have we ever heard of a police officer testifying at a trial and being required to disclose his medical records or to talk about his sex life in order to establish his credibility as a witness? In fact, a number of witnesses who appeared before the committee made the same comment.

Why have women traditionally been subjected to such humiliation, if not because they were not given the same credibility? Yet, as this journalist noted, there is no such invasion of the victims' privacy in other criminal cases. Whenever women and sexuality are involved, our society has always felt the need to impose constraints on women. Yet, their right to privacy is protected under the charter.

Now that I have raised this issue, I want to deal specifically with the justice minister's bill. Through this legislation, the minister wants to strike a balance between the rights of the accused and those of the victim. Under the existing legislation, an accused can ask for a wide variety of records, simply on the grounds that such records might be relevant. The existing legislation is also silent on several issues. For example, what records are involved, what conditions can be set for their production, what information must be included in the subpoena, and what must be done with the records while waiting for the appeal process?

Bill C-46 seeks to deal with all these issues. Under the bill, the accused will be required to specify the reasons why he feels that a given record might be useful for his defence. In other words, the bill seeks to prevent an accused from going fishing.

I know that a number of witnesses representing sexual assault victims groups, including victims consultants, were hoping that an accused would not be given access to any confidential records. However, we all know that this is very difficult to achieve because, according to some experts, such a provision would not pass the charter test.

Therefore, the production of records could potentially violate women's right to have access to social and health services that are essential to their physical and psychological well-being. Indeed, the possibility that the content of a session between a woman and her therapist might be disclosed to the judge and the defence lawyer may prevent many women from getting the care and support they need to overcome the consequences of a sexual assault. This

view was shared by all the witnesses who appeared before the committee.

They all said that women would seek certain therapeutic services less frequently.

Given what is at stake for victims of sexual assault and given the fact that the information contained in records will very likely not be relevant to the accused's defence, I think that the defence should be required to show that access to confidential records is probably necessary for a full defence of the accused, and that the benefits of producing records substantially outweigh the prejudice to the complainant's constitutional rights.

Like many of the groups that appeared, I would have liked to see a number of amendments to this bill. I introduced several in committee. You will not be surprised to hear that they were all rejected by the largely Liberal committee. Does that surprise you, Mr. Speaker?

I sincerely believe, however, that these amendments were very realistic and, more to the point, that they reflected the suggestions made by witnesses, by those who very often accompany the victims of sexual abuse.

One of the first amendments sought was inclusion of the preamble in the body of the bill. The groups that made these recommendations include the Regroupement québécois des centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel, the Ontario action group to combat violence against women, the legal action and education fund for women, and METRAC.

Several of these witnesses told us that certain judges are only too ready to express their true feelings about women publicly.

That is why it would have been desirable to include the preamble in the body of the bill, in order to counteract these sexist myths and prejudices which are still clearly present in our judiciary system. For a clearer understanding of the message of this preamble, I am going to read it. It is worded as follows:

Whereas the Parliament of Canada continues to be gravely concerned about the incidence of sexual violence and abuse in Canadian society and, in particular, the prevalence of sexual violence against women and children;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes that violence has a particularly disadvantageous impact on the equal participation of women and children in society and on the rights of women and children to security of the person, privacy and equal benefit of the law as guaranteed by sections 7, 8, 15 and 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada intends to promote and help to ensure the full protection of the rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for all, including those who are accused of, and those who are or may be victims of, sexual violence or abuse;

Whereas the rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are guaranteed equally to all and, in the event of a conflict, those rights are to be accommodated and reconciled to the greatest extent possible;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada wishes to encourage the reporting of incidents of sexual violence and abuse and to provide for the prosecution of offenses within a framework of laws that are consistent with the principles of fundamental justice and that are fair to complainants as well as to accused persons;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes that the compelled production of personal information may deter complainants of sexual offenses from reporting the offence to the police and may deter complainants from seeking necessary treatment, counselling or advice;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes that the work of those who provide services and assistance to complainants of sexual offenses is detrimentally affected by the compelled production of records and by the process to compel that production;

And whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes that, while production to the court and to the accused of personal information regarding any person may be necessary in order for an accused to make a full answer and defence, that production may breach the person's right to privacy and equality and therefore the determination as to whether to order production should be subject to careful scrutiny.

You can see then, from reading this preamble and the reason it was included in the Criminal Code as introduction to Part VIII on crimes against persons, that it is hard to understand why the committee rejected the recommendations made by a number of witnesses and by the Bloc Quebecois.

I understand very well that the Criminal Code must not be unduly burdened, and that many of the principles are covered in the general provisions, that being the argument that is normally used. However, considering that the objective was to change attitudes, it would have been preferable to accept this amendment.

A preamble was included in the case of the young offenders bill. So why not do the same in the case of this bill? Does this mean that attitudes are harder to change where women are concerned? Does it?

Including this preamble in Bill C-46 would be a major step. The preamble not only has great educational value for the legal profession and the general public but would also have been very helpful in the case of court challenges by counsel for the defence, because the preamble could have been invoked to guarantee an interpretation that considers the constitutional rights of women as well as those of the accused.

The purpose of including this preamble in the Criminal Code was to recognize the negative impact the production of confidential records has on the lives of women and the importance of guaranteeing respect and support for their constitutional rights.

A second amendment would also have been desirable to limit access to the victim's confidential records. This amendment would have required the accused to prove that access to confidential records was "probably essential" instead of "likely relevant", the term used in the bill. The burden of proof would have been better served by the concept of the balance of probability than by the principle of likely relevance.

The balance of probability is a legal concept that increases the onus on the person who wishes to obtain the record to provide specific proof. However, I admit I am pleased that the government has agreed to review the impact of this bill in three years' time. The amendment was welcomed by all members of the committee. It was proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, and I know that a Liberal colleague tabled a similar amendment. The committee was unanimous because the amendment reflected the preferences of the majority of those who appeared before the committee.

We will be able to check whether certain fears about the enforcement of this legislation were founded. I will name a few: a reluctance to have personal journals and diaries included in the definition of "records". Including it would lead the courts to permit access to other personal documents written by the victim, unlike institutional records. This is one fear expressed by the various witnesses heard.

There is also the fear that victims would have less contact with groups or individuals that exist to help them, that women should not have to choose between justice and therapy. There is the fear that, once a subpoena has been issued, counsellors or therapists will lose contact with the victim, their client, and that this will serve to further isolate the victim. There is the fear that judges examining records will be insensitive. It is felt that personal and psychological records are not relevant in a trial and the reasons given for examining them are often trivial and are intended to further intimidate the victim.

There is also the fear that women will not lay charges more often for fear of having their private life made public. There is the fear that the defence will try to obtain psychological or personal records to show that the complainant had reason to lie about the sexual assault, that she entertained malicious intent with respect to the accused or that she had already wrongly charged him.

The evaluation, after the law has been in effect for three years, will provide the means of assessing its impact on victims and the various consultants in the community.

In Quebec, there are far fewer requests for access to victims' files than in other provinces. However, there is some concern about the phenomenon and people are keeping an eye on the potential catch up that could occur in Quebec in this practice. This is why passage of this bill will significantly limit access to the victim's records-and this concern came out during committee hearings-although we would have liked to further restrict access to certain records.

Parliament should have set up without further delay a legal and procedural framework to create a real balance between the right of women to security, integrity and privacy and the right of the accused to a full and complete defence. Bill C-46 is attempting to partially close a door that never should have been opened.

This is why we will support the principle of this bill. However, we will be watchful and keeping a sharp eye on the bill's implementation so we can assess the concerns expressed to the justice committee. I am sure that passage of this bill represents a major step forward, because the situation was not desirable for the victims of sexual violence.

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10:45 a.m.


Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is debate on third reading of Bill C-46. This is a bill intended to strengthen the protection of privacy and equality rights of complainants in prosecution for a variety of sexual offences. This added protection is gained through restricting defence lawyers' ability to apply for production and disclosure of private documents such as medical, counselling and therapeutic records.

The bill's proposed amendments to the Criminal Code would permit applications for a complainant's records only at trial stage and then in a two step process.

First, the accused would have to establish the likely relevance of the records to an issue at trial or a witness' competence to testify. If the accused did establish that the records were likely to be relevant, the records would be ordered to be produced to the trial judge. The judge at that first stage would be the only person who would see the records.

In the second stage the judge would review the records in private, taking into account their likely relevance and the charter rights of both the complainant and the accused. The judge's decision would determine the extent to which the accused would have access to the records. The determination would not affect the test for admissibility of any matters that the accused sought to introduce as evidence in the trial.

The job of the opposition is to scrutinize government measures and government proposals that are brought forward, to hold the government accountable for the measures that are brought forward and to act as a watchdog, a check and balance on the power of government as it brings forward legislation that will affect citizens, their rights and their lives. We take our responsibility as opposition very seriously.

I said in my remarks at second reading of this bill before it went to committee I would be watching carefully to see what evidence came forward at committee, what concerns were raised and how the bill was viewed by those most affected.

In principle the Reform Party supports very strongly legislation that provides increased protection to law-abiding citizens and victims of crime. We have made a very strong case for increased protection for victims rights. On April 9 we had an example of an individual who was affected in this type of instance. I refer to a case in Edmonton where a 13-year old girl's counselling records were directed to be given to the 27-year old man accused of sexually assaulting her.

The mother of the girl said: "My daughter was invaded a year and a half ago and now it starts again. It just feels that as victims we don't have rights".

Reform has urged the House and the justice minister repeatedly to enact a victims bill of rights and we have given a substantive draft of the measures such a bill should contain. So far the government and the justice minister have not taken those urgings to heart and have not put into place a victims bill of rights which would give legal standing and protection to all victims, not just victims in sexual assault cases.

It is very clear that there is real concern from people who have been sexually assaulted about continued victimization by the justice system which can force the opening of very private matters. As a corollary to their first victimization a second one takes place.

The unfortunate consideration, though, is that not all complainants are victims. Sometimes accused individuals are victims because they are wrongfully accused and are put into a situation where they need to prove their innocence. I do not think I need to belabour the fact that for a man who is wrongfully accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct the affect on that individual, his life and also the lives of his family members and those who are close to him is very serious.

We must be very careful that we balance in the legislation, as I have said before in discussing the bill, the interests of the right to privacy and the right to equality of victims of sexual assault with the right to liberty of the person and the right to make a full and fair defence of individuals who are wrongfully accused of these actions and who are really the victims.

That makes for a difficult balance. I am sure all members of the House, the justice committee and the justice minister are very anxious to have a proper balance in this situation.

The bill includes a preamble emphasizing Parliament's concern about sexual violence against women and children. I think there would be very few people in the country who would not be wholeheartedly in favour of providing protection for women and children against the kinds of terrible violence we have talked about in the House over the last few days. I am not going to repeat some of the situations that innocent citizens and innocent women have had to face.

Bill C-55 could have allowed violent offenders who have perpetrated sexual assaults and sexual crimes on women and children to be designated as dangerous offenders and to be kept out of society indefinitely.

For reasons which mystify me, this bill omitted sexual predators and sexual offenders from the list of individuals who could be designated as dangerous offenders. Again, I would urge the government to rectify what I think is a very serious omission and which is very much at odds and variance with its purported concern for the safety of women and children.

I would now like to make a couple of comments about the committee hearings on this bill. One thing that did concern me is that there was only one submission on the bill from the viewpoint of those representing accused persons. There were many excellent submissions from groups and individuals concerned about the rights and protection of complainants and victims of sexual assault. These submissions came from individuals and groups that have gone to tremendous lengths and have a tremendous depth of caring and compassion in a very practical way, particularly for women and children who have been victimized by sexual assault and very personal invasion.

I commend these individuals, as I think do all members of the committee, for the work they are doing to encourage, support and assist victims of sexual assault in these life shattering situations. We appreciated the submissions, there was only one submission expressing concern about the right to a full and fair defence of individuals who may be wrongfully accused of these terrible crimes. I would point out that I am not entirely satisfied with the kind of analysis and viewpoints of the bill on this side which we need.

There was an amendment to this bill at committee stage which also troubled me. Not only would a record have to be applied for in a procedurally correct manner and not only would the record have to be shown as relevant, but a third test was added by amendment which said that the production of a record, even it if relevant, would be ordered only if in the best interests of justice.

It seems to me that if a record is relevant in a judicial proceeding, surely it would be in the best interests of justice that it be produced. That is a matter that leaves the bill open to a charter challenge.

I was concerned about that. I raised it at committee. The department officials responsible for drafting the bill pointed out that they wanted to tie the application for records back to some of

the balancing concerns and balancing rights that are the whole reason for the bill. I accept that explanation.

I am a little concerned, though, that the way the bill is drafted leaves an argument open that if a document is relevant but still withheld in a judicial proceedings, withholding it would be improper. The defence counsels I have talked to about this have a similar concern.

The department officials were very anxious and very careful to make a good balance in this bill. I was satisfied that they did a very excellent job and consulted widely. I was very impressed with the care, the concern and the ability they demonstrated in drafting this bill. They are to be commended and the minister and his department are to be commended for this.

A couple of other concerns about the bill are that there are major cost implications because not only the complainant but the record holder or agency that has dealt with a complainant is entitled to be represented by counsel at hearings into the production of records.

The question is who will pay for that counsel. That was raised. The department had thought through that and had some suggestions. That is a practical matter that is really up in the air regarding how that will really take place in practice and who will cover that area.

There is also a concern that these cases will be extended considerably because of the extra hearings and the extra provisions in these kinds of cases for examining records and making applications and that sort of thing.

Senior counsels who might be prepared to take on these cases on a legal aid basis would be more inclined to withdraw because of the time commitment, leaving only more junior counsels to represent complainants, going up against senior crown counsels.

These are some practical things that were raised, and rightly so. On balance the intent of the bill is appropriate. The bill is as carefully balanced as the officials and the drafters could make it.

It is appropriate to raise some of the concerns that I just talked about. Defence counsel and the criminal bar are very unhappy with how far this bill takes us in putting barriers up to the production of material that could be relevant in a full and fair defence.

It is fair that it is mentioned, but the one thing that does give us some help is the amendment that was put in by committee to review the bill after three years. We will be watching very closely how this bill operates in the real world. Then we will be prepared to push strongly for changes if we see the need.

On balance, after committee hearings and after speaking to a number of people directly concerned by this legislation, my party will be supporting this bill. We will be watching to see how it works out in effect.

We want to make sure that the balance is appropriate but we should let this go ahead to see whether it does give the protections needed to innocent victims of a very terrible crime.

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11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


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11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


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11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed.)

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Sault Ste. Marie Ontario


Ron Irwin Liberalfor the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

moved that Bill C-34, an act to establish programs for the marketing of agricultural products, to repeal the Agricultural Products Board Act, the Agricultural Products Cooperative Marketing Act, the Advance Payments for Crops Act and the Prairie Grain Advance Payments Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again I rise to address Bill C-34. I am pleased to reiterate my support and that of the Bloc Quebecois for this bill, which the agricultural sector has been anxiously waiting. However, the official opposition's support should not be viewed by the government as an unconditional endorsement.

I want to make it clear: We support the principle of this bill, and most of its provisions, but we still have reservations about the budget allocation.

Therefore, I want to explain our reservations. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food spent a long time discussing the benefits, and particularly the gains that could be achieved by the agricultural industry, both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

The major irritant at the root of the Bloc Quebecois' opposition, or at least its reservations, had to do with the budget allocation. The development of the advanced payments program is a major aspect of Bill C-34.

Since I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether you are aware of the situation in the agricultural sector, I will try to shed some light on the issue. Bill C-34 provides that $120 million will be allocated to the advance payments program, in equal parts, over the next three years.

Needless to say, these funds are absolutely necessary to ensure the survival, or at least the financial viability, of farm operations.

In many cases, the final payment for a given crop can take weeks or even months to get to farmers while payments for costs associated with operating the farm get to them in no time.

At this point, I would like to give you a specific example. Take maple syrup producers for instance. The sap runs for two, three or four weeks maximum. Of course, producers must invest large amounts of money before and during this short period. As we know, preparations often start right after New Year's day, and this involves tapping the trees and getting the tubing ready, along with all the other equipment that will be used in the sugar bush.

During these tree or four weeks of intense work, maple syrup producers must invest large amounts. A portion of the production will be sold at retail to people visiting the sugar bush. But for the most part the crop is sold wholesale, in barrels, and often maple syrup producers have to wait for months, if not years, to receive final payment.

With this advance payment scheme, producers will be receiving a reasonable payment on the fair value of the syrup. This also means that advance payments for crops provide balance in the financial management of farm operations. Need I point out also that, in many cases, this represents the operations' lifeline? It is the difference between an anxiety ridden operation and a prosperous one and the profitability of farms, which are the pride of rural areas.

You can see that a farmer has to be able to count on a higher authority to guarantee the investments required to run a farm.

From a strictly analytical and non-partisan point of view, the bill introduced by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is certainly very laudable and full of good will, but certain features of the bill leave me wondering about the minister's real intentions and motivations with respect to the main idea behind marketing these agricultural products.

As I pointed out in my speech last June 17, just before the House rose for the summer, there is a rather obvious inconsistency in the way the government markets these crops. Let me explain.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will use huge sums of money to facilitate the marketing of annual crops, but this money already comes from the income protection programs envelope. This is a rather huge inconsistency. In my humble opinion, the government is trying to hide the cuts it is forcing on a category of taxpayers, who are already in a precarious financial position.

This brings me to the agriculture department's unfair treatment of farmers, particularly dairy producers. I remind you that on August 1, 1995 we cut the price paid for a hectolitre of industrial milk by 81 cents. On August 1, 1996, the same thing: another 81 cents cut per hectolitre, with another 76 cents to come next August 1-in a few months-until it is all used up, or in other words until August 1, 2001, when there will be no milk subsidy left, when it was $5.43 per hectolitre to begin with.

I will give you the example of an average Quebec farm, since Quebec alone produces 47 per cent of industrial milk in Canada. An average farm, a family farming operation, producing 1,900 hectolitres of industrial milk yearly, will lose $1,500 a year, or over the five year period of regular cuts, an average of $7,500. That represents a drop in income of between 5 and 5.5 per cent.

Often, that 5 per cent in question is the only net income that is left in the dairy farmer's pocket at the end of the year, with which he can treat himself to a little outing, a little trip.

Unfortunately, the government across the way is taking care not to speak of this cut. For instance, between 1994 and 1995, when the subsidy was $5.43 a hectolitre-a hectolitre being 100 litres-that meant that the government was paying about 5.5 cents per litre in industrial milk subsidies. As of August 1, 2001, that figure will be down to zero.

Do you know what this means for the dairy producers of Quebec, the 26,000 dairy producers of Quebec? It means a cut of $108 million, for Quebec alone. For all of Canada, $228 million. Since Quebec produces 48 per cent, you will see that, first and foremost, it is the Quebec dairy farmers who are being penalized most heavily.

The Minister of Finance has made more cuts in the Department of Agriculture than in all of the other departments. Between the 1994-95 budget and next year's 1998 budget, cuts in agriculture will be 35.5 per cent, close to three eighths of the total cuts. In Bill C-34, the principle of interconnectedness is being used, linking what has been forecast as revenue and what will be given in anticipated payments, to what must be guaranteed as income if the crop should fail.

In other words, it is a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul. There is no fresh money, no new money. Together with the cuts in subsidies for producers of industrial milk, this will inevitably lead to a price increase for the processors.

I want dairy producers to listen carefully to these figures. According to a study, every time we increase the price of butter by 10 per cent, and butter costs more than $3 a pound today, the price goes up 30 cents. Will people eat more butter? No. It means a 7 per cent drop in sales.

The problem in Quebec is not that we have trouble supplying the processing plants, on the contrary. Every dairy producer would be delighted to keep an extra cow or two. Of course he would, but if we raise the price of industrial milk, instead of keeping an extra cow he will have to get rid of one, which means a difference of two cows. As you know, not the first cow in the herd but the last one makes money. The last cow is pure profit. Thanks to her, the farmer can buy a few extras, like other skilled workers in our country.

I have another example which concerns cheese. The same thing will happen if we increase the price of cheese by 10 per cent. I see the parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture who is being very attentive, and I suggest that he get in touch with me if he does not understand the figures and also that he listen carefully.

So in the case of cheese, if we increase the price by 10 per cent, there will be 4 per cent drop in sales. Here again, increasing the price will mean be a drop in sales. Mr. Speaker, you do not seem to care about the problems facing dairy producers, and I think that is very unfortunate, because these people do not work five but seven days a week.

The morning milking and evening milking and taking care of the livestock goes on week in, week out, even on Sundays, even New Year's Day, Christmas and Easter. Farmers cannot afford to lose, and we have no right to make them lose, 5.5 per cent of their income. We have no right unilaterally to cut subsidies that were introduced by the central government in the first place in the early 70s.

I think this is an important point, and if the parliamentary secretary does not agree, let him argue otherwise: on average, the overall budget of the Department of Agriculture invested only 9 per cent last year in Quebec. The current average would seem to be11 per cent. One year when the department was particularly generous farmers in Quebec, it invested up to 17 per cent in purchasing goods and services or setting up research stations, 5 or 6 of which were closed two years ago. That was the best it did.

However, Quebec's agricultural activity represents 17 per cent of total gross agricultural activity in this country. However, when processing plants-which is where value is added, that is the value added in the processing of cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream-are included, Quebec contributes 24 per cent to Canada's agricultural economy. Yet, only a meagre 9 per cent is invested in Quebec, while the average elsewhere is 11 per cent. It is shameful, a scandal.

When I meet the producers in my riding, I regularly explain the unfair treatment we have been getting, not just once in a while, but every decade. I would go so far to say that it dates back to the supposed union of Upper and Lower Canada, which took place in 1841 and predates Confederation in 1867; at that time, the debts of Upper and Lower Canada were combined. Upper Canada is Ontario today, Lower Canada is Quebec. The debts were combined, and everyone was made to pay.

Ontario, Upper Canada, had 12 times the debt of Quebec, and, obviously, its infrastructures, its port in Toronto, roads and railways were also 12 times more developed than in Quebec. The situation could be likened to that of a wolf whelping four cubs. As you already know, the first cub to suckle will be the strongest, the most vigilant and the most vigorous of the entire pack. By 1841, Ontario was already ahead and has retained the lead.

Another example of unfairness occurred two years ago when the government in Ottawa did away with the WGTA in the west. When the subsidy to industrial milk producers was cut here, it was cut, and of course no compensation was paid. However, when the WGTA, the Western Grain Transportation Act, was eliminated to permit savings of $860 million a year, the government invested $2.9 billion, not $2.9 million, in order to save $860 million.

This amount of $2.9 billion was divided in three. First, $1.6 billion was allocated to grain producers, based on the size of their farms, the number of bushels sold the previous year and so on, depending on the geographical location of the farm, if it were close to this or that. A cheque for $1.6 billion was issued but, listen to this, no TP4 or T4 was issued. This means it was tax free, clear, which is rather unusual. It takes some doing, does it not?

The federal government paid out substantial amounts without those at the receiving end having to include them in their income tax return. That is what I call money paid under the blanket.

In addition, $300 million in adaptation funds have been earmarked for upgrading roads and railways, silo construction, rentals and so on. A $1 billion loan guarantee has also been established to help certain foreign countries that may want to buy western grain but cannot afford to do so. This all adds up to $2.9 billion.

As you can see, once again, Agriculture Canada has created inequity between farm producers in the west and the east, not just in Quebec, but also in the maritimes and, of course, in Ontario.

In a sense, Bill C-34 will benefit those producers who have to do without an income for extended periods because the money comes in all at once, come harvest time. I gave the best possible example, the easiest one to understand, since we are now at the very end of the maple syrup season. A maple syrup producer can try to sell all the production at once, but maple products will be on the market throughout the year.

In conclusion, while this government may be trying to improve things, it has a weakness, and I will remind the public of that weakness in my speeches during the upcoming election campaign. That weakness is a lack of fairness. The government does not seem to know about fairness.

As André Pratte, from the daily La Presse , wrote so well in his book entitled Le syndrome de Pinocchio , Canadians politicians have unfortunately lost all credibility, because they have abused voters' confidence for too long.

A poll conducted a while ago by a specialized magazine showed that, out of some 30 professions in Canada, politicians came next to last at the bottom of the list, just before used car dealers. Doctors and police officers were at the top of the list. Lawyers, because their job is often rather difficult, came pretty close to politicians. Come to think of it, a number of members here are lawyers by training. So, politicians were very low on the list, just before used car dealers. Incidentally, new car dealers did relatively well.

Granted, a Ford salesman will extol the virtues of that make, at the expense of Chrysler and so on. But the bottom line is that politicians did very poorly. Unfortunately, I became one by accident, but I will do my best to avoid catching the Pinocchio syndrome. My children often tell me: "Daddy, someone else in the House of Commons has the same name as you". I tell them: "Listen, he is the king and his Deputy Prime Minister is the queen when it comes to that syndrome". We saw this with the GST, when they promised to scrap it. To us, scrapping something means throwing it out, destroying it, sending it to the scrap heap.

So, when the Prime Minister said he was going to scrap the GST, we understood that he was going to abolish it and perhaps find another clever way of coming up with the $19 billion that the GST brings into the federal coffers. Remember what he said he meant: "If you understood that I was going to scrap it, you misunderstood, and if you did not understand, you were not listening. And if you do not understand, you are idiots". This was the answer given by the Prime Minister over Christmas when questioned by several members of the public chosen at random from across Canada.

So, not surprisingly, politicians do not rate very high with the public, and yet an election campaign is going to be launched in a few days. There will be more and more of these distortions of the truth. The President of the Treasury Board, who visited Thetford Mines in my region on the eve of the 1995 referendum, said he was giving Quebec much more money than this province was paying. Year after year, we pay $30 billion in taxes of one sort or another to this institution called the federal government. And the President of the Treasury Board tried to make us believe he was giving us too much. If we are costing this government, this Treasury Board, this minister, too much, they should let us leave, for heaven's sake. I have never seen anyone so anxious to hang on to something that was costing him so much.

I am sure that, when you look at the figures for each department, Quebec is not receiving its fair share. I just gave the example of the Department of Agriculture, which is giving us 9 per cent compared to an 11 per cent average. Last year, Quebec received 9 per cent of the overall envelope of the Department of Agriculture, when it represents 24 or 25 per cent of the population, pays 24 per cent of taxes and generates 17 per cent of direct agricultural activity. When you include processing plants, it is easily 24 per cent. We could come up with more examples of such unfairness if we took the trouble to look for them.

When all is said and done, we are going to vote in favour of Bill C-34. We will support it, although it is not a perfect bill. I told you how they came up with $120 million by taking it from somewhere else. This is not new money. They take it out of another envelope, the one for farmers, and invest it to generate advance payments. However, as requested by many farmers and farmers associations which called my office to ask us to support Bill C-34, we will go along with the consensus that exists among farmers across Canada. Because after all, there are some good things in this bill.

The government could have ended up with a far better bill if it had bothered to accept the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois. These were very sound amendments, as the parliamentary secretary may recall, we moved in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food. However, if they do not initiate it, it is no good, and if they do, it is.

I remember this week that when we were discussing Bill C-72, we were talking about the majority of grain producers to be elected to the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. A majority, that is what it said in the bill.

I said: "Listen, let us write down a number. Out of 15 members, they could elect nine. That is a majority, nine out of 15. Or we could put eight, which is still a majority. To avoid any misunderstanding, we will set a figure". I set the limit at 12. I presented an amendment to the amendment. The Reform Party agreed with the Bloc Quebecois; the Liberal Party, all eight members, including the parliamentary secretary, voted against it because it was not their idea. Thirty-six hours later, unanimous consent was requested to present an amendment that would set the majority at 10 out of 15, which is what it says now in Bill C-72: 10 out of 15 to be elected by the grain producers.

This is an improvement, but 36 hours earlier, it was the Bloc Quebecois that came up with this idea, and even my colleague from Malpeque voted against it, to the eternal shame of the farmers of Prince Edward Island. But 36 hours later, the Liberals came back, sweet as you please, and suggested 10. So 10 out of 15, 66 per cent. I said: "Let us see whether our colleagues opposite have any

guts. Sixty-six per cent, 12 out of 15, 75 per cent, let us split the difference, and I presented an amendment to the amendment: 11.

The Canadian Wheat Board, I should point out, was not established 60 years ago, during the Depression, for eastern farmers, to please the members of this House, for consumers or for tractor sellers-there were none then, or very few. The Canadian Wheat Board was established during a Depression in the 1930s, to support grain growers who were declaring bankruptcy one after another and to ensure their grain was properly marketed. It was for them. Since it was for them, they should have control. The government, however, sees it as an opportunity to make three or four political appointments.

I proposed 12. Thirty-six hours later they came back with 10. The next day, during deliberations I proposed 11. We looked each other squarely in the face, and my Liberal colleagues voted against it. My Reform Party colleagues joined with the Bloc, and agreed on 11. However, as the Liberals have total control, and committees often being nothing more than a charade, time wasted, it was a good thing in this case, because we at least made them aware with our arguments and ended up with 10 in the bill, which is none too many.

If the Liberal Party paid more attention to the official opposition, bills would often be more acceptable and would have a better impact on the farming community.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-34, the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act.

To refresh the memory of those who are watching, this bill combines four separate agricultural acts and one program into a single act. The Agricultural Marketing Programs Act will provide for the marketing of agricultural products.

The four acts it combines are the Advance Payments for Crops Act, the Prairie Grain Advance Payments Act, the Agricultural Products Co-operative Marketing Act and the Agricultural Products Board Act. The program is the cash flow enhancement program.

I would like to review the three main parts of the bill before I address some of the things that we, as Reformers, would like to recommend. The new act incorporates the existing provisions of the current Advance Payments for Crops Act and also the Prairie Grain Advance Payments Act into the advance payments program. That will guarantee interest free loans. The new program will now include adjustments and a phase-in period to allow producers marketing wheat and barley through the Canadian Wheat Board to be eligible as well.

The second part of the bill is the price pooling program. The new act incorporates the existing provisions of the current Agricultural Products Co-operative Marketing Act that provides for price guarantees for agricultural products marketed by a co-op. Also the new program's administration and approval process will be clarified, modernized and streamlined since approval is now the minister's responsibility rather than that of cabinet and Treasury Board.

The third part of the bill is the government purchases program. The new program incorporates the current provisions of the Agricultural Products Board Act which offers government purchases, sales and importation of agricultural products and abolishes the agricultural products board.

The new act also provides for the recovery of administrative costs, creates offences, requires reports to Parliament and makes consequential amendments to other acts. There will be a mandatory legislative review of the act five years following enactment, which is a good idea for all legislation.

The Reform Party agricultural policy supports maintaining the advanced payment for crops program since the program has been shown to have a stabilizing influence on the marketplace, while at the same time maintaining an acceptable level of default exposure to taxpayers.

Reformers agree that the three different pieces of cash advance legislation should be consolidated into one to save administrative costs. We have proposed amendments that include, first, entrenching the limit on the government's contingent liability in the act or allowing the agricultural standing committee to review any increases; second, allowing farmers to access emergency advances of an interest free basis but only as part of the overall $50,000 interest free portion; third, eliminating the government purchases program because it is incompatible with the competitive market driven, modern, Canadian agricultural economy; and fourth, treating all agricultural organizations equally in terms of defaulted advances by not allowing the Canadian Wheat Board a special two-year exemption.

Unfortunately the Liberals have only kept about 25 per cent of the election promises that they made on agriculture in the 1993 campaign. I have gone through the red book and it is very difficult to even find them buried in all of the other 100 and some pages of rhetoric. One of their promises was to provide interest free cash advances. By voting against Reform's amendments, the Liberals are voting against their own promise.

I just listened to my colleague from the Bloc talking about the committee process and the amendments that are often brought to improve legislation. Very often these suggestions are not accepted because they do not come from the government side. That is unfortunate because the Liberals promised to allow committees

more say in legislation. That has really not happened which is again another broken election promise.

All of Reform's amendments were voted down in committee, even though the reason for sending the bill to committee before second reading was to allow MPs to make substantive changes. The Liberals' red book promise of giving MPs a greater role in drafting legislation has really become a hollow promise. The red book at pages 91 and 92 states the promise to allow MPs a greater role in drafting legislation. It was a very hollow promise. It has not happened in 3.5 years.

If the Liberals on the committee were truly committed to the red book they would have voted for some of Reform's amendments to make substantive changes, in particular the amendment in which we actually do what the Liberals claimed they would do in their red book.

Having kept only 25 per cent of their promises on agriculture in the 1993 campaign is very serious. We have to take everything together, but let me give an example of what they said in the red book at page 15:

Governments have little room to find new revenues from the tax side; indeed, the long term objective of all governments must be to reduce the tax burden.

The fact is the government has collected $24 billion more in tax revenue. Unfortunately that is a very serious broken promise.

Let me turn to page 57 where the Liberals buried a few of their promises with regard to agriculture. They said they would develop new domestic and international markets for Canadian food products. They were to reduce input costs to make farming more viable and to introduce a whole farm income stabilization program.

I am quite familiar with the area of reducing input costs. I live on a farm and have close ties to the farm community. I listen on almost a daily basis to the concerns of farmers. One of their very critical or serious concerns is the high input costs they experience. Many input costs have taxes built right into them.

For example, fertilizer is made from natural gas and natural gas has a high tax component. A very high tax component is built right into the product they must use to produce their product. Instead of reducing costs and the size of government, government taxes to support big government.

The high cost of transportation is another serious concern of farmers. I have looked through the red book and I have yet to find anywhere any indication that the Liberals were to remove the Crow subsidy as soon as they were elected. I believe this was a shock to farmers. Very often it was not just the promises they made but the things they did once they got into power that people had no idea they would do. That is very serious.

The Bloc member talked about the cynical attitude of the public has toward politicians. I agree. We have to be held accountable. There must be some mechanism built into our democratic structure whereby the constituents may hold their MP more accountable. That is a very key change Reformers will make when we form government.

I will now talk about some of our amendments. We propose a limiting of the governments contingent liability. The government is increasingly allowing the review of government policies, regulations, expenditures and contingent liabilities by bureaucrats rather than elected officials.

I asked a question of the Library of Parliament dealing with how much legislation has come before the House in the last while that has taken away power from the elected people and given it to bureaucrats. It is a question that had not been asked previously. The people doing the research were shocked and amazed as they began to go through the legislation to find that routinely legislation before the House was taking away the power of those elected to run the affairs of the country and giving it to bureaucrats.

The bill before us does the same thing. That is a very serious matter. That was one of our concerns with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board. There is no reason farmers cannot completely control their own affairs. It does not have to be under the thumb of the agriculture minister where he an appoint the CEO and control the affairs of the wheat board completely. It should be run from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, those most affected by it.

The standing committee with all its expertise should review any increase in the contingent liability under the cash advance program. The agriculture minister would simply have to notify the committee of his intention to raise the amount well before it may be needed and hearings could be held to quickly determine whether an increase is actually needed.

Reformers would like to comment on allowing interest free advances. The Liberals voted against a Reform amendment in committee to provide interest free spring advances. It was one of their own election promises. They have not fulfilled it. Nor do they agree with Reform's amendment.

Let me now deal with the aspect concerning the limiting of the government purchases program. The government purchases program provides the minister with a wide ranging authority to buy, sell or import agricultural products to stabilize domestic market conditions or to conclude sales to other governments or government agencies.

Although there are no resources budgeted to the program the government has been unable to adequately justify extending or continuing it by entrenching it in new legislation. The extensive powers encompassed by the program have not been used since 1985 and have only been used a couple of times in the past 20 years. Most important, the intent of this type of program is incompatible with the competitive market driven modern Canadian agricultural economy.

For instance, exactly what are the unusual market conditions for perishable crops as specified in the government's literature as grounds for using the program? The government should fully explain its rationale of continuing to have a potentially controlling hand over Canada's agricultural economy.

Let me now deal with the treating of all producer organizations equally. Under the new act the portion of each defaulted advance that will be the responsibility of the program administrator or producer organization will be based on the historical defaults of the organization. The liability amount will vary from 1 per cent to15 per cent depending on past performance.

Reform supports this change but opposes the two-year delay for the Canadian Wheat Board. Although the government claims the Canadian Wheat Board needs time to make the necessary administrative adjustments, the principles of equity and fiscal responsibility should be respected.

I wonder if some of the political tactics the government is using is to deflect attention away from its more controversial bills. I often look at what has happened in the last few weeks as we prepare for the next election. We have seen a sudden increase in spending by the government in certain areas. Is this spending increase a way of deflecting attention away from what it has done previously, especially in Saskatchewan? The gun control bill has been of concern to many people. Also there is the gay rights amendment.

Some of so-called good news bills the agriculture minister announced are maybe an attempt to make people forget what has happened over the past 3.5 years. If there is anything Canadians really want it is more control over their own affairs. They want us to work together as MPs to improve legislation and to make sure it is effective. That really has not happened.

My greatest concern is that agriculture has had a lower priority with the government. Very little was done to help farmers. The removal of the crow rate subsidy without any warning, without any opportunity for adjustments to be made in the transportation area, has been a very serious blow to farmers. It will have a devastating effect on the farm economy. The government should have done what was necessary to bring down the input costs of farmers before it made some of these other moves.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to bring forth the government's concerns on Bill C-34 during this debate.

Bill C-34 will establish the agriculture marketing programs act. It is a major piece of legislation put forward by the government to help Canadian farmers compete in the global marketplace by modernizing Canadian cash advance and price pooling systems.

The new act is intended to replace the Prairie Grain Advance Payments Act, the Advance Payments for Crops Act, the Agricultural Products Co-operative Marketing Act and the Agricultural Products Board Act. The four acts were created at different times to meet different marketing needs. They were however all designed for the same purpose: to support and encourage the efficient and orderly marketing of agricultural commodities.

The bill will fulfil a red book promise to restore a statutory, interest free cash advance program for agriculture that was discontinued by the previous government. Although the cash advances were reimplemented each year on an ad hoc basis by cabinet, cash strapped producers could never be sure in advance whether the provisions would be renewed or whether farmers would be left high and dry.

The reinstatement of the statutory interest free cash advance program is important because farmers do not have the luxury of choosing when they plant or harvest their crops. Sometimes they cannot control when they have to sell. They may be forced by financial pressures to sell their products immediately after harvest, at a time when prices are often at their lowest.

With the legislation the government is helping to alleviate some of the financial pressures farmers face, as well as the actual uncertainty caused by waiting for a government to announce whether interest free cash provisions will be temporarily reinstated.

In the spring of 1995 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada started the process of reinstatement by initiating consultations with more than 160 producer groups on advance payments and orderly marketing legislation. We held further consultations in the winter and summer of 1996. The department wanted to have all stakeholder concerns about the bill and the concerns that financial programs would act in favour of and help farmers do what they intended to do.

The consultations produced many good suggestions which the government has incorporated including the idea of combining four programs into one. The producers said that they found four different acts too confusing. They also said that the four existing acts did not treat all producers equally and that some commodities were not covered at all. The new legislation eliminates those inequities and anomalies.

Farming is a risky enterprise. Success depends a lot on different conditions over which the farmer has no control. The agricultural marketing programs act will bring a little more certainty to Canadian producers at risk. It will give them a measure of control and flexibility which would otherwise not be there. It will keep them competitive with their international counterparts.

The new legislation represents real progress for taxpayers and a more effective use of their tax dollars. It will also mean progress for farmers who will get a more stable environment as we restore a statutory interest free cash advance system. It will give them a measure of control and flexibility they have been without since the late eighties.

The bill will help farmers to be competitive in international circuits with their counterparts. It will be good news for all of Canada because the more Canadians farmers succeed, the more jobs are created for Canadians in agriculture and the agri-food sector as well as industry across the country.

I will be voting for the bill. I urge all members of the House to vote for it as well.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders



Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we saw that the pilotage issue was not addressed in the marine bill. I know farmers would have appreciated very much if that issue had been resolved and they could have expected lower costs in shipping their grain.

How does the parliamentary secretary feel about these exorbitant charges by pilots when they are really not needed these days with the global technology and the positioning technology that we have that can be used instead of them? It is still on the shoulders of farmers to pay $53,000 per trip, an average of $5,200 a day per pilot. Those are things that farmers would appreciate having resolved, giving them a break and reducing to some extent the costs of their shipping charges.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders



Jerry Pickard Liberal Essex—Kent, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly this government has stood for doing what it can in order to make our input costs, costs of transportation and other costs as reasonable and equitable as possible for the farm community.

There is absolutely no question that if costs are exorbitant that issue has to be examined and dealt with in a reasonable way. The premise that costs are not fair is one that is not necessarily agreed to by everyone in this country. However, where those costs are unfair we certainly have looked at it, examined issues and tried to bring our costs in line with where they should be.

However, that question really does relate to another piece of legislation. At this point in time the focus is on cash advance payments and the restructuring of four bills which will treat all people, all the farm communities on an equal and fair basis. That is a really critical issue.

I know that after the consultations that have gone on across this country almost everyone is united. Bill C-34 is a very important bill to all of us and it is one that we must have in place in order to be fair to all Canadians on an international competitive basis as well as on an agricultural competitive basis within the country.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders



Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today and address this issue. We have looked at different types of legislation and I know that a lot of the farm problems are not just in one or two of the bills. The problems we have tried to address are in at least six, seven or eight acts that the minister of agriculture has jurisdiction over. We have to take into account that just by addressing a few of the acts does not resolve the problems that farmers have.

The parliamentary secretary mentioned this act more or less amalgamates three acts, the Advance Payments for Crops Act, the Prairie Grain Advance Payments Act and the Agricultural Products Co-operative Marketing Act. Amalgamating these four programs is going in the right direction. There is no doubt about that. If we can take the bureaucracy out of farm acts or out of farm legislation it is only going to be a benefit for farmers.

The Reform Party is very much in favour of reducing the costs of administration, reducing the bureaucracy and the red tape that farmers have to deal with when they conduct their business. I think I made it clear yesterday in committee that harmonization of chemical registration and food inspection is a very important issue as well as these acts.

It is only fair to show how unfair sometimes our legislation deals with farmers. When I look at the millers' testimony before the standing committee here just a few days ago they were allowed to import U.S. grain without wheat board control and as far as milling or processing their product was concerned. But when farmers find a market for their American unlicensed grains they are growing in the U.S. at $2 a bushel higher than in Canada, they are thrown in jail.

That is not a fair way to treat one sector of our economy. We allow one thing to happen that is beneficial to the value added industry but then the producers of the raw product who are trying to capture the market are denied access to that market. Those are things that farmers object to and those are things that farmers will take into consideration when they go to the polls in the next election.

We support maintaining the advanced payments for crop programs since they are shown to be a stabilizing influence on the marketplace while maintaining an acceptable level of default

exposure for taxpayers. Farmers are pretty honest generally and try to do their very best to keep their end of the bargain.

We see that the Liberal government is very short on keeping promises. It is very easy to make quick promises but to implement them is a little harder to do. One of those promises was there would be a spring cash advance which should be interest free. I know the member for Malpeque argued for it strongly but being a Liberal backbencher he does not seem to have that much clout in having his own government listen to him.

We in the Reform Party were supporters of that issue, saying it should be increased at least to $50,000 and included in the other advance programs so that farmers were treated equally. There are some Liberal backbenchers who do get the right idea sometimes but because there is not a democracy on the government side of the House they have very little clout or impact.

We saw that happen on the backtracking issue when every member on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food said that it should be stopped and it was costing us millions and millions of dollars. We wasted something like $60 million of taxpayer money by backtracking grain before it finally was done away with by scrapping the western grain transportation act.

Those are things that farmers would appreciate action being taken on when brought before the House, and not just a quick promise before the next election that we will look at this in the September sitting of the House or in the new Parliament, which is what I heard yesterday when I was talking about the pilotage fees that were charged to grain transportation.

The Reform Party proposed some amendments to this bill which would have ensured a more responsible implementation of the bill. One dealt with regulations made by governor in council that dealt with government contingency liability in the legislation. We see that it is the direction this government seems to want to take, that more things should be done by order in council rather than by the House itself. This is a very bad direction in which we are going. In the next election taxpayers and voters will make that message very clear to this government.

We wanted to have the regulations presented to the House of Commons, but no one would listen. No one seems to care. The attitude is "we are the government and we do as we please".

We wanted farmers to have access to that emergency advance but no, as we heard, the government would not allow it. We wanted the government to eliminate the purchases program and treat all agriculture organizations equally.

When I look at certain issues that have come before the House it astounds me that at times we just look at one of the industries and forget that it is affecting the other industries.

When we saw offshore beef coming here a year or so ago, increased from the GATT allocations of something like 75,000 tonnes to 115,000 tonnes, we forgot how many jobs that took away. Our farmers had to export their cows into the U.S. to get them slaughtered. That took away at least three jobs to every one we created by bringing in this extra offshore beef.

Not only that, the countries that were shipping this beef into our country have an export balance that is positive. We had to borrow that money to finance these imports. To me that is not the way to run a business or a country.

When we look at running this country, it should be run on the basis of a business. If it is not going to show a bottom line that is in the positive then we should scrap it.

Also one of the Reform amendments was voted down because it was not really very advantageous politically at that time. It may be different now.

This shows that the Liberal red book promise to give MPs a greater role in drafting legislation is a hollow promise and one more broken promise that Liberals will have to explain to the electorate.

We wanted to have the committee become more democratic. We wanted to have the committee read the red book and then implement the promises. The record is there. It will be of real advantage to us on the campaign trail to once in a while wave it and say here are the promises, see how they were kept.

It will be a pleasure to have the back-up material that we will really need in this next election. Sometimes these promises, if they are put down in writing, have a disadvantage for people later.

I have to admire my colleague from Yorkton-Melville when he started mentioning a few things on the wheat board issue. We see again that in the last six months or so we have a real problem in getting our grain moved.

The wheat board blames it on the railways. The railways blame it on the weather and the Liberals probably blame it on God, the last one who seems to get blamed by this government when there is no other excuse.

Where we will wind up, who will take the responsibility remains to be seen. It was astounding that in the last year, in the spring of 1996, the Canadian Wheat Board cancelled the C quota on barley because it said that there was a shortage of grain, that there was nothing to sell.

We had thousands of hopper cars sitting empty on sidings, not knowing what to do with them. All of a sudden when a new crop comes in we find out we have a record carry over of feed grains, a record carry over of durum. We have had all these empty hopper cars sitting around doing nothing and nobody taking any action.

We were promised when the WGTA was done away with that the Liberals would guarantee our grain would be moved. They would keep track of the situation and they would put on certain regulations or rules that the railways would comply with.

It has not happened. Reading the latest report from one of the railway companies, it says that in the last month it shipped around or backtracked 2,000 empty hopper cars from terminals that were never loaded in the first place.

We can see what a mess the whole transportation system really is in. This government is failing to correct it. We are trying to correct some of the problems with these bills. We will have a partial success but I do not think it is nearly what farmers desire or what is needed in the industry.

We now have a situation where the transportation system is not working. Canadian farmers who are within trucking distance of the U.S. could have a viable market opportunity there but it is denied them because we have a monopoly that does not want to co-operate when certain situations are run into or when market conditions develop during the year.

I know for a fact there is a tremendous demand for our feed grains in the U.S. In my little area of Morden-Winkler, over 200,000 bushels have gone into the U.S. by truck in the last week or two because of a market that was found by a few farmers. They have developed that market to a point where it is becoming quite lucrative.

This is the type of farm policy we need, where farmers take control of the situation and direct the government to provide through regulation the guidelines that make it fair to everyone. That has not been happening. Again I point to the witness we heard from just recently, the millers. They can import their grains from the U.S. without any restrictions while farmers do not have that freedom because they have to go through the buyback program. As we heard at the standing committee hearings, the buyback program is not what farmers want. It is not fair to all farmers and should be changed.

It is really sad how much farmers distrust government and bureaucrats. It is very hard for them to believe what is happening in the House. A very humourous incident happened on April 1. I do not know if the House has heard about the story in Grainews which stated that the the agriculture minister had announced a new bio-diesel initiative and created a government crown corporation called Petro Canola.

I received a number of calls from my constituents wondering whether this could have really happened in Ottawa. When I first heard about it I thought it had to be crazy. I wondered why anybody would even believe something like that.

I will read a few comments from that article so members have an idea how the farm community feels about Ottawa and how much trust they have in politicians. The article states that the Prime Minister has a better plan than the old national energy program from the early 1980s. "We are setting up refineries near Ottawa on both sides of the Ontario and Quebec border to provide a balanced industry. The western farmers get the benefit of growing canola and eastern Canadians get the value added benefit of a new industry. It is an everybody win situation".

It really sounds like it could be something that is viable, something some bureaucrat or politician dreamed up. The article then goes on to say: "The PCB"-which is this new Petro Canola crown corporation-"will buy canola from western Canadian farmers at an average of 15 per cent below the world price but they will have the benefit of a guaranteed market". I guess after having been tied to a monopoly under the Canadian Wheat Board farmers really believe that they will be asked to sell their products under lower than world market prices.

I could see them maybe falling for that bit of bait but the article then goes on to state: "The board will then ship the canola east at the subsidized magpie rate, refine it and sell it back to western farmers and other users of diesel fuel". On reading that everyone should have realized that it just could not happen and, if it did, I am sure that we would have more provinces wanting to separate.

However, this is the kind of problem that we as farmers have been living with for a lot of years. I just want to make it clear to the parliamentary secretary and to members in western Canada especially that the farming industry is still the industry that drives the whole economy.

Once we lose the farmers and the farming industry there will not be much left to save in the western provinces, or probably in the whole country. That is why it is very important that we start to work as a unit in the House to protect farmers, food processors and marketing agencies in a manner which will put more money into the pockets of farmers.

The cash advance program, as far as interest free loans on certain amounts are concerned, in my opinion, is the right direction. But when a farmer has a disaster and is probably in dire need of some cash in the spring, to make him pay interest on the first $50,000 to me is totally ridiculous. I do not think that is what farmers really want or that it will benefit the farming industry as a whole.

The Reform Party is very strong on making agriculture a very viable, market driven industry and farmers should be paid for their labour and should get a fair price for what they produce.

When I see the cost of producing a bushel of grain today and I see how much more efficient farmers have become and how their production has increased every year and their increased capability of feeding the world population and then they get hammered at every corner by government or by regulations, things must change.

One example I brought forward yesterday was past management and the harmonization of rules and regulations between the U.S. and Canada. Last year I noticed an article in one the farm papers which said that Ontario farmers illegally brought into the country about $11 million worth of chemicals to use on their corn production and a blind eye was turned to that. It did not seem to bother law enforcement officers or government officials that this was happening.

Then another farm paper stated that farmers went to jail to try and get an extra dollar for a bushel of grain. Something is wrong in this country.

Bureaucrats and politicians have been doing this for a lot of years. In 1992, before I was elected to the House, I know Grandin wheat was being smuggled into the Canadian system. Some farmers were for it and others were against it, but a blind eye was turned to the breaking of the law.

When customs officers wanted to intervene and uphold the law because some farmers were not just breaking the law but probably making huge profits, they were told by Ag Canada and by other officials in government to just turn a blind eye to the issue. "We will not prosecute".

I came to the House to make sure that it was run in a fashion that upheld the laws of the country. When I see certain issues such as that one not being addressed and issues such as advanced payments again nailing the farmer who has had a disaster in his production cycle, we need a different government in Ottawa. Over the past 25 or 30 years we have discovered that Tories and Liberals are the same. They are only concerned about getting the bucks into the east. The west might as well disappear.

That is why 52 Reformers are here. The slogan was: "The west wants in". We are here and we are going to stay here.

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12:20 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed my colleague's comments, as I always do. He is very knowledgeable about agriculture and the agriculture legislation that comes before this place.

Of the 50 Reform MPs that were elected this term, seven are still actively farming or were active farmers prior to being elected to this place. A number of Reform MPs speak with a certain amount of knowledge about agricultural issues and the hon. member for Lisgar-Marquette is one of them.

In the few minutes I have I would like to relay something which happened to me as the member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River recently in connection with the Canadian Wheat Board. I will relate the story to my colleague and ask him to comment because I know he has done a lot of research and has taken some strong positions with respect to reform of the Canadian Wheat Board.

There was a bill before the House, which for some mysterious reason has not come back since the Easter break, called Bill C-72. I wanted to ascertain if there was a consensus of the farmers in my riding so that I could speak with authority in the House of Commons and vote accordingly.

I approached the Canadian Wheat Board. I had about 10 questions which I wanted to ask specifically about the bill. I wanted to ask those questions of Canadian Wheat Board permit book holders. Obviously, as anyone who has done polling or surveying will know, you do not want to dilute the results on an issue such as this by surveying ranchers or dairymen or other people who would not be in the business of exporting grain. It was key to having the most accurate results possible for my survey to target Canadian Wheat Board permit book holders.

I called the office of the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg and explained to them that I wanted the mailing list for all Canadian Wheat Board permit book holders in the B.C. Peace region, for both north and south Peace. They explained to me that they could not give out the mailing list under any circumstances. It had to be kept secret.

I explained who I was. I faxed them a copy of my questionnaire. I was not trying to hide anything. I was not trying to ask loaded questions or anything like that. They still would not help me, as the elected member of the people of that region.

I then said: "Out of my member's operating budget I will send you the questionnaire, pre-sealed, in envelopes. All you have to do is print out the labels, put the labels on the envelopes and send them out. I will pay someone at the Canadian Wheat Board office in Winnipeg for however many hours it takes to print out the labels, affix them to the envelopes and mail them out". They still refused to provide that service, even if I was going to cover their costs. Therefore I could not accurately poll the permit book holders in my riding on the issue.

I find it very deeply troubling that an organization such as the Canadian Wheat Board, which is supposedly there for the betterment of farmers, would not allow a member of Parliament, regardless of political stripe, the opportunity to accurately survey constituents on such an important issue.

That is the story of one of my experiences with the Canadian Wheat Board. It is very secretive. It is well known that the

Canadian Wheat Board, like CSIS, does not have to comply with access to information requests. Farmers and Canadians are becoming increasingly troubled by that.

I want to ask my colleague if he has had the similar experience of running up against a brick wall with the Canadian Wheat Board and not being able to access a mailing list so that he could properly survey constituents.

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12:25 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

As the House probably knows, I have been a critic of the Canadian Wheat Board, not because it is the Canadian Wheat Board and that it has a job to do, but because it is such a closed shop. It does not give farmers the right to direct its affairs. It does not give farmers the right to really look into its books to see what is going on.

I would like to point out to my colleague that about a year and a half ago, when I was serving on the subcommittee on transportation, we had the advisory board appear before us. At that time barley was being shipped to Thunder Bay, put in boxcars and shipped to California to fulfil some prearranged contract sales. It was very foolish to ship it all the way to Thunder Bay and then by rail to California instead of going through Vancouver and down the coastline. A lot of money could have been saved for the Canadian farmer.

I saw the article and phoned the Canadian Wheat Board after the advisory board was before us. It mentioned that boxcars were going from Thunder Bay to California. According to our transportation policy boxcars were supposed to be going to Churchill and not to Thunder Bay. The hopper cars were supposed to be going to Thunder Bay.

I had my researcher contact the Canadian Wheat Board on the issue. I wanted to find out how many boxcars were being tied up in shipping grain to California instead of going to Churchill where there was a need for them. My researcher was informed that the information was not to be divulged to the public. It was none of my business. As a member of Parliament I was trying to reorganize the transportation system and trying to make government agencies such as the wheat board accountable to the producers, the people who really depend on it. I was told that the information was not for my perusal. It could indicate something was going on that should not be going on.

The port of Churchill was in desperate need of grain. We could ship grain through that port for $35 a tonne cheaper than we could do it through Thunder Bay. That is the way the ball bounces for farmers. I am getting disturbed over those issues. They will be looked at in the next election.

We have had 25 or 30 years of Tory and Liberal governments that have neglected farm organizations and farmers. They have more or less directed their focus on eastern interests. The St. Lawrence seaway cannot function without grain going through it. There is no interest on the part of the government to produce the grain as efficiently as it can or transport it out of the country as cost effectively as it can to compete on the world market. All it is interested in is buying votes for the next election. I think that will change. I thank my colleague for the question.

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12:30 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-34. We will support the bill because enough in it should be presented to farmers.

Why is the bill coming before the House now for final debate? It has been around at least two years. For some time farmers have been calling for the legislation to pass. It has been let sit. It was not of particular interest to the government to deal with it in spite of a very light legislative load before the House.

The government has debated very little of importance since Parliament was called. Very little of importance has passed. In spite of that these pieces of legislation, Bill C-34 and Bill C-38, were forgotten somewhere in a stack on the parliamentary secretary's desk or something. That is unacceptable.

The government has shown a lack of caring and a lack of interest when it comes to farmers. We will raise its record with farmers across the country. They can compare it to what we have proposed, pushed for and presented in our agriculture policy sheet since the last election. We have presented many ideas. Farmers will see the choice is very simple to make and will choose Reform.

Why was the legislation brought forward now? Why was it forgotten on the parliamentary secretary's desk? I cannot answer the questions. There is a rumour that I find difficult to believe, but it could be true there is to be an election. I would not expect it because there are still six months before the four-year mandate is up. I suspect the election will be called between six months and a year and a half from now. That is what normally happens.

A government only calls an election early, especially this early after only 3.5 years, if it is afraid of holding off a little longer. The government has a lot of reason to be afraid of calling the election after four years, as is normal. It was given a five-year mandate. Calling an election after 3.5 years would mean an extra election over a 10-year period and extra cost. What does an election cost? Maybe $400 million, with all the costs to taxpayers. It is somewhere in that range. There will be an extra $400 million spent over a 10-year period and for that reason I doubt the rumour is true.

Let us say that the rumour is true and an election is called in the next few months, or maybe even the next few weeks. I have even heard that rumour. Why would it be that the government held off on the legislation until now? Why would that be?

Could it be that the government is absolutely terrified farmers will reject them en masse because of Bill C-68, the gun control legislation? It has been widely rejected across the country by farmers and by many people in cities and small towns. It is a bad piece of legislation. Farmers will be considering that piece of legislation very carefully when they go to the polls in rural areas.

Could the legislation have been forgotten on the parliamentary secretary's desk deliberately? Not caring about the situation it could put farmers in, it was put aside on the minister's desk to be kept until just before an election call to try to make farmers forget that the $120 million figure that comes the legislation. That is not what it will mean to farmers but it is the political figure that will be thrown around. Could this have been saved until just before election time to cover up for Bill C-68?

Or, could it have been left and forgotten on the parliamentary secretary's desk because farmers remember Bill C-33, the legislation that gives special rights to homosexuals? We now have to pay benefits for any of my staff who claim they are in a same sex relationship. This us what Bill C-33 led to. This was widely rejected right across the country and very strongly in rural areas.

Could the bill have been left on the parliamentary secretary's desk, on the bottom of the pile in the dark, until just now? Surely the government would not be so blatantly willing to cost Canadians an extra $400 million for an election that should not be held until after four years. However, let us say that it is the case. Is the legislation being used to cover up some very bad pieces of legislation rural areas would rather the government had forgotten? That is the reason it was been left on his desk.

I will talk a bit about the bill. Later I will talk about some related issues. Most Reform MPs will support the legislation. We have some very grave concerns about it that I will talk about. Some members have already spoken about the bill and what it deals with regarding advance payments and so on. They have also talked about what it is not.

The concerns of the Reform Party and the changes we tried to make were in four main areas. First, we say a limit should be entrenched on government contingent liability instead of just an open ended liability. Most taxpayers do not accept an open ended liability. An upper limit should be entrenched in the legislation, or the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food should review any increases in the legislation on a regular basis rather than just having orders in council. Orders in council have the power to act on their own. Under the legislation the minister has the power to determine an acceptable liability without it ever coming to Parliament. That fits in with the lack of democratic process the government has shown over the 3.5 years it has been in power.

Second, farmers should be allowed access to emergency advances on an interest free basis but only within part of the existing $50,000 interest free portion. That did not happen either.

Third, we have pushed the government to eliminate the government purchases program which allows government under certain completely unspecified circumstances and with unspecified crops to buy crops. This supposedly helps farmers out of serious situations. It has not been used since 1985 and we really do not know what it is to be used for. It has not been defined in any way. It is bad legislation when it has no guidelines.

Fourth, we pushed throughout the process for all agricultural organizations to be treated the same with regard to this legislation. That has not happened. Which body was given a two-year reprieve from enactment of the legislation? The Canadian Wheat Board. Why would I be surprised by that?

Wheat board commissioners run the board. Farmers have absolutely no say in what happens with the board. We do not even know what is going on inside the wheat board. Everything is kept top secret, a level of secrecy equal to CSIS and the privy council. It is unbelievable. It is the only organization given a two-year reprieve from the legislation. It is no surprise. Government members are in bed with wheat board commissioners.

The wheat board serves a very useful purpose for Canadian farmers. I have always supported it as a marketing agency. However farmers accountability. They want to know what goes on inside the wheat board. They want some answers when they have questions. They want the auditor general to have access to what goes on inside the board. For Pete's sake, the auditor general cannot even get at it. We get no answers.

Only through a leaked document did we find out that commissioners who are fired or choose to leave are paid a severance package of up to $290,000. It is unbelievable.

Why was that the only organization the government decided to give a two-year reprieve in the enactment of the legislation? It is no surprise but it is not acceptable either. Those are the changes we have pushed for regarding Bill C-34.

Again we support this legislation because it is something that farmers want. We believe that the advanced payments do provide

some stability in the whole grain marketing industry. We believe that is required and it has been our policy all along. We support it for that reason but it is unfortunate that the changes we proposed were not dealt with.

I have already talked a bit about why this has come up now. Of course I cannot say why and I would not want in any way to guess at motives. However, the timing is really strange. Could it be that this government is really concerned with the problems in other areas of agriculture which have been brought about directly as a result of its action and inaction?

For example, we have a problem in the grain industry right now. I have neighbours who right now should have all of their supplies on hand for seeding. They should be starting to seed two to three weeks down the road. However, they do not have the money to do that because they have not been able to move their grain. Why can they not move their grain? This government, in the three pieces of legislation that dealt with grain marketing, has failed miserably.

An example is the elimination by this government of the Crow benefit, the Crow subsidy as it was called, which the Reform Party supported. However, our policy was that it should go into a trade distortion adjustment program so that it would be there to help fight the trade battles such as those provided by the European Economic Community and the export enhancement program in the United States. That was our policy that we ran on before the last election. We said that the money should go into that but we recognized that the Crow subsidy was doing a lot of damage moving grain out to central Canada so that all the value added took place in central Canada or in fact encouraged exports through a subsidy so that processing would take place outside the country. That does not make any sense, so eliminating it made sense.

However, there were changes that had to take place before this move was made and they just did not happen.

The same types of changes should have been made when CN was privatized. The same types of changes should have been made with the new Canadian transportation act. Those changes are changes which would have made the transportation system much more effective. It would have brought competition into the system and allowed for competition. It would have dealt with the car allocation problem which just has not been dealt with in any way after 3.5 years of this government knowing when it first came that it was a huge problem. It knew car allocation was not working. We had a special subcommittee set up to deal with that but it just did not happen. Therefore the car allocation system is failing dismally. The wheat board as too much control over car allocation. That is a big part of the reason why we do not have grain moving properly now.

As a result of action and inaction on the part of this government, I have neighbours who just are not going to have the money to buy the inputs to seed this year's crop. They go hat in hand to the banks. Some banks in some cases will lend the money. In other cases, because of the drought situation that we have had for many years in our part of the country, there are many bankers who will not lend the money to farmers. We are going to have farmers who will not be able to seed their crops this year. For many of them it is going to mean the end of their farming careers and the loss of their family farms in many cases.

Why? This government did nothing to allow competition in the system. It did not put in a series of incentives and penalties so that railways and grain companies would perform. It would not put in place, as we recommended, a system of final offer arbitration to deal with disputes with captive shippers. We talked about it under the new Canada transportation act and the privatization of CN and the legislation that eliminated the Crow or the debate around that issue.

We proposed this. We said let us do it. At the committee we proposed the changes that would have given captive shippers the power to deal with the railways and with grain handling companies when they did not perform. Unfortunately those changes were not made.

We have a system that predictably is not working. We predicted that this system would not work with the changes that this government put in place. It was predictable, unfortunately. It has happened.

Now we have grain farmers in a very serious situation where their grain is left, in some cases, in piles on the ground and will spoil. In other cases the bins are full but they cannot get money to seed the crops.

Of course, the wheat board did not help this situation out with its price forecast set extremely high when farmers went into planting last year. Of course, now we are finding that the actual price that farmers are getting for their grain has dropped off to such a low level that it certainly has not helped the problem.

That is the problem and it is the reason that this government brought this legislation up now. It wants to cover up for its inaction and in some cases for its actions since the last election.

Do the Liberals want to cover up that they have delivered on less than 25 per cent of the promises they made in the area of agriculture? That is the case.

While I support this legislation I want farmers to recognize, as I am sure they do, that this is an election ploy. They were left in the lurch for I do not know how long. It seems to me it has been two years since the legislation was proposed. Farmers will recognize that is why this legislation has been held off the table for so long.

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12:50 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, that presentation by my hon. colleague from Vegreville was very informative. I cannot believe how much information he packed into a short 20 minute presentation to the House of Commons today.

I notice the rapt attention from the Liberal members opposite. I hope it was not just an act, that they were really paying attention and drawing in the expertise and the knowledge this hon. member has on these important topics.

As I indicated earlier, the reality is that in the Reform Party we have quite a number in our caucus who were actively farming and who know the difference between a bushel of wheat and a potato.

I am not sure that there are some on the other side who know the difference or even for that matter care that much about the difference. They try to talk about how much they care about the plight of the western farmer but I really do not see it being brought forward in any substantive legislation.

As my hon. colleagues have said, we are supporting this piece of legislation even though it does not go near even far enough to address the real issues that are out there in the farm community, the farm community in western Canada and the grain producers of western Canada specifically.

Since my colleague has gone to such trouble to very eloquently articulate his concerns not only about this piece of legislation but about the situation facing grain farmers in particular, I would certainly like to hear more.

He made some reference during his speech that he would not really want to imply why the government is bringing forward this legislation presumably at the 11th hour. He did remark that there are rumours rampant that we are going to go into an election when there is really no need to at this point.

The government has no pressing concern why we could not have extended the legislative agenda to ensure that all proper avenues were taken to properly debate and bring forward amendments on legislation and improve it. Instead it waits and waits and then just before an impending election it will rush ahead with this bill as well as with a few others.

I would ask my hon. colleague if he could expound a bit further on what he suspects are the possible motives for the government's inaction for so long. Now all of a sudden it has hurried its legislative agenda in the last week or two.

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12:55 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not in any way going to try to guess the motives. Look at the situation and the rumours that an election will be called in less than six months. Some say it will be called on April 27. That has been mentioned a lot. But that is early and I think Canadians are going to punish the government if it does call an election six months before the earliest acceptable date of four years. Farmers are also going to punish them if the government does that.

I am wondering why the government is raising this now, why it has been put ahead of a lot of other legislation which it stated is very important to it. I would guess that the reason is the Liberals want to deal with the negative reaction to their so-called gun control bill. It is really a bill that imposes penalties on law-abiding gun owners and makes things extremely difficult for them. It overrides normally accepted judicial principles. The legislation puts in place gun registration which will cost by some estimates at least $500 million. That is money that is not available for health care or other things that are really important to Canadians.

Maybe the Liberals are trying to get people to forget about that. Maybe they are trying to get farmers to forget about other legislation that has hurt them very dramatically, legislation such as on transportation which was a dismal failure.

We called for changes to that transportation legislation which would have made things better for farmers. Unfortunately it was not put in place.

The government says it puts agriculture at a high priority. There are two other pieces of legislation which really affect farmers quite dramatically and which are on the table right now. One is Bill C-65, the endangered species legislation. It is another piece of legislation that if it is rammed through before the election is called it will really put farmers in a very awkward situation. I am mentioning farmers because we are talking about an agricultural bill right now. Any land user or owner could be put in a very awkward situation by this endangered species legislation which allows government to mandate that land users, land owners will have to spend money to fence off an area to protect an endangered species or lose the use of their land completely without compensation. That is the key. There will be no compensation for losing the use of their land. There will be nothing to help pay for the cost of fencing the land.

This will not only affect farmers. Think of someone who intends to build a business in an industrial park and a habitat for an endangered species is found in the park. The endangered species legislation can require that the land will never be used for development. The value of the land could be lost almost entirely. Would they be compensated for that? No.

That is another piece of legislation that maybe the Liberals want farmers to forget about. Or could it be the wheat board legislation? I did polls in my constituency and there was one done in the constituency of Beaver River concerning the wheat board. I tabled the results with the agriculture committee of the survey done by Tele Research out of Edmonton. In Beaver River 92 per cent of farmers wanted a choice in marketing grain. They want the wheat board to remain but they want the monopoly removed. They want

what many call a dual marketing system. They want choice in marketing.

Bill C-72 does not give them that choice. The plebiscite that the government held on barley marketing did not even have the option of choice on the ballot. Farmers either have to market their barley through the board in a monopoly situation, or the board would be abolished. That was the choice.

Maybe with this legislation the government is trying to cover up Bill C-72 which is not supported by farmers. It will not give farmers any substantial control over the wheat board. It will make it more difficult for farmers to change the board and to remove the monopoly.

Bill C-72 was rammed through committee. It is a very complex bill. It deals with the Canadian Wheat Board, which is a very complex and secretive organization. I did not feel that I was given enough time to look at each clause as we were going through the bill. I examined the clauses ahead of time and was prepared, but I do not believe the proper amount of time was given at committee to go through the clauses and lay out arguments. The legislation is being rammed through. Farmers do not want it. Maybe the government is trying to cover it up with this bill.

It is not that this bill is a big deal for farmers. Advance payments have been around for many years. This is not putting anything new in place, it is just changing the legislation to ensure that advance payments will not be eliminated.

My best guess why this legislation has come up now is because, according to the rumours in the media, an election will be called some time in the very near future, some time like Sunday, April 27 at one o'clock in the afternoon.