Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate today on Bill C-34, which will establish the agricultural marketing programs act. The bill will consolidate a number of programs. I believe the consolidation which the government has undertaken is good. It will cut out some of the bureaucracy in the department of agriculture. Specifically it deals with the advance payments program which I would like to address in detail and give some background on to explain why the advance payments are necessary and how they have developed over the years.
Many farmers take advantage of the cash advances program. I did so myself. For those farmers who want to pool their product and continue to use the Canadian Wheat Board, it is a useful tool for the future.
The Canadian Wheat Board does not always move product in a timely manner. It does not always suit individual needs. There is a reason for the cash advances program. I know that farmers take advantage of it so they do not have to worry about marketing their grain early in the fall when they need cash flow. There are those people who are happy to have the Canadian Wheat Board do their marketing for them. One of the tools which they use to manage their cash flow is the cash advances program.
However, a number of farmers in western Canada are not happy with the Canadian Wheat Board. In fact they have used other methods to find ways of getting around marketing their grain through the Canadian Wheat Board. Some grow commodities that the wheat board does not handle. They want out of the system. They want choice. They want to be able to sell their grain when it best suits them. They do not want to be part of the cash advances program and they would not use it.
The chair of the agriculture committee was in the House earlier. I believe he will be speaking on the bill at some point. He was in Grand Prairie with the agriculture committee to discuss Bill C-72. One of the farmers on one of the panels during that morning said that only one-third of his income came from Canadian Wheat Board crops and that it was becoming less and less over the years.
A neighbouring farmer to me, Terry Balisky, is a big farmer in the area. He is well known for managing a good operation. He went on to say that over the years he is getting out of crops that the Canadian Wheat Board administers or controls gradually and is getting into crops over which he has more management.
The chair of the committee asked him a very good question: "You are not growing crops under the Canadian Wheat Board. Is it because those crops are just not doing well in the world market or are there other reasons?" Terry did not have answer for him.
I asked him about that when we were having coffee later and he said: "I was thinking about that and I really did not answer that question properly. It is really all about timing". In his view the Canadian Wheat Board does not serve his needs because of the untimely manner in which it moves crops. It is not just the cash flow. Sometimes he has grain in the bins on his farm and that grain is carried over for more than one year. He finds that he can manage his operation far better by going to non-Canadian Wheat Board crops. It does not serve him well. I have heard other farmers say that as well.
When the western grain marketing panel was in Edmonton I listened to farmers making representation. The marketing panel travelled across western Canada at the behest of the minister of agriculture to find out what farmers wanted in terms of grain marketing in the future. I believe at this point that farmers want leadership. We were hoping that we would get that kind of leadership from the grain marketing panel in its recommendations to the minister of agriculture. Then he could act on the recommendations once the panel had listened to farmers from across western Canada in the Canadian Wheat Board designated marketing area. It
would give him its recommendations after listening and the minister would act.
One farmer I listened to was from the riding next to mine, Prince George-Peace River, B.C. His name is Gary Scott and he is another good farmer from that area. He was telling the panel that he basically grows no product now that requires Canadian Wheat Board control. I will summarize what he said.
He did not say that the Canadian Wheat Board does not function well for his neighbour. Many farmers want to use the Canadian Wheat Board. He was not telling the panel that the board should not be there. For his operation-and I know this is a big farmer and does a good job-the board does not serve him well. Different operations have different needs.
He said he might have a situation where he needed cash flow to make a payment in October and there are limits on how much can come out of the cash advances program. He might need to move some product at that time and even if he had to take a little bit less for it he was paying down a payment. One of his neighbours down the road has been in business for 35 years, has everything paid for and he does not have the same need. Therefore there are different needs in the farming community.
He was trying to say that there needs to be choice in grain marketing, a choice that reflects the different needs of farmers. My son and I and our families farm 1,500 acres in the Peace River country of Alberta. In my situation I would be happy to let the Canadian Wheat Board market my product but my 30-year-old son does not want that option. He wants to be able to go out and market his crops. He is a university graduate with some marketing skills. I wonder, what is wrong with that? There is something wrong with this picture when we will not allow that to happen. Surely we live in a free country and choice should be what this is all about.
In fact, we have choice in probably 97 per cent of the economy. We have a $750 billion plus GDP of this country. How much of it is under a monopoly situation? Not very much.
In the areas where there are monopolies such as public utilities or private utilities, where there is no competition, governments have done a fairly good job of putting in a public utilities board. Some avenue for redress has been put in for the public. That is not the case in grain marketing on exports sales of wheat and barley.
Just as my neighbours are using the board less and less, the board does not handle all the product that my son and I produce on our farm. We grow canola. It is a major crop. In fact it competes head to head with wheat in western Canada as to which has the highest sales volume per year. We grow fescue which is a lawn seed product. We grow rye from time to time. We grow peas and clovers. Farmers in western Canada are growing many commodities that are not marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board. We seem to be doing a pretty good job of handling those. In fact, I am glad of that choice and I think that those farmers who want to also market wheat and barley should be allowed to do so.
To get back to the history of what has been happening in western Canada, we need to look back just a bit beyond that. I would go back to the Uruguay round of the GATT. It took some eight or nine years to finally conclude the negotiations in 1992 when agriculture was brought under trade rules for the first time.
We have had trade rules for industrial products, goods and merchandise for a long time. After the second world war Canada was instrumental in working at the general agreement on tariffs and trade to establish trade rules. It was in our interest. After all in this last year 40 per cent of our gross domestic product was derived from exports. It is growing. Canada is a trading nation and we need some trade rules to work by.
I was glad when we finally reached an agreement under the Uruguay round of the GATT and agriculture was brought under trade rules for the first time. In fact we had a massive trade war in agriculture products raging at that time. Canada was devastated in that process.
While I believe that our agriculture producers can match or better anybody else in the world in terms of production, I know quite well that we cannot match their treasuries, especially the treasury of the European Union and the treasury of the United States. While our governments made a valiant effort to support farmers during that time, which was greatly needed and appreciated, we know that the long term solution was to have some phase down of that trade war and some rules in agriculture.
After the signing of the GATT, agriculture was brought under trade rules. Because it was the first step in that process we were not able to accomplish everything we wanted to do. It was a step in the right direction. Canada's border closures in the area of supply management were changed to tariffs. In other areas of agriculture, we were asked to phase down subsidies and tariffs over a scheduled period of time at a scheduled rate in concert at the same rate as all the other member countries that signed the GATT.
This was a phase down of tariffs and a phase down of subsidies world wide and I applaud that. Almost immediately following the introduction of trade rules in the GATT the trade war that had been raging in agriculture products pretty well came to an end. The export enhancement program in the United States is basically not
used. Canada in fact moved faster than anybody else. We phased out the GRIP program. We got out of the subsidy in transportation, the Crow rate. We were the model student in that whole program of the GATT. We phased down faster than anybody else.
I do not personally have a problem with that, although I guess some people would have said that we should have matched our phase down to that of other member countries.
We had already benefited from the old free trade agreement with the United States in the area of beef. In the 10 years of the free trade agreement with the United States the beef market is now continental, with a North American price. Exports have risen about 50 per cent in the beef industry. It is just a perfect example of a market driven industry and the beef producers in western Canada are saying: "Please don't give us any subsidies. Don't give us any programs that might attract the Americans' attention to us to say that our industry is subsidized and therefore they have some reason not to deal with us".
Things have improved greatly with trade rules in agriculture, but the one area for which I fault the Conservative government of the day in 1992 is supply management. It defended article 11 of supply management which was border closures. It did not want it converted to tariffs.
The Liberal government elected in 1993 continued with that and found that it was isolated at the GATT discussions in Geneva along with Japan and Korea. I believe it was a deliberate move. It could go there to argue that it would not give in to anybody else and that it would keep border closures. However it knew all along that it could not win the argument. It looked good at home politically but it knew it would be hit with tariffs, which is exactly what happened.
When I talk about leadership I believe the same thing is happening this time around. We have a built in agenda for work on the second phase of agriculture that will take place at the World Trade Organization in 1999. There is a working agenda. The Canadian government is playing the same game this time. It is playing the game of knowing there will be massive reductions in the tariffs on supply management. It knows that state trading enterprises such as the Canadian Wheat Board will be reviewed. It is not just on the agenda for Canada. It is on the agenda for a number of member countries such as the United States. These issues will be raised during the talks.
I am concerned the Canadian government is saying there will be no changes at all when it knows that state trading enterprises such as the Canadian Wheat Board will probably be hit, because there is no competition and they are monopolies, with having to be transparent. That is the trade-off to not having any competition.
People say that Cargill in the United States or Cargill in Canada does not have to show its books. That is true but there is competition. We do not have to deal with Cargill. There are a number of grain companies we can deal with. The Canadian Wheat Board has a very closed system and quite frankly cannot stand up to transparency.
I would suggest a proactive approach, showing some leadership and giving 10 per cent of farmers who want to market their grain outside the board the ability to do so. What is wrong with that?
A letter published in the last edition of Maclean's magazine from a farmer in western Canada essentially said the same thing. It was from Ken Motiuk of Mundare, Alberta. It appears on the guest page under ``The Road Ahead''. He wrote:
Western Canadian farmers are preparing to seed another crop.
Farmers fight the elements annually. They own and operate sophisticated farm equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have adopted new technologies. They manage annual cash flows that approach millions of dollars on larger operations. But they are not considered smart enough to market their own wheat and barley.
Farmers must cede that responsibility to the bureaucrats at the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg-government employees with no investment in the business, people who have never bottom-lined a business, people who don't manage their own pensions because the government even does that for them. In the consummate wisdom of our political masters in Ottawa, those people are more capable than we are of selling our wheat and barley. If we see a better price across the border, it is inaccessible. We can only long for it, like an adolescent with a forbidden magazine. Only the chosen ones in Winnipeg are able to access that market for us-after all appropriate deductions, of course.
And dare not cross the line with your own grain, for Ottawa will spare no cost or effort to hunt you down and see that justice is served. For the heinous crime of selling your grain across the border, you can expect to have law enforcement officers bust into your home in the early hours of the morning, scare your wife and children, seize your property, manacle you in handcuffs and leg-irons and put you behind bars. This is justice. For you have broken the law.
The gentleman continued:
My grandfather left Ukraine because the Czar's soldiers would imprison peasants for hiding wheat.
Does that not sound sort of similar to what we are talking about here? He wrote:
One hundred years later, here in Canada, we are being imprisoned for not turning our wheat over to the government for sale.
Don't get me wrong. This is a great country, and we have chosen it as a place to raise our family and run our business. But if we don't speak up, the bloated egos of Ottawa and Winnipeg bureaucrats will continue to confiscate our rights and freedoms.
That is a pretty powerful statement. The debate that is taking place in western Canada is all about choice. The minister of agriculture has not categorized this debate right. He is saying that there are those who want to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board and those who want to keep it. That is baloney.
The people I have listened to in my riding and the people who appeared before the committee on Bill C-72 as it travelled across the country did not want to destroy the board. They wanted choice for those who wanted to market through the board, pool their product and accept an average price. By all means those farmers could use it, but they did not want to be condemned to the same fate if they do not want to use it. I remind members that we have a $750 billion economy. Most of it runs on a free market principle, so what is wrong with that idea?
I hear Liberal members tell us what is good for us farmers in western Canada. My colleague from Lisgar-Marquette, my colleague from Vegreville and I run farm operations. I have been under the Canadian Wheat Board designated area. I say that we should let the board exist for those who want to use it but do not maintain that farmers who want choice cannot have another choice.
Members on that side do not know what they are talking about. There is only one member over there who has any credibility in the matter. Most of them are lawyers, supply management operators or a potato farmer from Prince Edward Island who have never been under the Canadian Wheat Board system. They have no credibility in the matter.
Farmers want leadership. They want to be proactive. They want to function well and to participate in the economy that will take us into the 21st century. They recognize the trade rules in agriculture have been a good thing for Canada. They also recognize that there will be further agricultural reform in the World Trade Organization. We could benefit from it. We do not have to hide. We do not have to be afraid of the change that is taking place.