But we do have some credibility on this issue and if the hon. parliamentary secretary across the way would like to shut up for a minute, he might be interested in learning something.
With this bill I would like to say that someone recently said to me that the minister is taking care of western Canadian grain farmers about like Alan Eagleson is taking care of hockey players. It was not me who said that. That is a western Canadian who has viewed this issue and this debate over the last year and a half.
I would like to take the House and the viewing audience, certainly western Canadian grain farmers watching this debate today with interest, on a trip down memory lane. I believe it will be time well spent for me to take the members of this House step by step down this long dead-end road.
For many of my Reform colleagues this is a story with which we are all too familiar. They have been listening to farmers, processors and any other stakeholders in the grain industry. Reformers have an intimate knowledge of the setback these organizations and individuals are facing because of this dismal piece of legislation.
However, for those Canadians who are new to the debate, primarily those in eastern Canada who are fortunate enough to fall beyond the reach of the almighty Canadian Wheat Board I have an obligation to tell them this story detailing a lack of accountability, misrepresentation and arrogance by this very government.
I will not pick up the story where it actually began because that date is hard to pinpoint. Discontent and frustration have been brewing for many years among western grain farmers who are forced to sell their wheat and barley through the Canadian Wheat Board. The Canadian Wheat Board was formed in 1935 as an interim measure to control pre-war inflation. It was not until 1943 that the board was given monopoly powers by the government when farmers refused to sell to the Canadian Wheat Board because they were getting much better prices on the open market. So it was a short term wartime inflation controlling measure. That is how the monopoly came into existence.
In modern times many farmers have long felt that they are better prepared and better equipped to market their grain outside the board. Capability aside, many simply want the freedom to make the attempt, willingly accepting any consequences that might arise.
Under the wheat board farmers must blindly hand over the product of their labour and accept the resulting payments that stem from decisions by government appointees who have no accountability to the prairie farmers.
After all, the Canadian Wheat Board is exempt from the Access to Information Act and from audits by the Auditor General of Canada. The minister referred to this during his speech. Both these democratic mechanisms exist in any other federal body in order that Canadian taxpayers can exercise their right to question the use of their tax dollars. For western wheat and barley growers not only are their tax dollars potentially at stake but their entire livelihood.
Is the Canadian Wheat Board getting the best price for farmers' grain? Is the Canadian Wheat Board performing responsibly in the best interest of farmers and to ensure the viability and survival of the grain industry? Is the Canadian Wheat Board acting ethically in its domestic and international business? Is the Canadian Wheat Board really the most cost effective and efficient marketing agent for western Canadian grain?
These are the types of questions the auditor general would ask and would analyse were he given the task of auditing the Canadian Wheat Board. These are all simple and reasonable questions for which the shareholders of any other organization could expect to get a response.
This accountability blackout has prompted farmers to organize mass protests and acts of civil disobedience. More serious protest has come in the form of law breaking as some farmers take desperate measures to carry their grain across the U.S. border to access higher prices. Instead of taking actions to remedy this dispute the federal government has pursued the harshest of fines and jail sentences. Western grain farmers join rapists and drug dealers in prison. In fact, it is worse than that. Farmers languish in prison while rapists receive conditional sentencing and get off with community service.
On the other side of this debate there are grain farmers who are content with marketing their product through the Canadian Wheat Board and we recognize that. They have every right to choose that course. Many are comfortable with the return on their grain received from the Canadian Wheat Board. They enjoy the security and do not wish to venture into marketing their own grain. These producers are alarmed by the lobbying efforts of other farmers attempting to gain the right to market outside the board.
As a result there exists in western Canada a very divisive and often emotional debate on the future of the CWB. This dispute has caused rifts in normally close farming communities and even amid families themselves.
One thing that all sides agree on is that something substantial must be done. That includes compromise for both sides and a view to other domestic and international pressures which are coming into play.
Way back in 1994 western grain farmers thought they had actually caught a glimpse of leadership when the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, then the agriculture minister, hinted publicly at a sweeping review and consultative process to help find solutions to this controversy.
It was a fleeting glimpse indeed. The minister dithered and delayed and promised and made excuses until finally, just when farmers were beginning to give up, he at long last announced the establishment of the western grain marketing panel in July 1995. It was a long wait indeed.
The usefulness of the panel was at first questioned by some because of the significant number of government appointees on the nine person panel. In addition, the panel was not to begin its work until January 1996. But there were some good choices on the panel and many felt that, criticism aside, the panel was indeed a good idea. It meant hope for change, even if it had to come nearly two years after the minister's first promise of action.
The western grain marketing panel was not to report its findings until June 1996.
The mandate of the panel was indeed encouraging. It was to explore the issue of single desk selling versus dual marketing, CWB accountability to farmers and realistic planning in light of international pressures to name but a few.
The panel held 15 workshops across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in January 1996. It conducted 13 days of formal public hearings and received 150 oral and written submissions.
On July 9, 1996 the western grain marketing panel released its recommendations on the reform of the Canadian Wheat Board. Key recommendations in the report addressed the underlying issue of freedom of choice and CWB powers.
The panel unequivocally rejected proposals that the current powers of the CWB be preserved and that the board's jurisdiction be expanded. It rejected those proposals.
It called for a removal of feed barley export sales from the board monopoly as soon as possible. The report concluded that farmers should have the freedom to choose to remove at least 25% of their sales from the pool and ask for forward cash prices from the board.
Organic grain was to be removed from the board. The report clearly stated that the jurisdiction of the wheat board not be expanded to other grains, oilseeds or special crops.
These recommendations all had one central theme, reduce the jurisdiction of the CWB and under no circumstances allow it to meddle in other grains.
Reaction to the panel's report was fairly positive. Legal challenges to the CWB were being rethought as many expected, incorrectly as it turns out, that the minister would table legislation to enact the panel's recommendations.
Since the election of 1994 one of the biggest issues the minister encountered was the demand for a plebiscite to determine whether barley should remain under the CWB monopoly. Once again, true to form, the minister dithered, delayed, promised and made excuses.
Meanwhile the province of Alberta got tired of waiting for the federal Canadian Wheat Board minister to take action. On December 6, 1995 the Alberta government held its own plebiscite on the CWB. Of Alberta's 15,000 grain farmers who voted, 62% voted in favour of marketing their wheat outside the CWB. Fully two-thirds or 66% voted in favour of selling their barley to any buyer, including the wheat board.
Alberta grain farmers voted for the freedom to choose. They voted to control their own destiny.
The two questions on the voting ballots were direct. There was the real question of choice, did farmers wish to sell their grain to any buyer, including the wheat board. It outlined choices which included the Canadian Wheat Board.
The minister continued to procrastinate. He even attempted to deter the Alberta government from holding its plebiscite. This is what he had to say about the results of the Alberta plebiscite, which were nothing short of astounding. The minister said the results were interesting from an academic point of view.
I do not believe the Alberta farmers who took the time and effort to exercise their democratic privilege of voting in that plebiscite thought of it as academic. We could only hope that the minister's election to the House of Commons was academic. Grain farmers might not be in this unfortunate position today.
Let us fast forward to the months following the release of the western grain marketing panel's report. By October it had become clear that the panel had not told the minister what he wanted to hear, so he intended to ignore many of its recommendations. For the minister it became a matter of having tried that but, not liking the answer, he was going to try something else where he had more control over the answer. That is how the minister finally decided to hold the long awaited plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board.
However, the vote was limited to the marketing of barley. More important, the question was designed to get the minister the outcome he wanted. Unlike the Alberta plebiscite, the federal vote gave barley growers just two choices, either they were for the Canadian Wheat Board or they were against it. Barley was to be either in or out, no in between. It was a simple question, simply deceitful.
The minister and everyone else involved in or knowledgeable about the Canadian grain industry knows that asking this question was missing the point entirely. The reality is that most farmers do not wish for the complete elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board from the grain business. They just want the monopoly to be removed.
The barley question entirely missed the point and has been the focus of the controversy for several years. It was just one more example of feigned consultation by this government.
The barley vote results were announced on March 25, 1996. Given no alternatives and no choice, 62.9% voted to keep the barley under the Canadian Wheat Board. Imagine what the result would have been if the question had been properly asked. Had they been offered more options, many farmers would have easily voted differently. After the results became known, Canadian Wheat Board supporters hoped for a truce in the wheat board dispute.
It did not come. Discontent was even more inflamed due to the injustice of the minister's barley question. Any hope for progress in the controversy through the legislative avenues available were dashed when on December 3, 1996 Bill C-72, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act, was introduced in the House. This bill was the predecessor to the bill we are debating today, Bill C-4. None of the recommendations by the western Canadian grain marketing panel I outlined earlier was contained in Bill C-72.
I see I only have one minute left. I could go on and on about the dismal history of this bill and how it came to be. However, in the closing minute I have I want to refer to the fact that the minister reportedly said that we on this side of the House had put forward an amendment at report stage to have the Canadian Wheat Board adhere to the Auditor General of Canada.
The fact is this minister has been constantly holding up that the existing auditor does exactly the same job as the Auditor General of Canada. That is simply false. It is not accurate. In light of that, I would like to move the following motion:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:
“Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the standing committee on agriculture for the purpose of reconsidering clause 8 in section 9 to ensure that the board show such particulars and furnish such information as requested for the purpose of an audit by the auditor general; and provide such records and information as requested under the Access to Information Act in so far as the records and information requested have been in the process or under the control of the corporation for at least three years before the day on which the request is received by the corporation and that the corporation shall continue to be a government institution within the meaning of the Access to Information Act”.
I believe it is in order. If this motion is agreed to and the bill is referred back to the committee then the hon. minister could introduce any amendment—