Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like to give a brief historical overview of the Canadian Wheat Board.
First of all, we must remember the good old days, or perhaps the bad old days, of the famous 1929 depression. In the mid-1930s, when the western grain producers were breaking their backs to raise crops they could sell for only a pittance, the government of the day created a board to organize sales of western grain.
At that time, membership in the Canadian Wheat Board was optional. There was no monopoly. Only around the middle of the second world war, or near the end, in 1943, did the Canadian Wheat Board become a monopoly.
Since then, the Canadian Wheat Board has undergone only slight changes. More than two years ago now, we in this House began to look at a certain bill, Bill C-72, which died on the Order Paper because the government decided to call an early election. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on examining Bill C-72, and then the House had to start all over again with the Minister of Natural Resources, who in the former Parliament was responsible for the Wheat Board in his capacity as Minister of Agriculture.
He now wears another hat, but the Prime Minister has also given him the additional responsibility for the Canadian Wheat Board, thus taking it away from the new Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. And why? I will leave that up to your imagination.
The Minister of Natural Resources, who is responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, revived Bill C-72, this time calling it C-4. It is a wide-ranging bill, since it affects three western provinces in their entirety, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as part of British Columbia.
It is very important, and because of its importance, they are setting a time limit. This is not the end of a session, and the government's legislative menu is quite slim. We have nothing to sink our teeth into. We had Bill C-4, which was reasonably important, and then bang, down comes the guillotine. Third reading starts at 10 a.m. and voting is at 5:30 p.m.
Bill C-4 will change the Canadian Wheat Board from a conventional crown corporation into a private group. However the government is keeping its foot in the door, because it can democratically elect ten members to the board of directors, which, with the help of the governor in council, can make five appointments, including, most importantly, that of the president, whom it can also dismiss.
I criticize these appointments day in and day out in this House. They become a sort of cancer when the time comes to make these prestigious and weighty appointments. Patronage appointments will be made. And when you know the government's system in Parliament, you can predict who is going to be appointed president of the Canadian Wheat Board. It will no doubt be a Liberal, who will be well paid and a good friend of the Minister of Natural Resources.
It will also serve to free up a riding, as in the case of the riding of Beauce, or to compensate various members from Nova Scotia who were defeated in the last election and give them something to put in their mouth and on their toast in the morning. They will be appointed to the office of the Minister of Natural Resources or the Boston office. We need only think of André Ouellet, who used to be here, or David Berger, who of course became Canada's ambassador to Israel.
If it is a private business, if the Canadian Wheat Board is an independent company, why impose a president, who will essentially be running the entire Canadian Wheat Board? Worse yet, because it will no longer be a crown corporation, it will escape the scrutiny of our good auditor general, Denis Desautels, who makes all of government shake when he tables his report, because, with his extremely well-structured team, he can examine this type of corporation and its operation to determine if it is truly efficient and whether it puts the producers or certain patronage recipients first.
Instead, Deloitte & Touche will have the huge responsibility of auditing the books of the Canadian Wheat Board. Did this same accounting firm not make a substantial contribution to the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada in the last general election? Do you recall? Perhaps someone could check on Deloitte & Touche.
This government takes good care of those who show their gratitude. In the interest of transparency, we in the Bloc Quebecois would like to see Denis Desautels, the Auditor General of Canada, and his team audit the books of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The figures are well-known, but let me remind you that, in 1998-99, total sales will exceed $7 billion. Even a one-thousandth of one percent error would represent a significant amount of money. If the goal is to work in the interest of grain producers, we should have no hesitation in ensuring that its administration is as transparent as possible.
I can recall that, last spring, my colleague from the riding next to mine, the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, pointed a finger at the Prime Minister and the Minister of Natural Resources, as well as the Minister of Human Resources Development, because a bagman would show up two weeks after the minister to collect. He can be named, since we have immunity here. It was Mr. Corbeil, if memory serves, who trailed around after the minister and collected funds.
In the interests of transparency, we should not be afraid to have the books examined closely by qualified individuals, who will do the job for less than Deloitte & Touche. Finally, on this same topic, since it is no longer an ordinary crown corporation, the good old Access to Information Act will put a stop to any further questions. Grain producers will not be entitled to find out about hidden defects, about resolutions or decisions that have been taken on their behalf, but that the information commissioner cannot investigate for them.
Transparency is all but non-existent in Bill C-4.
That reminds me of when western Canada was given an advantage—my colleague, the member for Lévis reminded me of this just a few minutes ago—in the form of the well known Western Grain Transportation Act, commonly known as the Crow rate. Every year, it was costing us close to $1 billion in direct subsidies for grain transportation.
Obviously, some people turned this Western Grain Transportation Act to their personal advantage, and were no longer paying a red cent. They even made money by having boxcars go to Thunder Bay and return to Vancouver with the same wheat.
Because the government was abolishing a privilege that was apparently their permanent due, western grain producers were given almost $3 billion free of provincial and federal taxes. As my colleague, the member for Lévis, reminded me, some producers used this $3 billion to diversify their production. Instead of paying to ship their grain, they decided to keep it for local use.
They could not turn to dairy, poultry, chicken or egg production, because of the quota system. What was left that did not have a quota? Pork.
Two things happened. In Brandon, a gigantic slaughterhouse that could handle over 35,000 hogs a week is being built. Multiply 35,000 by 52 and you have quite a year. That is one thing.
The second is that the price of pork has gone way down. Our pork producers in Quebec are losing money daily, as we speak.