House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree and I thank the House for indulging me. I assume it is because hon. members do not want to listen to me for 40 minutes.

I would like to clear up a potential misunderstanding. The hon. minister said in his presentation that some of the people involved in this debate did not know a bushel of barley from a bucket of rice.

I refer to that because part of the problem with the debate is that the Reform Party or the official opposition has been subject to allegations right from the beginning that somehow we are out to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board, that we are the enemies of the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like to elaborate on that point for a couple of minutes.

Currently there are 59 members in the Reform Party caucus. About half our caucus or 30 of them have farm backgrounds. They grew up on farms. They have friends and family members actively farming in western Canada. At least half of those, or 15 to 20 members, were actively farming before coming to this place. Some of them were very large commercial farm operations and enterprises.

It angers me when we are constantly bombarded from the government benches that somehow we do not have any credibility, that we are the enemies of the Canadian Wheat Board, that we want to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. This is the type of nonsense that we listen to on a daily basis and have been listening to for a year and a half.

I do not have time to go over each member's background but in deference to them I would refer to just a few.

The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain, a riding in Saskatchewan for those who might be viewing the debate today in TV land and do not know where that riding is, has been a grain farmer for more than 30 years. He has 648 acres cultivated, another 320 acres in pasture and another 320 acres of grazing leased.

The hon. member for Lakeland, Alberta, who will be splitting my time this morning, grew up on a farming ranch. He has been a grain farmer for 28 years. He has 1,000 acres cultivated and now crop shares because he does not have time to actively farm full time because he is a member of Parliament.

The hon. member for Yellowhead, Alberta, grew up on a farm and farm grained for 30 years. He has 1,000 acres cultivated and still actively farms. His sons are increasingly involved in the family operation.

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, Saskatchewan, who spoke moments ago grew up on a farm. He has been a grain farmer for seven years. He has 900 acres cultivated and 100 acres in pasture. He currently leases out his farm but he still lives on the farm.

The hon. member for Athabasca, Alberta, grew up on a farm. He has been a grain and cattle farmer for 35 years. He has 1,000 acres cultivated, 500 acres in pasture and has currently leased out his farm.

I grew up on a farm in British Columbia in Peace River country. I farmed grain and grew grass seed and canola for 20 years full time. My brother and I have 3,000 acres. We expanded the family farm over a number of years to eventually have 3,000 acres under cultivation. I recently sold my interest to my brother who still farms that farming operation in B.C.

The member for Selkirk—Interlake, Manitoba, grew up on a farm and has been a cattle rancher for 30 years. He has 250 acres cultivated and 3,800 acres in pasture. He still actively farms when he has time away from his MP duties.

The member for Portage—Lisgar, Manitoba, grew up on a farm and for 35 years has had a mixed farming operation. He has 1,900 acres cultivated, 500 acres in pasture and currently leases out his farm to family members.

The member for Wetaskiwin, Alberta, grew up on a farm and has had a mixed farming-ranching operation for 30 years. He has 850 acres cultivated, 90 acres in pasture and currently leases out his farm on a share basis.

The member for Peace River, my counterpart in the Alberta Peace River area, grew up on a farm and has farmed for 30 years. He is a grain farmer with 2,000 acres cultivated. He still actively farms with his son. I could go on, but I picked those members at random.

During report stage we were accused of saying that members opposite should not be allowed to speak. We were trying to encourage them to speak. They did not want to take part in the debate. Only three or four of them rose the whole time we were on report stage amendments.

We were not saying that because they come from Newfoundland or New Brunswick or Toronto they should not be part of the debate. We were trying to say that we have a bit of credibility on this issue. That is what we were trying to say. Reform members have a very serious interest in this issue. We have a lifetime of experience talking about the Canadian Wheat Board.

We encourage fishermen, people with a background in business, doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs to be involved in the debate and to put forward their opinions. It is the same as when we put forward our opinions on other issues that we might not have a personal background in.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

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—

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member's time has expired.

The debate is on the amendment.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank hon. members from all parties for allowing me to share the time of the member for Peace River on the British Columbia side.

Any initiative to reform the Canadian Wheat Board should be a good thing. Certainly there is a need for some reform of the Canadian Wheat Board. I think there would be no argument from the grain farmers in western Canada on this issue. They all recognize that. They certainly have different ideas as to what kind of change is needed but any initiative should be a good thing.

In my speech I will try to answer the question, is Bill C-4 really the legislation that is needed to provide the needed reform of the Canadian Wheat Board? I will do this under four headings. The first is, what is the real debate, what should the real debate be with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board. The second regards the opposition to Bill C-4 coming from the farming community. In fact, the opposition is really against every part of Bill C-4. Third is the government's handling of the whole process of changing the wheat board, in particular the handling through Bill C-4 and the process which led up to that. Finally, I will talk about where we go from here.

Anybody who believes this legislation is going to put an end to the issue of changing the wheat board is foolish. The debate will become more and more vociferous. It will increase across western Canada, in particular. I believe it will also expand to central Canada as people in central Canada see how unfairly western grain farmers are treated.

First, what is the real debate? There are four main areas that debate should be focused on regarding change to the wheat board. One is monopoly.

As the hon. member who just spoke said, often Reform has been accused of being against the wheat board. That is completely untrue. We have been desperately trying to change the wheat board so that it does not become a completely obsolete body, so that it does not become a body that really has no value at all to western Canadian farmers.

The wheat board provides a valuable service to western Canadian farmers. I would believe that every member of our party, and I cannot speak for all of them but I have certainly talked to them, believes the wheat board provides a useful service to western Canadian farmers. Therefore that is not the issue.

Reform is trying to change the wheat board so that it is a much more useful body to Canadian farmers, the people it really concerns. Western Canadian farmers are the only farmers who are affected to any great extent by the Canadian Wheat Board Act. They are in fact the farmers who pay for the operation of the wheat board.

Again, the real debate revolves around the monopoly of the wheat board. It revolves around accountability or lack of accountability of the wheat board. It revolves around the openness or lack of openness of the wheat board and around the very basic question of whose grain is it anyway.

That is a question that more and more western Canadian farmers are asking. Whose grain is it? If it is our grain, then why on earth are we not given a chance to market that grain in the way we see fit? That can be done, just to be clear, with the wheat board playing a very important role in marketing grain.

First I will talk a bit about the monopoly. Of course, that is probably the most important issue in regard to the Canadian Wheat Board. Most western Canadian farmers certainly support the board, but as we have seen from poll results, a majority do not support the monopoly. We have seen the poll in Alberta on barley which showed that 67%, two-thirds of farmers, do not support the monopoly. On wheat, 62% do not support the monopoly. In my constituency it is up to close to 90% who do not support the monopoly. The issue is not whether we support the wheat board or not but whether we want to give farmers a choice as to how they sell their grain.

The second and third issues which I believe should be what the real debate is focused on concern accountability and openness. In terms of accountability, the minister argued that this legislation would somehow improve the accountability of the wheat board. It is arguable that it might to some small degree. It is also arguable that it will not improve it at all.

What happens in that regard will depend on what the board of directors decides to some extent, and also on who is elected to the board of directors. An important issue which has yet to be dealt with is who will be eligible to vote and how will the directors be elected. In any case, the degree of accountability resulting from this bill will be very small and certainly not what farmers have called for.

Farmers have called for openness in the wheat board. This issue is so important to farmers that we have had a group established, a coalition. Such is unusual in western Canadian agriculture particularly in grain farming, but a coalition is working and is focused strictly on more accountability in the wheat board and in opening up the wheat board.

The second and third points, the accountability and openness of the wheat board, should be the focus of a debate on the wheat board.

Fourth is the issue of whose grain it is. Groups have formed just to deal with that issue. It is a property rights issue. I am sure other members later in this debate will talk about that issue.

Clearly at least in a democratic society, we would expect that the private citizen who produces a commodity would have a right to market that commodity in the way they see fit. If we look at the marketplace in Canada, in North America and around the world, in most cases with most commodities that is the case.

General Motors, Ford and the small companies operating in our local communities have the right to sell their commodities on an open market in a way they see fit. Why is it that of all groups, grain farmers in western Canada, not even across the country, but grain farmers in western Canada, are restricted from selling their commodities in the way they see fit? That question is certainly not answered by this bill.

Those are the issues that should be debated. Unfortunately this bill does very little to add to the debate in those areas.

I will discuss this legislation in terms of the opposition in the farming community to all parts of this bill. Anyone who has followed this bill and who has received letters from farm groups and individual farmers would know that is the case. Every significant part of this bill is opposed by at least one farm group and often by many groups.

A coalition has been organized strictly to go against Bill C-4. The coalition has focused on the inclusion clause. It is concerned that other commodities such as canola and peas which are important to its members may be put under the control of the wheat board. They were so concerned that they formed a coalition. They have been lobbying as hard as possible to get the inclusion clause and other changes in Bill C-4 thrown out because they think they are counterproductive and will make things worse.

The list of member organizations which form this coalition is quite impressive. It includes Canadian Canola Growers Association, Manitoba Canola Growers Association, Flax Growers Western Canada, Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, Western Barley Growers Association, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association, Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, Winnipeg Commodity Exchange, and Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. These are major western Canadian organizations. This issue was important enough for them to form a coalition against Bill C-4.

To be fair most of those groups are against the wheat board monopoly. They think farmers should have a choice to use the board or to market in some other way if they choose. That has been the main focus of their actions over the past years. However the opposition comes from all sides of this issue.

I will read three small parts of a letter from the wheat board advisory committee which is also against this legislation although it favours the monopoly: “We think change is necessary, but Bill C-4 closes doors on options and it should be withdrawn”. Even the wheat board advisory committee calls for the withdrawal of this legislation. That is how bad this legislation is. It goes on to say “The government has spent millions of dollars to arrive at this point and it is our clear view that these changes have the potential to very quickly destroy the Canadian Wheat Board”. This is from the advisory committee.

Is the intent of this minister to destroy the wheat board? Is the minister approaching this issue in an underhanded way to try to destroy the board? If we look at his actions and examine the recommendations made by the panel and by people who made presentations to the committee, he has missed the point on all counts. I wonder if that is his intent. Mr. Speaker, you may not think I am sincere on this but I am. The thought has occurred to me. I may be wrong but the thought has certainly occurred to me and to many other farmers across western Canada.

The final quote from the letter by the wheat board advisory committee refers to the election of the board of directors. The minister has argued that the board of directors makes this a very democratic organization that is very answerable to farmers: “I really cannot see how this elected board of directors puts farmers in the driver's seat”, said Wilfred Harder.

Also Mr. Harder from the Canadian Wheat Board advisory committee said that the minister could fire five directors including the chief executive officer at any time and the federal cabinet through regulation could override any policy of the board. He went on to say that the committee also had problems with cash buying, negotiable producer certificates, the loss of crown agency status and the creation of a contingency fund.

These issues are the key issues dealt with in Bill C-4. This came not from one of the groups that wants to end the monopoly but rather from the advisory committee to the Canadian Wheat Board which wants to maintain the monopoly.

I have a very strong personal opinion about the wheat board monopoly. I am very strongly against it. It is a very emotional issue for me because it involves my people. When I say my people I mean my family. I mean my friends and neighbours who are involved in grain farming. I mean the thousands of people in my constituency who are involved in grain farming. I mean people from across western Canada who are involved in grain farming.

We are not tinkering with some small aspect of their lives. We are dealing with their fundamental right to market their grain in the way they sit fit. We are talking about their very livelihoods.

I could refer to letters. I have a stack of them from groups that have spoken out against the bill: United Grain Growers, a very important grain marketing company in western Canada; Canadian Farm Enterprise Network; Saskatchewan Canola Growers; Western Stock Growers and others. I have a stack of letters but I do not have time to read them to the House.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

An hon. member

Keep on going.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

An hon. member is saying “Keep on going”. These letters are available for anyone who would like to read them.

The opposition is not just coming from me or my Reform colleagues. The opposition is not just coming from groups that want to end the board's monopoly and make it a voluntary board. The opposition is coming from farmers and farm groups across western Canada.

The next issue I would like to talk about is the government's handling of the bill. It is important for Canadians, not just farmers, to think about the way the bill has been handled.

In spite of disagreement from all the groups I have referred to, in spite of what the grain marketing panel recommended, the government seems absolutely determined to push the bill ahead. In fact it invoked closure on the bill. We only have one day to debate third reading of the bill. We will vote on it tonight and the government, with its majority, will force it through. Its members will stand up one after another tonight to pass the bill.

As I look at those members standing, one by one by one tonight, I will think of how passing the bill affects their lives. It does not. Not directly. However the bill will affect the livelihoods of western Canadian grain farmers.

As the previous speaker indicated, about 30 Reform MPs have a strong agricultural background. Many are still involved in farming as I am. My farm is rented out on a crop share. I have wheat and barley to market. I am limited by the board's monopoly just like my neighbours and others across the country.

As members opposite stand one by one to support the bill, who are they speaking for? Are they speaking for western Canadian farmers? I think not. Western Canadian farmers have spoken out against the bill. Who are they speaking for?

With the inclusion clause they are speaking for the hon. member for Malpeque who is the sole reason the clause was included in the bill. It is a hare-brained idea he came forward with. His government picked it up and will ram it through against widespread opposition from western Canada.

The government's handling of this issue has been all wrong. It ignored the polls, including a poll in Saskatchewan which showed that it should be ending the monopoly. It has ignored the democratic process. It has ignored the submissions to committee. The bill should have been canned a long time ago. We should have started from scratch.

Where to from here? Does the bill put to rest the issues of wheat board monopoly, lack of accountability, lack of openness and of whose grain it is? No, it does not.

In one way the bill has united farmers. It has united them against Bill C-4. That is the only way it has united farmers and not in a positive way.

The legislation will continue the rift in western Canada between those who want the board monopoly and those who want a voluntary board. The issue again is not whether we want the wheat board but what type of board we want. It will further split farmers. We see debate on the issue increasing. The minister will find added pressure and will pay the political price for the divisiveness that he has put out to the rural communities in western Canada. That is sad.

I look forward to the debate from hon. members of all parties in the House.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

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.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Below cost.

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11:30 a.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Below cost, of course. We lose money on each pig that comes out of the hog house.

This is how the Liberal government of the member for Saint-Maurice manages our affairs.

The distinguished Reform Party member who spoke before me was right when he said that Bill C-4 has the effect of uniting grain producers, not in support of the legislation, but against it.

I received hundreds of letters. Even yesterday evening, before the vote, I received telephone calls from Manitoba grain producers who urged me to vote against Bill C-4. They asked me to go and talk to some Liberal members and tell them to abstain from voting if they did not have the courage to oppose the legislation. The arguments against Bill C-4 were different, but grain producers were united in their opposition.

If the Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board truly intends to co-operate with producers, he should leave Ottawa and visit farms in western Canada, in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Peace River. He would see what producers think of his bill. The minister is out of touch with reality.

Some object to the inclusion provisions. Others to the exclusion clauses. Others still to the reserve fund or the appointment process. Some would even like another election as soon as possible.

I know of very few people who agree with the bill in its present form. If the good minister intends to work on behalf of the grain producers, he ought to call a halt to Bill C-4, possibly returning it to the Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food with the definite intention of making major changes.

I would like to review some of the amendments we in the Bloc Quebecois proposed. First of all, as I pointed out, the appointed president will, to all intents and purposes, be the one directing the Canadian Wheat Board. Our proposal was that his appointment go through the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. That was rejected, because the minister told his MPs, whose time in committee is often wasted: “Vote against it. You have no business being involved in this”.

Who will make the appointment? The governor in council. And who is the governor in council? In this case, it will be the minister responsible, and he will tell his cabinet buddies: “You will appoint Mr. or Ms. X.” The salary will be $144,000 plus a few odds and ends. And that is how it will take place.

I asked some of my Liberal colleagues who sat on this committee with us “Why did you vote against it? You are not acting in your own best interests. For once, the agriculture committee would have had a role to play. You would have gained back some self-esteem”. Anyway, it is a known fact that the chair of each committee is a Liberal. There are eight Liberals, and six opposition members, and then sometimes even the opposition is divided, since there are four recognized parties.

So, had they had a bit of gumption to stick to their guns, they could still have appointed their protégé, but at least there would have been an opportunity to ask that protégé some questions. I have even seen some appointments where a person who knew absolutely nothing, someone who could not tell wheat from oats or barley, was appointed to a position as important as this one. The prerequisite was to be of the right colour politically.

I am talking about the Liberals. However, when the Progressive Conservative Party formed the government before the Liberals, things were not much better, as we well know. On the subject of appointments, was it not the Liberal Party that appointed the famous Senator Thompson? He was good at the time. He headed the Liberal Party in Ontario. He led his troops to electoral disaster. In appreciation of his work, they appointed him at a very young age to the other House with a salary of $64,000 and $10,000 in allowances. Today he is the embarrassment of all the other senators. He was expelled from the Liberal Party for trying to boost the family fortunes. Now they are trying various ways to expel him from the Senate.

When we put the question to the Prime Minister in the House, he says we have to change the Constitution, because he was appointed to age 75. How many of my constituents have wondered why we do not abolish the Senate? They say the $45 million we would save could go to maple producers, whose sugar bushes were destroyed.

I had another proposal concerning access to information relating to the Canadian Wheat Board. I told you that sales for 1998-99 will be over $7 billion. Not $7 million but $7 billion. That is a lot of money. This $7 billion must at all costs be administered by and for grain producers.

In 1935, when the Canadian Wheat Board was created, there were a lot of bankruptcies. Eight out of ten people lost their farms. Some torched their crops. It was more profitable to burn them than to harvest them. It was less costly not to harvest their crops. At the time, the Canadian Wheat Board helped a fair number of producers get out of trouble.

Earlier, an hon. member said that some producers are thrown in jail for bypassing the board. As you know—and as the member for Trois-Rivières reminded me earlier—some producers located close to the border load their grain on big trucks and deliver it directly to American buyers. This way, they get up to 12% more than what the Canadian Wheat Board can offer them.

Whenever one of these producers gets caught, he is charged and taken to court, because the law says there is a monopoly and grain can only be sold through the CWB. The producer ends up in jail. The hon. member may have exaggerated somewhat when he said that the producer was thrown in the same cell as a rapist or a drug addict, adding that, unlike rapists and drug addicts who are often paroled, the producer could not enjoy such treatment.

I will end by giving you a scoop and telling you that, primarily because the auditor general will not be able to go and audit the books, that responsibility will be given to a private accounting firm. This is worrisome; it stinks. One thing is for sure: the process will definitely lack transparency. We have some doubt, because neither the producer nor anyone else will be able to check the information. The public interest is not protected, and this puts another doubt in our mind.

Since the whole issue seems to create a lot of uncertainty and discontent among grain producers, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against Bill C-4 at third reading.

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11:45 a.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate at this third reading stage debate on Bill C-4, the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Following the initial debate last September, this bill was sent off to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. As a then new member of this Chamber, I was optimistic that we would be able to, in a collegial committee atmosphere, make improvements to the bill. That obviously turned out not to be the case.

I found the committee experience to be a hollow exercise, by and large. The Liberals on the committee were not really interested in any give and take and the committee's deliberations were unduly rushed. As I said last week on second reading, the proof of that particular pudding was that even before the Canadian Wheat Board official could come before the standing committee, the opposition parties were informed by the standing committee that we had to have our amendments in for final deliberation.

There clearly was a rush to judgment on this. Now we have time allocation to contend with as well, when everyone knows that there will not be a vote on the new board until after this fall's harvest.

New Democrats have always supported the Canadian Wheat Board because we believe that it has worked in the best interests of farmers. However, we believe that Bill C-4 is a badly flawed piece of legislation which will undermine the board. I want to make it clear that our caucus will oppose Bill C-4 because we believe it to be faulty legislation.

In our judgment the test must be whether Bill C-4 will make the Canadian Wheat Board weaker or stronger. It is our contention, sadly, that this will weaken the Canadian Wheat Board.

As I said, we tried to fix this at the committee stage but the Liberals said no. Therefore we have no alternative but to oppose.

History shows that the wheat board has had for more than six decades overwhelming support from farmers. It was the farmers in the first place who demanded the Canadian Wheat Board. They supported it six decades ago and still support it now. The proof, which is a matter of public record, is that as recently as one year ago 63% of barley growers voted to have the board continue marketing that crop.

Why do farmers support the wheat board? Quite simply it is because the CWB has 60 years of international experience and is recognized as one of the top grain marketing organizations in the world. The western grain marketing panel asked representatives of grain marketing countries to rank their major grain exporters. What it found is that the CWB in Canada ranked number one in the world for marketing the highest quality of wheat at the best price.

Farmers, therefore, by and large support the wheat board. The New Democrats join them in that support. However, Bill C-4 is a badly flawed piece of legislation that will serve to undermine the board, which is why we are opposing these changes.

How does it undermine the board? For one thing, Bill C-4 will propose cash buying. We believe that this will undermine a fundamental pillar of the wheat board and thereby undermine farmer confidence in it. There are essentially three pillars of the Canadian Wheat Board, price pooling, government guarantees and single desk selling. We believe that two of these are at risk, price pooling and government guarantees. If we adopted some of the Reform motions the third pillar would be gone or severely restricted as well, the single desk selling aspect.

Under the terms of Bill C-4 the wheat board will be able to buy grains from anyone, anywhere, at any time and at any price. This disrupts the board's long practice of buying grain from farmers at announced prices and distributing profits to all on an equitable basis.

Second, Bill C-4 proposes a contingency fund which could cost farmers as much as $570 million in check-offs. The fund is not needed. Farmers cannot afford it. They do not generally understand that this is going to impact on them and they sure as heck are not going to like it when they find out that it does impact on them.

This proposal on the contingency fund flows from the provision for cash buying. A contingency fund would not be necessary if Ottawa continued to provide financial guarantees to the board as it has always done. We want the Canadian government to continue to provide guarantees beyond the initial purchase for the Canadian Wheat Board rather than passing this buck to farmers, and that is the gist of an NDP amendment that was voted down last night by the silent Liberal majority.

Finally there is the question of governance. For 60 years the wheat board, as a crown agency, has done an admirable job for farmers. Now the government is suggesting that the board cease to be a crown agency and it says that Bill C-4 will put farmers in control of the wheat board's destiny.

Bill C-4 proposes a 15 member board of directors, 10 elected by producers and 5 appointed by Ottawa. If there is to be a board of directors, we have no problem with the government's naming some members to that board. Because the government is to have considerable financial exposure it is only reasonable and logical that it have some window into the board's operation. That, too, was reflected on how we voted last night.

However, under Bill C-4 the minister goes the extra mile by retaining the authority to pick the president of the board of directors, a person who will also double as the chief executive officer of the CWB, and our caucus is opposed to this.

It was interesting to hear the minister responsible for the wheat board talk glowingly this morning about how this bill was to put farmers firmly in the driver's seat. We think that this provision will firmly put them in the back seat, not the driver's seat.

We believe this gives the government too much control over a board of directors that should really be accountable to farmers and it gives the government too much control over the daily operations of the wheat board.

We believe the board of directors should have the authority to choose the president and CEO and we urged the minister to make this amendment, again unfortunately to no avail.

If the wheat board is to have a board of directors, elections must be fair, open and transparent. These should be elections by and for farmers without any interference from vested corporate interest or anyone else for that matter.

The amendments we put forward propose such a measure of fair elections, meaning one producer and one vote. Fair elections mean a limit as well on the campaign spending of candidates, just as there are in federal and provincial elections, so that wealthy individuals or wealthy corporations do not have an unfair advantage.

The wheat board is a $6 billion industry in this country and certain corporate interests would love to get their hot little hands on it. We do not want them using their deep pockets to influence unduly elections to the board of directors.

Turning to the inclusion clause, it is one of the things which a number of farmers generally support, to make provision for the inclusion of addition grains under wheat board jurisdiction. Under Bill C-72 the wheat board was given the ability to exclude grains from the board's authority, so it is only fair and reasonable again that farmers or producers could vote to add extra grains as well. Such an inclusion would occur only after a vote of producers. It would be democratic. Our caucus strongly supports the inclusion clause but there is much concern about how a vote to include an additional grain would be actually triggered.

We proposed this specific amendment. It stipulated that the process for inclusion be the same as excluding a grain; namely, the board of directors of the wheat board ask for it and the farmers, the producers of the commodity, would then vote on it. These are sensible and moderate propositions in sharp contrast to some of the venom which has been spread in recent months by the coalition against Bill C-4. I will come back to that in a few moments.

The activities of this coalition really are nothing more than a frontal attack on the Canadian Wheat Board, an attempt to do through the back door what it was unable to do through the front door in the plebiscite on barely in 1997. One of the big objections to the coalition against Bill C-4 is the insistence that the inclusion clause be dropped.

We say that the debate about the wheat board is a debate for farmers and not for corporate greed and self-interest. We ask those, including members of the Reform Party and the agri-business lobby, why they are worried about a possible producer vote to include a grain. Why are they afraid of a vote by producers? Why not simply let the farmers decided on what they want to include or exclude?

We were somewhat taken aback yesterday when the minister responsible for the wheat board proposed a death bed repentance, an 11th hour amendment that would do away with both the inclusion and exclusion clause. This is exactly what this coalition lobby against Bill C-4 has demanded. The amendment would have allowed the minister responsible for the wheat board to choose when there would be a vote to either include or exclude a grain.

We said no because we think the intent of this bill is to give more power to the board of directors, then immediately the proposal from the minister responsible will be for him to take that authority back. It was an attempt to grab power back from the board of directors even before it was handed over. We do not believe in that. That is why we voted as we did last evening.

We think the Liberals cannot be trusted on the Canadian Wheat Board. We are dealing with the Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, the same minister who in the 35th Parliament managed to do away with the Crow benefit at great cost to western Canadian grain farmers. There are those who sincerely believe that Bill C-4 will be used by the government to privatize the wheat board down the road or to do away with it entirely in future rounds of trade negotiations. We understand the World Trade Organization will begin deliberations late in 1999.

We know only too well that the free trade agreement and NAFTA have restricted the ability of our governments to act in our national public interest. We know too that the United States routinely attacks the wheat board's activities, not to mention its attacks on other Canadian agricultural marketing agencies. We expect the assault to continue at the negotiations of the World Trade Organization.

Let me turn to Reform's stand on the Canadian Wheat Board. It is our contention that Reform members, many of whom managed to talk out of both sides of their mouths on this issue, say they support the wheat board but they also support dual marketing.

I listened with great interest to the Reform member for Prince George—Peace River, who has been leading his party's position on this. He said at the outset of his speech this morning that his party does not oppose the Canadian Wheat Board, and then he mentioned eastern Canadians do not have the misfortune of being under the Canadian Wheat Board. This is the kind of double speak we hear regularly from the members of this party. I do not think there is any question they would like to see the Canadian Wheat Board disappear as quickly as possible.

It is our contention that dual marketing cannot exist with single desk selling. It would quickly destroy the Canadian Wheat Board.

The Reform Party never wants to talk about the reference by Mr. Justice Muldoon in Alberta on the Alberta charter challenge against the board's authority as a single desk marketer of barley. Justice Muldoon said that dual marketing would do away with the wheat board and would simply be a transition to an open market.

That is something Reformers refuse to acknowledge. However it is a fact and we would like to hear them talk about it in some detail. In fact Reformers are fundamentally opposed to the wheat board and do everything possible to attack it in their blind ideology and extremist rhetoric.

I would like to speak to the Reform amendment we are technically debating. Reformers say the wheat board is a dark and secretive institution because its books are not open to the auditor general and access to information laws.

Let us deal with some of the facts. The CWB is a $6 billion a year operation. Parliament requires that an external independent auditor scrutinize the wheat board's books on an annual basis. The auditor is Deloitte & Touche. Each year a report is filed with parliament where it can be examined and questioned at any length. I have looked through the Deloitte & Touche annual report. The last one was issued in 1996. The auditors pronounced the wheat board to be in good shape.

It is true that the wheat board is exempt from provisions of the Access to Information Act. We have delved into this matter and are satisfied that the overriding reason for it is the question of customer confidentiality with respect to the conduct of the wheat board's commercial activities. If customers, big and small, cannot be assured that their business dealings with the wheat board will be held in confidence, they will obviously go elsewhere to do their business.

It is interesting that Reformers and the same groups that frequently claim the wheat board does not maximize returns to producers would by this amendment undercut the board's ability to do just that. I am certain the Canadian Wheat Board provides more accountability than the other grain marketers operating in the country at the present time.

We in the NDP caucus say to those detractors of the Canadian Wheat Board that it is accountable to the people of Canada through parliament and through a public, external audit which is available to anyone who requires it. The Canadian Wheat Board is a far more open process and is far more open to scrutiny than the corporations that bankroll the Reform Party or the coalition against Bill C-4.

I was interested in the comments of the somewhat leather-lunged member from Calgary West this morning, a former employee of the National Citizens' Coalition. Clause 27 of the NCC's official bylaw expressly forbids any member involvement in the organization. It states:

Public members shall not be entitled to receive notice of or to attend any meeting of the members of the corporation and shall not be entitled to vote at any such meeting.

So much for openness, transparency and accountability.

New Democrats have always supported the Canadian Wheat Board. We believe it is in the best interest of farmers. However, Bill C-4, as I have tried to indicate in my remarks, is badly flawed legislation. It weakens two of the three pillars of the board and will serve to undermine farmers' confidence in it.

Our caucus has endeavoured to improve the bill but the truly silent Liberal majority has refused to accept any of our amendments. Therefore we reluctantly oppose Bill C-4.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders



Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to pose a couple of question to the hon. member for Palliser.

The member said that Reformers are against the board. That is blatantly false. Let us look at the amendments I have proposed to protect the board. One of the amendments would provide farmers with the opportunity to opt out of the board, if they so chose, for a period of five years and to serve two years notice if they want to opt back in.

That would protect the board from court cases, even those court cases going on right now involving property rights. It would also protect the board against international agreements that would destroy the board. The present position the minister has put forth with Bill C-4 and with the board will destroy the board.

Would the member for Palliser comment on the opt out clause that would allow farmers not to sell their barley or wheat or both to the board, if they do not wish to? Does he see that as dual marketing?

In relation to that question, if farmers want that option what would he then say? The reason I ask is that I went back to my constituency, a constituency that used to have an NDP representing it but no longer does because of this concern. My constituents gave me a very clear indication of where they stand on the issue. We had from 83% to 87% support for the amendment, the compromise between dual marketing and the monopoly that presently exists.

For the member for Palliser to say that we are against the board is blatantly false. We are representing farmers. This is what farmers want. It is false for the government to have the arrogant attitude that it knows what is best, that it will protect farmers and so on. That member is lining up with the government with regard to this and that is wrong. What does he say when 83% to 87% of farmers want that option? Is the government not obligated to carry that out?

Also I want to refer to property rights. The hon. member made comments about the National Citizens' Coalition and so did the minister. The minister said that the National Citizens' Coalition indicated that the issue of Japanese internment, the confiscation of Japanese property and so on, was a very similar issue. The Canadian Wheat Board minister indicated that issue was raised by the NCC. That was false. The government used the argument that the confiscation of Japanese property was justified during the war and so is the Canadian Wheat Board confiscation of farmers' property.

Does the member believe that farmers should turn over their wheat and barley and then buy it back in order to gain control over it? Does he feel that property rights in Canada should be strengthened? Does he feel it is right for the board to take the property farmers have worked for, sweated over and took all the risk for and simply give it to the government to do anything with or to buy it back from the government? Does he agree with either of those two statements.

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12:05 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the opt-in, opt-out provisions the member for Yorkton—Melville asked about, we believe fundamentally that it would lead very quickly to the dual marketing I endeavoured to talk about in my remarks.

That is what Alberta Justice Muldoon said. That is what the Reform Party refuses to discuss. We do not think that option can or will work.

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12:05 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

What if farmers want it?

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12:05 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

There are provisions to include and exclude grains. If farmers want it, as the member for Yorkton—Melville is saying, they can vote according to their wishes.

I simply do not believe in the 83% to 87%. Which is it? Is it 83% or 87%? Is it 53% or 43%?

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to listen to the debate. If the hon. member for Palliser believes so strongly in a monopoly, why should we not create a housing monopoly so that everybody would live in houses owned by the government and would pay it for that?

That is the way some communist countries have gone. Would the member agree that is the way to go? If one monopoly is so good for one sector, why not have them all under monopolies? If it is good for me it should be good for the next guy. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. How would the member for Palliser deal with that issue?

Maybe we should have a monopoly on cars. The government could own all the cars as the government did in the Soviet Union. We know what happened over there. They are all on a junk pile right now. That is how good that monopoly was.

Why not a monopoly on lawyer services or teachers? Why not turn the country into something that is prosperous like we have seen communist countries become? Are they right on the world scene today? If it were not for capitalists like us they would all be starving to death. Is that the kind of system the member wants?

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12:10 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

No, Mr. Speaker.

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12:10 p.m.


Cliff Breitkreuz Reform Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to some of the rather absurd comments of the member for Palliser. He said that Reform members were speaking out of both sides of their mouths. That is absolutely, blatantly false. My colleagues brought him up short on that comment.

If the member for Palliser is so interested in monopolies, why did the NDP government in Saskatchewan get rid of the hog board monopoly and hang on to the wheat board monopoly?

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12:10 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an oranges and apples question. Alberta and Manitoba opted out of a hog marketing arrangement some time before. I am not a member of the Saskatchewan government but I certainly support it. It felt that it made the best economic sense for hog farmers to cease the hog marketing operation in that province.

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12:10 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I have a question to put to the member that might clear up the last point of argument. The member opposite said that it was basically a communist proposal and asked why we do not turn everything over to the government.

Would the hon. member agree, whether it is hog marketing or grain producing, that producers have clearly shown that their choice is to market their product in this fashion? They have shown that time and time again.

What is happening over there is all smoke and mirrors. Farmers have clearly shown time and time again that they want this system of marketing, that they want the Canadian Wheat Board, that it is a paramount marketing agency. Would the member for Palliser agree?

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12:10 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I agree very much. That was the thrust of my remarks.

Farmers agreed as recently as last year that they wanted the Canadian Wheat Board to retain the authority to market barley. If at some future date they do not want the board to market anything, they will have the ability to make that decision democratically among themselves.

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12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, It is with some pleasure and some trepidation that I rise to speak at third reading—

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12:10 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

With pleasure? It was closure.

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12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

It is with trepidation that I speak to Bill C-4 perhaps for the last time, unless the government in its wisdom allows the legislation to go back to committee for further debate.

Quite frankly the legislation before us at the present time is not what I and certainly a number of my constituents would consider to be a good piece of legislation which deals with and resolves the issues of the Canadian Wheat Board. I say that to my colleagues on the Liberal benches and plead with them not to stop the ongoing debate that is happening currently with Bill C-4.

I would like to speak on a number of issues in a number of areas. First, I am not a producer. I am not a farmer. A number of my relatives gain their living from agriculture and in certain cases grow a substantial amount of wheat and other products including products which are not included in the Canadian Wheat Board. Also, I represent a community that with great pride announces itself as the wheat city. It has been known as that particular city since its inception in 1982. The wheat in the wheat city is the backbone of our economy and is reflected in the Canadian Wheat Board legislation.

I want to talk about my philosophy, that of my party and the reason I ran for this party. Our philosophy is fairly simple.

We believe in free enterprise. We believe in choice. We believe in a free market system, as was seen by the NAFTA legislation which was brought forward by the last Progressive Conservative government. We believe in less government and less government control. We believe in more individual freedom for people and people's responsibility for themselves. I say that because I can make the connection between that philosophy and the philosophy of producers in the Canadian Wheat Board.

For those people who are listening I would like to make an analogy. There has been a lot of ranting and raving, rhetoric, flailing of hands and gnashing of teeth over this particular issue. The fact is this is a very important issue for producers in western Canada. I would like to make the comparison as to what we are talking about here.

A farmer, a producer, an agriculturalist or whatever we want to call that individual is in fact a small business. In lots of cases it is more than simply a small business and is a very large business. The producer capitalizes and buys land, a substantial amount of land in some cases because the more land he has, obviously the more he can produce. There is a large capital cost for that.

The producer then accesses what is referred to as inputs. He accesses pesticides, herbicides, seed and fertilizer. He plants the seed in the land which he has purchased with in some cases substantial capital. He then nurtures that seed until it grows and it produces and then it is harvested. When he harvests the crop and he puts it in his bin, he has produced the product.

Unfortunately while the crop is in that bin, if it is wheat or barley, that producer does not have control or ownership of that product. He must be at the whim and unfortunately the nature of the Canadian Wheat Board. The Canadian Wheat Board will tell that producer what price he can sell his product for and to whom he can sell it. And he can only sell it to one purchaser, the Canadian Wheat Board and no one else.

When the producer puts that seed in the ground he is given an initial payment based on what his cash flows are going to be over the next crop year. Sometimes those initial payments change and sometimes they do not. There are adjustments. The fact is he can only sell to one purchaser and that purchaser is the Canadian Wheat Board. If he does not sell it to the board, that crop will sit in that bin forever or until it rots because he cannot sell it to anyone else.

I will use the analogy of a manufacturer whether he is in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick or Newfoundland. The manufacturer makes a product, controls the capital to produce that product and controls the inputs. When he has that final finished product in his hands he can sell it to whomever he wants.

If it is below the cost of production, the manufacturer will not be making that product very much longer. If he does not have competition here in Canada to purchase his product, he can sell it internationally. He can sell it to the United States or to Europe. When the manufacturer makes the product, he has the option to sell it to whomever he wishes.

Very simply, that is the free market system, being in business and selling to whomever one wants. Unfortunately today with wheat and barley the producer does not have the same options.

Let us talk a little bit about the history of this which is very important. I will get into my philosophical beliefs with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board. The Canadian Wheat Board is a very good institution, make no mistake about that. The problem is that it is not prepared to deal with the 21st century, nor is government today prepared to deal with the 21st century. Let us talk about history.

There is a reason the Canadian Wheat Board came into being a number of years ago. In the early part of the 20th century a lot of producers who were growing that crop I talked about felt they were not getting a fair return for the product they were producing. They voluntarily, and I stress the term voluntarily, got together and said they would have a much better opportunity to sell their product at a higher price if they pooled it. They felt that if they put it all together it would be a bigger commodity and they would be able to go out and sell it to the best buyer.

This was done on a voluntary basis with the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, the Alberta Wheat Pool and the Manitoba Wheat Pool back in the early 1920s. It worked because they felt they were being taken advantage of by the corporations.

Unfortunately in 1943 the voluntary sale of that product to a pooling system was made mandatory. Now the producers had no choice. When it was voluntary they could do what they wanted. They could pool it with their neighbours or they could go somewhere else and sell it. In 1943 for any number of reasons and probably very good reasons for the times, it was made mandatory. Make no mistake about that, it was probably done for the right reasons in 1943. I was not around as I was not even born yet. However, it was probably for the right reasons and probably was the right thing to do at that time.

Canadian Wheat Board ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

An hon. member

I wasn't born yet either.