Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4. The amendments contained in Bill C-4 are based on nearly three years of extensive consultation and discussion with western Canadian grain farmers to determine what kind of grain marketing organization they wanted.
Western Canadian grain farmers have asked to retain the Canadian Wheat Board, but they also wanted a more democratic, accountable and responsive Canadian Wheat Board, one that was truly in their hands, allowing them to shape the Canadian Wheat Board to meet their needs. That is in fact what the proposed changes in Bill C-4 provide for.
The proposed changes in Bill C-4 would put more power into the hands of producers than they have ever had throughout the 63 year history of the Canadian Wheat Board. The proposed changes would modernize the governance of the Canadian Wheat Board. They would improve its accountability to producers through the creation of a producer elected majority board of directors. The marketing changes proposed to Bill C-4 are enabling. They would give farmers the tools and the power necessary to shape the CWB's marketing structure to fit their present and future needs.
I would like to address some of the questions that have been raised and in so doing clear up some of the misconceptions that have arisen around Bill C-4 and its proposed amendments to the CWB.
Some farmers have asked if they would have more control under the new system of CWB governance. The answer is yes. The 15 member board of directors would be comprised of 10 producer elected directors and 5 federal appointees. In essence, farmer elected directors would enjoy a two to one majority. Directors would have effective control of the strategic direction of the new CWB and would be able to reflect the views and the needs of farmers in all future operational and marketing decisions.
These elected directors would not be subject to dismissal by the minister responsible for the CWB. Only those who elected them would be able to accomplish this through subsequent elections.
Under Bill C-4 all directors would be entitled to complete disclosure of all CWB facts and figures, bar none. They would be able to examine the prices at which grain is sold, the price premiums achieved, all operating costs and whether the CWB is operating effectively.
With their full knowledge of the CWB and its global competition, the directors would be in the best position to assess what information should be made public and what for commercial reasons should remain confidential.
Why is the board of directors not 100 per cent producer elected? Under the proposed legislation, the government would continue to maintain a substantial financial commitment to the Canadian Wheat Board. The government would continue to guarantee the Canadian Wheat Board's initial payments, its borrowings and its credit sales made under the credit grain sales program.
This represents a strong case for the government having a continued role in appointing some of the members of the board of directors. In addition, the CWB has public policy responsibilities. For example, the CWB is charged with issuing all wheat and barley export licences for all of Canada, not just the prairies.
I have heard the question asked about why the Canadian wheat board is not legally obliged to get the best price for farmers' grain. The Canadian wheat board seeks to obtain the best price possible as a matter of policy. However, making this the corporation's legal objective would be difficult.
Because the CWB seeks to obtain the best price for producers jointly through the pool accounts, it would almost always be possible to show after the fact that somewhat higher returns could have been realized for individual producers had a different set of marketing decisions been made. Therefore, to make the CWB legally responsible to achieve the best price for individual farmer's grain would result in countless legal challenges respecting the board's marketing decisions.
Looking to the future, the board of directors would be responsible for ensuring that the sales program is well managed and that the Canadian wheat board operates in the best interests of producers. This would be preferable to taking a legalistic approach.
Why does the Canadian wheat board need to establish a contingency fund? What would this money be used for? A contingency fund would be developed in order for the CWB to make adjustments to initial payments during the crop year on its own responsibility without the delays involved in getting government approval to provide for potential losses in cash trading operations and to provide for an early pool cash out.
The contingency fund would provide the CWB with the ability to adjust initial payments and get money into farmers' hands more quickly. Given the history of adjusted initial payments, the related risk would be minimal and less than the related benefits to farmers. It would be up to the board of directors with its two-thirds producer elected majority to determine if, when and how to create the contingency fund. The opposition asks why the Auditor General of Canada cannot examine the CWB's books.
The Canadian Wheat Board currently retains an independent firm of chartered accountants to audit its operations. Through its pool accounts, the CWB is managing farmers' money and not government appropriations. Therefore it has always made sense that a private sector auditor rather than the auditor general audit the books.
Under Bills C-4 the CWB would cease to be an agent of Her Majesty and a crown corporation and become a mixed enterprise. This reduces even further the justification for involving the office of the auditor general.
Finally, some private sector users of financial reports take comfort in the fact that private sector auditors unlike the OAG are liable under the law for negligence and other professional misconduct.
The proposed changes in Bill C-4 are balanced and fair. The government realizes the changes contained in Bill C-4 cannot hope to satisfy all parties in what would have been a polarized debate among western grain producers. The government feels nonetheless that these proposed changes to the CWB would equip farmers with the tools and the power to shape the CWB as they see fit so the Canadian Wheat Board could meet the needs of farmers both today and in the future.
I want to share my time with my hon. colleague from St. Boniface.