Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-26. Our critic for this area, the hon. member for Brandon—Souris, could not be here today so I am taking his place.
I will begin with a little background on the bill. We have divided it into three parts.
On December 4, 1997 the minister of agriculture tabled Bill C-26 in the House of Commons. The bill is composed of three parts.
First it would repeal the Grain Futures Act. In essence it allows for the province of Manitoba through the Manitoba Securities Commission to regulate the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange instead of the federal government through the Canadian Grain Commission. This is related to the Manitoba Commodities Futures Act which was enacted by the Manitoba government.
This was an idea that was suggested by the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange itself. The WCE wants to access the hog industry so instead of working with two separate regulators, the WCE will conduct all its business through the Manitoba Securities Commission.
This is a positive change for the agricultural industry. The PC Party will support this aspect of the bill.
Second it would amend the Canada Grain Act to allow speciality crops such as soybeans to fall under crop insurance plans. This would also permit the separation of licensing and security provisions for special crops dealers.
This government believes that the inability to separate these two activities has been the primary problem in developing an insurance plan for the special crops industry of western Canada. By forcing such a separation in law and by putting the administration of a voluntary insurance plan under the Canadian Grain Commission, Bill C-26 would remove the onus on special crops dealers to post costly security against the possibility of their default in payment to special crops producers. The Canadian Export Development Corporation, CEDC, would be the insurer.
Although the government may feel that this aspect of the bill is positive, there are many people in the farming community who will differ. I will comment on the insurance program later.
Third, the bill will also incorporate the Canada Grain Act within the agriculture and agrifood industry, thereby allowing the Canadian Grain Commission to impose fines for most violations of the Canada Grain Act and its regulations. This aspect of the bill also needs a closer look when the bill is sent to committee.
There are a number of aspects of this bill that must be looked at closer for the House's consideration. Before I do so I must mention to the government that there has been little discussion on this bill thus far in particular in the farming communities out west. There are people in the farming communities who do not know anything about this bill.
It is the responsibility of this government to properly inform Canadians about this legislation, especially when it comes from the House of Commons of Canada. It is the government's responsibility to effectively communicate to Canadians what is about to become law and what is going to affect their livelihood.
That being said, I will comment on some of the aspects of the bill before this legislation goes before committee. I will comment on some of the thoughts expressed by the farming organizations out west.
A resolution was passed at the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association annual meeting. Similar motions were also passed at the Western Canadian Wheat Growers convention, the Western Barley Growers convention and the Saskatchewan Pulse Development Board. The motion reads as follows:
Whereas the majority of Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association members also are growers of specialty crops; and
Whereas the proposed Special Crops Rural Initiative Program would appear to favour the Canadian Grain Commission and not necessarily special crop growers; and
Whereas the Special Crops Rural Initiative Program is promoted as being voluntary, it is in reality a form of negative billing which all consumers reject (i.e. cable TV companies); and
Whereas the scheme has questionable support at the farm level; and
Whereas the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association rejects the compulsory nature of the Special Crops Rural Initiative Program; and
Whereas the special crops industry has flourished without such a program;
Therefore be it resolved that the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association inform the federal and western provincial ministers of agriculture of their concerns and at the very least that the Special Crops Rural Initiative Program be truly voluntary for both the growers and the special crops dealers.
This resolution aptly describes what Bill C-26 fails to do. It fails to give farmers choice, not unlike what the government did with Bill C-4 which failed to give farmers choice in how they sell their wheat.
The compulsory nature of the special crops insurance plan is a form of negative option billing. Today's producers run large operations and should not have to apply to opt out and then receive their money back if they do not wish to participate. Farming businesses should have the right to decide themselves if they want to be bonded or licensed and if so, pay the bill themselves.
Bill C-26 only adds more red tape and paperwork for farmers to be subjected to while placing extra costs on farm businesses already operating on small budgets. Producers should have the choice to decide for themselves if there is too much risk selling to an unlicensed buyer. Special crops producers would be better off having the choice between selling to large licensed grain dealers and small unlicensed grain dealers. That would make sense. I hope the government considers giving farmers this choice.
There are a number of elements of this bill which need to be looked at closer. I expect that the committee will look into the bill in great detail when it does the clause by clause analysis.
In principle the PC Party supports this legislation. However, there are a number of changes that will have to be adopted at the committee stage with respect to choice before this bill is acceptable in full to the PC Party of Canada and to the farmers of western Canada.