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House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberalfor the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

moved that Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Grain Futures Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Charleswood—Assiniboine Manitoba

Liberal

John Harvard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce at second reading Bill C-26 which would amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and repeal the Grain Futures Act.

This initiative reflects our government's willingness to meet the express needs of the grain industry. The industry has had to evolve in order to deal with many challenges. Legislation must also evolve to ensure that industry's efforts to meet these challenges are not hindered by arcane government regulation.

I will begin by placing this bill within the framework of our government's priorities. Agriculture and agri-food is a key sector of our economy that offers tremendous opportunities for Canadian producers and processors. This industry is growing at an impressive rate. Our exports continue to expand, as does the domestic market for our products.

Producers are generally optimistic about the future, investing in and diversifying their operations in order to benefit from new opportunities.

The main objective of this government is to build a competitive and innovative economy that will create even more jobs and more economic growth for Canadians. One of the ways to accomplish this objective is to work co-operatively at the grassroots level to ensure the views of stakeholders are incorporated at the early stages of discussions on policies surrounding new and emerging issues.

We are committed to a policy of full consultation with both the agri-food industry and the provinces. We endeavour to be responsive to the changing needs of the industry. Together we are working to develop strategies for achieving this goal.

This is particularly significant in light of our recently announced rural impact test, a policy which commits federal departments and agencies to consider the impact on rural Canada when formulating their policies, their programs and their services.

This policy is part of our government's ongoing commitment to build stronger rural communities by ensuring that federal policies and programs support community development.

We believe that the bill before the House is another example of our commitment to rural Canada. It will allow easier access to the special crops processing industry and will therefore have a positive impact on rural employment opportunities.

The federal and provincial governments must also work together to avoid, wherever possible, overlap and duplication so that we can better serve Canadians.

Having placed this bill in the context of the government's priorities, I would now like to review the major aspects of this legislation.

The provisions of this bill were developed and recommended by the Canadian Grain Commission, the organization responsible for administering both the Canadian Grain Act and the Grain Futures Act.

Under the Canada Grain Act the commission is responsible for regulating grain handling in Canada and for establishing and maintaining standards of grain quality.

Under the Grain Futures Act the commission regulates grain futures trading in Canada by monitoring the activities and transactions carried out at the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the valuable contribution that producers and other members of the grain industry have made to this bill. These amendments are the result of two separate sets of consultations throughout the industry.

I will outline this consultation process so that members can share the confidence I have that this legislation represents the needs, the expectations and the views of the majority of stakeholders from all sectors of the grain industry.

In 1995 Bill C-51, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act, was being moved through this House. At that time there was considerable interest on the part of members to deal with the concerns of the special crops industry, especially those in the industry who wanted to become licensed special crops dealers. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I talk to this bill today.

The grain industry categorizes crops either as standard crops or as special crops. The standard crops are wheat, barley, oats and canola and these make up the bulk of agricultural production on the prairies. Special crops production on the prairies is considerably less than standard crop production but includes a wide variety of agricultural products.

I would like to begin by outlining the consultation process concerning the proposed special crops amendments. The first round of consultations was undertaken by a panel of producers. As part of the special crops initiative funded by the commission, members met with a variety of producers and industry organizations to assess their regulatory needs and to make recommendations to the commission.

In November 1994 the Canadian Grain Commission circulated a discussion paper to individuals and companies involved in the special crops industry on the prairies. The commission met with individual producers and their organizations, processors, grain dealers and representatives of elevator companies. The purpose of the discussions was to chart a new course for licensing and security in the special crops industry in western Canada. A consensus on licensing and security emerged from those consultations.

In March 1995 the commission released a report reflecting that consensus. Following the release of the report, the commission provided support to an advisory committee consisting of producers and dealers representing the principal special crops organizations as they developed the basis for this legislation.

Let me add for the benefit of members who represent ridings in eastern Canada that the special crops provision of the bill will apply to crops named in the proposed legislation and grown in western Canada. Persons and companies dealing in eastern special crops will not be affected by the legislation.

The special crops industry plays a significant role in the development of the rural economy of western Canada. The bulk of the country's special crops production comes from the three prairie provinces.

Statistics Canada figures indicate that special crops production on the prairies increased by about 300% in the last 14 years. In 1984-85 production was approximately one million tonnes. In 1997-98 this figure has climbed to approximately three million tonnes. The special crops market continues to expand. Both large and small players are contributing to its impressive growth.

The special crops industry exports a considerable amount of product. In 1996-97 the figure was 1.3 million tonnes. This represents about 5% of total exports.

The western Canadian special crops industry has become one of Canada's export success stories. Naturally, domestic seed cleaning plants are anxious to get into the business of buying and marketing. On the other hand, producers want to expand the number of outlets for their special crops. Moreover the entry of new players will stimulate innovation and the development of new markets.

The Canada Grain Act amendments relating to special crops involve three major elements: a voluntary producer insurance plan; affordable licensing for special crops dealers; and a special crops advisory committee. The first element of the proposed legislation is the financial protection that will be available to producers under a voluntary insurance plan. If approved, the amendments will provide financial protection to producers who are prepared to pay for it and will be simple to administer.

I emphasize that the plan is voluntary. This was a key recommendation of the majority of producers consulted and their representative organizations.

In consultation with a special crops advisory committee, the Canadian Grain Commission will manage the producer funded insurance plan. Producers can choose whether or not to participate.

Only those producers who are members of the producer insurance plan will be eligible for compensation if a licensed company they deal with fails to meet its payment obligations. Producers will be considered members of the plan and eligible for coverage unless they notify the Canadian Grain Commission in writing that they want to opt out. Producers who do not want to belong can opt out prior to the start of the crop year.

All producers will pay a levy when they sell special crops to licensed dealers. The initial levy will be a small percentage of the value of grain delivered. It is expected that the initial levy will be 0.038% or 38 cents per $100 worth of grain. This works out to between 50 cents and $1 per acre depending on crop price and yield. It may be adjusted up or down in accordance with the level of losses and the costs of administration. Producers who have opted out of the plan will at the end of each crop year receive a full rebate on the levies collected from them.

The plan has administrative benefits for companies. The dealer takes a levy for each delivery, whether the producer is in the plan or has opted out. For the industry this keeps paperwork to a minimum.

Special crops dealers will remit levies to the Canadian Grain Commission, the agent for participating producers. After deducting an administration fee, the commission will forward the premiums to an insurer. The Canadian Export Development Corporation has agreed to act as the insurer for the plan. The insurer and the agent can be changed in the future if the special crops advisory committee recommends it. I will talk about this committee in more detail shortly.

Prospective licensees will have to demonstrate financial ability to receive a licence. This protects producers and ensures the viability of the insurance plan. It is expected that most producers will participate. To encourage their participation, startup funding of $500,000 will be made available from the Government of Canada to assist in implementing this new program. The insurance plan will be self funded after initial startup.

The second element concerning proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act is affordable licensing for special crops dealers. The handling of special crops is regulated under the Canada Grain Act which was initially designed to regulate the bulk handling of cereal grains. The licensing and security system in place however was not designed to serve the unique needs of special crops dealers.

Under the current system, buyers and sellers of Canadian grain, including special crops, must be licensed by the Canadian Grain Commission. They must also provide security for producers by posting a bond or letter of credit. Security protects producers if licensed elevators or grain dealers default on their payment obligations.

Unfortunately for small companies in the special crops industry, the security that must be provided is expensive and depletes their available credit restricting their ability to buy special crops. Security requirements are tough on small companies and prevent the special crops industry from developing.

About 800 seed cleaning plants operate on the prairies. They are currently exempt from licensing, provided they do not buy and sell grain. Only a few operators of seed cleaning plants are currently licensed.

It is not uncommon in this growing industry for a seed cleaning plant to act as an agent for an established licensee. This will not change in the future. However it would be easier for them under the provisions of the bill to evolve to the next level, to actually become a grain dealer buying and selling special crops.

More special crops dealers would become licensed if they could satisfy the licensing requirements. Because they cannot, they are constrained in expanding their operations. Furthermore they are not in a position to offer the full range of services demanded by producers and provided by their licensed competitors.

Unfortunately there have been cases where dealers have ignored the legislation and bought grain without a licence. This places producers at significant risk of not being paid if the dealer defaults on payments because no security has been provided to the Canadian Grain Commission.

For Canada to make further gains in the special crops market, a regulatory environment is required that allows companies, both large and small, to participate. The proposed legislation before the House this morning would reduce entry barriers for special crops dealers by making licensing more affordable and making the licensing requirements easier to satisfy.

If approved, it is expected that the new special crops provisions will initially apply to the following special crops: beans, buckwheat, corn, fababeans, lentils, mustard seed, peas, safflower seeds, soybeans, sunflower seed and triticale. This list could be expanded or reduced if the special crops industry wants this to happen.

A special crops dealer will be defined as an elevator operator or grain dealer who buys only special crops from producers.

An amendment to the Canada Grain Act will create a class of licence called a special crops licence. This licence will give companies the right to use official grade names when buying and selling special crops.

Individuals and companies that also buy and sell standard crops such as wheat, barley and canola will continue to be licensed under current provisions of the Canada Grain Act. They will not have to obtain a special crops licence to buy and sell special crops but will have to collect levies from producers for a producer funded insurance plan. However, the security that companies currently post in the form of bonds and letters of credit to cover their liabilities to special crops producers will be reduced correspondingly.

Finally, special crops dealers will not have to post security to cover payment obligations to special crops producers. This will remove a major barrier to owners of small companies who want to participate in the special crops industry.

The new program will encourage companies currently operating without a licence to apply for one. By making licensing affordable and by eliminating costly security requirements, this proposed legislation will allow the number of licensed special crops dealers to increase. Both large and small dealers will operate on a level playing field.

The third element concerning proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act is the establishment of a special crops advisory committee. The committee will be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. It will be composed of a maximum of nine members representing special crops producers, processors, producer-processors, and exporters. Each prairie province and sector of the industry will be represented on the committee. The majority of the members will be producers.

The special crops advisory committee will advise the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food on the operations of the special crops program. The committee can recommend to the minister that the administrator of the insurance plan or the insurer be replaced. It can also make recommendations on the designation of new crops and on other issues referred by the minister.

I will now talk about our proposed amendments to the Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, AMPA, so that AMPA applies to the Canada Grain Act. The Administrative Monetary Penalties Act is legislation that was enacted in 1995. It provides a broad range of enforcement options by allowing monetary penalties, fines, to be levied for non-compliance with regulations. The Fertilizer Act, Plant Protect Act, Health of Animals Act, Pest Control Products Act and Feeds Act are subject to this innovative legislation.

The main enforcement options now available under the Canada Grain Act are the suspension and revocation of licences and prosecution. However, those sanctions have the impact of stopping business operations either temporarily or perhaps permanently. Because their impact is so serious, they are seen as a sanction of last resort, not as a normal regulatory enforcement tool. The current options are also costly, lengthy and mean that strict procedural requirements must be followed.

With this proposed change, the Canadian Grain Commission will have a broader range of measures to enforce its regulations.

An important feature of AMPA is that it allows for the issuing of warnings and negotiated solutions to non-compliance. Administrative monetary penalties can be reduced to zero if a violator takes immediate corrective action to comply. In this way AMPA emphasizes compliance, not punishment.

I would now like to move on to talk about our initiative to repeal the Grain Futures Act.

As members may be aware, the Grain Futures Act is federal legislation that was created in 1939. Under the act the Canadian Grain Commission is responsible for regulating grain futures trading in Canada which is done solely at the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange with trade clearing done by Winnipeg Commodity Clearing Ltd.

In the spring of 1997 the Canadian Grain Commission completed its consultation process with nearly 70 stakeholder groups and companies involved in the trading of grain futures and options. The purpose of the consultations was to determine the extent of industry support for a proposal to repeal the Grain Futures Act. These consultations were triggered by a recommendation made by the board of governors of the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange in 1996 calling for a change in regulator from the Canadian Grain Commission to the Manitoba Securities Commission. This recommendation stemmed from the exchanges plan to introduce trading in non-grain products.

There is wide agreement that the Manitoba Securities Commission has the appropriate statute to effectively regulate all trading activities at the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange. The province of Manitoba has enacted the Commodity Futures Act, giving the Manitoba Securities Commission the mandate to regulate grain futures trading. The legislation is expected to be proclaimed very soon.

Several strong messages were received as a result of the consultation process. They included the following. The current Grain Futures Act is outmoded and no longer meets international and domestic regulatory standards. It does not have the elements or scope to be an effective regulatory tool for the futures industry today. The act provides for only the regulation of grain futures contracts. It does not provide the authority to regulate all trading current and proposed at the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange.

This key prairie institution wants to get involved in non-grain contracts such as hogs. Under the current legislation for non-grain commodities the WCE would be subject to provincial legislation and regulations. Transferring regulatory responsibilities to the province of Manitoba will eliminate the unsatisfactory prospect of the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange being subject to regulation by both the province of Manitoba for grain and non-grain contracts and by the Government of Canada for grain futures contracts. This scenario is inconsistent with our national objectives of avoiding overlap and duplication of federal and provincial activities.

The province of Manitoba's regulatory body, the Manitoba Securities Commission, has the legislation to provide the regulatory oversight that meets national and international standards. The Manitoba legislation features comprehensive regulation of all aspects of futures and options trading from the point of order taking by futures commission merchants to the transactions on the floor and the clearing of trade. In contrast the Grain Futures Act provides for only the supervision of grain futures trading and the clearing process.

The Manitoba Securities Commission has also indicated that it will acquire additional expertise in grains futures by hiring experienced staff, giving it the necessary resources to do an effective job.

The Canadian Grain Commission intends to maintain an ongoing liaison with the Manitoba Securities Commission through a memorandum of understanding. Preliminary discussions have already been held. This process will ensure that a formal mechanism is in place to communicate grain industry concerns and to ensure harmonization of trading regulators with grain handling regulations.

I would like to conclude by stating that this proposed legislation is our government's response to the express needs of the western agriculture industry. If passed, the legislation would benefit the special crops sector by recognizing and addressing the following principles: that security should be available to all producers who are prepared to pay for it; that their participation in an insurance plan should be voluntary; that the regulatory system for special crops should encourage development of the industry and not impede it; and that the program should be affordable, simple to administer and should not impose any additional costs or bureaucracy on any sector of the special crops industry.

Repeal of the outmoded Grain Futures Act would recognize the following principles: that the federal government supports the introduction of a comprehensive, contemporary regulatory framework that will allow futures and options trading on the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange to develop new contracts and that dual regulations should be avoided or eliminated.

The principal amendments before the House represent what the industry and producers believe are necessary for the future growth of the agricultural sector. I recommend that members of the House support Bill C-26.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to Bill C-26. As outlined by the parliamentary secretary, it is an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Grain Futures Act.

I challenge government members across the floor to truly and carefully listen to what farmers have to say about Bill C-26. The parliamentary secretary spoke long and eloquently about the consultative process that led up to Bill C-26, but I believe the job is only half done.

While it is true the government has a dismal track record when it comes to listening to either farmers or the Canadian people, I believe it has a chance to partially redeem itself through the legislation. On behalf of farmers I encourage the government to seize that opportunity.

They have a chance to seriously consider concerns that producers of special crops have about this very complex bill. After all, that is what MPs are supposed to be doing here. Reformers place very heavy emphasis on consultation and feedback from Canadians. Reformers base their policies on what voters have indicated are their wishes. We consult, listen and then we consult again. The result is a product that provides the most accurate reflection of the will of the people ever seen in the Chamber.

Consensus building is never easy but it will always produce better legislation than simply responding to lobbyists, special interest groups or bureaucrats, which seems to be the Liberal method of drafting policy. The parliamentary secretary referred to the consultations he believes and the government believes have taken place, but I believe the job is not yet done.

It is high time Liberal MPs gave this process a try. I realize it is a little against their natural tendencies but they might be surprised to find some pleasure out of newly found democratic ways. From personal experience I can attest it is a great feeling to know one is accurately reflecting the views of constituents and those of Canadians.

It is due to this need for feedback and consultation that Reform MPs have given tentative support to Bill C-26. I describe that support as tentative because it is in the early days yet. The debate and analysis of the legislation has only just begun.

While at the outset it appears as though parts of the legislation may reap positive results in the form of increased financial security for producers of special crops, we have yet to hear from the majority of those producers and from other stakeholders affected by the legislation. We have yet to hear from the majority of producers of beans, buckwheat, corn, faba beans, lentils, mustard seed, peas, safflower seed, soybeans, sunflower seed and triticale. The same goes for any other party, and there are other parties, that feel the legislation will touch them as well.

It is members of these groups who are the experts. We must listen to their expert opinions on how Bill C-26 will affect their livelihoods. I have personally written to a number of these groups which represent special crops farmers asking them to send me their praise or their criticisms of the bill. I have also sent an open letter to the editor of the Western Producer inviting persons affected by the legislation to share their views with me. Hopefully it will find room in its next publication to print my appeal for input.

This will kick-start a process of consultation, an ongoing process that I am confident will result in some concrete proposals to actually improve Bill C-26. This consultative process must be given the opportunity to achieve results. That means that when the bill goes to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food all members of that committee must be ready and willing to give sufficient time and opportunity for witnesses to come forward with their opinions and proposals.

Unfortunately this is not something we simply expect to happen. It should be something we should be able to expect as part of our democratic parliamentary process. However the government has shown us time and time again that this process can be manipulated and mutilated to the point that democracy can barely be seen.

For those who are unfamiliar with the sad story of Bill C-4, I will tell them how that bill was rammed through committee stage. Grain farmers and farm groups whose livelihoods depend upon reform of the Canadian Wheat Board were given less than two weeks, or just six short meetings in Ottawa, to tell MPs on the agriculture committee what was wrong with Bill C-4. They were lumped together, up to four at a time, in a round table style presentation. These stakeholders who have the right to have their views heard by elected representatives were barely squeezed in to the Liberal members' agenda and once they were before the committee their comments were virtually ignored and their expertise was disregarded.

Reform MPs on the committee, including myself, collectively had just seven minutes to question witnesses to garner a complete understanding of their position. By the time the sixth and final committee meeting allotted for Bill C-4 came along, it was apparent that Liberal committee members had no intention of making any of the substantive changes required.

In less than two hours the entire bill was analysed clause by clause and returned to the House, not as improved legislation that reflected farmer feedback but as the same ineffective unanimously despised bill that was tabled by the minister responsible for the wheat board in the first place.

Since it had been immediately apparent that amendments would not be given fair consideration at committee, my Reform colleagues and I chose to table our amendments at report stage, hoping that all MPs in the House would take the time to thoroughly consider them.

What did the Liberals think of the amendments that were derived by farmers? They thought they were a waste of time. The government invoked time allocation and cut off debate on Bill C-4. Consultation was certainly not to get in the way of the government's tight schedule.

You can understand, Mr. Speaker, why I challenge government members to truly consult with farmers on Bill C-26. I am understandably sceptical. I am concerned for farmers. I am concerned that their voices will be ignored as they were during the debate on Bill C-4.

At this point I have little doubt that my Reform colleagues and I will be proposing amendments to Bill C-26 either at the agriculture committee or at report stage in the Chamber. Certain problems with the bill are already apparent through the limited feedback we have received thus far. As I mentioned, even if the government is not ready to consult with farmers Reformers are.

I am looking forward to the responses to my invitation to comment on Bill C-26. Based on those responses if the majority of farmers support the bill we will know it. If the majority of farmers oppose the bill we will also know that.

I have a number of preliminary concerns about Bill C-26 that I believe should be addressed in coming days along with the concerns we will hear from farmers. One of the most worrisome aspects of Bill C-26, which I hope can be addressed through amendments, is the lack of details outlining how the special crops industry insurance plan will function. Instead of having these details put in place by parliament, meaning that they will undergo the scrutiny and debate of MPs and farmers, regulations will be put in place. Regulations are not subjected to the consultation and approval required for legislation.

Passing Bill C-26 with the details of the insurance plan missing is like signing a blank cheque. I am not prepared to sign off the legislation without at least setting up some essential parameters for the operation of the insurance plan. Perhaps the government felt this task is too onerous or too complicated to be included in the bill.

I assure the government and the minister of agriculture that producers of special crops will be willing to meet that challenge. There is too much at stake to avoid the particulars and leave them to be determined through regulations. Farmers' interests need to be protected.

For example, the insurance levy requires limitations. The special crops rural initiative program or SCRIP committee, which includes producers and processors from the three prairie provinces, made a number of recommendations in the April 1996 report, many of which are contained in the bill as the parliamentary secretary outlined. However, the SCRIP committee recommended that the insurance levy remain under 1% of the gross value of grain sale proceeds but there is no clause to reflect this limit in Bill C-26.

I cannot be content nor can farmers to rely on the minister's word or assurances that in future regulations the levy will not surpass 1%. Bill C-26 requires more certainty on this issue and on many other particulars of the insurance plan.

Another concern arises from experiences that tell us that government interference in agriculture can often be a hindrance to progress. Bureaucracy and farming do not mix. Whenever possible, the market and the private sector must be allowed to determine an industry's direction. There are two examples in this legislation that run opposite to this philosophy.

The first is that the Canadian Grain Commission will run the insurance plan. Perhaps during the formative months that the plan is being established the CGC could play a stabilizing role as administrator. However, there is no reason that legislation should not call for the eventual return of the plan to one of the producer groups. The insurance plan runs the risk of becoming bogged down in the infamous government bureaucracy.

In a related issue, the insurance plan is insured by the Export Development Corporation, a federal government institution. Why not allow a private insurance company to act as the insurer? It is an option that must be investigated. It is often found that private companies have premiums competitive to premiums charged by the federal government to ensure an insurance plan. If that is the case then farmers and taxpayers would be better off if a private company were chosen.

The Reform Party favours fostering the development of private sector management strategies in the Canadian agricultural industry. We need less government interference in agriculture. We need to support an increase in private enterprise.

Further concerns will no doubt arise over the levy. The CGC says the initial levy will be set at .0038 or almost four-tenths of 1% which is slightly higher than the SCRIP committee had originally suggested. There will be questions about this increase in the levy. The CGC also says that one-third of the levy will be consumed by administrative costs and two-thirds will go toward the premium on the fund. Minimizing the administrative costs will be a priority for farmers and Reform MPs. It has also been suggested that the deductible be set at 20%.

I remind everyone that all these figures mentioned are not in the legislation. They were either contained in the SCRIP report or in a press release issued by the CGC and this gives cause for great concern. While it may be difficult to specify precise numbers and percentages, farmers will want some assurance through legislation that rigid guidelines are in place to prevent the plan from becoming too expensive or too administratively burdened.

Even though levy rates deductibles are not found in any clause in Bill C-26 government MPs better be prepared to accept the reality that producers and processors will demand the opportunity to discuss them. They will not be willing to leave the fate of their livelihoods to be determined solely by regulation.

I refer to some of the feedback that has come. This legislation is really in its infancy even though there has been a consultative process under way for quite some time. This legislation is quite new to this place. Despite what the parliamentary secretary indicated during his remarks, I found many producers are not really aware that this legislation even exists at this point. We have some feedback coming to us about Bill C-26. I would like to read into the record a couple of letters I have received from groups.

The first is from the Foam Lake marketing club, a group of producers from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan.

In a February 19, 1998 letter to the minister on Bill C-26 they say:

We are very concerned with the SCRIP portion of Bill C-26 and as such, request that it be withdrawn for further study or substantially amended. Our request is supported by the following points:

1) There appears to have been a calculated effort by the CGC and the SCRIP committee to develop their proposal in secret.

This is quite contrary to the opening remarks of the parliamentary secretary about the great consultative process that the government went through.

There are very few farmers who know that the SCRIP bill is about to become law, let alone know the contents.

2) There have been several large membership organizations which have rejected SCRIP at their annual meetings, (1) the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association, (2) the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, (3) the Saskatchewan Pulse Crop Development Board and (4) the Western Barley Growers Association.

3) The SCRIP proposal, while being promoted as voluntary, is nothing short of a worst case example of negative billing. This of course could be made acceptable if it was made truly voluntary for both the special crop growers and the grain dealers.

4) The key reason for the various commodity groups rejecting the SCRIP proposal was the suggestion in the CGC briefing notes that cereal and oilseed crops may well be added at a later date. It is obvious from this that the federal government is anxious to absolve itself of the security responsibilities which are clearly spelled out in the Canada Grain Act.

On point 4, I believe the author is talking about this bill as being more unloading, more downloading of government responsibilities to the producers. The letter goes on:

5) The other very troubling aspect of this proposal (which is left up to the regulators) is the fact that farmers will be paying a tax rather than a competitive cost item which would normally be built into the grain buyer's basis. Our industry has far too many regulated cost items which are void of any competitive forces.

What the author is referring to is competition. There should be open competition. Any time we get a situation where we have only one person supplying the insurance for an industry, without competition, we run the risk that the premiums and administration costs could be to high.

6) The final concern we would like to raise with you is the recent aggression which has been initiated by the CGC. Special crops dealers have indicated to us there have been a number of instances where the CGC has instructed the RCMP to seize records and close businesses down. These RCMP raids would appear to be linked directly to the SCRIP legislation. We urge you, Mr. Minister, to call off these scare tactics and allow the special crops industry to advance and prosper as it has done without the onerous regulations which are inherent in the grain industry in western Canada.

The Foam Lake Marketing Club is a group of 20 commercial farmers who meet on a regular basis to keep abreast of commodity market trends and advance our vision for a less regulated and a more market responsive agriculture industry in western Canada.

We trust you will respect our recommendation for withdrawal of SCRIP or make the necessary amendments to have it completely voluntary.

Sincerely,

Bill Cooper, President

I briefly want to refer to another copy of a letter that came to me from the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. It is also about this particular legislation. As I indicated, we are starting to get some feedback about Bill C-26.

This letter states:

Dear Minister:

Re: an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to the repeal the Grain Futures Act

I am writing today specifically on the issue of the Special Crops Rural Initiative Program (SCRIP) proposed under Bill C-26. The attached resolution, passed by delegates to the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA) annual meeting earlier this year, clearly spells out the position of our association on this program. Similar resolutions were also passed by delegates to the Saskatchewan Pulse Crop Development Board, Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association and the Western Barley Growers Association this year.

Since the passage of the resolution, the WCWGA took the initiative to meet with the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) President Barry Senft and his staff as well as several members of the SCRIP committee to discuss our members' concerns. Our primary concern with the program is with the insurance plan. The mandatory payment of the levy at source is, in our opinion, a form of negative billing, and will be perceived as a tax on the farm community. We would therefore suggest that the program be amended to ensure participation in the program is truly voluntary for both the special crop grower and the special crop dealer.

It goes on in that light. Another concern he refers to is on page 2:

Because a significant number of wheat grower members are growers of special crops, we are also compelled to comment on the fact that the CGC is considering including cereal and oilseed crops in this program. If in fact the proposed legislation is all encompassing and only requires regulatory additions to include wheat, other cereals, and oilseeds, then we must demand that the SCRIP section of Bill C-26 be repealed.

That letter was signed by Larry Maguire, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

As I noted during my remarks, what we have seen is some feedback already starting to filter back.

I am not sure I can wrap up before question period. I have some other stories I would like to relate concerning this legislation.

One of the concerns about this legislation and the fact that there is a need to have insurance and bonds posted by grain dealers, in this case special crops dealers, is that farmers always run the risk of having their product sold to a company that goes bankrupt. The farmer is then left on the hook. Unfortunately we have seen that happen a few times.

I was told about a case where a company called Klemmer Seeds in Saskatchewan a couple of years ago went into receivership and some farmers were left on the hook and government and taxpayers had to come to their assistance.

Those of involved in agriculture and follow the agricultural industry are very well aware of what happened in the last week or so with Palliser Grain going into receivership.

Reform MPs from Saskatchewan showed great initiative recently by holding and hosting an open forum. They invited farmers from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and approximately 300 showed up. I was also at this forum and spoke to the farmers. Many of the farmers approached me with concerns about Palliser Grain going into receivership. Their immediate concern was for the grain the company had in storage.

I would just like to give a bit of an indication of the magnitude of the disaster. I had a couple of farmers tell me that they were unfortunately in a position where they had eight carloads of flax that they had unloaded sometime last fall. The value of this, to put this in some perspective for a reasonably mid sized farm, is about $200,000. This flax was with Palliser and they are unclear at this point, because they had opted for a deferred payment, whether they are going to be covered by the bond that Palliser was carrying.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry but I must interrupt the member for Prince George—Peace River. However, the member will have almost 16 minutes remaining after question period.

Mps Versus Pages Hockey GameStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Pratt Liberal Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday night the quiet community of Sandy Hill here in Ottawa reverberated with the sound of cannonading slap shots and the roar of a partisan crowd.

The event was the annual MPs versus the pages hockey game. It is the only game in town where opposition and government members can be seen skating in the same direction and working toward the same goal.

The pages put together a solid effort. Led by their very capable goalie Julian Ovens, they were energetic and enthusiastic.

The TSN turning point came when the pages, with four MPs in the penalty box, were unable to score. Spurred on by the inspirational play of the member for Nunavut, the MPs finally triumphed with a score of six to five. But the pages had the last laugh because yesterday I saw none of them limping around with sore muscles.

Technology Partnerships CanadaStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me set the record straight by congratulating successful companies from British Columbia which this government is supporting through Technology Partnerships Canada. Investments to date are over $57 million. This federal support is expected to create more than 4,800 jobs in B.C. These innovative companies include Ballard Power Systems, Avcorp Industries, Western Star Trucks, Dynamotive, Doyle Argosy (Coincard), Starvision Multimedia and Paprican.

Federal government investments are helping to position these B.C. companies as world leaders in the environment, information technologies, aerospace and pulp and paper sectors. Together we are working to support innovation and promote economic growth.

Dehydration IndustryStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, European subsidies are threatening Canadian jobs in the dehydration industry, in particular in my riding of Prince Albert where about two-thirds of Saskatchewan's capacity lies. This week I met with representatives of the Canadian Dehydrators Association who came to Ottawa because federal rail policies are killing their business.

Unfair subsidization by the European common market already creates problems for the industry. Our producers have already lost the European market due to its subsidies and now they stand to lose the Asian market as well.

In addition to the disadvantage caused by the subsidies, unreliable piecemeal rail service undermines Canada's best efforts to compete. They are not asking for subsidies, just for the freedom to compete. Canadian dehydrators want economic efficiencies to determine rail service in Canada and to ensure grains are not unduly favoured at the expense of their industry.

ImmigrationStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, given your elevated status in life I do not know whether you have occasion to take taxis to and from the Ottawa airport. However, other members and I do and, in fact, there will be a rush for the taxis in a short period of time. The likelihood is that I will be picked up by a computer engineer from Sri Lanka, delivered to the airport and then returned to my home by a science graduate from Sri Lanka. I was delivered to my office building this morning by a history graduate from Kenya.

Our greatest resources are our human resources. It is somewhat scandalous that in this country we do not use our immigrants in a more useful fashion which would allow them to contribute to our country.

The legislative review entitled “Not Just Numbers” states the following in recommendation No. 27: “The proposed federal-provincial council on immigration protection should establish access to trades and professions and foreign credential recognition—”

ImmigrationStatements By Members

11 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.

AgricultureStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Middlesex Federation of Agriculture is one of the leading farm organizations in southwestern Ontario. This weekend, in what has become an annual event, Middlesex farmers will meet with my colleagues from Perth-Middlesex, Elgin-Middlesex-London and myself as well as the area provincial member. The variety of issues for discussion will range from international trade and farm finance to research investment and rural development.

Ontario's agriculture industry is world class in management technology and production, with more than $6.5 billion in farm gate receipts in 1996. It is contributing nearly $22.2 billion to the provincial GDP, employing 672,000 people.

Sound government policy is required to encourage the growth and stability of agriculture. I look forward to working with the Middlesex federation to ensure that agriculture is at the top of the government's agenda.

FisheriesStatements By Members

March 27th, 1998 / 11 a.m.

Reform

John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the 1998 low salmon returns in British Columbia are a direct result of shortfalls in returning four-year old spawning salmon. The late returning Fraser River sockeye run was fished out within 12 hours in 1994. The 1994 disaster led to a major re-examination of DFO policy and gave a black eye to the department. Now the minister is blaming some guy called El Niño and a host of other things rather than accepting responsibility for disastrous fishery management on both coasts, affecting the livelihood of tens of thousands. This is despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Why is the minister refusing to accept responsibility and to make the tough decisions?

The Liberals are an odd lot Always hoping to change the plot Campaigning for the byelection They are hoping for a resurrection But after Monday this fact they will dread In B.C. the red heads are dead

Member For SherbrookeStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to the member for Sherbrooke, the hon. Jean Charest, who officially announced his—

Member For SherbrookeStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but I should remind him that we cannot name a member of Parliament.

Member For SherbrookeStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to the member for Sherbrooke, who officially announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Quebec.

The man from Sherbrooke can do it. He can bring people together. He is brave, honest and a diplomat.

We are proud of his decision. Today is a great day for the people of Quebec and for the province's economic future.

Thanks Michèle, thanks to the people in the riding of Sherbrooke, and thanks Jean. See you soon.

Ice Storm 1998Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Hec Clouthier Liberal Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, many farmers including those from the great riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke were hard hit by the January ice storm, one of the greatest natural disasters in Canadian history.

The Government of Canada recognizes the magnitude of the losses faced by these farmers and it is for this reason that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada along with his provincial counterparts announced this morning that all farmers in eastern Ontario will be eligible for compensation for ice storm damage.

This package provides a further $20 million for economic recovery for damages not covered by the DFAA. The governments of Canada and Ontario agree to cost share this program on a 50:50 basis.

The total assistance being provided in eastern Ontario is consistent with that provided for farmers in the Saguenay and Red River disasters and to the support the Government of Canada is giving to help with the effects of this tragic ice storm.

British Columbia ByelectionStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, British Columbians were greatly amused yesterday at the spectacle of Liberal MPs from Ontario and Quebec professing their love and concern for our province, but only because there is a byelection under way.

They seemed so sincere as they read their prepared scripts and almost pulled off this piece of fiction until question period.

In response to a patsy question from one of her own colleagues, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women showed the true colours of the Liberals when she could not even remember the name of the constituency where the byelection is being held. This is truly remarkable considering that the secretary of state represents a riding that is less than 20 kilometres from Port Moody—Coquitlam. This shows British Columbians just how ignorant the Liberals really are about British Columbia.

World Theatre DayStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, the theatre world is celebrating these days. The International Theatre Institute is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Its representative in Quebec, the Conseil québécois du théâtre, is marking its 15th anniversary.

Today is World Theatre Day. The Conseil québécois du théâtre and the performers and craftspeople in Quebec theatre are taking part in the various celebrations around the world. In this connection, over 20 theatres in Quebec have organized free activities to encourage sharing and discovery.

The eighth annual theatre congress, with this year's theme of “Theatre: a collective art”, will be held this weekend at Montreal's Maisonneuve CEGEP. Performers and craftspeople will be invited to take part in round tables and so will the public, the focus of and the audience for the theatre.

I therefore urge Quebeckers to enter the world of theatre and give it the support it needs to continue filling their lives with dreams and magic.

InfrastructureStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, at the Western Canada Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association convention in Victoria yesterday, delegates from the private sector and the provinces called for more investment in the infrastructure of our country.

As Liberals we are glad to observe that others are starting to see value in the idea we first proposed in the 1993 campaign.

While the Reform Party would have us believe that money spent on improving our nation's roads, sewers and municipal buildings is a waste, grassroots Canadians know that it is an important investment in our communities. According to an industry spokesperson the spinoff for every construction job is three more jobs. That is why we are proud to have spent over $100 million federal dollars in British Columbia over the last four years in direct support of these efforts.

We join British Columbians like Lou Sekora in Port Moody—Coquitlam who have been at the forefront in calling for direct community investment.

Hepatitis CStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government announced an offer to compensate less than half of those who contacted hepatitis C through the blood system. Over 30,000 people will suffer in poverty simply because they went to a hospital for treatment and came out sicker than when they went in.

The Canadian Hemophilia Society said this is not a compassionate solution but a legalistic one. The Hepatitis C Society of Canada calls it a compensation plan created in hell. The government has forced hepatitis C sufferers to wait, to become embroiled in legal wrangles and has ignored the Krever report recommendations to compensate all victims.

The New Democratic Party urges the federal government to show leadership on this issue and put additional money forward to compensate all victims of this terrible tragedy equally rather than pit one group of ill and suffering people against another.

British ColumbiaStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the NDP Government of British Columbia promised to deliver tax relief and a deficit of almost $200 million. It sounds like something out of the Reform Party platform. Just like Reform the B.C. government fails to understand that good government means cleaning your house before you redecorate.

The priorities of Canadians in B.C. and across the country are clear. They want governments to eliminate their deficit first and then lower the tax and debt burden while improving our social programs. Promising a tax cut while running a deficit is like selling the house to save the furniture.

I wonder when the tail will stop wagging the dog. Is that as good as it gets?

Commission On Future Of Mirabel AirportStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, we Bloc members from the Lower Laurentians, in conjunction with the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, tabled a brief during one of the hearings held by the commission on the future of Mirabel airport.

The Bloc Quebecois cares about the survival of the airport and the social and economic development of the Laurentians. We have made several recommendations to the commission, including one asking the concerned authorities to finish building highway 13 as soon as possible in order to allow Mirabel to maintain the highest level of economic activity.

We have recommended that ADM, Aéroports de Montréal, try to attract companies to Mirabel and allow the use of the facilities at an attractive price. For Mirabel airport to achieve its full potential, it must diversify its economic operations and be given a multi-sectoral mandate.

We deplore the fact that the federal government is not on the Tardif commission, for it is responsible for the mess we are in.

Judicial System In Restigouche RegionStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, at times I understand how people can become frustrated with politicians. Take for instance a matter I have raised in this House: the backlog of legal cases in the Restigouche region.

In this region, delays in court proceedings are so long that an extra judge should be appointed to turn the situation around. What are the Liberal politicians doing about it? They are passing the buck from one level of government to the other.

On February 18, the Minister of Justice of New Brunswick made the following comment “As you know, appointments to the Court of Queen's Bench are the responsibility of the federal government.”

In Ottawa, on March 19, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice made the following comment: “the matter is a provincial responsibility.”

While the two levels of government are busy washing their hands of the matter, delays at the Campbellton Court keep getting longer. The people of the Restigouche region are being denied their fundamental right to justice.

I urge the Minister of Justice to show leadership on this issue.

The Kidney FoundationStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform this House and all Canadians that March is kidney month.

The Kidney Foundation of Canada will again be focusing its effort on educating the public regarding the importance of organ donation.

An estimated 20,000 Canadians suffer from kidney failure. Millions of others suffer from kidney related disorders. For many Canadians a kidney transplant is their only option. Nearly 2,400 of 2,800 Canadians that were on the waiting list in 1996 were still waiting for kidney transplants by the end of that year. A strategy to improve organ donation and distribution was endorsed by federal, provincial and territorial health ministers.

I take this opportunity to encourage all Canadians to sign an organ donor card and to support the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Hepatitis COral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Reform

Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government today chose to exclude half the victims of the hepatitis C tragedy from compensation. Twenty thousand victims minimum are being excluded from the compensation package.

I am going to give the government the opportunity to explain this to the Canadian public. Why does Pam Rasmussen of Nantom, Alberta, who got hepatitis C from contaminated blood in 1985 not get fair and just compensation?

Hepatitis COral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member opposite has taken a very calm approach to a very serious problem.

Ever since the Krever commission submitted its report and even before, the Government of Canada, in collaboration with its provincial counterparts in the health departments, has taken an approach to deal with the issue on a fair and compassionate basis.

The package that is now before Canadians represents just such an approach. We hope people will take a look at the package as it is and address it in the very many positive points that it presents for victims of this tragedy.