This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

March 27th, 1998 / 12:05 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, today we will be answering Question No. 5. .[Text]

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

With regard to the moment when chronometers in all federal Government information systems change from the year 1999 to the year 2000, ( a ) what is now being done and what will be done to prepare for this moment, ( b ) can the government assure the public that there will be no loss of data, no interruption in service or other systems malfunction, and ( c ) what is the estimated cost ensuring that computers will be able to cope effectively with the change of millennium?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec

Liberal

Marcel Massé LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

a) The federal government has defined the year 2000 compliance issue as a high government priority and is working aggressively on all fronts to monitor the level of year 2000 readiness within departments, implement common initiatives and encourage action.

In 1996, the chief information officer, CIO, project office was established within Treasury Board secretariat, TBS, to co-ordinate and monitor activity across all federal government departments and agencies. In September of 1997, a government industry task force was formed under the Minister of Industry to help Canadian industry address this unique challenge. The task force is chaired by Jean Monty, chief executive officer of Nortel, and includes representatives from a number of key economic sectors including banking, insurance, transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications, information technology, small and medium size business, agriculture, and the retail and service sectors.

The CIO year 2000 project office has completed two comprehensive, government-wide surveys and a third one is in progress. The results of the second survey indicate that all departments are aware of the issue and all departments with government-wide mission critical, GWMC, systems have active year 2000 plans in place. Additionally, the level of readiness within government is consistent with accepted industry standards, and many departments are even further advanced.

b) The CIO year 2000 project office is committed to ensuring that key federal government systems will continue the delivery of essential services to the Canadian public and its businesses, beyond the year 2000. Defined as government-wide mission critical, GWMC, these systems have a direct impact on the health, safety, security and economic well-being of Canadians, and are the government's first priority.

Departments are responsible for all year 2000 repair, testing and replacement work of their systems, but in order to ensure that there is no interruption of services, departments will be asked to provide full contingency plans for any systems that are deemed at possible risk by fall of 1998. At present, however, the focus and number one priority of the government is to ensure that departments complete the necessary repair and replacement work on GWMC systems.

c) The Government of Canada recognizes that not addressing the year 2000 challenge could result in significant costs to Canadian taxpayers. Treasury Board secretariat estimates that the price tag for federal government year 2000 compliance will be $1 billion. The total federal information tehcnology, IT, budget is $3 billion to $4 billion annually and it is anticipated that the majority of the $1 billion required for the year 2000 effort is being drawn from existing budgets during the conversion period.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

I suggest that the other questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Reform

John Cummins Reform Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have some answers which are long overdue. On October 28 Question No. 31 was asked, which was regarding the dropping of charges against the minister's friends in the Oak Bay Marine Group. That answer is still outstanding.

On December 2 Question No. 56 was asked, again concerning the Oak Bay Marine Group. I wonder when I can expect a response on those matters.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have noted the numbers that the member mentioned and I will look into it as quickly as I can.

I would point out that we have received roughly 800 questions to this point. We have replied to well over half of them, but I understand the member's concern and I will look into it as soon as I can.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Reform

John Cummins Reform Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a deadline for responding to questions.

I have another question, Question No. 51, which was asked on December 1, 1997. We asked for a list of aboriginal groups which received communal fishing licences or other authorization to fish, excluding commercial fishing licences of the same type issued to all Canadian commercial fleets in British Columbia and I have had no response to that one as well.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have noted Questions Nos. 31, 56 and 51. I will do my best to see what is happening to them.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it agreed that the remaining questions be allowed to stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

When debate was suspended the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River had approximately 16 minutes remaining on his time.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I was interrupted by question period I was relating to the House the potential magnitude of the Palliser Grain receivership disaster and I was trying to enlighten some members.

I know from the heckling that constantly comes every time I stand to speak in this Chamber that there are some members across the way who do not wish to be enlightened about what farmers are saying in Saskatchewan, Alberta or anywhere else for that matter. They have a problem with it.

I was relating the story about the Saskatchewan forum which was hosted by the eight Reform MPs from that province. I was approached in my role as the official opposition agriculture critic. I was approached by a number of farmers who had concerns about the Palliser Grain Company going into receivership.

Some of these farmers are facing very substantial losses if they are not covered by the existing bond or if they are not covered by a trust fund that has been set up for some deferred payments and which we have scanty details about.

I would like to explain the process for deferred payments. When farmers deliver their product—and this applies to special crops as well as other commodities—they can defer payment to sometime in the future. It helps them to regulate their cash flow and even it out in different parts of the year.

My understanding is that under the present regulations, in order to be covered, the maximum amount of time a farmer can have his product stored with a company is 90 days. Then they have up to 30 days to cash the cheque. They basically have 120 days in which to get paid. If they do not fall within that framework of 120 days, in other words, if their product has been in storage for longer than that period of time, when a company goes into receivership it is questionable whether they will receive remuneration for their stored products.

Furthermore, my understanding is that government changed the rules in or about August 1995. Prior to that farmers were covered up to one year if they had products stored with a company. That was changed and shortened to 120 days.

It brings to light this issue: Is the onus entirely on the farmer to ensure that when he sells his product to a company he is going to be covered in this type of situation? Or is there some responsibility on the part of government to ensure that the farmer is made aware that these types of changes have taken place or that there is some increased risk involved with deferring payment?

It brings to light the whole issue of the buyer beware type of scenario. In this case we have the situation of seller beware, where the farmer has to recognize the extent of the risk he is taking.

In fairness to the farmers in the Palliser Grain situation, it is quite likely a lot of them did not understand that the insurance bond which Palliser Grain was required under legislation to carry did not cover them past the 120 days. It is certainly my hope and I believe the hope of all members that the issue can be resolved favourably for the farmers and that the trust fund which was set up for deferred payments will be sufficient to cover all those farmers who had product on storage with Palliser.

The reason why I am relaying this story is directly linked to one of the major reasons for Bill C-26, the whole issue of grain buyers and grain buying companies carrying insurance against the disaster of having gone broke or having gone into receivership, and whether the responsibility should rest entirely with the farmers or if there is some inherent responsibility on the part of government to carry some of that risk.

One of the points I made during my speech is that under the present way that Bill C-26 is structured there will be no competition in providing that insurance. The farmers who have approached me are quite concerned about the future risk of premiums being increased. They are also concerned about the fact that it is a levy. Although the parliamentary secretary said that it is voluntary, there are hoops that the farmer has to jump through. He has to wait until the end of the year to opt out. He has to maintain his records to see exactly how much levy he has paid. He then has to total this up and request that money he paid into the levy fund from the governing body.

While it is technically true that it is a voluntary process, it is, as I said in my speech, really negative option billing. The farmer has no choice because it is deducted off his cheque when he actually sells his product to the special grains buying agent.

I would just like to sum up by saying that the official opposition is constantly in a bit of a quandary when it comes to supporting or opposing certain pieces of legislation. All Canadians recognize that most of the legislation that is placed before this House has certain good merits to it. However, we are constantly having to decide whether it is more than 50% good or more than 50% bad and what position we should take.

I do not have the exact numbers but I think in the last Parliament, which was the first Parliament for me as a member of Parliament, the Reform Party supported the government's legislation about half the time. It may be a little more or a little less, but I think it was half the time. I believe we ended up supporting about half the bills that came through this place.

In this case, as I relayed in my opening remarks on Bill C-26, we are caught in the middle of this at this point in time. We are not sure whether to support it right now. There are some good things in it. As the parliamentary secretary indicated in his remarks, farmers, grain buyers and other stakeholders in the industry have been requesting this for quite some time. Whether this is the exact approach to take we do not know at this point. We are certainly interested in getting a lot more feedback as we go through the process.

Some of these comments which I have quoted from the various organizations and farmers run exactly opposite to each other but I wanted to demonstrate to members of this House that we as parliamentarians have our work cut out for us with Bill C-26. The feedback represents only a fraction of the input that we can expect to receive on this legislation. Yet it is already obvious that there is a great deal of skilful legislative work required.

We will need to carefully listen, thoroughly examine, look for compromise and, in the end, be able to tell farmers that we have done our jobs and done our jobs well.

This is what I want to tell the farmers when Bill C-26 completes its journey through the parliamentary process. I hope this government does not make that effort a futile one.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to 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.

As the new agriculture and agri-food critic for my party, I want to assure you that I will certainly be separating the wheat from the chaff.

We are again debating a bill that concerns only part of Canada, the prairies. What, however, is at the heart of this bill? The summary of the text reads as follows, and I quote:

This enactment establishes a licensing system and an insurance plan for the special crops industry in Western Canada. It provides for the licensing of all buyers of special crops and for the voluntary participation of producers in the insurance plan, which protects them against default of payment for special crops by licensees. Outstanding payments for standard crops will continue to be protected by security given by standard crops dealers to the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC).

After a summary examination of this highly technical and specialized bill, I will most certainly be a participant in the debate bearing in mind the best interests of farmers and farming and recognizing that this bill does not concern Quebec farmers. This is the reason my speech will be brief. I am not particularly concerned with a matter that is of interest only to western farmers. I feel quite outside this debate, particularly having heard the previous speeches, including that of my predecessor, the member for Prince George—Peace River.

The most important clause in this bill is clause 7. This clause provides for the establishment of an insurance plan, and I quote:

—to insure producers of special crops who are holders of cash purchase tickets—

—elevator receipts—

—or grain receipts against the refusal or failure of licensees to meet their payment or delivery obligations under the receipt or ticket.

If such a regime were to become law, this would allow a licence holder with an elevator operator or grain dealer licence to receive statutory levies from producers delivering special crops.

He would then remit the levies to the agent, who would use them to pay any premiums owed to the insurer, any expenses related to the administration of the insurance plan and any remuneration or reimbursement of expenses to which a member of the Special Crops Advisory Committee may be entitled under subsection 49.02(4).

The difficulty lies in section 49.02, which consists of four subsections setting out how the advisory committee is to be formed. The first subsection allows the minister to establish an advisory committee by naming nine members for a renewable term not exceeding three years. Is this not a way of making political appointments?

Would it not be better for these positions to be elected ones, especially since the committee is mandated to present recommendations regarding the designation of special crops and the selection of a person or organization as agent or insurer, and to advise the minister on any other issues concerning special crops? This could easily become a conflict of interest.

Moreover, the majority of the members of the committee must be “special crops producers who are not special crops dealers, grain dealers or operators of primary elevators”. In other words, they cannot be traders. I add this comment because the wording of the bill in French is rather ambiguous on this.

In addition, members's remuneration is also fixed by the minister. The agent must also reimburse them for any reasonable travel and living expenses incurred by them in the course of their duties while absent from their ordinary places of residence.

It can be seen that a number of questions arise concerning clause 7, particularly subsection 49.02 and its paragraphs. Other clauses also require some clarification, and this will be forthcoming, I trust, before we vote on this bill.

I will, therefore, be on the lookout for the slightest comment from farmers on this bill, for they are the ones who must benefit from it first and foremost.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-26, legislation to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Grain Futures Act.

This legislation makes amendments to two acts and repeals a third. It is really a rather detailed and complex piece of legislation. In briefings from the minister of agriculture's staff we were told this bill is of a non-controversial and only housekeeping nature. But looking closely at it we found something very negative and unsavoury about the bill.

The bill will now go to committee and frankly if we do not see some changes at that stage our party will have no choice but to vote against the bill at third reading.

At the outset I seriously question whether this legislation is really what the special crops industry wants. The minister has provided us with some information that indicates a long period of consultation on this question, and in fact the consultations go way back to 1993 and straddled the last federal election.

One might well ask what has changed in the past five years, and we ask whether these old and dated assumptions are a true reflection of what farmers and the industry truly wants today.

Before I get to what we consider to be the major defects of Bill C-26 I will summarize the government's stated intent for the legislation. First, we were told these amendments to the Canada Grain Act are intended to set up a licensing system for those businesses that purchase special crops from farmers.

Second, the legislation would allow creation of an insurance plan for the special crops industry. Third, the bill would repeal the Grain Futures Act, allowing responsibility for regulating the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange to revert to the Manitoba Securities Commission. The exchange is now regulated by the Canadian Grain Commission.

Bill C-26 applies only to western Canada because it relates to the jurisdiction exercised by the Grain commission in administering the Canada Grain Act, which does not generally apply in eastern Canada. This legislation applies to special crops. These crops include beans, buckwheat, peas, corn, faba beans, lentils, mustard seed, safflower, soybeans and sunflower seed.

Special crops are of growing importance to farmers and to the economy of western Canada. The so-called grain wars of the 1980s are painful memories in the minds of many farmers. The United States and the European community used their immense treasuries to subsidize the production and sale of wheat and other major grains. This subsidization drove down world prices and drove thousands of western Canadian farmers off their land.

We believe that farmers responded very creatively to this situation. One way in which they did so was to diversify into peas, lentils, sunflower seeds and other special crops. We in the NDP caucus are most supportive of any measures that will enhance the ability of farmers to prosper from growing and marketing their special crops.

We also support measures that would put the entire special crops industry on a firmer financial footing. The government claims the legislation will do that but my caucus and I are not convinced that it will.

The questions that have to be asked are these. Does the legislation benefit farmers and the entire special crops industry? If there are benefits, what will they ultimately cost? The answers to these questions give us great cause for concern.

Bill C-26 is based on a number of premises. One of them is that the businesses which most often purchase special crops from farmers are small firms that are frequently not licensed. The reason posited for this is that the security required from special crops dealers in order to cover their payment obligation to producers has forced small companies to avoid taking out licences.

In turn, this puts the producers who sell to these companies at risk if a company goes bankrupt or cannot meet its payment. A further argument is that this uncertainty has limited the potential growth of the industry because it has prevented farmers from getting into special crop production in a bigger way. The larger elevator companies that buy grains like wheat and barley naturally are licensed by the Canadian Grain Commission. Of course this is important to Canada's reputation as a reliable supplier of high quality grain.

The grain commission has the power to ensure that these large companies are always in a position to meet their payments to farmers who sell to them. The commission also has the power to ask companies to secure bonds and can impose penalties on companies should they renege on these payments to farmers.

The argument is made that regulations which make sense for large grain companies are not appropriate for smaller companies that purchase special crops. For example, the government says that Bill C-26 would remove the onus on special crop dealers to post costly bonds against the possibility of their defaulting in payments to producers. It has been argued that this is difficult, if not impossible, for small companies to post large security bonds and that consequently many of them simply are not licensed.

Bill C-26 proposes a licensing system for these smaller companies. In return for their being licensed they would not have to post large security bonds. The legislation also allows the Canadian Grain Commission to impose penalties and fines on these smaller companies for violations of the Canada Grain Act.

The legislation allows the grain commission to be more flexible and less punitive in the way it treats smaller grain companies in the event that they contravene the Canada Grain Act.

The government says that a system of licensing developed specifically for the purchasers of special crops will encourage development of the industry. We in the NDP support the development of the industry but question whether the legislation will achieve that end.

A second and related component of the legislation is a program that will insure farmers against non-payment by the businesses buying their special crops. The government says that the program is voluntary but in actual fact it is not. It is here that we begin to have some serious problems and I would like to go into them in some detail.

In clause 7 of the bill the government decrees that all special crops producers must pay an insurance levy on all crops sold to licensed dealers. Farmers have to pay this levy. Whether or not they want to participate in the insurance program they have to pay this check off at source. They have no choice about this.

The government calls this a voluntary insurance program, but it is anything but voluntary if it is a mandatory contribution at the front end. In fact it amounts to sort of a negative option billing plan in actual fact, the same kind of plan that outraged Canadians when cable television companies tried to implement this a few years back.

Farmers will have to provide notice at the beginning of the crop year if they do not want to belong to this insurance plan. Even if they give that notice in writing farmers still have to pay the insurance levy at the front end. It is only at the end of the crop year and after doing a lot of paperwork and legal wrangling that farmers would get their money back.

As I understand it, they will not receive interest on the money being held by the government that they paid at the front end and have to wait to be refunded at the back end. This type of negative option billing is simply unacceptable to farmers.

Our agriculture critic is already getting calls of protest from farmers who are beginning to twig to how the plan is really unfolding. We are not satisfied that these measures are really what the industry wants or needs. Certainly it is not what the farmers who have been coming forward want or need.

Bill C-4 proposes a check-off on grain deliveries to pay for a wheat board contingency fund. The proposed fund is extremely unpopular with farmers. They cannot afford the check-off. They do not see the need for it. They do not want to pay for it. Now the same government is proposing yet another check-off, compounding and piggybacking the other check-offs farmers pay. This time it is for special crops.

All this is in addition to the millions of dollars being collected by government from farmers in the name of cost recovery. Farmers are paying twice for the increasing number of services they need: once through their taxes and again through cost recovery. These are some of the problems we see with these measures.

Our caucus urges the minister to scrap his plans for this negative option insurance plan in the special crops industry. I will read with great alarm some material from the minister's office dated November 7, 1997. Page 4 of that document reads “The insurance plan could serve as a model for standard crops in the future and could lead to a producer funded insurance system for all crops produced in western Canada”.

Rather than listening to the opposition to the plan, the minister seems to feel it is some kind of model or prototype he would like to expand from special crops to standard crops in the future. This is seriously alarming to our caucus.

We sincerely hope the minister is not planning to extend his special crops insurance plan to all grains in western Canada. Surely he cannot be so out of touch that he would propose an entirely producer funded and negative option insurance program on all grains. If the minister attempts to do this we suggest that he will face an out and out revolt by farmers.

Bill C-26 repeals the Grain Futures Act which clears the way for the Manitoba Securities Commission to assume responsibility for regulating the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange. The exchange wants to trade commodities other than grains and wants the regulatory system to reflect this reality.

This is a logical request. It is time for the province of Manitoba to be given power to regulate the exchange rather than have it done by the Canadian Grain Commission as the case has been. We support this part of the legislation but it is unfortunately bundled with a larger legislative package that we cannot accept in its present form.

When he introduced Bill C-26 last December the minister said that it would provide a boon to rural economic development. I do not believe that a negative option insurance program will create rural economic development. Nothing in the arguments put forward by the government to date has altered that point of view on our part.

Let us look beyond the bill and ask what the government is doing to promote rural Canada. We need to look no further than the budget that was introduced in the House on February 24. The budget speech was entirely silent on agriculture. It is significant to note that the minister spoke for 90 minutes and did not once utter the word agriculture. I find that very revealing. In a 275 page budget document which was tabled as he spoke there were a mere 16 lines about rural Canada. Most of that space was devoted to reminding us that the minister had provided additional money to the Farm Credit Corporation, not this year but last year.

The only current agricultural spending mentioned in the budget speech is $20 million spread over five years throughout several government departments. The federal government spending in support of the agriculture and agri-food sector has declined drastically throughout this decade. This year's budget confirms even further cuts.

The Liberals are dismantling rural Canada, closing post offices and allowing the railways to double freight rates on grain and to tear up their branchlines. They have forgotten rural Canadians.

One might ask what the minister of agriculture has been doing to represent the interests of rural Canadians at the cabinet table. The answer would appear to be not very much. Now he is promoting a negative option insurance plan as a project for rural development. Not only that. He is saying he might extend such a plan to cover all grains grown and marketed in western Canada.

In all of this the minister is trying to pass Bill C-26 off as a mere housekeeping bill. It is much more than that. Unless there are significant changes to the bill we will work against it and we will vote against it.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions with representatives of all parties and I believe you would find consent for the following motion:

That, at the conclusion of today's debate on a motion for second reading of Bill C-26, the question shall be deemed put and adopted on division.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I go home for the weekend I want to correct the concept we heard from the government side regarding dynamic rural communities and dynamic agriculture and that somehow they were building rural communities. In the area in which I live nothing could be further from the truth.

I have seen villages disappear. Towns will soon disappear. Elevators are being bulldozed. Railroads are being torn up. Just to show how undynamic it is, seven farms were auctioned off the last weekend I was home. Four of them had young people in the same family that could take over the farm but because of the bleak agricultural outlook which has been brought on by the government opposite they are say no way. This is happening all over Saskatchewan.

The reason for Bill C-26 is that farmers are trying to make a living from the traditional wheat crop. They are trying their best. They are doing everything to make a penny out of it. The government, like the hon. member just said, never mentioned the word agriculture in the throne speech debate. The most dynamic and still the major industry, not only in Saskatchewan but in western Canada, never received one word of mention.

Now the government has come up with Bill C-26. Farmers in the west are disillusioned. They feel betrayed. They have been betrayed by the crow rate, by the railways and by their own grain companies. Farmers feel betrayed by the government. They could not care less right now about Bill C-26.

What they do care about is some way to pay their bills. Ranchers are asking for some way for them to pay for the increase of grazing land. Farmers are asking for a way to return to farms that have been in their families for three and four generations. There is no hope. The government has provided no hope.

In the town in which I live the elevators will be gone by the year 2000. The four curling rinks which surround the town have been closed. The government should realize that Bill C-26 does not address the problem of ongoing depopulation in much of rural Saskatchewan.

I can only compare it to another era in Saskatchewan, the dirty thirties when people simply gave up and moved out. Because of the policies of the government and because of lack of planning by the government, the same thing is taking place now. It is a disaster, but we have not hit the worst of it yet. The worst is yet to come.

In two years my daughter and her family will live over 80 miles away from the closest delivery point for grain. Over one-third of the cost of that ticket by the time they pay for the truck goes to freight.

Please, hon. parliamentary secretary, do not talk about Bill C-26 and its dynamics for rural Saskatchewan. Do not tell me about how this great energizing is taking place in agriculture. The parliamentary secretary needs to go out there and look. He will see for himself. Fifty-two towns had hospitals. RMs are closing. It is becoming a wasteland. Those people who have good agricultural wheat producing land are going to have to sell that land for grazing prices and get out.

We have a disaster. This government comes in with Bill C-26 which will do nothing to solve the real problem in Saskatchewan. I feel much better because I have said it. I hope the people in my province are listening.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

This is a question and comment period. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre may comment if he wishes.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, yes. I did not hear a question as such, but I would like to maybe echo some of the sentiments I heard.

Rural Manitoba, the province I am from is suffering from the depopulation, the flight of capital, the flight of families, the flight of people, industry, et cetera.

The previous speaker spoke very eloquently about this obviously from personal experience. Nothing we see in this piece of legislation is going to stem that tide nor is it going to take any steps to address the issues that are really facing rural Canada.

It is significant to note that the budget did not talk about agriculture. Also it has been very odd that in the eight or nine months I have been a rookie member of Parliament agriculture has been raised very, very few times. I understand a number of pressing issues from all across Canada compete for our interest but surely, in previous Parliaments, agriculture stood more front and centre than we see now in the House of Commons.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Charleswood—Assiniboine Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I have to address in my comments some of the concerns raised by the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

First of all, I would suggest that the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain talk to his party's agriculture critic. I heard the Reform Party agriculture critic clearly say in his opening remarks that the Reform Party was prepared to offer “tentative support” for Bill C-26. Yes, the Reform Party agriculture critic had some concerns and some questions but he did say clearly at the beginning of the debate that his party was prepared to offer tentative support.

The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain had better have a chat with his party's agriculture critic.

It is important that Canadians, especially those who live in rural Canada, have the facts straight. The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain—

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe that the hon. parliamentary secretary is supposed to be directing his comments or his question toward the hon. member from the NDP who spoke and not to my colleague.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Prince George—Peace River is correct. It is the debate of the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre on which we are on questions and comments. However, the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain had a demi presentation should we say. I felt it was very much in order for the parliamentary secretary to address that. The hon. parliamentary secretary can have 30 seconds to sum up. Then we will give the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre a minute in response.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, let me just say that the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain was concerned about the rural economy. All of us are concerned about the rural economy.

Bill C-26 which is before us now is intended to address one concern. The special crops industry on the prairies needs stimulation. It needs space. It needs an opportunity to enter into innovation. That is exactly what Bill C-26 is designed to do. It will support the dealers. And it will support the producers who want to do business with the special crops dealers. Let us get the facts straight.