House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


The House proceeded to the consideration of 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 reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

There are 11 motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of 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.

Motions Nos. 1, 5 and 7 to 11 will be grouped for debate but voted on as follows:

(a) a vote on Motion No. 1 applies to Motions Nos. 5 and 8 to 11;

(b) Motion No. 7 will be voted on separately.

Motions Nos. 2 to 4 and Motion No. 6 will be grouped for debate and voted on as follows:

(a) A vote on Motion No. 2 applies to Motions Nos. 3, 4 and 6.

I shall now put Motions Nos. 1, 5 and 7 to 11 to the House.

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11:05 a.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing line 42 on page 5 with the following:

“Special Crops Board referred”

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing line 24 on page 6 with the following:

“Crops Board may be entitled”

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing line 10 on page 7 with the following:

“49.02 (1) The Minister shall establish a”

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing lines 11 to 13 on page 7 with the following:

“Board of Directors, referred to as the Special Crops Board, within six months after the coming into force of this section, composed of not more than nine directors appointed by the Minister, chosen from a list provided by officially registered special crops commodity groups, for”

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing line 16 on page 7 with the following:

“(2) The Special Crops Board”

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing line 24 on page 7 with the following:

“Special Crops Board shall be”

Motion No. 11

That Bill C-26, in Clause 7, be amended, in the English version only, by replacing line 29 on page 7 with the following:

“the Special Crops Board such”

Madam Speaker, I wish I could say at the outset that it is a pleasure for me to rise to speak to Bill C-26 this morning.

Despite the pleas of opposition members during second reading debate on March 27 to the government to actually listen to producers, to farmers, to the special crops producers themselves when this bill was being considered at committee, the government failed to implement the very amendments that the producer groups wanted almost unanimously. I speak primarily about the issue of the negative option billing.

The way Bill C-26 is presently constituted, the check-off or the levy from producers' cheques when they haul in a load of special crops will be mandatory despite what the government says and despite the fact that producers wanted it to be voluntary. It is only voluntary by nature of negative option billing. In other words, the producer must at the beginning of the crop year state that he or she does not want their levy to be put into the pool to provide for the insurance of the buyers and then keep track of how much is collected off their crops during the year and submit those receipts at the end of the year.

There was an amendment at committee stage put forward by the government and the parliamentary secretary implied that the producer would now only have to apply once during the year in order to opt out. I do not see that in the way the amendment is written. It is a small step in the right direction in that it clarifies that the Canadian Grain Commission, acting as the agent for this fund, must reimburse the producer if he or she opts out.

The only substantive amendment made at committee stage that was passed, just to bring the viewers at home and the industry up to speed, was that the Liberal dominated agricultural standing committee dropped the possible future inclusion of the six standard grains: wheat, barley, oats, rye, flax and canola.

There was some concern in the industry in western Canada that at some time in the future this levy on special crops could be expanded to the standard grains. Fortunately the government saw the wisdom of clarifying that and actually excluded them. Unfortunately the government did not show the same wisdom when we were debating Bill C-4, the changes to the Canadian Wheat Board Act. It should have done that to exclude any grains other than barley and wheat which are presently under the control of the Canadian Wheat Board.

What does Bill C-26 do? It establishes a system of licensing and insuring special crops dealers and buyers. It moves from the present system whereby the buyers and the dealers have to put up a securities bond to cover the unfortunate eventuality of bankruptcy or receivership to protect the producers. It moves away from the present system of putting up bonds to a system of licensing and insurance.

This bill has been hailed by the government as the greatest thing since sliced bread in the context of what is good for the special crops producers, but there is absolutely no evidence that moving to this new system of licensing and insuring will actually expand the special crops industry.

As well, Bill C-26 makes some changes to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. The present enforcement mechanisms in the act are much too limited in scope. Most of the mechanisms are too harsh and costly to impose. In many cases, if there are minor infractions, there is a limit to what the Canadian Grain Commission can do. I think this is a step in the right direction and certainly one that we would support.

As well, Bill C-26 would repeal the 59 year old Grain Futures Act, clearing the way for the Manitoba Securities Commission to assume responsibility for regulating the Winnipeg commodity exchange. I think that, as well, is a step in the right direction and certainly something we would support.

As usual, there are a number of things contained in the bill which the opposition supports. However, I must say at the outset of the debate today that while my Reform colleagues and I, acting as agriculture critics for the official opposition, gave tentative support pending committee stage at second reading, we will withdraw that support and oppose this bill unless the amendments that we have before us in Groups Nos. 1 and 2 today are passed.

What do our motions in Group No. 1 actually do? We feel there is a need for a board of directors made up primarily of farmers versus the advisory board that is presently constituted in Bill C-26. The bill, as presently laid out, allows the minister to appoint an advisory board to assist him with the management of this levy fund and the insurance that will flow from it.

What we have said, what producers have said and what witnesses who appeared before the standing committees have said is that they want to see farmers in control of the fund. They do not want to see it in the control of the administrators, the bureaucrats with the Canadian Grain Commission. They do not want to see it being controlled by possible patronage appointees put forward by the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Because it is farmers' money, producers' money, that is being taken off their cheques and funnelled into the fund they want to see that controlled by farmers.

We have put forward a group of amendments. First, Motion No. 7 states that the minister must, not may, bring forward a board of directors made up of farmers. Second, these producers would be chosen from names submitted by special grains commodities groups. In other words, farmers would choose those people, put the list forward, and the minister would choose them.

We certainly have seen with the appointment of a past Liberal MP, Ron Fewchuk, the type of political appointment that we do not want to see on this board. There are many other examples. I just use the one that echoes the concern of producers.

With the motions contained in Group No. 1 we see that the people on the advisory board will not have a lot of power. We have seen that with the Canadian Wheat Board. Even if the minister appoints this advisory board made up of nine members, the majority of whom must be producers as it states in the act currently, we heard from producers that they are concerned about not having much power. They are only in an advisory capacity. Certainly we have seen that with the Canadian Wheat Board. That is one reason, because of a lot of pressure from western Canadian grain farmers, that the wheat board is moving toward a board of directors made up primarily of producers, of farmers.

With this group of amendments we want to see the same thing for this special crops advisory board. We want to see it become a managerial board of directors that would have some real power to look after farmers' money drawn from a check-off from their cheques and used to assure grain buyers and grain dealers. It is the farmers' money. Why should they not have control of that rather than bureaucrats or government appointees?

That is basically the thrust of Reform's motions contained in Group No. 1. I certainly urge all members to seriously consider these amendments.

They are amendments not just put forward by the official opposition. We heard from a lot of producer groups concern on the part of farmers. They did not want to see this check-off used because it is mandatory up front, as I already laid out at the start of my remarks. They did not want to see that check-off used in a way that they might feel is detrimental. They want to see it managed as effectively and as efficiently as possible. The only way they can see that happening is if farmers control the fund.

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11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the last time I spoke to Bill C-26 was at second reading. I stated that there were a number of elements of the bill that needed to be looked at more closely and that I expected the committee would look into the bill in further detail when it did clause by clause analysis.

The committee in fact looked into the issues of concern. The government even introduced several amendments that made this piece of legislation better for western Canadian farmers. Committee members from all parties supported the government amendments. The government actually provided some good, sound amendments in this piece of legislation.

However, the government did not see eye to eye with the opposition parties on one key element, that being the voluntary aspect of the bill. The amendments that my party has put forward from the hon. member for Brandon—Souris take into account this element of the bill. The majority of the stakeholders who appeared wanted this system to be voluntary.

Group No. 2 Motions Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6 speak to the aspect the government has not addressed. I will speak to this later.

The amendments put forward by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River address a number of concerns. Group No. 1 amendments speak to removing oversight power from the special crops advisory committee to an appointed special crops board of no more than nine members. The members would be appointed by the minister from a list of recognized commodity organizations in western Canada. This change from the special crops advisory committee to a special crops board was suggested by Saskatchewan pulse growers and supported in committee by Manitoba pulse growers.

The brief of the Saskatchewan pulse growers which they submitted to the standing committee addresses this issue by suggesting that section 49.02 be amended, stating that there be an increase of the powers of the advisory committee to that of a board of directors because the bill relies on regulations for many of the specifics with respect to the insurance program. It is desirable for special crops producers to have direct responsibility for the development of regulations as well as the selection of the insurer and agent.

These amendments speak to the need for producers to have a say in how the speciality crops program will be carried. This allows the stakeholders to shape the regulations of the legislation and it is positive for producers to have input into the process.

The PC Party will be supporting these amendments because they add to the democratic process of allowing the producers to engage in the legislative process by giving them responsibility for the development of the regulations.

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11:20 a.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise today to support the group of motions put forward by the member for Prince George—Peace River. They make a valuable contribution to the bill and I urge all parties to support the motions.

The New Democratic Party believes that Bill C-26 is basically a good piece of legislation. It follows years of consultation but some improvements are needed. The motions moved by the member for Prince George—Peace River contain some of them as do the motions moved by the member for Brandon—Souris.

Special crops are of growing importance in western Canada. According to many, Canada is the world's leading exporter of lentils and peas. They are important economic products for western Canada and for Canada as a whole.

We would support any measures that would improve the ability of farmers to prosper from growing and marketing these special crops. We also support measures that would put the entire special crops industry on a firmer financial footing. That is primarily why we are in favour of Bill C-26.

When we come to the motions moved by the member for Prince George—Peace River we see the member recommends that the minister appoint a special crops board rather than a mere advisory committee. The member is also recommending that the directors of the board be chosen by the minister but from a list of officially registered special crops commodity groups.

There are several reasons why both these recommendations make good sense. Farmers will be paying for this insurance program without any contribution from government. Therefore it makes sense that they should call the shots. For example, they should decide who should act as the agent for the insurance program, for their insurance program.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food heard from many organizations representing special crops growers. In particular the Saskatchewan and Manitoba pulse growers associations both recommended a full-fledged board of directors rather than an advisory committee.

We believe this would improve the legislation and would improve its acceptance by farmers. These producer recommendations are embedded in the motions put forward by the member for Prince George—Peace River.

As a result the proposals recommend themselves. I urge government members and all other members of the House to support the motions. I congratulate the member for bringing them forward.

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11:20 a.m.

Charleswood—Assiniboine Manitoba


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

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to be able to respond to some of the comments made by the previous speakers.

I wish to start on a positive basis. I have taken note of the fact that the spokesman for the official opposition supports changes to the monetary penalties act. We appreciate that. We think those changes are taking us in the right direction. The official opposition supports the change that the Manitoba Securities Commission takes over responsibility for the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange. We appreciate that support as well.

There is another aspect to this group of motions to which we will give our support. There is an amendment from the official opposition that will make one change and we will support it. Right now the way the bill is written up, it is written to say that the minister may appoint a special crops advisory committee. The amendment would change the language of the bill to say that the minister shall appoint a special crops advisory committee; in other words moving it from the permissive to the mandatory. Certainly we will support that motion.

In so far as the other proposed amendments are concerned, we on the government side will be opposing them. I will take the next three or four minutes to explain why.

The speaker for the official opposition talked about the mandatory check-off, what we call the mandatory non-refundable approach to financing the insurance scheme. The subject will come up for further debate in detail when we get to the second group of motions.

The reason we oppose the voluntary opt in approach is that it would create administrative difficulties. It would create some uncertainty. We support the so-called mandatory refundable approach. We want a plan that is viable. We want a plan that is administratively efficient, and we think this is the best way to go. It is already done by the pulse organizations in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. They say it works for their organizations and we believe strongly that it will work for this insurance plan.

I would point out that we consulted widely over a long period of time leading up to the bill and we think this is exactly what producers want. This is what dealers want. This is what the special crops industry wants. This is why we are doing it.

There was reference made that somehow a fund would be created by the bill. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an insurance plan; nothing more and nothing less. If they are talking about a fund that is factually incorrect.

When it comes to seeking out candidates for appointments to the special crops advisory committee the minister will consult widely. There will be plenty of opportunity for commodity groups to make their recommendations so the minister fully understands the wishes of producers and dealers.

I would like to get to the heart of these motions which proposes that we have an elected board of directors as opposed to an appointed special crops advisory committee. We have consulted widely and have found the industry does not support this approach. Our consultations indicate that they want an appointed board by the minister.

The spokesperson for the official opposition tried to draw an analogy with Bill C-4, the wheat board bill. This is not analogous. When we talk about the special crops industry, if we were to move to an elected board of directors, the cost of elections would be prohibitive. A number of spokespersons for the industry have told us that.

Naturally the costs of an election would have to be borne by the producers. They already have enough costs weighing them down. This would be an unnecessary cost. That is why we would oppose having an elaborate election which would require an elaborate system and an elaborate mechanism to choose nine directors.

Madam Speaker, you know as well as I and all Canadians do that if we get into the business of having to elect the directors as opposed to appointing them, we will get into the question of who is going to be eligible. Where would the boundary lines be drawn if the area was going to be divided up one constituency or district per director? To some extent it would be very difficult.

Let me also point out that right now there is no registry of official commodity groups. The previous speaker was suggesting that we could go to the commodity groups for their suggestions. There is no registry at the moment. That simply would not work.

When it comes to an appointed special crops advisory committee, we have to exercise some trust. We have to exercise some faith.

Is it not interesting. I hear a member from the Reform Party making a negative remark about government. I am quite sure that is why they came to Ottawa in the first place. They would like to form a government. Typical of the Reform Party to talk down to our public institutions and to be negative about parliament. It is typical of the Reform Party.

The advisory committee will work very well. It will have a majority of producers. It will speak for producers and it will speak for the industry.

Another thing I would like to point out, and this was discussed in consultations many times over, is that if we move from an advisory group which makes recommendations to an elected board of directors, then we raise the possibility of financial responsibility. In other words the board of directors would be making decisions. Along with that comes financial responsibilities as opposed to an appointed advisory committee making recommendations to the minister who would make the decisions. The people we consulted said that an elected board of directors may create a problem.

All in all, we have consulted widely. This is what the industry wants. We think it will work very well with an appointed advisory committee.

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11:30 a.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. parliamentary secretary from Manitoba. He has his roots in the soil but they are growing in the wrong direction; instead of up they are going down and when they are down they go up.

It is astounding how the listening apparatus of a human ear is so different. When the witnesses were before us we never heard anything about an advisory board. The special crops people said they wanted a board that was appointed by the industry. They said they only needed a small board and they knew industry people who could run the board. An advisory board means that they are going to give advice to somebody. Who is it in this bill that is going to give advice? It is the minister again.

Last week we saw how this Liberal government loves to create a two tier system among the hepatitis C victims and among the farmers. The hon. parliamentary secretary should realize that the Ontario wheat board has had a fully elected board for years. It did not need an advisory board.

The advisory board in western Canada gave us information that we did not need and it did not give us information that we should have had. None of those advisory board members ever told us that the wheat board was the biggest player on the Minneapolis grain exchange. They sat on the wheat board advisory board for years and we did not know.

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11:35 a.m.


Lyle Vanclief Liberal Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

You elected them.

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11:35 a.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

We elected them but who shut their mouths? The agriculture minister says they were elected but how were they elected? They still have to listen to the minister and the wheat board. It is really astounding. The special crops industry would not have developed to the stage that it is at had it not been for the Canadian Wheat Board putting pressure on farmers to know nothing, to do nothing and to be happy with nothing.

The Ontario farmers made the decision that they wanted a fully elected board and now they even have a clause to opt out. What a difference in farmers from Ontario and from western Canada. If we could just reverse the universe and put western Canada into the middle of the country maybe we would get some privileges and be treated equally. The Liberal government has never known what equality means when it comes to western farmers.

The special crops industry is a tremendous boon to the western agricultural industry. If it were not for the special crops industry, farmers would be starving today. The problem today is we will probably need a special crops industry for wheat and barley soon because nobody wants to grow it. It will become a special crops industry. It has become so non-profitable that farmers have refused to grow it.

We have heard time and time again that the farmers want to run it themselves. They want a voluntary insurance and licensing agency. What do they mean by voluntary? They have said they want to choose whether or not to participate at the beginning of the crop year.

I can guarantee to this House that had this been really voluntary, probably 90% to 95% of the farmers would have participated in this board or the special crops industry mechanism. However, they have not been given that opportunity or will not be given that opportunity. Farmers will again be second class to eastern farmers. They will not have the opportunity to run their business as they see fit.

I remember a year or two ago when the special crops people began phoning me about being licensed as a grain dealer. What did this government do? It sent the RCMP after these poor farmers because they were being successful. That is illegal in this country according to this democratic Liberal government. If they are successful, the government either taxes them to death or regulates them to death.

Here is an instance where the special crops industry has built western Canada to a point where it can practically survive on it alone without growing wheat board grains. Now the government wants to over-regulate it again.

The government does not know what voluntary means because it has not looked it up in the dictionary. Voluntary means they take your money and hang on to it as long as they possibly can and then maybe they will give some back after all the costs are taken off. That is what farmers object to. When farmers say voluntary they mean voluntary. When farmers say they will run it themselves they will run it themselves and they will not hound government to interfere with them.

It astounds me that in a democratic country where farmers have more or less designed and implemented an industry that has been very functional and a tremendous boon to western agriculture and industry, they are all of a sudden hounded by the RCMP. “Hey, you haven't got a licence. You are not a grain elevator”. Good gosh, a grain elevator handles just grain, it does not process the stuff; it buys it, sells it and delivers it.

A special crops industry is one where for example the sunflower seed is grown, it is dehulled, it is roasted and it is sold. One makes it go and it is run effectively in the way which gives the best returns to the producer, not to the industry itself.

I was astounded when I read the Senate hearings a week ago. My good friend Earl Geddes, whom I know very well said that the milling industry had to be licensed because one farmer could be milling wheat for the other farmer, the neighbour, and this would not protect the domestic industry. What have farmers done all their lives? They have worked as a unit. They have helped each other out when they have had problems. Then when they grow a product they cannot even do with it what they want to.

The special crops industry thought it had freedom, it had the rights to do it because it involved nothing with the Canadian Wheat Board. Now we find out we want an advisory board, an advisory board like we have seen for the last 15 years that was non-functional and that did nothing for farmers but cost money.

It is of utmost importance that this bill be amended and that the Reform amendments be passed by the House or we will have more division in agriculture. If that is what the government wants, then it should pass the bill the way it is.

If the government wants to finally do something for agriculture producers in western Canada, it should listen. Give farmers the right to run the business the way they feel is best so that they can function positively and be encouraged by the fact that finally government is listening, not that government is regulating and over-regulating.

I have two minutes left which will not really get me into another subject. I will just say that if the government really wants to put its mark on western Canada it will listen to the amendments Reform has proposed and it will have a happy special crops industry performing what is best for this country. It will put this country on the map when it comes to things like pinto beans, navy beans, whatever has not been grown that farmers are now starting to grow because they will take the risks. Farmers will try these new products. They will grow them, they will process them, they will market them and nobody else will gain but the whole country.

I urge government members to finally sit up and listen to western Canada. Let farmers do what they feel is right for their industry, not what some politicians in Ottawa think is right because they have a little too much of the Ottawa dust in their ears that they cannot hear properly. We need some good heavy downpours, some good showers and some soap and I am sure hon. members would listen better and let farmers work the way they do it best, co-operatively and for the benefit of society as a whole, not just for people individually.

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11:40 a.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, perhaps we should have a bit of a history lesson here and ask a simple question. Why are there so many special crops now being grown on the prairies? us. If members opposite do not know, we will give them a quick lesson. They are being grown because farmers want to get rid of all the regulations and restrictions that have plagued them for at least three generations. That is why they want special crops.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture had a lot to say about elections. We are not talking about elections. The motions which my hon. friend put forth are not about elections. What we are talking about and what we oppose is the federal government handpicking people and putting them on an advisory board.

Virtually every time I make a trip to my constituency in the west I learn of some person who has been appointed to some board in Ottawa. Some of them have the audacity to tell me how much money they make for being appointed as advisory people to a board. That is what we are opposing. That is what the west opposes. That is what the industry opposes. That is what the canola seed people oppose. That is what the pulse people oppose. That is what the sunflower people oppose. They do not want to be regulated by this government. For some reason this government does not seem to understand that. It just does not get the message.

The message is clear and simple. The Canadian Canola Growers Association will submit two lists to the minister of agriculture. It will do the election for each special crop group. The sunflower growers will do the same thing. The people who produce the peas will do the same. The minister will then appoint to this special board according to a simple recommendation from the producer, not by election or anything costly as the parliamentary secretary said. Here is the list of names, take your choice.

But we have a problem here. It is not a problem for the producers. It is not a problem for the people who grow the flax. It is not a problem for the people into the beans. It is not a problem for them at all. The problem lies on the opposite side. It is what if they are not Liberals. That is the problem. These special people are saying they have had 50 years of government hacks telling them how to run their business. They want to give the government a group of names to pick from. That is what this and all these motions are all about.

I say the following to the people from the west who have gone into special crops. You turn around and deny these people the right to submit their names to the minister and let him choose from the names they have selected and you will be in violation of a basic principle. That principle is that party hacks have more importance than those who come from the industry. That is the bottom line. It is as clear as that. Even a kid in grade four could understand it.

I see the parliamentary secretary does not understand. He wants to talk about elections. We are not talking about expensive elections. We are asking the minister of agriculture to select the names that come from the various interest groups in order to form the special board. Nothing could be more down to earth, nothing could be more grassroots and nothing could be more democratic.

I can hear members across saying maybe that is the way we should go. Let us get out of this habit of appointing a $100,000 a year political hack, giving him this and giving him that. The canola growers will select their person for the board. I challenge anyone opposite to say that our clauses are not in keeping with the democratic principle or with what is best in agriculture.

People in the Nipawin area of Saskatchewan said they could not make any money from growing wheat. Now there is no more wheat in most of the crops there. Even in my constituency people have been telling me time and again they are going strictly to oats, that they cannot afford to grow wheat under the board and that they have a legal market in Montana.

That is exactly what we are talking about. I do not have to move more than 10 miles from my home to see people experimenting with all kinds of new crops saying they wish anything they grow would be out of the control of the government. That is exactly what they are saying.

Now we are providing an opportunity to pick advisory boards without going the political route.

Do members have the courage to do this? Do they have the courage to support this resolution? It would bring a form of democracy in advisory committees to Saskatchewan, to Manitoba and to Alberta for the first time in 50 years.

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11:50 a.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, I am not sure I can follow that rousing debate. I might be a little shorter on history than some of the members opposite.

We want to address the amendments to Bill C-26 today. Bill C-26 is an act to establish 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. Voluntary participation protects them against default payment for special crops by licencees.

There is the problem. Our western producers are sometimes a little hesitant to trust this government to protect them. That is why we brought forward these amendments to the act. I understand from the secretary that some are going to be accepted.

The one thing that is important is that we want people involved in the industry of raising specialty crops to be involved in the decision making.

We should have the minister create a nine member board but create that board from a list of people put up by the specialty crops groups themselves. That makes perfect sense. That is what western Canadian farmers would understand. They could trust a system like that. It would be people they know, people who understand the industry be in there making decisions in the best interest of the farmers.

I think that is all western producers are asking. They want to make a living off the land and they want to be the architects of their own destiny. They want things like this and they need them. If we give this to them, they will be pleased and they will work hard.

My riding of Lethbridge in southern Alberta has a wide range of agricultural components. It starts in the Rocky Mountains and goes out on to the plains. It has some of the area of the highest heat units for any area in Canada. Specialty crops are an order of the day. Most specialty crops are grown in the area I come from.

The reason people have gone to these crops is that they manage the crops themselves. Even the sunflower producers on Bow Island grow them. They have become quite a great marketing enterprise with Spitz sunflowers. This started out as a small business and now it is huge. Sunflower seeds are part of this list.

If we give farmers the opportunity to be creative and to decide their own destiny, they can and will be successful. We have to stop government interference. Therefore our amendment asks to have the board appointed by the minister but selected from a group of people selected by the producers.

This makes a lot of sense. I am sure the government, when it reconsiders this, will support it. This is what we are asking for.

The recommendations from witnesses at the committee, from the producer groups, are things the government should be very carefully considering and putting into this bill.

Lentils, peas and mustard are special crops that need special conditions. They need special treatment. They need people who know all the special conditions making decisions on how this insurance plan is going to work. The weather is critical. Some are more fragile than others. It is important that people on the board know all the conditions.

The motions in Group 1 that we have put forth are good motions. Some require words to be changed from “may” to “shall” for the minister to appoint to this advisory board.

However, the critical thing is to recognize the expertise that exists in the industry and with these producers and let us have these producers on the advisory board to ensure this system will work properly and will truly be in the best interests of farmers.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak at report stage to Bill C-26 and in particular to the set of motions before the House. I want to support the motions put forward by my colleagues, specifically my colleague for Prince George—Peace River who has introduced some good amendments to this.

I would like to speak a little more specifically about why the whole area of specialty crops has become such an important part of farming in western Canada. My family and I operate a 2,000 acre grain farm in Alberta and we are now growing more and more non-traditional crops, meaning not wheat, barley or canola.

The reason for this is the difficulties we have encountered over the years with the Canadian Wheat Board. I do not think our operation is very much different than a lot of farms in western Canada which have experienced difficulty with market signals being sent by the monopoly situation with the Canadian Wheat Board and not knowing what kind of return we are going to receive.

Farmers now have a tremendous amount of money being expended every year. At this time of year fertilizer and chemical bills start to roll in and in many cases they are in excess of $100,000. This results in farmers needing the ability to price ahead to be aware of what crops are going to be sold and they are starting to look to other crops. Farmers are looking to peas, to fescue and to lentils, to crops outside the jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Because of the rotation system that is required to ensure disease does not build up, we still need to maintain some traditional crops. On our farm this year there are 1,000 acres of wheat which went in the ground within the last two weeks. Some of this wheat is soft spring wheat that we sell outside of the board but some like the hard red springs will have to be sold through the board.

Our party wants to see as a board that advises the federal government and takes authority on advising the specialty crops commission. Advisory boards sometimes have the potential for having people who know absolutely nothing about the industry itself.

There are all too many opportunities I am afraid to have former politicians, because they did not win in the election last time around, to get appointed to these boards and they may not do justice to the real issues. Farmers should be on these boards as they know what is best for their industry.

I support Motions Nos. 1 and 8 in Group No. 1 which state this should be a speciality crops board rather than an advisory group appointed by the government.

We have to go back to the Canadian What Board to see how the difference works. I am aware that we have had an advisory board in the Canadian Wheat Board, appointed by the federal government, for some time with basically not much authority. It has been a closed shop. I do not know that it has done a very good job.

Farmers in my part of the country are calling for the Canadian Wheat Board not to have a group of commissioners appointed by the federal government with an advisory board attached. They are calling for the Canadian Wheat Board to be operated by a group of directors of farmers who control the functions of the Canadian Wheat Board.

It is not very much different from what we are talking about today. Farmers pay the real cost of administering the Canadian Wheat Board. They will pay all the costs involved in this board. Why should they not have a direct incentive and direct say in how it works?

I want to point out another reason I think that is important. I have friends and neighbours that have gone into the speciality crop industry in terms of organically grown grains. They have gone to a very big effort because it is a specialty market. They have to ensure that their farm is free of chemicals and commercial fertilizers for five years before they can grow organically grown crops. Yet they still have to go through the Canadian Wheat Board to get an export permit to market those crops.

Ministers of agriculture over the years have said that we should diversify, that we should try to get out of some of the main crops and into specialty markets. My friend, Dexter Smith of Peace River, has done just that. He has spent a tremendous amount of work to rig up his farm for organically grown wheat. He has to find his own markets. The Canadian Wheat Board does not do his marketing for him. Farmers have tried to develop a set of standards for their industry with no help from government, I might add. The government is standing in their way in many cases.

Dexter Smith has to go to the Canadian Wheat Board to buy his product back before he can sell it. The Canadian Wheat Board does not offer any elevators to take the specialty crop. There are no elevators in the entire Peace River country to take Dexter Smith's crop. There are no elevators in Alberta to take it. It would just get dumped in with the regular wheat and therefore lose the effect of having been organically grown.

He has to find his own markets. He has to arrange for the transportation. Yet what do we have? The Canadian Wheat Board standing in his way, inhibiting his ability.

If we have an advisory board on the specialty crops that we are talking about today, it will be appointed by the federal government, probably with some ex-politicians, people not having expertise in the area. That will get in the way of the people in the industry. We really want people with knowledge of these specialty crops and how best to serve their own industry.

What would be better than to have a specialty crops board with members elected by fellow producers out of their industry, knowing that they would have the expertise on how to govern their own industry? It seems to me that is a reasonable request which has to be considered.

As I was saying, things have changed significantly in the farm industry over the years. When I started farming 30 years ago wheat, barley and canola were the main crops in our part of the world. That is not the case any more. We have lost our transportation subsidies through the Crow rate. We have lost subsidies in terms of GRIP and other government programs. In fact our Canadian grain farming industry has moved faster than that of any other country to get rid of subsidies worldwide. We are far ahead of our GATT commitments in terms of phasing down our subsidies.

Yet, what is our trade department doing for us to try to ensure we have opportunities to export to countries in Europe that are still maintaining heavy domestic and export subsidies? I would maintain not that much. It had better start to do something soon or our guys are going to get tired and say, “We are complying with what you have asked of us to get to a market driven industry, but we have competitors worldwide that are still being subsidized very heavily. You had better do something about it or we are going to be back asking for subsidies again”. That is the exact approach we do not want.

The trade department and the Liberal government had better start getting aggressive, or else they will lose market opportunities and some excellent farmers.

In conclusion, I would like to add my weight to those in the Reform Party who in speaking today said that we need some common sense in the approaches to this industry. If we are to have speciality crop marketing boards, let us make them producer marketing boards that are elected from their own members instead of having a group of advisory board members that may not have any expertise in the area. It seems to me the bill would then enjoy the support of the entire farming community in those sectors.

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12:05 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow some of my more knowledgeable friends in the Reform Party on this debate. We are addressing Group No. 1 motions on Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act. In particular we are discussing a couple of issues, but the big issue is the push to ensure there is some producer representation on the special crops advisory board.

I am extraordinarily disappointed with the presentation we heard from the parliamentary secretary a few minutes ago. He suggested a very transparent tactic in my judgment. He suggested that elaborate elections will be necessary to bring about the motion my friend from Prince George—Peace River has proposed.

He is proposing only that the specialty crop producer groups be the ones who submit to the minister a list of names of people who would be excellent representatives on this special crops advisory board. The parliamentary secretary had the audacity to try to frighten people by suggesting there was to be some big elaborate election. It is not true, and the parliamentary secretary knows it. I am very disappointed he would go to those lengths to try to frighten people. It certainly does not do him or his government any credit.

Reformers are disappointed that the government once again has ignored the advice of witnesses who appeared before the agriculture committee and said they had no particular problem with the advisory board as long as they had some representation on it. They said they wanted their people to come forward. They are, after all, the people who are supporting it. It is their money that goes into supporting it through a check-off program. It is not the government's money. It is farmers' money.

Does that matter to the government? No. It knows everything. It does not need the advice of producers. Heavens no, that would be terrible. We know how the government feels about advice. We saw that in the hepatitis C debate not long ago when backbenchers had lots of advice for cabinet that was ignored. That is exactly what will happen when patronage appointments come forward to offer advice to the government on special crops. The government has complete latitude under the legislation to appoint patronage appointees to the speciality crops advisory board. That is wrong. When will the government get that through its head?

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An hon. member

The freshwater fish association.

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Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, my friend mentions the freshwater fish association. We know what happened with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board. A former Liberal member who had absolutely nothing to do with fishing in his past life, except he had gone fishing once or twice, was appointed head of the marketing board. He had absolutely no clue what it was about, but he picked up a $100,000 a year job because he was a former Liberal MP. Now he runs it, I am sure to the chagrin of producers in that industry.

The government is to take that same sullied formula and apply it to the special crops advisory board. It is absolutely ridiculous and completely contrary to all the advice it received from the agriculture committee. The government in its defence sets up an elaborate make believe scheme in which it suggests that Reformers are proposing to elect people. It is not true.

All we are saying is that these specialty crops groups can at their annual general meeting get together and maybe have a little election among themselves. They can say that they think Bill, for example, has done a good job in the past and put forward his name, as well as Larry and Myra. They will be the names they submit. Maybe the minister will choose one of them. Maybe he can even check their Liberal credentials to find out if they are good Liberals, and if they are they can end up on the advisory board.

I do not think that is radical. It makes a lot of sense to have representation of the people whose money is going into this thing on the board. That is exactly what the witnesses are asking. I can say from personal experience that producers of speciality crops are very upset with the idea of more regulation.

I come from a Medicine Hat riding where there is a lot of irrigation. As a result people grow a lot of high value specialty crops. People in my riding grow beans, sunflowers and all kinds of crops including spearmint. They have told me they do not want to deal with the board any more. They are tired of dealing with the board. When they have an option they get out of wheat because if they deal with wheat they have to go through the board. They are going into specialty crops and are trying to make a living without interference from the government.

Whenever the government sees something going well, it seems it has to step into it or more than likely step on it and crush the life out of it. That is exactly what the government has done many times in the past.

I am speaking on behalf of my constituents when I say that the last thing we want is the federal government to bring on line some more patronage appointees to tell producers how things should be done from their perspective atop the hierarchy, when producers themselves are the ones gunning it out, supporting the board with their own money and trying to make a living. They are the ones who know how. They have a stake in it. Why is the government so afraid to let producers have a say in the whole process? It just does not make any sense.

I encourage my friends across the way to learn from the hepatitis C vote. Those backbenchers know they had absolutely zero influence on the hepatitis C vote. They were chided by their Prime Minister for having the effrontery to actually raise their voices and suggest that in the case of hepatitis C maybe the government should open its mind a bit and consider compensation.

They should understand that is exactly what the government will do with the people they appoint to the advisory board. They will do exactly what they want. Although the government loves to give the appearance that it is committed to democracy, at every instance and every opportunity it turns around and does exactly what it wants to do.

It is shameful. It is wrong but it is certainly the pattern we have seen from the government. I urge members across the way to support the motions that have been put forward by my friend from Prince George—Peace River, motions that will bring at least a hint of democracy to the legislation. I encourage members across the way to support the motions.

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is the House ready for the question?

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen: