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.