Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the presentation by the minister. I was not quite sure whether he was talking about the Canadian Wheat Board or the Latin American wheat board. There seems to be some discrepancy in the way he described the wheat board.
I would like to enlighten members a bit on the history of why this bill is before the House. I must agree with the Liberal government. It finally did bring a bill forward where it really has consulted for about five years now, since I came to the House.
This wheat board bill was the result of farmers being unhappy when their frozen wheat could not be sold in 1992-93, when the fusarium wheat was not sold by the wheat board and farmers had to do that themselves and they found a market. They found better prices than the wheat board had ever offered them for it.
That is what created quite a stir in western Canada. All of a sudden farmers realized they can market their wheat and barley the same as they are marketing canola, flax, lentils and peas and get better prices. That is where the debate started.
I was encouraged in this House when after a lot of discussion at the agriculture committee meeting the wheat board minister said bring forward some legislation, let us see what we should be doing but first we should consult. That was not a bad idea. I must give the wheat board minister credit for that. I also must give him credit for establishing the Western Grain Marketing Panel which went across western Canada to see what farmers really wanted in the new legislation.
It was astounding when the marketing panel was finished after about a year of consultation and travelling and wrote its report. The majority of farmers said they can live with this, it is a pretty good piece of advice from the marketing panel. Farmers were going to have choices. They could decide whether to market some of their barley outside the board or within the board. They could designate up to 25% of their wheat to be marketed into the cash market. Some of the more extreme farmers who wanted total freedom to market their grain said they could live with this. They wanted to try it to see how it would work.
This is where the Liberal government went wrong. It did not like what the western grain marketing panel told the government and decided to start a letter writing campaign. It took four to five months before those letters were in and the farmers had given more advice. I do not think that advice was much different from what the western grain marketing panel had heard.
For some reason the government and the minister just did not seem to get it. Farmers were unhappy with the marketing system and wanted more choice. We finally did get some legislation.
I must give this government credit again. We made another tour across western Canada with Bill C-72 and heard the same thing from every part of the prairies. The farmers wanted more market choices. They wanted to have a say in how to market their grains. Farmers grow it and have become the most productive enterprise in the world as far as farming is concerned but they cannot survive on the prices that they are getting for their wheat board grains.
More and more farmers switched to special crops and were growing less and less wheat board grains every year. This is detrimental to our farming industry because we need a rotational system to keep our land in good stewardship and make sure there is a good future in farming for generations to come.
When we were finished with Bill C-72 the bill might have passed but there was one mistake made during the hearings. It was a very sad mistake because it created a lot of division. One of the members on the Liberal side introduced an amendment which he called an inclusion clause. It really caused division across western Canada. People did not want to hear about any more grains being put under the Canadian Wheat Board. They first wanted to see if they could change the wheat board enough that it became accountable and that it did a good job in marketing their grain.
I do not think it was ever put in a better perspective than by the Globe and Mail just before C-4. It stated that if the Canadian Wheat Board could not be made accountable, and if the Canadian Wheat Board was negligent in doing its duty of selling the grain for the best price, why would farmers then want a Canadian Wheat Board?
Mr. Speaker, I am sure if you were running a business and somebody was managing the business for you and did not get the best price for you, did not show on the bottom line that there was a profit and that you were always in the red and could not afford to run the business without a deficit, you would not have the guy around very long or you would be gone. That is what farmers are fighting for today.
Farmers are disappearing from western Canada as quickly as the flies in fall. We are getting bigger and bigger farms and more farmers with bigger debt problems. We are losing our agriculture industry. That is why it is so important that we do not make another mistake in this bill.
I agree that these amendments are going in the right direction but they do not go far enough as far as western Canadian farmers are concerned. What should be in this bill is a preamble which states that the Canadian Wheat Board will have as its main mandate to sell grain for the best interests of the farmer.
To have the Canadian Wheat Board there, to have a mandate, to do an orderly marketing job and to move the grain is not sufficient for farmers. They have to show profit to remain viable.
Why is the government so hesitant to include that preamble or a clause that says the wheat board's main mandate should be to sell the grain at the best price available? It does not say it always has to be the highest; it says the best price available. That is what farmers were doing in 1992 and 1993. They found markets that were better than what the wheat board was giving them.
Is that a sin? That is what I would ask the minister. Is it a sin to provide a piece of legislation that would provide those benefits? That is why I find it kind of hard to pass this bill with the amendments that the Senate proposed. They are good amendments, but I do not think they go far enough.
I see in a few notes what the Senate said after they were finished with the hearings. It became very clear throughout the hearings that the majority of farmers were unhappy with this legislation.
The minor watered down amendments are not going to resolve the problems in western Canada. They are not going to create unity among farmers who have been debating for about 10 years whether we should have open markets or single desk selling or dual markets or a voluntary wheat board.
Those are the issues we will be addressing in the next day or so, as much time as the Liberal government will allow us to debate these amendments. I think it is very fitting that we do not leave this House before we pass this bill with amendments that will create more unity among western farmers.
If that is not what this bill does, we are going to get into a situation where we will lose more of the wheat board grain. Farmers will grow less of it and finally it will kill itself. There will be no need for a wheat board because there will be only special crops grown.
I want to ask you another question, Mr. Speaker. You are a wise man, I know, and you are a good businessman. I read in this amendment that is being proposed by the Senate that the minister will not appoint the president unless the board has fixed the remuneration to be paid to the president and has informed the minister of the remuneration.
The minister can appoint the president. He can pick whoever he wants. He can pick probably his son-in-law or his wife if he wants to, but the board has the right to set the remuneration. Mr. Speaker, if you had a person in your business and somebody made you hire him and you knew already that he had been fired by the last five businesses where he worked, what kind of compensation would you give him? Would you give him a high priced job? Would you set him right up at the top with all the rest of the CEOs or would you give him nothing so this guy would take off before he was ever hired?
I can see what is going to happen. There is going to be a fight between the board and the directors. If the directors do not think the president or the CEO is capable or will fill the job, the remuneration is going to be such that he will not be able to stay around very long. They will be changing CEOs quite regularly. The farmers will demand that this man do his job.
That is one big problem I see with this amendment. The minister can like the guy. The minister can say that the guy carries a Liberal membership card, but by cracky the directors are going to set the remuneration and that is where the problem is. I as a farmer would say “Make him pay you something for working for you if he does not have the qualifications because we are going to get rid of him anyhow. Why spend money on him?” That is one of the very big faults with this amendment.
The other fault I see is when it comes to the auditing of the board by the auditor general. We put in an amendment that said the audit should be done by the auditor general because most farmers show a lot of respect and have a lot of confidence in the auditor general. That is one piece of paper farmers would read. Whenever the auditor general came out with a report, they did not read much, but that they would read. Farmers know what a good job means to an industry and what a good audit does to a business.
In my area it was the talk of the town in the coffee shop when the auditor general said that the government had again wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on overpayments on welfare, on foreign junkets or on whatever. They would have very willingly accepted the auditor general auditing the books.
This amendment says that there will be a one time audit and the auditor general can do that within two years of this bill becoming law. He can pick the years he wants to audit. I am sure the auditor general will be wise enough to pick the years that are closest to the termination of the board so he has an idea.
However if there is enough political pressure on him he could be made to audit the 1943 wheat board books which would not do us much good, would it? There is another problem. It should be specified what years are audited and when the audit is brought back. We should be given a value for money audit so we can know whether or not the board has done a half decent job in the past two or three years. That is another big problem I find with these amendments.
The third one is doing away with the inclusion and exclusion clause. It is kind of vague. According to the amendment, the minister has some kind of manipulative power to bring forward a vote but if he does not want to, there is nobody who can force him to call for a plebiscite among the farmers. There is no mechanism that you can do it or not. This could be a disputatious type of clause where farmers could be divided.
I do not think farmers will accept this bill the way it is. It will be forced on them. We know that after so much of the situation where people have no say in what they do or in what they want to do, eventually there will come a time when the system will destroy itself.
The first time I talked on the Canadian Wheat Board was in 1994. I heard all the comments of farmers about the unaccountability of the board and the suspicions of the board. If the board is not going to become more open and accountable, just the mistrust will eventually destroy it, even if it has done a fairly good job. But when people see a closed entity that is unable or unwilling to give the people involved, in this case farmers, the opportunity to see what it does, those people will refuse it whether it is good or bad. We have seen that in other industries. Openness, competition and fairness give us the entity and competition needed to make a board function properly and do a good job for the farmers.
It is imperative that we do not pass this legislation if we are not able to include in this legislation the preamble that the board has to be accountable and open to farmers. If it is only going to be open and accountable to the corporation or the minister, the mistrust will stay there and the board will never function properly or at least not to its fullest capacity.
We have to have a system that can be trusted the same as government is. The Liberals will realize the more mistrust, the worse the situation is. I would bet my bottom dollar that in 1993 when the Conservative government lost its mandate, it was probably not for the terrible job it did but because of the mistrust that it was not doing a proper job.
They always say a government is not elected; a government is defeated. It is the same thing with the Canadian Wheat Board. The Canadian Wheat Board will destroy itself if it does not become accountable and give farmers the opportunity to trust it.
That is why I maintain that a voluntary wheat board will make the board function better. It will probably do more business because it will have to compete. It is in the position to do the best job. With its mandate and with the amount of grain that it can access it should be able to do a better job than any individual farmer.
I can see the point that if the trust is put back in the board and it does a good job there is a future for the board marketing other grains. If that trust is not put back into the board farmers will see that and experience it. The bottom line is that they have to put food on their table. They have to pay machinery expenses and input costs. It has to work. If the system is not in a position to make farming viable it will fail.
One point I want to make clear is that in 1935 the Canadian Wheat Board was not a monopoly wheat board. It was a dual marketing system. The wheat board was put in place to provide competition for grain companies that were probably doing a lousy job.
In 1943 the wheat board was given its monopoly not to increase prices for farmers but to control prices and to allow the government to sell grain at a lower price to our allies. I do not think that any farmer in western Canada objected to helping with the war effort, to taking a lower price so that they could help the allies in their battle against the Nazis, the imperialists or whatever they were called.
I just thought the minister would want to know that it was not a monopoly at one time and it functioned very well in a competitive arena. That is the direction we should go in. I hope the Liberals are wise enough to add that amendment and take the credit for it instead of having Reform do it for them.