That, in the opinion of this House, the government should bring in amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act to change the “Object” of the Act from “marketing in an orderly manner” to “marketing to maximize the return for producers” and to provide an opting-out mechanism that would allow producers to remove themselves and the grain they produce from the Board's jurisdiction for a minimum period of two years.
Mr. Speaker, several years ago a young farmer had the misfortune of growing some grain which became infested with a disease called fusarium. The grain was not really suitable for human consumption and he was in danger of losing his farm. He tried selling his grain through the state marketing agency, which he was required by law to do. However it did not want his grain so he found an alternative market in the U.S. For this criminal act, he was placed in prison for months, strip searched and put in leg irons and chains. His family and neighbours were devastated. Because the courts in the country he lived in did not recognize property rights, he was destroyed.
In what country did this travesty of justice occur? It was Canada and it was recent. It was the Liberals who kept him in jail. In fact most government MPs paid no attention to the matter. Their attitude was that he did the crime, he should do the time.
I tell this terrible story because it makes the point that needs to be made today. The reason this debate over the Canadian Wheat Board exists is because we do not have property rights enshrined in our charter of rights and freedoms. Pierre Trudeau refused to enshrine those rights, which was a travesty of justice.
Our courts do not fully recognize our bill of rights, nor do they recognize 800 years of common law tradition. Property rights should be a fundamental right that all Canadians enjoy. However the farmer growing good quality wheat and barley in three provinces in Canada does not own that grain until he or she buys it back from a straight trading agency, the Canadian Wheat Board.
We do not have this blatant override of property rights anywhere that I know of in Canada. Oil and gas companies can market their own product. Banks are regulated but do not have to pool their earnings. Lawyers do not have to sell their services through a central marketing agency.
I just want to pause here. Let us imagine that we had a lawyer board, a board that applied to Ontario and Quebec only. All lawyers would have to go through a central agency. They could not market their services nor deal directly with their clients. They would have to pool all their earnings no matter what their costs were. They would have to wait for their payments. They would not know what their clients were paying for their services. They would have to pay a huge bureaucracy to market their services. If we had this for lawyers in Canada, there would be a public outcry across the country, at least on the part of lawyers.
Here we have an agency dealing with farmers in only three provinces that make them go through this board. In fact, farmers cannot even make spaghetti and macaroni out of their own wheat for export without first selling it to the board and buying it back at a higher price. Organic wheat growers have to sell their wheat to the board first and the wheat board does not even sell it for them. Many have lost lucrative markets because of this.
All this information forms the background for my motion today. If the government insists that farmers go through the CWB, why not make the mandate of the board to maximize return for farmers, the people it is supposed to serve, rather than the present mandate which is to market the grain in an orderly manner, which can mean almost anything?
The second part of my motion asks that a farmer's property rights be recognized and that if he wishes to opt out he can do so. I would add that if these changes are not made, the Canadian Wheat Board will eventually be destroyed with the discovery that the convoluted borrowing process involved in the board's credit system that adds taxpayer dollars to the price of grain, court challenges internationally could under our free trade agreements force the Canadian Wheat Board to be more accountable and transparent in its operations.
In 1935 the Government of Canada created the Canadian Wheat Board as a voluntary marketing agency for grains. Since then, the Canadian Wheat Board has become a monopoly institution, cloaked in secrecy, leaving farmers wondering whether the board acts in their interests or in the interests of bureaucrats.
Times have changed. Farmers are able to seek out new markets on their own and fulfill niches that have been overlooked. The innovation of producers has forged ahead, thanks to marketing tools like the Internet and producer marketing clubs. Farmers are business people. When they see an opportunity to maximize the return on their product, they capitalize on it.
However these producers have been hindered, at times even stonewalled, by a bureaucracy that is the Canadian Wheat Board. The wheat board has in essence stifled and choked the western Canadian grain industry by not helping the farmer but hindering him or her. Farmers have been frustrated with the wheat board. They know they grow the best wheat and grains in the world and yet have never been able to get top dollar.
The continuing financial crisis in western Canadian agriculture cannot be solely attributed to European and American subsidies as the government would like us to believe. The minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, in an interview with the National Post published on May 22 of this year, said that farmers should stop growing grain. He stated that farmers have to produce to consumer trends around the world. Western Canadian grain farmers have been trying for years to produce according to consumer trends through value added processing. The milling of flour and the production of pasta are areas in which consumer demands can be met. However the Canadian Wheat Board has smothered any attempts by producers to create a market for their own wheat.
The minister has said that he supports value added efforts like ethanol production. However, the Canadian Wheat Board, which is the minister's responsibility, has scuttled attempts by prairie pasta producers to build a pasta plant in rural Saskatchewan and other similar ventures. The Canadian Wheat Board's marketing monopoly has become a headache for many farmers who wish to process their own grain where it is grown.
In the eyes of many farmers, the CWB has become an agency that has made the prairie farmers serfs upon their own land. The motion I am putting forward today has two very distinct parts that I believe will help prairie farmers gain an advantage over American and European producers. Part one of my motion calls for a change in the objective of the Canadian Wheat Board. Currently the CWB Act states that the board should market in an orderly manner. I would like to see that changed to marketing to maximize the return to producers. If there is any reason for the wheat board to exist it should be only to maximize the return to producers.
The second part of my motion states that an opting out mechanism should be provided to “allow producers to remove themselves and the grain that they produce from the board's jurisdiction for a minimum of two years”.
In essence, my motion would give prairie grain producers what they have wanted for years: a clear choice in marketing their grain.
My colleagues and I in the Canadian Alliance believe in a self-reliant and economically viable agriculture sector in our country. We believe in giving farmers the freedom to make their own marketing and transportation decisions and to direct, structure and participate voluntarily in producer organizations. This would be the best way for our nation's farmers to become economically viable. The current structure we have does not guarantee working for the benefit of farmers. It seems to be shrouded in secrecy and is more accountable to its political masters than to farmers.
Organic farmers are being hurt financially by the Canadian Wheat Board. Currently the CWB offers the organic producer what it calls direct sale or the buy back. For those members in the House who are not familiar with the buy back scheme, I will explain it to them briefly.
Organic producers who are certified and have a Canadian Wheat Board permit bookholder can ask for a personal identification number application. After the producers receive this pin number they must contact the CWB when they are ready to make a sale. They must also know the approximate net payment owed to the Canadian Wheat Board for doing the buy back. The grain must be tested by the Canadian Grains Commission for quality then the producer must contact the Canadian Wheat Board and notify it that they are ready to ship. The remittance portion of the statement must be returned to the Canadian Wheat Board along with payment to the CWB. An export licence will then be faxed to them and the official weight will be given to the CWB. All this is done at the producer's cost, $2 a tonne. In other words, the producers must pay the CWB for the right to market their own grain. We must remember that the Canadian Wheat Board is not in the business of marketing organic grain and does not even sell it, yet the producer must jump through these hoops and hurdles. The Canadian Wheat Board has never been responsible for organic grains.
Many prairie organic farmers have had problems dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like to give a couple of other examples of how the Canadian Wheat Board has hurt prairie organic farmers. There are many of them.
Eric Leicht is an organic producer from Watson, Saskatchewan. He states that the situation he faces seems to only get worse. Through the CWB buy back scheme he is loosing an average of 60 cents per bushel.
He was also paying the difference between the asking price he was receiving and the initial price of the Canadian Wheat Board. Mr. Leicht then said that farmers had to hope and pray they would get most of that money back in the interim and final payments that the wheat board sent to them. Mr. Leicht said that the CWB policy was like a tariff being assessed inside our own country and that it was a hassle to get an export permit. Farmers had to give their own money to the CWB and in the end they lost.
I hope the people opposite who have been objecting to this will come to the help and aid of farmers and help them abandon a practice that is not fair. Could any businessman survive under these kind of conditions?
Another organic producer is Ron Tetoff from Kamsack, Saskatchewan who I know has had problems with the Canadian Wheat Board. Mr. Tetoff is new to the organic industry. He was the person who stumbled upon this problem with the buyback. He was forced by the Canadian Wheat Board to cancel a large sale to Europe. Through some negotiation he was to receive a price of $9.26 per bushel. It was a done deal. By the way, non-organic wheat sells for less than half just to give an idea of the price differential.
In stepped the Canadian Wheat Board and Mr. Tetoff lost his sale. At the time I spoke with him he was still waiting for a $5,000 final payment from the Canadian Wheat Board and wondering if he would ever see it.
Mr. Tetoff asked was this not a free and democratic country? Why could he not have a choice as to how he marketed his own grain? Why should he be penalized for being a producer in western Canada?
Many farmers feel the same way. They feel that if the Canadian Wheat Board has placed an iron curtain around them, they, as a landowner, should at least have the freedom to sell the product they produce without any barriers.
This past July I conducted a survey in my riding. I asked farmers two questions about the Canadian Wheat Board. The first question was did farmers think the Canadian Wheat Board aided or hindered the growth of industrial development diversification in Saskatchewan. Guess what farmers and business people told me. Of respondents, 79.9% said the Canadian Wheat Board was a hindrance to the industrial development of Saskatchewan and that included farmers.
The second question I asked was which mandate would farmers prefer: one that focused on orderly marketing or one that focused on maximizing the return to producers. Guess what the reply was there. Virtually 85% said they would like to see the mandate of the board focus on getting the maximum return to producers.
I am asking Liberals to support the farmers in my riding. I am speaking up on their behalf. If this motion passes it will give prairie farmers a clear choice. If farmers believe they can sustain their grain operations outside of the Canadian Wheat Board, then we should allow for it. By setting a minimum of two years for a producer to be outside the monopoly of the board, it would eliminate ambiguity between who is inside the board and who is outside the board.
This is supposed to be a democratic institution. At this point in time, after listening to what I have said about the support I have for this motion, I would like to ask the House of Parliament, which is supposed to be democratic, whether they it will consent to making this motion a votable item?