Madam Speaker, I want to begin by reading the motion that we are talking about today.
That, in the opinion of this House, all Canadians are to be treated equally and fairly, and since Prairie wheat and barley producers are discriminated against solely because of their location and occupation, this House call on the government to take immediate action to end this discrimination and give Prairie farmers the same marketing choices that are available in the rest of Canada.
I read the motion into the record because the member for Cypress Hills--Grasslands, in a comment to the Bloc Quebecois member who just finished his remarks, indicated a few moments ago that the Canadian Wheat Board was moving into Quebec. I am wondering how it is that a motion that is directed because it solely discriminates against people in western Canada, all of a sudden this board now has duties and responsibilities which are clearly outside western Canada in the province of Quebec.
Fortunately, Madam Speaker, you do not have to rule on that because this is a non-votable motion that, from our perspective, wants to force the board to move to a dual marketing system rather than a single desk selling system that has worked in this country since the 1930s.
I agree with others who have spoken before that the motion is out of place. We should not be debating it because the Canadian Wheat Board has become a farmer-run organization with two-thirds of the board now elected directly by farmers. Surely it is up to the farmers themselves and the farmer directors that they elect to decide what the board should do and what it should become, and not the purview of politicians.
The motion today, put forward by members of the Canadian Alliance, is really part of a well orchestrated, and I would add well oiled, campaign to influence elections for Wheat Board directors, elections that are occurring later this month.
On the basis of the vote in 1997 and on direct elections of Wheat Board directors in recent years, a majority of prairie farmers have demonstrated at the ballot box that they do support the Wheat Board as the single desk seller for wheat and barley, despite the fact that a few draw headlines by being flagrantly opposed.
These headline hunting farmers, who were referenced earlier this afternoon, deliberately chose to break the law and, rather than pay a fine, they deliberately chose to go to jail. That is their right. That is their vehicle of choice for grabbing publicity. I do not object to that but let us not, for heaven's sake, fall into the trap of making freedom fighters out of lawbreakers who knowingly and with forethought did what they chose to do.
As I indicated, I believe that a majority of prairie farmers do support the Canadian Wheat Board. I reference the 1997 referendum where 63% of feed barley growers voted to retain the board as a single desk seller for their product despite an aggressive campaign by opponents of the board at the time.
In 1998, and I was here, we debated Bill C-4 which resulted in elections to the board of directors, and in the ensuing elections that occurred following the passage of Bill C-4, 8 out of the 10 members elected by farmers were supporters of the Wheat Board's single desk selling of wheat and barley. These Wheat Board directors were elected despite an aggressive campaign by third party intervenors to shovel money from agri-business corporations to anti-Wheat Board candidates.
As I indicated, we are in an election period this fall for five more directors, or regions up for election or re-election, and again, third parties are busy at work funnelling money from corporations to anti-Wheat Board candidates.
We know that it is the American dominated, multinational agri-businesses that would benefit from the demise of the board. The American government has launched trade actions against the Wheat Board on eight previous occasions and all of them have failed. It is now in its ninth attempt to destroy the board. I believe that the eight previous attempts have failed because the Wheat Board has not been proven to be doing anything illegal according to international trading rules.
The board's sin, I think, and the one that raises the ire of the Americans, is that it is doing a reasonably good job of marketing Canadian grain, something the American government and American based multinationals have trouble accepting.
The motion today has been carefully timed to coincide with elections of Wheat Board directors which are occurring this month. The motion is part of a broader strategy by the board's enemies, of whom there are many, to attack the board and discredit its reputation among farmers.
We have to legitimately ask why the Canadian Alliance is working as a fifth column in Canada to assist the Americans in destroying something that has worked well for Canadian farmers for many decades and, I submit, continues to work well.
The latest tool in the arsenal of the opponents of the board and the Alliance in particular is to hammer the fact that the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board has recently changed direction. In 1999 the Ontario board moved to a dual market where farmers could sell a portion of their crop on the open market. Of course, that was not sustainable. It was widely predicted at the time that it would not be sustainable, and that was proven to be accurate. This year the Ontario board has decided to basically legislate itself out of existence.
The lesson here is that we either have single desk selling, as we have at the moment through the Canadian Wheat Board, or we have an open market. A dual market simply does not work.
The point was made clearly by Justice Muldoon in Alberta some years ago in a charter challenge to the Wheat Board's single desk selling authority. Judge Muldoon at the time threw the case out of court, saying that a dual marketing system would simply be a rapid transition to an open market.
I do not believe western farmers want to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board but that is exactly what would follow if the Ontario model were to be adhered to. Let the Ontario wheat board put itself out of existence if it chooses to do so, but that is not necessarily a model for western farmers who sell primarily into an export market, which the Ontario producers do not.
In terms of good marketing, several independent economic studies have proven that the Wheat Board does do a good job of marketing on behalf of western farmers.
In the most recent study, Dr. Richard Grey, an agricultural economist at the University of Saskatchewan, found that in 2001 farmers received approximately $10 more per tonne under single desk selling than would have been the case otherwise.
Similarly, in 1997 a Kraft-Furtan-Tyrchniewicz study showed a benefit of slightly over $250,000 a year as a result of single desk selling. An even earlier study by agricultural economist Dr. Andy Schmitz showed that marketing through the Wheat Board increased the returns of barley producers by $72 million a year.
Opponents of the Wheat Board do not accept the findings of these reports but they have never bothered or been able to refute them in any factual way.
At the time we were debating Bill C-4 there were wild allegations about the Wheat Board's governance being secretive and possibly corrupt. Since then Canada's Auditor General has conducted a thorough study of the board and reported in February 2002. She basically gave the Wheat Board a passing grade and said that it was doing a reasonably good job of managing its operation and, further, that the board has a solid reputation as a strong and capable marketer of quality grains.
It was not a perfect report. The Auditor General, in fairness it should be pointed out, indicated that there were areas where the Wheat Board could improve itself, but by and large it certainly did not agree with the allegations that had been alleged prior to the study by the Auditor General.
I said earlier that today's motion is carefully orchestrated as part of a larger strategy to attack and undermine the board. There are elections occurring at this moment for five of the Wheat Board's directors. In the 2000 election for five other directors, a group called CARE funnelled money and other advantages to anti-Wheat Board candidates.
CARE was clearly a third party intervener and as a third party intervener should have identified itself in any advertising it undertook and reported its activities following the election. In the 2000 election campaign the CARE group chose to thumb its nose at these election regulations, even though it had been independently documented that it took money from at least one grain company, UGG, and passed it on to anti-Wheat Board candidates.
This same third party group is at it again in these elections, again refusing to come clean about the sources of its support and is refusing to register as a third party.
I would ask this of colleagues in the Canadian Alliance who are so worried about alleged secrecy in the operation of the Wheat Board. Do they not care about the secrecy being practised by their friends in that group? Do the members of the Alliance, who are normally so interested in law and order, condone this flagrant disregard of the law by the CARE group?
I would also direct this question to the Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board. Why does he continues to allow the law to be ignored in this manner?
As far as we are concerned, the motion is an attack on the board and part of a broader strategy by enemies of the board, many of them big players in the multinational agri-business, to destroy the Wheat Board. Unfortunately, I think the Alliance is a willing collaborator in this campaign and is prepared to condone and even encourage people who oppose the Wheat Board to break the laws of the land. The Alliance is attempting to use the experience of the Ontario Wheat Board and apply it to that of the Canadian Wheat Board, even though such an application does not hold up.
If adhered to, the motion would destroy the board, one of the few remaining methods that farmers have to retain some power in the agricultural marketplace, a marketplace that is being increasingly diminished as a result of multinational corporations that seemingly run everything.
The motion I believe is out of place. It ought to be up to the farmers to elect the board of directors and see in which direction they want to take the board. That would be the proper outcome. This is not a decision that should or will be made by politicians. It should and can be made by farmers.
Just before I take my chair, I was admonished by the leader of the Alliance when I asked him a question about the need to listen to what was being said by people who were actually farming under the Wheat Board. I want to make reference to a letter that was sent to members of the standing committee on agriculture from Mr. George Calvin, who resides in New Norway, Alberta, on August 29 of this year. I will not read the whole letter, but there are several salient points.
Mr. Calvin writes:
I am a central Alberta farmer who has been well served over the years by the C.W.B. single desk selling. I am opposed to ending the C.W.B. sales monopoly for a trial period. The main thrust for this no doubt comes from the Canadian Alliance members on your committee. It is common knowledge that the C.A. Party wishes to destroy the C.W.B.
Of course their intentions are also being promoted by the Western Canadian Wheat Growers and Barley Growers Associations, and the Alberta Barley Commission. The Government of Alberta has financed these groups over time to push for the--