Mr. Speaker, I want to point out something that may not be obvious to people and I would like to ask the hon. members a question. Are hon. members a little bit interested in why the member for Malpeque did not even talk about his motion this morning? The motion was brought forward at committee. I want to talk about it a little bit later, but members will notice that throughout his entire speech he did not talk about it, and that is probably because he is embarrassed by it.
I have been disappointed in him in a number of ways in the last couple of months. He has had two opportunities to bring forward concurrence motions this fall and unfortunately he has done both of them during scheduled committee hearings.
Earlier on we had a hearing and we were going to sit down and talk with the trade representatives from the U.S. embassy. The member for Malpeque decided that he would bring a concurrence motion forward that day. He did that. Those of us who wanted to hear about the important issue of trade with the United States at committee were not able to do so because he wanted to be in the House standing on his soap box.
Again, today we have an issue that is of importance at committee. We are talking about the EU's import system. It is very important in western Canada. I was out in Ontario last week meeting with farmers because this is really important. We finally got these folks to committee. What does the member for Malpeque do? He brings the motion to the House today, so those of us who are actively involved with the agricultural committee cannot be at the meeting for the full scope of the hearing.
The obsession he has with this issue has grown to the point where he is beginning to lose credibility. The committee has done some good work and I will admit that. Just last week we released a report on the Canadian Grain Commission. It was a review of the Canadian Grains Act and the Canadian Grain Commission. We made a number of recommendations that were very important.
We were able to bring that report forward unanimously from the committee. We thought we would be able to get some traction and some interest in that report because it has a number of very important recommendations for western Canada.
I have never heard the member for Malpeque mention it once. He never mentioned it this morning. He supported the report. He thought it was a good report, but instead of saying that these are the positive things that the government is doing on which the opposition has been able to work with the government and that these are some of the things we are putting forward, he once more bashes the government and gets on his soap box on the one thing that has become an obsession for him, which is the Canadian Wheat Board.
As the member for Prince Albert pointed out, it is interesting that he does not live anywhere near the region in which the Canadian Wheat Board operates. He may have been in western Canada 17 years ago. That is a long time ago. He has obviously not been there lately and does not particularly understand the situation there.
The committee report last week made a couple of recommendations that are very important for western grain farmers. I want to talk about them because they are the kinds of things that will make the system in western Canada work. I will come to the motion a little bit later.
One of the things that was important, and we made sure with the help of the chair, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, was that producer cars in western Canada be protected for our producers. Over the last few years, more and more producers have turned to producer cars to move their grain. They load their own car. They ship it out to the coast and they are responsible for the grain that is in it. It has become a very important component of shipping grain off the prairies.
During the last election campaign when I was asked about it and about our commitment to it, I said that I am committed to these producer cars. I have used them for years on my own farm. They have been important to us. In fact, we were using them for years before the Canadian Wheat Board even supported them. The last couple of years the Wheat Board has got on board and said that it wanted to manage these cars and make sure that producers maintain access to them.
Some of us were using them for quite a while before the board even got interested. Actually, it only got interested after the number of producers who were using them became great enough that the board thought it was worth its while to be bothered with them. The report last week called for the support for producer cars and the enhancement of the option of using them.
Another thing we brought forward which we felt was important was that there be an office of grain farmer advocacy in western Canada. We brought that forward as one of the recommendations from the committee. Farmers would have an office associated with the Canadian Grain Commission that would stand up for their rights. There was a suggestion to have half a dozen commissioners who would be deployed regionally across western Canada, so if farmers had problems with grain handling, grain transportation or grain grading, they would be able to go to the office of grain farmer advocacy and have their problems dealt with. We think that is a really good recommendation.
We also made a recommendation with regard to changing the grading system in western Canada. For many years we have had in place in western Canada what is called the KVD system, kernel visual distinguishability. That was removed by producers in Ontario 17 years ago. Because of the removal of that requirement in Ontario, they have been able to grow their industry. They have been able to bring a whole host of new products to market in terms of grains and cereals.
We felt it was about time that western Canadian farmers began to experience some of the benefits of that as well. Actually, opposition members from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP all supported those recommendations. I thought it was a very good report and I would have liked to have seen it get some attention.
Unfortunately, the opposition, particularly the member for Malpeque, has decided that it apparently is not important. He has something else that he is fixated on. The government would like to ensure that western Canadian farmers have the opportunity to know that report is out there and that it is going to be moving ahead.
Another important thing happened last Friday for western Canadian farmers. Bill C-2, the federal accountability act, was finally passed by the House of Commons for the final time and will receive royal assent shortly. This is going to give farmers access to information that for decades they have been asking for. They want to know what is going on at the Canadian Wheat Board. They want to know how their money is being spent on communication, political lobbying and those kinds of things. They are finally going to have access to that information.
In spite of the misleading information that was put out by the opposition, this is not going to force the Canadian Wheat Board to reveal all of its sales information to its competitors and those kinds of things. It would simply give farmers a tool to understand what is being done with their own money because it is their money that goes toward the running of the Canadian Wheat Board.
It has been disappointing to see the member for Malpeque ignoring the issues that are important not only to people in western Canada but also to his own riding. As I said, two committee meetings have basically been disrupted by his insistence on bringing these concurrence reports forward at this time. Both of those issues dealt with his constituency and his constituents in Prince Edward Island: the important issue of U.S. trade and what we wanted to discuss today in committee with regard to the EU's imports.
I am pleased to speak to this motion today. As we know, grain farmers in western Canada have chosen their directors for the next four years. That is going to be important. I was interested to hear the member for Malpeque this morning talk about the fact that he apparently does not want appointed directors to be farmers. He thinks they should come from outside the industry, but the minister has been good about that. He has appointed a couple of farmers to the board who would bring a perspective of experience in the business. I think there is going to be a good balance there.
The newly elected and appointed directors are going to have a number of important issues to deal with, including the fact that this government is moving in the direction of marketing choice. The government looks forward to working with the board as it moves ahead and remains committed to providing marketing choice to western Canadian farmers while continuing to preserve the board as one of those options.
Speaking directly to the matter of this concurrence debate, I appreciate some of the other work that has been done by the committee, but there needs to be a couple of points made particularly regarding this motion.
Perhaps one of the reasons the member for Malpeque did not want to talk about the motion is that it was ruled out of order twice by the chair of the committee. It was ruled out of order on the first occasion because it clearly, in the chair's opinion, walked into the area of the minister's responsibility. I will talk about that a little later.
The member for Malpeque withdrew the motion. He understood that at the time, but decided that maybe political points were more important than actually dealing with the issue, so he reintroduced it again and the motion was ruled out of order a second time.
The second time it was ruled out of order was because when a motion is reintroduced, it is supposed to be substantially different than it was the first time and it was precisely the same motion. It was ruled out of order twice. The opposition on the committee obviously outnumbers the government at this point, so opposition members made the decision that they were going to bring this forward anyway. That is why we see it here today and I assume one of the reasons why the member for Malpeque really did not want to talk about the motion itself.
Another problem with the motion is that it is unbalanced. It does not deal with the real issues. There are a number of choices that will be available to western Canadian farmers. We understand that one of them will be that farmers would be able to market their grain and have the option of going through the Canadian Wheat Board as well. That is not included as one of the options. The member has again taken the extremist position that he has held in the past and has a motion that really does not have anything to do with the options that farmers want.
He is trying to come up with another extreme position. He wants to bring it before the House so he can get his three hours of debate, but in this case, ideology has once again trumped reality. It is a bit embarrassing for us to have to bring this motion forward when it was ruled out of order twice, as I said.
The member talked a little about intimidation. I think we need to spend some time talking about some of the tactics that have been used by the opposition in this debate. One example is the motion that has been brought forward today.
Last week on Thursday a very interesting thing happened at committee. We had invited a number of witnesses to speak on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. Mr. Jim Chatenay, an elected director of the Canadian Wheat Board, was one of the witnesses we had called. We brought him here to speak on Tuesday, but the meeting on Tuesday was cancelled because the board had decided it was going to launch a legal action against the government. The chair had to check to make sure that we could hold the meeting, so we decided to hold it on Thursday.
While we were waiting for that meeting to be held, the steering committee for the agriculture committee had a meeting and decided that it was going to exclude Mr. Chatenay as a witness. He had been brought here. The committee had asked him to come and he was already here, but the steering committee behind closed doors decided that the witness list was going to be changed. We came on Thursday and the witness list was set. I want to make a couple of points.
Mr. Chatenay is a veteran of the board of directors. I told the committee that. He has been a strong voice for farmers and he had been at the committee all week. In any event I think there were reasons that the opposition had made a decision. Actually I brought forward a motion at the committee that Mr. Chatenay be allowed to sit at the table and the opposition voted against it and would not allow him to come to the table. I was wondering why that would happen, but I think there are some reasons.
In the early 1990s we had a crop in western Canada that froze in the fields. The farmers needed to get it to market in order to get their money out of it. As we looked for places to market it, the board basically said to us that it did not really think it could market that grain. It was not good grain and it was not sure it would be able to market it.
The farmers in our area, which is southwestern Saskatchewan, started looking around for another market. They went across the border. They took samples to the United States and they found out that the grain really was not that bad. Under the U.S. grading system the Americans were willing to give us a decent price for the grain. We began to set up a buyback from the Canadian Wheat Board in order to take our grain across the border.
We had a decent price for it. When we do a buyback with the board we have to give it all our sales information including the name of the company we are doing business with. It was not much later that farmers got a phone call from the company which said, “We do not need your grain. We are not going to buy it from you. We have as much of a supply of that type of grain as we want”. We found out the price that it was offering for it was bout 85¢ a bushel less than our farmers had been able to negotiate.
The bad thing about it was we watched the trucks come into our elevator, load up, and followed the trucks across the border to those same elevators. The board had taken the sale and offered it to these companies at about 85¢ a bushel less than the farmers themselves had been able to negotiate. We watched our wheat go out at that price. That of course started to make farmers angry and that really was the genesis of the 1990s opposition to the Canadian Wheat Board and an interest in marketing choice.
Out of that of course there were farmers who moved ahead and decided that they wanted to move their grain into the United States. When they started doing that, the Liberal government started pushing back on them. Farmers went to court. Actually when they won in the courts, that same day, and the member for Wascana was the minister, the government moved to change the regulations so that the farmers could not do that. As the farmers won, the government counteracted, shut things down, changed the regulations on the fly so that what farmers were doing would be considered illegal.
Farmers went ahead and moved their grain across the border. The government arrested them--and the member for Malpeque is well aware of this--and at least a dozen farmers went to jail for periods of time ranging from a few hours to a couple of months. One of those farmers in particular was strip searched a number of times. I guess he was dangerous enough that the government felt it really needed to make an example of him.
What was really a concern about it was that it was not just one agency that was doing this. There were at least five government agencies that were involved in these activities. The RCMP, Canada Revenue Agency, justice, the Canadian Wheat Board and others were all ganging up on individual farmers just because they wanted a fair price for their grain.
Mr. Chatney was one of those farmers. We can begin to understand why the member for Malpeque did not want him at the witness table. He sits over there and laughs about it. It is a joke to him, but it is not a joke to western Canadian farmers who want some choice in marketing their grain.
A graph was circulated to MPs' offices last week from one of the western Canadian grain organizations. It shows that western Canadian farmers over the last year have received on average about 50¢ a bushel less than their counterparts in the United States. We continue to pay a price for just wanting to market our own grain.
Coming back to the motion, the committee report talks about recommending a plebiscite. The member for Malpeque knows that we are having a plebiscite. We committed to having a plebiscite in the new year. It is going to be on barley. It is going to be a clear question put to a broad base of voters. It is going to allow barley producers to vote on the future of their industry. That is the way it should be.
In the new year western Canadian farmers are going to be able to vote on a clear question of whether or not they would like choice on barley. We want to stress that the Canadian Wheat Board will be one of those options. It is going to be the option of selling one's own grain or the option of using the western Canadian Wheat Board to market the grain. For feed barley that is already the way it is. Farmers have the choice of going through the Wheat Board or going on the open market with their feed barley. With malt barley right now, they have to go through the Canadian Wheat Board. We want to give them the option of whether they want some choice in dealing with their malt barley as well.
It is very interesting how well our marketing system is working right now. In western Canada this fall, feed barley, which is on the open market, has been at a higher price than malt barley, which is supposed to be the premium barley. Malt barley is supposed to receive the premium. It goes through the Canadian Wheat Board. It cannot react quickly enough to the market. The open market does react quickly. Farmers have been selling their barley onto the open market at a higher price than they can get for their premium barley through the Canadian Wheat Board.
The farmers themselves deserve to be heard. They will be heard in a plebiscite which will be held in January.
The report dictates what the questions will be and who should be able to vote. I want to point out that section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act specifically grants the minister these powers. He has the full authority to develop the process for the vote, and I will quote from act so that it cannot be misunderstood.
The Minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill that would exclude any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley, or wheat or barley produced in any area in Canada, from the provisions of Part IV, either in whole or in part, or generally, or for any period, or that would extend the application of Part III or Part IV or both Parts III and IV to any other grain, unless
(a) the Minister has consulted with the board about the exclusion or extension; and
(b) the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension, the voting process having been determined by the Minister.
The member for Malpeque is quick to quote the act and demand rigid adherence to it, but he wants to ignore it, as he has done in his report, when it suits him. We need to point that out, that there are some serious inconsistencies here. On one hand he is up yelling and screaming about how the minister has to abide by this and that, his interpretation of the act and all that that means, and on the other he comes forward with a motion that clearly does not agree with the act itself. That does not bother him. He is here today. He wants to have his three hours of debate on this issue and he has brought forward a motion that basically violates the act.
The draft question that is offered in the report is one possible formulation. The Minister of Agriculture has said that he is going to listen to views about the question, but at the end of the day he is the one who is going to be developing the question that meets this commitment. He will be consulting as well.
The report also proposes to use a voters list that members on both sides of this House know includes people who are not barley producers. I guess the member for Malpeque should be answering the question about why it is that he is expanding the vote in his motion today to include people who do not grow barley and who are not included in the barley industry. I am not sure what his answer would be. Perhaps later he could give us some clarification on that.
The minister has promised to have a plebiscite question considered by a broad base of voters. That is what he intends to do, but that is not what the committee report proposes, and unfortunately I am sure the opposition members will be supporting it. They should think twice about that and I would suggest that they should reject it.
I would also like to take issue with the fact that we often hear the charge that we are rushing through change. Nothing could be further from the truth. This House would be aware that in mid-September the minister launched a technical task force to explore the transitional and structural issues that might be encountered in the move toward marketing choice. The task force came out in late October. It recommends a phased in transition from a Wheat Board with monopoly powers to a marketing choice environment, preparing for change, launching the new Wheat Board with transition measures, and a post-transition period. It is a fairly comprehensive report that lays out some of the possibilities as we move ahead with change to the Canadian Wheat Board.
The task force was not marching to orders from the minister. It was giving advice to him. For example, the task force advised to start with legislative change, and we are glad to see that the minister has decided to start with consultations first. That is why at the end of October he announced the plebiscite on barley.
The plebiscite on barley is the only thing in the window right now. The board is going to remain in place. It will continue to be one of the options for marketing.
Canada's grain industry is open for business. That is the positive message that our customers overseas need to hear loud and clear. They do not need to hear some of the doomsday scenarios that have been coming from some quarters.
This is something that has had a number of us concerned. We hear from some of the people in the board and the provincial governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba that the sky is falling. They have been screaming and exaggerating the consequences for some months. Now they tell us that some other people are actually listening to them when they say that.
The government is saying to the board, “Focus on marketing grain. Go out and do a good job of marketing grain for western Canadian farmers. As we bring some choice forward, you will have a lot more farmers who will support you as we move into that choice environment”.
It is interesting that those on the other side decided to exaggerate the possibilities as far as they could in order to scare farmers. I guess the farmers are being scared by the rhetoric that they are hearing.
The government has been very clear. We made a campaign commitment to provide marketing choice to western Canadian farmers with the Canadian Wheat Board as one of those options. That is the direction in which we continue to move.