It is a national issue and it has been probably one of most debated issues in the House this fall. As a matter of fact, it was on the front page of the National Post, which is unusual for a western issue.
If I am not mistaken, this is the third debate that we have had on the Wheat Board. Obviously the Conservatives did not listen to us in the first two. We are hoping that this time they will get the message.
The Conservatives continue to move ahead with this ridiculous proposal despite the fact that all the opposition parties are totally against this, which is actually quite unusual. It does not often happen that all three are against something. We are listening to our people out there. The Conservatives say they are listening to their people, but we are listening to ours as well.
The Conservatives continue to move forward despite the fact that farmers continue to vote in favour of the Wheat Board. The farmers continue to support this institution, but that does not seem to bother the Conservatives at all.
They continue to move forward despite the claim of the premier of Manitoba that “destroying the Wheat Board would have a major economic impact on Manitoba”. The Wheat Board has a downtown location and several employees. I will leave that to my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre to discuss as well.
They continue to move forward despite the fact that the mayor of Churchill has said to stop the insanity, that it would close down his town and every town along the railroad line. Again, we know how important the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba is becoming with global warming, in which the government does not believe in the first place.
The Conservatives continue to move forward despite the fact that the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are so frustrated with the anti-democratic process that they are holding their own plebiscites. It is absolutely unheard of for these provinces to hold their own plebiscites; that is how much they trust this Conservative government. They figured they could not count on this government to do the right thing, so they will be doing it.
I can understand why they would feel such frustration. There was a meeting in Saskatoon at one point, an anti-Wheat Board meeting, to which Manitoba and Saskatchewan were invited, but they were asked to sit in the corner and were told not to comment on any issues. I can see why these provinces are now taking the lead on this and making sure that farmers are represented, at least at one level.
The Conservatives tried to muzzle the Wheat Board CEO and now are trying to fire the CEO, which is absolutely ridiculous. He is one of the most respected CEOs in the country. When I look back at how people are trying to defend the Wheat Board, what I think is that they are exactly the kind of people I would like running this corporation. I think they are doing exactly the right thing. They are trying to display the other side of this issue and are doing it very successfully.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food have to admit that this whole process has been a total disaster, and now we have last weekend's election, in which four out of five members of the board of directors who were elected are pro-single desk. I think it is another confirmation that the Conservatives should be changing their idea on this very important issue. It is becoming a major problem for the government. I think it is realizing that its policy is flawed and is not supported by farmers.
I almost sympathize with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, but I did say “almost”. I can see the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food receiving his mandate letter from the Prime Minister, which would say that he has one basic objective: dismantle the Wheat Board. That is what he has to do.
Let us think about it for a second. What else has the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food done? He has focused uniquely, through every anti-democratic process he can think of, on dismantling the Wheat Board. I am not sure exactly where the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food stands on this. Internally, he may be thinking that it is absolutely nuts, that he is going against every institution, against the farmers and against the House of Commons. Hopefully the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food does not believe internally that this is the right thing to do.
When does this stop? When does the government reverse its position on this? It is important to note that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is getting absolutely no support from his Conservative colleagues in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I can tell members that it is very difficult right now to get some of those people to stand up and speak either for or against the Wheat Board. It is absolutely incredible that people who are elected by 80,000 or 90,000 people do not have the guts to get up and speak on behalf of or against the Wheat Board. For God's sake, these members should get it on the record so that in the next election the voters can judge them on it.
We even have rural Conservative members of Parliament in Manitoba who have householders out uniquely on agriculture, but with not a word on the Wheat Board. Can members imagine that? It is one of the most discussed topics in the House of Commons this fall and for them it is as if it does not exist. It is absolutely ridiculous.
Let us try to get these people on the record. Members of the media have told us that they have called some of those members of Parliament nine or ten times, with absolutely no success. The only person who stood up and who has the courage of his convictions is the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette. I believe he has been ostracized for his efforts. We really appreciate the fact that he has listened to his constituents. He has come through. He is doing the right thing.
I think of the senior minister in Manitoba, who, once again, has said absolutely nothing on the Wheat Board. He is supposed to be there to defend the interest of Manitobans, of Winnipeggers and actually of Canadians, but there is not a word from the minister. He is the regional minister in Manitoba. He has a responsibility to stand up for what is important for Manitobans, but there is not a word from this person.
I will leave the economic impact of this issue to my colleague as well.
Why are our Conservative colleagues from Manitoba not up in arms over this? It is very simple: they are muzzled. On every major issue that we have had over the last 10 months, the members of Parliament, elected by 80,000 to 90,000 people, are not able to speak their piece. I think that is a sad commentary in a very strong democracy such as Canada's.
I would also like to comment on the supply management issue. I come from an urban constituency, and when the people across the aisle say that people who do not live in the Prairies should not comment on this subject, I find that absolutely ridiculous.
My riding is Saint-Boniface, and it is right downtown. I get calls and e-mails from people who are very concerned, people in the country and people in the city. As the NDP member said earlier, this issue concerns people in cities just as much as people in rural areas. People in the cities all have friends or family who live in rural areas. We have great respect for them and we do not want to destroy the institution that serves them so well.
This week, a voter in the riding of Portage-la-Prairie, a rural riding in Manitoba, wrote to me: “The loss [of the CWB] would be an economic setback, a failure of global vision regarding trade and a social disaster in our rural areas”. He closed by saying: “I do not want [thePrime Minister ] to sell the farm to Bush”.
I think there are very serious concerns in rural areas and I am disappointed that people in the Conservative Party are not listening to them. People have to call us in downtown Winnipeg. We see how stressed these people are.
Like my colleague in the Bloc Québécois, I want to talk about supply management. We have to think that this is coming. I know the Conservatives tell us there is no danger and they will not touch supply management. When I asked the question yesterday in the House, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food replied that there was no cause for concern about the Canadian Wheat Board, everything would be fine, there would be votes and it would be done democratically. We have seen the results so far.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food also told us yesterday that we did not understand anything about supply management. I can tell you that yesterday I had an opportunity, with a few colleagues, to meet with Mr. Pellerin, the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles, and with Mr. Friesen, the president of the CFA. These people are very well respected in agriculture. I think that even members of the Conservative Party will admit that they are people we should listen to. These people are deeply concerned about what is happening. It is being said that if the Conservatives are able to tear down and dismantle an institution like the Canadian Wheat Board, which works extremely well, why would they stop there? Why would the next step, in fact, not be supply management?
So people are worried. It is not me saying it, it is experts in the field.
It really bothers me that all this is being done without any proof about dismantling the Wheat Board. It is really interesting, as one of my NDP colleagues was saying, that there is absolutely no proof, no evidence, that dismantling the Wheat Board would be favourable to the farmers, and yet the government is moving ahead with it.
The new government, as it likes to call itself, always brags that its members are defenders of democracy, transparency and accountability. On the Wheat Board file alone, there have been so many transgressions that they are discredited on all three counts.
What are the government members afraid of? If they think offering choice is a solution, let them put it to a vote. Let them test the market. Let the producers decide, and not with a manipulated list of voters, not by splitting the vote by crop and not by trying--