House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.


Maher Arar InquiryRoutine Proceedings

December 12th, 2006 / 10 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.


Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table today the policy review report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar. Issued under part I of the Inquiries Act, the report is entitled “A New Review Mechanism for the RCMP's National Security Activities”.

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to sincerely thank the commissioner of inquiry, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, the honourable Dennis O'Connor, for his work over the past two and a half years.

We will carefully review all of the implications of this report and respond in a formal manner in the near future.

Canadian Air Transport Security Authority ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Pontiac Québec


Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to section 33 of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority Act Review Advisory Panel, entitled “Flight Plan: Managing the Risks in Aviation Security”.

Quarantine ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Tony Clement ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the tenth and eleventh reports related to Telefilm Canada and the twelfth report related to the Canadian feature film industry by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the twenty-fifth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of the legislative committee on Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (Canada's Clean Air Act).

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to Standing Order 113(1) the report is deemed adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-395, An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Welland.

Mr. Speaker, this is a bill to change the name from that of one municipality within the riding, which actually consists of five different municipalities. We would like to change the riding name to Niagara Centre South, which is very similar to the name that represented roughly the same area in the 38th Parliament and before that. I would ask respectfully that the House consider the renaming of the riding.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, presented to the House on Wednesday, December 6, be concurred in.

This debate, while on the specific motion of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, has a series of questions in it that we believe should be used in any future plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board, but it is about much more than just those questions.

This debate is really about governance, justice and fair play. This debate is about a Prime Minister who is enforcing his ideology on prairie grain farmers regardless of whether farmers agree with him or not. This debate is about undermining the democratic principles that exist within Canada.

I will turn first, to emphasize this point in terms of democratic principles, to an article in the Red Deer Advocate by an individual by the name of Ken Larsen, who said:

Stephen Harper's Conservatives have identified an internal enemy that does not fit their ideology. Using their power as the government, they have started a campaign of suppression and disruption supported by a flood of propaganda and misinformation, utilizing the federal bureaucracy.

The target of this attack, an organization 100 per cent funded and democratically controlled by its members, has been permanently stripped of its right to free speech by ministerial order.

Their organization is also the subject of Harper government propaganda attacks on almost a weekly basis--

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The member has been here a long time and knows he cannot do indirectly what he is not permitted to do directly. He keeps mentioning the Prime Minister by name. I wish he would stop doing that.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I was quoting from an article. I will quote the article and I will insert the words “the Prime Minister”. It states:

Their organization is also the subject of [the Prime Minister's] government propaganda attacks on an almost weekly basis; it is restricted by a cabinet directive from expending any corporate resources to defend itself. These attacks come in the middle of this organization's democratic elections for membership to its board of directors.

Obviously this is now not just about a question on a plebiscite; it is about a government so driven by ideology that it is willing to undermine our reputation abroad as a trading nation, a government that is willing to weaken our credibility as a trading nation and the respect our grain markets have, with an economic cost for producers. It is about a government that is willing to use misleading propaganda, a strategy that really strays from the truth.

Why are we having this debate? Why did the agriculture committee put forward this motion in the first place? It is because the government, which calls itself the new government, cannot be trusted. It cannot be trusted to allow a fair question. It cannot be trusted to abide by the Wheat Board Act itself. It cannot be trusted to abide by democratic principles.

Farmers actually believe the minister will try a trick question, one that would mask what the government is really doing. That is why farmers forwarded these questions to the committee and asked that we as a committee at least put these questions forward so that a fair question could be asked of farmers if indeed there is a plebiscite called on barley and wheat.

These questions put forward by the farm community are clear and I ask Parliament for its support in this matter: a clear question on any plebiscite that may be held in the future.

Farmers are right not to trust the government, because this has been the issue all along. The government has tried to mask what the debate really is, and indeed, although now the Minister of Agriculture stands up on an almost daily basis and claims he is turning to farmers in a plebiscite, what did he say some while ago? I will quote the minister.

In the spring the minister failed repeatedly to support a plebiscite by producers. At the Senate agriculture and forestry committee on October 3 of this year, he stated, “I have not had a plebiscite and I do not have plans for a plebiscite”.

The parliamentary secretary was soundly defeated in terms of his theory that farmers in his riding wanted to do away with the pro-marketing board Wheat Board directors. In the election on the weekend in his riding, the farmers voted 66% in favour of a pro-Wheat Board single desk selling director, but the parliamentary secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board told the agriculture committee on October 25, “For me, the issue is not about a plebiscite”.

However, on October 31 of this year, the minister announced that a plebiscite will be held on barley marketing. It is a good thing that there will be a plebiscite, but it really should be on both barley and wheat at the same time.

What I am saying is that we really cannot trust the government in terms of the Canadian Wheat Board issue. Let us look at the Prime Minister's trickery itself. On April 6 the Prime Minister said in the House, “The government will empower producers by allowing them to have dual marketing options when it comes to the Wheat Board”.

The government has now changed its mind. It is not talking about dual marketing anymore. There is no question that the government, in the last election campaign, did campaign on dual marketing. While the Prime Minister may have promised something in the election, he really did not have the authority to carry it out because it is farmers themselves who should make those choices.

What we are seeing is that the government is now all about changing the language. When we listen to the minister's response or the responses of members opposite, they are no longer talking about dual marketing, which they campaigned on during the election. They are now using new words, “marketing choice”. Why?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

What is the difference?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

There is a huge difference. The government has its republican spin doctors up here. Farmers understand what dual marketing is. It means no more single desk selling. However, in terms of marketing choice it sounds better so the government is listening to the spin doctors because the words sound better. It is more deception by the government opposite and it believes that by using the words “marketing choice”, it will be able to confuse--

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening to the member opposite go on at length talking about deception, trickery and other things by specific members on this side of the House. While the words might be quite appropriate in the terminology, I think the inference is quite disparaging.

I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you caution him and suggest that if he is trying to explain his point he do so without his disparaging remarks about the government and ministers on this side.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to report to the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert that I do not find anything that has been said by the hon. member for Malpeque to be unparliamentary. The members opposite may find it unacceptable to them but that is a matter of debate.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I can understand that the member opposite does not really want the facts on the table.

In terms of the wording, I was trying to explain that the government is now using the words “marketing choice” because those words sound better, but it is really the same thing. It is a deception and the member knows it.

Let us look at what the minister had to say in Hansard on June 7 when he was not using the words “marketing choice”. He stated:

--during the campaign, there was a clear and honest question put forward. We said at the time that our party believed that there was a good future for the Canadian Wheat Board. It involves dual marketing....

In a moment I will get to why the government changed the words to “marketing choice”, because it really hides what it is doing.

The minister appointed a stacked task force that had no pro-Wheat Board supporters, only opponents. The chair of that task force was a very credible senior civil servant. This is what he had to say on what marketing choice means. In the report he stated:

“Marketing Choice” is a better term to describe the new environment than “dual marketing”. The latter term implies to some that the existing marketing approach (a CWB with monopoly powers) could co-exist with an open market approach. This is not possible.

The words changed because “marketing choice” is more deceptive. The report actually states that dual marketing is not possible. Those are the facts. Have the new government members not been saying all along that they will go to dual marketing? Did members of the Conservative Party not campaign on dual marketing? Did the Prime Minister not campaign on dual marketing? I quoted him a moment ago.

The truth is now out. By the minister's own task force, dual marketing is not possible. The task force says that marketing choice means the same thing, and it does, but it sounds better in the farm community. The Conservatives know that at the end of the day it will mean the end of the Wheat Board.

Let us turn for a moment to a group of academics who studied the task force report and looked at dual marketing and marketing choice. I will quote from a press release on that report. It states:

Though the task force report insists a new CWB "needs to have a high probability of success," the proposed changes to the CWB would not allow it to survive commercially.

Those are the words of Murray Fulton and Richard Gray. They go on to talk about the business case that is in the task force report and say, in conclusion, that there is no business case for a viable Canadian Wheat Board II. It would be unable to obtain the strategic assets necessary to compete. They go on to say:

There are at least four reasons for this.

First, without grain handling facilities, particularly port facilities, the CWB II would be completely reliant on the existing grain companies to handle its grain.

The CWB would be unable to provide guarantees to customers since the existing companies would much rather handle the grain themselves than for CWB II. And purchasing key facilities from the existing companies is not going to happen, since these players have no interest in allowing a viable CWB II to enter the market.

Since CWB II will have no significant strategic assets, it will not be commercially viable. Given the expectation that it will not be viable, farmers will have no incentive to purchase shares in it and, as a consequence, CWB II is unlikely even to get established. Thus, the only marketing choice that a farmer will have is, "To which private multinational grain company should I sell?"

What it comes down to is that we give up the multiple marketing choices and options that are available through the Wheat Board and we end up with one: sell to the multinational grain trade. That is the choice.

The Conservatives can play with the words all they like. They can talk about dual marketing and about marketing choice but at the end of the day there will be no other choice for primary producers in this country but to sell to the multinational grain trade, and that is no choice at all.

The government is taking away the marketing power from the producers that they have collectively had for years and leaving them at the disadvantage of the multinational grain trade.

The sad part of this is that we are seeing the Government of Canada do from the inside what the multinational grain trade has tried for years to do from outside the country: to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board and eventually destroy it. We now have a government in Canada doing that from within the country.

Simply put, the government's objective, which is the Prime Minister's ideology and ordering his ministers around, is to eliminate single desk selling.

While I do not think even government members realize it, it does mean that eventually we will lose the Canadian Wheat Board and lose that marketing power in the marketplace. Who gains? As I said a moment, it will be the international grain trade.

I will read two quotes from an article published in Inside U.S. Trade on October 27. The first quote reads:

The U.S. government for years through the WTO has tried to eliminate the monopoly powers of the CWB....

The second quote reads:

A U.S. wheat industry source said the timeline is not crucial to U.S. producers, so long as Canada eliminates the monopoly powers.

Who is overjoyed by the decisions that our government is making? It is the producers in the United States, the U.S. grain industry and the multinational grain industry. They are overjoyed by the steps that the government has taken to undermine the marketing power of grain producers in western Canada, an agency that gives them some market power and offers them a lot more choices than they would get when they only have the choice to market to the multinational sector itself.

I have tried to outline the net impact of the government's decision and the need for a clear question and for Parliament to speak to this issue. However, I want to tell the House what has basically happened from the time of the election until now.

What we have seen to date from the minister certainly does not instill faith that the government will do the right thing.

In all seriousness, I do not believe we have ever seen such abuse of ministerial power, unless it was the Coyne affair and the firing of the governor of the Bank of Canada by the then prime minister, John Diefenbaker, nor such a violation of democratic principles in Canada and such an undermining of the very laws that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and his parliamentary secretary took an oath of office to uphold.

I will go through what has happened. It started with the election campaign but the election campaign was not a referendum on the Canadian Wheat Board.

Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act states that the minister should consult with the board and call a question of producers on changes to be made to the board. The Prime Minister promised something that he did not have the authority to provide, and that is right of producers to make that decision.

In any event we had the election. Shortly after in mid-summer, the Minister of Agriculture held a meeting in Saskatoon of anti-wheat board invitees. Even the Government of Manitoba, although it eventually went to the meeting, was not invited to participate. It was only invited to observe.

For other Canadians, what would they think if we were having a discussion on medicare and two provinces, say Ontario and Nova Scotia, disagreed with the Government of Canada, then a meeting was held but they were not invited to participate? Duly elected governments have the right to participate in that meeting. It was refused participation in that meeting by the minister. First, it was not invited, but it pleaded its case. Then it was allowed to go, but it had to sit in the back and observe. The minister then started the process.

For those who do not understand, the Canadian Wheat Board is made up of 15 person board of directors, 10 elected by producers and 5 appointed by the government. Always the previous governments have tried to provide balance.They had business people who had business understanding in terms of the appointed directors. However, the mantra of the government opposite on appointments to directors now is one thing. They must absolutely be opposed to single desk selling, and it made its first appointment on September 15.

On September 19, the minister appointed a task force to look at dual marketing. I have quoted from that task force report in which it has said dual marketing is not possible. However, the people who were on that task force were all opponents to the board. Even the Wheat Board directors were asked, but they did not attend because they knew it was a set-up. There were only opponents on that task force. No witness list was provided, no list of meetings, no economic analysis of any kind of what its recommendations would do.

As I quoted from Mr. Fulton, it is clearly a discredited task force by the academic community as a task force with one objective, to come up with recommendations on how to move away from single desk selling of the board without outlining the economic impact on the farming community. The reason it did this is the Wheat Board provides, and it is well known, an advantage to producers about $655 million annually.

On September 5, the election started for five directors of the Wheat Board. That is important. During that whole election campaign, the full power of the bureaucracy was out there propagandizing against pro-board directors.

On October 5, the government issued a gag order to the Canadian Wheat Board directors that they could not speak out and in effect would have a hard time doing their job.

On October 17, the minister directed that 16,000 farmers be removed from the electoral list itself, in the middle of an election campaign.

On October 26, a pro-wheat board director was fired so the government could replace him with an anti-single desk selling director.

On October 30, the task force report came down and, as we expected, it had no economic analysis and no list of meetings.

In November the standing committee agreed to hear from the president and CEO, but that eventually was cancelled and then was reinstated.

I know I am running out of time, but I will make a couple more points. This goes to the essence of what we are as a country. Because the Wheat Board put on its website a critique of the task force report so farmers would know the implications of that, on November 17, the Minister of Agriculture sent this letter to the board, another directive. It said:

I ask that you instruct the CWB staff to immediately remove the CWB Response to the Report of the Task Force on Marketing Choice that was posted on the CWB website on November 6, 2006.

In other words, the minister went so far as to ask the Wheat Board to remove from its website proper information that farmers should know on the impact relative to what the consequences of the government's decision would be to producers. That is a violation of freedom of speech and it is a terrible thing to see that happen in Canada.

The most recent event is that the minister is about to fire the CEO, a man who has had 33 years experience in the grain industry, has credibility around the world and is the chief salesman abroad, because he does not agree with the government's policy.

This is a farm agency and it should be allowed to operate as a farm agency. It should make its decisions as a farm agency on behalf of the farm community. The government should stop interfering in the activities of the Wheat Board and allow farmers to make the choice.

The questions we have presented as a committee are clear and unequivocal. With these, farmers could make a clear choice.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate today.

I was born and raised on a farm and have been farming for roughly 35 years. I have heard those same arguments for the whole 35 years. There has been no change at all in the position of that member and all western Canadian farmers who sit behind him in the peanut gallery. Wait a minute, they are from Ontario, which is not under our board.

The member went on to make a huge statement about multinationals sliding in and taking over. I will correct that statement. The multinationals like the Canadian Wheat Board. This single desk buyer gives them access to a constant flow of products at a far better price for them than it is for the producers who support it. This is a fact, and producers will tell us that.

The capacity of the Wheat Board has gone down over the years. Its market share is sliding terribly because of the way it is governed and run. Those changes will be made in time.

We are seeing value-added. We are seeing acres growing. Even the people who supposedly support the board are growing an abundance of non-board crops. We have not seen the multinationals slide in and take over this aspect of the farm. We also have not seen the multinationals slip in and take over the Ontario Wheat Board now that it is a market choice situation.

On what basis does the member make his statement that the multinationals will rush in and take over? We have not seen that happen anywhere else in the world and we certainly have not seen it happen in western Canada on the pulps and the non-board crops.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member may farm in the west, but I do not know where he has been. As chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, he should know the power of the multinationals. It is not that they are moving in to do the farming. They are taking economic advantage of farmers.

Studies clearly have shown the benefits under the single desk selling approach through the Canadian Wheat Board. The benefits under a number of scenarios with the Canadian Wheat Board have been posted. The economic advantage to farmers collectively as a result of the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk selling approach and its ability to provide economic power to the farm community has not been refuted by anyone. The member knows that Canada's credibility in the international market is due to the quality grains that we export, or export through the Canadian Wheat Board itself. A lot of this will be lost should the Canadian Wheat Board be destroyed.

The multinational grain trade has faced 11 challenges from the United States. We have won every time the United States grain industry and the multinational grain trade has challenged the Canadian Wheat Board as a marketing institution because it benefits Canadian farmers. Now we have a government that will do the bidding of the multinational grain trade and the United States, undermining the board and taking power away from Canadian farmers. Those members should be ashamed of themselves.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague opposite for his comments and his strong support for the Canadian Wheat Board. The NDP has been raising this issue since the beginning. It is clear that the government is trying to weaken farmers' ability to take collective action in their own best interest. This neo-conservative government is trying to stop people from acting collectively in their own best interest in many other areas as well by doing things like cutting funding for Status of Women Canada and abolishing the court challenges program.

Does the member agree that when his government eliminated cooperatives and people's collective ability to build housing, it was acting exactly like the current government is in terms of that other ability?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, when we look at cooperatives, the previous government was a fairly strong promoter of the cooperative system, both within the social housing community, the farming community and many others. However, there used to be a strong cooperative movement, the pool movement, in western Canada in the grains sector.

There used to be the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, the Manitoba Wheat Pool and the Alberta Wheat Pool. They were wholly owned by the farming community and their assets were built by that community. Those pools as cooperatives no longer exist. They have been taken over. Archer Daniels Midland has a 23% share in one of them.

Those pools, when they were operating as cooperatives in western Canada, did their best to try to return economic advantage to the farm community because their shareholders were farmers. Today that is not the case. Some of the shareholders of the grain companies in western Canada are farmers, but many of them are not. As I mentioned, Archer Daniels Midland has a 23% shareholder in AgriCorp.

Shareholders are on the New York Stock Exchange. They come from around the world and they are not interested in the farmers any more. They are only interested in the profits to themselves. Therefore, the cooperative movement has been very much undermined in western Canada. The last barrier against being exploited by the grain trade internationally is the Canadian Wheat Board, and that is what the Conservative government is about to undermine and cut away.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member opposite, whom we all know is from P.E.I. He never advocates a single market for the potatoes that are grown there, but he seems to want to keep the farmers in the west under the domination of a socialist idea of the Wheat Board.

He uses phrases such as the proposals would undermine democratic principles and the essence of what we are as a country. As we know, Canada was built on the entrepreneurship of the great pioneers who developed it, who created the wealth and so on. It seems to me that the member opposite is absolutely opposed to anything for which our country stands and how we build a country. In fact, he went on to say that the people who were interested in profits were the people who were out to destroy Canada. He needs a little lesson on capitalism.

If he feels the Wheat Board single market is so good, could he tell us why the grain industry has been in such bad shape for generation or more? Farmers have gone bankrupt by the thousands. We would think, if he were such a great proponent of this wonderful idea, they would be so prosperous that everybody would want to emulate them, but the opposite is true.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and the first part of the member's remarks noted that I happen to be from P.E.I. I spent 17 years in western Canada. I have probably been on a heck of a lot more farms than that particular member who happens to live in the west.

As far as promoting national marketing agencies, we have done it. We promoted a national potato board; however, the government of the day, and it was the Trudeau government I will admit, would not put it in place.

In terms of low farm incomes, I did a study and I would refer the member to it. It is called “Empowering Canadian Farmers in the Marketplace”. The member should put that under his pillow and read it late at night. He might learn something in terms of why farm incomes were low.

The reason farm incomes were low is because everyone else in the agricultural industries, from processors to chemical companies, to grain companies, to transporters and to financiers, everyone involved in the agricultural industry was making the biggest profits in the last two years while the farmers were making the lowest. Why? It is because farmers did not have power in the marketplace. That is why.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

The Wheat Board did not either.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The Canadian Wheat Board does give them some power in the marketplace.

Yes, the returns are low out there from the grain industry. The Canadian Wheat Board allows Canadian farmers to maximize those returns back to primary producers in the industry through its marketing power. Of course it is not going to ensure them a profit; however, it is going to ensure them the greatest share of the returns that are in fact out there.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary (for the Canadian Wheat Board) to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

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.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to look into the accusation that the member opposite made relative to Mr. Chatenay coming before the committee.

I have before me the original notice of meeting for the December 5 meeting that the chair eventually cancelled. The timeframe on the bottom of this notice is dated November 24, 2006 at 4:14 p.m. If you want a copy of that, Mr. Speaker, I can give one to you. Mr. Chatenay's name is not on that witness list. The parliamentary secretary is dreaming in Technicolor on that point.

The parliamentary secretary is accusing the opposition of taking charge of the committee. The minister himself in his presentation to the committee asked the committee for suggestions. I will ask the parliamentary secretary a simple question, is that not true? He did. The committee is doing its work and providing him with advice in terms of what the question should be.

I have another question for the parliamentary secretary. Adrian Measner, the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board, is about to be fired. He is a man of credibility with over 33 years in the grain business. This is what he said to the committee:

I have been asked to pledge support for the government's policy of eliminating the single desk, barring which I will be removed from my job. It would seem to me that opposition to the single desk should be far better grounds for my dismissal than unwavering support for the laws of Canada.

The gentleman opposite is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board. What Mr. Measner is saying in simple terms is he has been told by the minister he can break the law and keep his job, or he can maintain the law and lose his job.

Would the parliamentary secretary tell us, is that still the position of the minister, or is the minister going to allow this man to remain in that job? Mr. Measner has lots of credibility. He is still supported with the confidence of the board of directors. In fact, he was just reappointed in 2005. He has the full confidence of the board of directors in terms of maintaining his position as CEO. Will the minister say today in the House that that man should remain in that job so that he can continue to do a good job for western Canadian farmers?