I expect, Mr. Speaker, that if you asked it, members would probably give unanimous consent for me to have another 20 more.
Bill C-39 does not reflect the unanimous recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. For the minister to imply otherwise is misleading. The question is why this contempt for the committee, and why this contempt by the minister for his own Conservative colleagues that were on that committee, of which he was one. I suppose it does make some sense because that is the way they continue to act over yonder based on ideology alone.
When the standing committee presented its report in November 2006 it was under the chairmanship of the member who is the current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. He was chair, and the parliamentary secretary for agriculture at the time is the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. They were at all those committee hearings and ignored the very committee hearings that they should have been encompassing in the bill. Why? Maybe it is, there is the rumour out there that the Prime Minister's Office and government dictates everything, and maybe they have had to toe the line there as well. Maybe that is the case, and I expect it probably is.
There are lots of concerns about this bill coming in. Let me read a few into the record. The National Farmers Union on December 13, 2007, which was the first major organization to draw attention to some of the serious deficiencies in this bill, stated a number of concerns quite clearly. Its president, Stewart Wells, said that Bill C-39 will fundamentally “turn back the clock” on the Canadian Grain Commission. In other words, it will bring us back to the havoc times before the Canadian Grain Commission was put in place. A number of other concerns were outlined, and I will raise them for debate at a later date. The amendments will remove the requirements that the Canadian Grain Commission operate as a public interest watchdog that regulates the overall grain industry “in the interests of producers”.
If this bill passes, the NFU says that the grain industry would become virtually self-regulated, and the CGCs role will be reduced to being a passive service provider that provides grading, weighing, and inspection services to grain companies on a fee for service basis. Farmers' protections will be reduced to a minimal level while the legislation leaves the door open for companies to be able to circumvent those limited provisions.
It went on to say, “Canada's farmers have not advocated for any weakening of the CGC regulatory role. At a time when grain companies like Viterra, ADM, and Cargill are consolidating their hold over the market, it is obvious there needs to be a mechanism in place to provide farmers with protection”. In other words, it is implying that the Conservative government is undermining those protections for farmers through this bill.
It goes on to say, “The current system allows grain inspectors to catch contaminated, off condition, or incorrectly represented car loads while they are being emptied, weighed and elevated, and before they are mixed with large quantities of other grain”. Mr. Wells said, “Eliminating this provision will have a negative effect on farmers' bottom line”.
It is true that eliminating this provision would have a negative effect on farmers' bottom line but it goes to the point of the parliamentary secretary earlier. One of the reasons that kind of contamination and bad grain does not get into the marketplace is because of what the Canadian Grain Commission does now, which is why we are seen as the highest quality supplier of grain in the world. The bill would undercut Canada's ability to be the highest quality grain supplier in the world.
The last point they make is that the amendments also call for eliminating the provision that grain dealers post a security bond before they can be licensed by the CGC. This provision was put in place to protect farmers who would be left holding the bag if the grain company were to go bankrupt. Mr. Wells says, “Eliminating this requirement will not save farmers any money. It will, however, greatly increase their risk.
In other words, another undermining of protection for farmers from the grain trade and grain companies when they do business.
It is interesting to note that one of the organizations that was at the meeting on Monday was the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. It is supporting the bill. I will admit and I will admit on the record that I sometimes wonder in whose interests the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association speak, whether it is the farmers or in fact the grain trade. The fact that it supports the bill, its name implies that it represents a lot of western grain producers. However, it does not.
It is something like the Western Barley Growers Association. There are 12,000 barley producers in western Canada and on the record before court it said that it represents 130. Therefore, we must question who those organizations really represent.
However, I will get back to the bill. Those were some of the criticisms and concerns raised by a directly represented farmer organization, an organization that is concerned about farmers and their future.
However, what is absolutely shocking, which is typical of the government, it has done no cost benefit analysis on the impact of Bill C-39 with respect to any contracting out of grain inspection, as was called for in recommendation 5 of the standing committee report.
I will explain. This is not unusual from the government, but in terms of a cost benefit analysis, the legislation on changing the CGC shares the same ideological basis as the government's determination to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board. Neither are based on the kind of economic basis that we would expect a government to do. We would expect the government to study and to look at the economic implications on the country, but especially on producers, and it has failed to do that.
Recommendation 5 of the committee report called on the federal government to conduct and complete both pilot projects in contracting out services of grain inspection. The government has failed to comply with this recommendation.
Recommendation 11 required the government to address the issue of specific models which “could be implemented for protecting grain farmers as a result of the elimination of the producer payment program”. What the government provided, in the minister's statement of December 13, 2007, was a suggestion of what “producer groups” could do. It sounds awful familiar to the lack of analysis on the Canadian Wheat Board changes it proposed.
This kind of contempt is becoming common for the government: contempt for parliament, contempt for committees and their reports, and contempt for farmers. It is consistent with the actions that the government has taken with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board that the member talked about earlier.
On July 16, 2007, the director general of marketing policy for Agriculture Canada testified in the hearing on the Canadian Wheat Board court issue, and this makes the point that it goes to the heart of the lack of analysis by the government opposite.
During that testimony, the following questions were asked with respect to the economic impact analysis done by the federal government in relation to the regulations to deregulate barley from a single desk. They were subsequently found to be illegal by the court. The questions were:
Did the government or the civil service or anybody retained by either do any analysis of how the amending regulations would function in the marketplace -- are you aware of any studies of the kind I have mentioned to you?
Was anybody retained to analyze that in the recent past?
When governments are making substantive changes that will affect an industry, one would naturally expect that they would do the analysis to see the impact of those changes. The impact of the changes the government wants to the grain commission or the Wheat Board on farmers is of no consequence to the government, obviously, and that is by its own admission.
Why should the government be trusted when it does not do its homework before bringing in legislation that could have a serious impact on primary producers?
The elimination of inward inspections and weighing will cost the Canadian Grain Commission some 200 positions, which is serious. What about the responsibilities that those inward inspections are utilized for? Has there been an analysis done in that regard? There has not.
Measures contained in the legislation would ensure the commission focuses more on the concerns of industry and not just on producers. I will list a number of points that threaten Canadian grain producers in this proposed bill.
The grain commission has served as an independent referee to settle disputes between Canadian grain producers and the powerful companies that buy and export. That is needed even more today than it was in the past.
The commission has also served as the body that actually determines the amount farmers are paid based on the CGCs determination of the weight and quality of grain before it goes to market. That is a concern.
These rules will dramatically diminish if Bill C-39 becomes law, leaving producers newly disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies when it comes to determining grain quality and quantity.
The producer can hire a private company to grade and weigh their grain even though no such companies exist today. Is that not something?
The bill would also expose grain producers to financial harm in the event of a grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay.
Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there is the danger of undermining Canada's international reputation should the quality of grain be jeopardized as exporters have more authority and farmers have less protection.
The standing committee did good work but the minister, even though he was chair of the committee at the time, selectively took what the government wanted out of that committee report for its own ideological purposes and its own friends who are trying to undermine farmers' empowerment in the marketplace through the Canadian Wheat Board. They are working for the same people.
The government seems to be working for grain companies and not for farmers, and it is farmers in these kind of times who need protection. The bill could undermine that protection for farmers. That is a sad commentary on a government that purports to represent farmers but obviously does not.
We will be looking further at this bill and speaking to it in later debates. Maybe it can be changed for the better, maybe not, but the bill in its current fashion is certainly not acceptable to the official opposition.