Mr. Speaker, it is important to have this debate. The Canadian Grain Commission is the result of an act of 1912, which established three grain commissioners to oversee the regulation of the movement of grain from the country elevator to the point where it was loaded for export or processed in Canada. It has functioned in the interest of farmers. One of the main reasons it exists is to retain quality, so the wheat we send overseas has a stamp of quality from Canada.
Today, approximately 700 dedicated employees arbitrate disagreements over grain and weight, inspect grain passing in and out of terminal elevators, license and regulate elevators and grain companies and, most important, administer the Canadian grading system. Canadian grains are trusted and respected throughout the world due to the honesty and thoroughness of the Canadian Grain Commission.
I point out that we have specialists, people who have studied and learned what they are doing, working on behalf of farmers in Canada. Unfortunately, the way the bill stands now approximately 200 people stand to lose their jobs in the name of deregulation and privatization. That is one thing of which we have to be aware.
Grades like number 1 or number 2 Canadian western red spring wheat correspond to established specifications based on measures such as a percentage in the shipment of damaged or broken kernels or other kinds of seeds and of foreign matter such as dirt, as well as moisture content and the weight of grain. The grades assigned by the Grain Commission are under the control of the western and eastern grain standards committees, which meet and make decisions about any changes or additions to the grades that may be necessary because of changing market and crop conditions. Each year they also establish standards samples for each grade.
I mention that to underline the fact that the Grain Commission has a useful function. Any time we want to change or modify the way it works, we have to tread very carefully.
Bill C-39, as it stands, has a potential threat to Canadian grain producers. We know the Grain Commission has served as an independent referee to settle disputes between Canadian grain producers and the powerful companies that buy and export. It is no secret that our system of doing things in Canada is under attack. When I posed the question to our chief negotiator at the WTO last week during committee, he admitted, for example, that there was pressure internationally for us to do away with our state trading institutions, namely the Wheat Board. That same pressure exists to modify or to eventually make the Grain Commission not as serving as it is today. We have to be careful.
The commission has also served as the body that determines the amounts farmers are paid based on the Grain Commission determination of the weight and quality of grain before it goes to market. These roles would dramatically diminish if Bill C-39 becomes law, leaving producers newly disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies when it comes to determining grain quantity and quality.
The producer can hire a private company to grade and weigh the grain even though no such companies exist today. The bill would also expose grain producers to financial harm in the event of a grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay.
The feeling among many people who are in the business is that this will also undermine Canada's international reputation as an exporter of top quality grain. For example, the proposed elimination of inward inspection will likely result in diminished quality of Canadian grain exports. Currently, inward inspection by the Canadian Grain Commission ensures grains of different quality can be segregated to protect higher grades from being diluted by lower quality grain.
It took me a while to wrap my head around this, but I understand that when the grain goes to the elevator, for example, in Vancouver, which I have visited a number of times before with my farmer uncle from Saskatchewan, that the grain is put in bins and that quality is retained. The quality is there because of outward inspection when the grain is loaded on to ships.
Therefore, the way I understand it, there is the possibility, if there is no inward and outward inspection, there could be a mixture decreasing the quality of the grain, tarnishing Canada's reputation as an exporter of quality grain.
There is something called kernel visual distinguishability, or KVD, which is performed by the Grain Commission with this inward inspection. The bill proposes to do away with this.
I refer to an article by Mr. Wade Sobkowich, who is the executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association. In general, the feeling is that we have to be very careful before doing away with KVD. Technologies are in the process of being worked on and finalized that can replace this famous black box, which we were told about at committee. However, to date nothing really exists to replace KVD.
Right now only certain varieties are eligible for a particular class and KVD means that a trained person can differentiate between the classes through visual inspection. Any grain that contains an excess of varieties outside of the intended class is downgraded to the Canada feed grain. In other words, if I understand this correctly, by having KVD, we are able to retain, with qualified people who understand it, a quality in the grain we export.
KVD is a consideration used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency when deciding what varieties should be registered.
The biggest problem, according to Mr. Sobkowich, with removing KVD is the obvious one. It exists to protect the farmer because it allows settlement at the time of delivery.
Just as an aside, one of the problems with the bill, which goes contrary to one of the recommendations we made in committee, is it does not put the farmer first and foremost. The farmer is lumped into all the other segments of the agriculture industry.
Therefore, KVD protects the grain handler because the certificate final is based on a visual grading system. It protects the marketer by giving assurances that the customer is receiving what he or she has ordered. It protects the end use customers by providing confidence that they are receiving grain that meets the processing requirements.
The Western Grain Elevators Association is not saying that we have to keep KVD forever, that this is ingrained in stone. What it is saying is let us be very careful. Let us tread lightly. Let us ensure we do not replace something until we have something better to act in the interest of farmers.
What has been happening with the government is it appears to be willing to act very quickly and often recklessly with regard to the Wheat Board and the Grain Commission. Yet it seems to drag its feet when it comes to immediate aid that is needed for pork and cattle producers, which we saw during the debate. Somehow the government can act quickly if it wants, but if it does not want to, then we have the spin that it cannot get aid to people right away. Therefore, we have to tread very carefully.
So why is Bill C-39 flawed? Instead of having a study done by a parliamentary committee, the government used a report prepared by a polling firm whose very existence depends on contracts from government and large corporations.
COMPAS, which conducted the study that led to Bill C-39, had a favourable—I repeat, favourable—bias for deregulation and privatization right from the start.
So I ask the following question: how can a firm conduct a study if it has a favourable bias for deregulation from the get go. When a study is done, it is expected to be based on an examination of both sides of the issue.
Moreover, due to lack of funding, the Canadian Grain Commission has not been able to fulfill its mandate, and these failures are being used as an excuse to deregulate or privatize services to farmers.
What we have here is a ploy that involves cutting funding. We have seen the same thing in the health system. Then the government claims that the system is not working, but the reason for that is the lack of funding. If one looks at the commission's recommendations, one will see that one of these recommendations is to allocate sufficient funding to the commission so it can do its job properly.
Again, I want to stress the fact that this bill benefits large corporations rather than farm families. If we pass it in its current form, farmers will no longer have their say.
I will continue reading from a press release by the National Farmers Union, which states:
Many of those recommendations [in the report] would accelerate the economic leverage of large grain companies and railways at the expense of farmers, according to the NFU. “The mandate of the [Canadian Grain Commission], since the Act was first implemented in 1912, has recognized that farmers have less power in the marketplace and need certain protections,” said Boehm. He noted the Compas report specifically recommends “narrowing the mandate to protect producers' rights from a broad over-arching principle, down to some very specific limits.”
Boehm refuted the claim by the authors of the Compas report that they had heard no positive feedback about the CGC during their consultation process. “Such a claim is categorically not accurate,” said Boehm. “Particularly given our direct experiences at the public meetings in Saskatoon and Regina. Grain producers at both those meetings unequivocally expressed support for the CGC, particularly the role of the Assistant Commissioners.”
I would like to take an aside here and tie this in with what we have been experiencing with the whole debate on the Canadian Wheat Board. We have been told time and time again by the government that we have to move ahead for marketing choice, that we have to dismantle single desk, and that farmers are wanting this choice at this time. Yet in my office I have over 700 individual letters from people, some handwritten, some typed, which say that we have to be careful. These people say they do not want to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board and the single desk.
Then there is the spin we get from the government, which is that all these letters came from the same fax. Certainly. They are from members of the National Farmers Union. The National Farmers Union provides a service to its members. A member sends a letter and the NFU faxes it to me and other MPs. These are not form letters. These are individual letters. There are many gut-wrenching letters asking what the government is doing and why it is moving so quickly to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. I would say that this is the same sentiment that there is out there among many farmers in regard to the Canadian Grain Commission.
I will move on to an article from the Winnipeg Free Press, in which we see that the minister has decided not to work with the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board and is actually threatening to introduce legislation, I think he said within 10 days, if he does not get his way.
Since I became a member of the agriculture committee and have taken up this file, I have always thought how nice it would be if the current minister--or the previous minister--would sit down with those elected officials who are there on behalf of farmers. It would be nice if he would sit down with all farmers' organizations, especially an organization such as the National Farmers Union, which represents thousands and thousands of farmers.
The minister could sit down, hammer out a solution and try to work with the system as it is. As we can see, the Wheat Board is trying to introduce new programs. The majority of the board's directors want the federal government and the malt and barley industry “to give their new CashPlus barley marketing initiative a chance”. As well, states the Winnipeg Free Press article, “The program seeks to put more money into farmers' hands sooner than with the current pooling system”.
So it is not as if the Wheat Board directors are stuck in a time zone. They understand what is happening, but at the same time they want to ensure that the market power stays with the farmers and they are not at the mercy of the big multinationals.
It is disturbing when we hear a minister give ultimatums. I will quote him from the article in the Winnipeg Free Press:
“They can lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” he said.
What is that? What kind of a statement is that from the Minister of Agriculture of our country?
Now we will move on. Yesterday I received a letter from the president of the National Farmers Union, who was extremely upset over the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in debate the other night.
It is incredible. I will quote what he is saying:
One of your other defamatory allegations in the same emergency debate is that acting as the President of the National Farmers Union, I have “disappeared on this issue [the CWB] this year”. Again, although you know this to be opposite to the truth (I have attached my recent press releases on the CWB issue as you are pretending that you haven't seen them), you seem to think you can mislead your fellow members of the House of Commons, and this is a further disgrace to yourself and your party.
In the last paragraph, he poses a question to the parliamentary secretary:
Do you have the integrity required to stand in the House of Commons and apologize to your colleagues and then make a further apology to me for your unsubstantiated, defamatory, and incorrect remarks?
I will pose the question to the Parliamentary Secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board: does he have the integrity to do this?
I hope that when we come back to the House he in fact will stand up and apologize, because it is time to work in a spirit of cooperation. Farmers want to work in a spirit of cooperation with the government. The government is doing some good things. It is not a time for confrontation.
It is not a time for shenanigans, as we saw yesterday in committee when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture tried to stop debate on Bill C-33 and rush it through, back to the House, even though he knew witnesses were lined up to be heard on this important issue. The issue of biofuels is not something that we just move through. It has to be looked at and we must at least put on the record that there are concerns.
Thankfully we have a committee chairman with integrity who stood up and made the right decision. I would like to applaud him for that.
In the minutes I have remaining, I would like to quote from a letter dated January 18 from the organization called Save My Canadian Wheat Board:
[Bill] C-39 includes some of the amendments proposed in the review and is sure to cause further controversy. For one, it proposes to remove the phrase from the act that requires the [Canadian Grain Commission] to regulate the entire grain industry “in the interests of grain producers”. Instead of the focus of the act being the protection and promotion of the interests of grain producers, the interests of producers that would be protected by the act are spelled out specifically and narrowly.
That is just one example from friends of the group, Save My Canadian Wheat Board. Further on, the letter states:
Likely to be highly controversial, and certainly not recommended by the 2006 review, [Bill] C-39 removes the requirement that companies wishing to be licensed by the [Canadian Grain Commission] as primary elevators must post adequate security to cover potential losses farmers may incur if the company goes bankrupt. The security posted by companies in the past has not always been adequate, but it has certainly protected farmers from huge losses in some cases.
I would like to once again emphasize that we have to take the precautionary approach before we move quickly. Often the government has not done that in dealing with health and with the environment and now in dealing with the lives of farmers and our grain industry.
The precautionary approach means that we tread very carefully before we move in to throw something out and bring in something new when we are not quite certain what the future will bring. This is especially so in light of the fact that today in the world there is this thrust, this feeling, in regard to Canada that other countries and the WTO want us to do away with any protection we have for our farmers. That is a threat not only to the Canadian Wheat Board, but also to supply management. We can see it.
I would like to conclude by saying that the bill as it currently stands certainly does not receive my support or the support of my party. I hope we have a chance to look at it and turn it into a bill that reflects the interests of all farmers in Canada.