Mr. Speaker, before I start the formal part of my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the comments by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. It is nice to have these well thought out agriculture minds looking at this. Maybe they would like to come to committee and start talking about some of these issues, and perhaps the loyal opposition as well, which has only asked three questions in this entire session on agriculture. I can see that this is going to be a lively debate.
It is my pleasure to support the proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act; however, the same cannot be said with regard to the NDP hoist amendment. Clearly this amendment is a transparent attempt by the NDP to continue its attack on western Canadian farmers. The opposition has nothing positive to offer on this bill. So, what does it do? It attacks the very essence of the legislation. Members should work to make constructive changes to this legislation in committee, not hoist a bill so that we cannot even work with it.
This is a piece of legislation which the Canadian Grain Commission is asking for, and which shippers, producers and farmers in my area are asking for. All they are asking is for us to at least bring this to committee so that we can talk about it and have some freedom to make some changes to streamline an act that is 30 years old. Unlike the opposition, our government puts a high priority on this proposed legislation because farmers have asked for it and we agree it is high time this act was brought into the 21st century.
The Canadian grain sector stands out as a huge success story among the considerable accomplishments of the Canadian agriculture and food industry over the last 100 years. This is especially true in the area of Westlock—St. Paul.
Canadian wheat, barley and other grains are known by our customers all over the world for their unequalled consistency, cleanliness and quality. On a yearly basis Canadian grain farmers generate about $10 billion. That money helps to keep the economies of both rural and urban Canada growing. It sustains employment throughout the grain production chain from farm input suppliers to elevators, to transporters and processors. Those dollars support our rural communities which contribute so much to Canada's economy.
To put it in more concrete terms, Canada's grain growers sustain our health and well-being as Canadians by putting the very bread we eat every day on our tables. This government has taken concrete action in support of this vital sector for our economy, not just in this particular legislation, but in other legislation in regard to transportation and food safety. We are putting farmers and Canadians first.
Three years ago our first act as a new government was in the interests of grain producers when we accelerated the grains and oilseeds payment program. We are investing $2.2 billion in the development of biofuels to open up new markets for our grains and oilseeds producers, to create new jobs for our rural communities and to create a better environment for Canadians. Those dollars have helped with the planning of new biofuel projects across Canada and will help build biofuels and biodiesel plants.
We have improved cash advance programming by doubling the interest-free portion for producers. We are helping the transfer of family farms to young farmers by boosting the capital gains exemption and doubling the amount of government-backed credit available to young farmers.
While this is something that can be captured in one paragraph of a speech, it is important that each one of these changes have critical effects on our producers and farmers not only in western Canada, but across the country. These are changes that farmers have been asking for, for 20 years. Finally, in the first three years our government has not only moved forward but has accomplished many of these.
The new agriculture loans act would guarantee an additional $1 billion in loans over the next five years to Canadian farm families and cooperatives. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is working hard to open new markets for our grain and pulse farmers around the world. The minister is also delivering real action for our farmers so that they can continue to fuel our economy and remain competitive both at home and abroad.
At the WTO agriculture negotiations, we remain committed to pursuing an ambitious outcome that benefits Canada's entire agriculture sector, not pitting one aspect of our Canadian agricultural economy against another as has happened in the past.
New marketing opportunities will help Canada get through the current economic uncertainty and come out stronger than ever. Stable, bankable farm programs will also help farmers weather the storm and continue to drive the Canadian economy. That is what the growing forward framework is all about, making Canadian agriculture stable in the present day and building a strong agriculture future not only for current farmers but for our future farmers.
Business risk management programs are a key part of growing forward. We have replaced CAIS with programs that are more predictable, more responsive and more bankable. I can assure members that this was a major platform plank in my first election to Parliament. The producers in the areas that I represent, whether they be grains and oilseeds producers, whether they be cattle producers, whether they be supply management producers, wanted a more bankable, more stable, and more predictable system.
We promised to eliminate the CAIS program. We did that. We replaced it with growing forward. We went across this country to hold round-table consultations, not just myself and members on this side of the House but also the Minister of Agriculture. We made unprecedented stops all across this country. Unlike former governments, he did not just get off the plane and stop at the nearby airport to host a meeting. He went out into farm communities, held those consultations and listened to farmers. We came forward to separate agriculture stability from disaster relief, putting in the top tier of our growing forward program. These are programs that our producers have been asking for, and we are delivering.
Business risk management programs are a key part of growing forward. We have replaced CAIS with programs that are more predictable, more responsible and, as I said, more bankable. Those programs have delivered $1.5 billion to our livestock producers in their time of need.
We have worked with pork producers to deliver a $75 million transition program, government-backed loans and international market development. Producers want to make their living in the marketplace. We have delivered $17 million for pork marketing to get more buyers bidding on our products.
Canada's economic action plan is making sure the agricultural industry emerges stronger than ever from the current economic crisis.
We announced a $500 million agricultural flexibility plan aimed at helping farmers with regional market challenges and opportunities. These funds are helping farmers cope with cost of production pressures, promote innovation and ensure environmental sustainability. This money is already supporting action on traceability for our livestock sector.
We also set aside $50 million to strengthen our slaughter and meat processing capacity.
The amendments the government is proposing to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission are evidence of our commitment to grain producers.
Canada's quality assurance system for grain provides a key competitive advantage for our farmers. The amendments we are proposing build on that competitive advantage.
When our global customers choose Canadian grain for processing, they count on consistent quality and cleanliness with every delivery. This world-class reputation that our Canadian grains enjoy around the globe has been hard-earned. First and foremost, it has been earned through the hard work of our farmers. Grain handling companies, research scientists and the Canadian Grain Commission have also played a key role in building that golden reputation that truly enhances the amount of financial recovery that our producers receive at the end of the day.
Our edge in the marketplace is all about quality, and much of the responsibility for the quality of Canadian grain resides with the Canadian Grain Commission and the quality assurance system it administers under the Canada Grain Act.
The grain industry is changing and the legislative tools required to keep the industry competitive need to change along with it. The current Canada Grain Act has not changed substantially in almost 40 years, but the marketplace has evolved.
We have a major new customer for grains in the form of the biofuels industry, supported by initiatives put in place by this government.
We have quality management systems to allow parcels of grain with specific qualities wanted by buyers to be kept separate through the handling system.
We have niche marketing and processing of grains in Canada, and we have a broader range of crops in western Canada than ever seen before.
In the mid-1990s, the reform of the Western Grain Transportation Act triggered a wholesale diversification as producers opted to market their grain through livestock or switch to other crops: oilseeds, pulse crops or horticultural crops. Today, wheat accounts for only one-third of the crop land. In the 1950s, three-quarters of that land was wheat. I know many of my opposition colleagues have never actually seen many of the crop lands in western Canada and they may be surprised to hear that wheat now actually only accounts for one-third, but that is actually a fact.
We are proposing these amendments to the Canada Grain Act to help keep our grain producers competitive by improving the regulatory environment for Canada's grain sector.
The proposed changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission will help the grain sector to meet the challenges of a more competitive and more oriented sector for the 21st century. By removing unnecessary mandatory costs from the grain handling system, the bill works to build a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. We are modernizing the regulatory environment. As all costs in the system eventually work their way to farmers, this will result in a less costly and more effective system for our farmers.
This is an important point. All excess costs in the system are always downloaded on to the backs of our farmers. These amendments will help streamline this act and make our system better for western Canadian farmers. These amendments are amendments that were asked for by our farmers.
The amendments reflect the direction of both the Compas report and the good work done by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food of which I am proud to be a member. Both reports reflect extensive consultations held with the sector in preparing those reports.
The fact is that this package is built on the standing committee's recommendations. I have these recommendations if any of my opposition colleagues would like to take the time to actually read them. In short, these amendments speak to the will and needs of the Canadian grain industry.
Let me talk a little about the amendments that are actually being proposed. First, inward inspection and weighing of grains will no longer be mandatory. There is no reason to require something that is not necessary, particularly when the cost comes out of the bottom line of farmers in the grain industry.
Currently the Grain Commission is required to inspect and weigh each railcar or truck lot of western grain that is received by licensed terminal elevators. The industry has been calling for change in this area for some years now because mandatory inspections impose costs and are not essential to grain quality.
Therefore, inward inspection and weighing will no longer be mandatory. Instead, shippers of grain will be able to request an inspection at their discretion when they feel the benefit justifies the cost.
Elevators will also be required to allow access to private inspectors when an inspection is requested. The Canadian Grain Commission would be authorized to provide grade arbitration if the parties to a transaction request it. This means if there is a dispute about the grade, the Canadian Grain Commission will be available to impartially determine the grade.
However, as my colleagues in the NDP like to point out, and let us be clear, this does not mean grain would go through the system without inspection. This means that our government will stand up and put safeguards in place for Canadian farmers when they request it. Outward inspection would still be required when grain is loaded into vessels for export. Export vessel shipments would continue to require certification by the Canadian Grain Commission based on the inspection and weighing by CGC personnel.
With this bill in place, our customers will be assured that they can continue to have confidence in Canada's grain quality assurance system.
The Canadian Grain Commission would continue to regulate the grain handling system for the benefit of producers. It would continue to license grain handlers and dealers. It would continue to require them to have proper grading and weighing equipment, and to properly document purchases and continue to ensure that producers have access to arbitration by CGC.
In fact, the bill would actually enhance farmer protection by extending the Canadian Grain Commission grade and dockage arbitration to farmers delivering to process elevators and grain dealers. Currently, if a producer disagrees with the grade or dockage received for a grain delivery at a licensed primary elevator, the producer can ask the CGC to determine the grade and dockage and make a binding decision.
The grain producer is paid according to this decision. This bill proposes to extend this service to deliveries to all licensed grain handlers, including process elevators and grain dealers. Farmers have never had this protection before. Canadians have never had this protection before.
More broadly speaking, these amendments would improve the clarity, application and enforcement of existing provisions; reflect current practices; enhance producer protection; and eliminate some provisions that are no longer used.
The proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act would help the grain sector continue to evolve in a direction of greater competitiveness, greater freedom for farmers to manage risks, and effective regulatory oversight where it is needed.
While in committee, there were ample opportunities to work on this bill. However, the opposition has now decided to collude together to hoist this bill, which will kill the bill to the detriment of not only Canadians but our Canadian grain farmers. With the amendments this government has made, it is clear that we have put farmers first.
With the strong work ethic and the strong desire that our government has shown in committee to work with the opposition on a number of bills to ensure that we craft legislation that is more effective and more responsible for Canadians and Canadian producers, I find it astonishing that some of the opposition members would not want to bring this to committee, where they still have the majority of the votes, to talk about some of these amendments.
At the end of the day, they have clearly shown time and again that they truly do not care about Canadian farmers.
I believe that the amendments proposed in this bill would help build a competitive and innovative grain sector by reducing costs, improving competitiveness, improving regulation, and providing choice for our producers and others in the grain sector.
I know I only have a few minutes left, but I would be remiss if I did not talk a bit about one of the major aspects of the grain economy in my riding, in my area of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where we were hit by a terrible year this year. We had a late spring. We had frost through almost every month of the year. It has been a tough year for our hay farmers. It has been a tough year for our grains and oilseeds producers. They are not asking for bills. What they are asking for is for the government to get off its back, stand out of their way and give them access to the tools that they need, and to make the changes on their behalf that they are asking for.
One of those examples that I am proud to have worked on with the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister was the tax deferrals that were given earlier than ever this year to our Canadian farmers. In my area, this was a major issue. In the months of July and August they needed to know that they had access and certainty of these tax deferrals. To my dismay, I came back to the House of Commons and watched the opposition vote against tax deferrals for my farmers.
I hope we can continue to work together and work for the betterment of Canadian producers. However, at the end of the day, the opposition needs to do more than talk about it; it needs to actually get to work and help us make the system better and more effective.