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House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.

Topics

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for the hard work that he does on behalf of the farmers and producers in his area and in Ontario. It is with members like him who I work with every day. The member for Wild Rose, the member for Prince Albert and other members on this side of the government put in countless hours and are dedicated to crafting legislation such as we have before us, legislation that helps to reform a system that is over 40 years old without any major changes.

In the past, the former Liberal parliamentary secretary for the minister of agriculture did not like to see any changes. The Liberals liked seeing things the way they were. At the end of the day, when I was elected, my farmers asked me to come forward, take a brave stance and make some of the changes they were asking for. They do not want to get their livelihood from the post office. They want to get their livelihood from the marketplace, and that is why Canadian farmers, time and time again, and rural Canadians as a whole, elect Conservatives to represent them.

The other point is that nobody I talked to in this country wants an election, except for the opposition members. If the Liberals do not think the legislation is perfect, then let us sit down and work with it. At the end of the day, however, the Liberals refuse to even work with us on legislation that is important to rural Canadians. They insist on getting rid of it and putting concurrence motions forward day in and day out so they can avoid talking about rural Canadians, and avoid talking about the criminal justice legislation and the changes we need to make to that system.

Quite frankly, I am hoping that today, with a little bit of back and forth, we can bring the member for Malpeque back to the table to work on behalf of Canadian farmers.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Science and Technology; the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, Citizenship and Immigration.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and talk about these kinds of issues.

In this corner of the House, the NDP takes no lessons from federal Conservatives about defending western Canadians and western Canadian farmers. In fact, in a very real sense, by putting forward this hoist motion, what we are doing, inadvertently, is saving the Conservatives from the themselves because they have taken for granted the support of western farmers over the last few years.

The Conservatives said that when they became government they would move forward with an agenda that would actually help western farmers. Instead, it is fair to say that the reason more and more New Democrats are being elected in western Canada is because western Canadian farmers are seeing that the Conservative agenda has been very ideological and meanspirited.

Let us look at the record. Since they have come to power, farm receipts now for western Canadian farmers are at the lowest level since the Great Depression. In fact, many farmers in rural communities across western Canada are actually in a negative income situation. We are looking at the highest level of debt for farmers than we have seen since the Great Depression, in real terms of course. It is important to note that the lowest level of farm receipts in the entire country is in the province of Alberta, which has been dominated by provincial Conservatives for the last 30 years. So what is wrong with this picture?

In places like British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba where New Democrats have come to power and had positive, forward looking policies that actually helped western farmers, we have seen that the income crash has not been nearly as significant. Of course farmers in Manitoba are doing the best of all, but in Alberta, where the Conservatives have been in power, farm receipts are the lowest in the country. There is strike one against the Conservatives on how they managed the agricultural file.

Strike two was their meanspirited and ideological attack on the Canadian Wheat Board. What they liked to say was that they would tell farmers in the west what to think and they would tell farmers what they think. What happened? Western farmers had a chance to vote on the Conservative proposals.

There was a straight slate of rabid Conservatives just waiting to dismantle the Wheat Board. They could hardly wait to rip up the Wheat Board, attack the institution, and western farmers overwhelmingly voted for a pro Wheat Board slate and pushed the Conservatives back. That was strike two for Conservatives in western Canada.

Now we have strike three. Even before we talk about Bill C-13, we see that they are not standing up for supply management. I mentioned earlier the whole issue of western farm receipts, that they are at the lowest level since the Great Depression, particularly low where Conservatives are governing because they do not seem to understand agricultural issues or perhaps it is their own ideological bent that means that they mess up the agricultural file.

Supply management and the Wheat Board are now going forward in WTO negotiations. Have they said unequivocally that supply management and the Wheat Board are not on the table? No. We heard today, in fact, that they have missed every opportunity to stand up for supply management, every opportunity to strike back on the working group, that fifth paper that undermines supply management and the Wheat Board. New Zealand was able to get its state trading corporation excluded and the Conservative government was not able to do that.

Let us talk about Bill C-13 or, as the member for Selkirk—Interlake said, Bill C-23.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We are talking about the NDP amendment to Bill C-13. I would ask that the member get back on track rather than going through all the options of the agriculture policy.

He knows very well that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of International Trade have been very clear that supply management will be protected by the government and that the Canadian Wheat Board is a domestic issue and will be decided by the farmers of this country.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I am not sure that is a point of order. I give the floor back to the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster to discuss Bill C-13.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am confused. The member for Selkirk—Interlake said it was Bill C-23. I am not sure which bill the Conservatives are debating over there. Nor am sure what record they are debating. They seem very confused, which would explain their record. The record has been lamentable when it comes to western farmers. In the next election campaign in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, we will see a record number of New Democrats return because, quite frankly, western farmers have said enough of this rigid ideological agenda.

This brings me to Bill C-13, and I thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake for raising the issue of supply management. He is obviously wrong about this idea that somehow Conservatives are defending supply management. In testimony before the international trade committee today, we heard that they had missed on three occasions the opportunity to get the Wheat Board and to get supply management out of the WTO sellout, which is being foisted on Canada, with Conservative collusion.

Let us talk about the provisions of Bill C-13. This is why I say we are saving the Conservatives from themselves. They are pushing forward this meanspirited attempt to attack the Canadian Grain Commission, but let us look at what exactly they are trying to do. The NDP has put in a hoist motion because we disagree with what they are trying to do. They are telling farmers what is good for them and what they are supposed to think, just like the Wheat Board. I think farmers told them they were wrong on the Wheat Board and farmers are saying they are wrong on the Canadian Grain Commission. What are they wrong with? They are killing the Canadian Grain Commission's inward inspection and weighing service. Why is that bad? Because it leaves grain producers disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies.

Anyone who has grown up in western Canada, like myself, knows full well that there often has been an abuse of power from the grain companies over grain producers in western Canada. In fact, if we go back to the history of how the Grain Commission developed, it was to set up some balance, a level playing field for producers so grain companies, mainly foreign, could not run roughshod over our grain producers.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of the NDP, sprang up in western Canada because grain producers wanted a level playing field. Obviously Conservatives and Liberals were not listening to them, they were only listening to Bay Street. The NDP has always listened to grain producers. That is why we say to kill the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, to kill that opportunity for producers to have an impartial and independent inspection that allows them to offset what the grain companies tell them they will pay for that grain is not a good idea. It is not a good idea to get away from that. It is not a good idea to kill that. It certainly is not in the interests of grain producers to do that.

Bill C-13 would do that. It would away that level playing field for which grain producers have been fighting for decades, with the support of the CCF and now the NDP. Essentially that is the first strike against the bill.

What is the second strike? What else would Bill C-13 do that the Conservatives are so hot to adopt? It would dismantle the grain appeal tribunal. This protects producers and protects the Canadian Wheat Board from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies. This is the very historic roots of western Canadian farming, establishing a balanced system, establishing a system of checks and balances.

We have a Grain Appeal Tribunal and essentially the Conservatives want to rub that out. That is why we are bringing forward the hoist motion. We are actually listening to western producers. We know that having the ability to appeal these decisions of grain companies is a good thing. How a Conservative could feel otherwise, I do not know. I am sure the members on the other side are well-intentioned. I am sure they are reading their speaking notes diligently from the Prime Minister's Office, but policy on western farmers should not be set by the Prime Minister's Office or by a bunch of Ottawa bureaucrats. It should be set by what is fair for producers. That is why producers across the country said yes to the Wheat Board despite the Conservatives' mean-spirited attacks on it.

What else would it do? The other problem with Bill C-13 is that it essentially would eliminate the obligation by these grain companies, some of which are offshore, to post security bonds and ensure that producers would be paid for the product they produced. That absolutely makes sense. That payment security program is absolutely a fundamental part of fairness. If the company does not pay, there needs to be protection in place for grain producers.

Strike three on Bill C-13 is that it would do away with all that. It would do away with that fairness for western producers. It would do away with that fairness for those farmers who have been producing their crops and essentially may not be paid for it.

One might say that the Minister of Agriculture has surely thought of this. There has been some reference to the agriculture committee report that the agriculture minister completely ignored. However, the reality is the agriculture minister, for all his public statements, clearly does not understand how important the payment security program has been.

The minister was publicly quoted as saying that it would only give 30¢ on the dollar. From some reason, 30¢ on the dollar, if that were right, is somehow worse than zero cents, which the Conservatives proposed. It clearly is not right and I will come back to that in a moment because it is important to correct the record. There were no security bonds. If western farmers cannot pay as a big multinational grain company, they are out of luck. They are going to get zero cents on the dollar.

The Minister of Agriculture justified this by saying that the payment security program only gave 30¢ on the dollar, so somehow 30¢ on the dollar is not as good as zero cents on the dollar, which is the offer from the Conservative Party. The trouble is that the agriculture minister is dead wrong. Over the past 10 years, the payment security program has met issuing payments to producers in nine cases of default by grain companies.

Recall that on Bill C-13, the Conservatives do not want any payments or security any more. In those nine cases, producers would be completely out of luck. That is what the Conservatives are bringing to the floor of the House. I see some surprised looks on the other side. Obviously Conservatives were not told this in the prepared speaking notes from the Prime Minister's Office. I hope that means many Conservatives at the end of this debate will vote for the hoist motion and join the NDP in defending western farmers over the course of Parliament.

In nine cases of default by grain companies, payments were issued. In six of the nine, the payment was 100% of claims. It is important, especially for the Conservatives who are getting new information that they obviously did not get from the Prime Minister's Office, to note that. In one to seven, it was 99.8% of claims.

We are now looking at virtually 100% in seven of the nine cases of default by grain companies. A company that went bankrupt in 2002, payment reached 51.4% of claims. Another company that went bankrupt in 2004, payment was just under 30%. I think it is fair to say that Conservatives are sometimes arithmetically challenged, particularly on this file.

Despite the fact that there was one case where it was 30% of claims, if all nine cases are taken together, the total payment is 77.15%. In 77.15% of cases, grain producers who had worked hard to produce their crop, did their due diligence, did all of their work and saw the grain companies default were compensated because of the security bond. The Conservatives want to get rid of that protection that has supported western producers nine times in the last decade.

Let us just look at this for a moment. The government wants to get rid of the security bond so in the next nine or ten cases western producers would get nothing. The government wants to eliminate the Grain Appeal Tribunal.

Vancouver gets a lot of the grain that is shipped across the country. The member for Churchill spoke of the Port of Churchill. She defends and represents northern Manitoba very ably and effectively in the House. Vancouver, which receives the bulk of grain shipments going to Asia, gets up to 100 appeals in a day during peak season. The Conservatives want to get rid of that.

The Conservatives want to get rid of security bonds and protection for grain producers. They want to get rid of the Grain Appeals Tribunal. They want to kill the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, which provides a balanced playing field for producers who deal with grain companies. However, it is not just that.

The inward inspection service also provides Canada with the highest level of quality in the world. Bill C-13 would do away with that service, which would allow for potential mixing with less high quality American wheat. It would diminish our international standing of having the best grain system in the world.

Why would the Conservatives want to mess with something that works? Why would they, in such a ham-fisted way, do away with the institutions that historically were developed to protect western producers and western farmers? The Conservatives will have to answer for that.

That is why we in this corner of the House proposed the hoist motion. Bill C-13 was not well thought out. It was not done in consultation with farmers. It was not done in farmers' interests. It was not done following the agricultural committee report.

Despite what we have heard from Conservatives, the consensus report did not talk about gutting the Canadian Grain Commission. In fact, the consensus report talked about increasing funding. The Conservatives have said nothing about that. They will gut, they will take away, they will rip apart. They will not try to build a better system, and that is the fundamental problem.

I have another minute to go, and I do want to mention something that is important to farmers in British Columbia, and that is the harmonized sales tax, the HST.

The government is forcing the average British Columbia farmer to pay about $500 more in taxes through the HST because of this deal with the devil, which was done with the federal Conservatives working with provincial Liberals. A farming family of four people will pay $2,000 more a year because of the HST, imposed by the federal Conservatives with no consultation.

The Conservatives try to distance themselves and claim they are not responsible, but British Columbians know better. They know the Conservatives are responsible for bringing in the HST. If they want to provide their voice, urban British Columbians will be able to vote in the New Westminster—Coquitlam byelection. All British Columbians will be able to vote shortly in a federal election, whether it is held in the next few months or early 2010. British Columbians will have the final word on whether they support the Conservative HST.

We have no apologies to make to anyone with respect to Bill C-13. It is a bad bill for western farmers and western producers. It does not follow on the agricultural committee recommendations. That is why the NDP has moved this hoist motion to set this off so we can actually get smart agricultural policies to help western producers in the grain trade.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, hon. members will know there is probably not a lot of grain producers in my neck of the woods, although they should know we have some grain production, corn production and even some experimental wheat.

I have been told that one of the criticisms of the bill is that the changes would threaten the quality advantage that Canadian producers now enjoy over their competitors. I am interested in that. To me that seems to be a fabulous advantage Canadian producers apparently have.

Could the member elaborate on that? What is the advantage of the quality that Canadians now possess, in terms of reputation? How would this be harmed?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. John's East for his very cogent question.

The reality is, the inward inspection services help provide the best quality of grain in the world. In fact, the Canadian Grain Commission has even been able to differentiate the grain by protein levels. What we have is a very smart system that works very effectively, and it has developed an international reputation.

It is the same with the Canadian Wheat Board. We have managed, through the NDP putting pressure on successive governments, to put in place a structure that protects the best quality wheat in the world, the best quality grains in the world, the most respected system in the world. Why the Conservatives would want to mess with that, take away all the protections that western grain farmers have enjoyed and ensure a very uneven playing field with the grain companies just defies imagination. However, grain producers will be able to judge them on their record in the next election.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, the conversations have gone all around today, but I just wonder if I could ask the member, if he is so supportive of farmers, why he wants to turn farmers into criminals by supporting the long gun registry.

The NDP members said before the election that they would not support the long gun registry, but now they are voting against the elimination of the long gun registry. That does not sound like support for farmers.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is hardly in order. He is asking me personally what I will do, and I will of course tell him, as an urban resident, and people in my riding feel very strongly, I will be voting one way on the bill. I know that there are other members in the House who may be feeling differently and be voting another way on the bill, but the important thing is that we stop the division that the Conservatives are deliberately trying to foment between rural areas and urban areas.

That is why urban MPs are standing up and doing something the Conservatives are unwilling to do, and that is to defend western grain producers, actually defend them in a way that Conservatives have been unwilling to do. They have not listened to the western grain producers or western farmers on the Wheat Board. They have not listened to them on supply management. That is their record, the lowest farm receipts since the Great Depression. That is the Conservative legacy for western farmers, for western grain producers. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Questions and comments? We seem to have wandered away a little bit from the bill at hand, Bill C-13. The hon. member for York South—Weston, a question.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been suggested that urban Canada is not as interested perhaps in the regulatory framework which in fact protects the quality of food that we eat. I would suggest, after recent episodes with disease that has resulted from bad food and in fact a collapse of the regulatory framework, that urban Canada is even more interested in the regulatory implications.

I wonder if the member could just outline the inward inspections. Could he explain how that capacity to be able to carry on those inspections, which the bill tampers with, affects the quality of food, and how that would allay fears that urban Canada might have that the quality of food we are getting from our producers is not up to what they expect?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is fair to say, in terms of inspection generally, that the Conservatives have a lamentable record. We look at how the quality of food has declined and the crisis with voluntary inspection systems. The quality of food that Canadians consume has very clearly declined under the Conservatives.

We are talking about the Canadian Grain Commission, and inward inspection is much more important for the producers. The producers are producing a very high quality product, but the reality is, currently the Canadian Grain Commission intervenes regularly when grain companies are trying to give producers the shaft. Grain companies try to pretend that it is a lower quality of product, and it is the Canadian Grain Commission that steps in, and generally it routinely revises grain grades upwards and corrects quantity measurements, resulting in fair payments to producers.

That is really the point here as far as inward inspection goes. We are saying there has to be a level playing field. The grain producers should get their due and Conservatives are saying, “No, let us throw the inward inspection out, and let grain companies be predatory to any western producer”.

We will stand between them and what they are trying to do, because we believe in western farmers. We believe in western producers. We believe in the grain growers of Canada, and we are the ones standing up in the House and defending them.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a question for my colleague.

I find it a little offensive, to say the least, the suggestion of Conservative members that those of us who live in urban ridings do not have a particular interest in what happens to the grain industry in Canada.

We know because we are consumers of that product, but we also know that in Vancouver and Burnaby there are many people who earn their living in the industries that support the grain industry. The people who work in transportation and the people who work at the elevators live in our communities and know the importance of this industry and they know the importance of the Canadian Grain Commission.

Could the member comment on the fact that some people in our communities are going to lose their jobs because of the bill, people who provide an excellent service as inspectors, who are professional and well trained and who have done the quality assurance on this product? People in my community know the importance of grain to the Canadian economy. They know that high-quality grain is important to our economy, and they know that there are people in our communities who do that work to assure that quality.

Why would the Conservatives be moving to get rid of them?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Burnaby—Douglas is one of the foremost members of the House in standing up for jobs in his community and standing up for the residents of Burnaby--Douglas. Therefore I am not surprised that he asked that question, because he is always present in the House and speaking up for the residents of his constituency.

He is absolutely right. Residents of Burnaby--Douglas, Burnaby—New Westminster, the city of Vancouver, the north shore, Coquitlam, the south Fraser area, Surrey and Delta have been providing a quality service that enhances Canada's international reputation and builds as well on that level playing field that grain producers need to have with the big multinational grain companies.

If Conservatives do not understand that, they do not understand the first thing about western Canada. They simply do not. To ignore that reality, they simply have forgotten roots in western Canada.

It is absolutely true that it is western Canadians doing those inspections in support of western farmers and western grain growers. Western Canadians are solidly saying that the bill needs to be hoisted because it is a mean-spirited attack on the fundamentals that have allowed western grain farmers to do better than other farmers may have in what has been a catastrophic economic approach by Conservatives to farm incomes generally as well as to agricultural issues.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, with a reception like that from my hon. colleague across the floor, I might decide to run in politics some day.

I do want to thank the House for allowing me to speak on this issue. Certainly at the eastern end of the country, it is not as large an industry as it is in places such as western Canada, but there is a multi-million dollar industry for agriculture in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are affectionately nicknamed the rock, so if we can grow it on the rock, my goodness, it just says how good our farmers actually are.

To a great degree, that certainly does put me in a unique position, to say the least, so I would like to thank again all my hon. colleagues for allowing me this time.

I would also like to say that the principle reason for supporting a hoist motion which will effectively remove Bill C-13 from the order paper for this session is that the government has known for more than a year that all three opposition parties have expressed strong opposition not to reforming and improving the Canada Grain Commission, but to being complicit in its undermining and ineffectiveness. Therein lies the gist of the hoist motion to take this from the order paper.

There is a history of that type of mechanism here in the House that we have used on occasion. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago we moved it during the introduction of the Fisheries Act. There was a tremendous amount of opposition toward it, and not only opposition but questions as to how it would affect each and every person. Instead this thing was rammed down the fishermen's throats in much the same way that we are seeing a pattern that continues with this particular situation now with Bill C-13.

In this particular situation, we see a similar pattern occurring here, because what the hoist motion does is take it away for a while. We can then consult with it and bring it across the country as a good starting point for the type of effective changes that we need. In this particular case, that is why we support the hoist motion.

Our concerns with the legislation are these.

The government has to date shown no inclination to amend the legislation, in spite of the fact that during debate on Bill C-13's predecessor bill, Bill C-39 in February 2008, the official opposition as well as the Bloc and the NDP raised the concerns referred to above, indicating clearly the need for consequential amendments.

On the issue of the producer payment security program, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, who is responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, told this House that while the government is eliminating the practice of CGC holding security deposits from grain dealers, under the producer payment program, he confirmed that the government has developed an alternative:

We understand and we know that there are concerns across the country with regard to these proposals.

The issue remains that the legislation, as it stands, will eliminate this provision without any alternative being established to replace it.

The Minister of Agriculture himself, according to a broadcast news wire story from March 5, is reported to have stated that the government will only remove the producer payment protection program when a better alternative is in place. That is interesting.

In fact the Minister of Agriculture was quoted directly in The Western Producer from March 12, when he answered a direct question as to whether farmers would be protected in relation to the bonding issue. He said:

Absolutely. We're not going to leave you hanging with nothing. We'll keep the program that's existing in place until something new comes along.

Here is what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture acknowledged as the flawed nature of the legislation. This is from page 1214:

We understand and we know that there are concerns across the country with regard to these proposals, and we are certainly more than willing to work with the opposition at committee.

That is what is interesting, “at committee”. What the minister has said is not that Bill C-13 needs amending, but that a key element in this bill cannot proceed given the failure of the government to develop an alternative.

The question is this. Can the minister and the government be trusted not to implement the removal of the bonding issue until a better alternative is in place?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

No.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Malpeque for providing that answer, and indeed I agree, it is no.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

An hon. member

And he wins.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Yes, he wins hopefully some day good governance.

The government had the opportunity to make the changes to the legislation a year ago when we called for it, and it has failed to do so. As a matter of fact, I think the term is miserably.

Remember that this is the same government that violated the law in its effort to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board. It has refused to allow western grain farmers to have a vote, a plebiscite, to determine the future of the CWB. Trust is not something that we have in the current government, especially on this specific issue.

The minister is already claiming he is about to amend his own legislation, although, if the bill is passed, this so-called commitment will not be contained in the legislation. On the issue of inward inspections, the government has indicated it is removing the role of the CGC.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, in a unanimous report, acknowledged that mandatory inward inspection is not a universal requirement, while outward inspection and weighing is. The committee stated in its report, again one supported unanimously, that:

...several strong factors seem to support optional inward inspection; the inward inspection requirement is already not universal; optional inspection would not affect producer rights of access to the terminal and [for emphasis] producers and the Canadian Wheat Board should not be unduly affected financially if a proper publicly supported infrastructure and pricing system are put into place in light of the public benefits of maintaining an inward inspection capability.

The fact is that while the government is removing the inward inspection provision, the work called for by the committee has never been done, despite what has been happening.

A recent study of the Canadian Grain Commission found the following issues with respect to the loss of the inward inspection. I would point out to my hon. colleagues that this is a very important point.

Inward weighing and inspection that would still be required would be less trustworthy and more expensive.

The grain system would lose an important early detection system for contaminated grain. Eliminating inward inspection by public officials would increase the likelihood of contaminated grain being co-mingled with larger quantities of clean grain. Shipments to Canadian and U.S. markets would lose an important level of protection against contamination. Grain shipped to these markets could bypass official inspection.

Inward inspection provides quality assurance information that makes outward inspection more efficient and certainly more cost effective, in this particular case.

Replacing public sector inspectors with private contractors--which is quite prevalent nowadays, some to the positive and certainly some to the negative, but at this point I will stick to the negative--many of whom would be reliant upon private grain companies for business, would undermine the perceived reliability of the information derived from inward inspection.

With respect to the diminished role of the CGC, the study prepared by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found, for example, with respect to the port of Vancouver, the following problem, bearing in mind Vancouver and Prince Rupert, as of December 2007, moved almost 1.2 million tonnes of grain through its facilities.

At a typical Vancouver elevator, CGC weighers routinely process the unloading of 5 to 100 rail cars during a shift. Documentation on these cars, the parcels, weights and anomalies, and other relevant information, is provided by the weigher to the elevator at the end of each day. Such information is very important, not just in the event of disagreements, but in the routine operations of the elevators. It is unclear how this data would be gathered, and by whom, if public inward inspection were eliminated.

The government has to explain why it has decided, prior to the legislation to downgrade, as expressed in the estimates for the commission under the section which describes the activity as providing “consistent and reliable grain quality”, as we talked about before, “and grain safety assurance to meet the needs of domestic and international markets”, the forecast spending for 2011-12 will be $23.4 million. In 2007, the planned spending was $50.2 million. By the CGC's own records, the government will reduce the ability of the CGC to do its job by a whopping $26.8 million.

The staffing at CGC will be reduced from 664 in 2007-08 to 421 in 2009-10.

Bill C-13 would remove the ability of producers who appeal through the grain appeal tribunal. According to a recent Library of Parliament study, under the provisions of the Canada Grain Act, a person dissatisfied with the initial grading may have up to three appeals under the act. Under the scheme which is proposed now in Bill C-13, a person dissatisfied with the grade, an inspector assigned, would have just one appeal and that, of course, would be to the chief grain inspector or his or her delegate.

These are the fundamental reasons the Liberals agree in principle with what is happening with the hoist amendment.

Indeed, under the provisions of the bill, the chief commissioner or any person delegated by the chief commissioner, which is an indication of the ability to possibly contract out that particular responsibility, will have the authority on any appeal. At the same time, Bill C-13 would remove the ability of farmers to have recourse to the courts.

However, according to a Library of Parliament analysis of the use of provisions such as those we talked about that are contained in Bill C-13 which attempt to remove the ability of farmers to have recourse to the courts, the issue is not that clear cut.

According to the Library of Parliament report, the wording of the privative clause in Bill C-13 appears on its face to preclude any appeal or review of a decision of the chief grain inspector. However, that is not the effect the clause would have.

The Library of Parliament states, based upon its research that Parliament and the provinces may not, through legislation, preclude the superior courts from exercising their supervisory jurisdiction. At a minimum, the government must carefully reconsider its attempt to restrict the ability of Canadians, the courts in the face of clear evidence that it might not be able to legitimately do so.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food called for a comprehensive cost benefit report from the government on the proposed changes the government was suggesting, and that was in 2006, with respect to the changes in service for grain inspection. To date, no such report has been produced by the government as to the real impacts of their changes on the primary producers specifically.

The government has indeed failed to produce that report. Yet again this is more evidence why more information and consultation is needed, which belies the true spirit of what we normally call a hoist amendment or, as some people from the east coast of the country would call affectionately, giving it the boot.

Even though this legislation has not received even second reading, the chief commissioner of the CGC, according to a report in The Western Producer, published February 23, 2009, sent a letter to industry indicating that it would end inspection services at prairie primary elevators this summer and would close three service centres and reduce staff.

The transition away from on-site inspection services means that the CGC will no longer provide official grading and weighing on grain shipments from the Prairies to terminal facilities nor for export shipments to the United States or domestic mills.

In essence, before Bill C-13 has been approved by Parliament, the CGC has decided to begin implementing the reduction in services it provides to western grain producers. That is very important. If nothing else, this is a demonstration of contempt for the legislative process by the chief commissioner of the CGC.

As a final point of concern, the minister announced that as of August 1 KVD will be removed. That is kernel visual distinguishability. It will be removed, according to what the minister announced on August 1. The minister was warned in January by senior officials, just weeks before his announcement of February 11, that farmers could suffer a negative impact of this removal and Canada's reputation for quality grain could indeed be undermined. The reason given by the officials, including his own deputy minister, was that no adequate system has been developed to replace the KVD.

The western grain industry needs a strong CGC. What is currently proposed in Bill C-13 is a worst case scenario. Removing the CGC from both inward and outward inspections is next to worst because it considerably weakens the role that the CGC plays.

Therefore, the following amendments should be made to Bill C-13: one, CGC-administered producer security should be reinstated; and two, if inward inspection becomes optional, the CGC should accredit and audit private service providers who would be responsible for inward inspection. A key part of this accreditation and audit process will be to institute clear CGC accountability for differences between inward and outward risk.

Therefore, I conclude that part of my speech by outlining three essential elements.

One, our support for the hoist motion is a signal to the government that it cannot simply bring in legislation which it is well aware does not enjoy the support of the House without any effort made at all to amend it.

Two, Bill C-13 is Bill C-39 from the previous Parliament. Remember that legislation was debated more than a year ago and the debate clearly indicated the government should reconsider its direction on undermining the CGC. It had a year to do so and it has failed to take that opportunity. This particular vote is not a vote against reform of the CGC, but it is indeed a vote against the arrogance of the government.

Let me illustrate that by bringing up a point about a particular case with the hoist amendment and what we did prior to this, about two years ago. I will go back to an example that we use. The lack of consultation was so pervasive. It became abundantly clear upon introduction in the House, as producers in the case of this bill, or fishermen in the case of the Fisheries Act, called us time and time again with questions and concerns. We were inundated at the time. The big thing was that the Conservatives insisted that consultation was taking place. We called the people whose names were provided to us and they said that was not necessarily the case; all they had received was a letter informing them what to do. Therein lies the arrogance.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

It's getting serious.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

It is getting serious, as my hon. colleague across the way can attest to. This is a serious issue.

The problem with this and I commend the NDP, the fourth party in the House, as I have affectionately called it before, for doing this. We agree with it. During the talk about the new Fisheries Act, the NDP members too were with us so it was a re-run of Kill Bill volume one and Kill Bill volume two, I suppose.

I would implore the House to do the most responsible thing which is to take this piece of legislation, Bill C-13, not much change since Bill C-39, off the order paper. Bring it to the producers and the stakeholders involved. They will certainly give it a good vetting. In that way we will have the confidence when returning to the House that we do have the support of the vast majority of the producers and the industry. That way the amendments that the Conservatives so earnestly seek to achieve would be done with a broad consultation. They may complain it may take a little more time and it may cause a few headaches among the bureaucrats in Ottawa, but certainly at the end of the day we can hold it up as a gem, something that is going to be crystal clear, something that is going to be used for the benefit of all agricultural interests across this country.

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently as my friend from Newfoundland talked about a bill that largely affects western Canada.

As a farmer myself and former chair of the agriculture committee that studied this issue originally, I find it rather absurd to suggest shelving the bill for the next six months with the hoist amendment proposed by the NDP. It is even more troubling to hear him suggest that we need to go through a whole round of hearings again.

That is exactly why we have committees. We already had a whole process of hearings, talking to stakeholders and talking to producers. We already had the solid recommendations supported by all parties in the House to move forward with the recommendations that are in Bill C-13.

Now the member is suggesting that was not good enough. If he actually lets the bill come to full debate at second reading and send it off to committee, then we can do a fulsome study as we do with all legislation when it comes before committee.

Then the stakeholders can again be called forward to talk about the bill. There are always a few that are out there who are concerned about it, but largely it is time to get moving on this legislation, making the changes and modernizing the Canadian Grain Commission.

The only way we can do that is if Bill C-13, which industry, producers and stakeholders want to see, moves forward so that we can have that debate, make the necessary amendments that are needed rather than playing games which the member suggested.

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4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, why does it bother my colleague so much that he just seems to want to get things done in an expedient fashion and not the right way? He started out by saying that this is as a result of all the consultations the government had done. The government never even followed the recommendations that were made by the standing committee several years ago.

Now we are in the House and I do not know what it is he wants. I do not think this legislation reflects that. It certainly does not reflect what the farmers want or agricultural interests.

I sit here and I am listening to this, and I am thinking it is a rerun of what we went through in the fisheries industry. It is the same sort of thing. This sense of arrogance starts from the top. It goes right through the entire bureaucracy which exists here in the city of Ottawa. It pushes it forward. It is almost like there is this tinge of arrogance that says, “No doubt about it we've got the answer for you”.

Therefore, the people who are the stakeholders, and I say stakeholders and not just the people involved at the top industry levels, but also the people who work on the individual farms themselves, these are the people who sit there and say, “At what point is my voice heard in all of this?” Again, it becomes a rerun.

I want to say this before I stop on that point. What we have here is this. It changes the mandate from being in the interests of producers to being in the interests of the industry. That is essentially the real part of this particular issue.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was amused by the outraged Conservatives earlier today in their speeches, when they were referring to the hoist and the idea that somehow we were putting farmers at risk by trying to hoist the bill.

I looked at the date on which the hoist motion was made and it was April 2. When I look at my calendar, it is six months and six days to the day that the hoist motion was made. As far as I know the government House leader is the one who sets the House business. He could have called the bill at any time in the last six months but chose to wait a full six months and six days before he even called the bill. So much for the urgency of the government to get the bill passed.

There have been some very important points brought out in the debate today by members in my party and members in the Liberal Party. A big issue is the elimination of the requirement for grain buyers to post the security bonds and it would expose the grain producers to financial harm or bankruptcy.

I ask, what could go wrong? We are in an economy right now where the big companies are going bankrupt. We have General Motors and Nortel going bankrupt. When we take away bonding requirements, it is a safety feature to have grain companies bonded to protect the producers. I see nothing but trouble in leaving the grain companies operating without a bond, exposing all the producers to enormous losses.