Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act.
However, it is a sad day, in fact, a very sad day when the opposition plays games once again with the livelihood of western grain farmers with this motion to hoist this very important bill.
The facts are simple, Canadian farm families deserve to be treated equally across the country, but the current legislation forces western Canadian producers to pay costs that are not imposed in other regions. It sounds kind of like the Wheat Board, which also applies only to western Canadian farmers, but yet the opposition seems so intent on forcing it on western Canadian farmers.
Bill C-13 would contribute to building a lower cost, more effective and innovative grain sector. This legislation is based on the agriculture committee report the opposition parties helped to write.
Conservative MPs on the agriculture committee, including myself, are ready and willing to get down to work, to roll up our sleeves, and work on Bill C-13 at the agriculture committee. It is just too bad the opposition parties are not willing to do that work and treat all regions equally. It is what our farmers would expect.
In committee there will be ample opportunities to work on this bill, but the opposition has decided to collude to hoist this bill which will essentially kill the bill to the detriment of our western grain farmers.
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 would 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 earned. First and foremost it has been earned through the hard work of our farmers, but grain handling companies, research scientists and the Canadian Grain Commission have also played a role in building that golden reputation.
Our edge in the marketplace is all about quality. 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 that. The Canada Grain Act has not changed substantially in almost 40 years, but the marketplace has certainly evolved.
We have a major new customer for grains in the form of the biofuels industry, supported by initiatives put in place by this Conservative 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 now have a broader range, in fact, a much broader range of crops in western Canada.
In the mid-1990s, the reform of the Western Grain Transportation Act triggered a wholesale diversification as some producers opted to switch to other crops, such as oilseeds, pulse crops and horticultural crops. Today, wheat accounts for only one-third of our crop land. In the 1950s, three-quarters of our land was in wheat.
Some of the changes being proposed include: 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 the mandatory inspections impose costs and they are not essential to ensure grain quality.
Inward inspection and weighing will no longer be mandatory. Instead, shippers of grain will be able to request an inspection at their discretion, letting them choose when they feel the benefit justifies the cost.
Elevators would also be required to allow access to private inspectors when an inspection is requested, and the Canadian Grain Commission would be authorized to provide grade arbitration if the parties to a transaction request it. This means that if there is a dispute about the grade, the Canadian Grain Commission would be available to impartially determine the grade.
Let us be clear. This does not mean grain would go through the system without inspection. Outward inspection would still be required when grain is loaded into vessels for overseas export. Export vessel shipments would continue to require certification by the Canadian Grain Commission based on inspection and weighing by Canadian Grain Commission personnel.
With the 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 our 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 grade arbitration by the Canadian Grain Commission.
The bill would actually enhance farmer protection by extending 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 for a grain delivery at a licensed primary elevator, the producer can ask the Canadian Grain Commission to determine the grade and dockage and make a binding decision. The grain producer is paid according to this decision. The bill before us 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 and with these amendments we have put farmers first, which I would call the opposition parties to do as well. It is simply shameful that the three opposition parties will not consider the interests of farmers first. They have shown time and time again that they just do not care about the concerns, wants or needs of western farmers.
Let me delve into a few other examples. The opposition members had the opportunity to stand up for farmers but, once again, failed to do so. I want to talk about a vote we had just this week on Bill C-51 and an element contained in that bill. It has been a brutal year for producers in parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta particularly. Producers in west central Saskatchewan got off to a very poor start due to a dry fall and very low snow coverage. This was compounded by a cool, dry spring, resulting in low water supplies and poor pasture and hay growth. Things were certainly no better in my part of the world, in central Alberta, where producers faced seeding without any significant rainfall since the summer of 2008.
There is no denying that the risks and unpredictability of farming will always be there. The last thing a producer who is battling drought needs is a bill from the taxman. That is why the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Finance worked together on provisions to allow those producers, forced to sell off their breeding animals due to the drought, to defer the tax on that income for one year. In 2009, we proposed to expand the program to include areas hard hit by excess moisture.
For 2009, the ministers have already announced tax deferrals for producers and some of the municipalities hardest hit by the drought in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and areas where excess moisture is a big problem in Manitoba. This will help producers in these areas replenish breeding stock in the following year. However, yet again, the opposition Liberals voted against the best interests of western Canadian farmers.
Let me talk about one other area where this is the case, and that is the Wheat Board. Again, this only applies to western farmers and yet we have members from other parts of the country who seem to have decided that they know better and they know what is best for western Canadian grain farmers. They think they know better than the farmers what they should do with their products and the choices that they should be able to make for the market, and they want to limit those choices.
Our government wants to see farmers choose how they market their products, whether they choose to use the Wheat Board to market their products or whether they choose to sell those products on their own. That is a fundamental right that everybody in this country should enjoy and yet opposition parties tell us that western farmers just cannot decide for themselves.