Mr. Speaker, it is once again a pleasure to be here in front of a full House. I am sure I will get a standing ovation from all of my colleagues after my speech.
I am happy to speak to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act. As has been said earlier on, the all-party Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food had made a number of recommendations. For example, it recommended that any eventual bill clearly protect the interests of grain producers. We are seeing that this bill does not address that explicitly. Another recommendation was to conduct a cost benefit analysis of contracting out services prior to any further movement on this issue. Of course, this has not yet been done.
Another recommendation was to support pilot projects in contracting out services for grain inspection. In other words, to try and see on a small scale if this would work. To my knowledge, this has not yet been done. Another recommendation was for the Canada Grain Commission to receive adequate funding to improve its services, particularly regarding the flexibility of authorizing overtime. We have not seen any substantial increase in funding for the Canada Grain Commission.
All members of all parties recommended that the federal government report back to the standing committee prior to the tabling of new grain legislation on the various models that could be implemented for protecting grain farmers. As we see, to date, this had not been done.
As we debate this bill, the question we have to ask ourselves here is: Are we moving ahead without the proper groundwork? Are we moving ahead without having conducted the necessary study and evaluation of what this could mean for the history of the grain industry in Canada?
After studying the report, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food tabled a report in the House, and many of the recommendations in that report are reflected in the bill. The committee recommended first and foremost that any eventual bill clearly protect the interests of grain producers. Bill C-13 makes major changes to the structure of the CGC that have producers afraid that the commission will not be required to act for the benefit of the grain industry as a whole. There is a difference here: by putting the interests of grain companies and farmers on the same footing, the government is not taking into account the power imbalance between them.
Bill C-13 does not provide for creating an independent office of grain farmer advocacy, as the committee recommended in order to protect producers' interests. If the commission does not have the authority to act decisively for the benefit of producers, the grain companies will try, slowly but surely, to have it eliminated completely.
Once again, we see this bill as a step toward the deregulation of the agri-food industry here in Canada. We must be very careful before making such a decision.
Instead of helping Canada's grain producers in these troubled economic times, the amendments to the Grain Act could and would shift the purpose of the Grain Act away from protecting producers' interests and expose them to financial harm by eliminating the requirement for grain buyers to post security bonds.
It would also dismantle the Grain Appeal Tribunal, which protects producers from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies, and eliminates the commission's services that independently determines the quality and quantity of grain delivered, returning producers to the position of not knowing if they are receiving fair payment.
Agriculture union president Bob Kingston says:
These changes will hurt grain producers just like the Conservative’s effort to strip farmer control of the Canadian Wheat Board. They also threaten the quality advantage Canadian producers enjoy over competitors.
The Canadian Grain Commission has served as an independent arbitrator working to settle disputes when they arise about the quality and quantity of grain that producers bring to the market. Typically this function protects producers and makes sure that they are fairly paid by the powerful companies which buy and export.
Canada's reputation for top quality grain is protected by the grain inspection services supplied by the Grain Commission. We understand that if this bill is accepted, there will be around 200 jobs lost, in other words, inspectors who are there to ensure quality and to protect Canadian citizens and our customers.
The commission also provides independent, objective and comprehensive information about the quality and quantity of Canadian grain that is crucial to the international marketing efforts of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The proposal that we have before us would diminish the Canadian Grain Commission by killing the commission's inward inspection and weighing service, leaving producers disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies when it comes to determining grain weight and grade.
With a loss of the commission's weighing and grading service, producers may not be paid for the quantity and quality of grain delivered. Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission routinely revises upward grain grades and corrects quantity measurements, resulting in fair payment to producers. While producers have the option to hire a private company to grade and weigh their grain under the Conservative proposal, no companies capable of this task exist today, so once again we are moving forward without crossing the t's and dotting the i's.
We do not have a plan. We have not done the research to ensure there will be no problems if we move ahead with this bill.
Another point of this bill will eliminate the requirement for grain buyers to post security bonds and expose grain producers to financial harm in the event of grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay. It also dismantles the Grain Appeal Tribunal, which protects producers and the Canadian Wheat Board from unscrupulous behaviour on the part of grain companies.
In Vancouver alone it is normal for more than 100 appeals to be launched in a day. These changes may result in increased costs to producers with a shift to a for profit service delivery model.
I would just like to emphasize that the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian Wheat Board's collective marketing strategies that we have developed exist to protect producers, often from the profit-making motivations of the large multinationals. We have seen that before and we see that today.
What is also disturbing is that Bill C-13 poses a risk to Canada's international reputation. Our grain is in demand because no other country offers a quality guarantee backed by a system of government inspections as stringent and as comprehensive as is done in Canada.
It is also there to protect our quality brand. Canada even has programs and procedures to prevent Canadian grain from being mixed with imported U.S. product to ensure the integrity of Canada's quality guarantee. According to the report “Threatened Harvest: Protecting Canada’s world-class grain system”, put out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, there could be a problem with the quality and safety of the grain because of a lack of inward inspection.
Along with Canada's international reputation as a producer of the highest quality at risk is the quality premium paid to Canadian producers. Once this quality incentive to ship Canadian grain separate from American grain is lost, we expect Canadian grain will be shipped over land, mixed with the lower quality American product and shipped through U.S. ports.
We do not have to be experts in agriculture or have a PhD. to understand that, by doing this, the quality of our product goes down. As the quality goes down, then our reputation as an exporter of grain goes down.
I would also like to quote from a press release from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which says:
The bill would also end an established security program for farmers that guarantees they are paid for the grain they deliver, thereby increasing farmers’ risk of catastrophic financial losses if a buyer cannot, or will not, pay for delivered grain.
“In this global economic downturn, and with no workable alternative in place, the government is kicking away a key pillar of financial stability for Canadian grain producers,” says CCPA Research Associate Dr. Jim Grieshaber-Otto.
I have met Mr. Grieshaber-Otto, who wrote the report. We need to pay attention to what he said. The press release goes on:
If these and other controversial government proposals are implemented, they would:
reduce the reputation and competitiveness of Canadian wheat in international markets;
decrease the price premium Canadian producers now receive for a distinctive product;
increase the risk of food-safety problems; and
augment the power of huge U.S.-based multinational grain companies at the expense of Canadian producers.
I would also like to quote from a press release put out by the National Farmers Union, another group that is very upset with the bill. It represents many farmers across western Canada. It states:
The bill will add tens of millions of dollars of extra cost to farmers. The CWB and farmers will have to spend their own money to replace the destruction of independent testing by the Grain Commission. Regardless of the extra money spent by farmers, the tests will still not be seen to be independent and unbiased. Regardless of whether it is the Canadian Wheat Board that does the test or a contracted private testing company, the testing results will not have the credibility or standing that the current Canadian Grain Commission test has.
According to the National Farmers Union press release:
Bill C-13 is aimed at deregulating the grain industry, and would fundamentally change the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission...“It removes the requirement that the CGC operate as a public interest watchdog that regulates the overall grain industry in the 'interest of producers'. Instead, it changes the CGC's role to become a passive service provider that provides grading, weighing and inspection services to grain companies on a fee-for-service basis. Farmers' protections will be reduced to a minimum, with plenty of loopholes for companies to circumvent those limited protections.
Bill C-13 would eliminate inward inspection and weighing of grain, thereby undercutting the CGC's ability to maintain high-quality standards, and putting grain farmers and consumers at risk.
It is for this reason that today I move:
to delete all the words in the motion following “That”, and replace them with the following:
“Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, Chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and Chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004 be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence”.