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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.

Topics

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response to the question posed to me by the member for Winnipeg North, true leadership would have been exercised, would have been demonstrated by a Prime Minister had he allowed the grain farmers to participate in a vote, a plebiscite, conducted by the government.

So desperate are they to have their voices heard because there is not one MP from the west who is willing to stand up for western Canadian grain farmers. So desperate are they, that they had to hold their own plebiscite.

The government does not show leadership at all. I have already described the Prime Minister as being the head chef and bottle washer for the United States of America. That is not unparliamentary. It is the truth that he is prepared to forfeit and sacrifice the well-being of grain farmers out west for the well-being of Americans.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious matter we are discussing. My constituents have been waiting for this for 70 years. It is really troubling to see the third party make a mockery of this debate. This is a serious debate that we should be having in the House today.

I have a quote here from Professor Charlebois from the University of Guelph. He said:

At the end of the day, single-desk marketing should cease. Such a reform will make Canada more competitive, as the monopoly is a hindrance to our ability to compete globally.

My question is for the hon. member for Guelph. If he will not listen to my farmers who are being oppressed by the tyranny of the Wheat Board, will he at least listen to his own constituents?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Charlebois, and in the same tone he also indicated that there were alternatives to help and fix the Wheat Board that exists. I will acknowledge that the Wheat Board needs to be tweaked, but I will not acknowledge that the Wheat Board needs to be killed.

Further evidence of the fact that the Conservatives ignore the evidence is found in the Economist, which said:

Smaller producers, faced with mounting marketing costs, will inevitably have to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agribusiness companies...devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income.

I say shame on the member for not standing up for those in his riding who want the Wheat Board saved.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, it is great to be here today to speak to this bill. We have obviously been fed some pretty thin gruel here over the last little while with a few blobs of misinformation, a hail of exaggeration, and maybe a pinch of almost undetectable truth mixed into a base of fear. The opposition is clearly trying to create fear. We think it is time to be far more responsible than that.

I am pleased to speak to this historic bill which would at long last bring freedom to western Canadian wheat and barley producers. It is a great recipe for western Canadian farmers: a cup of innovation, a healthy dollop of value-added jobs along with buckets of opportunity. It is all going to create a smorgasbord of a stronger economy for western Canadian producers. Our government's top priority has been the economy, which is why we think this is so important.

By now most western Canadian farmers have finished harvesting what is reported to be a high quality wheat and barley crop that will feed the world. If we remember the spring, there was a challenge to get that crop in. Our farmers have worked hard all summer and finally they have that off in good condition. They have managed that crop every step of the way. They seeded, sprayed, fertilized and harvested it, and this bill would finally give them the freedom to market it.

Many farmers are farming 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 acres and we believe that all Canadian farmers should be able to position their businesses to capture the marketing opportunities that are open to them. They do not need anybody from downtown anywhere telling them what to do with their product. The last thing they need is people lecturing them from outside the designated area, especially when they come from areas where people are free to market their own products. Western Canadian farmers are capable of marketing.

I could talk for hours about how much energy has been put into this by so many people for so long. We are finally going to provide western Canadian farmers with that opportunity.

In the June 2011 Speech from the Throne our government reiterated our commitment and that was to ensure that western Canadian farmers have the freedom to sell wheat and barley on the open market. Today, we are delivering on that promise. With this proposed legislation, we would deliver marketing choice for western grain farmers. We are taking a phased approach to allow the industry time to adjust to the significant change to its business.

The minister has spoken to the overall themes of marketing freedom. I would like to walk members and others through the specifics and the significance of this bill.

The bill would change the Canadian Wheat Board marketing system in an orderly and phased approached. The proposed legislation would remove the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board, which for so long many farmers have asked for. It would allow the Canadian Wheat Board to be continued as a voluntary marketing organization for up to five years as it makes its transition to full private ownership. It would allow the Canadian Wheat Board to finalize the 2011-12 crop year.

I think this is important in order to avoid market disruption. The goal is for farmers and grain marketers to be able to start forward contracting to the 2012-13 year, well in advance of August 1, 2012, which is the start of the new crop year.

We owe it to producers to provide market certainty so that they can plan their businesses for the 2012-13 year. Frivolous debate and delay will hurt our farmers and our reputation as a reliable high quality grain supplier. I guess that is why I was so disappointed when I heard that the chair of the Canadian Wheat Board had bought the NDP caucus breakfast about a month ago and then begged it to delay this legislation in any way and so long that it would completely disrupt the market when it was introduced. That is not something that is in the best interests of our farmers.

Farmers want to know what their marketing system will be for the 2012 crop. We need certainty so that Canada can continue to sell wheat and barley, and maintain its reputation as a reliable supplier.

I should also point out that the opposition has left some impression that if the Wheat Board goes, the quality of our grain will go down. It is the farmers who grow the quality grain and not the Canadian Wheat Board.

I am tremendously proud of the work that has been done at the Swift Current research station over the years. It has been responsible for the development of most of the varieties that are grown in western Canada and it continues to do great work. From now on we will be able to keep all of those varieties in Canada. We will not have to watch folks across the border often growing varieties that the Wheat Board would not let us register in our own area even after they had been developed there.

The international grain trade works largely on forward contracting. We know, for future purchases and sales, if there is uncertainty in the marketplace about the rule of who can sell Canadian wheat and barley, there is a risk that buyers will turn to other countries to buy that wheat and barley. We do not want that to happen.

Canadian domestic millers and maltsters have told the government that they want to forward contract wheat and barley a year in advance to their bakery and brewery customers. They want this legislation to be in place as soon as possible. They would see January 1 as late but acceptable. We know the Canadian wheat and barley sector can meet international and domestic needs for high quality products. However, farmers and market participants both need certainty in order to plan their business.

During the transition period, the interim voluntary organization will still be called the Canadian Wheat Board. It will continue to offer farmers the option of pooling their crops with initial prices guaranteed by the Government of Canada, just as is done now. They will continue to benefit from a borrowing guarantee that is backed by the federal government and they will develop a business plan for the revitalization, which will be reviewed by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food no later than 2016.

We fully recognize that there will be costs associated with this transition. The voluntary Canadian wheat board may be a smaller organization than the vast monopoly that exists today. The government is prepared to assist with the extraordinary costs associated with winding down the monopoly. Farmers have always paid the costs of operating the Canadian Wheat Board, and I need to point that out and emphasize it, but the government recognizes that they should not be left alone to deal with the costs of transition to a voluntary mandate. The government is ready to assist while being responsible for the use of taxpayer dollars.

During our extensive consultations, industry raised a number of valid issues around transition. Over the summer, our working group met a wide range of industry players. Their report does an excellent job of addressing the major transitional issues that will be faced by the trade.

I would like to talk about a few of those issues that have been raised by prairie farmers.

The first issue is the voluntary Canadian wheat board's access to elevators, ports and terminals. The working group on marketing freedom examined this issue in quite a bit of detail. It expects and we would agree with it that grain companies will be actively competing for grain volume on the open market. If farmers want to market through the voluntary wheat board, we expect it will be able to contract with grain handlers to handle this tonnage. This happens with all of the other crops.

Curt Vossen, the president of Richardson International, said:

I think you'll see more players, not less. There may be some joint ventures, some alliances, some mergers of new players and existing, but I think you'll see a proliferation because people will inherently want to get into this market.

That is exactly what we have seen happen in Australia over the last couple of years.

I would add that the elevator industry is onside with the direction that we are taking. Grain companies currently offer handling services to third parties who do not own elevators or port terminals, many of whom are actually their direct competitors.

Wade Sobkowich, executive director to the Western Grain Elevators Association, told the working group:

It makes good commercial sense for grain companies to provide services to the CWB, especially in circumstances where the volume of wheat and barley to be handled is significant.

There is precedent as well for competitive, farmer-owned companies competing in the grain trade through alliances and agreements.

I will give a couple of examples of where that will work and where it is already working. The Gardiner Dam Terminal Ltd. is a producer-owned company that has entered into a joint venture agreement with Viterra. They jointly own and operate an inland grain terminal located near Strongfield, Saskatchewan, and a crop input supply business near Broderick, Saskatchewan. This project will deliver better service to farmers while helping a farmer-owned company capture new growth.

Another great example of farmers taking control of the value chain is the Westlock Terminals, a new generation co-op in north central Alberta. This is a wholly, locally owned co-op. My colleague is very familiar with that, I am sure. It kept a local elevator alive while following the merger of Agricore and United Grain Growers 10 years ago.

Today, Westlock has 230 members and recently opened a new plant. Its general manager, Clifford Bell, said that marketing choice “will present WTL with opportunities that have never been seen before by our New Gen Co-op. The changes will provide us with new opportunities and ways of exporting grain”.

Those are just two examples of how farmers can take charge of their own financial future when they are given the opportunity. I see no reason that a voluntary Canadian wheat board cannot succeed as well.

The government will continue to monitor the elevator access situation and step in if needed. This staged approach will provide the necessary checks and balances to help ensure a smooth transition.

The second valid concern that is being raised is the issue of producers' continued access to producer cars. My area is particularly affected by producer cars. We use more of them than anybody on the Prairies. I used them myself for many years. I used them long before the Wheat Board was even interested in them.

I want to say up front that the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly has no bearing on access to producer cars. I also will say that I have been a champion of and have used producer cars over the years and many of the producers in the area were using those producer cars for decades. It was only in the last seven years that the Wheat Board has been involved with them.

The right to use producer cars is involved in the Canada Grain Act. The Canadian Grain Commission allocates those cars to producers. This would not change. Currently, the CWB manages the marketing of grain shipped in producer cars so shipments are related to a sale. Under the new rules, producers and short lines would be able to make commercial arrangements with the grain companies or the voluntary wheat board to market their grain. So it would just give more options to farmers.

Shortline Railways are expecting some adjustments as they would have more options of marketing partners for the grain volumes that they can attract from producers. I have met with many of the shortlines and I can say that the ones that are forward oriented anticipate great opportunities as we move ahead.

For example, Kevin Friesen, president of the Boundary Trail Railway Company, farms in Manitoba. He says that the government is listening and that he is optimistic about the future for shortlines and the use of producer cars. We are already seeing some very exciting partnerships and what the western producer called a breakthrough in railway co-operation. Mobil Grain Ltd. and West Central Road and Rail have teamed up to create Saskatchewan's 12th shortline railway. Big Sky Rail will run on 354 kilometres of track on former CN lines west of Lake Diefenbaker. President Sheldon Affleck, who has done a great job of running his short line, says that there is the possibility to probably at least double and possibly triple what has come off that line. In a short time, he says, that they have found terrific farmer uptake.

I would like to also take a minute to discuss grain quality. As I said earlier, it is farmers who grow the grain, not the Canadian Wheat Board. The quality will not change because of the changes we would make. The Canadian Grain Commission would continue to provide its services, regardless of who is marketing the grain. Our customers continue to choose Canada over the competition, not because of the Wheat Board but because of the relentless commitment to quality by all parts of the value chain and, I would say, including, first and foremost, the farmer, the producer.

The current CWB is an administrator and a grain marketer. It is not the decision-maker on varieties registered for production in Canada and neither are the grain companies. It is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that oversees and approves the registration of wheat varieties. It is the mandate of the CGC to ensure Canada's high -quality standards are continued. Under marketing freedom, both agencies would be continuing their important work.

It is clear there would be much more opportunity for farmers to grow niche varieties of grain. This is an area where the Canadian Wheat Board has fallen down, even though, on the few examples where it tried it, it was very successful. It never developed this to the point where it should have been. Farmers are already aware that there are new opportunities and they are looking forward to taking advantage of them.

I should address the issue of the funding of future wheat and barley research and market development. I think it is important. I heard my colleague talking about it earlier and he clearly did not understand how it has operated in the past. I do not think he realized that there has been a voluntary check-off and that would continue. We understand that research is key in keeping our grain sector strong and competitive. I will assure members here and farmers that a deduction from producer sales would be established to continue the funding by farmers of those activities. Those funds would support the work that has been done by Western Grains Research Foundation, CIGI and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre.

The deduction would be mandated for the government for the transition and, in the meantime, we will be discussing with the industry a long-term mechanism to support research and market development to keep our great industry moving forward. I think this is a good initiative by the government and will be welcomed by the industry.

Our government knows that innovation drives competitiveness in agriculture. We know we need to keep our wheat producers on the leading edge of innovation and this check-off would help to do that.

Fear is always the biggest enemy of change and we need only to look to the Australian experience to see how a wheat industry can prosper once a monopoly is removed. Australia minister of trade, Dr. Craig Emerson, recently said, “it was a remarkably smooth transition”. He continued by stating, “There is no call to go back, to turn back the clock”. He then said, “it's been one of the great reforms in Australia, and I'd certainly recommend it to everyone”.

Already, we are seeing that same kind of excitement and innovation building not only in Canada but across the continent as buyers begin to jockey for farmers' business. For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be accepting Canadian grain for future settlement. Rita Maloney, its director of marketing and business development, said:

We do see this as an area of growth potential for us as it will allow producers, elevators and marketers across Canada to be able to not only use the contract for hedging, but also be part of the delivery process in the future.

Meanwhile, ICE Futures Canada in Winnipeg is working on creating its own spring wheat and durum wheat futures contracts based in western Canada.

Also, the announcement last week of a pasta plant for the Regina area clearly highlights the great improvements that this change will bring about.

The potential that we have in western Canada from these changes is unlimited.

Marketing freedom will usher in a new springtime for Canadian wheat. Over the past two decades, we have seen wheat and barley acreage decline as farmers voted with their air seeders and turned to canola and pulses. A record harvest of canola is forecast this year.

We must not buy into fear. We must embrace a future, a future where producers will be able to manage their businesses with control over who they sell to, where young farmers will finally have the tools they need to make their dreams a reality, where entrepreneurs can harness innovation and add value to their crops beyond the farm gate, where there are new opportunities in grain marketing and where the property rights of all western Canadian wheat and barley farmers are finally restored.

The future of the western Canadian agriculture industry is bright. We are taking this historic and decisive action today to ensure certainty and clarity for producers and grain buyers, who will soon be entering into contracts for wheat and barley for the 2012-13 crop year. Forward thinking, not fearmongering, made Canada the world supplier of choice for wheat. As Marquis wheat did a century ago, marketing freedom will breathe new life into our grain industry.

The government is committed to delivering on our long-term promise to give western Canadian grain marketing farmers the freedom they deserve. The sky will not fall under marketing freedom. In fact, as the minister said yesterday, the sky will be the limit.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for the hon. member. The government keeps talking about the strong mandate the public and Prairie farmers gave it to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like the hon. member to tell me why the government refuses to follow what is written in the law. The law states clearly that the farmers have the right to vote on any changes to the Canadian Wheat Board.

What is the government doing about the 60% of Canadians who did not vote for them? Only 40% of Canadians voted for them. What is this government doing to respect the interests of the 60% of farmers who voted by plebiscite to say they wanted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board?

What does the government have to say about that? Why does it not want to hold a referendum or plebiscite? Why does it not want to obey the law? Why does it not want to respect the interests of 60% of the Canadian public? It only respects the interests of the corporations that give it money because we know full well that those who are going to benefit from this are the government's best friends, the big corporations.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the member has reached some conclusions. I am not sure that she has adequate information to do that.

I would like to give her a bit of the history. She maybe does not know that farmers in western Canada did not choose to have the Wheat Board in the first place. In 1943 the government mandated that the Wheat Board would be made mandatory. In the order-in-council, there were two reasons—

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member does not mean to continually mislead the House, but when he said that the farmers of western Canada did not chose to have the Wheat Board, yes they did. They choose it in a plebiscite. I would like to ask him to retract—

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The intervention by the member for Timmins—James Bay is more in the range of debate and not a point of order. I will ask the parliamentary secretary to continue.

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am really concerned about the quality of information the NDP caucus has been given. The member stands on a point of order on something completely inaccurate.

In 1943 the Wheat Board was made mandatory by order-in-council by the government for two reasons.

The first was because the price of grain was rising too high and it wanted to control inflation, so farmers were punished. Their grain prices were held down.

The second reason was that there needed to be a cheap source of grain provided to Europe for the war effort. It was taken from western Canada and shipped to Europe.

He probably does not know that following the war there was a four year agreement where farmers in western Canada provided their grain at $2 a bushel below world price so there was cheap grain supplied to England.

He does not know that in the late 1990s farmers went to jail because they wanted to market their own grain.

Those members need to know those points before they stand and talk about this issue.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question has to do with quality of information. Specifically, I have a math question for the parliamentary secretary.

Numbers are important. They have been important in my life as an engineer and I sometimes make important decisions based on numbers. I understand that 62% of western farmers who were surveyed said that they wanted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board as it is. Now 62% is a bigger number, and some would say quite a bit bigger, than 38%. Therefore, 62 seems to me to be bigger than 38, but I have trouble resolving that because on that side of the House everybody keeps saying that western farmers all want the change.

I have a simple question for the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. Is 62 a bigger number than 38? Please enlighten me.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member opposite this. What is more important, his numbers or freedom for our farmers to make their own decisions on the monopoly? He clearly does not understand what has happened on the Prairies. He does not understand even what happened there this summer by the nature of his question. There are some other things the member needs to understand as well.

I do not know if the member knows that for the entire time I farmed I could not sell my own grain. I produced grain for almost 40 years on my farm and I was not allowed to sell it. He does not seem to understand that there is a problem with that. He does not seem to understand that a good solution would be to set up a marketing agency that would be voluntary so those farmers who chose to pool their grain together could do that and those who did not could market their own grain. It is a great solution. It would solve both problems.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands for his long-term commitment to this issue and for fighting for freedom for farmers.

I have sat in the House and listened to the opposition talk about the sky falling, saying that farmers will have nobody to market their grain to. The member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands came with a positive speech about a voluntary wheat board that would still give choice.

This fall I had to make a choice to sell my canola. The board would not even take my wheat. Most of the acres that I have now will be going into canola, like many other farmers.

After listening to the doom and gloom from the opposition side about the Wheat Board not being able to exist, why would any grain marketer who works for the Canadian Wheat Board not begin looking for a job with Viterra or Cargill? The opposition is painting the Wheat Board as being imbecilic and unable to compete although it has created markets and clients and sales for decades.

Why is the opposition putting the last nail in the Canadian Wheat Board?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member for Crowfoot has been an advocate for change. In the 11 years that he has been here he has worked hard on this file as well. We have been joined by so many other folks here. I mentioned Westlock. My colleague from Westlock—St. Paul is one of those people who has worked hard on this issue. He has worked with his folks at home on it as well.

What is probably has happened is the opposition listened to the chair of the Canadian Wheat Board. He came here a month ago and asked us to delay the implementation of the act, but it was for so long that the market would have been completely disrupted and farmers would have been unable to market their grain. That is shameful and embarrassing.

As I said before, the best solution is to give farmers the option of a voluntary pool if they want to put their grain together with their neighbours or they can choose to market their grain themselves. We think that this solution will work. If farmers support a voluntary wheat board, then it will thrive very well. There is no reason for the government to force that on anyone.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not able to hear a straight answer from the parliamentary secretary regarding the government's failure to follow section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act that guarantees farmers the right to vote on changes to the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing structure.

I would like to hear why the government is failing to follow the act? Why is it failing to listen to the voices of farmers? Why is it failing to listen to the directors who were elected from the Prairies? Why is the government failing to listen to the rural communities across western Canada that want the Wheat Board to exist? Why do the Conservatives not stand and actually represent the views of westerners in the House?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very concerned because the member has stood a number of times and asked us about Churchill and how we will protect it. We came in yesterday with a package that does exactly that.

The member is talking about people not representing their constituents. If she is to represent her constituents, perhaps she should change her position and work with us. She should be willing to stand and say that she has made a mistake and that the government does stand up for western Canadians, for her riding and for the port of Churchill.

We would welcome the member to join with us, vote to support the bill and get it through as quickly as possible to get all those things taken care of so the western Canadian grain industry and the port of Churchill can continue to thrive.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, before the members go off about the fact that I am not from the west, the Conservatives have a Minister of Fisheries and Oceans who looks after the west coast and he is from Fredericton, New Brunswick. I suggest those members keep silent on that one.

This is not particularly germane to grain, but I have a quick question on this whole theory about the single desk. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation is a self-sustaining corporation, which was created in 1969, and is the buyer, processor and marketer of freshwater fish from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northwest Territories and part of northwestern Ontario.

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary believe that this, too, is on the chopping block and that the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation also limits the freedom for which he is looking?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that this is under the purview of the provinces. The Saskatchewan government has authority over that.

Again, it is good that he speaks for a different part of the country, because we want to provide the same freedom for farmers right across the country. It is the 21st century, people spend, as I have said, hundreds of thousands of dollars on their own operations. They have to pay their expenses. After growing their own crop, harvesting it, buying the bins and the machinery to do that, they should be able to market that product themselves as well.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I give the hon. member for Churchill the floor, I would point out that I will have to interrupt her at 30 minutes after the hour as this is the normal time for the end of government orders for the day.

The hon. member for Churchill.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand here and represent the people of northern Manitoba, people who are truly a key part of the mosaic of Canada.

As the member of Parliament for Churchill, I am proud to bring forward their voices, the countless voices of Canadians who have come up to me from communities like Churchill, War Lake on the Bay Line, Thicket Portage, Thompson, The Pas where the train starts and people living in Carrot River Valley where they grow all sorts of grains, where they are part of the agricultural economy of the west, people from all across northern Manitoba and others from southern Manitoba, like communities like Dauphin, Swan River, Selkirk, from communities in my neighbouring province, Saskatchewan, from Prince Albert, from Indian Head, from Saskatoon, from Regina, from communities like Medicine Hat, and going further westward.

I have had the chance to hear from so many Canadians from my part of the country, from western Canada, who have asked me to bring forward their voices in this House, voices that have been represented time and time again, whether it was through the plebiscite, through voting for the directors on the board of the Canadian Wheat Board or through the messages they sent to their members of Parliament on the government side, messages that often went unheard, certainly in the last few months, the requests for meetings that were ignored from people across western Canada who said that they believe in the single desk but that they also believe in the need to have their voices heard.

We hear the government talk about freedom but what about the freedom for farmers to vote? Not only did the government completely ignore the plebiscite that was organized by the Canadian Wheat Board, but it followed that up by failing to follow the government act, the Canadian Wheat Board Act, section 47.1, which guarantees the farmers' right to vote on changes to the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing structure.

This failure to allow farmers to vote, to allow farmers who are raising families on farms or in rural communities, to allow the children and the grandchildren of farmers who now live in urban centres across western Canada to ensure that their relatives are being heard, extended relatives who are still struggling, running the family farm, to be heard, speaks to not just the complete disrespect of democracy in our country, but the most fundamental insult to western Canadians in this House, painting them as though they somehow all agree with what the government is saying.

Where is the proof? Where is the referendum? If the Conservatives are so sure, why do they not go out and poll the farmers? Why do they not go out and implement a real referendum so that we can hear farmers' voices directly?

I think we know why. It is because 22,000 people voted in a plebiscite to say that they wanted the Canadian Wheat Board, because a vast majority of farmers across the Prairies voted for directors who are pro-single desk.

To me and to, I think, so many of us living in the west, the fact that we have a government that fails to listen to the very voices of the people whose livelihoods are being threatened and are at risk, already at risk, might I add, given the economic situation in which they live, it is an absolute insult. It really shows how much the government is willing to take the west for granted.

I would like to share a story about a more personal connection to the Wheat Board and what it has meant, I think, for us not just here at home but internationally. When I was 17 years old, I had the chance to do a study, while I was on scholarship studying in Hong Kong, on the comparative advantage that Canada has when it comes to trading wheat. I had the chance to sit down with people at the Wheat Board, look at its sections in terms of research, hear from people in the sales department and listen to people who were part of the chain of production, going back to the poor, the farmer who produces that wheat.

I got to hear how important the work of the Wheat Board was in making sure that our product was the best product going overseas, knowing that the hard work of people in my hometown of Thompson was part of that chain to make sure Canada's best wheat got on the ship at the port of Churchill to go around the world.

I also had the chance to hear from our international partners, from our great trading partner, China, which knew that Canada is known for having the best wheat in the world. That brand of Canadian wheat was not Cargill's, nor Viterra's. It was not any corporation's. It was ours. It is ours. It has been the work of the Canadian Wheat Board working hand in hand with farmers, working hand in hand with producers, the people who work along the transportation lines, the people who work to make sure that our product gets overseas, that has ensured for so many decades that we as Canadians have been able to stand proud and call our wheat the best wheat in the world.

Now we have a government that is not only failing to listen to western farmers, but is all too happy to give that brand away, to give those investments made by hard-working farmers, by families, by rural communities, by communities across western Canada away, to give it to Cargill, to give it to Viterra whose stocks go up every time they hear from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Those are the numbers to be noted, because those are the people who will benefit.

We often hear about the Australian case. Unfortunately, even in that discussion, the government has proven to be very misleading. In some ways what happened in Australia was different, but in many ways it tells us what awaits us down the road if the government's wish to dismantle the Wheat Board becomes a reality. Western farmers can look to Australia to know what is in store for them when the single desk is eradicated.

When the Australian wheat board had single desk power, Australian wheat could command premiums of over $99 per tonne over American wheat, but by December 2008 it had dropped to a discount of $27 per tonne below U.S. wheat. In three short years, Australia's 40,000 wheat farmers went from running their own grain marketing system, selling virtually all of Australia's wheat, which was 12% of world wheat production worth about $5 billion, on their own behalf to being mere customers of Cargill, one of the world's largest agribusiness corporations, which is privately owned and based in the United States.

Since 2006 the Australian wheat board's share of Australia's wheat sales has dropped from 100% to 23% nationally, with 25 other companies in the market all looking to make money on the spread between purchase and sale prices.

Australian farmer Ross Philips was interviewed about the loss of the Australian wheat board. He pointed out, “Be careful of giving away your single desk. You will get every single farmer competing against every single farmer”.

For the farmer there is nothing more difficult than selling grain to a trader who does that every day. If orderly marketing does not exist, we will see mass bankruptcy for farmers, and we have lost our premiums equal to about 10% to 15% of the price.

This is a voice from our neighbours, a Commonwealth country that has gone down the very same destructive path which the government is taking us down. The story here is not only is the government failing to give farmers the democratic right that they have in law to vote, but it is taking every single westerner for granted.

We in the NDP will stand to fight the government's plan. I look forward to working with western Canadians to make sure that our voices are heard in this House of Commons.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Churchill will have 10 minutes for her speech and 10 minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on the motion.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, on September 21, I asked the government two questions.

The first question dealt with residential school survivors. Many of us in the House are receiving information from a lot of our constituents who work with first nations people. They are concerned that some first nations members who had gone to residential schools are still falling between the cracks and are not receiving the compensation that is due to them. The minister responded that the government had implemented a number of programs in co-operation with first nations organizations and that the program was ongoing and essentially that it was doing its best. I wish to follow up with the government in that area.

If the outreach is ongoing, is it based on an evaluation of how effective the program was in order to reach the residential school survivors and to make sure they fully understand the process for compensation? Having reviewed that, has the government determined other measures that may be necessary to make sure that all who are deserving of compensation in fact receive that compensation?

I am simply seeking additional information. Is the government looking into new and different ways to make sure that some people, who I am sure the government would agree deserve the compensation, are not simply falling between the cracks?

The second question I had raised on September 21 related to equal access to education, to the economy and to services that all other Canadians who are non-aboriginal have the benefit of.

I share the concern raised by National Chief Shawn Atleo that aboriginal high school students are statistically far more likely to be incarcerated than to graduate from high school. Apparently, only 41% of aboriginal students graduate compared to 77% for the remainder of Canadians.

The fact is aboriginal women constitute one-third of the women in custody and unfortunately that number is rising. While everyone who commits a crime should face justice, and no one would disagree with that, surely there is an obligation to ensure equity and justice for indigenous Canadians so that they do not fall into the trap of entering into a world of criminal behaviour.

Many have called for more significant measures than have been taken by successive federal governments. In raising these issues, I am not simply pointing arrows at the present government. We have had a succession of reports by auditors general. In fact, we were advised by the former auditor general, Sheila Fraser, that she had tabled 31 reports that raised significant concerns about the failure to address the inequitable treatment of first nations people.

I will quote from a speech that the former auditor general gave following the tabling of her final report. She said:

It’s no secret that their [first nations'] living conditions are worse than elsewhere in Canada....What’s truly shocking, however, is the lack of improvement. Last year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reported that between 2001 and 2006 there was little or no progress in the well-being of First Nations communities. In a wealthy country like Canada, this gap is simply unacceptable.

The auditor general in successive reports raised concerns about poor housing, lack of equal access to education, and the inequities in the amount of funds provided to first nations students as opposed to other Canadians. The auditor general called for major structural reforms. Of interest, a second report that was issued in a coroner's review in Ontario by Justice Stephen Goudge made the same findings and recommended similar structural changes.

The question I ask the government today is: In light of the auditor general's report and her frustrations, as well as reports such as the one by the coroner of Ontario, what is the government doing to address these structural reform needs?

6:35 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to respond in this adjournment debate to the question put by the member on September 21. In fact, I am pleased to rise to speak to the question the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona has posed.

There were a number of Indian residential schools in the great Kenora riding and across northern Ontario. Indeed, in my previous life as a lawyer, I had the honour to represent more than 900 Indian residential school survivors principally from across northern Ontario in the negotiations and as a signatory on their behalf. Soon after, I represented many in the independent assessment process, which I will allude to later in my response.

Let me remind the hon. member that our government is committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools and is focusing on an agenda of reconciliation and renewal between aboriginal people and all Canadians.

In 2007, the Government of Canada, former students, churches, the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations negotiated and signed the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The implementation of the settlement agreement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, began over four years ago under the strict supervision of nine courts.

One of the elements of the settlement agreement is the common experience payment for all eligible former students who resided at recognized Indian residential schools prescribed in the agreement. I am happy to report to this place that, to date, 97% of estimated former residential school students eligible for the common experience payment under the Indian resident schools agreement have received their payments. More than $1.6 billion have been paid to 77,394 individuals.

It was always understood by all parties to the agreement and by the courts that, indeed, it would be a challenge to reach all potential beneficiaries. To ensure that residential school survivors were aware of their rights and benefits under the settlement agreement, three separate notice plans were widely disseminated in aboriginal and mainstream media in 2007, and in the spring of 2011 in English, French and 16 aboriginal languages from coast to coast to coast.

As an additional effort, a grassroots outreach strategy funded by the Government of Canada was implemented in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations, as well as Service Canada centres nationally. Combined, these activities reached 98% of the target population of aboriginal people over 25 years old and these efforts were deemed highly effective by the courts. In addition to these efforts, the government established a community impact working group, comprised of several federal departments and national, regional and community organizations.

The Government of Canada also established the community impacts working group, which brings together representatives of several government departments and national, regional and community organizations.

In addition to the common experience payment, the settlement agreement includes an independent assessment process, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, commemoration and health supports. All of these, I am happy to report, are well under way.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, while I appreciate the update, unfortunately I do not have a reply to my question. I fully credited the government for the actions taken in co-operation with first nations. I credited it for its efforts.

The question was specifically this. Having recognized that there are 2% to 3% who have not received the payments, what in addition is being done? Has there been an evaluation or a determination that there may be some other mechanism to get to the last of those people? They could be homeless. They could be people, such as I have spoken to, on the streets in Edmonton who are simply discombobulated by the process, sometimes moving between jurisdictions. I am simply asking, was there an additional attempt to do that?

I did not receive a response to my second question and that is about the Auditor General's concerns about the need for major structural reform in the way that equality is to be provided to the first nations people of Canada, including the fact that the government has not defined the level and range of services or is acting by policy and not law. There is a need to prescribe unambiguous government commitments and, rather than annual contribution agreements, certainty in law.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, I am happy to respond to the question in this adjournment debate as it was posed on September 21.

Implementing the Indian residential schools settlement agreement is an important milestone in Canada's effort to promote reconciliation with aboriginal people, and between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

Our government remains committed to ensuring that former students who resided at Indian residential schools are fairly compensated, and are aware of their rights and benefits under that settlement agreement to which all parties agreed to its terms.

The Government of Canada made it a priority to ensure that all forecasted 80,000 residential school survivors are aware of their rights and benefits under the settlement agreement. This was achieved through a court approved notice plan and additional Government of Canada outreach activities.

While September 19, 2011 marked the deadline for the common experience payment applications, former eligible students can still apply through the exceptional circumstances clause of the settlement agreement. We are committed to this process of reconciliation in our relationship with aboriginal people in Canada.

Finally, it is abundantly clear that the Government of Canada has been, is and will continue to be committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools.