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House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.

Topics

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Red Deer is aware of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that lauded the Wheat Board's demise because of the increased profits for grain companies, yet an article in The Economist warns of the tragedy that would prevail in western provinces with the closure of small farms and the negative impact that it would have on small farming communities.

Why is the member prepared to sacrifice the well-being of so many for the well-being and profits of so few?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful that the member for Guelph has asked me that question, because he is talking to a farmer from western Canada who has a family farm that has been there since 1903.

There were types of things we were forced to do when we were told that we would not be able to market the wheat and barley that we produced. It pushed us into producing flax and canola in order to get some cash flow. When farmers produce their crop and then find out they are not going to get paid for it for 18 months and then are subject to all of the different things that are happening because of the Canadian Wheat Board, these are the kinds of changes that we believe are going to increase the family farm. This is the reason we will be able to ask our sons and daughters to come back and create the family farm that we all have dreamed of.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:20 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, I want to follow up on the comment the member just made, because he is educating the folks across the way.

We farm as well. Two years ago, we had durum in our bin. The Wheat Board said it would contract 60% of it. The person who was farming our land had found a market for the other 40% in the United States. When he went to the Wheat Board and said he would like to do a buy-back, meaning we would have to buy our own grain back to sell it, the Wheat Board told him “absolutely not”. When he asked why, the Wheat Board said it was not contracting the other 40%, so he could not sell it. When he asked what he was supposed to do, he was told to leave that 40% of the crop in the bin until next year and the Wheat Board would see if it would deal with it then.

Has the member had that type of experience in dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board when trying to market his grain? The question directly relates to having to grow canola and flax and those kinds of crops in order to have cash flow on a farm. I would be interested in hearing if the member has any of those stories or experiences as well.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for that question as well as for all the work he has done to help give marketing freedom for farmers.

I can think back to the different operations involved on our farm. I started farming 40 years ago, so I have been filling out a Canadian Wheat Board permit for the last 40 years and I know the types of things that have happened and the concerns we have in central Alberta.

First, farmers are not able to get delivery contracts when they require them. Second, when the Canadian Wheat Board decides it wants to move some of our grain, a lot of the time we find that it happens to be when the road bans are on. If that does not work, then it says we had better have it delivered while we are trying to put our crops in. Finally, sometime in the summer we are able to get that pushed in there because we have to ensure it is done before July 31. Those are just part of the concerns that one has.

Then when we take a look at the dollars being returned to the Canadian farmer compared to the dollars we find elsewhere, we can see it is one of the reasons that the family farm has the problems it has now.

These are some of the things we have to consider.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. It is obviously a debate that provokes a great deal of emotion, and I suppose that is understandable.

The grain industry in western Canada has always been a source of considerable controversy. That is because it is a multi-billion dollar industry. It has huge importance to the livelihoods and way of life of many prairie families.

Its structure is also significant, with tens of thousands of individual farmers on one side, most of them in family farm operations, and then a few large corporations on the other side, namely the railways and grain companies--many of them foreign-controlled--that run the grain handling and transportation system.

It is an inherently uneven playing field, and farmers, sadly, are positioned to get the short end of the stick. Down through the years, various attempts have been made by producers, communities, farm organizations, governments and others to correct or at least to try to offset that imbalance. The strongest effort, and certainly the most successful, has come through the Canadian Wheat Board.

After a number of dubious experiences with previous open markets and many failed experiments with voluntary pooling over the years, the Wheat Board was first created--by a Conservative government, incidentally--in 1935. It was given many of its essential single desk characteristics by a Liberal government in 1943.

It is interesting to note that for several decades after 1943, the board's existence was actually considered to be temporary, and it had to have its powers renewed by Parliament by a vote in this House every few years.

They were, of course, renewed year after year, decade after decade, because those powers exercised by the Canadian Wheat Board had proven to be effective. Farmers over those years effectively wanted and supported the board. Successive federal governments, both Liberal and Conservative, acted on the farmers' opinion that the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate should be renewed.

The last major revision of the Wheat Board's structure came in 1997. As the minister at that time, I knew our government had four primary objectives in the legislation that it introduced in 1997. That legislation came into effect on January 1, 1998.

The first objective was to make the Canadian Wheat Board a truly producer-controlled operation. It is, as a result of that legislation, no longer a crown corporation. It is not a government entity run by five hand-picked servants of the government beholden only to the government. Instead it is a modern marketing organization controlled and operated by farmers themselves. That was the first objective of that legislation 13 years ago.

Second, we needed to make that producer control legitimate and accountable by making the Canadian Wheat Board fully democratic. Farmers themselves now elect the overwhelming majority of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board, which is an innovation that has existed in the law only since 1998. Farmers elect 10 of the 15 directors on the Canadian Wheat Board. Obviously, if the farmers do not like what those directors do, they can be voted out of office. The elections occur every two years on a rotating basis.

It is interesting to note that down through the years since 1998, 80% of the farmers elected, re-elected and then re-elected, in some cases, by their peers to serve on the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors have been strong supporters of the single desk system. That is like a referendum that happens every two years, and the single desk side in that vote wins 80% of the time.

That was the second objective: to make the Canadian Wheat Board not only producer-controlled, but democratic in its operations.

Third, these directors were given the scope, the mandate and the power to innovate, to change, to be flexible, to provide prairie producers with an unprecedented range of options and alternatives in how grain is marketed and how farmers are paid for their grain, and the board has delivered on that mandate over the last number of years by introducing a number of groundbreaking innovations in the board's operations.

As this debate has raged over the last number of weeks and months, I have heard a number of farmers make the point that in many ways the criticisms we hear these days about the board's operations are really about the old board, the way it used to exist before 1998, before democratic producer control took over. That old board was gone more than a decade ago. Since then, there has obviously been a dramatic improvement.

Principle number one was producer control. Principle number two was democratic operations. Principle number three was flexibility, innovation and accountability. Principle number four was this: for the future, we built into the law a clear provision to put the ultimate fate of the Canadian Wheat Board in the hands of farmers themselves.

Section 47.1 of the existing act does not prohibit changes to the single desk. It does not prohibit even the elimination of the single desk. However, it makes it clear that the decision is one for farmers to take. It is not for politicians or bureaucrats, but for farmers themselves. Section 47.1 embeds in the law the principle that there ought to be a plebiscite, a vote, held among prairie farmers to determine whether or not the nature of the single desk ought to be changed.

Before legislation like Bill C-18 can be legally introduced in this House, the government is obliged to consult with the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors, and it is obliged to hold a vote among farmers on the specific changes it is proposing to make.

No such vote has been held by the government prior to introducing Bill C-18.

The minister says he is not obliged to have a vote because he is not making any kind of technical change to the single desk. He is not making small modifications to the way the single desk operates. He says that if he were making changes of that kind, then in fact he would be obliged to come to farmers through a vote or a plebiscite to get the farmers' opinions on what he is proposing to do.

The minister says that he is not obliged to do that in this case because he is not making smaller technical changes to the single desk: he is simply abolishing it altogether.

Let us think about that logic. It is like the doctor saying, as the patient being wheeled into surgery, “Well, if I am just going to take out your tonsils, I will do you the courtesy of asking for your opinions, but if what I have in mind is euthanasia, killing you altogether, I will not bother to ask for your advice”.

Obviously the government's position is ludicrous on that point. The legislation has the effect of destroying the single desk, and accordingly section 47.1 obliges the government to get the opinion of farmers before they take that step. The government has not done so, and therefore, in our opinion, this legislation is not proceeding properly at this time.

Liberals in Parliament will not support this legislation, Bill C-18, to kill the single desk marketing system for the Canadian Wheat Board for at least four strong reasons.

The first one has to do with process. The CWB is now democratically controlled and operated by western Canadian grain producers. Today's legislation eliminates that democratic producer control, and it replaces it with direct and complete government control. The elected producer directors will be gone, and instead the board will be run only by five people appointed by the government.

The Conservatives are also disenfranchising farmers by ignoring their legal obligation as it exists today to hold a producer plebiscite before introducing any legislation that has the effect of destroying the single desk. That is our first reason for opposing this legislation: the attack on democracy, the attack on proper process, the ignoring of the right of farmers to vote.

Our second reason is one of cost. By killing the single desk operation, the government is effectively reducing the value of Canadian wheat and barley in global markets by as much as $400 million to $600 million per year. That is the typical price premium that the Canadian Wheat Board is able to gain every year for western farmers and bring into the Canadian economy because of its ability to price discriminate.

The ability to price discriminate depends exclusively upon the existence of the single desk operation. If we have a single desk operation, we can go to each individual grain market in the world and extract the highest price available in that market. Obviously, the higher priced markets in Europe such as the high scale department stores and food stores in London, England, will pay a higher price than will Yap Milling in Indonesia. They are two entirely different markets. If we have a single desk operation, we can distinguish between those markets. We can get the top price in London and the top price in Indonesia and they are not the same price.

If there is leakage everywhere because there is no single desk operation, we will then be competing for the bottom price. It would be a race for the bottom price. We will end up with the lowest price rather than the top price available in each individual market.

Without the single desk operation we will lose the ability to price discriminate. According to many experts in the industry, the cost of that will be roughly $400 billion to $600 billion a year depending on the marketing year. Without the single desk operation, the ability and the clout to price discriminate will be gone.

The third reason is that the government's new legislation will also reduce farmers' clout here at home.

There will be a lot of collateral damage with the loss of the Wheat Board. For example, the producers' right to load their own rail cars as a safety valve against commercial exploitation will technically remain in the wording of the Canada Grain Act. However, without the Canadian Wheat Board to give producer car shipments logistical priority that right will be largely meaningless.

I note that the report the government commissioned on so-called marketing freedom which was published a few weeks ago clearly makes the point that the right to access producer cars, not actually the effective functioning of producer cars but just the access to producer cars, will continue in the Canada Grain Act. However, that report specifically states they would not be given any priority in the system. Therefore, we can order our producer car and we might get it three years from now if there happens to be nothing else happening at the time. It is a right without any meaningful application unless we have someone who is managing the logistics of the system and will give the producer car some priority.

Similarly, producer-owned grain terminals and short-line rail operations will be at the mercy of large grain companies and the railways. The grain companies and the railways have always opposed the existence of the producer-owned grain terminals and short-line rail operations because it means that grain goes around their system, it provides competition and they do not get the tariffs and the fees. Obviously, they are not going to be conducive to allowing those innovations to continue to be used in the system.

What is most important in terms of collateral damage is there will be no player in the western grain handling and transportation system with the clout and the will to stand up for farmers and to take on entities like the railways when their services fail, which happens about 50% of the time according to the government's own rail service review, or when the railways attempt to extract excessive freight rates.

That is the third reason why we cannot support the legislation.

Finally, the Conservative government is about to hand to the United States a huge trade freebie.

The elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board has been the Americans' number one trade objective in North America for the past 20 to 25 years. Courtesy of the Conservative government, the U.S. is about to receive its fondest wish and Canada will get absolutely nothing in return.

The Canadian Wheat Board's single desk system as well as its clout and ability to outdo the American grain marketing system will be gone but Canada will have no better access to the U.S. market. Country of origin labelling discrimination against Canada will continue. The buy America trade discrimination against Canada will continue. The new U.S. marine tax discrimination against Canada will go on. Border thickening will continue. U.S. discrimination against Canadians working in the defence industry will continue. The U.S. attack on Canadian softwood lumber will continue. U.S. authorities will continue to close the border to Canadian wheat and other products whenever it suits them. Thus, Canada has gained absolutely nothing from its unilateral disarmament in the grain trade.

I reiterate that there will be a failure to apply due process and recognize the producer democratic control of the Canadian Wheat Board. There will be an imposition of new costs on farmers and a loss of value to the tune of $400 million to $600 million a year in terms of price premiums left on the table and not captured for western Canadian producers. As well, there will be a loss of clout in terms of dealing with other aspects of the grain handling and transportation system, especially regarding the ability to take on the railways when necessary.

I would note on that last point, that on at least two occasions in the last few years the Canadian Wheat Board has taken the railways to the Canadian Transportation Agency. As a result of those proceedings, it won the farmers something in the order of $200 million in excess freight charges. That was money that was taken out of farmers' pockets. The Wheat Board put that money back into farmers' pockets. The bill will remove that authority, that ability and that clout.

This is a unilateral disarmament of the Canadian farmer. The Americans are giving up absolutely nothing and will not even guarantee absolute access to the U.S. grain market. However, the Canadian Wheat Board, a pillar of the system in Canada, will be gone.

For all of those reasons we oppose the bill.

We propose an amendment to the motion that is presently before the House.

I move:

That the amendment be amended by adding after the words "70 years" the following:

“, including specifically the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board's role in managing transportation logistics and thereby leaving farmers without an effective voice with respect to rail service levels and freight rates; and (d) breaches section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act”.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The subamendment to the motion is receivable.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague intently. In response to the kind of issues he put forward with regard to the Wheat Board I would use a term that he has used many times in the House, “total horse feathers”.

As a farmer I understand full well exactly what he is talking about. I was the minister in charge of railways and I am aware of the issues regarding rail and the rail service review. It has been announced that legislation is coming with regard to the protection of railways. However, that is not the gist of my question.

My hon. colleague said that the Wheat Board is actually capitalizing on a better price for wheat for farmers in western Canada. If there was a shred of evidence of that being true, then farmers in Saskatchewan and Alberta would not be loading their grain cars and trying to run the border to get across to the other side to get a better price for their product, especially when they will be thrown in jail by that government for that act. The opposite would be happening. Americans would be loading their grain cars trying to rush the northern border to capitalize on a better rate through the Wheat Board. That is just the logic of it.

The real question is how much it is costing farmers in western Canada at the farm gate to support and subsidize the Wheat Board because that is what is happening.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman and I will simply have to agree to disagree on that point. I support my side of the argument. A number of studies done by both the Wheat Board and independent organizations have analyzed this issue of the price premium that is available in the world. For some marketing years price premiums are hard to get, but when they are available they are captured uniquely by the Canadian Wheat Board system. On average, the calculation in terms of the value of price discrimination in the marketplace over the years is in the range of $500 million. That money was brought into western Canada and distributed among western Canadian farmers. It would not have been there if the single desk system did not exist.

On the other side of the equation in terms of cost, the total administrative costs of the Canadian Wheat Board, including everything from the cost of sending salespeople on missions around the world to paying for the pens, paper, pencils and the office in Winnipeg, works out to about 7¢ to 9¢ per bushel. That arithmetic has been verified by the Auditor General of Canada. Compared to the administrative expenses incurred in organizations like Cargill, Bunge and other international grain companies, that is an extremely favourable cost. As well, the administrative expense of running the grain system will undoubtedly go up without the Canadian Wheat Board in that system.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, would the member reflect on what the prairie farmers have to say? Time after time Conservative members of Parliament have said the farmers want to get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board. However, 62% of prairie grain farmers actually want to keep it. That is the vast majority in my books. Could the member comment on that?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an important point. Granted an exact assessment of producer opinion at any given moment in time is a difficult thing to accomplish whatever side of the debate one happens to be on.

The fact that the government is reluctant to hold a plebiscite is a very telling point. If a plebiscite were properly held, with a clear question, an independent administration and scrutinized by independent farm organizations so that it would be completely above reproach in every way, shape or form, making it a valid reflection of producer opinion, I suspect the results would be similar to the results of the one conducted by the Canadian Wheat Board this past summer. Those results indicated that in the case of wheat something like 62% of prairie producers said they would prefer the single desk operation and in the case of barley it was 51%. Both of those results indicate a majority of producers are in favour of the single desk system.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know some members will wonder why someone from Vancouver would rise to speak on the Canadian Wheat Board. However, there is one wheat farmer in my constituency, in Metchosin. She is Sharon Rempel of the Vancouver Island heritage wheat project.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Is that outside the Wheat Board area?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

It is outside the Wheat Board area, but I actually know someone who is growing wheat.

Her concern is with regard to the decline of heritage wheat varieties that will take place in an open market. She is also concerned with the continuing decline of family farms. In 1931, about a third of Canadians lived on family farms. That number is now down to 1 in 50.

I ask the hon. member what effect does he think the elimination of the Wheat Board would have in terms of the heritage varieties of wheat from the Vancouver Island perspective and also from the family farm perspective?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the quality control system that Canada has developed through 100 years of experience is highly respected and admired around the world. It has a number of players. The most fundamental player is the Canadian farmer who is a superb producer on par and I would argue above par in comparison to any other grain-producing group found anywhere on the face of the earth. Canadian farmers are absolutely excellent at what they do. However, they are assisted in that process by the Canadian Grain Commission, the Canadian International Grains Institute as well as a number of other agencies that research and work on new plant varieties and in some cases attempt to resurrect historic varieties such as the one the hon. gentleman referred to.

It is an integrated system. All of the pieces fit together. The Canadian Wheat Board has been an integral piece in that puzzle. Therefore, if we remove the board we will in fact put a number of the other pieces in jeopardy, which by implication the government's announcement actually admits.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:50 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, actually, I have to thank the member opposite. One of the main reasons I am involved in politics, one of the reasons I am here, is because of him. His rule as the agriculture minister and as the minister in charge of the Canadian Wheat Board convinced me I needed to get off my farm and needed to do something more to protect my own farm interests and the interests of my neighbours.

I guess the Crow rate would have to be his biggest legacy, which was of course the promise from the government that it would pay farmers a subsidization in return for the Crow rate being removed. His government completely removed that subsidy from farmers and basically devastated Western Canada. When the Liberals did that, he was the minister in charge.

The second legacy he leaves behind is the CWB and his treatment of farmers. He has just talked about western Canadian farmers being superb producers, but that they cannot be trusted to market their own grain. It was a decade ago that 13 farmers went to jail because the member and his government refused to give them any freedom to market or export their grain.

My question to him today is, does he ever wake up at night and regret having locked western Canadian farmers in jail just because they wanted to market their grain, and has he realized since then how important marketing freedom is to western Canadian farmers?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, no one likes legal proceedings of the kind that the hon. gentleman has referred to, but in fact, when there is the risk of smuggling, of border running, and other behaviour on the part of a very tiny minority that is risking the reality of the U.S. market being shut down, closed off, the border closed, for 50,000 other farmers across the west, it is a serious matter that has to be treated seriously. The appropriate action was taken at the time

What has also happened in the intervening 10 years is the democratization of the Canadian Wheat Board, the introduction of producer control, more flexibility and innovation in the operation of the board than ever before, and the right of farmers themselves to determine their marketing future. Through that whole period of time, every public analysis that has been undertaken has indicated that when the choice is offered to farmers in clear term, the result coming back in relation to wheat is two to one in favour of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the hon. member for Medicine Hat.

This is an important issue that is near and dear to my heart, and the comments I am going to make this afternoon are biased, I admit. I am going to fess up right off the bat that I am a farmer. My son is actually the fourth generation on our farm so agriculture goes back a long way in our family. I have produced wheat and barley every year for the last 30 to 40 years, and my comments are biased because I will do and say anything I possibly can to support the farm family and agriculture in western Canada.

When my son wanted to take over the family farm, I tried to discourage him because I knew how difficult agriculture is. It is a very demanding occupation. So I told him to go and get a business education and I would teach him how to farm. So he got a business education and now he is teaching me how to farm. It is amazing what our young entrepreneurs in agriculture are doing and can accomplish. It is phenomenal to see how the industry has developed and is unbelievably engaging.

It is interesting to look at the trumped-up survey from this summer that the opposition members refer to so often. Believe me, farmers have been voting loud and clear and not just because of the 52 out of 56 seats that were won in the May election. They were voting with their seed drills and they have been doing it for a decade or more every spring when they grow products such as canola that are outside the Wheat Board.

Canola has outstripped wheat as the number one commodity in Canada and that is not an accident but it is because the farmers are getting the world price for their canola. They are not getting the world price for their wheat. Because of canola being outside the Wheat Board, farmers have the flexibility to manage and market and get those dollars into their pocket to handle the farm income in a way that enables them to handle the risks of their business. This is important.

The other thing about the survey and why I say it is trumped up is I have been farming for 40-plus years, all my life, growing barley or wheat every year and I never got a survey. I never had a chance to vote in this trumped-up survey. If farmers are missed like me in this survey and then those numbers are used to wail about what farmers really think, then the opposition has to soberly consider what it is doing and who it is representing.

It is not by accident that in the May election only four out of the fifty six seats in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, provinces controlled by the Wheat Board, did not go to the Conservative government. Where were those four seats? Two of them were in downtown Winnipeg, one in downtown Regina and one in downtown Edmonton. I have not seen a combine or a kernel of wheat or barley in any one of those ridings ever.

So when members look at this piece of legislation, they should put aside ideology and do the right thing for agriculture and for farmers. Let us just for a second assume that the monopoly of the Wheat Board, if it is dual-marketed, is going to compromise the value at the farm gate. Then they would never have to worry about it because every farmer is astute enough to market their grain where they will get the best value for it. If that is the Wheat Board, that is where they will go. If that happens, nothing will change.

However, all this bill would do is allow farmers the opportunity to market their grain where they feel they can get better value for that dollar. If they can get a better value for the bushel of wheat or barley in an independent way by another avenue, then the question has to be asked how that can possibly be when the Wheat Board has a monopoly and has the inside track on getting the best value for farmers.

As I said a few minutes ago, if it were true that farmers were getting the best value for their wheat and barley, American farmers would be bringing their wheat here to capitalize on that marketing opportunity. That is not the case. The opposite is the case and there is a reason for it and it is that farmers are astute enough to understand their business plan and understand what is in their best interests as they move forward.

It is very important to say that this has to happen in conjunction with what was announced by our government on rail freight and transportation. The success of our country is really going to depend upon how well we can access international markets, how well and how fast we can get our canolas, wheats and barleys, our products and commodities to markets overseas. That is really where the growth lies.

As a government we put $3.6 billion-plus into the Asia-Pacific gateway so that we can streamline that transportation system. We have seen in our a government a change in the way that railways have actually treated agriculture. Their on-car deliveries this last year was up to over 90% compared to the year before, where it was down to about 50%.

Why is that changing? It is because of the rail freight service review. We have actually forced the railways to have a service agreement with those industries and farmers who have producer cars and so on, and who are shipping their products.

It has to go hand in glove because the railways win when shippers win, and when shippers and railways both win then Canada wins. It is very important that we make certain to streamline that system, so that the system will be able to handle the kinds of demands and opportunities that are there.

It is interesting, when we look at agriculture, just how big it is. It has changed so much. Since the 1950s it has gone up 300%, the productivity level in agriculture. That is what we are actually doing on the farm.

Seventy six per cent of those young farmers, in this survey that is being referred to, said that they wanted to break the monopoly. They wanted to have the opportunity to capitalize on markets other than the monopoly of the Wheat Board. Even using this survey, when we start looking into the future of where we are going to go, that is really the question, where do we go from here? What is it going to look like after we have dual marketing?

We have lost productivity or opportunity for our world share in wheat. It has fallen 42% in the last 50 years. We have lost 42% in the ability to capture those markets. When it comes to barley, the numbers are even worse. It is two-thirds, 66% since the 1980s that we have lost in the ability to capitalize on those international markets.

Where does the future lie? The population of the world right now is about 6.9 billion, 7 billion. What is it going to be in 2020? It is expected to be 7.6 billion. That is 68 million more people to feed, every year in this world. Where is agriculture going to be? It is not the same today as it was in the 1930s, when the Wheat Board was first brought in by a Conservative government, and it was voluntary, not forced, not a monopoly.

We are saying we should break the monopoly and allow the opportunity to see if the Wheat Board actually can do the job for the farmers or not.

We are saying that we have grown in opportunity for agricultural exports, but not because of the Wheat Board. It is in spite of the Wheat Board. It was $39 billion that was traded in 2010. We are in the top five agricultural exporters in the world. That is something to be proud of. It is because of the quality of the product that it is in such demand around the world.

The price is not realized. We are not getting world prices for wheat. We are here to protect our farmers. We have to actually ensure we have the farmers' interests in mind as we stand and speak on this piece of legislation. This is a very important piece of legislation that we are committed to for our electorate.

Speaking of that, I get this all the time. The opposition is saying that farmers think this and farmers think that. Well, I happen to be one of those farmers. So I have to ask, is it just me or do I represent my riding? I have yet to have a piece of mail or a phone call from anyone in my riding, although I am sure there are some people out there, that supports the monopoly.

I have yet to have one of those people call my office and say, “Can you phone me back and explain why you are doing what you are doing?” All of them are saying, “We want freedom. We want choice”.

That is where we need to go with this piece of legislation. It is an unbelievable opportunity that we have before us for agriculture in this country, for the family farm in this country, but more than that as we grow this country and capitalize on those international markets that are ripe for the taking.

We look forward to this bill passing. We encourage everyone in this House to consider their support as we come down to the vote on this.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member told us that he used to be a farmer and never had a chance to respond to the Canadian Wheat Board survey he referred to. Like his Conservative colleagues, he seems very sure that all farmers in the west are against this board.

Since he is so sure, I would like to know—and I would like him to answer yes or no—whether he would be prepared to hold a referendum to ask farmers, so that they can have the choice and not have this imposed on them by the government. Would he be prepared to hold a referendum, yes or no?

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would love to answer that one.

We have had a number. We had one in May, which was an election for 56 potential seats. There was a platform before them to breaking the monopoly and 52 of the 56 voted expected the government to follow through on the obligation in that platform. From one perspective, that is a very strong mandate to ensure that we do the right thing for agriculture and for the prairie farmer.

More than that, just look at what the farmers themselves have been doing. Every spring they go out and decide what to grow, whether it be wheat, canola, lentils or peas. That is what those who are outside the board are growing. Why are they growing this? Because the opportunities to capitalize on world prices is there. If they were getting the best price in the world, they would be growing more wheat and barley, but they are not.

It is unfortunate that we do not have the same opportunity in the prairies that they do in the rest of the country. All we are saying is that there should be an opportunity for a fair and open system. We look forward to that opportunity for western farmers, the same as Ontario farmers and east of Ontario.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, Conservative member after Conservative member have stood and said that they are grain farmers and that this is a good thing that will happen. Yet we know full well that a legitimate plebiscite was conducted by the Canadian Wheat Board. Members laugh, but I would love to see the government have the political courage to conduct its own plebiscite.

The reality is a credible plebiscite was done. The vast majority of those grain farmers, unlike the Conservative farmers here it appears, said that they wanted to retain the Wheat Board.

If the Conservative members who represent the prairies are so convinced that their arguments are so sound, why do they not then take the challenge in the form of a plebiscite, argue it among the grain farmers and ensure that there is, according the government, a legitimate plebiscite on the issue?

If the government is not prepared to do that, at the very least respect that independent plebiscite that was conducted through the Canadian Wheat Board.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, what we want to do is respect the farmer in western Canada. When it comes to that independent survey, as a farmer for 40 years who did not even get an opportunity to vote or take part in it, that tells us a bit about the credibility of that survey.

Nonetheless, it is absolutely critical that we move forward on this. Farmers are speaking loud and clear with their seed drills and voting patterns to make certain that happens.

To answer the member's question in a more direct way, right now it is absolutely imperative that we get this legislation through as fast as we can to have certainty for farmers so they can determine what kind of chemicals and fertilizers to use this fall based on the kind of products they will grow come spring seeding.

This is all about planning and being an entrepreneur on the farm. There is no way the House should hold that up for anything more than what we already know is in the best interests of farmers. We look forward to the legislation passing very soon.

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4:05 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 Vancouver Quadra, Health; the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, National Defence.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Medicine Hat.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very privileged to stand in the House and talk about the marketing freedom for grain farmers act for western Canadians. I would also like to thank my colleague, the member for Yellowhead, for sharing his time with me today.

Marketing freedom is very good news for farmers in Alberta and for our economy. The wheat and barley business in Alberta is a major driver of our economy, bringing $1.3 billion to the farm gate. We are confident we can grow that business even more under marketing choice.

The government is committed to bringing marketing freedom to western Canadian wheat and barley farmers. Under the strong leadership of our Prime Minister, our government continues to fight for farmers' freedom. Giving farmers the freedom to choose to whom they sell their products is the right thing to do.

Farmers in the west have been waiting for a long time for this change. In fact, one farmer in my riding believed so strongly that he should be able to market his own grain that he tried to do that. What was his reward? This western Canadian farmer was put in jail for trying to sell his own grain, the grain that he grew on his own land and harvested himself with his own machinery. That was a travesty. Our Minister of Agriculture and our Prime Minister have said that they will not let that happen again. That is one more reason we are bringing marketing freedom to western Canadian farmers.

As the hon. Minister of Agriculture has said, entrepreneurs, including farmers, need as many options as possible to market and sell their goods. This has never been more true than in today's uncertain economy.

In Alberta there are currently several grain processors in the malting and milling sector. Business savvy farmers deserve the ability to add value to their crops and capture more profits from the farm gate by delivering the specific quality for which a processor is looking. They deserve to make their own business decisions and have the opportunity to seek out the best possible return for their wheat and barley, just as they would with canola, or pulse crops, or cattle, or any number of other farm products from across the country.

Henry Vos, an elected director of the Canadian Wheat Board, agrees that farmers are business savvy. He said, “Similarly to how they can market their canola, peas and forage seed. Some farmers want to market it to the company that will pay the most for it”.

Farmers are the ones who take all the risks and make all the investments, and the government is committed to providing them with the marketing freedom they want and deserve.

I would like to take a minute to explain some of the history of the Canadian Wheat Board.

The monopoly was first imposed on western Canadian farmers on October 12, 1943. That was during World War II, when Canada was committed to supplying wheat to Great Britain. The monopoly came in by order-in-council. Producers were not consulted. It was done with the intention of aiding the war effort, not with any pretence that it would get the best returns for farmers.

Even Lorne Gunter, a columnist with the National Post, recognizes this. He says:

This is a free country. If farmers do not want to use the board to market the grain they grow on their own land, using seed, fertilizers and pesticides they paid for themselves, with equipment that belongs to them, then they shouldn’t have to, no matter what their neighbours want.

Today, western Canadian farmers deserve the right to choose how to market their wheat and barley, just as they do with their other crops, such as canola, pulses and oats. The world has moved away from the state trading commodity procurement approach, which some countries used in the past, and has adopted an open market, a freer enterprise system in which multiple buyers select a range of quality attributes for particular market segments. Buyers want high quality products, which Canadians produce, but they want them delivered at a certain time, in a certain way, in a manner that often farmers are best able to meet.

Farmers are looking for new value-added revenue streams and greater marketing flexibility. We are listening to farmers and want to help them succeed.

Currently, by law, western Canadian wheat, durum and barley growers do not have the same rights as the producers in the rest of the country as to where they are to sell their products and they do not have the rights they enjoy with other crops. The best people to decide the production and marketing options for their farms are the farmers, as they take the risks and live with the consequences.

That is what marketing choice will deliver. We will not rest until that is achieved. We live in a free and democratic country. Farmers want marketing choice and our government is committed to delivering what prairie farmers want. We will not stand idle, while western Canadian farmers are shortchanged by an out-of-date act of Parliament. We have made our intentions clear and we encourage the Canadian Wheat Board to work in the best interests of western grain farmers to remain a viable marketing option for those farmers who want to continue to use it.

At the end of the day, it is all about the farmers. It is about an open-market system. Greg Porozni, chairman of the Alberta Grains Council, has said that a deregulated grain market will be a boon for a savvy farmer.

The government wants to ensure that western Canadian wheat and barley farmers have the same rights and privileges as other Canadian farmers. It is all about fairness. It is all about looking to the future, not continuing to rely upon an outdated system that was developed nearly seven decades ago. I invite my hon. colleagues to join this government in supporting freedom for wheat and barley farmers.

We look forward to continuing to work with the men and women responsible for growing Canada's grain to ensure that, above all else, they have the greatest say in making decisions that affect their own livelihood.

I hope all members of the House will stand to support the bill and give it the speedy passage it deserves in order to give farmers the business certainty they need.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question is with respect to a story that was printed in publication the member would be familiar with called The Economist. It is published by a fairly well-respected world news organization. I would like to quote directly from it, as I did earlier today in question period. It states:

Smaller producers, faced with mounting marketing costs, will inevitably have to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agribusiness companies. Eventually, this should lead to consolidation and fewer, bigger farms—making Canada a more competitive wheat producer, but devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income.

There is a valid argument to be made that the government, by killing the Wheat Board, is going to be destroying family farms, that it is going to be making it that much more difficult for some of those rural communities to survive.

Would the member not agree that there is some merit to what has been printed in this story, as story published by a news organization that is known throughout the world and is fairly well-respected?

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague talks about The Economist being a credible organization and magazine. In terms of being credible, he is probably when it called his former prime minister “Mr. Dithers”.

Canadian farmers and people on the Prairies are resilient. Communities are resilient. They in fact are determined that freedom for their wheat and barley will produce much greater benefits for themselves and the communities in which they live.