This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but take the opportunity to stand in my place because it is the younger people I represent in my constituency, the young people who are trying to build a better future for their families on the farm, who very desperately want the option to market their grain so that they can get the best value for their wheat and barley.

What they currently find disturbing is that past governments have treated them so paternalistically. Past governments have said farmers in some parts of Canada might be smart enough to market their own grain, but not the farmers in western Canada. They could not possibly understand how to do something like that.

Young farmers have been even more disturbed these last number of months over plans unveiled at the Canadian Wheat Board just after an election of directors, when no discussions of the purchase of $65 million of shipping equipment took place.That issue could have been discussed and debated, but it was not. It was never discussed. Young farmers were never given an opportunity to provide their input on the purchase. This paternalistic organization determined that it would use those young farmers' money to buy $65 million worth of ships, which many farmers are convinced would never carry a bit of western Canadian grain.

I wonder if the hon. member for Medicine Hat would comment with regard to the concern that many young farmers have in my constituency with regard to the paternalistic attitude of past governments, as well as the organization itself.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, that was a long question.

In fact, yes, there are farmers in my riding who have asked me about freedom for their wheat and barley. I have also talked to a lot of the pro-Wheat Board people.

It is interesting that when I told them about the potential for the Wheat Board to evolve and that they would still have the opportunity to sell their wheat and barley through the Canadian Wheat Board, a number of them said they would not do that. I said, “What? You want the Wheat Board, so why would you not sell it?” They replied that their farms were their businesses, so they would not sell it through the Wheat Board.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to inform you that I will share my time with the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

To be able to truly have a thorough debate on Bill C-18 and the negative implications it will have on prairie farmers, we must first answer some initial questions to learn about the history of the institution at the heart of Bill C-18. Where did the Canadian Wheat Board come from? What was behind its creation? What role did it play in the past in the lives of farmers? What role does it play today in the economy and lives of prairie farmers?

The Canadian Wheat Board, whose future is at stake in Bill C-18, is an organization that markets wheat, durum and barley for prairie farmers. Recognized as the largest and most successful grain marketing organization in the world, the Canadian Wheat Board, which is what Bill C-18 is all about, was created in the 1920s, when farmers in western Canada started to join together to get the best price on the wheat market.

It reminds us of the farmers' fight to protect their interests against powerful foreign companies that tried to crush and destroy them. In 1943, continuing that fight, farmers in western Canada opened a single desk that allowed them to sell their wheat through the board. The pooled sales that began through this single desk gave farmers a powerful voice in grain handling and transportation as well as international trade policy.

The board ensures that farmers get the highest overall returns as they have an effective monopoly on wheat sales since there are no competing sellers of western Canadian wheat. The single desk structure provided financial stability, prudent risk management and certainty of grain supply. In other words, the single desk contributed to progressive marketing of wheat in the interests of farmers, not of large American or other foreign companies.

The single desk continues to play the same role today, as the board is controlled, directed and funded by farmers. It is not a burden on the state and it is not government-funded. It was in this spirit that the act to create the Canadian Wheat Board gave the board the mandate to generate the best possible returns for farmers by taking advantage of the powers given to this single desk.

This organization continues to play an important role for farmers as well as for the economy in the Prairies. It sells grain all around the world and arranges for its transportation from thousands of farms to customers in 70 countries. About 21 million tonnes of wheat and barley are marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board each year. Given that 80% of the wheat grown in western Canada each year is exported overseas, it is easy to understand the major role that the Canadian Wheat Board plays. Yet the Conservatives want to dismantle it to benefit private companies that are more concerned about profit than about farmers, who create jobs for a large number of Canadians. Acting as a marketing agent for farmers, the Canadian Wheat Board negotiates international sales and passes the returns back to farmers, who spend them in Canada.

Clearly, the Canadian Wheat Board has real, tangible benefits for the economy of the Prairies. The Conservatives are attacking those benefits with Bill C-18. I find this completely unbelievable. What is the purpose of Bill C-18, which the Conservatives have brought before this Parliament? Bill C-18 proposes dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board; putting an end to the single-desk marketing of wheat and barley; replacing the board with an interim structure with voluntary membership; and privatizing it or dissolving it completely if, in the coming years, it is not profitable for any private firms.

Bill C-18 is a reflection of the neo-liberalism that underlies economic policy. Dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board would have a devastating effect on prairie farmers.

At a time when the Canadian economy needs measures to get unemployed Canadians back to work, the idea of doing away with the Canadian Wheat Board seems ridiculous and irresponsible.

That is why when prairie farmers—who would be the most affected—were called upon to vote on this government initiative on September 12, 2011, they rejected the idea, even though the government likes to tell anyone who will listen that dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board would be good for farmers. A majority of farmers voted in favour of maintaining the Canadian Wheat Board. Of a total of 38,261 farmers who voted, 62% voted to maintain a single desk for the marketing of wheat and 51% voted for the same for barley. Acting against the will of the majority is undemocratic and we will not accept it.

The NDP believes that in the current sluggish economic context, the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board would have an incalculable impact on the lives of farmers as well as on the economy of the Prairies, given the role that the Canadian Wheat Board has played and continues to play. Passed without any clear analysis of the repercussions it could have on farmers in western Canada, the measure to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board will be ruinous for them. The bill serves the interests of major American grain companies by allowing them to lower the market price for wheat and undermine the security of our own farmers.

If the Canadian Wheat Board is dismantled, Prairie farmers will sell as individuals, which could result in some farmers losing their farms to huge foreign companies.

Western Canadian farmers might experience the same fate their Australian counterparts did when they lost their single desk. Right now, the price of Australian wheat, which once commanded $99 a tonne over American wheat, has dropped, in just three years, to $27 a tonne below U.S. wheat. As a result, 40,000 Australian farmers who were running their own grain marketing system became customers of one of the largest agribusiness corporations, which is privately owned and based in the United States. Since 2006, Australia's national wheat sales have dropped from 100% to 23%. Meanwhile, 25 other corporations are competing to see how to make a profit on the discrepancy between buying and selling prices.

Let us make responsible decisions. Let us avoid putting our western Canadian farmers in a situation similar to that of their Australian counterparts.

I would like to remind the House that the Canadian Wheat Board sells Canadian farmers' grain products in 70 countries. All the profits from these sales—between $4 billion and $7 billion per year—go to the farmers. In 2009-10, the Wheat Board's revenue was estimated at approximately $5.2 billion and its administrative costs were approximately $75 million.

This is revenue that we will lose if we dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. By reducing the benefits that farmers receive from the Wheat Board by virtue of the fact that it is the sole seller of western Canadian wheat and barley, the Wheat Board's demise will no doubt affect the Port of Churchill and the farmers who deliver grain through the port, because the Wheat Board is the primary user of this port. Generally speaking, Wheat Board shipments account for 95% of the cargo that goes through the port. In a free market, private grain companies will have no incentive to use the Port of Churchill, since they have port facilities on the west coast, in Thunder Bay and along the St. Lawrence.

The demise of the Wheat Board will also affect producer car shippers and short-line railways in that farmers who load their own cars will save from $1,000 to $1,500 in preparation and cleaning fees per car that is shipped.

The demise of the Wheat Board will also have financial repercussions on Winnipeg and Manitoba. In fact, studies have shown that the Wheat Board contributes $94.6 million to Winnipeg's gross output.

In conclusion, dismantling such an institution in the name of blind neo-liberalism means sacrificing prairie Canadians to benefit foreign grain companies. We cannot support such a bill, which would mean supporting government control over the Canadian Wheat Board.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member's main argument was given at the end of her presentation when she said that because of the 400 jobs, some of which could be lost in Winnipeg, she could not support the legislation. I would like her to think about why she would place such a high importance on the jobs of people working at the Wheat Board and ignore the people who will clearly benefit from this change, who are the farmers. There are tens of thousands of farmers across the west who would benefit.

For example, I have farm land in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Seven farmers are renting land from me. Every single one of them is excited about what is happening with the Wheat Board as we remove the monopoly. Every single one of them has been waiting for years to have this happen. They often ask me when we are going to get it done. We are going to get it done now.

Why does the member place such a high importance on the jobs with the Wheat Board? I, too, am sorry that those jobs will be lost, but why does she place little importance on the farmers who are the people who produce this commodity and really should benefit from it and market it in the way they see fit?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. I would simply like to tell him that my comments cannot be summarized by just the end of my presentation. I clearly stressed the essential role of the Canadian Wheat Board, which is a vital component of the prairie economy, and the fact that dismantling it would be ruinous for farmers. We are in a very critical time, given our current economic situation, and I think dismantling it would be truly ruinous for all farmers.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the prairie grain farmers are intelligent individuals and they have had ample opportunity over the last number of months and years to get a very good assessment of what the Canadian Wheat Board is all about, the pros and the cons. The Wheat Board is there first and foremost to serve farmers and to try to maximize the return to farmers. Through that we are assisting the economy of Canada and we are feeding the world. Sixty-two per cent of farmers have indicated they want to retain the Wheat Board. The government seems to be determined to discredit the plebiscite. It does not like the results of the plebiscite and therefore it is saying it was flawed.

I wonder if my New Democratic colleague would provide some comment on the attitude of the government with regard to the plebiscite.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. I think the government is continuing to ignore the very people most affected by this. This reminds me of Bill C-11, where the people most concerned are being completely ignored. The same thing is happening with Bill C-18. The people most affected are being ignored.

The Conservatives think they are the only ones who can speak for all farmers, and that is simply not true. The fact that they are ignoring the plebiscite that was held proves that they are not listening to all farmers.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I will speak to Bill C-18. I wish to support the coherent views on this bill brilliantly expressed by my colleagues and stand up for the farming families in western Canada who, in these tough economic times, must fight not only global economic instability, but also the destructive actions taken by their own government.

Bill C-18, as proposed by the government, quite simply must be scrapped because the provisions of this new legislation jeopardize the financial stability of western wheat farmers and of all families associated with the sector.

By attacking the Canadian Wheat Board without just cause, the government is conducting a political and ideological crusade because of the supposed benefits of the open market. However, our national economy needs to be protected and supported more than ever. The Canadian Wheat Board is a long-standing organization that has proven itself and been a powerful force through the years and the economic downturns that have occurred since it was established in the 1920s.

It is also imperative to remind Canadians that the board was created by farmers for farmers, that it is managed solely by farmers, and that it is funded entirely by farmers. No taxpayer money is given to this organization, which is not a crown corporation.

The first question that Canadians are entitled to ask is the following: what is the government doing? Once again, this is poorly-disguised political interference for the purpose of increasing the Conservatives' control over self-managed organizations that are necessary and work well, all in the name of market liberalization.

Canadians are not fools. They know that this politically motivated gesture will ultimately weaken Canadian wheat production and benefit big international grain companies that will be happy to snatch up Canadian grain at lower prices. Without the board's negotiating power, individual farmers will lose their voice and the guarantee of the best price for their crop on the world market. In this dark hour when an unprecedented recession is hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles, the government should be focusing on protecting our economy instead of lining the pockets of big multinational grain companies to the detriment of all western Canadian families.

Is this government so out of touch with reality that it forgets to listen to its people, who are demonstrating in the streets right now for economic action and a more equitable distribution of wealth? Before it leads the Canadian nation into the abyss, even going so far as endangering the country's food sovereignty, the government ought to hear what western farmers want and then respect their choice.

Canadians also need to know that the Canadian Wheat Board generates between $4 billion and $7 billion a year in revenue. In 2009-10, the Wheat Board recorded profits of $5.2 billion and had operating costs of just $75 million—I am talking about net profit. In total, over 21 million tonnes of wheat and barley are sold each year at the best possible price on the world market as a result of the Wheat Board's marketing ability and its negotiating power.

The Wheat Board is also a single desk that facilitates access to the world market for farmers who do not necessarily have all the resources they need to reach their buyers. The Wheat Board is also a marketing agent that does not keep any profit; rather, it returns all its revenue to the 75,000 farmers that it represents who, thanks to the Wheat Board, are able to sell their grain in 70 countries. Above all, the Wheat Board is a strong and unique voice that is well represented on the world grain markets, a voice that the Prime Minister's government stubbornly refuses to hear.

What Canadians understand about Bill C-18 is that the measures proposed by the government will be extremely harmful to our economy.

The dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board would weaken our farmers' bargaining power with their buyers, since these farmers would have to fight alone to get the best selling price and they would be competing with their neighbours.

Ultimately, lower selling prices for grain will cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead of going into the pockets of our Canadian families, these millions of dollars will go into the pockets of grain conglomerates, which will have the final say on the purchase price of our wheat and barley. Obviously, the government would rather satisfy big multinational corporations instead of the Canadian people.

In the long term, we can expect that, as a result of these measures, a number of family farms will shut down once they are no longer profitable, which will in turn increase the vulnerability of families in the west.

Why would the government want to jeopardize the existence of an organization that is not losing jobs, that earns profits for our farmers, that is managed well and that, at the end of the day, has nothing but positive effects on our economy? If this organization were to disappear, there would be all kinds of negative effects on the entire community.

The government claims that it wants to allow farmers to choose whether they market their crops with or without the board. With the potential dismantling of the board, the government is not giving western farmers any choice. There have been no studies of the impact of this decision. I remain convinced that the farmers concerned are particularly shocked to see that the government is taking big risks with their income and their retirement without bothering to do its homework.

Canadians have had enough of a government that does not listen to their needs, that is completely out of touch, and that dares to lie to them at will.

The government tells anyone who will listen and believe that it is keeping its election promises. How is this possible when it promised to broadly consult farmers before last May's election? A few days after May 2, the government announced that there would be no plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board.

In the speech he gave yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board, with the support of his Prime Minister, embellished the lie by arguing that these new measures will give farmers more freedom and choice. However Canadians are well aware that, in this rather scandalous matter, there is no freedom or choice for the 62% majority who said they were in favour of keeping this single desk. No freedom, no choice, not even the right to speak and be heard.

The government's lack of respect for western farmers gets worse. In its own press release, it dares to state that it consulted with stakeholders from across the value chain before making a decision. Does this mean that farmers—including the 62% who want to keep the board—are not part of the value chain for their own products, since they were not consulted?

I am sure that western farmers will be shocked to hear that this government has excluded them altogether from the value chain for products—

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Excuse me, I understand there is no translation.

It does not work if I speak French.

Now it is working. Continue, please.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

I am certain that western farmers will be shocked to hear that this government has excluded them altogether from the value chain for the products that they have produced by the sweat of their brow.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I hear the NDP using the Wheat Board's talking points, in particular the 62%. The 62% plebiscite was a flawed process.

First, the Canadian Wheat Board selected who did and did not get ballots. Not all farmers were allowed to participate in the plebiscite. A good example is my father and brother. They are organic farmers who want to grow organic wheat, but one of the reasons they do not is that it is so difficult to be involved with the Wheat Board. They would get less money for their wheat because it gets pooled with all the other wheat, and they would not get the premiums that organic wheat brings in the marketplace. They do not grow organic wheat and they never got the chance to vote in that plebiscite.

The other issue is that the plebiscite never asked if farmers wanted a voluntary wheat board. They were only given two choices: a wheat board or no board, a monopoly or no monopoly. There was no in between.

What we are offering through this legislation is a strong voluntary wheat board. If 62% of producers who were selected to get ballots in the mail from the Wheat Board support the wheat board, that is a great endorsement. They should be able to easily survive as a voluntary organization. They do not need 100% of the acres grown, they do not need 100% of the grain that is grown, they do not need to sell every bushel. A committed group of people, 62% of grain farmers, will support a voluntary wheat board. It may even be higher than that if they are given the chance to compete in the marketplace.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I heard a question, unless there was a mistake in the interpretation.

When one is part of an association or a group, there is always a membership. Obviously, one needs to be a member and there are rules. Yesterday, I went to a meeting of an association that has to do with Europe but, since I had not gotten my membership card seven days in advance, I could not participate.

Western wheat and barley farmers make up the majority of this board, which works and is profitable. Why dismantle something that is profitable? We are in an economic race, which the Conservatives are always talking about. This board represents jobs for families and it is profitable. Let us keep it.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am from Ontario and the hon. member is from Quebec. Farmers in Quebec, by the way, in case she does not know, have the same opportunities that the western farmers are now going to have, which is choice of marketing.

I wonder if she had many farmers come to her before she was elected to say that they did not want the choice of marketing for their products.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that, geographically, the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles is very far from western Canada. The agricultural reality in Quebec is very different and, in Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, there is no agriculture at all. The people in my riding therefore have not come to me to talk about agriculture.

In matters of health, medicine and surgery, does one have to have had a heart attack in order be a cardiologist and perform surgery? No. And so, I will speak on the subject of the Wheat Board. If we listened to the Conservatives, we would replace all of this with free trade and free zones. It is becoming a way of doing things. It goes without saying that small farming families who can now put their products on the market will be eliminated.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Palliser.

I appreciate this opportunity to rise and support this piece of legislation, because I believe it is going to provide western Canadian wheat and barley farmers with the freedom that they have long desired: the ability to market their own grain and to make their own business decisions.

Our government's top priority is the economy, and in my part of the world and in every part of Canada, agriculture is a significant portion of our economy. To quote an old saying, “If you ate today, thank a farmer”. I represent a lot of farmers in my constituency, and let me thank each and every one of them not only for feeding us but for driving our economy forward.

Our government has taken concrete action when it comes to the agriculture sector. Over the past six years, our ministers have driven the issue of agriculture forward in unprecedented ways. As our current minister is fond of saying, “We are putting farmers first”.

I and many of my caucus colleagues come from rural roots. On this side of the House we understand the important issues relating to agriculture and we know that it is an important portion of our economy. We understand the issues that are actually facing people in the agricultural industry.

Our hon. Minister of Agriculture continues to do his work to open additional markets around the world and has come back with real results for our farmers and our food processors.

We are moving forward with a number of free trade agreements with important markets for our grains and our agricultural products as well. We have Colombia out the door and we are working on a number of other markets, including the European Union. We are pressing for an ambitious outcome at the WTO for the benefit of Canada's entire agricultural sector. We continue to stand up for our industry to ensure that trade is grounded on fair rules and sound science.

Here at home, Canada's economic action plan is helping the grain industry take a more strategic approach to marketing grain.

As Canada positions itself for future growth, we need a strong and profitable agricultural industry now more than ever.

Research is key in keeping our grain sector strong and competitive. That is why our government has invested significantly in research to benefit grain farmers in western Canada. Budget 2010 provided $51.7 million over two years to support the operations of the Canadian Grain Commission. We have invested over $11 million to help the Canadian International Grains Institute open new doors in international markets. Almost $30 million has been allocated to support research clusters for wheat, barley, pulses and canola.

With these investments, we are putting farmers first, creating more jobs for Canadians and positioning our economy for future growth.

When we look at the tremendous accomplishments of our Canadian agriculture industry over the past 100 years, we see that the Canadian grains sector stands out as a great success story in its own right. Today, Canadian wheat, barley and other grains are known by our customers all over the world for their outstanding quality, consistency, cleanliness and innovation.

Each year Canada's grain industry does $16 billion worth of business here in Canada and around the world. Those dollars drive the economies of both rural and urban Canada. They create and sustain jobs right through the grain production chain, from farm input suppliers to elevators to farm families to transporters and processors. These dollars create jobs and prosperity for Canadians here at home and support our rural communities, communities that contribute much to the Canadian economy.

Canadian grain growers sustain our health and the well-being of Canadians by putting bread on our tables, and that we must never forget.

But with all of this success, one has to wonder why Canada's share of the overall wheat exports continues to fall, while growth in canola and pulses expands at an increasing rate. The share of area seeded accounted for by the Canadian Wheat Board or board grains in western Canada has decreased dramatically over the past 25 years, from an average of about 85% to approximately 54% of the acreage that is seeded in western Canada.

The shift into canola represents the single biggest factor for this reduction. Why are farmers shifting to canola? Stu Innes, a farmer in Saskatchewan, says that for five years farmers “have rid themselves of the Wheat Board in the only way that they could--by not growing wheat or barley”.

We know that by providing marketing freedom for farmers, wheat and barley can once again have a strong position in our country. When western Canadian grain farmers have the freedom to make their own business decisions and sell their grain to the buyer of their choice, they will be able to capture new opportunities. In fact, Curt Vossen, the president of Richardson International Ltd., believes the end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly “...is going to open up 20 to 25 million new tonnes of marketing opportunities for companies inside and outside Canada”.

Today our customers continue to choose Canadian grain over the competition, not because of the Canadian Wheat Board but because of the relentless commitment to quality by all parts of the value chain, including, and first and foremost, the farmer. When Canada's global customers purchase Canadian grain for processing, they can count on getting the consistent quality and cleanliness that they have come to expect, load after load.

I would remind members that the Canadian Wheat Board is an administrator. It is not a decision maker on varieties registered for production here in Canada, and neither are grain companies. It is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that oversees the registration of wheat varieties and it is the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission to ensure Canada's high quality standards are maintained. Under marketing freedom, both agencies would continue that important work.

Our government knows that innovation drives competitiveness in agriculture. We are keeping our wheat producers on the leading edge of innovation through investments in the wheat genome and fusarium-resistant varieties. We are helping our scientists deliver new solutions to our growers, as they did over a century ago. We will ensure that the great work done by the Western Grains Research Foundation, the Canadian International Grains Institute and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre continue to keep Canada out in front.

Forward thinking, not fearmongering, made Canada the world's supplier of choice for wheat. As was the case a century ago, marketing freedom would breathe new life into our grain industry. It would open the window to new investment in innovation and value-added potential on the prairie soil. Farmers would be able to contract directly with processors to deliver the consistency and quality customers demand.

The grain industry is changing, and the legislative tools required to keep the industry competitive need to change accordingly. There has been a lot of emphasis on a broader range of crops in western Canada, on identity preservation, on niche marketing and on processing of grains in Canada. The biofuels industry, supported by initiatives put into place by this government, has become a major customer for grains. The reform of the Western Grain Transportation Act in the mid-1990s triggered wholesale diversification as producers opted to market their grains through livestock or switched to other crops such as oilseeds, pulses or horticultural crops.

Today wheat is one of many crops on the Prairies. In the 1950s, three-quarters of the land was wheat; that is not the case today.

Likewise, marketing structures are evolving. The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly on wheat and barley was imposed by Parliament as a war measures act to supply cheap wheat to Britain 70 years ago during World War II. The system was essentially designed to collect the grain produced by thousands of small farmers at a small country elevator, market it around the world as a uniform commodity and divide the returns from this process among all the producers who delivered the grain. Today those dynamics have changed, and our approaches and structures need to change with them.

The idea of simply selling one uniform commodity made sense in the days when few countries dominated the grain export market and quasi-government buyers negotiated long-term supply contracts on a national level. Today, that is not the case and the Canadian Wheat Board needs to change because farmers have changed and the world has changed.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask almost the same question that I asked another member earlier because I did not receive a very clear or convincing answer.

Members of the government seem very confident in the fact that the decision they are making to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board is well founded and that they have the support of all farmers, of all western Canadian farmers. I would like to know whether the Conservative member and the government would be prepared to hold a referendum on this issue so that farmers themselves can say what they really think.

I do not want him to give me the same response as before, in other words, that they have so many members in western Canada or that the survey that was conducted was not well founded. I would like a yes or no answer as to whether they would be prepared to hold a referendum to ask farmers what they really think about the Canadian Wheat Board.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am convinced that the farmers I represent, especially young farmers who are excited about new opportunities and hoping for change, are as smart as the farmers who are in Quebec and Ontario, the farmers that the member may represent. I believe my farmers have the same capacity to market their product and they need to have the same opportunity as the farmers in Ontario and Quebec.

I hope the hon. member believes that the farmers that I represent can do the same thing that the farmers in his communities and his province can do. I believe they are smart enough and I hope he does too, and will support our legislation.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering what my colleague thinks of the Liberal supported treatment of a Canadian farmer from Quebec selling his own product to someone in Vermont, compared to the Liberal supported treatment of a Canadian farmer from Alberta selling his own products to someone in Montana.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a very timely question. It is a disturbing reality when we look at the numbers out today what the price is that farmers in western Canada are being offered by the Canadian Wheat Board. Today, the fixed price is $7.52. The pool outlook is $9.47. If I had the freedom and my brother had the freedom to sell grain in North Dakota today, we would be getting $12.47. Those are the opportunities that are given to people who live in Quebec and in Ontario. I believe the people that I represent should have that same opportunity to get true value for the quality products that they produce.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the hon. member for Peace River. I have spoken privately to the hon. member about this very heated debate. Clearly, farmers are on both sides of the issue.

I am quite taken with the fact that a very conservative economic expert publication, The Economist magazine, has put forward that removing the Wheat Board, as the government proposes to do, would have a devastating impact “devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income”.

I know that there are sincere differences of opinion in the House, but I would appreciate the hon. member's view of this particular expert opinion.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is an important point. Small farmers in my constituency, especially small farmers who are young, innovative and want to create a unique product, in many cases an organic product, cannot do it under the Canadian Wheat Board. Currently, the Wheat Board takes that quality, unique niche product, that someone has spent a significant portion of time getting their land to organic quality producing an organic wheat, and takes that crop and pools it in with all the other farmers' crops so that farmer has no opportunity to market a quality, unique niche crop.

I would urge the Green Party to consider changing its policy because the Green candidate in my constituency opposed the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly simply for this reason. There were candidates for the Green Party who were opposing the stated position of the Green Party and one was in my constituency because this is an assault on young farmers, including the young farmer who ran against me for the Green Party. If the member wants to support the Green candidate in my constituency, I urge the hon. member to stand in her place and support this legislation.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill on the Canadian Wheat Board. Our government is committed to the continued success of Canadian agriculture and because this government believes that western Canadian grain farmers deserve the same marketing freedom and opportunities as other farmers in Canada and around the world.

We want to ensure that Canadian farmers succeed and build a strong future for the sector as a whole. Our government's top priority is the economy in which the agricultural industry plays a key role.

We believe that farmers should be able to position their businesses to capture the market opportunities that are open to them. We put farmers first in every decision we make on agriculture.

We recognize that this is a major change for agriculture in western Canada. That is why we have been consulting extensively with stakeholders from across the supply chain, from the farm to the seaport.

Over the summer a working group comprised of experts in the field consulted with industries and heard a broad range of advice on how the grain marketing and transportation system could transition from the current CWB-run system to an open market that would include voluntary marketing pools.

The working group submitted its report to the hon. Minister of Agriculture. It covers a wide range of issues from transportation to research to elevators, basically the how of moving to an open market. The working group is one of the ways our government sought advice on how to move forward.

Our formula is simple and it works: we listen to farmers, we work with farmers, and then we deliver the practical results farmers need.

Let us take a minute and look at opening world markets that are on the doorstep for Canadian agriculture.

Canadian farmers have proven time and time again that they can compete and succeed in the global marketplace if they have a level playing field. That is why the government has been working very hard to build new opportunities in global markets for our farmers.

We have been on the road a lot and our efforts to build trade relationships are paying off. The hon. Minister of Agriculture has led trade missions to key markets in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East.

Working closely with the industry, we have completed over 30 international trade missions and returned home with some real tangible results for our farmers, producers and processors. Everywhere we go, we are finding new customers who want to buy Canadian good quality foodstuffs.

Together we have been moving a lot of product, and we have delivered some real results to our farmers and processors. The government knows farmers want to make their living in the marketplace and not from the mailbox. That is why we have gotten out on the world stage, whether it is serving up Canadian steak in Brussels or canola oil in Mexico, to ensure our farmers can connect with new customers.

We have reopened and expanded access for Canadian cattle, beef, beef products and bovine genetics in China, Hong Kong, Colombia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Panama, Singapore, Costa Rica, Vietnam and Korea.

We have also reopened and expanded access for Canadian pork and swine in China, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, the Philippines, Ukraine, Armenia, Albania, Croatia, Indonesia, Jordan and Thailand.

We have negotiated new duty free access for Canadian hormone-free beef to the European Union, a promising market, estimated to be worth more than $10 million annually. As of July 2011, industry has shipped approximately 626 tonnes of beef, worth almost $5 million.

We have developed new opportunities in China for up to $500 million in sales for pulses and achieved transitional measures that allow access to the Chinese market for Canadian world-class canola, safeguarding a market worth $1.8 billion.

We have succeeded in agreements and set up relationships with India to find a long-term solution on pulse fumigation while ensuring uninterrupted supply of pulses, safeguarding a market worth $533 million in 2009. Of course, there is more work to do.

Let us take a minute and look at trade negotiations with the WTO and FTA. Agriculture trade is critical to Canada's economy and prosperity. In 2010 our agriculture and agri-food exports were over $35 billion. Importantly, Canada's trade in agriculture and agri-food products contributed $11.1 billion to our trade surplus.

Those dollars mean jobs and livelihoods for Canadians here at home. That is why when we, as a government, take measures to support agricultural trade, we are not just helping farmers, we are helping all Canadians.

Canada hosted the Cairns Group ministerial meeting in Saskatoon in early September to press ahead with a stronger rule-based approach to global agricultural trade. At the WTO, we stand ready to work with our trading partners to define a realistic path forward on the Doha round, which would provide for more open and predictable multilateral trading systems.

Our government is also pursuing an aggressive regional and bilateral trade negotiation agenda. In that regard, we are working toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union.

The EU is Canada's second most important partner for trade and investment with two-way agriculture and seafood trade totalling over $6 billion in 2010. We want to make that relationship even stronger and more profitable for the benefit of our farmers.

We will also begin free trade negotiations with Morocco in the very near future. Morocco is an important and growing market for our wheat and pulse exports.

We are making important progress in other markets. We have recently implemented a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association, Peru and Colombia. The free trade agreement with the EFTA will eliminate or reduce tariffs on certain agricultural products from Canada, including durum wheat, frozen french fries, crude oil, beer and frozen blueberries.

Canadian producers will also benefit from the elimination of tariffs on exports to Peru and Colombia. Many agricultural exports such as beef, pork, wheat, barley and pulses will receive immediate duty free access. Notably, the FTA with Colombia marks a significant opportunity for Canadian exporters to now benefit from the preferential treatment and access as their American competitors.

We have also signed free trade agreements with Jordan, Panama and Honduras. This government is working toward implementation of these free trade agreements as early as possible.

We are hopeful that our ongoing free trade agreements negotiated with South Korea, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Ukraine and the Caribbean community will also soon create export opportunities for our agricultural producers in these markets. As well, we are looking ahead to export new possibilities with trading partners like Japan and Turkey.

Let us look at the marketing we are currently headed toward.

We want Canadian farmers and processors to get the credit they deserve for the high quality products they are bringing to market. Our agriculture exporters are innovative and competitive, and we are working with them to expand their markets.

Canada is working on all fronts to boost our agricultural business with the world. We know that buyers and consumers already think highly of Canadians and Canadian products. We want to raise awareness and boost the appetite for our great Canadian agricultural economy. That is why our government is investing $32 million in the Canada brand initiative to boost the Canada brand in key markets. The goal is to get more consumers putting our great Canadian food products in their grocery carts and on their menus. We have already announced branding strategies in Japan, Mexico and Korea.

These dollars are supporting market research, advertising, store features, culinary tourism, and other promotional activities that bolster of the work being done by the Canadian industry to sell the products. Consumers are looking for variety, quality and safety in their food, and our farmers and processors can deliver. When they think of good food, we want them to think Canadian and then buy Canadian.

The goal of these initiatives is to get more international customers bidding on our great Canadian food and help our farmers make the most of international markets. Opening up the markets for durum wheat and barley farmers will attract investment not only from Canadian companies, but from the international community as well. In fact, the head of Bunge North American division said, “Bunge is absolutely planning to be a part of it” and Bill Jamieson, chairman of the National Cattle Feeders' Association, said, “More access to more markets will create more opportunities and profit for grain producers”.

In closing, we believe all Canadian farmers should be able to position their businesses to capture the market opportunities that are open to them. Once passed, this legislation would provide western Canadian grain farmers with endless opportunities for their business. I urge my hon. colleagues to stand up for western Canadian farmers and support the bill.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to all the numbers and all the opportunities referred to by my colleague across the floor. I thank him for his efforts.

However, I have a question about the Canadian Wheat Board. I am not talking about a so-called analysis conducted by a group of non-government workers. I would like to know why the government refuses to take responsibility when it comes to managing taxpayers' money. This is a recurring theme with this government, whether we are talking about the cost of new prisons, F-35 fighter jets or the minister's pet projects in his riding.

Has the government done a cost analysis of the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board? Yes or no? And if so, what were the results?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure exactly what the question was, except there was some indication that maybe there was spending of dollars by government around the Wheat Board question which should not have been spent. Let me respond to that by saying we agree. We do not want to spend dollars on a foolish kind of referendum for which we already know the results. People have told us the results.

Our position has been and continues to be one of choice. Farmers do not need to vote one way or the other. We are saying they have a choice. They can go with the private sector. They can go with the other private sector. They can go with the Canadian Wheat Board. They can go with some other grain buyers. That is what is being said. That is what the bill is promoting.

People have not read the bill, obviously, because the bill is in phases over five years for the Canadian Wheat Board to develop its own marketing system. It is not one of hindrance; it is one of acceptance. I cannot understand why people have not picked up on that theme.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's contribution to this discussion. I think it is an important discussion. I appreciate the fact that I have been recognized as many of the other folks have on the other side of this chamber who have talked about this being a major issue. I do appreciate the opportunity to interject at this point.

I have heard from countless young members of my farming community who are desperate to see this change. They want to see an innovative market. They want to see a market for their barley and their wheat that drives up their returns. We are looking at the organic farmers. We are looking at the guys who want to create niche markets, who want to be able to containerize their product and send it abroad through producer cars or a whole host of other things.

Would the hon. member talk about the changes in this legislation that would allow more of these guys who are looking for unique ways to market their product? Does he believe there would be support in his community for these changes for the ability to create unique and niche crops and marketing wheat and barley that is grown organically or some other way for specific markets?