Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in support of marketing choice for western Canadian grain farmers. The move to marketing freedom is exciting for all Saskatchewan farmers, especially Saskatchewan durum growers, who produce close to 80% of Canada's durum. This will mean greater price transparency for farmers before spring seeding so they can make more informed decisions about spring planting. This will give farmers the flexibility to react quickly to market signals and take advantage of market pricing opportunities.
The days of durum growers being forced to store their crop for one to three or more years are over. The days when durum growers had high quality durum and they were forced to liquidate it on the feed market in order to make cash because the board would not sell that durum are over. That nightmare will be a thing of the past.
There is no doubt this is all very good news for Saskatchewan producers. The wheat and barley business in Saskatchewan is a major driver of our economy, bringing almost $2 billion to the farm gate. The sky is the limit, like the minister said, on what the potential can be once this legislation is through: $2 billion dollars is a small number, $2 billion could be $4 billion, or $6 billion or $8 billion.
When we look at where wheat was in the thirties and the forties and then we look at what happened when we brought in the single desk and how the processing system moved, how it all went somewhere else, just think what could happen when that could now move back onto the Prairies. Think of how farmers can participate and partner and form their own co-operatives to mill their own durum, wheat and barley. I am confident a business can grow even more under marketing choice.
I must commend our Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, the parliamentary secretary and all my colleagues for all the hard work they have done on this file. Conservative members have been out in their ridings talking to farmers. We do that on a weekly basis when we go back home on weekends. Our farmers have been very blunt. They have asked us to move fast and make this happen because they need the freedom and they need it now. That is what is happening here today, and I commend the minister and the Prime Minister for seeing this through and allowing farmers to finally have the freedom to market their own grain.
One thing about marketing freedom that will be of benefit is the innovation that will come from it. I worked in the agriculture sector before I was involved with farming and my career in Ottawa. I can remember the days of summer fold. Farmers used to summer fold half and half. Suddenly farmers started asking why they needed to summer fold. Why not just seed into the stubble? All of a sudden direct seeding happened. A few manufacturers, Bourgault, Flexi-Coil, Morris, which are farmer-owned businesses, looked at that and thought this was great. Why would they even need to work it at all?
If we look at the results of that innovation, we will find that costs for farmers have been reduced substantially, such as the cost of fuel. In fact, tractor manufacturers were concerned because the hours they were putting on their tractors, flipping tractors every two to three years. Now it is every five to seven years. That is the type of innovation that could happen on the Prairies and that is the type of innovation farmers would have to put in to wheat and barley.
Let us also talk about the innovation that we have seen in non-burnt crops. Let us look at value-added processing.
One crop that my colleague from Manitoba talked about was oats. This crop was under the single desk. Under that system, farmers would not grow that crop because they could not get more than 80¢ a bushel. The board released oats out of the single desk and a year later the price per bushel went up. A year later I saw farmers growing oats. I talked to my neighbour and asked him why he was growing oats and he told me that it was paying aid the bills. He actually substituted oats for wheat. If we asked farmers what paid the bills over the last 10 or 15 years, they would say canola, pulses and oats, not wheat or barley.
We hear this argument about grains not being able to be processed on the Prairies because it is too far for market. Let us look at the canola sector. Let us look at Yorkton, which has two processing plants. Let us look at Lloydminster, which has another canola plant. Let us look at Clavet, Saskatchewan, a small town outside of Saskatoon, which has another canola processing plant.
Canola contributes almost $6 billion to the Canadian economy. Canola was not a big crop in the seventies. This all happened in the last 30 years. Why did wheat not grow at that same level? Why did wheat innovation not happen? We have to ask these questions. We cannot put our heads in the sand.
One of the answers to those question is the CWB and its process in not making changes, in not exploring new opportunities, unwilling to allow value-added to happen in the prairies.
I think back to the days of the Weyburn Inland Terminal, which was a very progressive group of farmers. It built the first terminal on the prairies. It introduced the concept of direct hit trains to the west coast. It introduced the concept of cleaning the grain on the prairies so the dockage could be fed to cows and the clean grain would go to the west coast without having to take the cleaning charges out.
These farmers figured that there was a durum plant across the line in North Dakota and they could do that in Weyburn. They raised the money, they had a business plan, they had the market and they had it all developed. Then the CWB said, absolutely not, that this was not allowed, that it was not under the act.
The minister from Wascana, instead of backing farmers, what did he do? He backed the board. The farmers were irate. When farmers were told they could not value-add and process their own products that might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
When I used travel with Flexi-Coil, I had a dealer down at Milk River. Milk River is right on the Montana line. Every once in a while we would sneak across the line and talk to some farmers with a salesman I knew down there. One farmer grew a lot of barley, and I asked him why he grew so much barley because there was no money in barley in Canada. He told me that the guys from Coors went to his farm and told him if I grew this type of barley, they would supply the seed. They said that if he worked with them and their agronomist to ensure they would get the proper quality, they would give him a price that he could not say no to, and they did that.
All of a sudden the farmers around Milk River on the American side were growing a pile of barley. They were selling it to Coors, making a premium, making a good profit. The company was happy and the farmers were happy. That is an example of partnerships that work.
Coors tried to do this on the Canadian side because Canadian farmers thought it was a good deal. Who said no? The Canadian Wheat Board. It was unable or unwilling to accommodate Coors. The location of malt plants that have been built over the last few years are not in Canada. They are in Montana. What about the location of durum plants up till now? The biggest durum plant was in downtown Winnipeg at CIGI. Does that make sense? We ship Canadian durum all over the world and the only processing plan in the west is in downtown Winnipeg.
Why? There has to be a reason why that value-added and that processing is not happening on the prairies. When we do a process of elimination, we can see why that is. It was because the board, at that point in time, wanted to export grain. It did not want to see processed grain. That is what its mandate was and that is what it would do. If that meant farmers could not participate in the value-added chain, so be it.
Finally the board would tell farmers that if they wanted to export their grain, the Board could do that. It could give them a buyback. The farmers could sell their grain to the board and the board would charge them a premium to buy it back. Then they could do what they wanted with it. That sounded really good. If farmers could buy it back, they could look at the U.S. market or if they wanted to ship some barley to Hong Kong or China, they could do that. However, when the farmers realized what the board charged them on the buyback, it was next to impossible for them to make any money. Yet when farmers got their final payment from the Canadian Wheat Board, it was never close to the buyback. Where did that money go?
Farmers would shake their heads because the board said that they had opportunity under this system to do that, but really they did not. Instead of telling the farmers yes, instead of working with farmers to help them develop these niche market, the board's answer was no, absolutely not.
In the late nineties a farmer talked to a Wheat Board representative. He was giving the representative a hard time about the Coors barley. The representative proceeded to tell him that the wheat and barley did not belong to him once he harvested it.
Let us think about this, just go through the process again. In the spring the farmer will plant as many Canola acres as he can or as many pulse and peas acres as he can because that is his cash crop, but he has to do a rotational crop.
For members who do not farm, a rotational crop is a filler crop so the type of chemical that is used can be changed so that weed tolerance does not build up and it reduces the weeds in the fields. It is not something they want to do. It is something that they have to do as they farm.
Then they bring in wheat and in another case barley. They do that as their rotational crop. Fall comes and they are harvesting the wheat, a beautiful crop of durum, nice crop of canola and pulses. They have to pay some bills because farmers take out cash advances so they have to haul some grain off that combine to pay those bills.
Wait a minute, I want to haul my wheat. I am told no, no contract so I cannot haul wheat right now. How do I get cashflow? I would have to maximize my cash advance if I need cashflow. If I do not want to do that, authorities do not care it is not their problem. I cannot haul that wheat or barley.
What do farmers do? They have to sell their pulses and they sell their canola. What does the trade do? They cannot take all that grain at the same time, so the basis goes up. The actual price the farmers get off the combine gets reduced because the board is unwilling to move the grain at that point in time.
Does this have the best interests of farmers at heart? It does not. It never has. It was a system made for the 1940s and 1950s. Like my colleague said, this system did not come into play because farmers wanted it. It came into play because farmers participated in helping the war effort. Then it was forced upon them. When farmers wanted out of it, they were not able to get out of it.
Liberal governments realized this was a nice cashflow for them and for their buddies. Let us look at the Liberal ties into the Canadian Wheat Board, at the people who are working there and at who is doing the survey or voter identification because that is very important when we talk about plebiscites. David Herle was sitting there doing surveys every year identifying which farmers support the single desk and which ones do not. Where did that information go? I know farmers never got to see it. Farmers did not see their file. The plebiscite claims to be so accurate and so honest. There were 51,000 permit book holders, yet there were 61,000 ballots sent out. Who received the extra 10,000 ballots? Mr. Oberg, where did they go?
A friend of mine, who is a big farmer and a fairly notable person, said a lady approached him that he did not know and told him she wanted to talk about the plebiscite. He said he became defensive, but she said her brother and sister both had votes, but they are both dead. How accurate was the plebiscite if dead people were voting in it?
More frustrating, progressive farmers who have been growing wheat for 20 years phoned me and ask where their ballots was? These are the same people during the Wheat Board directors election saying the same thing. Why did they not get a ballot?
When they look at this sham and how the Wheat Board treats them, would they ever trust the results of a Wheat Board plebiscite? When we look at the plebiscite there is one question which was not asked which is did they want choice and the ability to use the board or the ability to sell outside the board? That was never in the question. It was either single desk or nothing.
The board of directors are like Thelma & Louise. They want to drive this thing off the cliff. If they cannot get their way, they will just drive the car off the cliff, come hell or high water. This is what is frustrating a lot of farmers on the Prairies these days. There are many legitimate farmers who looked at it and wanted to sell grain to the board because they liked the idea of pooling because it spread the risk. That option is going to be there. That is why it is so confusing to listen to opposition members when they are handing out teddy bears and telling us this is horrible for western Canada because they are actually talking about themselves. They are not talking about farmers.
The reality is this organization has lost touch with farmers. It has lost touch with the producers that actually wanted to use it. This organization in the last four months, instead of holding plebiscites, could have aggressively been out securing acreages. It claims it has 22,000 supporters through this so-called plebiscite. If that is the case why does it not have 22,000 producers signing up acres today and tomorrow? It would know then how many tonnes of wheat, durum and barley it would have.
I have had some accredited exporters who represent the board in Africa and around the world because we always talk about the board selling all this grain. The reality is it does not sell it. Accredited exporters take on that role and sell it in these countries. I find it really interesting when they come to me in Ottawa and say they cannot source wheat after March. The board tells us we cannot have it, that it will not give it to us.
Again, we have 22,000 farmers over here, an accredited exporter over here, and a CWB volunteer in the middle. The CWB has a role to play to bring them together. Do members think it will do that? No. Why? Philosophy. Again, it comes back to my Thelma and Louise analogy. It would rather prove us wrong and destroy the entity than actually try to make it work and that is really disappointing. It is really frustrating for me as an MP and as a farmer. It has taken that tool that was in my toolbox and instead of giving me a new tool that I can use, it has basically taken that tool and thrown it away.
So our government did what we had to do to represent all farmers. We are not destroying the CWB. We are basically just taking away the single desk but there will be a CWB. If farmers choose to use it, they would be able to use it. If farmers choose to ship their grain through Churchill, they could do so. We would ensure that the assets, the rails and the ports, would be there for farmers to use. When it comes to producer cars, that is embedded in the Canada Grain Act, not the Canadian Wheat Board Act. That would not change. If they want to use a producer car, they can phone up the CGC and they get a producer car. Farmers who want to load their own rail car can do that.
Again, those choices are not changing. However, let us listen to what the CWB is saying, again spreading fear and mistruths or half truths. It is talking about all of them losing producer cars. That is not happening. Read the legislation. It is not there. Read the Canada Grain Act where it can be seen that it is not changing. Producer cars will be there.
We talk about Thunder Bay or Churchill. My area wants to use Churchill. We are pretty excited because there is a rail line that CN has owned for quite awhile and they have not allowed anybody to go down it and it is coming up for abandonment. Local producers are talking about getting together and buying that line, so it would actually go from Tisdale to Hudson Bay and then up to Churchill. They are excited about that. That would pull about $15 a tonne off their freight. That $15 a tonne is roughly $15 an acre for an average farmer who does maybe 1,000 acres a week and that is $15,000, hard cash, in his or her pocket. If it makes economic sense to use Churchill, farmers would use Churchill. We would ensure they have that option. We would ensure that Churchill is viable so that as the transition goes on it would not get left out.
As we see the rail improve and we see some of these farmer-owned rail lines moving grain to Churchill, it actually would get busier. Is this bad for Churchill? There is lots of potential for Churchill.
I come back to the canola sector and look at what we have seen happen there and I touched on the just under $6 billion it brings in. I look at the old sector and 15 years ago the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon had a department of agriculture but that was about it. Going there now, first in Martinsville, there is an oat processing plant. That did not come into play until the single desk for oats was gone. At the University of Saskatchewan, we need to go outside to see the research people. We see all these field-size research farms. Companies have located in Saskatoon and do all this research work on canola.
I have a good friend, Dr. Fowler, who is a very well-established renowned plant breeder. He has been in front of the agriculture committee numerous times. He expressed his frustrations in being a plant breeder when he developed new varieties of winter wheat for Canadian farmers and then was told by the CWB “no”. However, he then used that variety in North Dakota and Montana and it would be the number one variety in the United States and our farmers would not have access to it. Yet, we paid for that research.
In closing, there are some other people we need to honour. The late Art Walde was a farmer who just wanted choice and freedom. It is too bad he is not here because today he would be celebrating that freedom of choice. I think of the 12 farmers who were handcuffed and went to jail. They are celebrating today. I think of Jim Chatenay who used to get kicked out of board meetings because he just wanted to present other options to the board. He is celebrating. I think about how they threatened his family and threatened to take away his farm because he offered them an option of something different or that he opposed the way they handled things with farmers. I think that part of this is for Jim.
Finally, this is great legislation. I encourage the opposition members to actually understand what is going on here. If they understood, they would not be opposing this legislation. In fact, they would get behind it and they would realize just how great this will be for Canadian farmers and western Canadian farmers.