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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

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

There was not a question in that, Mr. Speaker, but I would like to ask a question back to the hon. member.

What does he not understand about 62%? We hear Conservatives saying that they know this farmer or that farmer who is opposed to the Wheat Board and they are basing their entire strategy of gutting the Wheat Board on a few friends who do not like it. Sixty-two percent, and that includes farmers in his riding as well, of farmers said that they wanted to keep the Wheat board. It is a simple message. It is something that any Conservative MP should understand. Sixty-two percent of western farmers want to keep single desk marketing.

Why will those members not listen to the needs and desires of western Canadian farmers?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

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.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, the member for Calgary Centre said that he does not trust the Wheat Board plebiscite. His arguments are based on some testimonies, his personal experience as a farmer, and a great deal of speculation about the future of farmers.

My question is very simple: is my colleague prepared to support a valid and neutral consultation? Would he be open to an objective study of the situation and the consequences of dismantling the board? If not, why not?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question and I will be sincere in my answer. I will try not to politicize it.

There was a consultation; it is called a general election. In my riding, 70% of the farmers, outside the city, voted for me. This is one of the things that they wanted to see done. In fact, last week, I was back in my riding, I did some passport clinics. I had maybe one out of 500 farmers who came up to me and said he did not necessarily like the changes. That is only one out of 500.

When we start talking about the second part, it is always an issue when looking at moving forward. Our farmers are telling us we need to move forward quickly. They cannot afford the single desk much longer. That is why they are insisting we move forward as quickly as we can.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Saskatchewan for his remarks, for the incredible knowledge that he brings as a farmer from Saskatchewan to this file, and for the excellent work that he has done on the agriculture committee.

When the chair of the Canadian Wheat Board came to Ottawa and bought the NDP caucus breakfast, it was reported that he requested that it delay the passage of the bill so that it would have a negative impact on the markets. Would the member be willing to share his thoughts on this?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar has been a great member. She was elected at the same time as I was, and her knowledge on agriculture issues is greatly improving. I know she does a great job representing her farmers.

I always get a little concerned when I see CWB directors spending more time in Ottawa than they do out selling our grain. They have another year to fulfill their contracts. They have until 2012 to actually finish selling this year's crop. I am concerned that they are spending all that time trying to disrupt the marketplace instead of making the transition so that farmers will reach the benefit of the grains that are grown.

As far as the existing board of directors, and Mr. Oberg himself, they are going to do what they are going to do, I guess, but the reality is they have quit working for farmers and are more concerned with keeping their own jobs. That is what is going on.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Prince Albert, who expressed his opinion very clearly, with a lot of confidence and what appears to be a lot of certainty, why the government did not hold the plebiscite?

The plebiscite is in the legislation that created the Canadian Wheat Board. What prevented the government from holding the plebiscite that should have been held under the existing legislation? Was it fear of losing the plebiscite or was it that, from the outset, the government did not want to take the results into account? Action cannot be taken on such an important matter based on feelings and people's comments. If the government is questioning the quality of the consultation, it should organize a consultation that it deems to be valid and then it will get its answer.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

First, Mr. Speaker, I am representing the farmers' point of view, not my point of view. I am confident in what I say because the farmers have been fairly clear on what they want to see happen here in Ottawa.

The other thing I would point out is that our farmers are not waiting for the opposition to get educated on this file. They want us to move forward. They do not feel that they should have to wait for opposition members who do not represent them in that area to get up to speed, nor should they have to pay for them to get up to speed. If opposition members were to take some advice outside the Canadian Wheat Board, I do not think they would be taking the position they are taking. Every time they defend the CWB, my numbers go up another 2% in my riding.

There are two plebiscites. There was a plebiscite on May 2 that elected a Conservative majority and which actually put Conservative members in all of that area. There will be another plebiscite four years from now when farmers will be able to review the job we have done.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, my colleague gave an excellent speech. He talked about freedom and how it came about that farmers were forced into collectivism and a government monopoly. They were forced to do something and many of them had no choice.

We are talking about freedom. I have heard about the fearmongering and misrepresentation. He mentioned that many farmers in his riding actually support a strong voluntary wheat board. What does he think it is in the ideology of the Liberal Party and its comrades in the NDP that they will not support freedom of choice and a strong voluntary wheat board? What does he think it is in their ideology that would stop them from supporting choice?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I am not sure if it is ideology or just lack of knowledge on the issue. It could be one or the other.

I also want to point out that under the Liberal government the Canadian Wheat Board was put in place and a lot of participants in the backrooms of the Liberal Party have benefited from the Canadian Wheat Board being in place. Maybe that is the reason behind it. We can look at David Herle. It seems that as grain was shipped to the east coast, there was somebody tied to the Liberal Party with his or her hand out, whether it was Canada Steamship Lines or someone else. That might explain why the Liberals are really concerned about this file, because they actually have no representation in the Prairies.

As far as the New Democrats are concerned, it is strictly ideology. They really cannot understand that in a free market the economy grows and people move back to the provinces. I come from Saskatchewan. Four years ago there was a Saskatchewan Party government and the province's towns were worried about how to pay for infrastructure because everybody was leaving. Now they are worried about paying for infrastructure because everybody is coming back. They need more commercial lots and more residences. That is the difference between socialism and letting the market do what it should do.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether the hon. member is confident or arrogant but a person has to be careful when he is busy looking up instead of watching where he is going that he does not trip and fall. I find it rather odd and do not understand why Canada Steamship Lines is being brought into this. As a member from Quebec and a native of Joliette, I am able to speak on behalf of all Canadians as well. The hon. member should not say that we are unable to understand the issues and the situation elsewhere, regardless of where we come from. It is not a monopoly. If he is in favour of choice, we can talk about it. Given his arrogance and manner of speaking, I am concerned that he is trying to move to the next step, which is supply management. Here, I am thinking of the dairy farmers in my riding. Is the hon. member trying to tell me that he is against supply management?

He is against supply management. Is that what he is saying?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are back to the fear and smear campaign of the Liberal Party. They are trying to concern their farmers who are not going to be affected by this legislation. There is nothing in this legislation that talks about supply management. There is nothing that talks about dairy, eggs or poultry, absolutely nothing. We have spoken with representatives of those industries and they understand what is going on. Representatives of those industries are talking to farmers and they understand why farmers want choice. We do not see them jumping up and down on this file.

When we talk about arrogance, arrogance is when a minister puts farmers in jail and looks the other way. Arrogance is telling a farmer that he cannot own the crop he grows. Arrogance is telling a farmer who looks across the border to Montana and sees all of his buddies prospering that he cannot have that same prosperity just because the Liberal government said so. That is the arrogance of the Liberal government of the past. That is the arrogance of the CWB, and it is why it has to change.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be in this full House once again speaking on this topic. I wish to say that it gives me pleasure, but it does not give me pleasure.

It is tragic to see that it has come to this. Ever since my election in 2006, I have a witnessed a systematic smear campaign by the Conservative government to discredit the Canadian Wheat Board. It is a campaign based on ideology and not market sense or democratic principles.

We have seen gag orders put in place prohibiting the CWB from outlining its position, the firing of the former CEO for speaking out in support of the CWB single desk, and most recently, a flagrant violation of democracy by not respecting the recent plebiscite where farmers voted to keep the CWB as it is.

In Minnedosa, Manitoba, during the last election campaign, the minister was quoted as saying that his party respects the vote of farmers who support the single desk. He suggested there would not be any attempt to dismantle CWB unless a majority of producers voted for it. I quote:

Until farmers make this change, I am not prepared to work arbitrarily. They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.

Two days ago a number of us stood in this House to denounce the flagrant violation of democratic principles by the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. It is tragic and somehow ironic that these same Conservative MPs who spoke out for democratic rights in Ukraine are now ignoring their own minister's comments made in Minnedosa.

We have heard in the House almost daily how the last election was somehow a mandate to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board. Let us not forget there are many issues that people look at prior to casting their ballot. We know, for example, although I do not agree with it, that the gun registry was decisive in swinging votes in western Canada. It is important to remember, however, that farmers only represent 2% of the population spread over 57 western ridings.

If a federal election were called today with the only issue being the dismantling of the Wheat Board, Canadians, including the farming community, would ensure that this so-called mandate would not win. It is because the Conservatives have won a majority in this House they are moving forward with their ill-guided plan to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.

As stated by Bill Gehl of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance:

...claiming the Conservative Party has a mandate from farmers to change the Canadian Wheat Board is ridiculous and I think most urban voters agree that farmers should decide this issue, not Ottawa.

We often hear the government draw a parallel between Ontario farmers and western Canadian grain producers. The two situations are completely different. Anyone who attempts to say they are the same is simply ignoring the facts.

Ontario farmers decided for themselves on changes to their marketing system and not the federal government which made the decision. They chose the open market. Quebec farmers, on the other hand, have chosen to market their wheat collectively.

The other point is the impact on Canada and on prairie farmers from changes to the CWB is much greater than the impact of changes to the Ontario system. Most of Ontario's wheat, about 90%, is sold within Canada or in the northern U.S.A. Most of the prairie wheat, roughly 68%, is exported.

A number of western farmers believe that more U.S. markets would somehow magically open up to them as a result of the loss of the single desk. However, they forget that the U.S. agriculture industry is extremely protectionist. We have seen that in the past. This is especially true now under their buy American philosophy. It is therefore very unlikely that the U.S. would take additional Canadian wheat unless the price of the wheat was reduced to the point that it could replace their domestically grown wheat, allowing the U.S.A. to export even more.

The fact is the Canadian Wheat Board currently seeks high-end markets for high-quality milling wheat and durum in over 70 countries, and does not have to pursue markets by reducing its prices. I might add that this obviously gives a premium to Canadian farmers.

The other important point to mention when comparing Ontario and western Canada is the fact that transportation is a less important factor in Ontario. Most Ontario farmers can get their crop to market for $15 a tonne in freight costs due to the close proximity of flour mills and Great Lakes terminals. On the Prairies, the volume produced along with the distance between farms, country elevators, inland terminals, domestic markets and ports make transportation costs significant.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a strong advocate for fair transportation rates and provides a countervailing force to the railway's power. It is very probable that railway costs will increase for farmers once the CWB is gone.

Let us not make the mistake of deluding ourselves that the Wheat Board will survive in a dual market system. Currently it provides stability and certainty for farmers in what I would say are volatile world markets. Once it no longer has a mandate, farmers will be free to choose when and if they wish to deal through the Wheat Board. This will tend to bring prices down because the Wheat Board will have lost its authority among its trading partners. Let us not forget that a powerful organization with a monopoly can dictate prices in the world and obtain the highest premium for our farmers. Farmers will eventually end up on the losing end.

In regard to the movement of grain in western Canada, without the Wheat Board's ability to organize deliveries, it is likely that farmers close to inland terminals and those with large trucking capacity will plug the system at harvest time. The strongest will survive while others will be left behind. In other words, it will be the survival of the fittest.

What will be the consequences of eliminating the single-desk system? First, we will see decreased revenues for farmers. Now, the Canadian Wheat Board obtains lucrative premiums for farmers in the Prairies, which means that the Canadian Wheat Board takes a highly strategic approach to where and when it sells during the year. The result is that, every year, the board enables farmers to earn several million dollars more than they would in a free market. But we are headed towards the free market now.

The Canadian Wheat Board does not have any capital assets. Once it is dismantled, it will need to acquire a considerable amount of capital assets if it wants even the slightest chance of surviving in a free market. Who will pay for that? Plus, there will be very high costs associated with dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board.

Current activities will have to cease. All of the related costs will have to be paid so that no potential new entity ends up with that burden. Since the government is the one that chose to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board and not the farmers, the farmers should not end up on the hook for these expenses.

And then there is the city of Winnipeg. The Canadian Wheat Board employs over 400 people at its headquarters and helps maintain over 2,000 jobs, for a total of over $66 million in labour income in Winnipeg. At the provincial level, the Canadian Wheat Board's contribution to gross production is estimated at $320 million, which represents over 3,000 jobs and labour income of over $140 million. What will happen to the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba, to the people who are working now and are part of this system? Will they lose their jobs? Will they be able to find another job somewhere else? What we see here is uncertainty.

What we are seeing here is what I would call “economic madness”. A successful organization or a farmer-run corporation that puts money into the pockets of farmers and contributes millions of dollars to the economy of our nation is being dismantled to satisfy the demand of a small number of farmers who think they will be able to survive in a ruthless world market.

In all probability some will survive, but what about the rest? What will happen to the majority who have relied on the stability and protection of the Wheat Board in difficult economic times?

The debate is ongoing and history will be the judge.

I have before me a letter written to the Prime Minister, dated May 6, shortly after the election, by Mr. John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which is an extremely powerful business lobby group representing 150 of the most powerful corporations in our country.

I will quote from page 3 of the letter, which states:

As a demonstration of Canada’s strong commitment to trade liberalization, we endorse your plan to reform the marketing practices of the Canadian Wheat Board.

[...]

Consistent with that, we believe the time is right to phase out the national supply management systems for eggs, dairy products and poultry, which penalize consumers and have seriously damaged our country’s reputation as a champion of open markets--

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is directing our Prime Minister to get rid of the Wheat Board and supply management.

People laugh at this and say that there is no way that could be happening because they are supporting supply management. The question we must ask ourselves is not if but when will the Conservatives be phasing out supply management now that they have successfully destroyed the Canadian Wheat Board.

I ask my colleagues on the other side to answer that question. I submit it will be in the not too distant future. There is tremendous pressure from the WTO, our trading partners and the European Union for Canada to decrease or eliminate its tariffs on supply management commodities.

Our country is currently negotiating, although in secret, a free trade agreement with the European Union, the CETA. Last night, at a presentation hosted by the Council of Canadians and CUPE, we were told in no uncertain terms by an expert from France who has been studying the situation in Europe that in addition to pushing for unlimited access to service contracts at the provincial and municipal levels, and I am sure that includes Prince Albert and the surrounding communities, Europe is demanding access to our natural resources. Obviously agriculture is on the table.

What would stop our negotiators from increasing the tariff-free quota from the current 7.5% to 10% and decreasing the over-quota tariffs to satisfy European demands?

Technically, we would still have supply management. However, we have been told by the dairy producers that should that happen each Canadian dairy farmer stands to lose approximately $70,000.

This is a scary situation given the fact that the government's mantra has been and continues to be to open up as many markets as possible without evaluating the potential negative effect on our own producers. It would dismantle and do away with the single desk of the Wheat Board without evaluating potential economic consequences. It would sign an agreement with Europe without evaluating the impact that would have on our municipalities, on obtaining pharmaceuticals, on our water rights and on our agricultural producers.

Today we have witnessed a move by the Conservatives to limit debate on this very important issue.

In today's press release, the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance states:

Even more ominous are rumours the Harper administration intends to avoid Agriculture Committee hearings and fast track this bill through the unusual use of a Legislative Committee hearing process.

It goes on to state:

This is inappropriate because it will restrict Parliament’s right to examine this Legislation and to hear from those most affected: the farmers of western Canada....

People around the world know it is simply wrong for a government to remove hard-won democratic rights from its citizens. Cancelling democracy for western Canadian farmers to end our Wheat Board is a bullying tactic of the worst sort. We are asking for the help of all Canadians to oppose this attack on farmers and the democratic process--

In a letter to the minister, the chair of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board communicated that the Wheat Board had put considerable effort into analyzing what a redefined Canadian Wheat Board would require for any prospect of success. The conclusion it reached was that no alternative could be identified that comes anywhere close to offering farmers the benefits provided by the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk system.

Therefore, if there is no analysis and we are unsure of what the future holds, it begs the question as to why this is happening and why it has not been put to a democratic vote.

There we have it. The government has not performed an economic analysis. It has shown a flagrant disregard for democracy. As well, it is dictating its ideological agenda after having received only 40% of the vote in the last election.

Mention has been made that members on this side of the House are basing their arguments on ideology. Our arguments are based on practical considerations, such as potential economic impacts, impacts to the communities and the City of Winnipeg, impacts on the short line railway systems, and impacts on the port of Churchill. None of these has been identified in any economic analysis that I have seen unless they are hidden in an office somewhere.

This is a sad state for democracy. What is happening here makes absolutely no sense. Surely the minister could get together with the members of the board of directors of the Wheat Board, most of whom are elected and most of whom support the status quo, to attempt to work out some kind of system that is not based on ideology.

The Canadian Wheat Board serves farmers in western Canada to market their wheat, durum and barley. Under the Canadian Wheat Board Act, the organization has an official mandate to bring in the highest possible receipts for farmers from the sale of grain, by effectively profiting from being a single-desk seller.

The Canadian Wheat Board sells farmers' grain in 70 countries. It hands over all of the profits from the sale to farmers, between $4 billion and $7 billion a year.

If we look at the proposed scenario, there are tremendous costs involved in this process of dismantling, changing and modifying the Wheat Board. Who will pay the hundreds of millions of dollars required to transform the organization presently in place? The Wheat Board was financed by farmers and has given profits back to farmers. Will the taxpayer pay for its transformation? Will farmers see increased costs? Will donations be forthcoming from some benevolent society to ensure that no money is lost? These are questions we must ask ourselves.

As I said earlier, history will be the judge of this very sad day in Parliament.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I enjoy working with the member on the agriculture committee. Even though we have differing ideologies, I know he has a passion in his heart for agriculture and wears his ideology on his sleeve. Unfortunately, that ideology will cost farmers a lot of money.

For example, the price for milling durum wheat today in Fortuna, North Dakota, which is roughly 20 miles from the Canadian border, is $12.47. Today the Canadian Wheat Board's fixed price is $7.53 and the pool outlook is $9.47. The Wheat Board is asking $16.23 for that farmer to buy back that durum wheat and ship it across to the U.S.

There is a huge difference between the pool outlook and the buyback. Where does that money go?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have heard the arguments that the price is different across the board than it is for farmers. However, that is in the current market. Will the market remain static? What would happen if we tried to sell our wheat across the border when the market was saturated? If we consider the buy America policy of the U.S., it would be ludicrous to think that our farmers could tap into that market on a volume basis.

Any money made by the Wheat Board goes back to farmers. It does not make economic sense to do what the Conservatives are attempting to do.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert questioned the ideology of the member speaking. It is better that the member speaking wear that ideology on his sleeve than have it spread all across Bill C-18 the way it is now by the government.

The Alliance Grain Traders announced last week that it will invest $50 million to build a pasta plant in Saskatchewan. Could the member speculate as to why it would do that? Could he comment as to whether the AGT expects the price of grain to go up, go down or stay the same?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his tireless efforts on behalf of farmers in this country. It has been a pleasure to work with him over the last few years on the agriculture committee. I look forward to a continuing collaboration with him and others in his party on these important issues.

It is an interesting coincidence that announcement was made now that this legislation is coming in. There have been more value-added benefits taking place in western Canada than south of the border. There is more milling taking place in western Canada than south of border. The value-added chain is being supported.

Obviously the Alliance Grain Traders would invest money there because it intends on making money. It begs the question though why it would do that during an economic downturn and not two years ago when the economic situation was better. The fact of the matter is it was unaware that the Wheat Board would be dismantled.

By dismantling the Wheat Board, the price of wheat would go down and companies would build milling plants because they would not have to pay premium prices. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member from British Columbia Southern Interior because I know how passionate he is about agriculture and farmers. I would like to ask him what effect this bill would have on Canada's food and economic sovereignty and all of the related possibilities.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question and her participation in the debate. Our food and economic sovereignty is being threatened now more than ever before. By whom? By huge transnational, multinational corporations. Obviously, dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board would be a good thing for them. It is to their advantage to not have such strong competition from the Canadian Wheat Board, which represents Canadian wheat growers and exporters.

I think it is clear that we will see more transnational corporations coming to this country and more blackmail. Or they will simply say: this is the price, you can agree to it or go elsewhere. All of these so-called free trade agreements—really just pressure from multinationals—threaten our sovereignty, particularly our food sovereignty. The policy here is to open more markets to free trade. That adds nothing to our ability to grow and produce food for ourselves. Yes, I believe it threatens our sovereignty.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and I are both on the agriculture committee. I will use Chicken Little as an agriculture metaphor.

We see other crops like canola, pulses, et cetera, on the open competitive market in the world. Why has the sky not fallen for them?

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting comparison. The fact is that prior to the markets opening up for other crops, there has not been a single desk entity negotiating good prices for, in this case, wheat farmers.

The market is already established. I hear the same argument on GMOs, which is that if a canola GMO is successful, why would we not introduce any more GMOs?

Those producers have done it. They have carved out their market. However, when they did that, the situation was different. It is a tougher time now. It is going to be a tougher time for wheat growers to carve out that market and to have the representation to get those markets on the international level.

It is now 2011. It is throwing people open to a ruthless market and to competitors who heavily subsidize their agriculture, such as the European Union, the United States and others. It is going to take a long time to stabilize that. In the meantime, wheat farmers are going to take a hit. It is as simple as that.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct the record. A while ago I mentioned Bill Gehl was the chair of the Canadian Wheat Board, but in my haste I had forgotten to indicate “Alliance” at the end. I am very well aware that Allen Oberg is the chair of the Canadian Wheat Board. Again, I want to mention that Mr. Gehl had indicated that the Port of Churchill is going to be toast, in contrast to what the minister explained a while ago.

The Conservatives have been arguing that the Ontario experience with removing the single desk can be applied to western farmers. Maybe my colleague could explain why we cannot compare apples to oranges when it comes to the Canadian Wheat Board and the Ontario experience.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, there are a number of points.

First, Ontario farmers decided on the marketing system themselves. They decided that experience. Western wheat production is 10 times that of eastern Canada. It has a different transportation system. It only costs $15 a tonne in Ontario to move wheat to the Great Lakes or just across the border, but there is a tremendous cost in western Canada.

The Ontario wheat business is completely different from what it is in western Canada. Ontario produces soft wheat used for pastry, cookies, doughnuts, et cetera. Most of Ontario's wheat is sold within Canada. U.S.-Canada trade in wheat is relatively low. Transportation, as I said, is a less important factor in Ontario.

Ontario farmers actually pay more handling fees now than they did under the single desk, which is quite interesting. If we transport this to the argument we have now, with transportation fees already high for western Canadian farmers, what are they going to pay when they lose the single desk?

As well, wheat is cleared from the Ontario system quickly, whereas it often takes a long time to store and move grain in western Canada.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to let you know I will be sharing my time with the member for Red Deer.

Our government has introduced legislation that aims to give western Canadian grain growers the freedom to choose to market their wheat, durum and barley independently or by voluntary pool.

I am proud to stand in support of our government's intention to bring marketing freedom to western Canadian grain farmers. With marketing freedom, farmers in British Columbia and across the Prairies will be able to make marketing decisions that are best for their own businesses. They will have the opportunity to take advantage of special markets.

As Virginia Labbie from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said, “The message from farmers is that the CWB is not currently meeting producers'...needs. It is evident growers need more consistent, timely, accessible and transparent marketing signals in order to make the best possible marketing decisions for their farm”.

When western Canadian farmers have the freedom of an open market, they will not have to wait for an outside agency to tell them, up to a year and a half after the sale of their grain, the final price of the sale. Western Canadian grain farmers want the same marketing freedom and opportunities as other farmers in Canada and around the world.

The creation and additional use of futures contracts will allow producers to manage their own individual risk. British Columbia ports are the main end of the pipeline for our grains prior to export. B.C. processors could see the opportunity to have direct, regular access prior to leaving our shores to pick and choose from the very best of the produce for the creation of high-end, high-value special products.

We know that an open market will attract investment, create jobs and help build a stronger economy for Canada and Canadians. We know farmers want to make their marketing decisions based on what is best for their own businesses. That is why we have brought this legislation to remove the single desk monopoly, and not the Wheat Board, as the opposition continues to say as it misleads the public.

The removal of a monopoly will allow farmers to sell their wheat and barley directly to a processor, whether it be a pasta manufacturer, a flour mill or another processing plant.

As Alberta farmer Paul Schoorlemmer said:

It will allow individual farmers to do secondary processing, mixed marketing and those types of things that were not really practical under the old system.

Grain farmers in western Canada and right across this country have a bright future, and we stand with them. Our government is committed to the continued success of Canadian agriculture. We are pulling out all the stops to help make sure Canadian farmers succeed and to build a strong future for the sector as a whole.

Farmers are the key economic driver in this country, and that is why we put farmers first in every decision we make on agriculture. Our formula is simple, and it works: we listen to our farmers, we work with farmers, and then we deliver the practical results farmers need.

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 in our efforts to build trade relations, and they are paying off.

The agriculture minister 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 Canada's safe, high-quality foodstuffs. Together we have been moving a lot of product and have delivered some real results for our farmers and processors.

The government knows farmers want to make their living in the marketplace. That is why we have gotten out on the world stage, whether it is serving up Canadian steak at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver or canola oil in Mexico, to make sure our farmers can connect with new customers.

Canada has a lot to be proud of. Canada is rich in land and resources. We have the expertise in science and innovation. We export our high-quality, safe, delicious foods all over the world. We have dedicated farmers and processors to help us continue our long-standing proven tradition of delivering an abundance of top-quality food and food products to the world. These qualities are important assets as we look to the future.

Farmers appreciate the agriculture minister's hard work on their behalf. They understand that agricultural trade is critical to Canada's economy and prosperity.

Overall, Canada's agriculture, food and seafood exports surpassed $39 billion in 2010. That is the second-highest level in history, and it puts us in the top five global agrifood exporters.

That is huge. Those dollars mean jobs and livelihoods for Canadians. That is why, when we as a government take measures to support agricultural trade, we are not just helping farmers but all Canadians. Agriculture has proven time and time again its contribution to Canada's economic recovery and will continue to do so, especially as we succeed in breaking down barriers to trade.

Canada is working on all fronts to boost our agricultural business in 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 agriculture products. Opening and expanding markets around the world creates opportunities for our producers to drive the Canadian economy.

There are challenges facing the industry, but the long-term signs are positive. During this time of global economic uncertainty, we have to maximize trade opportunities on the world stage. We have to provide every opportunity for our farmers to succeed, which includes this geat step forward--and it is forward--to give western Canadian wheat farmers and barley farmers the freedom they have asked for and deserve.

Removing the single desk monopoly helps not only farmers: it helps all Canadians by creating jobs and prosperity. I urge members to support the bill and to understand that timely passage will help give farmers the certainty they need to plan their business for the coming year.

Second readingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my hon. colleague's comments and I cannot help but wonder, if he has such confidence in the overall system, why the Conservatives did not have a full referendum vote on it, rather than playing the “we know better than everybody else”. This way there would not be this immense division, which continues to grow.

I have had more than a dozen phone calls this morning on this issue. It would have been helpful in the overall mission that the government is on if it had held a referendum and truly heard from 100% of the people who are going to be affected.

Why is the government afraid to do that?