Mr. Speaker, I stand here today in some great irony. Today is the birthdate of Tommy Douglas. Tommy Douglas was a champion of much of what we call Canadian values today. He led Saskatchewan from some of its darkest days to some of its brightest days. He was somebody who fought for public medicare at the national level, somebody who created much of the Canadian identity that we have today.
But Tommy Douglas also did one more thing. He stood up for rural Canada. He stood up for the farmers whose communities had been impacted by the Great Depression. He stood up for the development of those communities and those regions. He stood up for their voices.
Today, so many years later, on the day of his birthday, we are entering into a historic debate. We have all been plunged into this debate by the Conservative government's ideological agenda to oppose farmers' voices, to oppose the messages we have heard from farmers in farming communities and rural communities in western Canada, the very part of the country that Tommy Douglas came from.
The loss of the Wheat Board is a loss for all of us across this country. Today's debate also amplifies the fact that the government's agenda is not just about the dismantling of the Wheat Board, but about the silencing of our voices.
Just some short weeks ago, the results of a plebiscite administered by the Canadian Wheat Board came out. That plebiscite showed that a majority of Canadian western farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta believe that the single desk ought to be maintained. The government not only ignored that plebiscite but is also ignoring section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states that farmers must have a say in any proposed plans to alter the operation of the Wheat Board.
Today is a dark day, given that we are not just hearing about the government's plan to dismantle a successful institution that has supported the livelihoods of so many farmers and so many rural communities across western Canada, but that once again the government is not allowing westerners to have their voices heard through our Canadian democracy.
Today I also stand as the member of Parliament for Churchill. I stand here proud to represent the community of Churchill. It is an important part of our Canadian economy and also a critical part of our movement forward.
As the only deepwater Arctic seaport, Churchill holds a bright future for the kind of development we could see in northern Canada. Yes, there was an announcement in terms of investment, but many of us know that much of that announcement is both highly speculative and extremely short term. While Churchill and the north welcome investment, more than anything we would welcome the assurance that we can work with institutions that have successfully worked with us to provide a livelihood to the people in our communities.
The Canadian Wheat Board is the only agricultural shipper to the Port of Churchill. Wheat Board shipments account for 95% of the cargo that goes through Churchill. The Port of Churchill is the closest port to many Canadian farmers in the west, and as a result, it saves farmers millions of dollars in shipping. The port depends on farmers as much as farmers depend on the port.
While the government announced adjustment funding for the Port of Churchill, it is speculative. A cost-benefit analysis has not been done as the government has pursued its steadfast approach, its ideological approach, to dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board. The government's actions do not make sense for Churchill. They do not make sense for Manitoba or western Canada.
What will the Port of Churchill do when this adjustment funding runs out and big agri ships to their own terminals in the east and the west to maximize the revenue? What will happen to the port, a port that some have referred to as a jewel of the north, a port that is a critical link in the endless development that we could see in northern Canada, further north than we are?
All in all, the implications of dismantling the single desk are profound. Despite a clear message from western farmers to keep the Wheat Board, the government continues to display arrogance in failing to listen to the voices of farmers. The National Farmers Union president, Terry Boehm, said that the plebiscite's message was crystal clear. Perhaps the government has trouble interpreting these numbers. The facts are that out of the roughly 38,000 votes that came in, almost 23,000, or 62% of farmers, agreed with the statement “I wish to maintain the ability to market all wheat through the Canadian Wheat Board single desk system”.
That is crystal clear. Farmers voted in the plebiscite to say that they want the Government of Canada to stand up for the single desk.
Alberta farmer Ken Larsen, from Benalto, Alberta, a supporter of the Canadian Wheat Board and a full-time farmer, said of the vote “that farmers voting is such high numbers is a strong message in itself”, given what he called “an ongoing campaign of misinformation and bullying”.
The government has no mandate to go against the wishes of prairie farmers and to meddle in this system. The Wheat Board is controlled, operated and funded by farmers for farmers.
The Wheat Board offers a number of advantages to wheat farmers. The first is price pooling, which insulates farmers from abrupt shifts in price and passes returns back to these farmers.
Producer car loading sites are an important piece of this puzzle. The car loading sites that the Wheat Board includes as part of its system save the farmers money, but if the single desk goes, so will the producer car loading sites. These producer cars mean farmers can bypass grain companies' elevators and save themselves $1,000 to $1,500 per car that is shipped. The producer cars are branch lines and short-line railroads. What will happen to them and to the communities along these rail lines?
To connect to the reality of Churchill, as the Port of Churchill is threatened, so is the Bay line that connects Gillam, Ilford, War Lake, Thicket Portage, Pikwitonei, Thompson, Wabowden, The Pas. These are communities all across Manitoba. Some have an agricultural connection, but some depend on the rail line that makes its money from the kind of cargo that the Wheat Board has shipped to the Port of Churchill.
Dismantling the Wheat Board is a slap in the face for western farmers, to their jobs and to their economy. During tough economic times and when prices fall, farmers will be left without any marketing agency to provide them with free risk management and market power.
The government's actions are an attack on the family farm that has supported the Canadian economy for decades. Mark Sandilands, of Lethbridge, put it well when he said, “Farms will have to grow bigger; there'll be fewer small and medium farming operations, and the loss of small rural communities, with their schools, hospitals, community centres and other services. One could drive through rural Canada and find virtually no inhabitants”.
I stand here today not just as the MP for Churchill but as a proud member of the NDP team that has a history of standing up for prairie people and a history of standing up for the voices of people who want to have a say in what they produce, in the future of their communities and in the well-being of our country.
Today on October 20, I ask that we all think of Tommy Douglas, our greatest Canadian, a great leader who stood up for the very ideas that we are fighting for today.
Let the farmers vote. Let western Canadians hear. Let us save the Canadian Wheat Board.