Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in support of this important and timely legislation for western Canadian grain farmers.
I would also like to thank the member for Prince George—Peace River for sharing his time with me today.
Our government has always promised western Canadian wheat and barley growers that they would be given market freedom. With this legislation, we are delivering on that promise. We live in a democratic country and we believe that western Canadian grain farmers deserve the same freedom as farmers in other parts of Canada and around the world.
I will outline what this new legislation will mean for western grain farmers.
In the June 2011 Speech from the Throne, our government reiterated its commitment to ensure that western farmers have the freedom to sell wheat and barley on the open market. With this proposed legislation, we aim to provide marketing choice to western wheat and barley farmers. To avoid market disruptions, the goal is for farmers and grain marketers to be able to start forward contracting for the 2012-13 crop year well in advance of August 1, 2012.
This bill would remove the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board and allow for the Canadian Wheat Board to continue as a voluntary marketing organization for up to five years as it makes the transition to full private ownership.
The Canadian Wheat Board will finally have the opportunity to become owned and operated by farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board will continue to offer farmers the option of pooling their crops. It will continue to benefit from a borrowing guarantee backed by the federal government. It will develop a business plan for privatization, which will be reviewed by the Minister of Agriculture no later than 2016.
During our extensive consultations, industry raised a number of valid issues around transition. We are taking these concerns seriously.
First, on the issue of the voluntary Canadian Wheat Board's access to elevators, ports and terminals, we expect grain handlers will be competing vigorously for grain volume in an open market, so they will want to handle the grain that is marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board.
Curt Vossen, president of Richardson International Limited, said that 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”. This will mean more companies competing for farmers' grain, which is the good news for farmers. Our staged approach will provide the necessary checks and balances to help ensure a smooth transition, taking corrective action if needed.
Second, on the issue of producers' continued access to producer cars, the right to producer cars is protected in the Canada Grain Act. The Canadian Grain Commission allocates these cars to producers, and this will not change with marketing freedom.
Currently, the Canadian Wheat Board manages the marketing of grain shipped in producer cars so that shipments are related to a sale. Under the new rules, producers and short lines will be able to make commercial agreements and arrangements with grain companies or the voluntary Canadian Wheat Board to market their grain.
Stephen Vandervalk, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, believes “You'll see more and more producer cars because it's like a specialty crop as far as quality and contracting directly with the farmer. It has very little to do with the Canadian Wheat Board”.
Short line railways are expecting some adjustments as they will have more options of marketing partners for the grain volumes they can attract from producers. However, Sheldon Affleck, president of Big Sky Rail , believes that “The flexibility of a short line should provide improved service that will attract grain”.
Third, these changes will not change the Canadian Grain Commission's role in assuring the world-renowned quality of Canada's grain.