Mr. Speaker, I just came from something that relates to what I want to talk about, and that is trade and having the freedom to change my businesses. Indeed, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this debate. I am proud that our government introduced the marketing freedom for grain farmers act in the House last week. I am particularly pleased that we have the opportunity to correct those misleading assumptions and predictions some people have been making, that providing marketing choice for wheat and barley producers in western Canada would somehow alter our system of supply management in my home province of Ontario.
Our government supports marketing choice for western wheat and barley growers, and it is entirely a separate issue from that of supply management. Those who try to link the two, providing marketing choice for western grain producers and our government's commitment to support Canada's supply management, are simply making mischief, but more so, they just do not understand it. There is no link.
Producers in the five supply managed industries, dairy, chicken, turkey, eggs and also the broiler hatching eggs, worked long and hard to establish these systems. There was clear support, and that is the important part, in all cases for the implementation of a supply management system before the provincial government and the federal government established and brought it in.
Quite honestly, I remember well that I had not taken over and purchased the farm yet in 1965, when supply management came in. The then minister of agriculture for the Province of Ontario, and I might add, the best agriculture minister that the Ontario has ever had, William A. Stewart, brought in supply management. In 1970, I had the opportunity to start to purchase the family farm.
Supply management was one of the main reasons I understood and was able to continue on, going into the dairy industry. Also at the same time, it was an opportunity for me as a young individual just graduating from college, when I started to buy the farm, to start to purchase land and grow grains and oil seeds. I have had the opportunity of being in both systems, which actually give freedom for marketing in Ontario.
The vast majority, if not all, of the producers who now participate in the supply management system support it. On the other side, the Canadian Wheat Board has a regionally shared governance administration. If farmers grow wheat and barley in western Canada and actually want to sell it for export for food use, then they have to sell it through the Wheat Board. Or the other option is to go to jail.
I do not understand the people on the other side always wanting to give farmers the responsibility to grow the crops, spend the money on the input, make the decision to grow them, but then actually saying they do not have the ability to market it. Quite honestly, it is amazing. They do not mind sending farmers to jail for the long gun registry or for selling wheat, but they do not want to give them the opportunity for marketing.
Far from being universally supported, as is the case of supply management, a large number of these producers involved just want an option. Farmers want an alternative to the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly. We are going to continue to work to give them just that.
Farmers should be in the driver's seat when it comes to making their own business decisions. They make the investments and they build their business, all through hard work and knowledge. They take all the risks. Should they not also have the right to decide how and to whom they market their products? Absolutely, they should.
Whether people are barbers, plumbers, financial advisors, hardware store owners or car dealers, as Canadian business owners, they have the opportunity to make the decisions. They choose to make those decisions, as do the eastern farmers, like myself and my fellow farmers in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Ontario. Why would we not give the western farmers the opportunity to do the same?
The Government of Canada is working hard to give the wheat and barley producers the marketing freedom they deserve. Farmers want the ability to add value to their crops and capture more profits beyond the farm gate. They deserve to have the opportunity to get the best possible return for their product.
Farmers are already making business decisions for commodities such as canola, pulse crops, cattle and even vegetables and a number of other farm products. Farmers know how the open market works. It is amazing to me that we would burden the farmers with all the expense of putting a crop in but the opposition does not want to give them the opportunity, and do not think they have the knowledge, to market it. Quite honestly, that is an insult to the farmers of western Canada.
Our vision for the Canadian Wheat Board is as a strong, voluntary and viable wheat board that farmers can use if they so choose.
Let me talk a little about supply management because, quite honestly, that is what this is all about.
At the same time, the government continues to support supply management at home and on the international stage. The Conservative Party of Canada is the only party that actually talked about the support for and the need to stand behind supply management in the last election.
The third party, the Liberals, had been in power for 20 years. Oh sorry, maybe it was 13; it just seemed like an eternity. They always just talked about it, but actually never did anything about it. As the Minister of Agriculture said at the Dairy Farmers of Canada annual meeting in February, our record on supply management speaks for itself. I cannot say enough about the support that the farmers have for our Canadian agriculture minister as he deals with both supply management and the freedom of marketing across Canada and the vision and goals that he has in mind to keep this incredible industry strong and sustainable.
What have we done on supply management? We have actually acted under article 28 of the GATT agreement to limit the import of milk protein concentrates. We harmonized the compositional cheese standards to bring greater certainty to processors and also to consumers. Canadians know that cheese is made out of milk, and we have made sure that Canadian families know what kind of cheese they are getting when they go to the grocery store.
The government is working also to continue to make sure that the WTO special agriculture safeguards are available if they are needed in the future. Finally, the government is also continuing to defend the interests that are important to supply managed industries in the international trade negotiations.
Clearly, supply management is an issue of paramount importance to all Canadians. Why? It is because supply management creates jobs and prosperity for Canadians. It creates prosperity in our urban areas and for thousands of well-kept dairy and poultry farms from coast to coast, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Supply management provides livelihoods, not only for tens of thousands of Canadian farmers and their farm families, but also for their suppliers, transporters, and everyone right up the value chain from the gate to the plate. It is an economic engine not only in rural Canada but clearly in urban Canada also.
Why would anyone want to tamper with the supply management when it has been so successful and brought so many benefits to consumers, producers and others in the industry right across the value chain? It makes absolutely no sense, and that is our point.
I would suggest that because there has never been any action on the other side of the floor, and in fact during the election they never saw the need or the importance of supply management, that actually they are the ones who are continually pushing to maybe do something about supply management in terms of its dissolution.
The Conservative Party of Canada, the members on this side, are the only ones who not only say we support it, but we will put boots to the ground and put action in place when we are asked and see the need to do so.
On the other hand, grain growers have told us for years that they want the opportunity to make their own business decisions. It is not the case with supply management, where producers have strongly supported their marketing systems and have thanked the government for firmly supporting them.
A long-standing and continuing support for supply management and our commitment to increased options for western grain producers reflects this government's commitment to giving farmers what they need to run their businesses effectively.
We recognize that providing marketing freedom is a major change in agriculture in western Canada. That is why we have consulted extensively. We have gone across the country to talk about the supply chain, from farm to seaport.
Over the summer, a working group comprising experts in the field has done just that, finding out how we market the grain and about the transportation systems and how we can transition the current CWB-run system to an open market that includes the voluntary marketing pools. The working group is one of many ways the government is seeking advice on how we move forward.
The marketing freedom for grain farmers act is part of our commitment to move forward with the programs and processes that are most beneficial to farmers, not just to them but to the entire industry.
We came to office with a set of principles and issues that we promised Canadians we would tackle. We have remained focused and determined to accomplish the things we were told were important to them. One of the issues was providing marketing freedom for western barley and wheat producers. That is why we introduced the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers act.
The Canadian Wheat Board and some members across the way have fought change because they want the status quo. Apparently in their view, farmers just do not know how or do not have the ability to market their grain.
As was mentioned earlier, farmers take all the risks: when to plant, when to harvest, what to put on it, how to grow it, when to market it when they produce it. That is unless they grow barley and wheat in western Canada. It does not make sense.
Where does the idea come from? Oddly enough, it does not come from history. Let us go back a little bit. The Canadian Wheat Board was established in 1935. That is 76 years ago. It was originally established as a voluntary marketing agency for prairie wheat, but the sale of wheat through the board became compulsory in 1943.
In 1949, the Canadian Wheat Board's powers were extended to include prairie oats and barley. From 1949 to 1975, about 25 years, the board was the single desk for western oats, barley and wheat, whether it was for human consumption or for animal consumption. But with changes to the feed grain policy in 1974 and 1976, exclusive marketing rights over prairie grain fed to animals in Canada were removed by the board. Interestingly, the sky did not fall. These changes took effect and in fact the use of grain cereals for livestock has grown significantly since then.
Next, oats were removed from the board's jurisdiction in 1989. Again, it is amazing that the sky did not fall, but what actually happened was that a thriving oats processing sector has since developed in western Canada.
What started out as a monopoly has been evolving over 37 years, until what we are left with is a single desk for barley and wheat for export and domestic human consumption, those two only.
Farmers quickly adapted to the changes that were made, and the Canadian Wheat Board was not missed. What made sense during World War II just does not make sense in the 21st century.
Wheat and barley growers recognize, and so does this government, that the Canadian brewery industries have lost confidence in the ability of the Canadian Wheat Board to reliably supply the malt and barley they need to be competitive in the dynamic international malt and beer markets. Therefore, moving into the 21st century involves looking at the Wheat Board in a totally different way. It means putting on a new set of lenses and looking at what is going to be good not only for farmers but for the industry.
We recognize that this is a major change for agriculture in western Canada. That is why we have been consulting extensively with stakeholders from across the supply chain, from the farm to the seaport. Over the summer, a working group comprised of experts in the field heard a broad range of advice on how the grain marketing and transportation systems could transition from the current Wheat Board-run system to an open market that includes voluntary marketing pools.
I want to be very clear about this. This is not about the abolition of the Canadian Wheat Board. It is about giving farmers the choice of free marketing on their own or using the Canadian Wheat Board, something that opposition parties do not want to seem to comprehend would actually give them choice. They just talk about getting rid of the Wheat Board. The working group is one of many ways that the government is seeking advice on how to move forward.
The government is intent on making tangible progress in reducing the long-standing interference in farmers' business on the Prairies by the Canadian Wheat Board, which has taken the reins away from individual grain farmers when it comes to their very own businesses.
We need the monopoly Canadian Wheat Board, quite honestly, as a monopoly so that it can get out of the way and let farmers conduct their business. We know there are a number of farmers who will want to use it, as they do in Ontario because the wheat board still exists under the Grain Farmers of Ontario, for example. That is why members of the House need to support giving marketing freedom to grain farmers.
By the way, this has nothing to do with supply management, but our government has the same passion for the protection of supply management as we do for the support of the marketing freedom for grain farmers.