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House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of our party's opposition motion on the Canadian Wheat Board. I am pleased to split my time with my colleague, the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

I am very happy to hear there may be some movement on the other side in that members are asking for a plebiscite, which is at the heart of the opposition day motion.

Our motion, as so eloquently introduced by the member for Churchill, calls on the government to set aside its legislation abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board and to conduct a full and free vote by all current members of the Canadian Wheat Board to determine their wishes. My speech today will speak directly to this motion, which is a direct reaction to Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts. I support our motion not only because I believe that maintaining the Canadian Wheat Board is important for Canadians, but I also feel Bill C-18 undermines Canadian democracy and is another example of how the Conservatives are using their majority power in an irresponsible manner.

There are two critical aspects of Canadian democracy. One of them is with regard to outcomes and the other is with regard to process. With respect to outcomes, those who often judge the health of a democracy examine the extent to which the preferences of minority groups are respected when elected governments make decisions. In terms of process, the extent to which a democracy can be considered healthy rests on the extent to which governments include citizens in both electoral and non-electoral decision making. Our motion speaks to how Bill C-18 undermines Canadian democracy with regard to both outcomes and process, and I hope all members of the House will support it.

Before discussing how Bill C-18 undermines both the outcome and process of democracy, it is worth stepping back to look at the institution which we support with our motion.

The Canadian Wheat Board is the prairie farmers' marketing organization for wheat, durum and barley. It is the largest and most successful grain marketing company in the world. It is a very impressive institution, proud to be called Canadian and recognized around the world.

The Canadian Wheat Board's roots date back to the 1920s when western farmers began pooling their grain in order to obtain better prices. It was a collective effort supported right across the country. In 1943 the single desk was created, mandating all prairie farmers to market their wheat through the Canadian Wheat Board. The single desk structure provided financial stability, prudent risk management and certainty of grain supply, all important during the war years but also after the war ended.

The Canadian Wheat Board is controlled, directed and funded by farmers. It is not a government organization; it is a farmers organization. The Canadian Wheat Board sells all around the world and arranges for transportation from thousands of farms to customers in 70 countries. About 21 million tonnes of wheat and barley are marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board every year.

Eighty per cent of the wheat grown in western Canada each year is exported overseas. It is not only an important Canadian institution but it is an important organization worldwide. Overseas exports are the Canadian Wheat Board's core business, but it also supplies Canadian millers and maltsters. The Canadian Wheat Board does not set grain prices, which again is an important component of the Canadian Wheat Board, but prices are established by global supply and demand factors. However, its size and market power are used to help maximize grain prices.

The benefit to farmers is clear in the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board and its practice. It helps farmers worldwide. It helps Canadian farmers, but it still operates within the confines of the market. The prices are established by global supply and demand. However, it provides farmers certainty.

The Canadian Wheat Board does not buy wheat and barley from farmers. Instead, it acts as their marketing agent. There is such a big fuss for an institution that is really a marketing agent. We hear the other side talk about monopolies and trampling on minority rights. It is a marketing board that is doing good work for farmers and, in fact, allowing them to survive.

The Canadian Wheat Board negotiates international sales and passes the return back to farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board retains no earnings aside from what is needed to cover the costs and financial risk management.

The Canadian Wheat Board supports its marketing program through a variety of other activities, including market development, strategy, research and analysis, and policy advocacy. Again, this is an organization that is built by farmers, helping farmers to get the best prices possible but still operating within the market. There is nothing insidious here. It only helps. In fact, it is the only way in which a number of small farms survive.

The Canadian Wheat Board also administers assistance for grain delivery and farmer payments, including innovative pricing programs that help producers manage cash flow and risk.

I did not grow up on the Prairies; I grew up in rural Nova Scotia where I was surrounded by farms. Lots of farms cannot make it, especially small farms. They collapse because the risk is so great. The Canadian Wheat Board helps these small farms survive. If we abolish it, these small farms will undoubtedly collapse.

The Canadian Wheat Board mitigates risk for farmers, including when and if they will get paid on time, whether they are willing to sell their grain to the right buyer on the right day and how to get the grain to the buyer.

It is not a government agency or crown corporation. It is not funded by taxpayers. Farmers pay for its operation from their grain revenue. Again, it is not a government agency nor a crown corporation. Here again is an example of an arrogant majority government interfering in an organization that is operated outside the confines of government.

I will return to my two main points about outcomes and process being ways that we can evaluate the health of our Canadian democracy.

In terms of outcomes, Bill C-18 proposes to dismantle the farmer-controlled and funded Canadian Wheat Board by eliminating the single desk marketing of wheat and barley.

It establishes a voluntary Canadian wheat board, but no one here believes that this effort is genuine. It is just because the government is afraid to say it is going to abolish the whole thing. It wants to make it seem like it is in steps. The voluntary aspect of the Canadian Wheat Board is merely a way for the government to say it is not completely abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board in one fell swoop.

The Canadian Wheat Board is good for Canada and it is also good for small farmers. This is what we would evaluate in terms of outcomes. If the government manages to pass Bill C-18, how many small farmers will be left in five years? I think that is the important thing to measure.

We need to look at whether the majority government is running roughshod over the will of local farmers. In five years when we look at this and we see all these family farms that have collapsed, we will have to ask if this was the right thing to do.

Our opposition day motion states that we should let farmers have a voice as is mandated in the act. That is what I will speak to here in terms of process.

Probably the most egregious part of Bill C-18 is the process by which the government is attempting to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board. It is worth looking at the Canadian Wheat Board Act to see what the process is supposed to be and then contrast it with what the government is actually doing.

Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act states:

The Minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill that would exclude any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley, or wheat or barley produced in any area in Canada, from the provisions of Part IV, either in whole or in part, or generally, or for any period, or that would extend the application--

There are lots of subsections and lots of things the minister has to pay attention to. The government cannot introduce any changes without consulting with the Wheat Board.

Second and most important:

(b) the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension, the voting process having been determined by the Minister.

What this section outlines is there has to be a plebiscite. This is enshrined in law. In fact the Conservatives themselves used this under a former government.

This is an act by which the government will be judged. It is going to destroy local farms. In five years we are going to see a lot fewer family farms on the Prairies.

The government is showing Canadians how it approaches democracy in this country. Even though it is mandated to have a plebiscite, the government ignores this requirement. This goes against the traditions of the Conservative Party itself.

The Reform Party and the Alliance Party that make up the Conservative Party fought in this House to increase Canadian democracy. I applaud them for that. In fact, Randy White brought in private members' bills to bring in a recall initiative. This goes against that tradition. I am very upset about that and I think Canadians will be, too.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, in regard to the member's point on the clear question, I point to the platform promises. The NDP was clear in the election campaign that it would support the Canadian Wheat Board as a single desk marketer for Canadian wheat and barley. The Conservative Party platform in the entire paragraph under the Canadian Wheat Board said that we will continue to work with western Canadian grain farmers to ensure that the results of the barley plebiscite are respected and that they are given the freedom to choose whether to sell grain on the open market or through the Canadian Wheat Board.

That was the complete promise in the election platform of the Conservative Party. That is exactly what we are doing now. Based on that promise and the clarity of that promise, and based on the overwhelming support in western Canada for the Conservative Party which won 51 of the 56 seats in the prairie provinces, why does the member not support democracy? While he is on his feet maybe he could tell us how many farmers in Burnaby—Douglas are affected by the Canadian Wheat Board.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, 32,000 farmers participated in an ad hoc plebiscite which the Canadian Wheat Board hosted. Almost 23,000 voted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board. This shows at the very least that the government should respect the Canadian Wheat Board Act and hold a plebiscite. Today one of the member's colleagues supported that notion and I would hope he would too.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, we have trends in farming that worry many of the producers in my constituency. Since 1988, Canada's farm debt has tripled. We lost 80,000 farms and saw a dramatic drop in the number of young farmers. My colleague spoke about that a few minutes ago.

Farmers tell me these phenomena are the product of an agricultural policy that only values the big corporate interests and lacks appropriate incentives to help young people see the family farm as a viable way of life. They ask me, why is the government siding with big agriculture to the detriment of the family farm? Could my colleague speak again to that element of this debate which he spoke to eloquently a while ago?

I want to commend him for filling the shoes of the previous NDP member for Burnaby—Douglas. He is doing a great job.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her kind words.

We have heard there are 70,000 western farmers currently, but I wonder how many there will be in five years. I wonder if in five years the Conservatives will say that this was a mistake. When the number of farms goes from 70,000 to 60,000 to 50,000 down to 20,000 or 10,000 and they are giant agribusiness companies which are owned outside Canada, I wonder if the Conservatives will say that this was a mistake.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas for his speech.

Bill C-18, as proposed by the government, should be scrapped, simply because it jeopardizes the financial stability of western wheat farmers and of all families associated with the sector.

Can the member tell us what the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board will mean for farmers?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, it is similar to losing any business. I think that many families on the Prairies are going to be devastated by the bill and the rather rash action by the government. All the time we hear the Conservatives talk about a strong and stable majority government. I do not understand why the Conservatives are afraid of abiding by the act and having a plebiscite.

Farmers should have a say in this. We will see fewer and fewer farmers if the bill is passed.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in favour of our motion today.

This is an opportunity for the Conservative government to restore faith with the Canadian public and save an institution that has served farmers so well. Although it is seen as a success story around the world, the Canadian Wheat Board is being attacked by Conservatives with an ideologically driven agenda that favours wealthy middlemen at the expense of Canadian farmers.

The Canadian Wheat Board helps to ensure that farmers can sell their grain to the right buyer and that it can be transported effectively to that buyer. We live in a big country and a co-operative approach to accessing markets is a hallmark of our Canadian experience. Now is the time for us to once again commit ourselves to that co-operative approach and uphold our values in the face of corporate greed. In Canada, co-operation has allowed this country to survive and our co-operative approach is not only demonstrated by the wish of our farmers, it is also, frankly, sound economics.

Allen Oberg, a farmer and Canadian Wheat Board chair of the board of directors, stated recently that dismantling the Wheat Board single desk will “jeopardize a $5 billion export sector. It will shift money from the pockets of Canadian farmers into the hands of American corporations”.

Enriching foreign corporations at the expense of our farmers does not seem like good, sound economic management to me. It sounds like the Conservative government is deliberately risking the impoverishment of our farmers in order to benefit foreign corporations that do not need our help.

Results of a recent Canadian Wheat Board ad hoc plebiscite indicated that 62% of farmers voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat. The majority voted to retain it for barley also. With over 38,000 farmers participating, this plebiscite is clearly indicative of the popular vote.

As a gesture of good faith, before any changes are made to the Canadian Wheat Board, the government should study the impact that dismantling the single desk would have on our farmers and economy. The Conservative government should stop its single-minded approach and hear the objections of our farmers and their families. Farm families deserve the government's support far more than a bunch of wealthy agri-business middlemen.

However, the Conservative government seems to lack the will to reflect on its actions. Single-mindedness has led to a complete lack of openness to hearing the other points of view. It certainly has no intention of allowing debate to slow the Conservative express train's transfer of our grain to big city corporate interests.

For example, we had only been debating the bill on eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board single desk for a single day when the government decided to invoke closure and stifle debate. This has to be some sort of a record. The Conservatives are prepared to stifle debate and silence opposition, but to what end? These Conservative Party members used to tell us that they would do things differently and would encourage healthy debate. They seem to have changed their tune.

I will repeat what I said in this House only a few days ago. On March 31, 2004, the leader of the Conservative Party, then in opposition, stated, “The government invoked closure in the House after only six days”.

The leader of the Conservative Party was clearly incensed that a government would be so callous as to invoke closure after only six days of debate that he was willing to call the governing party on it. I completely agree, but the Prime Minister should heed his own advice and reopen the debate on this undemocratic move.

What is the point in forcing an end to debate when the fundamental issue of farmers' rights to decide for themselves has clearly not been heard? The Conservative government seems to have a tin ear when it comes to regional needs. What was its slogan in the last election?

“Our region in power.” It seems to me that the real region in power, at least in the eyes of the Conservative government, is the one between the minister and the boards of multinationals.

The Conservatives seem focused on attacking our regions and everything that affects the families of small and medium-sized producers. In my riding, fishers are the biggest producers of food products. Yet, the government has eliminated the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, which was created in partnership with our fishers. This council was created in 1993, after the cod moratorium was announced, in order to determine exactly what the situation was with fish stocks. Each year, the council took a stock inventory, and fishing quotas were based on that data. It was a wonderful example of co-operation between the government and fishers. It was an independent body that generated reliable data. It was because of this partnership with fishers that the council was so successful at helping us manage a crucial resource for eastern Canada's fishers. The council has a proven track record, yet the government shut it down without any warning.

If we do not support the single desk system that is the Canadian Wheat Board, small producers, fishers and fish plant workers, as well as western farmers and their families, will be the ones who suffer the consequences.

The effect that this will have on grain farmers is not our only concern. We must also think about the spinoffs generated by the Canadian Wheat Board. One example of many is access to railway services. The construction of the railway to Churchill, Manitoba, was completed in 1929. Today, the Canadian Wheat Board is by far the largest user of the Port of Churchill, with its shipments accounting for 95% of the port's cargo. Grain is transported by railway in producer cars at an affordable price.

Without a single desk system, it is doubtful that the Wheat Board's competitors will want to use the Port of Churchill as much as the board does since they have their own port facilities on the west coast and in Thunder Bay. The Port of Churchill does not interest them. We believe that they will even want to favour their own facilities elsewhere. The Port of Churchill and the railway will be at risk if we do not protect the single desk system.

The railway in my riding is also at risk. Most of the forestry companies have shut down, and we find ourselves with a railway whose only reliable customers are passengers. Given the privatization of our railway by CN, like the privatization of the railway leading to Churchill in favour of Omnitrax, the railway must be profitable to be attractive to private companies.

We are not questioning the fact that the main routes must be profitable. They are subsidized without too many questions being asked but, to date, it does not seem as though this government is terribly concerned about the railways.

The people in my riding have been reflecting on our railway. Similarly, the people of northern Manitoba should consider how viable their railway will be if the Canadian Wheat Board single desk system is not supported.

The Wheat Board has a much greater role than simply managing the transportation and sale of grain. The Wheat Board supports the economy and infrastructure of a number of communities.

Canada's northern infrastructure is at risk. Our northern railways and the Port of Churchill have taken years to develop and communities have been built around them. Yet, the Conservative government is telling people who depend upon them and their largest client to just go and let the port shove off.

Removing the single desk will risk lower grain prices for producers, which means that farmers will suffer. Farmers may leave the industry. The lower prices will certainly not be passed on to consumers. No. Experience tells us that middlemen, the large corporate agri-business interests, will profit from lower prices and they will not pass on their savings.

The Conservative members are so fixated on their ideologically-driven agenda, they have become deaf to the voices of the farmers, the very people they claim to be helping. Clearly, it is not the needs of the farmers that are being addressed here. It is the desire of large foreign-owned corporations to have cheap access to our grain. It does not need to be this way.

In taking away farmers' rights without real debate, the Conservative government has proven that it has become too self-righteous for its own good. Against such opposition, how can the Conservatives remain deaf to the needs of farmers? We need a plebiscite, the law requires it, and it is only right.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am sensing a pattern here. All day long we are going to hear NDP member after NDP member from non-prairie provinces stand up and make arguments as to why prairie farmers should be forced to sell their grain through the Canadian Wheat Board.

There is some kind of vague talk of democracy over there, but the reality is that during the election campaign this Conservative government made a clear promise and that promise was that we would work to ensure that western Canadian grain farmers “are given the freedom to choose whether to sell grain on the open market or through the Canadian Wheat Board”. We hear NDP member after NDP member asserting that they understand that this is an important issue to western Canadian farmers.

Given the facts that we made a clear promise and that the issue is important to western Canadian farmers, I would ask why NDP members do not respect the results of the election? If we look at, for example, the margin of victory in the rural ridings in Manitoba we will see: Provencher, 70.56% Conservative; Brandon—Souris, 63.77% Conservative; Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, 63% Conservative; Selkirk—Interlake, 65% Conservative; and Portage—Lisgar, 76% Conservative.

Why does the NDP not respect the results of the last election?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, we certainly do want to respect the results of the last election. It is clear that the government has the right to introduce bills. However, the government should also respect the rights of democracy in Canada and allow those bills to be debated in a timely fashion.

Over 38,000 farmers participated in an ad hoc plebiscite. Well over a majority spoke and made their intentions clear. They want to save the single desk. The Conservative government's proposal in Bill C-18 is right off the mark and the government needs to listen to the farmers who it claims to so well represent. The government needs to bring those farmers' ideas forward and it needs to protect farmers' rights to continue to farm on their family farms.

Bill C-18 would not help farmers whatsoever. It would challenge farmers' families in the future. We expect that people will have to leave their family farms if we allow Bill C-18 to pass. It is not a democratic move. It is--

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I would like to give the member more time, but I am sure there are other hon. members who may have questions.

The hon. member for Algoma--Manitoulin--Kapuskasing.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I received an email a while back from a farmer from Manitoulin Island, Ross Joyce of Spring Bay. He wants to transition his farm to certified organic and is concerned that GMO canola has started to grow on his land. He is worried about his operation and also about the impending battle he might have with Monsanto.

He wrote, “Monsanto has the rights to their technology and achieving financial compensation if those rights are infringed upon”. He is seeking similar rights. He is basically saying that if its technology shows up in areas where it is not supposed to, similarly, if its technology infringes on his income, then he should have the right to compensation.

He is looking for a reciprocal law if big agriculture can take action against a farmer to protect its interests he feels he should have the same protection available to him. To me, this is just another example of how the deck has been stacked against the family farm, and how our agricultural policy is fully and completely on the big side of agriculture companies.

I am wondering if the hon. member would agree with that.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly true that the challenge of family farms in this country is massive. We need to support them in any way, shape or form we can.

Agri-business already has a leg up. It does not need more support from the government. We need to have policies that are clearly designed to help the people of this country weather the storms that are ahead of them and give them all the tools that they need. That means supporting the single desk.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I generally do not thank opposition parties for all they do, but I have to thank them for continuing to bring the debate on the Canadian Wheat Board to the floor of the House of Commons. This is an issue which is fairly dear to my heart and as I get into my speech everyone will understand why. It is also an issue I am very familiar with.

Before I get into my speech, I need to say a couple of things.

I need to thank the translators who are going to translate my speech. I have a habit of not handing in proper speaking notes and therefore I am a bit more of a challenge for them than most members.

I also want to thank the Prime Minister. Many people have noted he has a particular passion on this issue, and yet he is not from a rural background. To use a term that is used back home, he is a city boy. However, he understands that this is a fundamental issue. It is an issue about freedom and one that goes to the essence and core of who people are in western Canada and the Prairies. I want to extend a special thanks to the Prime Minister, much more than the general thanks members often give to their party leaders. For someone who has represented Calgary in the House of Commons and who originally comes from Etobicoke, he has taken true leadership on this issue.

As I was saying when I began my speech, this is an issue which I understand personally. It is an issue that relates to the history of my family. I come from a prairie riding. The constituency of Saskatoon—Humboldt is now one-third rural and about two-thirds urban, representing the city of Saskatoon, but it is still very deeply tied to the agriculture industry. It is very much about the people I represent, but it is so much more than that for me because this is the story of my family and how they came to Canada.

On my mother's side, my great-grandpa first settled in what was then the Northwest Territories, coming from Manitoba to take up a homestead in the year 1900 in the Hague district of Saskatchewan. That was a time when people looked forward to the great opportunities the Prairies offered. It was before Saskatchewan was a province. Canada was still in its early formation. He settled there because it was about having his own property and freedom. He was born in the Ukraine, Russia and came to a place where he could actually make his own living.

On my father's side of the family tree, my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my dad also farmed in the eastern section of Saskatchewan. I farmed with my dad for a short time. They originally came from Yevpatoriya, Russia via Germany to settle in that area. Coincidentally, and this is interesting, one of the first pieces of land they bought had been owned by Charles Dunning, who later became the premier of Saskatchewan. I guess I am not the first farmer who did not succeed in farming and went into politics. There is a bit of a history.

That is the story. They began to farm, not as opposition members have talked about as big or grand farmers. My dad, my Uncle Ronnie and Uncle Bernie never were big farmers. They were small farmers. My great-grandfather and grandfather were very much the poorest of the poor farmers having come from a prisoner-of-war misplaced persons camp in Germany after the first world war. This is their story. This is a story of prairie people.

Many people from eastern and northern Europe who came to Canada never had the right or ability to own their own land, to own what was theirs. It was either collectivized in later years by the communist socialist governments of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union or by the more futile enterprises of the Austro-Hungarian czarist empire. It was very important to people to own their own land and control their own produce in order to make a living and a future for themselves.

Other provinces were created on the Prairies, but my family farms in the province of Saskatchewan. Farmers began to work together to increase their ability to market their grain to get a better livelihood for themselves.

Although my hon. colleagues across the way have noted the various co-operatives, the pools and various things like that, they failed to mention the institutions like UGG, United Grain Growers, the various pools, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Alberta Wheat Pool and Manitoba Pool Elevators. These were voluntary institutions. The various agrarian and farm organizations got together voluntarily to pool their efforts. That history is often forgotten when we talk about the Canadian Wheat Board.

The legislation the government is proposing, which the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food introduced and the Conservative members of the House are supporting, is not a bill to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board. It is a bill to eliminate the monopoly provisions contained in the act so that farmers will have the freedom to market their own grain and to return the Wheat Board to a more voluntary institution.

As time goes on, we will see what that voluntary institution is. It possibly will be another co-operative, a re-creation in the same spirit of UGG and the wheat pools from which the original Wheat Board itself was created. We are not quite sure at this point, but it is a possibility.

It needs to be remembered that when the original Wheat Board was created and modified in various forms it did not originally have these monopoly provisions. The Wheat Board began to acquire its monopoly provisions in the 1940s and its ability to control the price of grains, and currently it is for wheat, malt and barley, but it included other commodities during World War II. Corn, sunflower and various other crops come to mind. In 1941 the government of the day gave the Canadian Wheat Board the ability to cap prices and to control the prices. The monopoly provision came to be during the second world war. In 1943, the War Measures Act made selling through the Canadian Wheat Board compulsory.

Members of the House need to understand the co-operative nature of original prairie agrarian institutions, the wheat pools, the UGGs, the original Wheat Board, was very different from the monopoly provisions that were brought in in the 1940s. Those monopoly provisions were put in under the War Measures Act to assist in the Canadian war effort during World War II. They were not put in for the good of farmers.

As the war ended and the provisions in the act came up for review every five years, they would be renewed by the House until 1965, when they were made permanent.

The crops and various other aspects of the Wheat Board have changed over the years. Oats were removed from the purview of the Wheat Board, as were some of the other crops that I mentioned earlier. Since Charlie Mayer , a former minister responsible for the Wheat Board removed oats from it, we have seen how that market has succeeded and grown in western Canada.

Something that needs to be fundamentally understood and grasped is that originally, the Canadian Wheat Board was not a monopoly organization. It was not compulsory. That is fundamentally what we are trying for today.

To bring some present day reality to this debate, I phoned one of my relatives who is still farming, my cousin Dwight in the Yorkton area, and talked with him about the value of it. He was pretty matter of fact. Like a lot of younger farmers, he has moved on from wheat being the dominant crop for making his living. He has gone to canola and flax. Dwight has always been more inventive and a lot more active on various things than either my dad or his dad was. I asked him about grain prices, because I am not as in touch with grain prices as I was when I hauled grain for my dad a few years ago. He said it cost him about $1.50 a bushel right now for losses between what he could market his grain for to the Ontario and Minneapolis markets as to what he would be getting from the Wheat Board. That does not sound like a whole lot, but when the overall price is in the neighbourhood of $6 or $7 a bushel, getting an extra $1.50 means quite a lot.

When they look at the final profit margin, this is very important. That is the economic argument many farmers have been making.

It is not purely the economic argument I am making today in the House. There are broader issues for my family members and for constituents to be more prosperous. There is a broader fundamental issue that needs to be addressed which actually extends it beyond the farmers and agriculture industry to all Canadians.

Most Canadians, myself among them, understand that parties are not perfect ideological or philosophical creatures. However, they do fall into general broad categories.

The opposition New Democratic Party likes to call itself a social democratic party for the particular brand of socialism that it espouses. If we listen to its members' underlying rhetoric, they tend to talk a lot about fairness, which is often a fairly subjective criterion. However, it tends to be in their discourse and that of their supporters.

As with all socialist movements, they tend to be concerned not so much about the creation of wealth but the redistribution of it. They view that the role of the government, an entity set up by the state, is to level the playing field with respect to economic fairness and redistribution. That is why a monopolistic single desk Canadian Wheat Board that would send people to jail for selling their own wheat in their own way fits so clearly with their political philosophy. It is something that meshes with the purpose of the state not being to protect any basic rights but being to collectivize, to spread out and to redistribute wealth.

Parties that tend to be more attuned to free enterprise and at least espouse that, understandably not always perfectly, tend toward the more classical liberal tradition of parliamentary discourse. They believe that the whole purpose of the state is to protect life, liberty and property. We see this in our government's approach to how we are dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board.

People who grew up on a family farm understand very clearly that farming is not just another business. It is not a trade that someone goes into. My dad and my grandpa started farming with their dads. I was driving a tractor, doing summer fallow and hauling grain well before I was legally able to drive vehicles on the bigger roadways. That was part of who I was. When I was six or seven years old, I remember working with my father on the farm. While I might not have been all that helpful, from my perspective it was a total part of my life.

For farmers, this is a fundamental element of who they are as individuals. It is about their liberty. It is about their property. We need to understand that many of the eastern and northern European farmers settled in western Canada because they wanted to have that very bit of property they had been denied. To them it meant freedom. Yet in the Canadian Wheat Board we see this contradiction that the government can effectively collectivize and take away their property, their wheat. They grew their wheat. They produced their wheat. Why can they not market their wheat? If they want to voluntarily join with another group in a co-operative, as was done with the UGG, the wheat pools, the original wheat board, that should be their choice.

That is the fundamental issue we come to. That is why our party, with that broad perception of life, liberty and property, is very interested in defending the rights of farmers to protect their right to market.

There are a couple of issues which my hon. colleagues across the aisle have dealt with. Their main talking point today seems to be the Wheat Board survey that showed a majority of respondents supporting a single desk. I would like to note a couple of things for people who are not familiar with this.

Most people who are engaged in politics know it is much easier to win a vote if the electoral pool can be defined, the question can be chosen and no one campaigns against them. That is effectively what happened with the Wheat Board survey.

On the barley question, a mere 51% said “yes”, which, considering how the vote was done, is effectively an admission of full defeat, because the question was, “Do you want to abolish the Wheat Board or do you want to keep the Wheat Board?”

That is not the question the government is offering in this legislation. It is asking farmers whether they want to keep a Wheat Board through which they can work together with other farmers on a voluntary basis or whether they want the freedom to do what they want with their own personal property. We are taking away the punishment of imprisonment and fines for farmers selling their own wheat.

The second thing I want to deal with is the argument on the other side that this is all about big business, big farms and eliminating the small producer.

My dad was a very small producer. He did other things to make ends meet. He worked as a janitor, did church work and even taught for a few years, because he has his education degree from the University of Saskatchewan. All my uncles who farmed were small farmers too. They all chafed under the oppression of the Wheat Board. They never had that freedom or ability to do it.

As younger farmers, people like my cousin Dwight, grew up, they began to deal with the Wheat Board in a very practical way. They began to grow other crops and look for ways to get around it.

It is not about defending the rights of the large corporations. When we look at what is done there, large corporations did not have to get out there and deal competitively for farmers' wheat, but companies actually have to get out there and create incentives for farmers to grow the other crops they want the farmers to grow. This is something that is not always understood. Maltsters dealing only with malting barley only ever had to deal with the Wheat Board. Companies never had to go out there and give farmers incentives for dealing with them rather than a competitor, because they knew the Wheat Board would offer one basic price and one basic deal to all the brewers of Canada.

We see this in western Canada. There is not one grain company that dominates. We have Viterra, descendant of the wheat pools; we have Parrish and Heimbecker; we have Great Northern Grain Terminals, and we have Pioneer. These companies have flourished over the years; now it is time for these companies to actually compete and go after farmers' wheat.

Some members of the opposition have been stating that with the loss of the Wheat Board there would be major negative effects on the railway system, on the transportation system and on producer cars. I would like to state clearly that producers would continue to have access to producer cars, to elevators and to ports and terminals. It is important to know that these producer cars would continue to be allocated by the Canadian Grain Commission and access to them would continue to be protected by the Canadian Grain Act. Short-line railways and in-land terminals, noted in one of the earlier speeches, would continue to play an important role in getting western Canadian wheat and barley to both domestic and international bards. The Canadian Grain Commission would also continue to protect the quality of Canadian wheat and barley. These things would not go away. We would continue to have short-line railways, producer cars, the Canadian Grain Commission and other aspects of the Canadian grain system that we have come to know.

The one and only thing we would remove in this legislation is the monopoly provisions. This is something that I support because it is about fundamental freedom and because at the end of the day it would improve the farmers' bottom line. It would force grain companies to compete for their wheat. It would provide for more innovation and more diversity. It would support the growth of value added, which would also continue to add to the farmers' bottom line.

As a son, grandson and great-grandson of a small prairie farmer, I am very pleased today to support my Minister of Agriculture, my party and my Prime Minister in the removal of the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I stand to remind the hon. member that the principles of this country are not life, liberty and property, but peace, order and good government. I believe that the Canadian Wheat Board fits under the principles of that last element of the founding principles of our country, good government.

I appreciate that the member shared with us a story of his past and of his family. It adds a human touch to the laws that we debate in the House, but I would ask why his party chose to abort the debate somewhat early.

I would also remind him that we often take what we have for granted until it is gone. What was the motivation for the original co-operatives that were formed? Was it not to give farmers the powers to be competitive against strong private monopolies that existed at the turn of the century? These private monopolies that we are going to be exchanging for might have the effect of eroding prices and the market security of western farmers.

Could the member address those questions?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will start with my colleague's remark about good government. I think the Conservative Party and the NDP have very different perspectives on what good government is. Good government has been defined quite differently. Since I come from a family that tended to vote Social Credit, my definition of good government tended to be what E.C. Manning did in Alberta for many years, while I am sure the hon. member has more kind words to say about Premier Douglas of Saskatchewan.

The member's remarks about prairie co-operatives were very instructive, but that is the point that I was making. Farmers put themselves together voluntarily to do what they needed to do. My dad delivered to the wheat pool for many years, but he also delivered to Pioneer and to Parrish and Heimbecker as well. That was his voluntary choice. Both the private companies, Pioneer and P and H, gave him good service, as did the co-operative. Having all these players together in the grain system is what made his farming operation more successful and provided greater return for him and his neighbours.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the New Democrats at the transport committee yesterday thought that Saskatoon was a small Saskatchewan town. Not only did the member not understand what small-town rural Saskatchewan looks like, but those members clearly do not understand this issue from the perspective of the western farmer.

In Ontario we have marketing choice. I want to welcome my colleague and his constituents, who are on the verge now of entering that era of marketing choice. Could he talk about some of the restrictions that will now be gone for western farmers and the benefits they will enjoy like Ontario farmers?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is one thing that people outside the industry do not particularly understand. Farmers can go to prison for marketing their own wheat. When this legislation has passed, one of the benefits will be that farmers who live in southern Saskatchewan and produce durum, a type of wheat that is used predominantly for pasta, will be able to market their grain across the border into the United States. They will be able to sell it not at the depressed cheap prices that the Wheat Board would use to dump the grain, but at the highest possible market price.

Farmers will have the choice. They will have grain brokers and terminals in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. They can compete and have those people bidding for their grain. That is one tangible benefit. If any group of farmers has taken major financial hits over the years, it is the durum growers.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt for his speech. I learned a lot about his family and I know him a little better, which is very interesting.

According to the results of the plebiscite conducted by the Canadian Wheat Board, 62% of those who participated voted to maintain the board. If the board had not existed when the member's father was a small farmer, would his father have been able to succeed and would the member even have had the opportunity to come here to the House?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, that is the exact point I was making. One of the things that held back the prosperity of my father and my uncles and that was one of the reasons I decided not to go into the industry after farming a couple of years with my father was the lack of diversity that the Canadian Wheat Board caused.

Having to sell into the monopoly system of the Canadian Wheat Board held back processing of our grain into various flours and pastas in value-added plants on the Prairies. That diminished the return to farmers at the farm gate.

If we have to ship our product all the way overseas or to Ontario or to somewhere else--to wherever the Wheat Board has its contracts--and do not have local competitors able to buy directly from the farm gate, it is more difficult to make a living. It lowers the value of our crop and therefore lowers the value of our land and the ability for people like me to take over the farm from our parents.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a lot from across the floor about how this is going to be a disaster for the small farm and the farmers in western Canada.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague, who obviously has the background, why the opposition places so little faith in the ability of farmers in western Canada to compete and prosper. What is the member's view on farmers' ability to do just that?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I can only speculate as to the reasoning. Probably the number one reason is a lack of intimate familiarity with the issues and culture. While there are many good members across the way, they do not quite have the nuanced knowledge that is sometimes helpful when it comes to debates like this.

The other thing I will note is that unfortunately we are probably going to see the number of farmers dropping off as the years go on. That is because the demographics show that farmers are considerably older than the general workplace population.

Starting in roughly the mid-1980s and extending for about 20 years, agriculture prices in prairie commodities were very poor, with the exception of a few open market commodities like canola. That has caused younger farmers, such as I once was, to drop out of the industry, and the age of the agriculture producer to rise dramatically.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 25th, 2011 / 12:35 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt for allowing us to share some of his experiences with farm life. It is important to share that in this House for those who have not had the opportunity to have farm life.

I know that Saskatoon is indeed a city, and a substantial one. Since I actually represent a rural piece of southern Ontario with a lot of small communities, I understand that.

When we talk about marketing freedom, the other side talks in glowing terms about the upside. Perhaps the member could explain to us in real terms, because he has those experiences, that the market does not always go up. Every market, regardless of what it is for or whatever commodity it happens to be, goes up and goes down.

Perhaps the member could enlighten us on what he sees as the potential of the shortfalls we could see, similar to what happened in Australia. We see that premiums for Australian wheat growers under the Australian Wheat Board diminished from almost $99 to less than $27 below the American price per ton. They have actually taken a hit in an open market. They have not always gone forward in an open market.

It is said that markets are self-correcting, so there is not always an upward trajectory; there is indeed a downward portion. Perhaps the member could enlighten us on that aspect.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member gets directly to what I was stating in response to an earlier question.

For 20 years, most of the crops on the Prairies have not been financially successful for most farmers. The Canadian Wheat Board, over the last 20 years, when I would have been of an age to take over the farm from my father, did not protect farmers from the market. It did absolutely nothing. It just pooled the losses to make them lower. It made sure everyone lost money.

The government has taken ways to protect farmers from losses and to smooth out the market in its agri suite of programs, such as AgriStability, AgriRecovery, and programs like that.

All the Wheat Board did was smooth out all the losses. It did not protect, in any way, shape or form, farmers from the downside of the market in wheat, barley and other crops over the years.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate. I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.

This is a critical issue for farmers. I do not think we should make any mistake or have any illusions about this. Clearly, we are talking about the future of the farm family in western Canada. It is within our power to make a decision on their behalf as to the direction in which they ultimately go forward, whether it is under the single desk, as is presently the case, or under a market deregulation, as my friends on the other side have constantly talked about.

The one group that we seem to be missing in the middle of all this is the group that will be directly affected. Some of our colleagues will be directly affected because they are farmers on the Prairies and they grow grain. They will understand that impact as far as how they want to decide to move forward or to move in a different direction without the Wheat Board.

However, for all those folks who are farmers on the Prairies and who are not here, they deserve that we take the time to listen to them because, ultimately, it is their livelihoods and their farms that we are talking about. We are not doing it necessarily in a vacuum.

I know some friends and colleagues on the other side have farmers in their communities and in their ridings who are saying what direction they want us to go in. However, on the flip side of that coin, there are also farmers within their own ridings who are saying that they do not want to go in that direction.

How does one balance the competing interests between those farmers who are legitimately saying, and there is no question that they are, that they do not want to be a member of the Wheat Board any more?

I have heard the minister and others say it, and some have voted with their air sprayers, their air seeders. However, one can debate whether they decided to get out of wheat and go to canola or go to another crop based on the Wheat Board or based on the fact that, regardless, it was an open market and there might have been more money in canola anyway. It is not really a false argument. It just does not overlap and take into consideration everything that happens.

There is no doubt that the rotation of crops, new crops, how folks decide to do things and how they make the decision on the ground is their right. However, ultimately, why do we not engage them? Some will say that May 2 was our engagement process. The government has been fond of asking myself and my colleagues on a number of occasions what the member for Welland has in common with prairie wheat farmers, or what a member from Vancouver or a member from another large city has in common.

I would suggest to my friends on the other side that members from Calgary, Edmonton or any other major city would have a similar interest, like I, with Canadian wheat farmers. It is no different. Whether folks selected one particular party over another in a particular area was not specific to that question necessarily, as to how people voted because there were more than farmers voting.

It is a little spurious and a bit of a reach to suggest that the Conservatives have a mandate based on one question, on a large platform that talked about many things, that engaged all kinds of folks beyond just farmers but yet we can take the opportunity to ask them. What I would suggest to my friends is that we figure out what question we want to ask them. I have heard from the other side that they want a third option. We need to debate the question that we put to farmers in western Canada who are directly affected and ask them what they want.

In Ontario, my friend from Essex said that there is market freedom in Ontario because farmers decided that. He said that it was not a move by the federal government because it had no jurisdiction. The minister pointed out earlier that the federal government had no jurisdiction over Ontario farmers. The province did but it was the farmers who chose. The province did not tell them what they had to do in that jurisdiction. It allowed Ontario farmers to make a choice. They made a choice and went forward with that choice. It was their right to do so.

We on this side of the House are not standing in the way of western farmers. In fact, it is the opposite. We are standing with them in saying that the government should allow them to make the choice. Surely we all understand that it is the farmers' right to have the choice because at the end of the day it has a direct impact on them.

My colleague for Saskatoon—Humboldt talked earlier about his farming family, his great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncles who have farmed. He gave us that nuanced piece in order for us to understand what it is like. There is no question that there are grievances. Folks did go to jail and people did feel they were treated unfairly, which should never have happened to them. However, now that we know all of those things, there are ways to ensure we fix it and part of our responsibility is to find a way to do that.

We can only use the plebiscite because the government refuses to actually put a question to farmers. The plebiscite is not quite the only tool but it is one of the tools we have. We can see that 62% of farmers want to keep the single desk. We have a smaller group that did not vote, and we are assuming that it did not want to. However, if we assume that is the case, then we have a majority of folks saying one thing and a minority saying the other. How do we engage the majority of folks? We simply apply what the minority wants against the majority situation and say that it is democracy. It is strange that I do not remember learning that in political science class but maybe that is how it is supposed to work in the government's perspective. However, I always assumed that when we looked at a vote, we took democracy in hand and took the majority vote, but that is yet to be seen.

When we look at this democratic process, the amazing thing is that the Conservatives are using words like “tyranny” and “oppression”. Tyranny happened in Libya until we saw the end of Gadhafi. Tyranny and oppression happens in Iran. To suggest that there is something tyrannical or oppressive about the Canadian Wheat Board in the same sentence seems to be a bit of a dichotomy in how we use the language. “Unfair” may be a reasonable word to use about the Canadian Wheat Board for those who do not believe in the single desk. However, to escalate the language to “tyrannical” or “the tyranny of the Canadian Wheat Board”, my goodness, one would think, if that were the case, that people were actually being removed from their land, such as what happened in the Ukraine under Stalin. That is not happening.

What is happening is that folks are asking to be given a choice. We see folks on the Prairies who are clearly upset with the direction of the government. They are making their voices heard and are asking for the opportunity to vote. On this side of the House, we are saying that if the government conducts the vote, we will abide by the farmers' wishes. What could be more democratic than that?

Many of my friends on the other side came here at one point with the old Reform Party and actually used to say things like, “I'll ask my constituents”. In fact, they even went so far as to suggest that maybe the constituents should have a recall provision because that is democratic. I do not know what happened to their roots but they clearly lost them along the way in becoming Conservatives. They do not want to go back and talk to their constituents, the folks who are directly affected, the farmers who produce wheat on the Prairies of this country, and ask them directly what they want and then respect their wishes. On this side, we would do that.

We reach out to members on the other side and ask them to join us in the quest of finding out what farmers want so that we can respect their wishes one way or the other. It does not need to be what we are asking for. Indeed, it could be that the Conservatives are right, but let us find out. If they are right, then we will stop, but perhaps they are not. If that is the case, then they should respect the wishes of farmers, just as we would if they are right. That is how the democratic process works and that is what we fight for. It is why we ask the brave men and women of this country to go overseas, as the government has pointed out to us on numerous occasions, to help them protect themselves and eventually garner democracy.

I implore the government to simply allow western farmers to have that voice and allow them to vote on their future because it is their future.