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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

Ending the Long-gun Registry ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

October 25th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 115 will be answered today.

Question No. 115Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

With regard to the government's support of social partnerships, as outlined on page 132 of Budget 2011: (a) what actions will the government take to support social partnerships in Canada and to address local issues; (b) what federal departments and stakeholders will be engaged as part of the government’s development of plans to support social partnerships; (c) what private sector stakeholders will be consulted as part of the process; and (d) how much money has been allocated for the work of the Task Force on Social Finance from April 1, 2011 through April 1, 2014?

Question No. 115Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), the June 3, 2011, budget recognized that social partners, such as businesses and charities, are working together to develop innovative ways to address local challenges such as homelessness and persistent unemployment.

Recognizing that often the “best solutions to tackling these difficult problems are found locally”, the Government of Canada committed in this budget to “take steps to complement community efforts by encouraging the development of government/community partnerships, enabling communities to tackle local challenges and testing new approaches to improve performance”.

Moving forward, the Government of Canada is exploring these new approaches and ways to foster more effective partnerships that would help to streamline the management of grants and contributions, reduce red tape for community organizations, support social innovation, and ensure a focus on results in addressing persistent social challenges. Examples of how Human Resources and Skills Development Canada programs support social partnerships include the following:

In January 2011, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Awards to recognize the exceptional contributions of volunteers, local businesses and innovative not-for-profit organizations in improving the well-being of families and their communities.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is providing support to partners Volunteer Canada and Manulife Financial to create a pan-Canadian web-based volunteer matching service that links volunteers with opportunities in their communities.

With regard to (b), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is the lead on the social partnerships file. Consultations have begun within the federal government, and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has met with officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Industry Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Finance Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and Public Safety Canada.

Provinces, measurement experts and literacy and essential skills experts will continue to be engaged by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to address literacy and essential skills challenges for Canadian adults.

With regard to (c), various social partnership projects are planning to undertake stakeholder consultation in addition to preparing to issue calls and requests for proposals.

With regard to (d), the government has not allocated money for the work of the Task Force on Social Finance.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the point of order raised by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh regarding my private member's bill, Bill C-317. The thrust of the argument was that my bill would do something that only the government is allowed to do.

The history behind this is that, within our parliamentary system of democracy, only ministers of the day have the authority to propose new taxes. Before they are allowed to propose a tax, they must bring forward a ways and means motion to notify the House of Commons of their intention.

At page 900 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, it states:

The House must first adopt a ways and means motion before a bill which imposes a tax or other charge on the taxpayer can be introduced. Charges on the people, in this context, refer to new taxes, the continuation of an expiring tax, an increase in the rate of an existing tax, or an extension of a tax to a new class of taxpayers.

Thus, this has been a limitation on the use of private member's bills.

No one is suggesting that Bill C-317 proposes a new tax, or is the continuation of an expiring tax, or an increase in the rate of an existing tax. The member is only trying to object to my bill on the grounds that it is the repeal of an existing alleviation of taxation and an extension of a tax to persons who are not already taxpayers--in other words, a new class of taxpayer.

If that were the case, then he would be correct to suggest that the bill be discharged. However, my colleague has read more into my bill than actually exists. He is mistaken because he fails to recognize the limited purpose and effect of the bill, which is to simply require more complete and public disclosure of a union's finances on a regular basis.

First, his assertion that the bill “repeals the existing alleviation of tax” is incorrect. The bill does not remove any tax deduction. Bill C-317 maintains the status quo and does not grant the Canada Revenue Agency any powers, including any taxation powers, that it does not already have. The CRA is already empowered to compel financial disclosure. It can do so as a result of its mandate to ensure that organizations with tax exempt status do not engage in activities that would no longer justify that status. This power, the power it already has, is a simple function of its mandate to ensure compliance with the Income Tax Act. It is a mandate that the CRA exercises in respect of all classes of taxpayers who must comply with the act.

It is true that the bill would change things. The failure to comply with the additional disclosure proposed by the bill could also result in a union losing its tax exempt status. However, this loss of tax exempt status would result from the already existing enforcement provisions of the Income Tax Act and not from any provision contained in Bill C-317.

In other words, if a union violates the current requirement to disclose, the CRA can remove its tax exempt status. That is true whether my bill passes or not. All my bill would do is increase the quantity and public nature of that disclosure with the same enforcement authority that the CRA already has.

My colleague also raised the issue of my bill creating a “new class of taxpayer”. According to the Income Tax Act, the term “taxpayer” is defined to include “any person whether or not liable to pay tax”. Even if an individual earns no income, he or she is still a taxpayer. However, the class contemplated in the member's unlikely example of a labour organization that chose to violate the Income Tax Act already exists. This existing class is the class of taxpayers who pay union dues. He is trying to pretend that the class is those who are in one tax bracket or another and who may change their tax bracket and tax payable as a result of a union losing its tax exempt status.

In the context of the loss of dues deductability, differentiating on the basis of income tax brackets is irrelevant to identifying a class of taxpayer. In fact, those who are affected by the loss of the union's tax exempt status have only one thing in common: they are a single class of taxpayers under the Income Tax Act who pay union dues.

The legislation only has the potential to affect this already existing class of taxpayers. Their tax bracket does not matter. The point is their loss of dues deductibility. That is their class and it is an already existing class. Whether they pay more or less tax as a result of rulings by the CRA is a function of the CRA's normal day-to-day operations, not the result of this bill. In other words, this class of taxpayers is already subject to fluctuations in the level of taxation to which it may be subject under the current legislation and CRA 's interpretations and administration of the act.

I have one more point to make in response to my colleague's point of order. He claimed that the ruling in Bill C-470 from the 40th Parliament should be distinguished from this case because union members would be obligated to pay dues while charitable donations are discretionary. Even if it is accepted that the bill may have the effect claimed by my colleague, and I do not concede that it would, it must be pointed out that union members whose union has lost its tax exempt status for refusing to disclose have the right to exercise certain options. Those options include the option to be represented by another union, a union that has maintained its tax exempt status. This would serve to ensure that member dues continue to be eligible for a tax deduction. Therefore, the ruling in Bill C-470 is a relevant precedent to be relied upon on this particular point.

Those points conclude my response to the point of order raised by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank the member for his comments. I can assure the House that I will take this matter under advisement and will come back to the House in due course.

The hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the opportunity to consider the member's argument. I am not prepared to do that at this point. I am not likely to want to submit anything further since the argument that we heard from the member had so little merit. However, just in case, I would like to review it and I will get back to you, Mr. Speaker, within 24 hours.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, farmers have a democratic right to determine the future of their own supply management tools and marketing boards; and recognizing this right, the House calls on the government to set aside its legislation abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) single desk and to conduct a full and free vote by all current members of the CWB to determine their wishes, and calls on the government to agree to honour the outcome of that democratic process.

It is an honour to stand here today and present our opposition day motion on the Canadian Wheat Board. I would like to point out that the motion is seconded by the member for Welland.

Every so often we have a chance to debate a defining issue. Today we have that chance. Today's motion that we are debating is about what Canadians want. It is about imagining a Canada, a Canada that we have had up to now which in some ways and in some sectors has been shaped by those at the very core of that same sector. Today we are also debating about a Canada that has been shaped by an ideological agenda which is at risk of being further shaped by that agenda against the interests of Canadians and those who are at the very core of that economy, of that sector, of that livelihood we are debating today.

Over the last number of days we have been debating the government's steadfast agenda to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. In doing so, we have talked about a contrast of visions, one that would take Canada back in time and one that would move us forward.

Many decades ago the Canadian Wheat Board was developed at the wish of farmers. Farmers saw the way in which private companies, often not based in western Canada, profited from their hard work and left them little in return. Farmers knew that during times of economic downturn survival meant pulling together. Moving forward meant working together. Together they developed one of the most successful marketing entities in our country.

The Wheat Board developed into far more than a marketing board. It became part of developing and selling the best wheat in the world, Canadian wheat. For decades the Canadian Wheat Board has worked with farmers and entities such as the Canadian Grain Commission to develop a top Canadian brand for export. That brand has belonged not to the Canadian Wheat Board; it has belonged to Canadian farmers. It has belonged to all of us.

I remember visiting the offices of the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg on a few occasions. I saw the dozens of products that we as Canadians export to countries around the world, the products we contribute in terms of producing the final product, from pasta to rice to flour. The hard work of Canadian farmers has reached a level of reputation and is a guaranteed product from which we as Canadians have benefited. That top quality and that top brand has been a source of pride for all Canadians.

The Wheat Board though is more than a single desk. It represents the idea that those who produce the final product ought to have a say in the production. They ought to have a say in the future of their livelihoods. While the running of the Wheat Board has been shaped essentially by farmers, since 1998, 10 out of the 15 directors on the board have been elected by farmers themselves. Farmers have been in the driver's seat of an institution that works on their behalf. We have all benefited as a result of farmers guiding the Wheat Board. As farmers have prioritized the development of the best product in the world, Canada has benefited. As farmers have sought to maximize efficiency and cost savings, transportation routes across the Prairies, including in my home region, such as the Hudson Bay Line, and hubs such as the port of Churchill in my constituency have been utilized. As farmers have sought to create a system whereby stability is sought in an economy of increased uncertainty, farming families have benefited. As the Wheat Board has maximized the returns to farmers, rural communities and urban centres across western Canada have seen results.

Today that reality and that vision are at risk of disappearing. What has taken farmers decades to develop is at risk of being destroyed in a few short weeks, not by big corporations, not by another country, but by our very own government. A government that has claimed to stand for rural and western Canada threatens to bring it down.

The government's agenda on the Wheat Board is profoundly undemocratic. It is ignoring farmers' voices every step of the way. Where is the respect toward the directors of the Wheat Board, those who were elected by farmers, eight out of ten of whom were elected on a pro single desk position? Where is the respect for the plebiscite which indicated that a majority of farmers support the single desk marketing of wheat and barley? Finally, where is the duty of the government to follow section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states that any proposed changes to the Wheat Board's marketing structure ought to be put to farmers for a vote?

That is what we in the NDP are asking for today, that prairie farmers be the ones to have a say in their future and that the government respect farmers' democratic right to speak. As the current chair of the Wheat Board, farmer Allen Oberg, has said, the government's agenda is not about giving farmers choice, but ignoring the choices they have already made.

Members across in recent days have used the word “freedom”. My question is, what about farmers having the freedom to decide their own destiny? What about the freedom to have their democratic vote, as seen through the plebiscite, be respected? What about the freedom to say that they are opposed to the government's agenda in dismantling the Wheat Board?

The irony is that the same government has not been up front or consistent in talking to farmers. Some might call it a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach.

Recently, there was a federal election. We know for a fact that during the campaign many Conservative candidates did not speak about the Wheat Board. The subject was not in their material. If anything, they told a different story in person. There was a very vocal Conservative candidate in Churchill who mentioned a number of issues, but certainly did not mention the Wheat Board. That candidate certainly did not mention what the loss of the Wheat Board would mean to the community of Churchill, whose port depends 95% on the grain product that comes through the Canadian Wheat Board.

What kind of transparency was offered to people across the Prairies as they voted on May 2? Not only was it not made clear in the campaign what the government's agenda would be, but in some instances candidates actually served to hide their message. At a March agricultural forum in Minnedosa, Manitoba, hosted by the member of Parliament for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food told those gathered that the Conservatives “respected the vote of farmers”. He told the crowd, “Until farmers make that change, I'm not prepared to work arbitrarily.” He was also quoted as saying that the farmers “are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.”

Just a few short months ago, this is what the very people who will be most impacted heard from the very Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who today is turning his back on his commitment. Quite frankly, he is turning his back on democracy. How could the Conservatives possibly have one story during the election and a few short months later have a completely different story? This is also reason for concern in terms of what losing the Wheat Board will mean for the rest of our country, what it will mean for losing marketing structures, what it will mean for losing economic structures that put producers at the centre, and what it will mean not just for the west but for the whole country.

In my home region the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board is an important board that works hard on behalf of fishers in northern Manitoba and across western Canada. If this is the government's agenda on the Wheat Board, will it be the government's agenda when it comes to freshwater fish?

What about the kind of marketing structures on which people in other regions of Canada have been calling for protection?

I would like to underscore the message shared by a number of my colleagues from Quebec: supply management is an extremely important principle when it comes to developing the rural economy and Quebec's economy in general. Does this government also have an agenda for supply management? Even though today the government claims that it is not talking about abolishing it, it has been saying the same thing about the Canadian Wheat Board for months. It says that it will listen to what the farmers have to say. Does the same go for farmers in Quebec and Ontario? Is this only for prairie farmers? We would like to truly understand this government's logic.

If the government is not listening to farmers and is telling a different story on different occasions, then who is it listening to?

Many have said that those who stand to gain the most are the corporations, players such as Cargill, Viterra, Bunge and others that have been involved with agriculture all along. Profit is the bottom line of these corporations, not maximizing the return to farmers, the well-being of rural communities or ensuring that transportation networks across the Prairies are used in the most cost-effective way for farmers and the overall economy.

In a press release dated May 11, 2011, it is noted:

The Canadian government should give the grain industry at least six months to adjust before ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s grain monopoly, the chief executive of Cargill’s...Canadian subsidiary said on Wednesday.

A good time for the change, which would allow Western Canada’s farmers to sell their wheat and barley to anyone they choose instead of just the Wheat Board, would be Aug. 1, 2012, which starts the 2012/13 marketing year--

That happens to be the same timeline the government has chosen. The exact message of Cargill Canada is the Conservative government's message to us as Canadians. Who is making those decisions and in whose interests are those decisions being made?

I would like to reference a letter to the editor wherein one prairie farmer talked about his concern with regard to the story that came out that the grain firm, Bunge, welcomes an end to the Wheat Board. Mr. Don Dutchak mentioned:

Among his egregious opinions, [the CEO] remarks that other countries have eliminated board trade because “it’s not always well managed.”

The Auditor General of Canada and 14 international trade investigations of the Canadian Wheat Board would all beg to disagree. Report after report has spoken of the stellar management of the Canadian Wheat Board not only for the way in which it operates and prioritizes farmers but also for its transparency and accountability. However, that is not the story we are hearing from the corporations that are interested in what will be left when the Wheat Board is gone.

Economist Murray Fulton said that the loss of the CWB's single desk would make the Canadian system more like that in the U.S. where the grain company and railroad competition would fall, the current freight revenue cap would disappear and less value would be returned to farmers. He also said that the changes would be irreversible.

Mark Sandilands of the Lethbridge Herald pointed out that once the Wheat Board is gone, “We can imagine a modern feudal system with farmers at the mercy of multinational corporations who'll decide what to grow and how much to grow”.

The National Farmers Union stated:

Ending the single desk authority of the CWB...would transfer wealth created by Canadian farmers to big private, often foreign-owned grain companies instead of being returned to farmers and spent in their communities.

According to agricultural economist Richard Gray at the University of Saskatchewan, the winners are the big grain handlers. He states:

...big grain handlers such as Cargill, Viterra and Bunge should end up better off. They will face a huge new supply of sellers competing to unload their product and make money off the marketing margin, or difference between the purchase and resale price.

The control these corporations will have will not only set farmers back but will also seek to destroy the reputation Canada has for growing the best quality wheat in the world.

As was pointed out, the Canadian system of seed registration to outward inspection of a vessel is an expensive system that farmers pay for. However, it is worth it because a higher percentage of the world market for both high quality and regular grain is captured because of that consistent quality. That means more money and more sales for western producers.

We cannot compete on volume or price because of our landlocked position and high transportation costs so quality is essential. Donna Welke, former assistant commissioner for Saskatchewan with the Canadian Grain Commission pointed out that producers know that and so do our competitors. She noted that it is in the interest of the United States to blend down our quality to get a competitive advantage for its corporations.

The question that remains is how the government, which has many members who were elected in western Canada and which claims to stand up for rural Canada, can in good conscience say that it is acting in the best interests of farmers when we know by looking at the case of the Australian Wheat Board that it is the corporations that will gain. The farmers will lose in an increasingly insecure economy. The brand we have invested in and have developed over decades will suffer. Our rural communities and regions like western Canada, as well as other regions where people are concerned about the potential risk it would pose to the marketing structures in other parts of the country, will suffer.

How can the government dismiss these facts? How can it stand in opposition to the idea that farmers should be deciding their destiny?

I would also make reference to the level of extreme arrogance we have seen from government members on this issue. As a western Canadian, I am profoundly disturbed by the way in which they claim to know what western Canadians think about and what their interests are with regard to the Wheat Board while all the time they ignore the result of the plebiscite. They make statements such as those made by the Prime Minister regarding the train barrelling down on the Wheat Board or such as that made by the Minister of Agriculture about blowing out the candles.

We know that this kind of arrogance does not go over well in western Canada. We have seen it before with the Mulroney government where in the end it had no seats left in western Canada because people supported the idea of a democratic voice and the need for people at the grassroots level to be heard. It is the kind of arrogance that claims the government knows better with regard to our future.

In closing, as a young Canadian and someone who comes from the west what concerns me the most is what this means for our future. I would like to quote from a letter written to CBC's As it Happens by Sid Stevenson. He said:

As a 24 year old, 5th generation Manitoba wheat grower, I feel compelled to respond to your interview with...[the] Minister of Agriculture.

He went on to say:

Farmers are perfectly capable of determining the marketing system we want. The majority has decided in favour of the CWB, so why is the government not supporting our decision.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Perhaps the hon. member can complete her comments during questions and comments.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member's speech. She spoke a lot about democracy and respecting democracy. However, she has unfortunately completely misrepresented the debates of the last election campaign.

The NDP made a promise during the last election campaign. It stated:

We will support the Canadian Wheat Board as the single desk marketer for Canadian wheat and barley.

That was the NDP's promise on page 16 of its platform.

The Conservative Party's promise on page 59 of its platform stated:

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.

These were very clear promises. Of the 56 members of Parliament who were elected in western Canada in the last election, 51 are Conservative, 3 are NDP and 2 are Liberal members.

I ask the hon. member why does she not respect the democratic results of the May 2 election?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, we are talking about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board and the plebiscite contained within the act which would allow farmers to be heard with regard to the future of the Wheat Board. As for the May 2 election, as has been pointed out by many people who were campaigning on the ground, that was not about the Wheat Board. In fact, the Minister of Agriculture is on record telling people in Minnedosa, Manitoba, a region that is now represented by a Conservative member, that he will respect the democratic right of farmers to vote.

Therefore, my question for the government members is what are they so afraid of? Why will they not follow the act? Why will they not allow farmers to vote on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I am interested in the question posed by the Conservative member. I think the operative words there are “work with”.

The difference between the views of the Conservatives and the Liberals on this issue is that the Liberals respect the idea of holding a plebiscite whereas the Conservatives do not.

If the Conservatives believed that the prairie wheat farmers would support what they are proposing in this bill I suspect they would have held a plebiscite. However, the government knows that the prairie wheat producers do not support what it is doing. That is the reason it will not hold a plebiscite. It realizes it would lose the vote.

Having said that, the evidence is clear that the bill is detrimental and would prove devastating for the prairie farmers as well as for many rural communities.

The following is a quote from The Economist:

Smaller producers, faced with mounting marketing costs, will inevitably have to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agribusiness companies. Eventually, this should lead to consolidation and fewer, bigger farms—making Canada a more competitive wheat producer, but devastating small prairie towns, whose economies depend on individual farmers with disposable income.

I ask the member to provide a comment on that.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's reference to such an esteemed publication as The Economist which clearly states the writing is on the wall, that dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board is not only bad for farmers but it is also bad for rural communities and western Canada. It is a vision based on ideology and corporate interests put forward by the Conservative government that seeks to silence farmers.

We are proposing a vision that would allow farmers to decide their destiny and would allow Canadians to talk about what would benefit our communities and regions, not corporate interests or other countries, and certainly not the friends of the government as we have heard mentioned throughout these last few weeks.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech.

She spoke about structures in place for farmers. In Quebec, there are concerns that the government, which is going after the Canadian Wheat Board today, will go after supply management tomorrow. That would hurt Quebec's economy.

Could the member speak to these concerns?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, and also for the connection that he and a number of my colleagues from Quebec have made between what is happening with the Wheat Board and the potential threat to the supply management system in Quebec.

How can we believe a government that, just a few months ago, said that it would respect the farmers' vote and democracy and is now changing its mind? The same thing could happen with supply management. What Canadians across this country are seeing with the Wheat Board could happen to them soon enough if we consider this government's agenda and its complete lack of respect for what Canadians want and for the decisions we want to make for our economy and our future.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Madam Speaker, during the campaign there was a clear discussion with very clear positions set out on the issue. The NDP advocated for a single desk. The Conservative Party advocated for freedom of choice for western Canadian farmers.

The result of that is the member is the only rural member of Parliament in western Canada for any of the opposition parties in the Prairies. I ask the hon. member, is that why she chose to have the motion on this very important issue that affects western Canadian farmers seconded by a member of Parliament from Ontario?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, the idea of what was or was not said in the election is quite comical to hear being referenced here today.

In March, at an agricultural forum in Minnedosa in my own province, the Minister of Agriculture, whose agenda is to dismantle the Wheat Board, said that he would “respect the vote of farmers”. He said, “Until farmers make that change, I’m not prepared to work arbitrarily. They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too”.

I do not think that the farmers in Minnedosa, the people of Manitoba, or the people of western Canada are simple enough to think that was a reference to May 2. In fact, it was a reference to the Canadian Wheat Board, which is important to every single one of us, not just in western Canada but across Canada.

I would urge the government to be transparent and tell us who it is really working on behalf of. It is working against farmers and for the corporations.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity to put a question to my colleague across the way, who comes from the same home town as I do. There is the suggestion that the Port of Churchill would be impacted by this change. The member has referenced this often. However, would farmers not continue to ship their grain through Churchill if it was economically viable to do so? Basically, can we find another way to support that line and not make the farmers support it?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would certainly hope that the member across would know quite well, given our common geographic background and the fact that he has visited Churchill, the reality is that once the Canadian Wheat Board is gone, 95% of what goes through the Port of Churchill would be gone. These are the facts.

If the government does not want to debate fact, which is clearly the case, then it will keep telling a story that simply is not true. However, if the Wheat Board is gone, then a massive base, not just in terms of products but employment and livelihood, would be gone in Churchill. We welcome investment, but to think that anything could substitute for the loss of the Wheat Board as we know it is absolutely ludicrous.

We are talking about listening to farmers and the people who want the Wheat Board to exist because it does provide benefit to communities like Churchill, communities like Winnipeg and across western Canada.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, I want to put on the record that this government cannot support this motion. We will not set aside Bill C-18, the marketing freedom for grain farmers act, as called for by this motion.

Having said that, I read over the motion and there were two words that jumped out at me, “democracy” and, of course, “supply management”, which the opposition is trying to hook into this argument as well.

In repeated surveys by the Canadian Wheat Board, a majority of farmers have asked for choice, and that number keeps going up. As late as last spring, 76% of young and beginning farmers were saying they want a choice, they want an option. That is exactly what this bill would do, and the marketing freedom for grain farmers act would deliver that choice. That is democracy at work.

With regard to supply management, which the opposition is trying to hook in here, unlike the members opposite, this government has actually taken concrete action to support supply management. During the last election, we were the only party to state unequivocally our support for supply management directly in our platform. In addition, we reiterated that commitment to supply management in the throne speech in the spring, something I cannot remember, in my 15 years here, happening on the other side at any given time. We have consistently defended our supply management system on the world stage, most recently at the Cairns Group meetings that I hosted in Saskatoon last month.

Please allow me to quote directly from Wally Smith, the newly elected president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, who was with us in Saskatoon. He said:

We welcome [the minister] underscoring that Canada remains steadfast in its support for what works here in Canada, namely our supply management system.

He went on to say:

[The minister] took advantage of the Cairns Group discussions to promote the Government’s support for our diverse agricultural sectors by broadening the focus to include other agricultural trade issues such as the role science and innovation can play for farmers, the environment and food security objectives.

I would go on with a whole list of favourable comments from industry on our steadfast support of supply management, but I will do that at another time.

The fact is the opposition is doing contortion acts to make a false connection back to this bill for marketing freedom. The two issues are further apart than apples and oranges. It is actually apples and walnuts. There is no link. Producers in the five supply managed industries, dairy, chicken, turkey, egg and boiler-hatching eggs, worked long and hard to establish these systems 40 years ago next year and we will celebrate that with them. The supply management industry is national in scope and that is one of the major differences between it and the Wheat Board.

There was strong support for the implementation of a supply management system before federal and provincial governments put it in place and it is a joint offering, similar to the Canadian Wheat Board in the Canadian Wheat Board area where four of the provinces are involved and three are on-side with us in making these timely and called for changes.

The producers who now participate in the supply managed system are supportive of that system, unlike farmers in the Wheat Board area who want options. Canada's supply management system, unlike the Canadian Wheat Board, does not draw from the public purse to backstop its expenditures where the Canadian Wheat Board, in the last years, has taken $1.3 billion from the public purse to backstop some mistakes that it made. Supply management is a proven system that enables our farmers to produce top quality poultry and dairy products enjoyed by Canadian farmers and, of course, the genetics from those great industries are world-renowned and in demand around the world.

On the other side of the coin is the Canadian Wheat Board, probably not even on the same coin. The Canadian Wheat Board is a regional monopoly. Supply management is national in scope, as I said. As it stands now, if we grow wheat, durum or barley, in western Canada only, and we want to sell it for export or for food use in Canada, then we have to sell it through the Canadian Wheat Board by law. If we wanted to sell our own wheat when the Liberals were in power, they would put us in shackles and leg irons, and throw us in jail. That was a terrible blight and I know that will be celebrated later today, in the movement forward on this act, by the farmers that were jailed.

Far from being universally supported, as is the case with the supply management system, a growing percentage of producers forced into the Canadian Wheat Board Act are demanding an option and we would deliver that. Our long-standing and continuing support for supply management and our commitment to marketing choice for western grain producers reflect this government's understanding of what Canadian farmers need to run their farm businesses effectively and be economically viable.

Motions like these are desperate scare tactics that the opposition, if it really understood agriculture, should be ashamed of. The opposition's fearmongering will not stop marketing freedom from coming, but it would and could destabilize a multi billion dollar western grain industry. It could undermine the livelihoods of thousands of grain farmers of all sizes.

It would be helpful at this time to cut through the rhetoric and review the basic goals of this dynamic piece of legislation. The main goal behind this change is to provide western Canadian farmers with more ways to achieve economic success.

Farmers who want access to a pooling system will continue to have that option through a new voluntary wheat board, while those who believe they can achieve greater success by dealing directly in the marketplace will also have that opportunity.

Canadian goods and foodstuffs are in growing demand around the world. Canadian producers in mining, forestry, energy and food are working hard to be the most competitive and successful producers on the globe. Re-organizing the role of a 68-year-old government monopoly with a transition of up to five years is hardly a radical idea.

The opposition loves to use the word “ideologue”, perhaps because it has been a while since its members put forward an idea with any kind of substance. One does not have to be an ideologue to realize the marketing conditions of 2011 are not similar to those of 1943, when the Wheat Board became mandatory. Canada is simply joining the ranks of major advanced industrialized countries that have abandoned these types of marketing systems.

Refusing to adapt and evolve is not a recipe for success but a guarantee of long-term stagnation. This change has been the subject of debate for many years and is now our responsibility to act on the commitment we have made in every election campaign.

Our objective now is to ensure that there is predictability and certainty to allow grain sellers and buyers to plan effectively for the coming season. This legislation has garnered overwhelming support from farmers, farm groups and industry as a whole.

The government has heard from a great number of entrepreneurial farmers who believe that their own operations will be more successful if they have the marketing choices this bill would provide.

A broadly based working group concluded in a report just last month that this would be the case. The fact is, today's entrepreneurial farmers are proving over and over that they can and will help drive our economy if they have control over their farm businesses and ultimately over their own bottom line.

For the grain industry this means a choice in how they market their grain, a choice in when they sell their crop, a choice in who they sell their crop to, a choice in what price they sell their own commodity for, and ultimately a choice in whether they sell their crop to a new voluntary wheat board or on the open market.

Our comprehensive plan brings certainty and clarity to farmers, industry and the market overall. The government has always maintained that farmers must have a choice in how they market their grain, whether that is individually or in an open market through a voluntary Canadian wheat board.

The act enables the government to provide the Canadian Wheat Board with the initial support required to operate as a voluntary marketing organization, allowing it time to transition to full private ownership. We will work with the board to ensure this transition happens, as soon and as smoothly as possible.

Once passed, the act will also allow farmers and grain companies to immediately enter into forward contracts with the purchase or sale of wheat, barley and durum for execution after the beginning of the crop year, August 1, 2012. This will allow farmers and the entire value chain to plan accordingly and transition in an orderly fashion.

This new freedom also has many economic benefits for communities across the Prairies. There has been a lot of doom and gloom speculated on here, but processors will now be able to open their doors for business, unfettered by the current requirement to buy wheat and barley only from the Canadian Wheat Board.

Canada's grain industry is a powerhouse that brings $16 billion to the farm gate and makes up almost half of our agricultural exports, but what once was Canada's signature crop is lagging behind. Wheat and barley innovation have become stagnant. Competition for acres has weakened, and new crops, such as canola, have surpassed wheat in value on the Prairies.

A C.D. Howe report released this spring confirmed that Canada's share of annual worldwide wheat production has fallen by 50%. Equally, Canadian market share of world barley exports has declined by 40%. With that reduced market share, the Canadian Wheat Board has far less influence on the world stage, and as a result, has become a price taker.

We have seen tremendous growth in value-added opportunities across the Prairies over the last 20 years for crops that do not have a monopoly market, including oats, pulses and canola. We will see these same opportunities open up for wheat and barley as we implement this marketing freedom act.

We will work with farmers and industry to attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger economy. We know that the potential for wheat durum and barley is high, but the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is, is standing in the way.

Look what happened to oats when it came out from under the monopoly. In Manitoba alone the acreage of oats has increased by 175,000 acres since its removal from the Wheat Board's control in 1989. Within weeks of that decision, two new processing plants were announced. Several more plants have been built in the late eighties and early nineties, significantly changing the oat market. This includes Can-Oat in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, which today employs 125 people. Manitoba now processes a half a million tonnes of oats annually.

Just over the border in North Dakota, there are many new pasta plants that have sprung up creating jobs that could have been created in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta for that matter.

We can expect more processors to start up new businesses in Canada. Private marketers of wheat and barley will expand their work forces. Milling firms will be able to purchase directly from the farmer of their choice at a price and time they negotiate. Entrepreneurs will have the option of starting up their own small specialty flour mills and malting and pasta plants.

In fact, just lately we had the honour of turning the sod on a new pasta plant in Regina, Saskatchewan. The company does manufacture pasta worldwide now but has stayed out of Canada because of the monopoly and all the red tape involved in dealing directly with durum producers. The new plant slated to open next year will create 60 permanent jobs and up to 150 temporary jobs. The stage is set. Market forces can come to bear.

Forward-thinking processors like Alliance Grain Traders will be able to deal directly with farmers for the quality and consistency of supply that has gone missing in the ridiculous buy-back program that the Wheat Board has implemented. The business model in Regina is based on more than just that, but at the end of the day, certainly this makes it easier to move forward.

Murad Al- Katib, a young, dynamic businessman from Davidson, Saskatchewan, was unequivocal in stating the removal of the single desk makes this new pasta plant in Regina all that much more possible.

Alliance Grain Traders has built a world-class pulse handling system for lentils, peas and so forth, doing it right here where they are grown not at point of sale, as the Wheat Board claims must be done. It sees that same opportunity for durum pasta and I look forward to celebrating its future successes, successes that would not be possible without this government's important legislation.

As one Saskatchewan farmer told The Globe and Mail recently, “I'm looking forward to selling to them” and I am sure he speaks for other durum growers in his province as well.

All this is great news for Saskatchewan and I know there is more to come. It is simple logic, but it seems to be lost on a lot of the naysayers. More buyers mean more competition and a better price for a farmer's grain. We are already seeing two commodity exchanges on both sides of the border start to compete for farmers' wheat.

For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be accepting futures of Canadian grain. For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be allowing Canadian grain to be used to settle futures contracts.

The Intercontinental Exchange Futures Canada in Winnipeg has announced that its own spring wheat futures contract based in western Canada will be ready for trading as soon as the bill receives royal assent. This is tremendous news, which means that farmers will have an important risk management tool for the day when they begin to market their grain themselves.

We are hearing a lot of fearmongering about big corporations, but the fact is that there are strong Canadian companies in the business who are eager to make marketing freedom work, of course, including a number of farmer-owned terminals across western Canada now who also own their own port terminal in Vancouver.

Mayo Schmidt, the president and CEO of Viterra, again a top-quality Canadian company headquartered in Regina, was quoted this past Friday saying he is eager to work with the voluntary board to move the industry forward. He will handle their grain. This is his quote:

If the Wheat Board chooses to engage with industry to frame out a relationship and access to the (grain-handling) system, which will be provided, I think their prospects will be greater if they do it sooner than if they do it later.

Let us stop holding them up and let the market work. He also said: “The opportunity is now to take advantage of the openness and willingness of all players to welcome them as a participant”. He added that competition for farmers' grain will be fierce, adding that it is bound to increase dramatically as it has since the end of the Australian Wheat Board's grain monopoly three years ago.

As we all know, nothing good ever comes easily. As is evident by our comprehensive plan, our government is working diligently with industry to make the road to an open market as smooth as possible. We are taking every precaution to ensure that the transition period is as smooth as possible for farmers and industry overall.

Canada's farmers grow world-class food in a global marketplace that is ripe with opportunity. We are seeking to put wheat and barley farmers back in the driver's seat so they can seize these opportunities. Our government will free our farmers so they can continue to drive the economy and feed Canada and the world.

The motion from the member for Churchill is counterproductive and will only hurt the overall grain industry in western Canada. It is not surprising the opposition seems out of touch with western farmers, as it has no rural seats in the Wheat Board affected area. What is surprising is that opposition members continue to put their own self-interests ahead of ensuring stability and marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.

I urge all members of the House to work for farmers, not against them. Let us show western Canadian grain farmers that their voices have been heard, that marketing freedom is a right they deserve, and vote against this reckless motion.

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to challenge the statement that none of us is elected from a Wheat Board affected area. In representing Churchill, I cannot think of a community that stands to be, along with so many others, as affected by the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board.

I heard the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food talk a lot about the well-being of farmers. Obviously in line with what we are debating here today, my question for the minister is: What is wrong with allowing farmers to vote on the future of the Wheat Board? If we are talking about the potential benefit for farmers, why are he and his government not allowing farmers to vote when it comes to deciding their own future? What is he afraid of? What is his government afraid of? Is it because the plebiscite showed that a majority of farmers support the single desk?

My question is: If we are talking about their benefit, why do we not let farmers decide?

Opposition Motion--Canadian Wheat BoardBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, in that vein, I am hopeful that the member who represents Churchill will actually let Churchill help her decide that this is a good piece of work.

The incentive we put forward for Churchill maintains the incentive, the dollar incentive. It would provide $5 million a year for five years, to ensure farmers are incented to bring product through Churchill.

We have gone one step further than just Board grains. We have allowed that incentive to now cover non-Board grains, canolas, pulses. There were a couple of ships of pulses shipped through Churchill last year. This is a great incentive to ensure they can diversify and continue to move forward.

There is also a $4 million investment from Transport Canada to upgrade some of the docking facilities to make sure that, when those ships come in, they do it safely and efficiently.

Also, some money that was allocated from western diversification a few years ago will be extended so they have time to actually make use of that money.

Of course, that all builds on the $30-some million that was put into Churchill in budget 2008, I think, which of course she voted against.

So, I am hoping that she stands on behalf of Churchill and votes with them. She should call the mayor, call Mike, and find out from him that this is a great initiative. He wants it. She should support it.