Madam Speaker, I hope I am not taking any time here, but I would not comment on the member's absence in the House. That is not what I was doing. I was talking about committee. I believe we are able to do that, but I stand to be corrected.
This argument probably will get stranger than even this morning when the Liberals speak. They have come up with some tinfoil hat conspiracy about the contingency fund, which is a very strange argument. The reality is the board asked us to increase the contingency fund.
The second reality is that the fund now needs to be protected from the present board of directors. It has already spent somewhere between $60 million and $100 million on ships that it did not tell farmers it was buying. It appears it is spending several million dollars on an advertising campaign in eastern Canada for which I and other western Canadian farmers have to pay. Certainly anything to do with a contingency fund with regard to the government's action would be to protect that for farmers, for taxpayers and for the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.
At committee, unlike the opposition, the Conservative Party, led by the member for Prince Albert, put forward two constructive amendments which were passed. We believe the House of Commons committee has done its job and we are very happy to be here this morning to support marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers.
I want to talk one more time about my experiences with this system. It is a bit frustrating to only have 10 minutes because I do not know if I can do a good job on this in that time.
I have lived on a farm my whole life. In my teenage years I started farming. We had to deal with the Wheat Board. In the early 1990s, we had a crop that froze in the fields. When we came to market it, the board said that it was not willing to market that grain because it did not find it to be good quality.
We were able to go to the United States to find a buyer for it. At that time, if one had the permission of the board, one could export. However, when we went to export it, the grain company came back and said that it would not take our grain because it already had a supply of grain. It turned out that it had made a deal with the Wheat Board, at the time the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, for our grain. Therefore, we received about 65¢ a bushel less for it than we had arranged with the U.S. grain company. We did get to follow the trucks from our own local grain elevator to the U.S. grain elevator to get that 65¢ less a bushel for each bushel of grain that was hauled from there.
That is really when attitudes in our part of the world began to coalesce and people realize they can do a better job of marketing than the Canadian Wheat Board.
The board lives off farmers. The board does not make its own money. Any money that it makes and any money that it spends is farmers' income. As the expenses at the board have increased over the years, farmers have become more and more concerned about how their money has been spent.
The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands said that this was not an issue of freedom versus oppression. However, for many farmers it is because they feel the board has bullied them for decades, and it has not stopped.
We can probably witness the bizarre scene, where apparently the board of directors now spends farmers' money to hand out muffins and CWB leaflets at Union Station in downtown Toronto to try to appeal to some folks in Toronto. It has been taking out full-page ads in eastern Ontario papers, on TV and on radio. I get to pay for that. It is a very strange situation. It is probably one more clear illustration as to why western Canadian farmers need freedom. If these folks want to spend money like this, they should spend their own money, not our money.
I grow my own wheat and pay the expenses when I grow it. Farmers harvest their own grain and store it. However, when it comes to selling it, we are not allowed to do that. I want to explain to Canadians what we need to do just to sell our own product.
We have to go to the Canadian Wheat Board and ask if it will sell our grain. It comes back and offers us a contract that we sign. Then the board tells me what percentage of that contract it will take. Typically it is 60% to 70% of the grain, but sometimes it is 100%. The board tells me that it will take that grain over the next 12 months, so I have to wait. It also tells me that it will pay me for part of it when I deliver and the rest will be paid in up to 18 months later.
I do not know if members have run a business, but it is impossible for people to make a living that way. Again, one of the opposition members mentioned that farmers have to go off-farm for income. This is one of the reasons why they have to do that. They do not even get paid for much of their own product until 18 months later.
There is a thing called a buy-back. I can go to the board and say that I would like to buy my own grain back, even though it is still sitting in my granary. The board will tell me what price I have to pay for my grain so I can try to make an arrangement for somebody else to sell it.
From personal experience, we have gone to them with a proposal. We had some durum a few years. The Wheat Board was only taking 60% of the durum. We found a buyer in the United States and the board had nothing to do with it. We went to the board and said that we wanted a buy back and it said that we would not get it at any price. It was contracting that percentage and we could not buy it back. That 40% of our product, our inventory, would sit in our bin until the Wheat Board was ready to take it and ready to say that we could sell it.
That is why western Canadian farmers know they need change and freedom. This is the freedom we want to bring for them. The freedom the Liberals and the NDP want for them is to keep them chained so they are dependent on other people and cannot make their own decisions. We are not prepared to go along with that.
There are a couple of illustrations of things that have worked in western Canadian where people have had freedom.
Let me talk a bit about canola. It is a fairly recent development in western Canada. It now brings in almost $5.6 billion to western Canada and is our largest value crop. One of the primary reasons for that is because farmers can go out and market their own grain. It has become the flagship product of our agricultural industry. I do not think we ever expected that. We have always been told that we are the heart of the grain world. Now another crop has passed grain in its value in western Canada.
Flax is a smaller crop and another Canadian success story. It is used in a whole host of products, from animal food to environmentally friendly flooring and those kinds of things. We are now one of the largest suppliers of flax in the world, producing almost half of the world's supply.
Mustard is grown in my area. It is another crop that has expanded in acres because farmers get out there and market their own crops.
I do not know if I need to talk about pulses and lentils, peas, lentils, chickpeas and what has happened with them over the last few years. There has been a multi-billion pulse and special crops industry that has developed in western Canada, primarily because people can grow it and they can market their own production.
The production of the eight major pulse and special crops have increased from a million tonnes in the early 1990s to 5.6 million tonnes in 2009, and that is at a time when grain has gone backward. When the acreage for grain has been diminishing each year, these other several crops have been increasing.
This is one of the reasons why we need freedom in western Canada, so we can free up the grain industry so it can begin to grow again. We have already heard there are at least two companies that want to build plants and begin processing in western Canada as soon as these changes are made.
I had to laugh when I heard the opposition say that it did not want processing plants in western Canada because that would mean they would pay less for their product. I have never heard such a strange argument in my life. If we really wanted to save money, I guess we should shut down every bit of processing and manufacturing in the country. That is just ridiculous.
We look forward to the $500 million per year of extra revenue that this will generate in western Canada. Freedom cannot come too soon for farmers. They need the stability from this legislation. We need the legislation passed as quickly as possible so they can begin planning for next year, so we can begin to see our grain production grow once again in western Canada and have western Canada remain the heart of agriculture around the world.