This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

There are 11 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-18. The motions will be grouped for debate as follows: Group No. 1 will include Motions Nos. 1 to 6; Group No. 2 will include Motions Nos. 7 to 11.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved:

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 2.

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

moved:

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 6.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved:

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 7.

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 9.

That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 12.

Madam Speaker, I thank my seconder, the member for Sudbury, for reinforcing our opposition to this bill and helping us to move these amendments. I also want to recognize and extend my gratitude to the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for doing her part to try to correct what we believe is an extremely flawed and even, may I say, dangerous piece of legislation.

I will begin my remarks by saying that I believe the entire process and the federal government's treatment of this bill has been a sham and a travesty from the word go. We are of the view that the fast-tracking of this bill does a disservice and an injustice to the very prairie farm producers whose livelihoods would be dramatically affected and impacted by this bill.

The public should know, if they are not already aware, that the extreme fast-tracking of this bill resulted in only two committee hearings of four hours each where not a single farmer was heard. There was no consultation, no co-operation, no accommodation of the reasonable concerns that have been brought forward by producers, farm organizations and people in the rural areas who would be affected by the loss of their shortline railways, the producer cars, and all the thousands of things that are impacted by abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board. None of them have been given voice and none of them have had the opportunity to be heard in the context of this debate.

I would caution the government that, when it does this habitually, this chronic, habitual abuse of parliamentary procedure, it threatens to undermine the very integrity of our parliamentary democracy. I have been here 14 years and I have never seen anything like it in my life. The government has lowered the bar and I am concerned that it is doing irreversible damage to the integrity of our parliamentary institutions.

I would remind the government that good governance is a fundamental prerequisite for prosperity. The government thinks that its ideas have primacy over all other Canadians' ideas, that no other voices need to be heard as it implements its agenda. It has a legitimate right to put forward legislation but it does not have a right to undermine, sabotage, diminish and erode the fragile construct that is the Canadian Parliament.

That is the frustration that we have on the opposition benches. The Conservatives represent a majority in the House of Commons but they do not represent a majority of Canadians. How can they be so arrogant as to assume that the other 60% of Canadians who did not vote for them and who maybe do not support their agenda do not have a right to be heard?

No one has a monopoly on good ideas. Canada in itself is a fragile construct. The Parliament of Canada is a manifestation of that co-operation that keeps this fragile federation together. The government is chipping away and eroding, and I honestly do not even think it realizes the damage it is doing.

I will move to the motions that we have put forward today seeking to ameliorate and mitigate some of the impact of this bill. I will say from the beginning that I am sick and tired of the cutesy names that the government is inventing for all of its pieces of legislation. This bill is not about marketing freedom. It is about the freedom to sell grain for less.

With every one of its bills, the government makes up some editorialized comment and tries to put it off as the actual name of the bill. The real name of this bill is an act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board, but I believe it is an act to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board. Step by step, incrementally, the government is on this ideological crusade to abolish what we believe is a great Canadian institution, and one of those manifestations of a unique Canadian co-operation that is acting in the best interests of the producer instead of in the best interests of the big agrifood giants that will be the beneficiaries of this huge transfer of wealth.

The one thing we know about this bill is that it would take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of prairie farmers and put it into the pockets of the shareholders of the big agricorp and agrifood conglomerate giants that have been salivating over this market share ever since the Wheat Board was first created.

It is no surprise that Brian Mulroney is on the board of directors of Archer Daniels Midland, one of the big three that will gobble up this market share. He billed $650,000 worth of billings in the last two years alone as a member of the board of directors. People do not get that kind of money just for attending board meetings. They get that kind of money for using their influence to push the government into something that is not in the best interests of farmers. It is in the best interests of a very special privileged few, and that is the Cargills, Viterra and the other agrifood giants.

An example of how the Conservatives are trampling on the democratic rights of prairie farmers and denying them the right to vote is that, by virtue of this bill, they will fire all 15 members of the board of directors, 10 of whom were elected by prairie farmers, and replace them with a board of four members appointed by the government. It is a $6 billion a year corporation, one of the largest and most successful grain marketing companies in the world, and the Conservatives will appoint four of their stooges. I presume they have picked them out already. They are probably some failed Conservative candidates or some bagmen who did yeoman's due service to the political party of their choice--

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. While I am sure that some will appreciate the theatrics of the hon. member's speech, referring to Canadians, who he does not even know, as “stooges”, I find most offensive and he should apologize for that.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I thank the member for his comment. I have not heard a personal attack directed to a specific person. It perhaps is not a very nice comment but I would not consider it unparliamentary in the context here that it is being raised.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, the first amendment that you read out today, seconded by my colleague from Sudbury, would delete clause 2, which proposes to reduce the board of directors from 15 down to 5, which would include a chairperson and a president. We think it is ridiculous. It is an appalling notion and we seek the support of all members of Parliament. If they have any kind of a commitment to good corporate governance, surely they would agree that the duly elected board members, elected by prairies farmers in the 10 districts, would be the better stewards of the Canadian Wheat Board in whatever manifestation is left after the bill undermines and guts it.

Clause 3, the second amendment we have put forward, is in a similar vein. It would delete clause 3 because it is undemocratic to change this. It would leave no direct input and say from prairie farmers into the operations of what remains as the shell of the Canadian Wheat Board.

I appreciate my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands participating in this debate today and moving meaningful, reasoned amendments. We encourage the Conservatives to at least entertain the fact that these are coming from a representative group that is larger than the group that they claim to represent. There are 60% of Canadians represented by the opposition members here. They did not vote for the Conservative Party. For the Conservatives to claim that the May 2, 2011, election gave them a mandate to run roughshod over democratic process and parliamentary procedure by fast-tracking the bill and denying the right of legitimate voices to be heard is, in and of itself, a travesty.

There is a reason that corrupt nations are poor. We should take a moment and reflect on some of the consequences of allowing our institutions to be eroded. I recently read a book by a former Liberal member of Parliament, Roy Cullen, called The Poverty of Corrupt Nations. It is hard to say which came first, if they are poor because they are corrupt or if they are corrupt because they are poor, but the two are inexorably linked. The Conservatives are taking us down a road where we are undermining not only our democratic institutions but the integrity of our Canadian democracy.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I did enjoy the member's remarks because I believe they are right on the money. He said in his earlier remarks that the government is threatening, with this action, the integrity of parliamentary institutions. The government has not threatened. It has hurt the integrity of this parliamentary institution because it went with a steamroller over section 47.1 of the current act and taken away farmers' right to vote in a legitimate plebiscite as it suggests in the act. The government has not only taken away farmers' votes, by the way it has handled committee as the member very well explained, but it has taken away farmers' voices.

Now we are finding out that the government, through executive order, and it has come out in the Gazette, is not only taking away farmers' votes and voices but it is now picking farmers' pockets by using their money in the contingency fund to offer a cushion for the new board. What does the member have to say about that?

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Malpeque for his long-standing advocacy to stand up for the Canadian Wheat Board. It is time for all friends of the Canadian Wheat Board to stand up and make their views known because with a majority in the House of Commons and a majority in the Senate, it is going to fall to civil society to put some constraints on the government, from the absolute power it seems to be revelling in as we speak.

However, I agree with my colleague that it is offensive to the sensibilities of any person who calls himself or herself a democrat to observe what is taking place here, in denying farmers the direction and control over their own institution, and the pot of money now that the government seems to be grabbing and clawing back.

This institution was set up as essentially a big co-op, a co-operative to act in the best interests of prairie producers, to protect itself from the historic gouging of the robber barons, the rail barons and the great grain barons—

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. There are many members standing up, so I would like to give the opportunity for a couple of other questions.

The hon. member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask this member a question. I did notice he talked about robber barons and I know he is doing the movember thing. I have to tell him that his moustache looks quite the part as far as robber barons go. I do like the member. When we have the opportunity to speak, it is quite interesting.

However, I know he spends a lot of time on Salt Spring Island and I know there are not a lot of wheat farmers there. I know there are not a lot of wheat farmers in downtown Winnipeg. I do know there are a lot of wheat farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and across the country who are represented by Conservatives. Most rural ridings that actually do grow wheat and actually have constituents in them that are farmers are represented by Conservatives. I know that and most people in Canada know that.

A survey was done of the younger generation of farmers. Because they are the future, 76% of that younger generation said they wanted something other than a monopoly. I want the member to answer this question. Why are the younger farmers saying, “Let's have something other than a monopoly”? Yet, the NDP and the Liberals are saying, “No, we want to violate what young farmers want”. How does the member respond to that?

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to raise a point that I meant to get to. I have heard from hundreds of prairie farmers from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, many of whom said that they voted for the Conservative Party, but they did so with the knowledge that they were promised they would have a vote before anything happened to their Canadian Wheat Board.

Whether they voted for the Conservatives because of the gun registry or any number of other virtues and merits that were offered them by the Conservatives, they thought they were going to get to vote on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. The government lied to prairie farmers to their face. We have it on record. We have the minister on record stating clearly that farmers would get to vote, that he believes in democracy. The Conservatives ignored all that and they are steamrolling this bill.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe that it is unparliamentary in this place to accuse anyone, any individual, or any party of lying. That is what the member just did. I demand he withdraw that.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. What the member for Winnipeg Centre said is in fact true. The minister did, and I can find the quote if we have to find it, promise farmers a vote. He said that he believes in democracy.

Then, when it comes to introducing this bill, he is claiming that the vote was the election. That is not what he told farmers. I met with quite a number of young farmers in this town yesterday. They believed the minister. What the member for Winnipeg Centre is saying is the truth. The minister lied to those farmers.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

On the same point of order, the hon. member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca.

I am coming very close to offer a decision, unless there is a new point to bring forward.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, clearly, that is unparliamentary. The member knows better than that. Also, he represents absolutely zero western farmers because he is from P.E.I. I do not even know why he is trying to represent farmers. I do not know why the other member from Winnipeg is trying to represent farmers. Neither of them represent farmers.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

On the same point of order? Is there a new fact being brought forward by the hon. member for Nickel Belt?

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Yes, Madam Speaker. I want to inform the House that as hon. members we were elected to represent all Canadians, not just a fraction of Canadians. For the government side to accuse our member of lying when, Wednesday, these same members accused us of being traitors. That is highly hypocritical.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

On the same point of order? Is there a new fact being raised by the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso?

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I would like to build on that point, if I could. There is one member of Parliament in Atlantic Canada who does not have a fishing wharf in his riding and the government made him the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. How can he represent fishermen with no fishermen in downtown Fredericton?

So, to say that members in this House who do not have wheat farmers cannot speak on behalf of wheat farmers is asinine. I would like to add that to the point of order.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

On the points of order that have been raised by various members, I thank them for their comments because it is well-known that any language that causes disorder in the House is unparliamentary.

I would ask all members of Parliament to moderate their language. Usually, when language is used, where an attack is made against one person, one minister, it is definitely considered unparliamentary. I would certainly ask that members who have made a personal attack on one minister to withdraw it.

However, I am going to, at this moment, ask all members to remember that this is a strong debate where there are equally strong differences in opinion and to be respectful in their criticisms of the actions of both government and the opposition. I will leave it at that.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg Centre for seconding my amendments. I am also proud to have seconded his.

As we begin this discussion over the next 10 minutes of my portion of the debate, I want to concentrate on what our amendments are actually about and then address the larger issue of why I personally, as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands where we actually do have some wheat farmers, very small levels of crops at this point, but there are people in Saanich—Gulf Islands--

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

How many under the Wheat Board?

Motions in AmendmentMarketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

I am sorry, I am unable to answer the hon. minister across the way as I explain our amendments.

We have put forward amendments to Bill C-18 that deal very specifically with changes to the sections of the bill that relate to the election of the board of directors.

It has been part of the Wheat Board ever since it was created in 1935 that the members of the Wheat Board's board of directors were primarily elected by farmers. It has been a 15 member board of directors, 10 board members elected by farmers, who themselves then are represented in a single desk marketing system, which is of course to the benefit of farmers, and that is why they were electing their board of directors.

The amendments we are putting forward at report stage of Bill C-18 are to revert control over the board of directors to the Canadian Wheat Board in whatever new position it is able to exert itself after passage of this legislation in order to ensure that it has representation elected by farmers.

The bill, as currently drafted, would eliminate board members elected by farmers and move to a five person board, all appointed through the governor in council, and of course the governor in council is essentially the cabinet, so it would remove the democratically elected portion of the board of directors, and that is a very serious matter.

I would love to take the temperature down on this matter this morning in the House. It is not an issue which is often debated in the House where it is somehow freedom versus oppression, or that there is this dreadful oppression from the Wheat Board and that all farmers wish to be freed from these shackles, from this terrible yoke.

The wheat and barley farmers in this country are clearly divided on the pros and cons of the Wheat Board in 2011. Clearly, we need to think about modernizing. Initially, the Wheat Board was created before 1935, which is the date we usually choose because that is when it came out in statute federally. Going back to the 1920s, farmers first formed co-operatives. They had every reason to be concerned. When my hon. friend from Winnipeg Centre referred to the robber barons, he was referring to those of the early part of the 20th century. Farmers had every reason to be concerned about whether they could they get a fair price.

When farmers were put in a circumstance of being at the mercy of large corporate buyers, what would that mean? Farmers were competing against other. Each one would lower their price to get the sale with the big conglomerate, and in that situation it was a buyer's market. It could pick off the farmers. Farmers could go bankrupt if they kept reducing their prices to get the deal. That is why co-operatives were formed. That is why the Wheat Board was formed in 1935 to ensure that, with single desk marketing, the Wheat Board would buy and guarantee the farmers a liveable price for the wheat and barley they grew.

It is not easy being a farmer in this country. Goodness only knows that the average farmer in this country is unable to make a living on the farm. Most of the income, increasingly, has to be made off the farm, and that applies not just to grain farmers, of course, but to farmers of fruit, vegetables and livestock.

Being a farmer in this country is difficult. We need a food strategy. We need to support our farmers. We need to support locally grown food. In this context, eliminating the Wheat Board is highly controversial.

We have large conglomerates today, and my hon. friend referred to one of them, Viterra, and there is Cargill. They are in a good position if farmers do go back to what happened in the early 1900s, competing against each other to get a price from a big buyer. That is why there is so much concern from farmers who want to keep the Wheat Board, that they will be exposed to the vagaries of a marketplace in which competition means undercutting each other.

The heart of the co-operative movement was to support each other so that through collaborative efforts, whether in the fisheries, grain farming or in milk and dairy products, farmers could get a fair and livable wage out of a very competitive marketplace. Therefore, it is not without its controversy.

The one vote that the Wheat Board undertook showed 62% of farmers wanted to keep it. That means a not insubstantial number of farmers want to do away with it. In fact, if the percentages are right, there are more farmers who want to do away with the Wheat Board than citizens who voted for the governing party in the last election. That is not a small group of people, so the farmers are divided on this.

This bill would have been better contemplated with respect to how to modernize the Wheat Board rather than how to destroy the single desk and expose the farmers who are so very concerned, as well as those who think the change would do them well.

No one really knows how this will go.

I did want to express concern because in the category of what we do not know are the costs. In terms of costs, we know that the Canadian Wheat Board has determined that an auditor will be brought in. The auditor winning the contract has been reported to be receiving between half a million and a million dollars to figure out employee severance costs, pension costs and the potential legal costs for breaking long-term contracts.

The analysis was carried out by the reputable accounting firm, KPMG. It concluded that the costs of eliminating the Wheat Board will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This cost of course will be paid by the taxpayers, but in whose interest is this really? Some critics have pointed out that essentially paying hundreds of millions of dollars should be seen as a disguised subsidy to the Cargills and the Viterras because they will be the beneficiaries of this change.

It is clearly not an easy issue. I have talked to many members on the government benches who have told me that some of their farmers are terrified of getting rid of the Wheat Board. It is generally reported that the younger farmers are more prepared to innovate and figure out how to do without it.

There is no question that the Wheat Board could do a much better job helping farmers who are growing organic grain, but doing a better job should have been the goal. Getting rid of single desk marketing is a radical and dramatic change from what farmers in barley and wheat have known for years. The division, and the fact that the majority of the wheat farmers who have expressed themselves on this issue want to keep the Wheat Board, should have injected some caution into how this legislation will move forward. It is the absence of caution that is so deeply concerning to the members on the opposition side of the House. We need to protect the interests of Canadian wheat and barley farmers.

I know that members on the government benches honestly believe that they are acting in the interests of their constituents who farm wheat and barley. We on the opposition benches honestly believe that there are huge risks in moving so dramatically.

It is interesting that the Conservative members use the word “conservative” to describe themselves. They are really very radical. They are making radical changes to our criminal justice system, to prairie farming, and across the board, particularly in immigration. I do not think they like the term that they are the radical party, but that is much more the essence and substance of the changes we are seeing.

Therefore, in putting forward these amendments we are asking for one dose of caution: please allow these amendments to go through. Allow the farmers in the country to continue to elect members of the Canadian Wheat Board to represent their interests. With board members elected democratically by farmers, we could continue to allow all voices in the agriculture community to be heard. We could try to find the mechanisms that protect the farmers, after Bill C-18 passes, from the worst aspects of a competitive cutthroat market dominated by a handful of multinational corporations.

We must find a way to ensure that prairie farmers make a living wage and that they are not exposed to the kinds of practices that gave rise to the need for the Canadian Wheat Board in the first place.

I urge members opposite to consider these few amendments and to allow them to go through.