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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

Question No. 173Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada recognizes the value and contribution of proactive mitigation measures taken before an emergency or disaster occurs to eliminate or reduce the impacts and risks of hazards in order to protect lives, property, the environment, and reduce economic disruption. Not only does mitigation serve to reduce the impact of disasters on the lives of Canadians, but it is also a cost-effective approach for reducing the economic burden of disaster response and recovery costs on all levels of government, businesses, communities, families and individuals.

On June 6, 2011, while visiting the Quebec region of Montérégie to see first-hand the impact of the 2011 spring floods, the Prime Minister announced that the Government of Canada will share on a 50-50 basis the costs of any permanent flood mitigation measures taken specifically for this year’s flooding that are not otherwise eligible under the federal disaster financial assistance arrangements.

Public Safety, the lead federal department for meeting this commitment, has been working with other government departments and the Province of Quebec to establish a one-time mitigation contribution program to cost share eligible permanent flood mitigation measures. Input is being sought from the Province of Quebec on the types of measures put in place and their costs to inform the development of the program terms and conditions, including the specific eligibility criteria for cost sharing.

The principles enshrined in “An Emergency Management Framework for Canada”, the national framework, second edition, approved by federal-provincial-territorial, FPT, ministers responsible for emergency management in January 2011, and in the national disaster mitigation strategy, endorsed by FPT ministers in January 2008, are being used to inform the development of this one-time mitigation contribution program.

As outlined in these key FPT documents, mitigation is an important part of a robust emergency management framework. Disaster prevention and mitigation measures are those that eliminate or reduce the impacts and risks of hazards through proactive measures taken before an emergency or disaster occurs. Measures may be structural, for example, flood dikes, or non-structural, for example, land use zoning and building codes.

Public Safety is seeking detailed estimates from the Province of Quebec on the costs of the permanent mitigation measures put in place for this year’s flooding in order to recommend a funding amount to establish a one-time mitigation contribution program, which would allow reimbursement of eligible incurred costs.

Once the program is established, the Government of Canada will share on a 50-50 basis the costs of eligible permanent flood mitigation measures put in place by the Province of Quebec. The exact amount that the Government of Canada will reimburse will depend on the costs of the eligible provincial measures put in place. Until a formal claim has been submitted by the Province under the program, it is not possible to estimate how much the Government of Canada will spend.

Public Safety is working closely with the Ministère de la Sécurité publique of Quebec as the program is being developed and will continue to do so as we move forward. The goal is to have the program established in early 2012. Once in place, Public Safety will share the detailed eligibility criteria with the province and work with it to facilitate the processing of its cost-sharing claim so that funds can flow in as timely a manner as possible.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

November 18th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, if Question No. 165 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 165Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

With respect to the opening of the Department of National Defence (DND) offices at 3500 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, also known as the Nortel Campus: (a) what was the total cost to open the facility for use by DND, broken down by (i) the initial cost to purchase the land and facilities, (ii) the cost to renovate the facilities to make it operational for DND purposes; (b) how many staff are currently operating from the Nortel Campus and is this the full complement that the facility will accommodate, or, if not, how many more is it expected to accommodate; (c) what are the functions that these personnel are engaged in, i.e, human resources, accounting, military command, etc.; (d) what is the time frame to transfer all of the services from the National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) to the new location; (e) what, if any, services or functions will remain at the current NDHQ location; (f) will DND services at facilities other than NDHQ be moved to the Nortel Campus, and, if so, what services and from which locations, specifying the complete addresses of the buildings and the services, will be moved; and (g) what will be the total annual operational cost to operate the Nortel facility?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed 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, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to these amendments.

Thus far, in this discussion at report stage, the government has, in its way, tried to smear the board in the eyes of the public. I would think Canadians would expect that the minister and his parliamentary secretary, who both took an oath of office to uphold their responsibilities, would think ill of that.

One could Imagine what would happen if we had the Minister of Health trying to destroy the health system in this country, or if we had the Minister of State for Science and Technology trying to do away with science and technology.

What we have, in this case, are two ministers who are doing the direct opposite and doing everything within their power to smear the Canadian Wheat Board. It is for that reason that I want to put a couple of things on the record so that the public understands just what we are talking about here.

What is the Canadian Wheat Board? The Canadian Wheat Board has been working for wheat and barley farmers for over 75 years. It ensures that all wheat and barley farmers get the best possible price for their crops. The Canadian Wheat Board is paid for and run by the farmers it benefits. The Canadian Wheat Board sells grain all around the world. It arranges for its transportation from thousands of farms to customers in some 70 countries. The critical component for the Canadian Wheat Board to be able to do its job is single desk selling. That is the essence of the board.

How does the Board help farmers? The Canadian Wheat Board's annual revenues are $5 billion to $8 billion, all of which are returned to farmers, less operating costs, as profit. The cost of that operation is 7¢ per bushel. It is unbelievably efficient. Those returns going back to farmers are not taken off as shares for some private grain company. The benefits actually go back to the primary producers.

Studies by leading agriculture economists, using the Canadian Wheat Board data, concluded that the Wheat Board earned prairie farmers hundreds of millions of dollars a year more than they would have achieved on the open market. In fact, it was around $500 million.

The Canadian Wheat Board manages a supply chain that extends from the farm gate to the end-use customer. It has an envied international reputation for consistent quality and supply, superior service and technical support. However, without the authority of single desk, it will be almost impossible for the Wheat Board to do its job.

The parliamentary secretary went on at length talking about the fact that farmers would still have a board. However, they would have a board without teeth and without the authority to do its job. He said that the farmers would have a choice, that they could go to the board or to the open market. However, when I asked him about whether the farmers would have the choice between single desk and the open market, the parliamentary secretary failed to answer. He claimed that they would have their board. However, this new board would not be like the old board. It would be a board in name only. It would not have single desk selling.

In fact, this would be a government takeover with, as somebody said earlier, five stooges appointed by the minister. It would really be the minister's wheat board. The government is expropriating the Wheat Board, which is run, controlled and was built by farmers in Canada, taking it over and running it as its own agency. I will go through a little bit of that because that becomes clear with Bill C-18.

Bill C-18 begins by eliminating the 10 elected board members and replacing them with 5 ministerial appointed directors. Just who will those hand-picked directors be? According to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's own officials, they will answer to the minister, not to the farmers.

I will quote what the assistant deputy minister said to the committee. He said, ”It”, meaning the legislation, “enables the minister to provide direction to the board in the manner in which it operates”. It could not be more clear. There is nothing vague there. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, sitting in Ottawa, will now tell the board of directors what to do, how to do it and when.

We need to keep in mind that that is the minister who has never visited the Wheat Board, other than for 15 minutes, and has never walked into its war room to see how it operates. He has never walked into its transportation room to see how it collects all that grain, 900 miles from tidewater position, thousands of farmers spread over the Prairies, all different types and qualities of wheat and barley, and get that into a transportation system, delivered to a country elevator on a shortline maybe, down the main line and unloaded into the hole of a ship on time so there is no demurrage paid.

The minister has never visited the Wheat Board to understand that. All he is going on is an ideology. He has attacked the board. He has not allowed farmers, under this legislation, to even have a voice at hearings where they could have say.

There is not a single word in this legislation about farmer direction, farmer control or farmers having the right to choose the board of directors they want to run and manage this so-called voluntary Canadian wheat board. In fact, as I said, it is the minister's board.

What is interesting, as well, is that, while the minister picks his own directors, the minister has made sure there is nothing in the legislation concerning conflict of interest. What is to prevent those Conservative appointees from using their time as the minister's hand-picked directors to feather their own nests? Absolutely nothing. That comes from the legal counsel to the agriculture committee when he testified at the committee.

The elimination of an elected board of directors and replacing it with hand-picked appointees is based on what kind of model? I asked that question to Agriculture Canada officials. I asked, “Is there any marketing institution or marketing agency in this country based on this model?”. The answer from officials was, “We will get back to you.” The answer, quite simply, is that there is not a model like this.

Given that the effect of the government's illegitimate action to destroy a $5.8 billion institution, one would assume that there is evidence the government can produce to justify itself. The government has stated that the destruction of the Wheat Board will ensure predictability for western grain farmers. Really? What a fallacy.

I will look at just one issue, access for farmers in moving their grain. On page 6 of the working group report, it states:

...there are questions about whether all of the current market participants, particularly the smaller players...will have effective, competitive access to the entire grain logistics chain from farm to vessel. Similar issues were raised with...respect to short lines and access to producer cars....

Given that fact, the minister announced on November 8 that he would be setting up a logistics working group to examine these issues. Just where is the predictability? Clearly, right now there is not any.

The Government of Canada is putting at risk the farmers who deliver that grain to the tune of $5 billion to $8 billion a year. I can tell members who gains. Who is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food working for? I think he is working for U.S. farmers. The U.S. has challenged the system 14 times stating that it was an unfair trader and we won every time. In fact, Senator Kent Conrad had a report prepared for him that stated that if the Canadian Wheat Board single desk authority were eliminated, the United States may become more competitive in offshore markets as the advantages enjoyed by the Wheat Board disappear.

So, who is the minister working for? However, the worst is that now the minister has, by executive order, put his hands in farmers' pockets to pickpocket them. He is taking the contingency fund of up to $200 million, which is farmers' money, the money they earned from the sale of their grain, to provide a cushion for this proposed new board of his hand-picked directors.

It is unbelievable that this could happen without farmers even having a vote or a say through hearings on how this could or should not be done.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I have always found rather peculiar about the position of our friends in the Liberal Party on the question of the Canadian Wheat Board is that they believe that only western Canadian farmers should be compelled to sell their property to the government but not Ontario farmers, not Quebec grain farmers, and not Atlantic Canadian grain farmers.

I wonder if the member really believes in compelling farmers to sell their property to the government on pain of imprisonment because farmers have been put in prison. The Liberals are against increased prison sentences for violent criminals, but apparently they are for a system that imprisons grain farmers for selling their own property.

If they think it is so great, why do they not propose an amendment to make it a national wheat board and compel Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario farmers to sell their wheat to the government?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing about Liberals. We believe laws should be abided by and we do not pick and choose which laws should be abided by. If a law was broken, it was broken. The Conservatives claim to support supply management, but if five or ten producers decide to ship milk outside of the supply management system, are they going to allow that to happen? A system has to work with rules and regulations.

I will say this to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I will stack up my time on western farmers against him on farms any day of the week because I have been on farm after farm in western Canada, so allow farmers a vote, for Pete's sake.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quote here from an email I received. It quotes the minister who said:

There wouldn't be any attempt to impose dual marketing on the CWB unless a majority of producers voted for it.

The minister went on to say:

Until farmers make that change, I'm not prepared to work arbitrarily. They [farmers] are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.

Could the member comment on that, please?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, we had quite a little discussion on that same quote earlier this morning where strong language was used in this House. In fact, I had to apologize to the Speaker.

However, these are the facts. If the minister made the statement in Minnedosa on March 27, as the member just quoted, and he did not hold a vote, it is up to Canadians to judge. It is on the record what I said earlier.

The minister obviously was not being truthful. He said he would provide farmers a vote. He said he believed in democracy, but he did not provide a vote. In fact, as the Wheat Board itself said, the Conservatives steamrolled over section 47.1 of the act.

However, the parliamentary secretary went on at great length to talk about what the Wheat Board is doing in terms of its advertising. It is living by its oath of office, but I have here a document which is paid for by the taxpayers of Canada, which is clear misinformation and a smear campaign by the Minister of Agriculture against the Wheat Board. That is wrong.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is important to get on the record at this time that, in fact, there was a plebiscite conducted by the Canadian Wheat Board because the Minister of Agriculture was negligent in not meeting what many would argue was a legal, definitely a moral, obligation to conduct a plebiscite to see what the farmers really wanted. The plebiscite that was conducted clearly indicated that a vast majority of the prairie grain farmers wanted to retain the Canadian Wheat Board.

Could the member provide further comment on that issue?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the plebiscite that was conducted by an independent agency by the Wheat Board, because the government would not do it, indicated that 62% of farmers believed in single desk selling of wheat, 51% in terms of barley. Single desk is what makes the system operate. That is what farmers want. There were young farmers in Ottawa this week demanding that this happen.

Earlier the parliamentary secretary mentioned that the Wheat Board had been around a long time, and that technology had changed, and yes it has. However, the Wheat Board is needed more than it ever was in the past. The prairie wheat pools are gone. Many short lines have been abandoned. The Wheat Board is there to protect producer cars and short line railways, and the consolidation in the grain industry is just about unbelievable. The Wheat Board is the only power—

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, the time has expired for this particular round.

Resuming debate.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence is rising on a point of order.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, a few minutes ago in question period I said in this House, in reply to a member's question, that there was no plan to change the colour scheme on any of the airbus aircraft that the government possesses. I would like to be perfectly clear that there has been no decision in that regard and to ensure that the record reflects that additional clarification.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his intervention. I am sure that the House appreciates the clarification.

The member for Malpeque is rising on the same point?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to figure out what the parliamentary secretary is saying. Is there a plan or is there not a plan to paint the Prime Minister's aircraft in the colours that the Prime Minister wants, at great cost? Is there or is there not?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

We have heard the parliamentary secretary's clarification to an earlier part of debate today. Other points on this I am sure are really just a matter of debate. We are not going to redo question period.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak in the House today as part of a debate that, in my opinion, is critical to the future of western Canadian farmers.

The legislation that we are discussing today has been a long time coming. It gives western Canadian durum and barley farmers a right they have called for and richly deserve, and that is the right to choose how best to market the grain they grow.

As the House reviews this legislation, it is important to keep in mind why Canada has a reputation for the quality of our wheat, durum and barley. The answer is quite straightforward and it has nothing to do with the Canadian Wheat Board. Our grains are second to none because the farmers who produce them are committed to quality.

Organizations like the Canadian International Grains Institute and the Canadian Grain Commission play a big role in ensuring the quality of our world class grain handling system. CIGI and the CGC have always operated independently from the CWB and will continue to do so.

We encourage the Canadian Wheat Board to work with us in order to ensure a smooth transition toward marketing freedom in the best interest of the industry. We hope that the Wheat Board will continue to work with the many other stakeholders, such as brokers, buyers, sellers, inland terminals, export elevators, and the ports, not to mention the very large marketing network.

However, regardless of whether the Canadian Wheat Board participates, as we move toward marketing freedom, our government will continue to make every effort to ensure that everything is clear and certain for farmers and for the entire value chain during the transition period.

Our government is aware that the town of Churchill, which depends on the Canadian Wheat Board's grain shipments, may be affected by the industry's transition to an open market.

Our government understands the importance of the port of Churchill as a valuable asset, and has demonstrated its support and commitment to the north.

As part of the ongoing commitment to farmers and the importance of the port as the Prairies-Arctic gateway to the world, our government will provide an economic incentive of up to $5 million per year over the five year transition period to support shipments of grain, including oilseeds, pulses and special crops through the port.

The government will also provide support through funding of up to $4.1 million over three years to sustain infrastructure improvements and maintenance of the port during the transition period.

In addition, the deadline will be extended to 2015 for projects to be funded through an agreement with the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation. We are looking at a number of initiatives to continue to diversify the economy of Churchill.

We are also working with stakeholders across the agriculture industry, as well as other industries, to explore development opportunities for the port. We recognize that this major change brings with it not only many benefits, but also some challenges, and we do not shy away from these challenges. We share Canadians' concerns about job loss, the port of Churchill, and our short line railways and producer cars.

Mike Ogborn, managing director of OmniTRAX, the company which owns the Churchill port facility and the Hudson Bay Railway Company, told The Western Producer on July 14 that OmniTRAX is optimistic about the future of Churchill's port and railway. OmniTRAX understands how the change to an open market may be a challenge. But more significantly, the company sees it as an opportunity for economic diversity and for growth.

Our government is confident that Canadian grain companies will continue to use the port as long as it remains a competitive method of transporting their grain. Our government is also committed to improving rail service for agriculture shippers through the rail service review.

Further, the right to producer cars is protected in the Canada Grain Act. Currently, the CWB manages the marketing of grain shipped in producer cars, so that shipments are related to a sale.

Under the new rules, producers and short lines will be able to make commercial arrangements with grain companies or the voluntary CWB to market their grain. Short line railways are expecting some adjustments as they will have more options of marketing partners for the grain volumes they can attract from producers.

While we see some job losses for Manitoba initially, the future looks very bright. We can expect more processors to start up new businesses in that province, which is my home province, and across western Canada.

Milling firms will be able to purchase directly from the farmer of their choice, at whatever price they negotiate. Entrepreneurs will have the option of starting up their own small specialty flour mills and pasta plants. Just over the border from Manitoba in North Dakota many new pasta plants have sprung up and created jobs that should have been created in the Prairies. This, along with increased trade, has the potential to create many jobs.

Our government is confident that farmers will make marketing choices based on what is best for their own businesses. We want to put the farmers back in the driver's seat so that they can continue to drive our economy. We think an open, competitive grain market has room for a viable, voluntary pooling option. We are ready to work with the Canadian Wheat Board to chart the way forward.

Marketing freedom was a cornerstone of our election platform from day one and was included in last spring's Speech from the Throne. Grain farmers in western Canada want the same marketing freedom and the same opportunities as other farmers in Canada and the rest of the world. With this freedom, grain farmers will be able to sell their products based on what is best for their own businesses.

I am proud that we are keeping our long-standing promise to give western Canadian grain farmers the freedom to market their own grain.

I urge hon. members to give this bill some serious thought and to keep in mind that its timely enactment will help give farmers the certainty they need to plan for next year. What is more, it will give our clients here in Canada and in the rest of world the assurance that they can still count on the regular supply of high-quality Canadian wheat and barley.

I welcome any questions from my colleagues.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and I would also like to congratulate her on her work on the Standing Committee on Finance.

With regard to the debates, cutting the time allocated for debate and, consequently, allowing less time for speeches is an attack on democracy. There has been another attack on democracy in this matter. The Conservatives promised to listen to farmers and to hold a plebiscite. Can the hon. member tell us why the government is not interested in listening to farmers and holding a vote on the future of the board?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. It is truly a pleasure to work with him on the Standing Committee on Finance, and I appreciate his question. I would like to make it clear that farmers across Canada have been discussing this bill for years. We consulted western farmers many times about this matter. We even stated in our election platform that we would move forward on this issue. For that reason, most seats in the Conservative caucus are held by representatives of regions where farmers live. That is why we were elected by farmers. They were expecting us to introduce this bill to promote freedom for western farmers and farmers in other parts of the world and Canada.