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.