Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to support people within my constituency, people who are affected by things. It is not often we can say that we have somebody directly affected by something that is talked about by opposition members who really do not represent the people they pretend to represent. We recently heard a member from the Liberal Party, who has no effect whatsoever on his riding because he is from Prince Edward Island. It is unfair to put onuses on one part of the country and have the other part of the country not required to follow that law, as is the case in this instance.
However, I want to talk about the future, my future, my children's future and Canada's future, which is so important. I do not want to talk the past, as the previous speaker did.
Our government's top priority is clearly the economy. We have one of the best performing economies in the world. The agriculture industry plays a very vital role in that. We recognize that on this side of the House. That is why we want to, and need to, give farmers freedom, freedom to decide what to grow and freedom to decide to whom to sell it. That is what we are doing with this legislation.
We believe all Canadian farmers should be able to position their businesses to capture the marketing opportunities that are available to them. This is clearly available to almost all types of businesses in our country, whether it be a fast food restaurant or some type of service. Canadians can decide who to sell to and from whom to buy the product. That is not the case in this instance.
This debate is so often cast as a generational issue, with the older farmers wanting the security of the Wheat Board and the younger farmers eager to harness new technology and go it alone. While there is definitely some element of that, there are just as many farmers at retirement age who see the open market for wheat and barley as a new door of opportunity, an opportunity that was not given to their fathers. This will keep the next generation on the farm.
As most Canadians know, farms are closing their doors because they cannot be competitive on the international stage. This bill, this opportunity to give marketing freedom, is the opportunity that farmers have wanted in western Canada for decades.
According to the 2011 CWB producers' survey, “76 per cent of the younger generation of farmers surveyed want something other than the status quo, a monopoly”. That is from the Winnipeg Free Press, dated July 29.
It is clear that young farmers want the opportunities that were denied to their fathers. I have heard across my constituency, because I actually represent farmers who are affected by this legislation, that they want marketing freedom. These young, business-orientated entrepreneurs are the future of agriculture. That is why I want to talk about the future. Young farmers are ambitious, they successfully market their other crops across the world and they want this chance today. They need new solutions, not old rhetoric from the opposition and not restrictions, not the status quo. They want new opportunities.
There is no doubt that agriculture faces a major succession challenge over the coming decade, and I have heard it clearly. I have heard from farmers that they have to decide whether they can afford the gas to go to church on Sunday rather than pay their hydro bill. On the campaign trail in northern Alberta, they clearly indicated to me that they wanted choice, that they wanted marketing freedom.
According to the last agricultural census, the average age of farmers in Canada is 52. I come from a community where the average age is 29. We do not have a lot of seniors in Fort McMurray. If the average age is 52, then we have a large dilemma coming, especially because Canadian farmers feed the world. More than 40% of those farmers surveyed are over 54, while less than 10% are under 35. Those are astonishing statistics. Clearly, our government is taking action because we see the future and the future is not what is current.
Despite all of these challenges, however, Canada must capitalize on the entrepreneurial spirit of these young farmers. They are entering the sector with their innovative ideas and their new ways of doing business, and they have clearly shown this. Our government is absolutely committed to helping these young people take over the farm.
Opposition members ask us why we are limiting debate. It is because we have been talking the same language for decades on this side of the House. Clearly, our young farmers want choices. They want to have the opportunity that other farmers have, whether it be in Ontario, southern British Columbia or P.E.I. They want the choices that are given to other Canadians across our country. They have been denied those choices for many years.
The Minister of Agriculture said, “handing over the farm must not be seen as a form of child abuse”. That sounds pretty draconian, but the truth is many of us in the west, many of the farmers in the west especially, feel this has been the situation. We cannot tolerate that on this side of the House.
As a farmer from Manitoba recently wrote to the hon. Minister of Agriculture, “Our twenty-two year old son is more encouraged than ever to be part of agriculture, thanks to the actions and the proposed legislation of [this] government”.
No matter what age, western grain farmers want the same marketing freedom and opportunities as other farmers in Canada and around the world. Clearly, if our farmers have those opportunities, they will not just compete, they will succeed. They will do better than their competition because we have a competitive advantage in our country, not just in our vast farmland but also in the people who run those farms, the younger people, the next generation of farmers. They want to be able to position their businesses to capture the marketing opportunities that are open to them. Our government, our Prime Minister and our minister will clearly make sure that happens.
One key way we are opening doors for our young people is through this legislation. It is interesting that in a university class of future farmers in Saskatchewan not just 60% but almost all of those young farmers favoured moving away from the single desk to give them choice. Choice is opportunity and they want that opportunity. Why not? Young farmers do not need single desks; they need many options, just like other entrepreneurs have.
This bill, which I am so proud of and which was one of the pillars that I ran on in my very first election in 2004, will give them that opportunity. Marketing freedom will allow grain growers to market based on what is best for their own businesses and help them make that decision.
Brian Otto, the president of the Western Barley Growers Association, said:
With a commercial market place, young farmers will have the tools to manage their risk and create wealth, for themselves and for their communities. We will finally have an environment that will attract young people back to the farm.
I hear some talk from a member from P.E.I. on the other side who has constituents who are not affected by this legislation. Clearly, he is not listening to what my farmers tell me and those farmers represented across this caucus.
We have already seen some encouraging signs, not just signs from this government. We have seen an overview by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada which indicates a younger generation of farmers is on the horizon and that younger generation sees clearly the actions of this government and are very pleased.
The overview reports that close to 8% of farmers are young farmer enterprises and they actually perform better than other farmers in Canada. That is amazing, but it is a good hope for the future. These are managed solely by farmers between the ages of 18 and 39. They tend to be well-distributed across farm types, size and province and because they have more opportunities, they are likely to have higher profit margins to share with their families, a higher share of on-farm family income and higher gross farm revenues. Young farmers are our future in more ways than one.
As well, a survey by Farm Credit Canada found that young producers, age 40 and under, felt their farm or business was better off today compared to five years ago. Over 80% were optimistic about the future success of their farm or business over the next five years.
Creating a successful farming operation is more than just the Wheat Board and more than just control mechanisms by outdated opposition members. It is clearly about planning, expanding, diversifying and meeting the needs of a community in the world today for the future of tomorrow.