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House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prairie.

Topics

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, let me start off by saying hallelujah, marketing freedom is merely hours away.

There have been producers in the country, and many of them are going to be with us tonight, who have been waiting for decades upon decades to achieve the fundamental right of freedom that every other Canadian takes for granted in our great country. However, after years of inactivity and opposition from parties on the left, we have finally come to the point that in less than three hours from now Bill C-18 will pass third reading in the House and will be sent to the Senate to achieve the marketing freedom that so many producers in western Canada have fought for all of their lives.

This will be an historic vote. This will be a celebration of unparalleled heights because we have farmers, and my colleague, the hon. Minister of State for Finance has named many of them, who have fought for years to achieve the same basic rights of freedom that other farmers in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world have taken for granted for years and years.

Unfortunately, the debate on Bill C-18, the debate on marketing freedom, has been jaundiced because there have been so many misrepresentations about what Bill C-18 will do. Instead of trying to get into some technical arguments, I will put the Bill C-18 question the easiest way that any Canadian can understand a bill like this. That is the test of common sense.

Without questions, western Canadian producers are among some of the smartest business people in Canada. If the Canadian Wheat Board were providing all the benefits to farmers that the opposition claims it does, there would be no need for this debate. There would be no need for Bill C-18 because there would not be a farmer in Canada who would want to change the Canadian Wheat Board, if the Wheat Board were doing what all of our opponents have say it does, and that is to provide unparalleled benefits to the farmers.

Unfortunately, western Canadian farmers know better. They know the Canadian Wheat Board does not provide them the benefits that my opponents purport it to do. Quite frankly, it costs farmers money. My colleague, the Minister of State for Finance, gave a couple of examples. Let me also give one.

A constituent of mine, who will be here tonight, about three or four years ago wanted to sell his own barley. At that time, members who have been around the House for awhile will remember, we attempted in 2006 to remove barley from the Canadian Wheat Board. It looked for a time that we would be able to achieve that. My constituent had a price locked in to sell his barley on the open market, but the opposition reared its protectionist head, refused that freedom to market his own barley and cost my constituent $250,000.

I have heard the member for Malpeque and the member for Winnipeg Centre say on many occasions that the Wheat Board is the best thing going for western Canadian farmers, that if the Wheat Board were somehow changed or altered to remove the single desk provisions, the sky would fall and farmers would lose out on great opportunities. The constituent who lost $250,000 will be here tonight. I would invite the member for Malpeque and the member for Winnipeg Centre to engage that constituent of mine in conversation and please, I would love to hear that conversation. I would love to hear how the member for Malpeque would say to my constituent that this was a good thing that happened, that losing a quarter of a million dollars was a good thing because we saved the Canadian Wheat Board. It makes no sense whatsoever and farmers know this intuitively.

We also have evidence, not just anecdotal evidence such as the story that I shared with members here, but we have empirical evidence. We have seen what happens when certain grains are removed from the Canadian Wheat Board.

Over 20 years ago, Charlie Mayer was successful in getting oats removed from the Canadian Wheat Board. What happened? Productivity went up and lo and behold, prices went up. Was there any great hue and cry from oat producers to have oats returned to the Canadian Wheat Board? Absolutely none, because the proof was in the pudding. Their productivity, acreage and prices went up. As a result of their oats not being controlled by the board, they were making more money than they did when they were controlled. There are similar stories with respect to canola, pulses and oilseeds. The benefit to farmers by giving them the ability to sell their own product is immense.

Some may argue, and I will accept their argument, that there are producers out there who want to remain selling through the board. They will have that opportunity. We are not getting rid of the single desk or the Wheat Board completely. We are merely making a voluntary marketing agency.

I hear time and time again misinformation coming from my colleagues opposite. They say that we are getting rid of the Wheat Board. We are not. We are simply turning it into a voluntary mechanism to allow producers to make their own choices. Some may want to continue selling their wheat and barley through the Canadian Wheat Board. They will have the ability to do so. We are simply giving producers the option and allowing them the freedom to make their own choices.

Since when is freedom a dirty word? According to the opposition it apparently is. According to the opposition, giving farmers the freedom to market their own product is something we should not even be discussing. It makes no sense. It certainly does not pass the test of common sense because freedom is inalienable. It is a right of all Canadians.

Do we restrict other manufacturers or other businesses in Canada from selling their product to whom they wish? Outside of some legalities and some sort of health concerns, we do not.

My friend the heckler from Malpeque does not want to hear the truth. He merely wants to settle with the same ideological arguments. He comes from Prince Edward Island. I point out to him, as I have many times in the past, that I have yet to see the potato farmers of P.E.I. clamouring for a potato marketing agency. They never will because they now have the fundamental right as other producers in Canada—

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member should get his information right. Potato producers did want a potato marketing commission in Prince Edward Island. They did get it. I will admit that a government took it away without a vote, just like what is being done here. However, for the member to stand and tell me that producers in Prince Edward Island did not want single desk selling at one point in time, they definitely did.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member for Malpeque is a former member of the National Farmers Union so we understand his motivation behind wanting to keep the Canadian Wheat Board untouched.

The reality is that freedom is a fundamental right for all Canadians. Western Canadian producers should not be any different than producers in other parts of the world.

This bill would, after decades of oppression, finally lift the yolk off the necks of western Canadian farm producers and allow them to make their own marketing choices. It would allow them to make their own business choices. It would allow them finally to experience the same freedoms, the fundamental rights, that other producers in other parts of the world have experienced for the last 70 years.

Tonight will be historic, and we are less than four hours away.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, Asbestos Industry.

Many members today have made reference to people who are either here or will be here. I would caution all members that in this chamber members do not make reference to other members, whether they are or are not in the chamber. Similarly, members do not make reference to who is or is not in the gallery. Members in the gallery are also reminded that they are here as observers and that we will maintain order in this place in order to let the institution function.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary expressed a lot of passion for his points and the material he presented. Of course, there is a lot of passion on this side of the House as well. There seems to be a lot that members want to say on this issue.

Why is it that the government has forced closure? Why is it that we cannot have a good healthy debate, a good exchange of ideas and information in the House when we are dealing with such an important matter? It is an issue that the member has called historic and an issue that we on this side of the House feel extremely passionate about. Allowing a good healthy exchange and debate would be in the best interest of the Canadian Wheat Board. Why is it that the government is forcing closure on this? Could the hon. member comment on that?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, this debate has been going on for well over 20 years in this place. Western Canadian farmers know what our party stands for when it comes to giving freedom to western Canadian producers. This debate is not recent. The bill, although introduced recently, is not a new issue. This is an issue that has been at the forefront of western Canadian producers for generations. For my colleague to suggest that for some reason we are stifling debate, it is absolutely untrue. This debate has gone on long enough.

Our intentions have always been clear. We are acting on those intentions. We will get the job done and we will get it done tonight.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, fragmented, the board loses its clout with the railways, grain companies and its clout in being price setters and not price takers.

Why does the member opposite, who has just made his remarks, ignore the comments of The Economist that said quite clearly that small farms will close and that small farming communities will be negatively affected, changing the face of western rural culture?

Why does he ignore the comments of The Wall Street Journal that said there will be many profits in Cargill and Viterra? At whose expense? At the expense of farmers because, suddenly, Cargill and Viterra will become the middle people. That does not exist right now because they have the Canadian Wheat Board as their sales and marketing agent.

Why does the member resist the comments of the Alliance Grain Traders? It stated that it will now be able to pay less for the grain. That is why it is setting up a pasta plant out west. Why does the member ignore those comments and, most important, why does he not allow farmers to vote under section 47.1 of the act if he is so darned convinced that this what farmers want?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, why does the member for Guelph ignore the fact that farmers are already marketing their own products outside of wheat and barley? Can the member for Guelph stand in his place and tell me the difference between marketing canola, pulses or other oilseeds and wheat and barley?

There is no difference. The ability that farmers have to market their own grain now has improved exponentially over the last 20 years. This is an age of almost instantaneous communication. There is absolutely no difference in a producer's ability to market a canola crop, a cash crop, or to market wheat or barley.

The member talks about protecting farmers. Is it protecting farmers when farmers, like my colleague, the Minister of State for Finance, or my constituents lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because of government restrictions and its refusal to allow farmers to market their own product?

If he truly wants to stand up for the rights of farmers, he should join with us and support Bill C-18 tonight.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.

I am happy to rise in the House today to speak to a most important issue. I must first begin by commenting that most of my constituents are absolutely shocked by the actions of the government. They are shocked by the level of debate or, should I say, lack of debate the government has engaged in.

We are in the early stages of a majority government and yet the government is fast tracking legislation that is proving to be completely reckless. This is not the only piece of legislation that it is fast tracking, and it is shameful on its part.

As responsible parliamentarians, we must ask a very important question: What is the rush? Why does the government continue to silence the elected political body? Is it because it is ashamed of its position in this debate? Is it because it knows it is engaging in activities that will destroy small rural communities? Is this why it is stopping Canadians from being heard?

We hear them laughing on the other side and showing signs of disgust as we speak, but for the Conservatives it is only about what they want to do and hear as opposed to what Canadians have to contribute to the debate.

I believe we have been sent to Parliament to represent the will of the electorate. However, in doing so, we are also charged with the responsibility to not only champion but maintain the sanctity of the traditions of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, we have not seen this. What have we seen instead? We have seen time allocation after time allocation. We have seen that the government is uninterested in the opinions of Canadians. These actions show how little respect the Conservatives have for this political institution.

Since its inception in the 1920s, the Canadian Wheat Board has been the pillar of Canadian farm life on the Prairies. In its early days, what we now call the Wheat Board consisted of individual owners of modest sized farms pooling their wheat together. Why did they do this? They did this to get a better price for their wheat. In 1943, this process was then formalized with the creation of the single desk. The result has been the financial stability needed to allow prairie farming communities to survive. The result has been the prudent risk management needed to ensure farmers and their families can avoid catastrophe. The result has been the ability for Canadian family farms to survive in an era of big agriculture.

Today, the Canadian Wheat Board sells high-quality Canadian wheat, harvested by hard-working Canadian farmers, to buyers around the world.

In total, 70 countries and roughly 21 million tonnes of wheat and barley are marketed by the Canadian Wheat Board each year. It is the largest and most successful grain marketing company in the world. Despite its large size and formidable status as a global marketer of wheat, I am proud to say that the Wheat Board is a farmer controlled board, consisting of farmers elected by farmers.

What is to become of our Wheat Board? Unfortunately, the government wants to get rid of it. It wants to get rid of the financial stability it has given us for generations of Canadians. It wants to do away with the prudent risk management it has provided to our small rural prairie communities. On top of that, it wants to get rid of it against the express wishes of the farmers themselves.

We must not stop reminding my colleagues on the other side of the House of the Canadian Wheat Board's plebiscite back in September that told us that a strong majority of farmers want to maintain the Wheat Board. They want to maintain their ability to market wheat and barley through the single desk system. We must not stop reminding them of the 62% of respondents who voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat and the 51% who voted to maintain it for barley. We must not stop reminding them of the 38,261 farmers who submitted mail-in ballots in the plebiscite.

The government now has the responsibility to say directly to those 38,261 farmers who spoke out in a dignified democratic fashion that it does not care about their opinion. It should not be this way. We should not be shutting farmers out of this debate. We should not be telling them that their opinion does not matter. We should be listening to them. We should be asking them what they want us to do. This is a democracy, after all.

A responsible government would examine the truth of the matter. A responsible government would ask what will happen to our modest sized family farms, what will actually happen to the communities in which they live.

It would be only responsible for us to look at Australia. Australia recently eradicated its single desk system and the result was not pretty. We saw the price for its wheat go from $99 per tonne over the price of American wheat to as low as $27 per tonne below the price of American wheat. The Australian wheat market saw the destruction of its domestically-owned wheat industry. In just three years, Australia went from having 40,000 wheat farmers running their own wheat system, to being customers of Cargill, an American-owned giant in the industry. We are all familiar with the Cargills.

What a shame. What a shame that so many farmers had to lose their farms. What a shame that they lost their farms while big agriculture swoops in and purchases them when a farmer is desperate.

Why, then, is the government going down the same path? Why is it deliberately siding with big business over our family farms?

If anyone were to ask me, the matter is simple. I was sent here to listen to the demands of my constituents. I am here to listen to their concerns and to fight for their interests. I know that my constituents truly appreciate and value local food in their communities. They like to know that the family farm can exist and that they can know their local farmers who work so hard to provide food for the rest of us.

For example, I have here an email from one of my local farmers on Manitoulin Island in my riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. She says, in referring to the Canadian Wheat Board, “This is one Board that was developed to assure fair prices to small farmers. We know that dismantling this Board will be difficult for farmers to get fair prices for their grains. We do not want food to be solely in the hands of the multinational corporations. Please let there be some room for the small farmers and for local food productions to survive”.

Local growers form the backbone of the communities in many parts of my riding. I know they would join me in fighting tooth and nail against anything trying to destroy their culture and way of life.

Perhaps what makes us different from them is that we on this side of the House stand up for our family farms. We stand up for the hard-working Canadian family. We stand up for the modest-size prairie wheat producer. We listen to their wants. We demand that their voices be heard. We do not sell them out to big businesses like the Conservatives do.

I am afraid that the Conservatives are only telling us half of the story. They are not telling the whole truth. They are not warning of the dangers that may come to prairie communities when smaller farmers lose their farms. They do not tell of the financial strain that could result from smaller producers being thrust out on their own in the global market. They do not talk of the risk associated with this change for the modest-size producer.

Perhaps the Conservatives are correct in a sense in that they are giving our farmers more freedom. However, what they are doing is freeing our farmers from the protection that the single desk provides. They are giving them freedom from financial stability, freedom from proven risk management, freedom to be bullied and bought by big agriculture. They are now freed from a guaranteed decent price on the global market.

As my time for debate is up, I will speak to the rest of my points in a few minutes.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a correction to the member's point about the Wheat Board being formed by farmers helping farmers.

The Wheat Board marketing monopoly was established on October 12, 1943 when Canada was committed to providing inexpensive wheat to Britain as part of the war effort. The monopoly was established under the War Measures Act by Parliament, not by farmers for farmers. I would like her to check her facts on that.

I am sure if the Canadian Wheat Board does its work and wants to survive, it could invite her farmers to become part of the Canadian Wheat Board. No one is stopping that. All we want for our western Canadian farmers is to have the option that her farmers have. As to producing food in small communities, that is exactly what these farmers want. A pasta plant in Regina is being established for producing and processing food.

The member had best do some more homework on a couple of those points.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the input from my colleague, but as she is well aware, the Canadian Wheat Board is not taxpayer funded and the Conservatives have no mandate to go against the wishes of prairie farmers. Again, this is about the protection of small and medium farms. On that note, considering the government's utter disregard for the results of the September plebiscite, the farmers are also free from having a government that listens to them.

My New Democrat colleagues and I believe that the government should withdraw Bill C-18. We believe that the single desk for wheat and barley is a highly successful institution that plays a vital part in prairie society and the economy. The bill is reckless. It will spell economic hardship for our prairie farmers and communities, especially during these tough economic times.

The member cannot guarantee that these farmers will not lose their farms. The Conservatives cannot guarantee that the price of farmers' grain will not go down. They cannot guarantee that big agriculture will not buy out their farms.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very important for those who are listening to the debate that we be very clear that a good majority of prairie wheat farmers support retaining the Canadian Wheat Board. In fact, well over 20,000 prairie farmers voted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board. These individuals have seen the value of the Wheat Board for a wide variety of reasons. That has been talked about at great length.

I would ask for the member's opinion on what economists have said about the negative impact of getting rid of the single desk. In many rural communities there is a great deal of concern that it would have a negative impact. For many of those small farms that she made reference to it will have a negative impact.

Maybe she could comment briefly on the impact on the rural communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta as a result of this bill.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct. As I indicated before, the bill is reckless and would profoundly affect the lives of farmers.

My colleague talked about economists. Richard Gray, a University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist, said that large grain companies like Viterra, Cargill and Bunge will benefit from having a huge new supply of sellers competing to unload their product.

This does nothing for the port of Churchill. If anything, the port of Churchill will not be protected by this. They already have different ports they can use to market their wares. It is the small communities that will suffer the impact of this. We only need to look at what happened in Australia.

To add insult to injury, the government is rushing this legislation through the House. It is shutting down debate in an unprecedented manner. The reason we have a process in the House is so that good, smart decisions prevail. It is a process designed to avoid rash decisions and to provide peace, order and good government for the people of Canada, which the Conservative government refuses to do.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, we live in uncertain financial times. The economies of individual countries of the European Union, countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain are over their heads in debt, and it is getting worse. No one knows where or when the global financial hardship will end. The economy of our largest trading partner, the United States, is still mired in debt. The U.S. has yet to get back on its feet following the 2007 recession. Worries that Europe's crisis could worsen and spread are spooking investors and consumers.

Here in Canada our economy has fared better than most, but there is an undercurrent of unease, an undercurrent of nervousness, an undercurrent of fear. How will our economy weather the impending storm? That is the outstanding question. There is no answer, not yet.

The Conservative Minister of Finance has acknowledged that Canada's economy faces obvious risks from financial troubles in the United States and in Europe. When David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, spoke to this House in September, he said that the problems in the eurozone are now so big that they have begun to threaten the stability of the world economy.

Here we are today in these uncertain financial times and the Conservative government's answer to these uncertain financial times is to gut the federal public service, throw more people in jail, download expenses to the provincial governments, and kill the Canadian Wheat Board.

Now, I am not a prairie boy. I have never walked in fields of golden wheat. I do not know what it is like to live on flat land, land flat as far as the eye can see. I am a bay man. That is what we call it back home. I am a bay man from around the bay. I have lived all my life on rocky land that rolls to the sea.

There is a common thread between the Prairies and the extreme east of this country, Newfoundland and Labrador. That common thread is common sense. My colleague, the NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre has pointed out in this House on numerous occasions, and this is a point that has resonated with me and should resonate with all Canadians, that there has never been one shred of evidence that farmers will be better off without the Canadian Wheat Board.

How can the Conservative government, which bills itself as being such a great steward of the Canadian economy in these tough economic times that will only get tougher, be so reckless as to turn the prairie farm economy on its head without even doing a cost benefit analysis? How?

Allen Oberg, a farmer and chair of the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors, said:

This government has no plan. It has done no analysis. It has not even consulted farmers. Its approach is based solely on a blind commitment to a sound-bite phrase, called “marketing freedom”. Yet, here we are, barrelling ahead on a timeline that will rip apart a 75-year-old marketing system in a matter of months, and hamper any potential successor organization. This government's reckless approach will throw Canada's grain industry into disarray. It will jeopardize the $5-billion export sector. It will shift money away from the pockets of Canadian farmers into the hands of American corporations.

How can the Conservatives justify not carrying out a cost benefit analysis? How can the Conservatives base their argument on the strength of a free market when prairie farmers freely voted to market wheat through the Canadian Wheat Board?

On September 12, a majority of farmers voted in a plebiscite to keep the Wheat Board. A total of just over 38,000 farmers submitted mail-in ballots during the plebiscite, for a participation rate of 56%. That 56% is on par with the turnout for the last three federal elections.

Some 62% of respondents voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat. How can the Conservatives ignore those results? Easily enough when they have a majority government. That majority government power is a breeding ground for arrogance, a growing arrogance that has the Conservatives thinking they know better than Canadian farmers. That is not the case. Not so; not a chance.

What fishing and farming have most in common at this particular moment in our history is that they are both under direct attack by the Conservative government. In the Prairies, the Conservatives are attacking the livelihood of farmers with their attempt to kill off the Canadian Wheat Board. On the west and east coasts, the fisheries are their target with ongoing moves to gut what is left of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

What the Conservative government should realize, and must realize, is that its buddies on Bay Street cannot feed Canadian families. That is a simple fact of life.

I do not get it. I do not understand why the Conservatives have it in for Canada's primary producers: fishermen and farmers. Why? Who will benefit? Who will be threatened?

At the same time that the federal Conservatives are attempting to kill off the Canadian Wheat Board, back home in my home province, the Progressive Conservative provincial government is moving toward the creation of a marketing board for fish.

The federal Conservatives are killing off the Wheat Board, which markets and brands Canadian wheat and barley around the world, at the same time that the provincial PCs in Newfoundland and Labrador are attempting to create a similar type fish board to market and brand our seafood around the world. That makes no sense. If anything, it shows that there should more study, more investigation, more review so that smart decisions can be made.

The federal Conservatives are killing the Wheat Board while the provincial PCs in Newfoundland and Labrador are birthing a fish board. Two governments, two different directions.

What do we know about the Canadian Wheat Board? We know the board sells grain to more than 70 countries around the world. The board returns all profits to farmers. That is between $4 billion and $7 billion a year. We know that the Wheat Board does not set grain prices. Prices are established by global supply and demand factors. However, the Canadian Wheat Board's size and market power are used to help maximize grain prices.

Therefore, it is logical to assume that in the absence of the Canadian Wheat Board prices will not be maximized, as was the case with the Australian wheat board whose monopoly was abolished in 2006. In three short years, Australia's 40,000 wheat farmers went from running their own grain marketing system, selling virtually all of Australia's wheat, 12% of world wheat production, worth about $5 billion, to being mere customers of Cargill, one of the world's largest agribusiness corporations, which is privately owned by a company in the United States.

Since 2006 the Australian wheat board's share of wheat sales has dropped from 100% to 23% nationally, with 25 companies in the market all looking to make money on the spread between purchase and sale price. Make no mistake, people are still making money off Australian wheat, but it is not so much the Australian farmer who is making the money as the new middleman, the big corporations.

I want to end my speech with this thought which struck me today after I read the Globe and Mail. I read this:

Stephen Harper's crime legislation that triggered--

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I would just remind the hon. member that he may not use the name of other members in his speech and that he has about 20 seconds remaining in his time.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

My apologies.

[The Prime Minister's] crime legislation that triggered last spring’s election could pass through the Commons this week as it makes it way to becoming the law of the land - and Canadians still don’t know how much it costs.

We do not know how much it costs. How does that make sense? We do not know the cost to the Canadian economy of eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board. That is not good enough.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague across the way. My father won the world championship in alfalfa in 1958. He grew the grain in northern B.C., in Fort St. John, and went to Toronto to collect that award. If he were here today, he would ask why he could not be equal with farmers in Ontario who have the freedom to market wheat and alfalfa as they see fit and why he could not have the liberty to do the same?

My question is simple. Why does my friend across the way not like liberty and equality?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member across the way for the question and congratulate his father on that 1958 award.

What I know is this. My home province of Newfoundland and Labrador does not have a marketing arm. It has individual companies that try to market, brand and sell fish, and to date it has not worked. Its industry is but a shadow of its former self.

There was a complete review of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery just carried out, a memorandum of understanding, and one of the principal findings of that MOU was that there should be a marketing arm established to brand and market Newfoundland and Labrador fish because it has not worked piecemeal.

It has not worked with individual processing companies selling and marketing their own products. It has not worked, so Newfoundland and Labrador is moving toward a marketing arm for its fish. If it works, if Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen are stronger as one, I would say to the hon. member across the way that the same would hold true for prairie farmers.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague brought up a very good point, which is whether this decision to do away with the single desk is based on any extensive study of the situation. I have not personally seen it. Yes, it is often brought up by members of the government that this is in the name of marketing freedom and I am sure there are some farmers who want the freedom to market their grain. They all have a few acquaintances who have spoken to them and said that they would like to market their grain independently. However, there is also a large number who, for whatever reason, have voted not to go that way and they are concerned that if the Canadian Wheat Board is no longer a monopoly, they will be worse off.

How does the government make the decision? Is it based on its friends saying that it is a good thing to have market freedom or is it based on a serious study that shows that overall, when this legislation is adopted, all farmers or at least the majority of farmers will be better off in this country?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. From day one, since this legislation was introduced in the House of Commons, New Democrats have asked for a cost benefit analysis. Has a cost benefit analysis been carried out? The answer is no, it has not been carried out.

In the absence of a cost benefit analysis, in the absence of hard and fast numbers as to whether the Wheat Board fulfills its mandate and western farmers would be better off marketing and selling their wheat through a Canadian Wheat Board, this is pure speculation.

The fact is that in these uncertain financial times, with what is happening in the European Union and our partner to the south, the United States, the Conservatives are taking an incredible chance with the western economy by trying this experiment. In the absence of hard and fast numbers, and a solid cost benefit analysis, that is all this is: an experiment.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, the member who is also from St. Paul originally. We are proud to have him speak on the Canadian Wheat Board.

I would like to take a couple of minutes from my prepared text to respond to a couple of things that my hon. colleague before me talked about. In fact, there was a report done. It was one of about five that was brought up at the Wheat Board committee that said that western Canadian farmers would actually benefit by approximately $450 million to $628 million a year by gaining marketing freedom. That is not even taking the inefficiencies of the Canadian Wheat Board into account. That is not even talking about more jobs through value-added sectors. That is just talking about money that could potentially be in farmers' pockets. So just because the hon. colleagues across the way choose not to read the reports does not mean that they have not been done.

The other aspect I would like to point out is this is a very serious issue for western Canadian farmers. This is something that my producers in the Westlock—St. Paul region are counting on for August 2012. For hon. colleagues across the way to get up and ramble on about talking points that they use about government crime policy has nothing to do with jobs and money in the pockets of western Canadian farmers. I find that absolutely offensive.

In fact, I am not knowledgeable about a marketing fish board in Newfoundland, but if I were to vote on it in the House of Commons, I would definitely take the time to at least talk to some fishermen from Newfoundland.

I ask my hon. colleagues across the way, and there are going to be many western Canadian farmers here this week, to please take time and talk to them. Talk to them about what they see in opening up the Canadian Wheat Board and allowing farmers to have the option for marketing freedom while still keeping the Wheat Board in place for other farmers who want to use it.

I am honoured to speak to the bill. Our government's top priority is the economy in which the agriculture industry plays a vital role. We believe that all Canadians should be able to position their business to capture the marketing opportunities that are open to them. When passed, this legislation would provide western Canadian farmers with the same freedom and opportunities as other farmers in Canada already enjoy. That is the freedom to market their grain, based on what is the best for their business, to the buyer of their choice.

On October 18 the hon. Minister of Agriculture introduced legislation that aims to give farmers the right to choose how to market their wheat, durum and barley independently or through a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board. The marketing freedom for grain farmers act would give every farmer in western Canada the freedom to choose how to market their grain. Whether that is to a buyer who pays the full price on delivery, or through a pooled offer by the Canadian Wheat Board, our intention is to have this open marketing system in place for August 1, 2012.

However, as soon as the bill receives royal assent, it will allow farmers and grain companies to enter into forward contracts for the purchase or sale of wheat, barley, durum for the execution after August 1, 2012.

As we all know, nothing good ever comes easily. Change brings challenge, but it also brings a wealth of opportunity. Our government is working diligently with industry to make the road to an open market as smooth as possible, so farmers can capture as many of these opportunities as possible.

During our extensive consultations, industry has raised a number of valid issues around the transition process.

Over the summer a working group comprised of experts in the field met with a wide range of industry players. It heard a broad range of advice on how the grain marketing and transportation system could transition from the current CWB-run system to an open market that includes voluntary marketing pools and it released its report in September. The report does an excellent job of addressing the major transitional issues faced by the sector.

The group focused on a broad set of issues affecting the grain handling and transportation system including: access to elevators, rail and ports; access to producer cars and short lines; funding market development and research; price transparency; and tools for price discovery.

On the issue of access to port terminals, the working group examined this issue in some detail. It expects that grain companies will be actively competing for grain volume in an open market. Grain companies need volume and they have gone on record saying that they will offer access to get it.

Grain companies already offer handling services at ports to third parties that do not own elevators or port terminals, many of which are direct competitors.

There will be an adjustment, there is no doubt, but some producer groups are already showing they can compete and add value for farmers by forming alliances and synergies through the chain. For instance, some inland terminals are co-owners of the Alliance Grain Terminal in Vancouver, and others have relationships with line companies.

These commercial relationships provide a win-win situation. They benefit farm members. It is already happening and it will continue to happen under marketing freedom.

On the issue of rail access, our government knows that proper rail service remains absolutely vital to doing business.

That is why the working group recommended that the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities continue the implementation of the rail freight service review initiatives.

We recently announced the appointment of Jim Dinning to lead a facilitation process to enhance rail freight service. Mr. Dinning brings a depth of experience and expertise in building consensus among industry leaders and government.

I would add that the industry also welcomed this announcement. “We are pleased to see the action plan set in motion”, said David Nobbs, chair of Pulse Canada. Rick White, general manager of the Canadian Canola Growers Association said, “We are very pleased that the Government of Canada has taken steps to implement the first of four key recommendations, and we look forward to working with Mr. Dinning during the facilitation process”.

The facilitation process will bring together shippers, railways and other key players to develop a template for service agreements and a streamlined commercial dispute resolution process. This was one of the key aspects that our shippers asked for when the level of service review was first undertaken.

Once the facilitation process is complete, our government has committed to tabling legislative changes that will give shippers the ability to establish agreements with the railways, promoting more predictable and efficient services.

On the issue of producer cars, the right to producer cars is protected in the Canada Grain Act, and the Canadian Grain Commission allocates these cars to producers. This will not change under the marketing freedom act.

The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly has no bearing on access to producer cars and our government will continue to protect producers' interests.

Under the new rules, producers and short lines will be able to make commercial arrangements with grain companies or the voluntary Canadian Wheat Board 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, but already we are seeing some exciting partnerships. In Saskatchewan, for instance, the province's 12th short line railway was announced just recently.

There is no question that producer cars and short line rail will continue to offer an alternative to those producers who wish to use them.

Marketing choice for western Canadian farmers is not just about keeping a promise to our base, a promise that we have been making for over 10 years to western Canadian farmers. It is about modernizing our grains and oilseeds industries as well as our rail sector, and helping farmers continue to drive our economy.

I come from a part of rural Alberta that has been blessed with some of the hardest working, most entrepreneurial people in all of North America, if not the world. The people of Alberta, but in particular Westlock—St. Paul, despise handouts. In fact, most of the time they just want the government to stay out of their way.

My Grandfather Storseth was a perfect example. He left Norway and was willing to work hard and take some risks to get ahead in Canada. He was a farmer who broke his land with his own hands. He also trapped to help provide a living for his friends and neighbours. It is interesting, even back in the 1950s farmers had to work off-farm to earn a living.

When World War II started, he enlisted, and when his time overseas was finished, he came home to his farm in Fort Assiniboine. He never expected the government to give him a handout, but he did expect the government not to regulate him out of existence, not to tell him to whom he could and could not sell his products.

This is not a unique story. It is the story of many rural Albertans. As I said, we are a hard-working people who know that agriculture has always been the backbone of our economy. When the oil and gas booms come, the agriculture sector is the steady hand that continues to feed our province.

The changes that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board is making in Bill C-18, the marketing freedom act, will help provide for that marketing freedom and will help provide a strong, stable economy.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, if the member were to listen to what the average prairie wheat farmer is saying, he or she is saying that farmers do want to keep the Wheat Board; they see the value. I have said this on a number of occasions. I am sure he could sympathize with the farmer who says that a majority of the wheat farmers want to retain the Wheat Board, yet the majority Conservative government is taking away the Wheat Board. The government's argument is that it wants to provide freedom and that the bill is all about freedom.

For the Wheat Board farmer who produces milk and sells wheat, does that freedom apply to both, equally?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, it would be interesting to note that my position on the questions he asked has not changed.

The opposition, particularly that member, continues to stand and say the Wheat Board is going to be eliminated. It is not. The Wheat Board will still be in place for western Canadian farmers. What they will also have is marketing freedom. When they put in their crops, when they hope for rain and hope that they do not get hailed out, and then do all the work before winter comes to get the grain in their bins, some of them want to get paid that year. They do not want to wait a full year for the Wheat Board to pay them. Some of them want to access open markets so they can get better money. Some of them want to use the board as a risk management tool. This will all be available to western Canadian farmers.

It is not helpful for members of the opposition, for their own political purposes, to try to create fear in western Canada by saying that the board will be eliminated when, in fact, that is not true.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, there has been misrepresentation of the facts. It was said that the minister had asked Canadian Wheat Board chair Allen Oberg to put the interests of farmers first, ahead of their own, long before it went ahead to work against the minister.

Would the member speak to the outreach efforts that the minister had made to ensure the Wheat Board was in fact invited and supposed to be part of the solution?

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. minister is absolutely correct. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has done several outreaches, and our government has done many outreaches, to ensure that we had a smooth transition process moving forward.

I am very upset. The fact is that this could have happened a lot more smoothly, a lot more cohesively if, after we announced after May 2 that we would be moving forward with this, Mr. Oberg and the Canadian Wheat Board had helped facilitate the process rather than trying to burn the house down before they were out of it.

In fact, our government will continue to move forward with marketing freedom for western Canadian farmers because it is the right thing to do for western Canadian farmers and for our economy.