I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that on our side of the issue, our supporters are much more mature than we see from some of the other supporters on the other side. If the member from the NDP had wanted to give this lecture, perhaps he could have given it to his young colleague from Churchill last week when she signed in someone who did disrupt the House.
The folks who have come here today are here to celebrate the bill and we are very happy to have them. In fact, over 60 farmers have come here from western Canada at their own expense. They are excited to be here today because they believe in freedom. I am sure they will be in the gallery and will spend the day with us. They are as excited as we are that we are finally at third reading on Bill C-18.
A lot of these folks are my heroes. I get very disappointed when I hear the member for Malpeque and my colleague from Winnipeg denigrate them. He called them goons and stooges. I actually call them friends, and I am proud they are my friends. They are people I have looked up to for many years because they have been willing to stand with the courage of their convictions. This is a very important issue to them and we look forward to moving ahead with them.
I should point out as well, we have two agricultural ministers, the ministers from Alberta and Saskatchewan, who are here this morning. They felt it was important enough to let Canadians know that this issue needed to move ahead. Members probably saw them at the press conference in which they talked about how this showed that democracy did work. One of the ministers said that 10 farmers were jailed and because of that, this was a good day and they needed to be here.
It is time to move ahead with the bill. It is time it move to the Senate and be passed so that by January 1, western Canadian farmers can have the same rights as every other producer across the country.
A number of my colleagues will speak later. I know they will talk about some of history of this, but I want to review it for a few minutes because I know some of the folks opposite either do not know, or do not want to know, the history behind the Canadian Wheat Board and why it was established.
People need to understand that the prairie pools were established in the 1920s and worked very well. Through the 1920s, they were voluntary pools and by 1927 they handled over 50% of the grain deliveries on the prairies. That was all voluntary. The other 50% of the grain was delivered by producers. They were free to market it as they chose. That system worked very well. It is interesting that when the pools started off, farmers did not have grain handling facilities and within a couple of years, they constructed some of their own facilities. Then by 1927 they had about 15% of the facilities on the prairies, but handled over 50% of the grain. Therefore, a lot of the arguments we hear from the opposition today are not anymore valid today than they were in the 1920s.
From 1923 to 1931, the open market served as an alternative channel. Competition was allowed and people were comfortable with that. In the 1930s the depression hit and the pools had some financial troubles. They were trying to buy grain when they should have been selling it and they went broke. That is when the government stepped in.
In 1943, in the middle of the war, a decision was made. A couple of things happened. There had been some small crops, the price of grain was skyrocketing and there was need for cheap grain in Europe, so the Government of Canada stepped in. The order-in-council said that there were two reasons that the board was made mandatory in 1943. One was to stop inflation and the other was to supply cheap grain to Europe. Both of those things cost farmers money.
Therefore, right from the very beginning of the imposition of the monopoly farmers paid the price for it. There are farmers in Western Canada who recognize that even in those days, in the 1940s and 1950s, they were paying the bill for other people. That continued through the 1960s and 1970s and as it did, more and more opposition built up toward the bill. In the 1990s farmers finally had enough. A group of farmers, “Farmers for Justice”, was formed to stand up for the rights of farmers.
We know the story. The Liberals were in power. The farmers tried to export their grain, some of them as little as a few pounds of grain. They took it to the United States and when they came back, they were arrested and charged. It was not good enough for the Liberal government to charge them, but then insisted they go to jail as well. We have a number of people with us today who had the courage of their convictions, who went as far as being willing to go to jail in order to try to get freedom for the rest of us.
It is a pretty remarkable thing to go from the situation in the 1940s, when the voluntary situation was made involuntary and was imposed on people. Then we get to the 1990s and early 2000s and people want a change. Why would that happen? What kinds of things would happen that would make western Canadian farmers demand these kinds of freedoms?
First, they saw that other farmers had those freedoms and they wanted the same freedom. Even more basic than that, there has been a huge change in what happens on the farm. In the old days, when we talked about transportation, we talked about horse wagons and eventually one tonne and two tonne trucks that people would use to haul their grain to town. They could only haul it a few miles to the local elevators, with 30 or 40 bushels at a time. It gradually evolved to three tonnes and then to tandems and now today we have huge semis, B-trains that haul 1,500 bushels at a time and people can haul hundreds of miles if they need to.
Short lines have now been established, which were not in place in the old days when there were only two railways with which people had to deal. Short lines give them options for transportation. On the farm, things have gone from steel wheels to GPS. They have gone from one bottom plows to autosteer sprayers. They have gone from standing sheaves in the field to 450 horsepower combines.
Communications have changed almost as much as the technology. There was hardly any in the old days. People had their information locally and most of them did not even have phones. They would haul their grain to the local elevator, find out what the price was and that was the best they could do. Maybe they had a weekly newspaper or radio that they listened to once in a while, but they were dependent on the local elevator agent for their help. That has changed, and we all know that.
When farmers get up in the morning, the first thing they check is their BlackBerrys and prices. They are ahead of the grain companies. They know at the beginning of the day what they need. They are on the Internet, on Twitter, on Facebook. The daily pricing is available instantaneously to them. They rely on that.
I can give a couple of examples of how the Wheat Board does not and did not react in the old days and why we need change today. I have told this story before. My area in the early 1990s had some frozen grain. The Wheat Board told us it really did not want to market it, so we looked for another market and found one in Montana. We told Wheat Board we would sell our grain in Montana. Then we had a call back from the grain company telling us not to bother, that it was able to buy grain. It turned out it was buying our grain for quite a bit less money than we had arranged with the company. We followed the trucks from of our elevators in Frontier, Climax and Shawnavon, Saskatchewan, across the border and to Montana. We watched them dump that same grain into the pit. We had done a better job of marketing it than the Wheat Board had. It took the grain away from us and sold it at the price it wanted to.
Last fall we had an issue with grading of lentils. In the past these issues would take weeks and weeks to generate even with the frozen grain issue. It took several weeks for us to find out what we would do with it and how we would react. With the grading of lentils, within two or three days people were calling us and telling us there was an issue. Things were pretty much resolved within a week. How things changed with the communication, when farmers were unable to find out what was going on. Now they know ahead of everyone else what needs to be done.
Times have changed. There is a new era that has finally arrived and it is providing the same opportunities for western Canada that farmers across the country have had for such a long time.
I was thinking about this the other day and a question came to my mind. Can those of us in western Canada even understand what freedom will really be all about when we have been locked in this structure for so long? I want to talk about a few of those possible potential opportunities.
First, there are growing and specific variety opportunities. We watched the Swift Current research station develop grain varieties over the years. Many of these varieties because of our grading system have ended up being grown in Montana, not in western Canada. We have had to watch other people grow the grains that we have paid to develop and that should have been available to us.
We are moving into a new era with things like bioproducts and nutraceuticals. What a good time for western Canadian farmers to be able to participate in those kinds of things. We are moving into a time where there are niche strains, where people around the world are asking for small lots of specific grains. Farmers in western Canada have asked for years if it is possible for them to export just a small amount of a particular type of barley or a particular type of durum. The answer has always been no, that the Canadian Wheat Board is not interested in those small lots.
There will be marketing opportunities. There will be opportunities to market through the new Canadian Wheat Board or marketing oneself. People will have a real choice in their marketing.
There will be business opportunities. We have already heard of some of the companies that want to do the value added. They want to spend money in western Canada. That is a different story from what we have heard over the years.
Companies are already committing to new spending. They are talking about investing and new companies are talking about coming into western Canada for the first time. How exciting is that for those of us who live there?
There are personal business opportunities as well. There are at least two examples in the past where those things have been stifled. A young couple I was baking bread and taking it the local farmers' market. The couple's business started to grow and grow and it was making more and more bread. One of the supermarkets wanted to put the couple's bread on its shelf. It was at that point the Wheat Board stepped in and told the young couple that it did not need to do this, that it would market the couple's grain and it did not need to worry about this. Therefore, the couple was not able to continue with it.
Another example was somebody who wanted to grind flour. The Wheat Board interfered with him at every level it possibly could over the years. I know he will be one of those folks who has been waiting a long time for the freedom he will finally have.
On a bigger scale, farmers who wanted to start durum processing plants and pasta plants in western Canada were not even allowed to deliver their own grain to their own companies. The Wheat Board stepped in and disallowed that, so we watched those plants being built in North Dakota.
Entrepreneurs will have all kinds of opportunities. It will be homegrown products, businesses that want to export specialty flours and pastas. There are all kinds of opportunities.
This morning provincial ministers said that they believed there would be provincial opportunities to diversify the economy of the provinces as well. We have always been hewers of wood, drawers of water and growers of grain. This gives us a chance to do so much more.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about innovation, because an open market will attract investment, encourage innovation and create value-added jobs. We will be building a stronger Canadian economy, not just a stronger western Canadian economy.
The wheat and barley business in Saskatchewan alone is a major driver of our economy, bringing almost $2 billion per year to the farm gate. I am confident we can grow that business under marketing choice. Stephen Vandervalk, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, said, “We hope that with an open market we will see far more milling, malting capacity, and we will not need to ship our grain across the mountains”. I think that is the wish of every western Canadian farmers.
We are sensing a new excitement about value added. I already mentioned that we have commitment. For example, Alliance Grain Traders recently announced a $50 million multi-purpose durum and pulp milling facility in Regina. It is great news for durum growers, especially when we hear that Italy is set to increase its imports, due to a supply shortfall in the EU.
Marketing freedom is fundamentally about innovation and about freeing our farmers so they can innovate as well. Innovation has always driven growth in agriculture. I talked a little about that earlier. That is one of the main reasons why our government is working right now to bring marketing freedom to wheat and barley growers in western Canada.
The other day I talked about how value-added processing has taken place in so many of the other crops, the open market crops like canola, oats and flax. We need to have this opportunity for grains as well. We need to tap into the new niche markets for wheat and barley. We can do that through specialty pools, through value-added investment and through all kinds of other innovative strategies.
This will work for the entire value chain, attract new investments to the prairies, create new jobs and revitalize rural communities. It will grow wealth in western Canada. That is why we need to move ahead with this.
I mentioned the other day about canola and flax, but I do not think the opposition understands how big those crops are in western Canada. They have grown from virtually nothing to where canola is now the major crop in western Canada in terms of value. It brings almost $5.5 billion to the farm gate each year. It is driving 70% of world canola exports. It has become a flagship product of our agricultural industry. It demonstrates world-class innovation. It demonstrates the Canadian reputation for food quality. These are the kind of things we can carry over to grain as well, once the bill passes.
Flax is another one of those Canadian success stories. It is used in a host of products, animal feed, flooring, all different kinds of things. We are one of the largest suppliers of flax in the world, accounting for almost half of the world's supply.
Those are just two examples of areas where western Canadians have been able to do their own thing, go to market and grow their own product. They have been extremely successful at that.
I want to talk a little about our agricultural scientists. Over a century ago they tested a new variety of wheat that opened up the west and made Canada into a global grain powerhouse. Today I feel we are standing on the edge of another new era such as that. It is one that will breathe new life into our grain industry and open up a world of possibility for farmers.
I think that one of those developments that scientists are doing for us is kind of a neat thing. We put $4 million into the wheat genome project in order to get new varieties to farmers faster. Just recently, a new exciting durum variety was developed by our scientists in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. It has come onto the market and it offers growers strong yield advantage and improved disease resistance. I do not think that it is a coincidence that its name is AC Enterprise. What better way to usher in marketing freedom than to bring a new spirit of enterprise to our durum producers across the Prairies.
There is a record to be broken in the number of investments our government has made to support Canadian farmers. We have been committed to farmers. We stand with them and we have their backs. We will continue to make those investments that will help bring the sector forward. We want them to have long-term prosperity.
Farmers do not want to be held back by antiquated systems that restrict their ability to run their businesses as they see fit. I am proud that our government is willing and able to bring marketing freedom to western Canadians farmers.
I am very disappointed with the board of directors at the Canadian Wheat Board and their reaction to this bill. They had the option to stand up for farmers and it is time that they did because we are moving ahead here.