I am not digging a hole. I am proud of it.
For generations, farmers relied on the Wheat Board to get the best possible price for their grain to support their families, but the government ignored the warnings from the NDP, other groups, and farmers themselves when they all went through this. The government refused to listen to the democratic wishes of prairie farmers, who voted in September 2011 to keep a single desk for their wheat and barley.
In the past, wheat farmers could depend on the Canadian Wheat Board to fight and to put pressure on the rail companies to get the grain to market. When the board had a monopoly on selling grain overseas, it also held considerable market influence. However, it is clear that smaller producers are being penalized under this new system as they carry less volume.
In a system that has to move around 400,000 grain cars in a year, there is absolutely no room for error or a shortfall when grain shipments are waiting at a cost of the thousands and thousands of dollars a day, a cost that is ultimately paid by farmers through a lower price for their product. We should be building up our agricultural sector, not penalizing it.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food suggested that farmers should be getting loans to tide them over. That is not very sound advice and threatens long-term financial health. This will only create another financial crisis in the future. Also, a five-year study on the source of the bottleneck is far too slow for producers, who need help right now.
I will mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
Kyle Friesen, from the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, put it perfectly, and I quote:
We need to get the grain moving because many farmers may not be paid for last year's harvest until after spring planting.... This is already causing lost sales, things need to improve otherwise this will translate into a serious cash flow issue for farmers when they need to buy seed and inputs this spring.
Like every Canadian, grain producers have bills and loans due.
We need to do better to get the railways moving. Producers deserve better. This is obviously not an easy question to answer. There is no easy answer.
I urge the government to take action in a way that will help farmers' burdens now. The minister has pledged $1.5 million for a five-year transportation study. He has also committed to increasing the monitoring of rail companies. It is a good step. However, the minister needs to look at the issue closely. Both CP and CN have seen their grain revenues go up, even as the number of rail cars available to producers has decreased.
We are urging the government to increase pressure on rail companies, including with the implementation and enforcement of rail performance standards. It is clear that we need new communication protocols and consequences for non-performers when shipping deals are broken. We are also urging the government to ensure that export and vessel information is accessible to producers and that grain producers have fair access to rail infrastructure to move their product. The government also needs to develop a strategy for future rail service that accounts for sustained agricultural growth.
Grain producers across the country are frustrated by the difficulties they are having when it comes to transporting their crops. The problems they are experiencing are driving down the price of grain, and they are afraid they will not be able to transport their crops in the future.
Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, is asking shippers to increase their capacity in order to meet the demand. Farmers are afraid of being passed over in favour of other clients because of the price cap that the railway can impose on grain transportation. The problem is that the Conservative government got rid of the Canadian Wheat Board without coming up with a plan for shipping grain, even though that is something it could have avoided.
Now the Minister of Agriculture is suggesting that farmers use cash advances and is proposing a five-year study on the source of the problem. What are farmers supposed to do in the meantime? Life goes on.
Like everyone else, Canada's grain producers have bills to pay and loan payments to make, and the banks will not wait for them. The government needs to take concrete action immediately to get meaningful results for farmers. The fact that hard-working farmers cannot ship their grain is completely unacceptable. It makes no sense.
We are urging the government to increase pressure on rail companies, including the implementation and enforcement of rail performance standards. We need a viable strategy for transporting grain by rail.
Farmers should not have to struggle with increasing prices. We need to take immediate action to find a solution and determine the root of the problem. Are oil shipments a factor? Why is there such a bottleneck? We need to find answers. Are the ports also playing a role in this issue?
The government has asked the railway companies to come up with solutions to deal with the backlog, but it does not plan on imposing penalties. Is the government going to just stand by and watch?
The Alberta Federation of Agriculture believes that railway companies prefer to do business with oil companies, not producers and farmers. CN responds that no oil is transported in the 5,500 cars reserved for grain each week. Everyone is passing the buck.
The NDP is urging the government to increase pressure on rail companies, including the implementation and enforcement of rail performance standards; ensure that vessel and export information is accessible to producers; ensure that grain producers have fair access to rail infrastructure in order to move their product; and develop a strategy for future rail service.
It is time to do something about this. The government could have prevented this from happening. Everyone has a role to play. It is not black and white. Tonight's debate is interesting and gives us an opportunity to learn things. We are sharing good ideas. I hope that we can soon resolve this situation, which is frustrating and painful for the farmers. They have worked so hard this year.