Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his clarification on farmers' privileges being beyond the year, and of course there is an end royalty, as he has pointed out. Therefore, it is not much different than if it was at the end of the year because they are going to pay royalties anyhow. It would seem that one is going to end up paying folks regardless.
Clearly the UPOV '91, as it suggests, is actually a treaty that was negotiated in 1991. When we refer to “78”, that was 1978.
It is a long time ago since UPOV '91 was actually looked at in the sense of a treaty. Of course, as we look from place to place, there are differences in what has been done. There are some exemptions built into it in certain countries that are not present in others, so it is not holistic across the board in the sense that what was decided in 1991 is what is done in Australia, Germany, France, the U.K., the United States or a number of other places that actually enacted it.
Clearly, at some point in the early 2000s when our friends down at the end, the Liberals, were in power, they attempted then to get it enacted. Farmers at that time were pleased with it, but they had a lot of questions concerning it. What happened was the government backed away, and here we are in 2014 still looking at UPOV '91 and whether it should go forward.
Based on the minister's comments and the bill itself, and the minister's earlier comments outside of this place, the government's intent is to get this enacted by August of this year based on the belief that there is some science and innovation that will happen if this comes into force. That, of course, then means there will be a charge somewhere, because people do not do this work unless they get paid for it.
I am not suggesting folks should do it for free in the private sector. That is not what they do. They are in the business of making profits for their shareholders or the owners of their companies if they are privately owned. That is not a bad thing; that is how business survives. People who work for privately owned companies want them to survive because if the companies are not making any money, they cannot pay their employees. That is the nature of business.
Ultimately, that means customers pay for that, because it is not done for free. People do not do it out of the goodness of their hearts or for public good. They do it because they see that there is potentially a market and think that they can perhaps win over that market and charge whatever the price may be. The price could be up, sideways, or lower. It depends. It could be a number of things.
Who is the market? It will not be me, that is for sure. I do not know about you, Mr. Speaker, but I do not farm. It does not matter if I live in the country. The piece that I own takes care of itself. I do not plant anything of any significance, so I will not be paying that. It could be down at the end, because I am the retail customer at the far end, and maybe that is where the price will slide itself along.
It is clear that farmers will pay for this innovation, and in some cases farmers may say that these innovations are worth paying for. In fact, many farmers are in checkoff programs to get into innovation and new technologies to do different things, and happily so, because they want to continue to enhance their ability to grow better-quality crops. They want to grow more crops while using less land, crops that are more drought resistant or drought tolerant or crops that use less water and less inputs, because inputs are a cost to farmers. They are keenly aware of all of those things and interested in doing them. In fact, I would suggest that all farmers are involved in some form of organomics in the sense of asking how they can do it better, whether it be looking at crop rotation, looking at what they do or at the market, or trying to do things in a better way in working with their land and inputs.
Therefore, there are questions about UPOV '91. It has been around for a while, but it has been on the back burner for a long period of time. The minister is correct in saying that UPOV '78 does not speak about farmers' privilege or farmers' saving seed. It is totally silent. It does not say a word. Therefore, farmers go ahead and do it; they save seed. They just save it, because it is silent. It does not say they cannot and it does not lay out a prescription as to how they can. Since it says nothing, it is assumed that they can.
That is what farmers have been doing for millennia, quite frankly. Long before the seed companies came along, farmers were their own seed company, and many are to this day, in a way. It varies. They buy some and they save some; they do a number of different things. There are hybrids, of course, that they have to pay for every year, and other varieties of things that they do have to pay for. There is no question about that. Farmers say it is a legitimate thing that they have to do, but they do not see the problem when they save it. They see this as an adjunct piece and ask why they cannot continue to do that.
The minister was fairly clear, and I will look at the record when it is presented. However, I believe what he said was that they can save it for more than a year but they are going to pay an end-use royalty on it, so they are going to pay anyway. Whether they save it or not, they are going to pay. They could basically not save it and pay, or they could go to the trouble of saving it. That means they are going to condition it, or get it conditioned, get it ready to use in their fields, and then when they harvest it they are going to pay something at the end.
This is the dilemma. I had a quick look at page 7, clause 5, and it does not say anything as to what it would be. What would that end-use royalty actually be? Would it be greater than if a farmer simply bought the seed and did not save it in the first place? Is that going to be the regulation that we wait for and then we find out after? Or, is that going to be a negotiated piece between the companies and the farmers? Would that be individual farmers? Would it be farmers' associations? It could be the grain growers group or some other group, the oats or barley groups. Would it be them? Would it be individuals? Would they pit farmer against farmer? Would the end-use royalties be higher here and lower there, depending on the deal they could cut? That is an open question, at least based on what I can see on page 7. The minister pointed us to this, and I want to thank the minister for pointing us to that clarification, but I do not see that laid out in front of us.
Clearly there are many open question on UPOV '91 for a lot of farmers, and legitimately so, as to why we are rushing headlong at this. Some would say it has been there for a long time, but it has been silent for a long time, and a lot of folks need to get back up to speed. I know the minister will say that we will have opportunities through committee. I would hope that we would have that opportunity through the committee, in the sense that we would take the time to do a couple of things. One would be to investigate what has happened. I welcome the minister's offer that as long as we do not tear it apart and pull things out of it, the minister would be happy to take helpful suggestions.
I will apologize to you in advance for being a little skeptical, Mr. Speaker, because I know that you were not the one who is the skeptic, but I am. That is based on my previous experiences in the agriculture committee, where I had proposed some changes to a food safety bill. I did not strip anything out of the bill; I was actually adding things that I thought would be helpful. Of course, we did not get any changes.
As much as I think that there were 14 or 15 potential amendments from the opposition benches that could have enhanced the bill, we did not actually get any. Therefore, you will have to excuse me, Mr. Speaker, for being a bit skeptical about the statement from the minister when it comes to his arms being open to good ideas and our feeling free to send them his way, so that the Conservatives would take them under advisement and make the bill better. I do not have any experience around that in this Parliament, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize to you because I know it is not something you would do. You would be more than welcoming to ensure that legislation is as good as we can possibly make it coming out of this place. That is what we should be about as legislators.
I have talked to a number of individuals in the farm community, and without question, some of them are saying the bill is a good thing. They think it is a good thing, and they are saying to me that they think there is nothing wrong with it. I know the members on the other side quite often want to point at one group or another. However, quite frankly, I am talking to individual farmers who are non-affiliated; they are not saying they are with this group or that group. Some folks would be surprised to find individual farmers are from groups that the other side call as witnesses all the time. They are saying that we should think about this for a while because they are not sure how it is going to weave itself together.
We are told we get a privilege, but what privilege is it? Is it really a privilege, or is it that people can store it but they are going to pay for it? If that were the case, then that person would end up storing it and the person who initially sold it would collect the money at the end of the day. Some would say that is not a bad deal, and some would say it is not a particularly good one. That is problematic, and it needs to be looked at very carefully.
There are a number of issues with the bill. A number of things are changed in the bill, including the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, and advance payments. There are a number of pieces, but one that is always contentious is the sense that the government is not making changes through the legislative process but through a regulatory process. Once that is handed over, it is gone.
There are good pieces in the legislation. It talks about the health and safety of handling fertilizers to make sure it is done well. Those are good things. We approve of those things. We think they are good.
However, the government then goes on to say that from now on the changes will be made through a regulatory process. It will not have to bring the legislation back because this legislation takes all of the responsibility and hands it to the minister, whoever that happens to be. It may not be this particular minister; it may be somebody else down the road. Those are difficult issues.
There are some things that can be done through regulations. The changes that have a minimal impact and need to be done quickly can be done this way. In these particular cases, these are large pieces. We are talking about turning over a large responsibility and a large amount of authority to the minister.
On this side, we have noticed that quite often the government brings in omnibus bills. I am not sure if the minister would agree that it is omnibus bill, but we actually looked at Bill C-18.
I would remind the House that there is more legislation being done on agriculture now than in recent memory. My colleague the member for Malpeque may be able to help me with this, but it seems that we have done more changes to agriculture legislation in this Parliament than probably in the last 10 Parliaments combined, which has had significant impacts on farmers right across the board.
To turn future changes that should be done through a legislative process over to a regulatory process is not reassuring for me as the critic, to be honest, in the sense that things might not happen later on. The minister said that we can change things through regulation, including the effects on farmers' privilege. That can be changed through regulation based on what happens here.
What happens then? The minister said that we could enhance it. The problem with a two-headed coin is that when it is flipped there is another side. It might be another head or it could be tail. What it means is that the advancement that might have been done could be taken away on the other side. There is no sense that it should or would happen, but the problem is that the potential is there for it to happen. If the potential is in the wrong hands, it will affect those who will have things taken away from them.
Clearly there are a number of things we would probably say are good pieces of legislation that could be tweaked a little or we could let them go. As an omnibus bill, it needs to be studied extremely carefully. We need to study it carefully and be open to helping to make it better legislation.
We could debate the merits of the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board on a philosophical basis, and whether it was right or wrong. One of the things we cannot underscore enough is that when the Wheat Board went, the logistics piece went with it. We can see what happened with the rail system and the backlog on the Prairies. The premier of Saskatchewan and the agriculture minister in Alberta are speaking out, and, last week at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture asked the government to stop talking about regulation and to regulate the railroads to make sure the crops can be moved off the Prairies.
That is an opportunity for the government to act under the regulations. It does not have to be brought here. That would be an appropriate use of regulations. The big stick of regulations could be brought out to make things happen. Then we would actually get product off of the Prairies.
Conservative estimates are that between $2 billion to $4 billion is stranded out there to farmers, which affects part of this legislation when it talks about advance payments programs. It is talking about how we are going to do this and streamline it if they want multiple years, in other words, back to back payments. Well, this year farmers are going to be back to back because many of them took the advance loans last year.
The minister is already on the record as saying, “We know there's a problem. We know you haven't sold your crop and you have no money because there's no Wheat Board to send it to”. Basically, farmers are waiting for an elevator to clear its grain so they can get into an elevator, if they are not where they can get to a producer car. What happens is that they are not empty and they cannot get in, so they do not get paid. The government's response is to get another loan.
Farmers are getting a loan to pay a loan and then starting the year with a loan without selling any grain. Some of the estimates we are talking about is that the carry-out could be two years. In other words, grain that was grown last year may not hit market until two years from now.
If that is the case, the price it was worth last year will not be the price it is worth in the future; it will be worth less. Its optimum quality will diminish over time, and farmers will end up with less money for it than they would have received last year. Clearly that would impact their ability to pay back the loan because it is of less value. The loan was based on the value in their bins.
That is today, of course. If they do not sell the remainder of it for two years, and they sell it for feed versus what used to be premium quality wheat with great protein, they are now stuck selling it for a heck of a lot less. In fact, today, the prices are running at between 12% to 15% less than they were last fall. Of course, if the grain does not move, they would not fill the contract anyways.
Clearly this legislation is talking about advance payments and those loan programs. However, this seems as if it has become a cover for a lot of things that happened last year in Growing Forward 2—and my friend from Malpeque referenced it in his questions—and what we call the suite of programs. This is business risk management programming, where the government takes out hundreds of billions of dollars worth of money. The government will say, “Hang on, the supplemental estimates will come. Just wait”.
The problem is that farmers cannot wait. There are difficulties in business risk management programming; there is no question about that. The issue is whether we fix the program or gut the program. In my view, they gutted the program.
I have talked to farmers who are asking about the sense of being in the program. The programs are not doing what they are supposed to and they feel they would not qualify for some of them anyway. They have moved the base down to such a level that they would not qualify for the programs. They do not get any money. They really want that program, but the problem is that they have to take this program with this program because that is the way they are bundled together. They end up on the short end of the stick, and therefore why would they bother doing that?
Clearly there are some sticking points in this legislation. UPOV '91, for many farmers, is a major issue that they want to see resolved. Many of them do not wish to give up their inherent right to save seed, which they have done, as I said earlier, for millennia.
Most folks in the city would assume that is how farmers do it. I recognize that is not how it really happens. There are seeds that farmers buy from companies on a regular basis, canola being one of them. There are other farmers who would prefer to buy seed every year rather than save it. That is a choice they make. The difficulty is that a lot of farmers see that they could perhaps lose their choice.
There are ways for innovation to happen. One of the things we know needs to happen, obviously, is that they need to get paid. They are not going to do the work without being paid. I think that is appropriate.
There are royalty schemes that say “If you want to participate as a broader group, perhaps that's how you'll do it”. There are check-offs in canola. There are check-offs in other programs, for other commodity groups and other livestock groups, that do different things as the money goes in there.
However, one of the things that is missing in all of this is the public dollars and research. The Canadian government, not the Conservative government, but the government and this country, under a lot of different administrations, was world-renowned for the type of work it did in innovation and public research in the agriculture sector. That is the piece that is missing here. We would like to see public dollars go back to the public good and to farmers. That is the way to make it profitable.