Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I once again speak to Bill C-5, which I have debated in the House of Commons twice before.
I will repeat one comment that I started off with the last time. When I was elected to the House of Commons I told myself and my constituents that when good legislation was put forward by the government I would congratulate the government on it and not simply be destructive in my criticism but be constructive.
I say to the government and to the Minister of Industry that this is a very good piece of legislation. It allows co-operatives to go forward into the 21st century with the ability to make necessary changes to be competitive not only within themselves but with other industries.
Brandon—Souris is the home of almost everything. The House has been privy to my rantings with respect to all the good things that have happened in my community. We are also the home of a number of very successful co-operatives. Members may be aware that the co-operative movement came to us from western Canada. Co-operatives involved people organizing around the common goal, usually not for profit but for the economic benefit of all their members.
Co-operatives promote grassroots development, led by people rather than by government. They are a reflection of local people taking the initiative to understand the problems they face and to develop solutions. Co-operatives find their roots in community based enterprise around the world, and certainly in Canada.
The principles of the 1970 Canada Co-operatives Association Act were based on provincial legislation dating back to the early 20th century. While the provinces have been updating their co-operative legislation over the years, there have been no changes to modernize the framework of the federal act since its inception.
As a result, in March 1996 the Canadian Co-operatives Association and its francophone counterpart jointly submitted recommendations to modernize the federal act. The proposals were the product of consultations with both their memberships. As previously mentioned, the most notable feature was the changes that most closely aligned the Canadian Co-operatives Association Act with the Canada Business Corporations Act. Both associations agreed these changes enable co-operatives to modernize their operations to better compete in the domestic and international markets on a level playing field.
Bill C-5 deals with a number of very innovative changes to that legislation. The legislation came out of consultations, consensus and the co-operation of an organization that brought forward to government, in a very long process over five years, what it felt was necessary for the co-operative movement to continue into the 21st century. As we are well aware, a number of changes are required to compete in this globalized world in which we now live. It was done, as I said, in full co-operation with the membership.
One issue they dealt with was the form of capitalization a co-operative could now do. The co-operative has a larger scope in adopting the structure between traditional and open market approaches, providing greater flexibility in establishing methods for members to finance their co-operatives.
The bill attempts to balance the rights of members with those of corporate directors, which is very important.
Bill C-5 makes changes to the rules governing membership by removing all restrictions. The rules are now solely determined by the co-operative and are laid out in its charter bylaws. This means membership would be open to all, provided current members approve.
Bill C-5 makes changes to the rules governing the issuing of shares. The conditions of issuing membership shares are set out in the incorporation charter.
Bill C-5 will permit co-operatives with share capital to issue investment shares to their members and to the public, provided the members have agreed to do so and have set out the rules in the charter bylaws.
Traditionally co-ops have looked only to their members to finance their operations. This means that co-operatives can now become more competitive with their capitalization. I speak of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, a very prime example of what a very progressive co-operative can do in the competitive market.
The proposed changes equip the industry with the tools necessary for raising badly needed capital investment. It is a response, for instance, to declining membership investment, resulting in co-ops not being able to upgrade existing expensive and outdated infrastructure. This policy follows changes adopted by some of the provinces.
I point out that Bill C-5 is not a controversial bill, as I said earlier. It was done with co-operation and with consultation. We in the Progressive Conservative Party will be supporting the bill.
Agreement between all parties on the bill was slow as it took over as five year period to develop, but I believe they achieved a reasonable compromise with minor amendments at report stage. Overall the bill is a positive step in bringing co-operatives into the 21st century by making them more flexible, efficient and competitive.
The changes in Bill C-5 are wide scale adjustments but I am confident overall co-op membership, some 4.5 million Canadians, will benefit.
That being said, this gives us a very good model by which to develop legislation: listen to the people, listen to the industry that is being affected and put into legislation the necessary changes that allow it to adapt.
I will make an analogy between that and another piece of legislation brought to the floor of the House recently in which I have been involved. I will make a comparison between Bill C-5, which I have already said is an excellent model that has worked extremely well, and Bill C-4 respecting the Canadian Wheat Board.
Bill C-4, unlike Bill C-5, does not have a common goal that provides for the economic benefit of its members, the producers of the Canadian Wheat Board. Unfortunately Bill C-4 did not have the same consultative process as Bill C-5 has had. In committee we were told we had to rush Bill C-4 through without having the proper consultation because it had to get to third reading before the Christmas sitting was over.
It was sent to committee where we had to get it through. Bill C-5 took time, took legislative opportunity, to make sure adjustments were made. Bill C-4 did not come about in that fashion. Bill C-4, unlike Bill C-5, does not take the initiative to understand the problems producers face or to develop solutions.
Bill C-5 did that. We listened to what the industry was saying about what it needed for the future, for the 21st century. Unfortunately the government did not understand the problems facing producers and did not put into place the necessary legislation to deal with those problems into the 21st century. Bill C-4, unlike Bill C-5, does not allow farmers to decide in their best interest to ban together to gain better control over the marketing of their products.
In Bill C-5 the membership makes the rules. The membership is the owners. In Bill C-4 that is not the case. The government still maintains ownership. The elected board of directors is only 10 out of 15 and the chief executive officer will be appointed by government. It does not allow the producers, the major stakeholders, to have a say on how they will be operated.
Bill C-4 unlike Bill C-5 has not updated its legislation and modernized its framework to adjust to the 21st century since the inception of the Canadian Wheat Board in 1935. Unfortunately Bill C-4 does not allow the producers to have a voluntary or opt in, opt out situation.
I am making an analogy between Bill C-5 and Bill C-4. I appreciate the model which has been put forward in Bill C-5. Unfortunately it has not been carried through. Unlike Bill C-5 the proposals in Bill C-4 were not the product of consultation with all stakeholders. The government already predetermined the options of producers before they were even allowed to speak in committee.
As I said earlier, the committee would not allow members or stakeholders to come forward to speak to a very important piece of legislation that would control their operations for the next numbers of years.
Bill C-4, unlike Bill C-5, fails to modernize the operations of farmers so they can better compete in domestic and international markets on a level playing field. Bill C-5 allows for the co-operatives to compete on a level playing field with private corporations. It allows them to modernize with more capital. It allows them to make sure that they will be competitive and in business come the 21st century. Bill C-4 unfortunately does not allow producers to do that.
Bill C-4, unlike Bill C-5, does not speak to the wishes expressed by the majority of farmers. Bill C-5 took that into consideration. They sat down will all the stakeholders, talked to them and listened to them to put in place the right piece of legislation that would allow them to do that. Bill C-4 would not.
Bill C-4 and Bill C-5 could do so much for farmers. Bill C-5 achieves this with great success while Bill C-4 fails miserably. I hope the government over the holiday season has a change of heart and starts to listen to farmers, particularly those in western Canada, and does the right thing by providing Bill C-4 with the much needed tools that farmers want to compete in the 21st century, much as Bill C-5 does.
The co-operative movement is a very important movement in my community. During the question and answer period the last time I rose to speak, a question was asked by another member as to whether a member of a co-operative could speak honestly about it. I can stand here today and proudly say that I am a member of a co-operative. We have one in Brandon, Manitoba, to which I belong. It is the best way to provide that service.
I do not wish to prolong debate longer than necessary. I believe all parties are in agreement with this piece of legislation, which is unusual in the House. The Progressive Conservative Party recognizes that in some instances the government listens. In some instances it will let the people be a part of the legislation that is necessary to govern them. We will be supporting the legislation when it comes to the vote.