Mr. Speaker, it is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak in the House for an extended period of time so I would like to congratulate you and the other members of the Speaker's chair. I sit beside you and we have a good working relationship. I expect that will continue.
I would also like to thank the electorate of Brandon—Souris for putting me in this wonderful position in the House and for being able to speak today on Bill C-4 on their behalf.
I would like to begin debate on the bill which is now before us with the prophetic words of one hon. member of Parliament. He was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party and represented my riding over 40 years ago. He was the Hon. Walter Dinsdale. His words on the subject matter outlined in Bill C-4 are very relevant for someone who spoke on the issue 40 years ago:
Wheat is still the economic lodestar of the prairies—. Wheat made possible the building of Canada's first transcontinental railway, and I sometimes think the construction of the CPR was the last major effort on the part of this dominion government relative to the prairies.
It was also the rapid development of our wheat economy that made possible the great waves of immigration in the early years of this century and opened up that part of Canada to popular settlement.
Important as the wheat trade undoubtedly is, it nevertheless leaves our prairie economy in a particularly vulnerable position because it means that we are tied to a one-product economy. When disturbances inevitably occur in world economy and are reflected in our internal economy, it is the agricultural industry that is the first to suffer.
In this regard I would like to add, Mr. Speaker, that the wheat board has been particularly effective in smoothing out extreme swings in the economic cycle. The only difficulty with the wheat board is that it has tended to become used as an instrument of political manipulation, and wheat policies have been adapted to the welfare of the party in power.
I would add, though, that marketing boards do not necessarily increase the price to the producer. They merely iron out some of the wilder fluctuations. In the final analysis it is demand that determines price.
It is ironic reciting these words on an issue which was brought to the attention of the then Liberal government over 40 years ago by a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament. Is it not funny that 40 years later the current Liberal government continues to put a deaf ear to the concerns of western members of Parliament. It is sad how little things have changed around here. It is really sad for the producers who have to deal with a federal government which is so adamant on preventing change when it concerns the interests of farmers across western Canada.
I appreciate the fact that the government in power has a very difficult issue facing it today. I have spoken to many stakeholders across the country and I can say that they have very divergent needs. Some say to get rid of the board entirely and we recognize who those people are. There is also the range on the other side which says to leave it exactly the way it is, the status quo with no changes whatsoever. We recognize where that comes from.
There is in the middle however a number of stakeholders, a number of producers, who would like to see change, some of them within the Canadian Wheat Board system and some of them on a voluntary basis, so they would have the right to choose in which fashion they would market their grains.
The government today had an opportunity to embrace change going into the 21st century. It had an opportunity to show leadership with respect to marketing western Canadian grains. In fact with Bill C-4 before us right now, it has failed to show that leadership. The government has tinkered with the existing Canadian Wheat Board.
I am not naive enough politically to believe that we on this side of the House are going to change the direction of government. In saying that, when I came to this House I said to my constituents that I wanted to bring positive criticism, constructive criticism to the government. I would like to in the next little while show some of that positive criticism.
The first issue I would like to deal with in Bill C-4 before us today is that of the inclusion clause. I had the opportunity to actually speak to the commissioners of the Canadian Wheat Board. When I asked the question why must there be an inclusion clause to include canola, flax, rye and oats, the answer I received was if there is going to be an exclusion clause, then we should have an inclusion clause.
Never did they speak to the ability to market better. Never did they speak that it would be better for the producers. Never did they speak to the fact that it was the best way to market in the world today. They simply said because there is exclusion, there should be inclusion. This is not good enough. The majority of shareholders and stakeholders in agriculture do not want inclusion of those crops.
On the board of directors, it is a very good move considering the legislation that is before us. There should well be an elected board of directors. I agree with that. Of the 15 board of directors who have been identified, all 15 should be elected by the producers, not appointed by government.
They are going to say “but the government has an involvement in this financially”. In the Ontario Wheat Board right now, the government has involvement financially. All 10 board of directors are elected by producers and not appointed by government. There should be an elected board of directors, not one that is appointed by government.
In saying that as well, the CEO form of governance is great. I do not believe nor have I ever believed in management by committee or by commissions. I believe the CEO form of governance is a good direction this government has taken. In saying that, I also believe that the CEO should be appointed by the board of directors, not by government.
If the CEO is given the proper opportunity and the proper vision to plan for where we are going in the 21st century, I believe it is a step in the right direction. Give the chief executive officer the opportunity to put his or her positions forward on the basis of the board, not on the basis of politics.
The last thing I would like to speak to right now is that of accountability. The Canadian Wheat Board in the opinion of the stakeholders has not been accountable to the producers. It is a closed shop. They do not have the opportunity of getting the information that we would like to see.
The Canadian Wheat Board along with CSIS are the two organizations that are not affected by the access to information legislation. That is not right. There has to be transparency. There has to be openness and there has to be accountability by the Canadian Wheat Board to the people that they serve, the producers of western Canada. That accountability can come with a chief executive officer who is appointed by an elected board, and with the elected board.
In closing, there are improvements within the existing Bill C-4 over previous legislation on the Canadian Wheat Board. What I would like to see are those changes I talked about previously as well as the possibility and the opportunity of perhaps some voluntary co-operation of producers with the Canadian Wheat Board, an opt in and an opt out opportunity for producers. This has not been talked about. It has not been discussed.
Trust me, when it gets to committee I am sure there will be plenty of time to debate these very, very positive and constructive criticisms of this bill.