Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on Motion No. 176 put forward by my colleague for Kindersley-Lloydminster, who is urging this House to support the creation of an environment in which agricultural producers make their own decisions as to how their products are marketed.
First, let me point out the vagueness of the motion. Its purpose is not easy to identify but I will nonetheless try to bring out what, to me, are its most important features.
First, I am very proud to quote the example of Quebec where farmers are largely responsible for the marketing of their products. Obviously, this is possible because they are well organized and well represented.
That is why there are, in Quebec alone, 34,600 agricultural producers who are members of agricultural co-operatives. I think we, Quebecers, get a great sense of pride from this. The Coopérative fédérée and Agropur, to name but a few, have a turnover that is more than 50 per cent of that of all non-financial co-operatives put together, that is, more than $3 billion. The mandate of the Union des producteurs agricoles or UPA is to organize and represent all Quebec agricultural producers, whatever the size and structure of their farms, the nature of their production and the place they live.
Obviously there is no problem as far as representation is concerned and members of these cooperatives seem satisfied with the mandates of their organizations. We could mention as an example the dairy producers of Canada and Quebec who, after evaluating changes in international trade, felt compelled to put in place a market sharing quota for exports in order to take advantage of new opportunities. This is a good example of producers making their own marketing decisions. This was made possible by the fact that the marketing board gave these producers a powerful marketing instrument: supply management.
Another advantage that marketing boards give the producers is that not only do they control marketing decisions, they also control the cost of inputs since prices negotiated for the marketing of their products are based on production costs.
The motion certainly has the merit of recognizing that producers must have a say in the marketing of their products but, as I have demonstrated, it is already the case in Quebec. Therefore, I wonder if, by bringing forward this motion, my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster wants western producers to be given the same environment that dairy, egg and poultry producers enjoy for the marketing of their products. If so, I have to congratulate the member for recognizing that the Quebec model could be applied to agricultural products in western Canada.
In this context, it is easy to understand the criticism expressed in western Canada with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board, for example. Members of the board are appointed by the government without producers having anything to say about it.
It has often been proposed that the advisory committee be composed mainly of producers, and that applies to both elected and appointed members. Maybe it would be interesting to propose that the appointments be submitted to the standing agriculture committee. It would certainly give some independence to the appointment process.
Western producers feel uncomfortable with the Canadian Wheat Board. Indeed, some argue that the commission does not advocate farmers' interests anymore because it refuses to change an obsolete management system that is more than 60 years old. Moreover, the recent plebiscite in Alberta has shown that more than 60 per cent of farmers think their ideas are not taken into consideration or are bluntly disregarded by the commission. That could easily be explained.
The farmers' concern is easy to understand, considering that the commission controls or greatly influences all aspects of grain marketing, transportation and handling, that it controls the price and sale of wheat and barley, the allocation of cars, the decisions on storage and shipments by grain companies, the value added processing and resource allocation. I believe we have reason to be concerned because the commission, which is not accountable, could make an improper use of its power. The risk is that an organization which exercises so much regulating control could be accused of patronage.
Do not get me wrong, we are not accusing the Canadian wheat board of incompetence and of misuse of power; rather, we are trying to show that the risk of abuse exists and that it might be preferable to review the process of appointing commissioners, who are designated by the gouvernement, and of members of the advisory board, who are designated by western farmers, in order to ensure a more equitable representation of the interests of western farmers.
Unfortunately, the interests of farmers and producers are often neglected, and not only in the west. We need only to look at the consultation process of the government to realize that, more often than not, the government consults only for show. Take for instance the recent cuts in dairy subsidies. Of course, the government consulted dairy producers in Quebec and Canada, but they were nevertheless faced with a done deal. No more subsidies, period.
Now, what arrangement would be the least painful to you? Decision: spread the cuts over five years. Conclusion: the government consults, fine, but does what it wants anyway.
Another more recent example is the issue of raw milk cheese. I cannot resist this little aside, given my background. The government is preparing to propose that the food and drug regulations be modified to improve the protection of public health. The proposed change involves unpasteurized cheese made from raw milk.
This would involve requiring all cheeses intended for sale to be pasteurized. This would mean that the specialty cheeses would no longer be available in our stores. Do you see how absurd this is? Just from the health point of view, if raw milk cheese were as dangerous as that, why would we have authorized its sale since 1991? The only case of poisoning linked to a dairy product in Canada dates back 61 years.
Alcohol and tobacco are hazardous consumer products, yet they are not banned from our store shelves. Go ahead and smoke two packs a day, knowing that you are likely to eventually get lung cancer, but under no circumstances eat raw milk cheese. There is no sense to this whatsoever, particularly since it hurts a fledgling industry in Quebec capable of developing products that would make our European friends green with envy.
In fact, the bulk of the raw milk industry is located in Quebec, as are most of those who eat raw milk cheeses. We have discovered that there is more to life than Kraft cheese, so this is not the time to take the pleasures of the table away from us.
One wonders if, as the hon. member for Frontenac said recently, some sort of excessive fear of food poisoning, or rather pressures from large dairy producers afraid to lose their share of the market, did not motivate the government to act on this issue. It remains to be seen what results the consultation process will bring.
Who knows, maybe the government will come to its senses and not go forward with its attack against raw milk chees. Today it is cheese, but tomorrow it could be chicken salad or tuna which will be banned. As a matter of fact, there have been in recent years cases of epidemics caused by the same bacteria as the one found in some raw milk cheeses.