Mr. Speaker, on Friday last week the minister of agriculture was in Regina to make an announcement concerning the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Prior to the announcement I heard a rumour that the minister was considering the possibility of putting the question of barley marketing to a plebiscite. Indeed, the minister did say that he was considering a barley plebiscite to be put to producers next year.
My question, which the minister's parliamentary secretary could not answer at the time, can be answered today.
Of course, the minister did not call it a plebiscite. Instead he opted for the more friendly term poll, but the bottom line is the same. This kind of action is typical of the minister who has spent most of his time in cabinet finding ways to avoid making decisions. And when he does, he makes decisions that try to please everyone.
In this case it appears the idea of a plebiscite is aimed at appeasing barley producers, particularly Alberta producers who want an open market for their product.
Unfortunately if the Liberal government goes ahead with the plebiscite, the net result will be continued uncertainty over the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. If the results of the plebiscite support the open market over single desk selling, then the long term future of the Canadian Wheat Board itself remains in doubt.
The minister, knowing the vast majority of western Canadian farmers support a strong, even enhanced Canadian Wheat Board, has purposely chosen to support the corporate interests of the grain trade over the collective interests of the prairie farmer by doing so. Obviously the plebiscite continues the slow but determined process to ultimately do away with the board, as was started by the Tories in the last Parliament who removed oats from the jurisdiction of the board. Remember, they did that without a mandate from the people.
In Canada, the government is continuing the dismantling of the board by commissioning the marketing panel, which travelled the country earlier this year, and now on the plebiscite issue as well as internationally with a debate among officials at the World Trade Organization level.
Forgotten in the debate seems to be the fact that the minister of agriculture is not taking responsibility for farmers' interests. He is asking farmers who do not have sufficient technical or financial support to take on the major players in this debate, the grain companies and the Alberta government.
If the agriculture minister were truly representing farm interests and if he continues to insist on holding a plebiscite, he would consider enhancing, rather than disturbing, the board's jurisdiction.
There is strong evidence to support expanding the powers of the board. A good question would include the possibility of adding oats, rye and canola to the jurisdiction of the board. It should be done.
Perhaps the most troublesome element of the entire process so far is that the minister is proceeding with major legislative changes to the wheat board and is proposing to schedule a delicate plebiscite without consulting the producer elected representatives of the Canadian Wheat Board advisory committee.
This committee was elected by farmers to represent the interests of farmers across the prairies and to, in that capacity, advise the minister of agriculture on matters pertaining to the Canadian Wheat Board.
Each member of this committee has studied the operations of the board, has reviewed the recommendations of the Western Grain Marketing Panel and has evaluated how each will impact on their own regions of the country. Their input into this process should be invaluable, yet they have been ignored.
Worse, it is proposed that they be replaced by an appointed interim board if the government goes ahead with the announced changes to the way in which the board should be governed. The minister has really missed the boat on this one.