Mr. Speaker, we are addressing the motion to refer Bill C-72 to committee. This is something that we have pressed the government to do, not because the legislation is good but simply because the public, particularly the farm community, needs to be exposed to this legislation so they realize how bad it really is.
The minister has made absolutely no progress on reforming grain marketing under the Canadian Wheat Board, just like he has made no permanent progress to reduce transportation inefficiencies in the movement of prairie grain, and just like he has made no progress in correcting the wrong-headed approach to cost recovery.
This is not because the minister is unaware of the issue. He is a Saskatchewan boy. He wandered around in the political wilderness of Saskatchewan for what seemed like 40 years as the leader of the provincial Liberal Party, after he was elected for a very short period to the House of Commons. The people of Saskatchewan very seldom vote for the Liberals but when they do, they boot them out sooner rather than later.
There is a real possibility, if the Liberals call a spring election, that this bill will not receive final approval from Parliament. It is unforgivable that the government has delayed bringing forward reforms to the Canadian Wheat Board.
We are now in the second half of February and this bill is just being referred to committee. It needs to be dealt with by the committee, come back for third reading, go to the Senate and receive royal assent. On top of that, it is a very flawed bill and needs a lot of work.
The probability of this bill passing at this point seems rather remote unless the government has a change of heart and is prepared to make significant changes to the bill.
Bill C-72 is a clear message to the prairie grain industry that the minister wants to fail at market reform. If he does not want it to fail, then he thinks he can pull a fast one on the industry by trying to mask minimal changes to the board, particularly its governance, leaving himself securely as the commandant of the board.
Bill C-72 is badly drafted legislation that needs a series of major changes, and I stress major changes, to make it acceptable to the prairie industry and, more importantly, to individual farmers who are going to find out that this board is not the more accountable, more flexible Canadian Wheat Board that they were promised by the Liberal government.
The purpose of the bill is to change the governance, to make the board of directors an elected one rather than appointed commissioners. It is supposed to make it a more responsive, more communicative and more open marketing institution but it does not accomplish this.
We believe the government's proposed amendments to the board are weak, ineffective and a slap in the face to prairie producers. The government is telling them that they cannot manage their own marketing affairs, that in some way they are inferior to the producers of Ontario, Quebec and other commodities within Canada where producers are able to very effectively and capably manage their marketing affairs.
It is a matter to be seen whether or not the Liberal government will allow the wholesale changes to Bill C-72 that are permitted under the rules where a bill is referred to committee prior to second reading. Based on our experience we have found that amendments have been few and far between, usually cosmetic in nature and not very substantive.
Many farmers are beginning to believe that the minister of agriculture has manipulated the wheat board reform process. This has resulted in uncertainty, division and fear among western farmers. I have never seen an issue develop into such a divisive issue with the encouragement of the minister. At every opportunity he has poured gas on the fire rather than try to bring some positive, constructive and conciliatory measures forward to bring an end to some of the division and hard feelings that are mounting in the prairies over this issue.