Motion No. 2
That Bill C-34 be amended by deleting Clause 31.
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-34 be amended by deleting Clause 36.
Mr. Speaker, perhaps you will be lenient and give me 11 minutes because I would like to take a minute to congratulate you on your appointment to the chair. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you were listening to my speech last night and while I had some concerns about the way that you were appointed to the chair and the fact that it broke some Liberal promises, we certainly do respect your ability and we wish you well in that position. I hope you get your outfit in time for Hallowe'en. I am sure you will look very officious in the chair in your outfit.
I do have to admit that you were one of the best hecklers, one of the most aggressive hecklers on the other side and it will certainly be a change for you to be sitting in the chair. We know that you will restrain yourself and we will miss that boisterous echo we used to hear from the other side. Sincerely, congratulations and we wish you well.
I rise today to discuss Bill C-34, important agricultural legislation that proposes the amalgamation within the various sectors of agriculture marketing. As my colleagues are aware, this bill will combine four separate agricultural acts and one program into a single act.
Reform generally supports this motion in principle. However there needs to be some amendments in order for the act to best assist farmers, financial institutions and other organizations that are affected by the act.
We brought some amendments to the committee. By the way, the bill followed the new route that you, Mr. Speaker, so heartily endorsed. The bill went to committee prior to second reading in the hope that there would be more opportunity for amendments in committee.
Unfortunately, the amendments were not accepted by the government side. We were a bit surprised. We thought perhaps under the new formula at least some amendments would be accepted but they were discarded without any due consideration. We really do feel badly about that because some of them were excellent amendments. I believe they all were, but certainly some of them were.
We have put three amendments forward today. Mr. Speaker, you correctly ruled that the first amendment cannot be considered because it did not receive a royal recommendation. That is unfortunate because the minister and government had the opportunity to grant it a royal recommendation and we could have at least debated this amendment in the House. I do not know why the Liberal government is afraid to debate new ideas in this House, why it would use the technicality of rejecting a royal recommendation to get itself off the hook.
Our first amendment would have permitted in cases of emergency where an emergency advance was issued on an agricultural commodity, that $25,000 would be included in part of the $50,000 interest free portion of the cash advance. The rationale and the thinking of the Liberals on this issue is beyond logic. Here we have a bill which suggests that a $50,000 interest free cash advance be provided to producers on the first $50,000 that they accept in advance and that interest be paid on subsequent amounts advanced, up to a maximum of $250,000.
If there is an emergency, if there is trouble in the industry, if there are dire situations, when the farmer is down and out, does the Liberal government extend any consideration? No, it gives them a knock out punch. The government says if there is an emergency situation, $25,000 will be advanced but it will not be interest free.
If the government allowed the $25,000 to be advanced and said: "You pay interest but the next $50,000 will put you on par with other producers who qualify for $50,000 interest free", that would be fine, but the Liberals did not see it that way. They said: "If there is an emergency, we will just knock the farmers a little harder. We will try to keep them down and we will charge them more interest than we will charge farmers who are not facing an emergency". This is blatantly unfair.
I do not understand why the Liberals were afraid to debate this issue in the House, why the minister would not permit a royal recommendation to my first amendment that was tabled in the Notice Paper. He chose not to and he will have to answer and be accountable to producers for his actions.
I want to get to the second and third amendments which were grouped together. In a nutshell, these two amendments eliminate the government purchases program. This program has not been used for years. The last time it was used was in 1985. It has only been used once or twice in the last 20 or 30 years. It is a relic. It is a bit like the Conservative Party; it had its day, but it is gone.
We asked the officials why the government purchases program is in the new legislation, the new reorganization of cash advances. They said they did not know why it was there but that maybe sometime they would have to use it. It is the same as saying that maybe sometime we will have to impose the speed limits on horses and buggies that are in the bylaws. We may just have to use that sometime.
Knowing the way government works, I am sure they need a few bureaucrats in charge of the government purchases program even if it is not being used. Therefore they will expend some money just to monitor the situation. Of course that will be money that cannot be spent in more useful areas.
The government purchases program provides the minister with wide ranging authority to buy, sell or import agricultural products, to stabilize domestic market conditions and to conclude sales to other governments or government agencies.
I have heard members from the other side worry about vertical integration in the agriculture sector. If members want to talk about vertical integration, this is it. The government can be in total control: buy, sell, import products. This is not a good situation. The federal government has no business being in a government purchases program for agricultural products. It is not using the program. It is history. It is ancient. It should not have been included in the bill. All it will do is provide work for a few people in the department when they could be better expending their energies in another area.
Therefore we brought forward very reasonable amendments which would delete this part of the bill. Those two clauses are the only clauses which deal with the government purchases program and we believe they should be deleted.
We talked about the wide ranging power that it gives to the minister. It also affords zero accountability. Although there are no resources budgeted to this program, the government has been unable to adequately justify continuing it by entrenching it in the new legislation.
There is some unusual terminology in it which quite frankly could not be defined. They could not say what unusual market conditions were.
Given the technology at the end of the 20th century as we approach the 21st century, any attempt to justify the continuation of this program is shallow to say the least.
Ten minutes is not a lot of time in which to discuss the bill. However, we did talk about other areas of the bill as well as the government purchases program and the fact that the emergency
advance should be interest free. We will have an opportunity to debate those issues further at third reading.
We were concerned about the fact that the minister has the power to increase the contingent liability. We made the argument in committee that if the contingent liability needs to be increased, that means the industry is doing well. It does not mean there is a crisis or an emergency; it means that producers' income is increasing. We felt that there should be provisions in the bill which would make the minister more accountable to the industry and to the House with respect to the contingent liability.
We were concerned about the fact that there was some inequity in the bill. Not all producers and organizations were treated equally. It seemed the problem was the Canadian Wheat Board. It has a higher default level than other producer organizations and administrators who administer the cash advances. Because it could not get its act together quickly enough, it was provided with special provisions to account for its difficulties. That of course is to the detriment of other sectors within the industry. When we favour one group we always hurt someone else.
The penalty for default on Canadian Wheat Board advances was, I believe, based at zero per cent while others were higher. The Canadian Wheat Board was given a two-year period to get its act together. I would have thought that the Canadian Wheat Board, being the wonderful institution that it is, would have had its act together more quickly and would have been administering the cash advances on a more prudent basis.
I would ask the House to consider the two amendments to eliminate the government purchases program. We believe it is the prudent thing to do. This is 1996. Why are we implementing something that should not be used and probably will not be used? However, it is in this piece of legislation and it requires the attention of the department. It requires consideration from time to time simply because it is in the legislation.
I ask the House to consider supporting the two amendments under consideration at the present time.