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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was industry.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for British Columbia Southern Interior (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canadian Wheat Board September 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Wheat Board is under attack. The minister has begun the systematic destruction of an internationally recognized Canadian success story. His parliamentary secretary has already told farmers it is their right to have a vote, but “the final decision will be made by the minister”. The legislation clearly states that changes to the structure of the Board must be approved by the farmers.

Will the minister allow the 85,000 farmers, who use the Wheat Board, to vote on its future, or does he intend to break the law?

Canadian Wheat Board Act June 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on Bill C-300 as well as on some other important issues facing agriculture in Canada today.

Although this amendment may appear logical on the surface, it raises a number of questions and could in the long term undermine the Canadian Wheat Board as a single desk seller of wheat, barley and durum in Canada. Conservatives have a platform commitment to introduce a dual marketing system where farmers would have a choice to sell through the Canadian Wheat Board or seek their own markets. Bill C-300 is the first step in this direction.

The core of Bill C-300 is it would give farmers the right to sell grain produced by the producer directly to an association or firm engaged in the processing of grain if a majority of interests in the association or firm was held by a producer or producers in Canada. This terminology is wide open. For example, if a Japanese mill took on a Canadian farmer partner, that mill could circumvent the Canadian Wheat Board. If a group of farmers set up a milling operation, bought several times more grain than they needed, and then exported the balance unprocessed to the U.S., they would be bypassing the Canadian Wheat Board. If a group of Canadian farmers set up a cleaning facility in Canada, Bill C-300 might give those farmers the right to circumvent the CWB and then re-export the grain again.

This bill is an attempt to impose a very neat solution to a complex problem. It could trigger massive unintended consequences and set the stage for a raft of trade challenges. It could create a huge number of problems, all to solve a problem that to a significant extent does not really exist.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a self-sustaining democratic organization of farmers with a mandate to act in the best interests of farmers in the world marketplace. It is not a crown corporation, although it was created through legislation after World War II. The majority of members, 88%, believe that any changes made to the Wheat Board must be made by farmers themselves.

These are challenging times for the agriculture industry in Canada. There is tremendous pressure from major world players to modify or to get rid of not only the Canadian Wheat Board, but also our supply management system. It is my personal belief and the belief of my party that we must as a nation resist this temptation in the interests of our own food security.

For example, our supply management system works very well in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. The government does not give subsidies and producers, for the most part, can make ends meet. Tremendous pressure is being applied at the WTO on Canada to modify its supply management system. The objective of the negotiations is to remove customs barriers and other obstacles to trade, to the advantage of the poorest countries.

Developing or emerging countries, with Brazil and India at the top of the list, are calling for large reductions in American agricultural subsidies and European customs duties. Americans and Europeans, while passing the buck for the impasse from one to the other, are applying pressure on poor countries to open their markets to their industrial goods and services. For its part, Canada wants the United States to reduce its agricultural subsidies. Here in Canada, there are those who believe that by adjusting the supply management system we will have even greater access to world markets.

In a sense, our supply management system, which protects primarily the dairy, egg and poultry sectors, is closely tied to the Canadian Wheat Board. These are two Canadian-style solutions to problems faced by our farmers. There will be an enormous price to pay if we begin dismantling them.

I would like to thank our Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food for his willingness to defend our supply management system at the WTO.

There are other positive signs that the government is taking an active role to assist those in the agricultural sector. One is the willingness of the minister to participate in tobacco industry-led forum to discuss an exit strategy that is fair and equitable for Canadian farmers.

I also urge the minister not to abandon farmers in the grain and oilseed sector. The Americans are looking after their farmers and they are making money. We must have a short and long term strategy to level the playing field until such time as we can convince other countries to reduce their subsidies.

This should involve an immediate injection of sufficient funds for disaster relief for farmers hit hard in northeastern Saskatchewan. Let us not forget that what is at sake here is the survival of our rural communities and our way of life.

The negotiating position of the Government of Canada at the WTO talks has been to defend the democratic right of Canadian farmers to choose the kind of marketing institutions that will best serve their interest. For western Canadian farmers, this means defending the Canadian Wheat Board, with its statutory authority as a single desk seller.

If farmers want to change the board's mandate, they must be able to do this through their own democratic elections or through a plebiscite. It their decision and it should not be interfered with by the WTO or by us in the federal government.

The U.S. and the European Union want us to remove that decision from our farmers. At the World Trade Organization talks, their negotiators have been clear that they want an end to our single desk authority of organizations like the Canadian Wheat Board, which in their terminology are called state trading enterprises. The WTO position of the U.S. and the European Union, which represents the position of large grain companies, would basically outlaw the ability of farmers to have an effective organization able to compete with these companies.

This bill mirrors the debate surrounding the Canadian Wheat Board. It would result in a series of undesirable consequences and would open the door to a multitude of commercial disputes.

Let us review one scenario. A group of Canadian farmers establishes a processing plant in North Dakota. Bill C-300 seems to grant to these farmers, and to all western Canadian farmers, the right to transport their grain across the border to the plant. Bill C-300 states that producers established in Canada must have a majority interest in the company that purchases these facilities.

The bill could unleash a number of trade challenges because it gives legislative advantages to some processors and not others. For example, a farmer owns a co-op pasta mill, buys durum and pays farmers a price equal to what other farmers in the region receive from the Canadian Wheat Board. Corporate owned pasta plants, which are barred by their ownership structure from accessing durum at this lower price, then decide to sue under chapter 11 of NAFTA.

Another possibility could be that U.S. farmers want to set up a pasta plant in Manitoba and take advantage of the ability to buy grain at the Canadian Wheat Board price. If they are refused, they may have a case under the national treatment clauses of trade agreements, which stipulate that nations cannot discriminate between enterprises in their own countries or foreign countries.

The Canadian Wheat Board has on occasion been inaccurately portrayed as an impediment to value added processing in Canada. There is a belief in parts of the farming community and in some government quarters that an exemption for the domestic processing market is workable, if not for the entire domestic, certainly for processing operations owned by farmers.

Let us ask some questions. Would an exemption for farmer owned processing plants provide farmers with increasing marketing choice? It would only do so if the exemption results in producer owned plants coming into existence either through new construction or purchase of existing processing capacity. Would this exemption increase value added economic activity in western Canada by attracting local investment and creating jobs in rural areas? Western Canada, with its small population, is not considered a particularly advantageous location for producer processors.

Bill C-300 does not specify or dictate where producer owned facilities must be located and does not alter the existing comparative advantages. Therefore, it is not likely to promote growth specifically in western Canada over elsewhere.

I believe we have to defeat the bill. We must let the producers, themselves, decide the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. It is my hope that today we will make that decision.

Agriculture June 16th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, today farmers throughout northeastern Saskatchewan are facing economic disaster. Family farms are being abandoned. Credit has run out. Electricity is being turned off.

The federal promise of $15 per seeded acre is simply not enough. These farmers need substantial help now to survive. Farmer Liz Mackay has just learned that the government is threatening to go after her family for $3,000 in taxes.

Can the Prime Minister explain when he is planning to finally help the farmers of Saskatchewan?

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. Let us put aside the political issue and get back to agriculture.

Does the member think that we could have access or continue to have access to the WTO market without changing the supply management system? We always talk about market access and the supply management system. Could we have both at the same time? I would like him to explain this to me.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the producers in Ontario and Quebec support the motion.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, it may seem that it is not worthwhile doing this, but when we start attacking a system that is in place, it does not take much to get it going, to start poking away here and to leave it to the WTO or other discussions. I will repeat that I think we have to show that we have a will to fight for all of our agricultural producers. In this case, it happens to be those in the dairy industry, which is part of the supply management system.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Generally speaking, from what I can see, Canada is sometimes too timid. We have to be bold and have political will if we want to protect the supply management system. We must do so at all costs.

I agree with my hon. colleague about the producers and the legal opinion they received. We have to be strong and protect our own sector, regardless of what happens to other countries. We have to protect our own producers, not the producers in the United States or the European Union.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, so far we have seen, and the survey has said, that 88% of producers/farmers want to retain the Canadian Wheat Board. They want to have a say in the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. We have to listen to them and make sure that they are the ones who will decide what the future of the Wheat Board will be.

So far it has worked to keep the prices our producers get at a fairly high level. The Canadian Wheat Board, as a single marketing agency, has been able to seek out markets throughout the world, as we know. It has worked in the best interests of farmers, and the idea of somehow instituting a dual marketing system probably will not work. It will turn into an open marketing system.

Committees of the House June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the main issue facing us today is that dairy producers are being hurt by the importation of milk protein concentrates. The reason for this is that they are classified as proteins and not milk products. Eighty-five per cent of these milk protein concentrates are over the protein content and in this case 87.5% are pure protein which allows them to enter without tariffs. If the protein content were lower, there would be certain tariffs.

The committee recommended that:

--all milk protein concentrates, regardless of their protein content, under tariff line 0404, or a tariff quota to be negotiated.

One kilogram of this milk protein concentrate, which I believe is coming in from New Zealand and the European Union, equals 2.5 kilograms of displaced milk concentrate. This means it is more efficient for our processors to import this protein thereby giving producers two and a half times as much milk protein concentrate but they are not sure what to do with it. I think this is the key.

I am encouraged by the fact that the Minister of Agriculture asked producers and processors to get together to try to come to an acceptable solution that would benefit both of them. However, if we allow unlimited milk protein content, or MPCs, to enter Canada, this could in the long run destroy our whole supply management system.

The government says that it wants to protect the supply management system. It must have the means and the solutions to do so. Our nation's identity is at stake. We developed and implemented the supply management system. It is a part of the agricultural sector that gives producers the opportunity to earn a bit of money. If we don't protect it, we will see the slow death of the supply management system.

I have noted the following. It seems to me that Canada sometimes hesitates to protect our particular programs at the WTO and under NAFTA. We are told that we must not create precedents, but it is possible that we are alone in not attempting to do so. There are already precedents. There are governments that do their utmost to protect their agriculture industry and above all their producers. That is our duty.

If we do not stand up for our dairy producers in this case we will see a slow erosion of supply management. I am encouraged once again by the government's stance that it wants to protect supply management. If we bow to international pressures and we modify it a little bit then what is the stop them? What is to stop other trading partners, such as the Americans, through the WTO to make an effort to get rid, for example, of our Canadian Wheat Board?

Any changes to the Canadian Wheat Board should be made by the farmers and not by governments, whether this one or any other government, and especially not by international organizations such as the WTO.

The three western provincial governments recently stated that we must modify supply management to increase our market access. Interestingly, I was just at a meeting of the trade committee and we were talking about market access and how it affects supply management. Specifically, they want us to increase our TRQs from the current 5%.

Apparently, if this were done this would somehow gain more market access in spite of the fact that there are heavy government subsidies in agriculture in the European Union and the United States. What we should be doing at the WTO is getting other countries to increase their TRQs to the 5% that was agreed upon in the Uruguay round. The TRQs in the European Union, for example, for pork, which is their sensitive category, is 0.5%.

That does not help our pork producers who want to export to the European Union. Somehow we are being asked, if we do not protect our supply management at the World Trade Organization, to increase the quotas for other countries to export their produce to our country and that somehow this will help us get more access to world markets. I do not think the two are tied in.

What we are talking about today is one small aspect of supply management, one small aspect of agriculture that we as Canadians have developed. This is one system that actually works and where people actually make money. It is very important in this case for us to be very careful before we fool around with the system.

I want to emphasize that we can fight for better access to world markets at the WTO table but this should not be at the expense of one segment of our farmers, those who are part of the supply management system. We know that farming is in a state of crisis and we are looking at different ways of solving the crisis. We need steps to remedy the situation.

The answer to helping our farmers is not by slowly eroding one part of the agriculture industry that works for us. While it may seem sort of far away somewhere in Geneva, this one point with regard to milk protein concentrates could be what starts this snowball rolling. I think we need to be very careful at how we approach the situation.

Once again, I am encouraged by the Minister of Agriculture and the fact that we are standing up for this system at the World Trade Organization. It is a system that works and it does not cost the taxpayer any money. Other countries are aggressively protecting their agriculture.

Thus, our initial position should be very strong. Our country has distinctive elements, such as supply management and our Canadian Wheat Board. It is up to us to decide the future of our agrifood industry.

In my opinion, what is most important is that we are responsible for protecting Quebec and Canadian producers at all costs. That is our duty.

Today, the supply management system is at risk. Tomorrow, it could be the Canadian Wheat Board. In the end, it may be our Canadian identity.

By standing up and working together with our primary producers in this instance, and by our friends all across Canada, we are not only protecting agriculture but we are standing up for our rural way of life which is under threat, through the World Trade Organization, by multinational companies which are under threat by other trading partners, such as our friends to the south who want us to disband different programs that we have.

Therefore, it is our duty to work together with the producers and the processors to protect supply management by ensuring that milk protein concentrates do not hurt the livelihoods of those producers, specifically in Quebec and Ontario.

It is our duty to stand firm.

Rural Mail Delivery June 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's talk on the postal situation in rural Canada is timely. I just received a call in my riding office and I would like his opinion.

The person said there are not enough post office boxes in the rural areas because the population is growing faster than Canada Post is creating new boxes. Because of this, some constituents have to go to larger centres. Folks in the community of Beaverdale, which is over an hour away from Kelowna, have to rent post office boxes in Kelowna while they are on a waiting list for a post office box in their own community.

Does the hon. member feel that this is an acceptable procedure on the part of Canada Post?