Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her lovely speech, which, as the other hon. member mentioned, provided a great deal of insight into the terrible situation prairie farmers will find themselves in if the Canadian Wheat Board is dismantled.
I am rising in the House today, as many of my NDP colleagues have done, to oppose the Conservatives' bill to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. I come from a riding with many farmers and family farms. They are having a great deal of difficulty in the current economic context. I am therefore very much aware of the concerns of farmers across the country.
Bill C-18 wants to rip apart the Wheat Board and eliminate the single desk marketing system for wheat and barley in Canada. This bill clearly shows that the Conservatives are completely out of touch and do not understand the needs of Canadian farmers.
The Wheat Board is the largest and most successful grain marketing organization in the world. In 2009-10, it generated approximately $5.2 billion in revenue. That is a lot of money. The government needs to take this into account when considering the possibility of dismantling certain extremely important components of the Canadian Wheat Board. The single desk system that the Wheat Board offers is very important to the Prairies. The Wheat Board provides financial stability for farmers, prudent risk management and certainty of grain supply.
The Wheat Board has become an essential structure for western Canadian farmers. It is a need. The Wheat Board is truly helping farmers to survive in the difficult economic context we are experiencing right now. The Canadian Wheat Board is controlled, run and funded by farmers. Canadian taxpayers are not paying for this essential structure. Farmers fund operations out of revenue from grain sales.
Are the Conservatives afraid of the collective approach that farmers have chosen to take? I understand that this is not a concept that is overly familiar to them or that they appreciate, but it is something that is at the very core of western farmers' values. In addition, do the Conservatives not understand that it is more advantageous to work together than to adopt an “every man for himself” approach? That is a good question.
For western farmers, the Wheat Board is an effective way to maximize the price of grain. The board's size and power on the market allow it to negotiate internationally and to ensure fair access to the market for all producers.
Why is the Conservative government refusing to respect the wishes of farmers in western Canada? Why is this government ignoring the strong voice of farmers who are speaking out against the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board?
As we have heard many times in this House, the Wheat Board recently held a plebiscite of its members. The results, released on September 12, showed that 62% of respondents wanted to maintain the single desk for marketing wheat and 51% wanted to maintain the single desk for barley. Those two percentages constitute more than a majority. The participation rate in the plebiscite was 56%, which is equivalent to the rate in the last three federal elections. But the Conservative government is constantly bragging about receiving a strong mandate from Canadians with a participation rate similar to what was obtained by the Canadian Wheat Board. Why does this participation rate work in one case and not in the other? This is another one of the Conservatives' classic double standards, which are part of its divide and conquer strategy.
Western farmers have spoken and they oppose Bill C-18, like all of my colleagues here. They want to keep the board's single desk system.
The Conservatives are saying that their bill will make it easier for farmers to market their grain by allowing them to choose to whom they sell their products and how. That is false. It will only create more problems. They have a structure that allows them to pool their recourses and make sure they are getting the best prices, with all the strength of their combined resources.
Leaving farmers to fend for themselves would only create other problems, and their lives are hard enough already.
I am aware of the financial difficulties facing family farms in Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. My constituents come and see me in my office in Pont-Rouge to talk about this situation, since they are so worried about it. That is why I feel I can relate to the concerns of western farmers. Times are very hard, and farmers are looking more and more for new ways to market their products in order to earn a good living from their hard work.
Young farmers are pooling their resources more and more, in order to survive in the current economic climate. My riding has a number of farming co-operatives and more are being set up every day, because everything is very expensive and because individual farmers cannot survive right now. Prairie farmers have a long history of uniting in order to prosper, which is why the board was created in the first place. This is the legacy that the Conservatives want to consign to oblivion, at the expense of western Canadian farmers.
It is clear that the Conservatives are using Bill C-18 to try to destroy family farms. There is no other foreseeable outcome from this decision they are making with no regard for the clearly expressed opinion of the farmers.
The Conservatives' dogmatism and ideological stubbornness are undeniable. They are going to completely ignore the will of western Canadian farmers and shove their own interests down the farmers' throats. This government has long been looking to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board at all costs, regardless of what anyone here might say. Are the Conservatives bending to pressure from big American corporations, as they often do? It would not be surprising; it is practically a tradition for them. We are concerned about the reasons behind the decision they are making today.
Since the beginning of this debate, the NDP has been saying that any decision on the future of the board has to be made by farmers for farmers. That is part of the act governing the Canadian Wheat Board. The members opposite seem to have forgotten about that detail. We keep reminding them, but to no avail. Let us hope that this time, my voice, added to the others, will have an effect.
The majority of the farmers want to keep this single desk system, and that is what the NDP is asking the Conservatives to do today. The government has to stop being so stubborn and start respecting the will of the farmers. This government has to stop gambling with the prairie economy and withdraw Bill C-18.