House of Commons Debate

on the Canadian Wheat Board

On October 18 and 31st, Members of Parliament debated a motion to support the following recommendation of the Report of the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture:

That the government prior to any legislative or regulatory action affecting the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is currently constituted under the Canada Wheat Board Act, submit through plebiscite to all those eligible to vote in Canadian Wheat Board elections, a clear and direct question asking whether those eligible to vote support or oppose the single desk selling provisions of the Canadian Wheat Board.

On November 1, Members of Parliament voted on this motion.  The motion passed 155 to 121.  To view the full text of the debate and the way your Member of Parliament voted, click on the links below or scroll this page.
Response of Harper Government to Motion passed by the House:

Response of Chuck Strahl:

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.) 
    Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, presented on Thursday, June 22, be concurred in.

     I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill.

    I am pleased to stand in support of the second report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food which has the following in its report:

    That the government prior to any legislative or regulatory action affecting the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is currently constituted under the Canada Wheat Board Act, submit through plebiscite to all those eligible to vote in Canadian Wheat Board elections, a clear and direct question asking whether those eligible to vote support or oppose the single desk selling provisions of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    We put the motion today because of the tactics being used by the Conservative government. These tactics that have been taking place in a Canadian democracy are shameful.

    The questions concerning the Canadian Wheat Board and the Conservative government really are: What will the Conservatives not do to destroy single desk selling under the Canadian Wheat Board? What will it not do to take power away from primary producers and give that power to the international grain trade? What will it not do to tear down a marketing institution that has become renown around the world for how it maximizes returns back to primary producers? What will the Conservative government not do in terms of catering to its American friends in the grain trade who have challenged the Canadian Wheat Board 11 times and have lost every time under international trade law?

    From its actions to date, it would appear that the government is prepared to use any device up to the very line of legality in an effort to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board.

    Under the act, producers should determine their marketing future. I was shocked and surprised by what I heard from the Prime Minister today during question period. What we heard in the House just 30 minutes ago was absolute arrogance from the Prime Minister. He basically told farmers that he would decide what was best for them.

    It does not matter whether it is the law of the land or not, he was going to decide what was best for primary producers even though under the Canadian Wheat Board Act they have a right to determine the Wheat Board's future. The government opposite is not only by its words showing its true colours but its actions are even worse.

    Earlier on in this exercise we heard about a secret meeting in Saskatchewan, that became public, and the only people on the invitation list were those who were opposed to the Wheat Board. In the final analysis, after Saskatchewan and Manitoba kicked up a stink, they were allowed to go as observers. Imagine this happening in Canada.

    Four provincial governments are duly elected to represent their citizens on the Wheat Board and two of those provinces were denied the right to participate. They were denied the right to take part in discussions concerning a marketing institution that affects their constituents. In other words, duly elected governments were denied the right to speak on behalf of their citizens at that one-sided meeting

    The Minister of Agriculture set up a task force which is stacked with only those who oppose the Canadian Wheat Board. We cannot find its schedule. We cannot find out who this task force is meeting with, although we have had a few little brown envelopes slipped to us. This task force is holding secret meetings for invitees only and participants are not talking to those who believe strongly in single desk selling under the Wheat Board.

    We know as well that there is word of a fake letter writing campaign, encouraged via the email from a communications firm in Saskatchewan, which said “encouraged by government, MPs and others”. We know they are catering to a propaganda campaign from the other side as well. However, the worst of all was an order in council from the minister himself directed toward the Canadian Wheat Board, which is absolutely nothing short of a gag order.

     What we are seeing now is not only has it stacked task forces, not only has it denied democratically elected governments the right to participate in a meeting, but it is also taking away freedom of expression for those Wheat Board directors who have the most knowledge and experience in this industry. They can tell their primary producers, who elected them to their positions, what the pros and cons of various proposals relative to the Canadian Wheat Board really mean to those producers on the ground

     It is unbelievable that this could happen in a democracy like Canada. Those with experience are being intimidated. 

     The minister will say that it is not really a gag order, but this is what the Library of Parliament has said on these orders in council:

    It appears that several activities could fall within the purview of this Order in Council. For instance, electronic and print publications, information on the CWB website and information sessions/meetings held by the CWB, may be prohibited under the order, if it advocates the retention of monopoly powers and involves the expenditure of funds. Further, the term “advocating the retention of its monopoly powers” may itself be subject to very strict interpretation. It is possible that publications prepared following the Directive (and therefore involve the expenditure of funds), which do not necessarily advocate the retention of the CWB's monopoly, but discuss the single desk selling capacity, from a positive point of view, may also potentially violate the Order in Council.

    It goes on to say:

    Similarily, advertisements sponsored by the CWB, containing information about the advantages of the CWB monopoly may also be considered to violate the Directive.

    That is pretty serious stuff. I never thought that a Government of Canada would deny freedom of expression in our country to primary producers, to elected producers to the Canadian Wheat Board who have the information and the knowledge to talk to their fellow farmers.

    There are many other factors as well.

     Let us look at the economic losses that would occur if we lose that marketing power through the Canadian Wheat Board. I will give summary, and this comes from the Wheat Board itself in terms of independent studies.

    The Summary of the annual Canadian Wheat Board, benefits and services for single desk marketing approach for wheat are: the net benefit to producers, $146 million to $255 million per year; the value of single desk marketing approach for barley, $59 million per year; the value of single desk marketing approach for durum, $92 million to $103 million; tendering and railway and terminal handling agreements, $38.1 million per year; net interest earnings, $66.2 million; approach to managing the delivery system, giving farmers power within the delivery system, a benefit of $115 million per year; terminal blending, $7 million to $10 million per year; and farmer access to producer cars, $6 million per year.

    The net total loss to primary producers, if they lose single desk selling, which the Prime Minister is doing everything in his power to take away from them, right up to almost illegal means, is $530 million to $655 million per year. Why would the Prime Minister want to take marketing power away from western grain producers? I just cannot understand it.

    He will go on. He tried this today in the House by the way that the Prime Minister tries deception, tries to confuse people about the real issues. The Conservatives are using the words “dual marketing”. There is no such thing. We either have single desk selling or we have an open market. Let us not be fooled. If we lose single desk selling under the Wheat Board, then we have an open market in which the multinational grain trade controls. It will take control and gain those profits and those benefits now accruing to primary producers.

    Under the law, the Government of Canada, under the Canadian Wheat Board, is supposed to give primary producers a vote on single desk selling in our country. That is what the government should do, even though, at the head depots, it is trying influence producers in many ways with fake letters, manipulation of the press, gag orders in the Wheat Board itself and so on. Producers deserve the right to decide their own destiny on single desk selling.

Hon. Karen Redman
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion: That Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario), be referred, after second reading, to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as opposed to a legislative committee.

The Deputy Speaker:  
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    Some hon. members: No.

Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):  
    Mr. Speaker, the Wheat Board is a very critical element of life on the Prairies and a very important element of how farmers have conducted business for a number of years. The member touched on this in his intervention, but I would like to him to expand on this.

    One of the things we have seen recently is a lack of democratic process. Certainly, under the softwood agreement, we saw a refusal to allow the committee to go out on the road and get input from people across the country, from coast to coast to coast, who would be affected by the softwood agreement. With the Wheat Board, we see a gag order, something that will prevent a democratic process.

    Could the member could expand on the trend that he is seeing with the Conservative government, about shutting down a democratic process in our country of getting input from people most affected?

Hon. Wayne Easter
    Mr. Speaker, the question goes to the heart of the issue. We live, or we believed we did up until now, in a democracy where members of Parliament pass certain laws based on discussions with the community.

    In the case of the Canadian Wheat Board, in 1998, at the request of farmers, the Canadian Wheat Board Act was changed so it no longer would be a government agency of which the cabinet appointed the commissioners for it. At that time, the Board was changed to be an elected board of producers, elected in their Wheat Board districts, to represent the farmers. That is true democracy.

    We are seeing a trend from the government, and not only on grain. This is a bigger issue than a farm issue. This is about the Prime Minister's character; it is either his way or the highway. If a person does not agree with the Prime Minister, or the Conservative government, or the parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture, then do not try and have a say in the issue. They are only meeting with one side of the equation.

    This is a very serious matter. It goes to the heart of our democratic institutions in our country. It is the Prime Minister, by his character and his ideology, that matters, and this is undermining the essence of our democracy.

Mr. Ken Epp (Edmonton—Sherwood Park, CPC):
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member opposite and to his expressions with respect to voting on the Wheat Board issue.

    The important issue is, members who raise grain should have the ability to express themselves. The member is saying that we are restricting that, but we are not. We are simply saying that people who do not use the Wheat Board and who do not have a permit book should not be permitted to vote.

     I am sure in the upcoming Liberal leadership vote, Liberals would like to have only their own members voting. Therefore, it seems to me that the principle of democracy is an important one.

    I would like his response to this, although I know already what he will say.

Hon. Wayne Easter
    Mr. Speaker, the member opposite made the point and the point is that producers should be given the right to decide the choice of the powers in their marketing institution and whether or not they support or opposite single desk selling.

    That is what we are asking the government to do. The government has denied that right. It has denied the right of producers, by plebiscite on a clear question, to vote on single desk selling.

    Worse than that, it is going out there to manipulate public opinion, holding secret task forces, holding secret meetings by a stacked task force, and putting a gag order on those who have the most information, experience and knowledge relative to the operations of the Canadian Wheat Board. That right has been denied by the Prime Minister. He made that clear today in the House.

Ms. Tina Keeper (Churchill, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise today to speak to this critical issue facing the Canadian Wheat Board as we face monumental opposition by the minority Conservative government to the single desk marketing system for Canadian wheat farmers, a hugely successful single desk marketing system I might add. We are seeing the dynamics which point to leadership in this country seeking to undermine the populace and seeking to undermine democracy.

    The blatant disregard of the voices of farmers and the gagging of the Canadian Wheat Board by an order in council is absolutely shocking, although it is a pattern that emerged early in the minority government's term as we saw the government fold the Kelowna accord. There too it completely disregarded the voices of aboriginal people in Canada. It made a decision which could have only been done by an order of the Prime Minister or by the Minister of Finance to pull the $5 billion commitment. The Kelowna accord was not a partisan effort and the Conservative government refused to uphold the honour of the Crown.

    The same Conservative government has plans which it knows very well will gut the Canadian Wheat Board by making membership voluntary and will result in the destruction of the world's largest single seller of wheat and barley. The government's task force does not include individuals except those who support its mission. The Canadian Wheat Board Act explicitly states that the member farmers have the right to a plebiscite on any changes to the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    The Conservative government's tactics on this issue have shaken not only me, but my entire riding. This is an issue of ethics. The principles of transparency, respect and accountability are not found in the dynamics at play which have a sole purpose, which of course is the one point on which the Conservatives have been transparent, to eliminate a world-renowned successful single desk marketing system.

    The implications of the dismantling of the single desk marketing system will not only have a negative effect on farmers, but will have far-reaching implications in the employment of hundreds of people at the Canadian Wheat Board and in the private sector of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and thus significantly impacting the entire province of Manitoba.

    In fact, the services related to the Canadian Wheat Board reach to the far north and my riding, and the loss will be a crushing blow for the Port of Churchill which sees approximately 80% of its annual shipments from the Canadian Wheat Board. More directly, the sustainability of the port is dependent on the Canadian Wheat Board.

    The northern towns of Churchill and Gillam, among others, along the Hudson's Bay railroad line are dependent upon the movement of grain to the Port of Churchill. The Mayor of Churchill, Mr. Mike Spence, says that this is the most pressing issue that his community has had in many years in terms of how it could be affected as a port community.

    In Churchill alone, and a community of 1,000 people, the loss will mean the loss of 100 jobs. Communities along the rail line will be adversely affected as they rely upon the local transportation economy. As Manitoba's Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism, Eric Robinson, said so succinctly in his communication to the minister:

    Most urgently, however, I'm appealing to you not to let your government's CWB policy become another nail in the coffin of several northern communities. Many of these places could just as easily prosper with minimal Federal support and common-sense policy considerations.

    The Canadian Wheat Board is all that stands between Canadian wheat growers and the giant conglomerates in the global wheat market. An absence of the collective strength of the Canadian Wheat Board in the international economy would leave farmers to fend for themselves.

    A motion was passed by a majority of the members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food which called upon the federal Minister of Agriculture to commit to respecting the provisions of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and called for a plebiscite of western Canadian grain farmers on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    I urge the Minister of Agriculture and all members of this House to look at the entire picture and at the economic consequences that will for sure occur to farmers, workers, and entire communities that are involved in this process.

    The solution is clear. The decision on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board should not be decided by the Minister of Agriculture or the Conservative government but by the members of the Canadian Wheat Board. The very least the government can do is empower farmers rather than hinder their capacity to succeed.

Mr. Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, CPC):  
    Mr. Speaker, just to give us a gauge in this place of who we represent as we speak on this issue, I wonder if the member could respond in terms of how many permit book holders there are in her constituency in the northern part of Manitoba. If that is a little difficult to respond to, could she give us a ballpark figure of how many farmers there are in her riding in Manitoba?

Ms. Tina Keeper
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate that my riding is a northern riding. In fact, the issue that is facing my riding has to do with the transport of grain.

    The Port of Churchill, as I have mentioned, is a port that is dependent upon Canadian Wheat Board shipments and about 400,000 tonnes of grain move through the port. It has been a long established relationship that is critical within Manitoba, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Port of Churchill. There is a relationship in which the Canadian Wheat Board represents 80% of the grain which moves through the Port of Churchill.

    I did not mention, as the member opposite seems to think I did, that there are farms in my riding. However, the implication of the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board has an impact which goes far beyond just affecting farmers. That is the point that I thought I made clear. The impact will have consequences not only on farmers but as we have said, will assist the large global conglomerates to take over the marketing. The Conservatives know very well that is going on.

    The Canadian Wheat Board represents the primary producers under an act of Parliament. It says explicitly in the act that farmers would have a plebiscite if the mandate of the agency were to change. That is the first point.

    The second point is that the impact goes far beyond the farmers. In fact, that is why I spoke today. It is because of the implications in terms of transportation for the Port of Churchill where there are hundreds of jobs that are dependent on the Canadian Wheat Board. There is a private sector which does business with the Canadian Wheat Board. The implications are not just in terms of farmers but have far-reaching implications.

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, dismantling the Wheat Board is just another example of the government's assault on public institutions. It is an example of the government's insidious advancements of private interests and a clear abuse of power. A gag order is another example of that abuse. There is just too much secrecy and not enough transparency or oversight.

    The Prime Minister was the past-president of the National Citizens Coalition and he spoke against the use of gag laws and called them unconstitutional. I am wondering why the Conservatives now condone this practice as an acceptable means of promoting the government's hidden agenda.

    There are media reports recently pointing out that the Alberta Conservative government spent a million of public taxpayers' dollars over the past three years on a campaign to discredit the Wheat Board.

    I am wondering what the hon. member thinks of this gag order by the government and the fact that it now has money to discredit the Wheat Board. What does the member think of this kind of practice?

Ms. Tina Keeper
    Mr. Speaker, indeed, I fully agree that the tactics that the government has taken to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board go far beyond anything that I could have imagined. As was mentioned earlier in the House today, this is a democracy. This is Canada. For the government to involve itself in underhanded tactics to dismantle a valuable Canadian institution is absolutely shocking.

Mr. David Anderson (Parliamentary Secretary (for the Canadian Wheat Board) to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, CPC):  
    Mr. Speaker, we heard a bit of an attack earlier on the character of the Prime Minister and I want to respond to that because I do not think the member for Malpeque should be talking to anybody about character.

    I will tell the House a bit about the circumstances of how we come to be here today. He is one of the people in the opposition who insisted that the agriculture committee have extra hearings and meetings. This afternoon the agriculture committee had an extra hearing. All committee members were there while he was here introducing his concurrence motion. I would suggest that he does not have that much of an interest in farmers. He is way more interested in playing with this issue politically than he is in actually dealing with the issue honestly. I know a number of people at the agriculture committee were very upset. They expected that he would be treating it seriously, particularly since he is the official opposition critic. However, he does not seem to be treating his position seriously and I suspect he will not be treating this issue seriously at all.

    I want to point out a few different things. We have heard a bit about the hysteria and hyperbole that accompanies this issue. The NDP member just spoke about the fact that she thought the Alberta Conservative government should not have been spending money on promoting its side of this issue and that the federal NDP government seems to be against it.

    I would like to ask her a question and perhaps I will get the opportunity later. However, will the NDP speak out against the money that the Saskatchewan and Manitoba NDP governments are spending on this issue? The NDP government has clearly taken one side of this issue. It is supporting and actually helping to establish organizations that will then be speaking to this issue. I would be interested in hearing a little later what she has to say about that issue.

    There is another thing that we need to deal with today. She mentioned that there seems to be too much secrecy and not enough oversight. I am not sure what she was talking about, but we can certainly say that about the Canadian Wheat Board over the last few years. Western Canadian producers have not had access to information about the Wheat Board. For example, they can no longer find out through the Wheat Board's annual reports how much money is being spent on communications, advertising and those kinds of things.

    As a consequence of that and with the help of the NDP, we proposed an amendment to the accountability act that would help people to access that kind of information with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board. We look forward to dealing with secrecy and providing a bit more oversight into the organization in the future.

    There has been an issue over the last few days about the voters list. I need to speak to that and address the issue. Yesterday, the leader of the NDP rose and started to make wild accusations about the voters list for the director elections this fall. He clearly did not understand what he was talking about, which is unfortunate, but hopefully we can provide him and the public a bit of information so they can more clearly understand what is going on in terms of the director elections and the voters list for those elections.

    Over the past few years there have been director elections regularly. The voters list has always been a huge concern because everyone who indicates an interest in grain gets a permit book. There are many permit books that are not even used. People do not deliver on them. Someone may own a quarter of land who lives in the city and has nothing to do with the operation of the farm but still has a permit book.

    Up until now the ballots have been mailed out to everyone and have actually gone to people who are deceased. There has been no way to know whether people are farming or not farming, or if they have retired or are living in another country. The minister decided to send ballots to farmers who had actually delivered on permit books over the last two years. In that way the government would know that these people had made deliveries and were actively farming. Anyone else who has an interest in grain has not been kept from voting. They simply need to make a statutory declaration saying that they have an interest in the grain and that they would like a ballot and a ballot will be sent out. We definitely wanted to clear that up because there was misleading information coming from particularly the NDP but the Liberals seemed to be mouthing some of that as well.

    I would also like to make a point for the member for Churchill who admitted that he was not familiar with agriculture. She said that the Canadian Wheat Board stands between farmers and conglomerates. We would suggest that the CWB is actually standing between farmers and opportunity. We looked into this.

    The agriculture committee heard last week that the present grading system, which is based on having to visually distinguish the kinds of grains, costs farmers in the neighbourhood of $200 million per year. That grading system is maintained primarily because of the Wheat Board. It has made statements that it cannot possibly get rid of it for another 10 years. Everybody else in the world has a declaration system where farmers can declare the kind of grain they have and then it is checked to ensure it is accurate. That is costing about $200 million a year.

    We also know there are freight costs because rail cars are not being fully tendered. George Morris Centre has done work that says that western Canadians are missing between 8,000 and 15,000 jobs that would be available if there were the value added opportunities that we could get if we were able to market our own grain. Western Canadian farmers will have a huge opportunity when we move ahead on this issue and when we move to choice.

    I noticed that the member opposite did not really want to talk that much about his concurrence motion and I would suspect the reason he does not want to talk about it is that it is a mess. Tomorrow we will request that people vote against it. We tried to explain to the agriculture committee what the implications of it were. The opposition members were not that interested in serving farmers. They are more interested in their own political stunts so they went ahead and passed this.

    I just want to point out some of the consequences that would come out of passing the motion if the member for Malpeque has his way. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommended:

    That the government prior to any legislative or regulatory action affecting the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is currently constituted under the Canada Wheat Board Act, submit through plebiscite to all those eligible to vote in Canadian Wheat Board elections, a clear and direct question asking whether those eligible to vote support or oppose the single desk selling provisions of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    That is a mouthful which I am sure hardly anybody could understand. I think the reason the member for Malpeque chose to word it that way was to try to confuse people and to confuse the issue. He probably does not even know this but the board itself does not have a legislative mandate. We can look right through the act and it does not have a legislative mandate. People have tried to take different sections of the board and say that it does but the only possible place that one could actually imply that there is a mandate for the board is in section five where it talks about the object of the board. It says that the object is marketing in an orderly manner in interprovincial and export trade grain grown in Canada. It does not say anything about a single desk and there is no mention of a mandate anywhere in the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

    Right off the bat the member's motion does not make any sense, which may not surprise some of us here. The consequence of this is that the recommendation either applies to nothing in terms of the board or it applies to everything. We assume that he does not want it to apply to nothing so he is probably saying that it applies to all the activities in which the board is involved.

    Let me explain the consequences of that. This would mean the end of the government or the board's freedom to do a number of things, such as setting initial grain prices. Farmers would not be allowed to set initial grain prices. They certainly would not be allowed to adjust grain prices.

    We are sitting in a situation right now where grain prices are the highest they have been in 10 years and our farmers are telling us that, more than ever, they want the opportunity to market their own grain so that they can take advantage of the market. The market is surging and they have opportunities now that they have not had for a decade. What happens? The Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc working with them are preventing western Canadian farmers from having an opportunity to access the market when it is at its peak.

    As usual, they are working against the interests of farmers. They want to keep them poor. They want to keep them down on the farm and unable to stand on their own two feet so they have to depend on them. My farmers are telling me that they do not want that. They want opportunities. They want to move ahead and they want to market their own grain.

    The motion would also stop us from making a final payment to farmers. I guess everyone here understands that the board sets the initial payment in agreement with the government and then, throughout the year, hopefully, if the price goes up, adjustment payments are paid out and at the end of the year the farmers get whatever extra money is in the pool account. The member for Malpeque wants to shut that down. We do not think that makes good sense at all.

    Another thing the motion would do is affect the board's borrowing capabilities. It would stop loan financing and the board's ability to guarantee payments.

    An hon. member: Cash advances.

    Mr. David Anderson: Absolutely, cash advances. The member is absolutely right. It would stop the board's ability to offer or to administer cash advances. I do not think the member for Malpeque probably understood that when he wrote the motion but that certainly is the impact that it would have. Actually, my colleague makes a very good point. One of the reasons he probably does not understand the impact is because he does not live anywhere near the region where the board applies.

    Western Canadian farmers have told me time and again that they are capable of making their own decisions. They do not need people coming from outside and telling them what is good for them. The member for Malpeque has been doing that to western Canadian farmers for many years and they are getting mighty tired of it.

    One of the things that the motion would affect is the ability to administer cash advances. If our farmers do not have that ability, they have nothing. We just extended and improved the cash advance program. We are working through the final regulations to give farmers the opportunity to borrow up to $100,000 cash free and then they can turn around and borrow up to $400,000 against their inventory. We do not want to interfere with that and we are wondering why the member for Malpeque would be.

    The motion would also interfere with the ability to manage the contingency fund that is so important to the board's operations. It interferes with its ability to establish and to manage any of the separate funds that it sets up. I am sure that the board itself does not want restrictions put on that. It restricts any opportunity to provide for enhanced employee benefits. I do not think the member for Malpequeprobably understood that either when he brought this forward.

    It actually interferes as well with the ability to change the election process and improve the election process even as the board requests. The board actually agreed with us on the idea that these permit books that were not active be removed from the active mailing list. The board was with us on that in spite of what the NDP and the Liberals have said. If they were to come to use with a suggested change for an election process, this motion that the member for Malpeque has brought forward would stop us from being able to do that.

    It also would stop the government from being able to appoint directors or a president. I am sure the member did not mean to interfere in that way either. It would interfere with the board's ability to invest in outside projects and, of course, it is involved in a number of things at universities, at research centres and there are partnerships around the world. It would also interfere with the ability to do the board's final audit for the year.

     It actually goes further than that. It would interfere with any ability to change regulations that have anything to do with the board's operations. That would render the board's operation impossible because there have been 525 orders in council over the last 14 years and they deal with most of the issues that I have just mentioned. Orders in council concerning the board regularly go out. The member for Malpeque apparently wants all of that stopped until we have a plebiscite.

     I do not think he understood what he was doing when he wrote this. However, I am sure that will not change his mind in terms of insisting that his party would support it. The motion would actually cripple the board and bring total chaos. He has brought 100 unintended consequences that he did not realize because of the poor wording of his motion. Hopefully he will take a bit more time the next time and maybe talk to some of us who understand the board and how it operates. A number of people, including some of my colleagues, have spent many years dealing with this issue. They certainly have the capability and the capacity to direct the member for Malpeque and to give him some clear understanding of what the board is all about.

    I want to take a minute to talk about one of the other options or opportunities that we have offered western Canadian farmers. The member for Malpeque said that he has been a farmer advocate for many years and that he wrote a report last year that supposedly said that farmers needed more access to opportunities and to capital, and that they needed more ability and power in the marketplace.

    My colleague, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, brought forward Bill C-300. It is not a big bill but it is a good bill. It basically says that under Bill C-300 prairie producers could market their own wheat and barley directly to processing facilities owned by prairie producers. It seems pretty straightforward does it not? Prairie producers can market their own grain to a processing facility that is owned by their friends and neighbours.

    Finally, we have a small thing here that would give farmers an opportunity. In the past of course this has not been allowed. Swift Current is in the centre of my riding where a few years ago people wanted to set up a pasta plant. They had support from the area and they had a great project going. It was going to be very successful and we thought we could compete with anyone in the world. We decided that there was no sense in sending our grain to another country so someone else could make it into pasta and get the benefit from that. We decided we should keep it at home and make pasta in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and ship it out to the world. Since we grow the best durum in the world we wanted to see what we could do with pasta.

    The project never got off the ground. The main reason the project did not get off the ground is that the Canadian Wheat Board said, “We are not going to let producers deliver their own grain to this facility and then process it. They have to go through the buy back”. They have to take their grain which is in their bins and they have to sell it to the board and then they have to buy it back at a higher price. Then they can try to sell it to the pasta plant.

    An hon. member: Plus freight and elevation.

    Mr. David Anderson: Plus freight and elevation, exactly. It just did not make sense. It did not make it profitable. That project has sat for years waiting for an opportunity. I talked to people at home and they still wish that they had the opportunity to participate in that. Bill C-300 deals a little bit with that opportunity that we think we need to have for western Canadian producers.

    The surprise to me was that members of the opposition decided that they would oppose this. The opposition is led by an agriculture critic who says that farmers need some strength in the marketplace, but when we came forward with a bill that would actually give them some, that would not have changed the marketing system, he opposed it. His colleagues opposed it because they do not know any better and they get their direction from him.

    We would think the NDP would be on side with a proposal such as this, small community projects and people could get together and work with their neighbours and set up a processing facility to process their own grain. One would think the NDP would take that up in a minute, but the NDP decided that ideology was more important than farmers. For some of us this is not much of a surprise any more.

    We see it in the debate that is going on right now. We simply want to offer western Canadian farmers the choice to do their own business. Let me as a western Canadian producer when I get up in the morning decide that I am going to sell some grain. I am going to take a look at what the price of grain is. I am going to make what I think is good deal and I am going to move my grain.

    The opposition members do not want that to happen. They want me to have to go to the Canadian Wheat Board and I have to sell it to the Canadian Wheat Board. I have to buy it back and then I have to try to find someone to buy it from me.

    Someone called me last night and said that right now he has a barley sale, organic barley into the United States. He made the sale. He went to the board for the buy back and the board told him that he could have the buy back if he wanted to pay $122 a tonne for a buy back, which is unbelievable. That is almost $3 a bushel extra just to buy his own grain back. His grain is sitting in the bin. He has made a sale into the United States for his organic grain which the board does not market. Then the board tells him, “You have to give us over $3 a bushel just to get your own grain back”. That is a true story.

    It is interesting that the member for Malpeque will not believe me when I say that. He does not understand how the system works. That is very unfortunate. He is the one on the other side who is in charge of telling the opposition members what their agriculture decisions and policies are. He does not understand what farmers have to go through.

    The member for Malpeque wonders why people become angry. The reason is that he does not have a clue what is going on in western Canada. He does not seem to care. He has an ideological position that he thinks he is going to stay with no matter what. Meanwhile our farmers are going broke.

    The Liberals have a history of doing this to our farmers. I do not think they should stand up in the House and try to pretend that they are protecting farmers on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. A few years ago when we had grain farmers who wanted a choice, who wanted to do something different with their wheat, what happened? Did the Liberals offer to have a plebiscite? Absolutely not. The Liberals locked the farmers in jail.

    People went to jail and people were being strip searched for weeks at a time. That was as a consequence of that member, the member for Wascana and the Liberal caucus at the time making a decision that that was the way farmers in western Canada should be treated.

    Western farmers are tired of it. They want the opportunities that farmers in the rest of Canada have. They want an opportunity to get out there and market their grain. Western farmers are not afraid of the opportunities that face them.

    When I say that the George Morris Centre says that there are between 8,000 and 15,000 jobs that would be available in western Canada if we had these value added opportunities, farmers say, “Let me at it. Let me have the chance to do that kind of a thing”.

    The government will continue to move ahead. We want to bring choice to western Canadian farmers, the same choices that farmers across this country have. We want to give them the same opportunities that other farmers have. The farmers are very supportive of what we are doing here. It is unfortunate that some of the special interest groups funded by NDP governments and by Liberal caucuses are standing in the way of the opportunities for western Canadian farmers.

Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, we have seen quite a line from the parliamentary secretary, that is for sure. We are seeing a new tactic. Just to make a point, we are seeing the difference between the two parties, we really are. We consult with farmers. We take their advice and then we try to represent their interests in the House. The member opposite, the parliamentary secretary, obviously just takes his direction from the Prime Minister based on ideology. We are seeing a new tactic.

    It was interesting listening to the parliamentary secretary as he spoke of the motion the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food put forward. We are seeing a new tactic now from the governing party. On top of the gag orders and the propaganda campaign, we are seeing scare tactics.

    This motion is about one thing. There are three pillars to the Canadian Wheat Board: single desk selling, price pooling and the government guarantee. The motion and the report is about a clear and direct question asking whether those eligible to vote support or oppose the single desk selling provisions of the Canadian Wheat Board. Simply put, that is what the motion is all about.

     Is the parliamentary secretary willing, on behalf of his government, to allow producers the choice whether or not they want single desk selling to be maintained under the Canadian Wheat Board as that pillar which gives it the ability to maximize returns to primary producers?

Mr. David Anderson
    Mr. Speaker, it is also good to see the member for Malpeque realize he has problems with the motion, so he will try to turn attention away from it. The fact is that it is so poorly written it would affect virtually every activity in which the Wheat Board is involved. If we had a vote tomorrow, we would see the member voting for it. Obviously, we have to be far more responsible than that. The member is in opposition. He can resort to whatever hysteria and hyperbole he wants, but as the party in power, we have to be responsible for the decisions that we make. Our decision is that we think western Canadian farmers need choice in marketing and we would like to bring that forward to them.

    I would like to make one other point, which is that I am extremely proud to follow the man who is the Prime Minister of this country right now. Canadians have seen what a leader he is and they are turning to him. They are very thrilled with the fact that we are actually keeping our promises. Everywhere we go across this country people are saying, “We cannot believe that you people kept your promises after 13 years of what we had before”.

Mr. Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia Southern Interior, NDP):  
    Mr. Speaker, I am going through some material here, comments over the last few years made by the hon. parliamentary secretary. It seems to be a trend, a vendetta against the Wheat Board, that it is corrupt, that its directors are stealing money, that it has broken laws and refuses to sell grain.

    I am just wondering if the parliamentary secretary and his government is representing the farmers. We are representing the farmers. We are speaking for farmers. There are grassroots organizations and other people speaking up and letters coming in.

    How do the Conservatives know that they represent the majority of the farmers? I think they do not know because they are afraid to have a vote.

    Is the parliamentary secretary in agreement with me?

Mr. David Anderson
    Mr. Speaker, I am glad that question was asked, because I really wanted to get into that and I actually forgot about it during my speech.

    The Wheat Board itself has done surveys. We would have to stretch it to say that it was trying to find a real neutral position with the survey. The last one actually showed 54% of producers in western Canada want choice as their option. They want choice in marketing. That was the Wheat Board's own survey. Sixty per cent of them in the Wheat Board survey actually said that the Wheat Board would be far better off if it had competition. It would make it a far more effective and efficient marketing entity if it had some competition.

    While the member wonders if we represent farmers, we actually do because we have the rural ridings in western Canada, so we are proud to say we represent farmers. It is not just ourselves who are saying that there needs to be choice. Farmers themselves are saying, even to the Wheat Board when it asked in its surveys, that they want choice and they would like to see the opportunities that come out of that, the same opportunities that the rest of this country has.

Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.):  
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague opposite speaks frequently of unknown, undesirable and unintentional consequences. There are two areas that I am particularly concerned about in terms of the unknown, undesirable and unintended consequences.

    The first relates to the democratic processes, or the lack thereof, that we are seeing as we move forward on this issue. My colleague here has certainly enunciated them.

    The second is quite devastating. We hear frequently from members of the press in our community that when questions are put to Conservative members from Manitoba day after day after day after day, their calls are not returned. Their calls are not returned because those members know what the implications are for the city of Winnipeg.

    Does the parliamentary secretary understand that this means the elimination of 500 jobs in downtown Winnipeg? Does he understand that it means a loss of an additional 1,800 jobs in the province of Manitoba? Does he understand that it means a loss of $66 million in wages and salaries? Does he understand what the impact is on governments in terms of lost taxes?

    Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: This is garbage.

    Mr. Gerry Ritz: How many farmers are we losing?

    Mr. Brian Storseth: Do not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    An hon. member: Don't believe Wayne.

     Hon. Anita Neville: Trust me, I would rather believe my colleague than members opposite who do not speak out on behalf of their communities and the citizens of their communities. Trust me.

Mr. David Anderson
    Mr. Speaker, now you see what farmers are supporting. They are the ones who have kept the Wheat Board over the years.

    The members opposite say the Wheat Board is going to completely fail. We do not say that. We say we are going to offer it as an option. We think that it has a lot of potential. It has a lot of advantages right now over most of the other entities in the industry. If she is saying it is going to completely disappear, I hope that the farmers are not listening to her when she says that because they hope that the Wheat Board can be one of those options. They know there are going to be jobs still in Winnipeg, that there is going to be a payroll there.

    Most of the jobs that are in Winnipeg are not volume dependent. If the board is at all competent at being part of this marketing choice option, those jobs are going to continue to exist. That money is going to continue to come into Winnipeg and farmers will have the opportunity to prosper as well.

Mr. Dave Batters (Palliser, CPC):  
    Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands brought this up because we are talking about character, the character of this government and the character of our Prime Minister, people who actually follow through on what they say they are going to do in a campaign. We said we were going to do one thing and we are doing that.

    The member for Malpeque talked about freedom of expression. What we are talking about is freedom of choice. There are not many businesses in this country or in the world that work like the Wheat Board system without that choice. Many farmers have fought for that choice and we have listened. These people are not masochists. My friend from Cypress Hills—Grasslands is not crazy. He thinks he can do it better. He wants that choice so he can better himself. We will still have a strong, viable Wheat Board, as the member said.

     I would like to ask my friend, the parliamentary secretary, why producers in Ontario do not have to operate under a board monopoly system. If the monopoly system is so great and that is where it is at, why is it only producers like himself in western Canada who have to operate under that system? Why is that not the case in provinces like Ontario

Mr. David Anderson
    Mr. Speaker, this actually ties into the last question with what I can only call it scare tactics from the member from Winnipeg when she was giving the information she had. I will put it that way.

    The fact is there are voluntary boards around the world. There is a voluntary board in Ontario. There is one in Australia as well. In order for the board to continue to exist, it does not need to be mandatory. The Australian wheat board has almost an export monopoly on grains in Australia. It functions well. People are free domestically to move their grain. The Ontario Wheat Board has been a marketing board that has had choice in Ontario here for several years. Those opportunities exist and the options work for farmers.

The Deputy Speaker
    Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Veterans Affairs

Mr. André Bellavance (Richmond—Arthabaska, BQ):  
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this important debate this evening. The member for Malpeque has done excellent work in committee presenting the ins and outs of this issue. That is why we supported the second report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food. I would like to read it to you.

    It seems to me that any talk of a referendum, of free choice, is a very important democratic issue. It is important to allow western producers to make that free choice, and the best way to do so is through a referendum. That way, we will know exactly what they want with respect to the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    Here is the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food:

    That the government prior to any legislative or regulatory action affecting the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board as it is currently constituted under the Canada Wheat Board Act, submit through plebiscite to all those eligible to vote in Canadian Wheat Board elections, a clear and direct question asking whether those eligible to vote support or oppose the single desk selling provisions of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    That is the subject of today's debate. I think it is very important for us to give that choice to the producers who want it. As you know, the Canadian Wheat Board is one of two very important collective marketing tools in Canada, the other being supply management, which I could obviously discuss in more detail.

    Currently, we are under attack from WTO member states—especially the United States and the European Union—because of the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management. Now we are also under attack from our own government, the Canadian government. It has been in constant attack mode since it made its famous promise in the last election campaign and even before then, in 2002, when the Prime Minister himself introduced a motion in this House to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.

    The Conservatives' free market ideology is not news here. However, for some time now, they have been implementing a process to undermine and even destroy the Canadian Wheat Board.

    As I was saying, the attacks are not only coming from other countries, but also from within our own country. If this tendency persists, we, in Quebec, are very much afraid that, after the Canadian Wheat Board, the next attack will be on our supply management system.

    And I know what I am talking about since I, along with the leader of the Bloc Québécois and people from the Union des producteurs agricoles in Quebec, took part in a meeting, here in Ottawa, with ambassadors from around the world. Representatives from the European Union were present and, for them, it was clear that there was a serious problem at the WTO with regard to marketing, and the culprits were the Canadian Wheat Board and our supply management system.

    Pressures targeted at these two marketing tools still exist and we want to eliminate them. We have been doing a lot of explaining and have been able to convince more and more countries, particularly African countries, that were also present at that meeting, and some European countries, that these are not subsidies to our farmers but tools that allow them to get the best possible price at no cost to the government. I am mostly talking about supply management because in the case of the Canadian Wheat Board, there were irritants that were eliminated to comply with other countries' requirements at the WTO.

    This election promise about free choice and a dual market was made by the Conservatives. In my view, free choice means letting producers decide for themselves what is good for them. That is the attitude one must always have in politics. Forcing one's ideology or anything else on others is not the way to go, but it is necessary to go out there to get a better understanding of what people want and what they need. As legislators, we will then be able to propose bills or amendments or plans that will really meet their needs.

     In the past few hours we have seen another example of that on the part of this government. The Bloc Québécois introduced a motion concerning an adjustment program for older workers. It consisted of measures to help older workers who have lost their jobs because of mass layoffs. The response of the government was something of their own ideology, something that, in their opinion, was the best solution, a kind of program that pleases neither the workers nor the Government of Quebec because it does not take account of the real needs and demands of those workers.

     They are proceeding in somewhat the same way in the case of the Canadian Wheat Board. In the committee, I have even heard government members say something along the lines of “We are not going to let the majority decide for the minority”.

     It seems to me that in a real democracy it should be the exact opposite. In fact that is the way we conduct our elections. When a majority wants to retain an organization such as the Canadian Wheat Board, we should make certain that it is not dismantled or knocked down.

     Earlier, the parliamentary secretary referred to a survey by the Canadian Wheat Board. He provided some numbers that suited his argument. There are other numbers. This is a quite recent survey from March and April 2006. The figures in the survey are quite significant.

     For example, 90% of producers believe that any decision concerning the future of the Canadian Wheat Board should be made by the producers themselves. That is exactly what the member for Malpeque proposed during the committee meetings we are discussing today as part of this motion, to let the producers themselves decide the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. Nothing could be more democratic than that. It is the best way to find out exactly what the producers want.

    Moreover, 66% of producers are against any weakening of the Canadian Wheat Board; 63% want the marketing of their produce to be under the exclusive responsibility of the Canadian Wheat Board, and 75%—this is important because this is what we are talking about today—75% want a referendum or plebiscite on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. In my opinion, those figures speak for themselves.

     I have other surveys, if that would please the Conservatives, who do not seem to give much credibility to the surveys done by the Canadian Wheat Board. There is the survey of the National Farmers Union, which says that 76% of farm producers in the west, who are subject to the Canadian Wheat Board, support that organization. We are looking here at rather significant evidence.

     So this begs the question: Who is calling for the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board at all costs? In fact, some of our own producers are calling for such a measure. I, myself, am a producer. I respect their views but I am certain that other producers have other ideas. Just look at the survey; it is not 100% everywhere.

     I have received hundreds and hundreds of letters at my office from wheat and barley producers in western Canada, but mainly wheat producers, despite the fact that I am a Bloc Québécois member of Parliament from Quebec. They are asking me to stand up for the Canadian Wheat Board. In fact I am sure that all of my colleagues have received letters written by those producers. These are not form letters, many of them are written by hand, and I have read them all, regardless of where they came from. None of those letters was written by someone from an organization or a communications firm. They are genuine letters written by producers to tell me that in their opinion, the Canadian Wheat Board is very important and that it must not be dismantled.

     The unfortunate thing about what is happening now is that since this election promise was made in the last campaign, every effort has been made to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. Bill C-300 was introduced in this House. We in the Bloc Québécois opposed it because, in our opinion, it was the beginning of the end.

     Things got even worse for the Canadian Wheat Board with the gag order imposed on it by the ministerial order made on October 5. If you will forgive the expression, I swear that this knocked me on my backside. I did not even think that a minister could make that kind of ministerial order, a gag order that appalling, and imposing censure on the Canadian Wheat Board. But I can read an excerpt from it:

—directs the Canadian Wheat Board to conduct its operations under that Act in the following manner:

    It shall not expend funds, directly or indirectly, on advocating the retention of its monopoly powers, including the expenditure of funds for advertising, publishing or market research.

    It shall not provide funds to any other person or entity to enable them to advocate the retention of the monopoly powers of the CWB.

     The Canadian Wheat Board has quite simply been gagged, and this is a completely undemocratic procedure. The board cannot even defend itself anymore, while the government continues to attack it. In my view, this way of doing things amounts to unfairness and inequality, and it is not even subtle, because the intention is to prohibit it from speaking and defending itself, to gag it. I have never seen anything like this. In fact, we looked a little into what has gone on in the past. We wondered whether ministers had ever done this. We had to go back to 1979 when Russia invaded Afghanistan.

     At the time, all Canadian government organizations, including the Canadian Wheat Board, had been ordered not to have any dealings with Russia because of its cowardly attack on Afghanistan.

     This was a highly unusual if totally understandable reason, which required that there not be any trade with a country that had just committed such an act.

     It was the government’s decision, and that was to be expected. It simply forbade them to have any dealings with this country for a certain amount of time. Obviously, things have changed now. It was understandable at the time that the government would take the action it did.

     I would like a Conservative member, a minister or the Prime Minister to tell me that there was a real emergency and it was essential to prevent the Canadian Wheat Board from speaking, that it was necessary to censure it, to gag it and tie its hands. I am not aware of any such reason. There is no precedent proving that this was essential and that this kind of ministerial order absolutely had to be instituted.

     There have been partisan appointments to the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. The steering panel was led by opponents of the wheat board. I spoke earlier about the letters we have received from farmers.

     We also received an e-mail from a communications firm. It was obviously not intended for us. The firm was offering its services to the government to send out chain letters directed against the Canadian Wheat Board. At the same time, farmers were sending out letters in support of the wheat board. This communications firm, on the other hand, said that it could send a certain number of letters a week. Lovely form letters would have been sent out saying that the Canadian Wheat Board was not effective and was not any good. Fortunately, this was exposed and a stop was put to it.

     The fact that I have not received a single letter goes to prove that there is no real farmers’ revolt against the Canadian Wheat Board. I am sure that I would have received a great many if this communications firm had secretly been able to do what it wanted and if the government had gone along. I have not received a single letter saying that the writer agreed with Bill C-300 or agreed with what the Conservative government wanted to do with the Canadian Wheat Board. When we found out what this communications firm wanted to do, we hoped to hear the person responsible for this e-mail in committee. We have not succeeded yet in getting this person to appear, but I hope we will soon do so because we have some interesting questions for him or her.

     The Conservatives’ determination has not let up and what comes next is worrying, as I said in the introduction to my speech. I said that for us in Quebec the other extremely important collective marketing tool in Canada is supply management. That is not just me talking. I have met with the main stakeholders, including the people from the UPA. We talked about this with the president of the UPA. We talked to him about the Canadian Wheat Board. They too are worried. This government has a free-trade ideology and nothing will stop it.

     For example, I could quote the discussions that took place in parliamentary committee with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada before the latest negotiations of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Whenever we asked him whether he planned to protect supply management, he always said yes. We were very happy with this answer. However, we found ourselves alone, against 148 in Geneva, during the negotiations on supply management. The Minister did not feel very comfortable in that situation.

     But he represents a population. Some voted for him while others did not. Regardless, once he is in government, he represents the entire population. He should pull up his pants and defend a system as effective as supply management, even if he is alone. There is nothing to feel uncomfortable about here. What worried me more was the minister’s speech. He said that if there was an agreement in the WTO, Canada would not remain outside that agreement. Canada would not remain alone in its corner and would sign the agreement. To my mind that meant that, if there had been an agreement to begin removing areas of supply management or dismantling it, Canada would have signed.

     We have good reason to be concerned considering the Conservative government's attitude.

     To give you an idea of how important supply management is in Quebec, I remind members that it represents 40% of the Quebec farm economy. It is the apple of our eye and we are going to defend it tooth and nail. That is what we have been doing since we came to the House of Commons. That is what I, personally, have been doing for over a year, since my leader named me as agriculture critic for the Bloc.

     The latest WTO negotiations in Geneva did not produce an agreement. That is almost fortunate. The Doha round was supposed to deal with developing nations. However nothing is being done for them. We hope to succeed in obtaining an agreement that will give those countries a greater access to markets. That is what everyone wants. However, in the case of supply management, every time negotiations reach an impasse we have to heave a sigh of relief. The fact is that successive governments have always said—in promises—that they support us and they are going to defend supply management. When that support is rather lukewarm we have reason to be concerned.

     The important thing for the Conservatives is to follow up on their commitment to allow western producers a free choice concerning the marketing of their grain in the export market. What we are seeing, in fact, is the dismantling of single desk selling and, at the end of the day, the extinction of the Canadian Wheat Board.

     Yet section 47(1) of the Canadian Wheat Board Act is clear. Any decision seeking to change single desk selling must be made by the producers. I do not understand why the government is opposed to the motion presented by the member for Malpeque since a very clear section of the Canadian Wheat Board Act provides for consultation of farm producers. It is up to them to decide; it is not up to the government.

     I mentioned the UPA, the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, earlier. We met with them, with our leader, to discuss the Canadian Wheat board, even though it does not apply to Quebec. Those people explained to us very clearly that in Quebec there were quite a few voluntary marketing agencies that failed not long after they were created, whether they were set up to market grain, potatoes, apples or greenhouse vegetables. All of those experiments, which date from the 1990s, could not be sustained. The marketing branch of the UPA did a thorough study of this subject. They examined cases where these models had failed, and what they found was that they lacked a critical mass of the product to be marketed, and the corollary to that, participation by producers—

     Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

     Mr. André Bellavance: I understand what goes on in Quebec is not of much interest to the Conservative Party, but I think that it is very important to talk about these things.

     Another major factor in the failures was the negative reaction by competitors, who used every possible means to bring those systems down. Based on experience in Quebec, we have very good reason to assume that freedom of choice when it comes to marketing grain in the Prairies will eventually lead to the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board and will have negative consequences for producers, including lower prices.

     This information comes from the Union des producteurs agricoles. I did not make it up. We did experiments and experienced failures ourselves in the 1990s relating to the same thing as what the Conservative government now wants to put in place for the Canadian Wheat Board. We should look to the example of what happened in Quebec and not repeat this kind of mistake. It is reasonable to experiment, but it is also reasonable to learn from our mistakes.

     So in the UPA’s view, the Canadian Wheat Board provides producers with market income that is higher and fairer. It guarantees stable and predictable supply in the agri-food industry. The UPA is also of the view that we cannot allow the Conservative government to destroy such an influential institution, one that creates 14,700 direct and indirect jobs, with spinoffs amounting to $852 million a year.

     I urge everyone in this House to vote for the motion presented by the member for Malpeque.

Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, CPC)
    Mr. Speaker, I have a few comments and a couple of questions for the member. I find this whole episode this afternoon very unfortunate. There are many good and more productive things about which we could be talking.

    This motion would compel us to have a plebiscite in order to pay farmers a higher initial price. How ridiculous this whole motion is. It is beyond the pale. We want to react quickly to market conditions and help prairie farmers.

    What also is beyond the pale is the attempt by Bloc members to link the future of the Canadian Wheat Board to supply management. What they should be talking about is a commitment on this side of the House to keep, maintain and follow through on our campaign promises. What were those promises?

    The first promise was to provide more marketing choice for western Canadian farmers, when it comes to wheat and barley.

    The second promise was to maintain the supply management system. We fought for that in Geneva. We fought for that in every negotiation we have had internationally. We will continue to fight for supply management because this party on this side of the House promised we would follow through on that ,and that is what we will do.

    More important, what I want to know is, when will the hon. member from the Bloc bring in the motion to expand the Wheat Board to ensure it covers Quebec? He will not do that. Why? Because he does not want the Wheat Board to affect his business in his province. He does not want the Wheat Board to affect the hogs. He said that there had never been a success in another marketing board. Tell that to the hog producers in Canada. Tell it to the canola producers in Canada. Talk to the pulse crop people and the cattle industry. All of them are successful. Why? Because the government is not mucking around in the decisions that should be made by farmers, who take the risk and take the problems on to their shoulders and try to market their own products.

    I can guarantee that he does not want the Wheat Board in Quebec. How about if we expand it to include potatoes?

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Deputy Speaker
    As one Deputy Speaker, to a former deputy speaker, the member knows that many people are seeking the floor for questions and comments. A couple of minutes have already expired. I hate to interrupt the minister in flight, but if he could ask a question.

Hon. Chuck Strahl
    Mr. Speaker, as you can tell, I am kind of passionate about this subject. I guess I will have to wrap it up with a question for the hon. member. I can hardly talk because it is such a silly motion.

     Could the hon. member tell us which products he would like us to include under the Wheat Board in the Quebec area? How many products and lines would he like us to have compulsory, managed by a national board in his province?

    He can be quick, but I will answer it for him. The answer is none. No one wants the Canadian Wheat Board to run the products in his provinces, or in Ontario or in the rest of the country. This only applies, for some reason, to the farmers in western Canada--

The Deputy Speaker
    The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

Mr. André Bellavance
    Mr. Speaker, I can finally respond.

    That was a rather passionate speech. I would like to see the hon. member equally passionate, fiery and firm when the time comes to defend the supply management system.

    Earlier, I used the example of our considerable concern in committee, when he said that Canada would not decline on a future WTO agreement, rather it would sign on. I asked if that would mean “at all costs.” I did not get an answer earlier, so would it be “at all costs”?

Hon. Chuck Strahl

Mr. André Bellavance
    That is what I thought. The minister just said yes. He is going to sign at all costs, for all of Canada, a WTO agreement, even though this would jeopardize the Canadian Wheat Board and especially the supply management system. Is that what the minister wants?

    I would like to see him stand up for our farmers a bit more. Recently, we made requests on behalf of potato farmers. Farmers in Saint-Amable are still having problems with golden nematode. We would like to see a program specifically for farmers affected by golden nematode. Once the embargo was lifted and the problem with the Americans was resolved, these farmers had to destroy their potato crops. Growers in the Saint-Amable region are also affected by this problem. Yet, the CAIS program cannot help them.

    I would like the minister to rise—and be just as passionate and firm as he was earlier when he tried to corner me—and defend these farmers, and not only by pointlessly attacking—

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member was asked a direct question by the Minister of Agriculture. He has completely avoided it.

    What products are to be included under the Wheat Board?

The Deputy Speaker
    If unanswered questions were points of order, we would be constantly in points of order in the House

    The hon. member for Saint Boniface.

Hon. Raymond Simard (Saint Boniface, Lib.):  
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comments.

    My colleague is right. The Canadian Wheat Board has a great deal of support in western Canada. This is apparent when we talk to people who live in towns near us in Manitoba, in Portage la Prairie, for example. Some hon. members opposite agree that it works extremely well.

    Personally, I am surprised that the members opposite are not prepared to represent their constituents. They are under a gag order, just like they have been in every other matter introduced by the Conservatives.

    How are these members under a gag order supposed to represent the people in their riding? Some 73% of people truly believe in the Canadian Wheat Board program.

    The hon. member mentioned that he received letters and opinions from people in western Canada about the Canadian Wheat Board. We have also received comments from people in Quebec who are very concerned about supply management.

    People are worried. Even if the Minister of Agriculture says he will protect supply management, people do not believe him. It is certainly a source of concern. I would like the hon. member to elaborate on this.

Mr. André Bellavance
    Mr. Speaker, when I was speaking earlier, the Conservatives were not listening.

    I presented the opinion of the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec on this. I was criticized for making a connection between plans for the Canadian Wheat Board and plans for supply management. I did not make up this connection. This comes from supply managed producers in Quebec who immediately see the Conservatives' ideology on free trade. To them this ideology falls precisely in line with what the U.S. and the European Union are asking for. The latter claim our collective marketing systems are suspect and rely on government subsidies. This makes me laugh because the Americans and the Europeans subsidize extensively. We are simply agreeing with them. We are saying that perhaps our systems are upsetting to others and we should abolish them. Quebec does not share this ideology

    I imagine that the member who just rose also knows supply managed producers elsewhere in Canada who are not at all happy with what the Conservative government is doing to the Canadian Wheat Board. What comes next is cause for concern. It is not good for producers not to have the right to choose what they want for their own organization. We should let them vote, be democratic and adopt the motion of the member for Malpeque. It is the only way to have the real answer. The Conservatives will not give us the real answer.

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, Ottawa is a far away place from the very farms we are dealing with at this point.

    I know the Reform and the Alliance movement started by promising to give democratic rights to the grassroots. One of the key elements was the right of farmers to vote for their own future, not politicians somewhere in Ottawa. I do not understand why farmers are not given the choice to decide the future of their farms and the future of the Wheat Board.

     The government continues to undermine public institutions. Then it says that we are attacking its integrity when we point out its anti-democratic practices. I thought I heard the Prime Minister say, in the past, that gag orders were unconstitutional.

    Does the hon. member agree that it is our duty to defend the Constitution and ensure that the farmers have the right to decide on the future of the Wheat Board?

Mr. André Bellavance
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her question, although it is a bit hard to hear because the atmosphere is rather charged. In my opinion, the Conservatives have so few arguments to support this decision to put the Canadian Wheat Board out of commission that they are talking nonsense and hurling insults. I find it very rude of the members. I can take it, though, it is no problem for me.

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

    Mr. André Bellavance: Despite everything, I have managed to understand the member's question. I agree with her that this decision is antidemocratic, because we saw the Canadian Wheat Board stifled when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, as I mentioned earlier in my speech. At that time, there was a reason, but today there is none.

    The minister, in his passionate speech—which was not supposed to be a speech—never explained why the government was using such a harsh method against the Canadian Wheat Board.

    Yet section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act gives farmers the right to choose what they want. Nothing but a referendum would give them the opportunity to decide on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Mr. Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia Southern Interior, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

    First, I want to say that I think this gag order is an insult to farmers. The last time this happened was to stop selling wheat to the former Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan. By the way, we know that the mighty Soviet machine was not able to conquer Afghanistan. There may be a lesson for us.

    My point and the point of my party is simple. Let the farmers decide the fate of the Canadian Wheat Board. Currently, there are democratic elections in place in the Canadian Wheat Board. Instead of letting them play out as they should, there seems to be interference by the minister.

    Once the director elections are finished, there should be a plebiscite. Let us end this debate once and for all. Everybody says the government represents the farmers and thinks it knows what it is doing. Let us have a plebiscite. In a cooperative spirit, the minister could work with the Canadian Wheat Board in formulating a question and this would be the democratic process. It is as simple as that.

    A small minority of those who want to go it alone should not be able to destroy the future of the majority of farmers. That is the question today. That is the question we are facing.

    The Prime Minister is about to deliver what an American based WTO challenge and countervail action could not accomplish. In April 2002, following a meeting with top U.S. trade officials, North Dakota wheat commissioner chair Maynard Satrom assured growers that the common objective of both the U.S. government and the U.S. wheat producers is the ultimate reform of the monopolistic Canadian Wheat Board.

    The U.S. department of agriculture stated that American growers should be able to freely compete with Canadian grain for Canadian rail shipments. The USDA has called for a fundamental reform of organizations such as the Canadian Wheat Board to permanently assure that U.S. producers are treated fairly in the world market.

    Our Canadian government is following along with the demands of the American government and American multinational corporations. Dual marketing is a whistle stop. Multinational competitors with deep pockets will bid away grain into the short term and the Canadian Wheat Board will eventually cease to exist.

    Once again, farm economists say that grower premiums that are $30 to $45 per tonne will disappear forever. There will be a domino effect. The producer cars will probably diminish or disappear. We have the whole problem of the Port of Churchill in Manitoba.

    Mr. Speaker, the government is doing its best to take marketing powers away from western producers. It wants to set up a dual marketing system under which the Canadian Wheat Board would be but one exporter of western Canada's wheat and barley. As we know, Canada's competition on the world market, including the United States, has long been fighting to reduce our producers' marketing powers.

    There is a connection between two Canadian programs, namely the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management. Both are threatened under the WTO. If we give up our Canadian Wheat Board single desk seller, then supply management will also disappear. Multinationals, through the Conservative government, are very close to achieving their goal.

    The government is under the impression that it was given a mandate to fully pursue free market initiatives on January 23. It does not feel that consulting producers unquestionably means holding a referendum. We are faced with the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    It is interesting to note that, a few years ago, the Prime Minister publicly supported producers who had circumvented the law by exporting wheat without going through the Canadian Wheat Board. The government wants to take powers away from producers and give them to multinationals.

    The attack on the Canadian Wheat Board is another example of the heavy handed approach by the so-called new government to ram its agenda through, just as we have seen in the softwood lumber agreement, for example. Yet, we know that 75% of those people who use the Canadian Wheat Board would like to have a plebiscite, so the question is, is this ideologically driven?

    I am receiving letters from farmers, as are all MPs, stating that they want the Wheat Board to continue. My hope then is that the Conservative MPs who represent the farmers will listen to them. My message to the farmers is: if they are not happy, they should talk to their MPs, put them on the spot, and ensure that they do exactly what the farmers want because I have a feeling the government is not doing that at the present time.

Mr. Gerry Ritz (Battlefords—Lloydminster, CPC)
    Mr. Speaker, I want to take a minute to speak to my colleague who spoke previously, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska. We sit on the agriculture committee together. Certainly, he has a passion for his farmers, as do I. I commend him for that, but there is a little lesson that he should take in the difference between, and I notice the member for Malpeque is not telling him this, supply management, that all of the left wing people pull up as an icon and we support it as well, and the Wheat Board.

    I will give him a quick lesson. I buy a quota at my choice and at my beck and call, and I join into the supply managed sector. If I decide I want to make cheese, I use that quota or I buy more quota to make cheese, but under the Wheat Board, I cannot use my own grain to make flour or bread. I cannot do that. That is the big difference between the two operations. They are like night and day, black and white. The hon. member should quit listening to the member for Malpeque and start listening to other farmers out there.

    The member who just spoke talked about the democratic right to have a vote. At the beginning of the Wheat Board, when it became mandatory in the mid-forties, there was no vote. Wheat, durum and barley were put in and there was no vote. Oats were taken out in 1986. There was no vote

    At that time, we did 50,000 tonnes of oat trade with the United States and 20 years later, we do 1.3 million tonnes. That is the difference between taking product out, plus we have a burgeoning processing sector growing here domestically for oats. That is what prairie farmers are looking at. Those examples are out there of how the system can do better when we have marketing choice. Why will the members opposite not allow it?

Mr. Alex Atamanenko
    Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the question was, but it was an interesting discourse. Let us ask the farmers for their opinion. Let us ask them. Let us have the plebiscite and we will see. Are they on board or are they not on board? It is as simple as that.

Mr. Yvan Loubier (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, BQ):  
    Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his excellent presentation. I also congratulate the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, my colleague from the Bloc Québécois. Farmers, and the UPA in particular, must be extremely proud to have such an articulate spokesperson and one who is showing so much interest in the system we have been using for at least 35 years. I wanted to congratulate him.

    As a former economist with the UPA, I know what I am talking about after hearing my hon. colleague describe quite eloquently his understanding and convictions about supply management, the power of the Canadian Wheat Board and the will, the democratic will of producers which we would like to see become reality.

    I would have a question for my colleague from the NDP. We have an orderly system. In light of the international situation which is in total disarray and the American policy which is a total fiasco but that Canada wants to copy, despite the fact that our systems are working well, why are the Conservatives trying to scrap everything and offer a dogmatic vision and a free market system that never worked in the agrifood sector, particularly at the international level?

Mr. Alex Atamanenko
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I am wondering about the same thing myself.

    We need the power of the marketplace nowadays to be able to compete with other countries and multinational companies. It seems to me that, if we start dismantling our Canadian Wheat Board, we are going to lose our ability and power to compete and, in the end, the farmers will suffer.

Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, it was good to listen to the NDP critic outline his support for the current concurrence motion.

    It was interesting to note that the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster confused the facts in his question, but those members on that side of the House consistently do that. He is right in what he said about oats, but that was prior to 1998 when the act had changed. Does the member for Battlefords--Lloydminster not know that in 1998 the Canadian Wheat Board changed from being a government agency with appointed commissioners to an elected board of directors?

    My question to the NDP critic is really two-fold. The parliamentary secretary neglected to mention earlier the fact that 88% of farmers in the survey he talked about said they wanted a vote to decide the future of single desk selling.

    The only government that ever mucked around and gave directives to the Wheat Board is the Conservative government with the exception of the war in Afghanistan when it was invaded by the Russians. What does the NDP critic believe? Does he believe that farmers should have a vote on whether they want single desk selling or not? Should that be the vote as mandated under the act?

Mr. Alex Atamanenko
    Mr. Speaker, if 88% or 80% or 70% of the members want to have a vote on single desk selling then of course they should do that. Let us remember that the government is a grassroots party. Let us respect the grassroots and let us go along with the farmers and let them have that vote.

Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take part in the debate. I represent the downtown area of Winnipeg, which is home to the headquarters of the Canadian Wheat Board. Also coming from a prairie province that depends so much on agriculture and farm income, I felt it was necessary for me to enter the debate.

    Let me start by simply saying there is no business case for abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board. It is pure ideological madness. It is an ideological crusade that the Conservative Party has undertaken, really to do the Americans' dirty work for them.

    The Wheat Board has been the subject of 11 separate U.S. trade attacks. The board has won every one, something the Americans could not do. Even before the ink was dry in the 1989 free trade agreement, they were gunning for the Canadian Wheat Board. They made no bones about it whatsoever. In fact, the Americans wanted the Wheat Board out of the way. It is a trade irritant just as the softwood lumber deal is a trade irritant. The new Conservative government is dutifully falling in line to do the dirty work of the Americans.

    Many people, if they are not in the industry, do not understand how the Wheat Board works. The reason a dual market will not work and the reason it will be the death rattle of the Canadian Wheat Board is very simple. If the open market is higher than the initial payment, the board will not get any deliveries. However, if the initial payment is higher than the market, then it gets all these deliveries, but it has to sell them at a loss. That is why this dual marketing will not work.

    I respectfully ask members to think back to the voluntary central selling agency run by the pools in the 1920s and to the voluntary Canadian Wheat Board, which was run in 1935. Both of them had spectacular bankruptcies. They were the greatest business bankruptcies in Canadian history for that simple reason. A voluntary Canadian Wheat Board do not work nor will it survive.

    We have had letters from farmers and I want to read one. I know people have questioned the veracity of these letters. These are letters written by individual farmers and signed by them. This one is from a farmer in Richmond, Saskatchewan. He challenges the statements from our current Minister of Agriculture and from the Parliamentary Secretary. He says, “The statement that the majority of farmers support the concept of dual marketing is false”.

    I believe it is false as well. I believe if it was put to a plebiscite, if it was put to a fair vote, we would be able to verify that.

     He goes on to say, “The statement that the present government has a mandate to end the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board is false and the statement that it's not about economics, it's about freedom, which I have heard the minister and others say, is just plain stupid”. That is according to him. I would not say that. “In this case, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Leave the Canadian Wheat Board alone. It's the only support left for western Canadian farmers”.

    That brings me to the point of this gag order. The minister says that I called him a Fascist for denying them the right to vote and then imposing this gag order. I did not call the minister a Fascist. I said it was like Fascism to deny them democracy. I said that Mussolini would be proud the way the government introduced this gag order over Canadian farmers because it is an unfair fight. It is an issue of natural justice.

    We have misinformation abounding or information with which we disagree. The Canadian Wheat Board claims to have other evidence to the contrary, but it is not allowed to bring it into this public debate about the future of the Wheat Board. How can that be seen to be fair?

    Let mention a couple of the facts that we would enter, and I am sure the Wheat Board would make public if it were allowed to. One study found that in 2001 farmers got about $10 per tonne more under single desk selling than they would have otherwise received. That is a study by a Dr. Richard Gray. I would be happy to table that.

    Another study, the Kraft-Furtan study in 1997, showed the benefit from single desk selling at $265 million per year. Again, we would like to promote those figures as opposed to the figures we heard from the parliamentary secretary, who said that farmers lost up to $400 million a year by single desk selling, I believe.

    Another earlier study by a Dr. Andrew Schmitz showed that marketing through the Wheat Board increased the returns of barley producers by $72 million a year.

     The Conservative government would have to admit that there is a body of evidence on the contrary of the position it is tabling. How is it anybody's best interest to deny the Wheat Board what I would see the legitimate right to make its case and to have its argument known. It is a bit like a boxing match where we have one guy with his hands tied behind his back. In nobody's mind could that be viewed as even remotely fair.

     There are things that we could challenge about the parliamentary secretary's comments. I have a quote from Hansard where he said, “In fact 60% to 80% of the farmers do support change, I am not sure why 20% to 30% of the farmers should hold the other 70% captive”.

    One cannot get away with that kind of thing without being challenged. If the Canadian Wheat Board is being denied a voice, we will be the voice for it. I serve notice right here that we will be dedicating our time, between now and whenever the government plans for the axe to fall, to make the case for the Canadian Wheat Board and to fight the government if it intends to tear down this great prairie institution.

    Nobody should want to go back to the bad old days, least of all a party that says that it represents the grassroots farmers. I used to deliver papers in the rich part of Winnipeg when I was a kid. Virtually every one of those mansions was built by the robber barons, the grain barons, who used to systematically rip off the prairie farmer. Those mansions were built on the backs of prairie farmers who could not get a fair price for grain, so they started to act collectively and cooperatively.

    Maybe that is what the Conservative Party has in opposition, that it is ideologically opposed to acting collectively. It is against public auto insurance, unions and that kind of action.

     Farmers banded together to protect their own interests, and that is a good thing. It was a survival thing and an issue of basic fairness. Since 1943, when the Wheat Board was founded and given it its single desk monopoly, they could get a fair price, compete on the world market and get the prices because its was a superior product.

    Also, because I come from the province of Manitoba, the future of the Port of Churchill is in serious jeopardy because the grain will be sold south. It will be mixed with the inferior American product. We will lose the commercial identity of our superior Canadian wheat product, and that will be to our lasting detriment as well.

    I am happy the minister stayed to listen to the speeches. I beg the government to reconsider this idea. There are consequences that go far beyond living up to the campaign promise that Conservatives made to their base. Clearly, there is a legitimate pocket of farmers who do want the Wheat Board dismantled, or at least a dual marketing system. However, it is a more complex issue than that.

     We remember the bad old days on the Prairies, when an individual farmer had virtually no bargaining strength in terms of trying to sell product to the Paterson's and the Cargill's and whomever would be dominating and controlling these things. Maybe Cargill is a bad example.

    In our experience, the Canadian Wheat Board is the best opportunity to get a fair price for the product. I cannot argue enough that we need to defend this great prairie institution for all those compelling reasons.

    Let me go back to the directive that the minister put forward, what we are calling a gag order.

Hon. Chuck Strahl
    It's not really a gag order, but that's what you're calling it.

Mr. Pat Martin
    We are calling it a gag order. It says right here on the top of my page, “The minister's gag order”. It clearly says that the Canadian Wheat Board will not be allowed to expend funds directly or indirectly, even for market research. One would think that would be a necessary aspect of its day to day function, to conduct market research, publishing and advertising et cetera. It will not provide funds to any other person to do a similar task.

    If there are two legitimate sides to this debate, and we would have to be pretty pigheaded to say that there are not two legitimate sides to this argument, it has been wrestled with for the last decade, then should we not be hearing both of those sides equally? Should we not be allowed to have both sides of the argument represented and then the one side will win on the virtue of its merits, hopefully, not on some ideological crusade.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC)
    Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member. We should hear from farmers and we should hear from both sides.

    I just received a letter from someone in my constituency. I will give a little background. If the member for Malpeque will tone it down a bit, maybe we can get some communications going. This farmer is from my constituency. Just so someone from downtown Winnipeg can understand the trials and tribulations of some of these farmers, I want to give him an idea what is involved and to also counter some of the spin that the NDP have put out.

    He says: “The majority of farmers in my area want choice. The Wheat Board knows that. They have elected a free marketing representative. I come out of an area that used to be NDP for 25 years until the Conservatives came along. They have changed their mind and they understand the advantages of it”.

    This farmer marketed 3,837 bushels to the Wheat Board. He got 24¢ a bushel from the Wheat Board. Today he could take that same grain to Butte, North Dakota and get $3.42 a bushel. That is many times more. We are talking less than $1,000 to over $12,000. The Wheat Board is holding his grain. There is more to this story. The Wheat Board said that it was malt, it took it and sold it for feed and there is a lot more to it.

    Because my time is limited I cannot go through the whole story. He is upset. He has now got farming bills which he has to pay and he cannot do it. That is an example of what happens when one does not have choice on the farm.

    I think people from the cities, people from Quebec, who are holding back--

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer):  
    I apologize to the member from Yorkton, but there are a lot of members who want to ask questions or make comments. I do have to allow the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to respond.

     The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Mr. Pat Martin
    Mr. Speaker, I do not know what to say. I do not think one can make this kind of broad policy decision based on isolated ad hoc incidents.

    I read a letter from one farmer and he read a letter from another one farmer. Therefore, we are even on that front.

    The point is that no one is being allowed, in any kind of a public way, to make this case to the Canadian people. Instinctively, I think most Canadians would understand that, collectively, we are a lot stronger in terms of marketing this product. This is the only chance we have to be taken seriously on the world market.

    The Canadian Wheat Board is respected as perhaps 18% or 20% of world market. We are taken seriously as a player. If we dismantle that, we will not have that advantage in terms of world marketing and et cetera.

    One issue I do want to point out is that the spokesman for the National Farmers Union talks about how the dual market kills the CWB because its monopoly seller position is precisely what earns farmers premium prices in those global markets. In unity there is strength. It is an old adage that we use on this side of the House. Those guys would be well advised to consider that as well.

Hon. Raymond Simard (Saint Boniface, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague speak about the dual marketing system and why it did not exist. It is a smoke screen. This is a scam.

    When we put this in place, we are in fact dismantling the Wheat Board. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture has been stating for years that he wants to dismantle the Wheat Board. If that is what the government wants to do, why does it not just come out and say it? Why does it go through this backroom way of doing this?

    Would my hon. colleague agree with me that this is a round about way of doing things?

Mr. David Anderson
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member has attacked me personally. I would like to make it clear that our position is what it has been in the past, and that is, we want to see the Canadian Wheat Board as one of the options for farmers. If he is going to accuse me of other things than that, he should be accurate in what he is saying.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    I am not sure if that is a point of order or not, but I thank the hon. member for that intervention.

     Could have a bit of order in the House for the last few seconds for the hon. member's response?

Mr. Pat Martin
    Mr. Speaker, I think I understand the question from my colleague, the member for Saint Boniface. The Conservative government is trying to do through the back door what it could not do through the front door. By statute, to make these changes to the way the Wheat Board operates, it has to be put to a vote of the member farmers.

    The government started a gerrymander with the voter's list because I think it knows it is on shakey ground. It is going to have to allow farmers to vote on this. It is not just because we accuse it of being undemocratic. It is probably getting that same advice not only from the Canadian Wheat Board and the member farmers. Maybe there are people who are not afraid of democracy breaking out.

    The government is trying to do this through the back door without going to a vote of the people, which is required by statute. That is what led me to say that this is Fascism to deny democracy in this way.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    Before I recognize the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre on debate, I would just let her know that at 5:30 I will have to interrupt the proceedings to call in the members for a vote. The member has about four and a half minutes.

Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, it is no coincidence that you see so many members from Manitoba rising today, my two colleagues here, and my colleague across the way. This is a very important issue for the province of Manitoba. It is important for the farmers of Manitoba. It is important for the communities of Manitoba. It is important for the city of Winnipeg and it is very important for the port of Churchill. We rise with great concern today to speak to this issue.

    Because I have only a short time, I am going to take a slightly different tack.

    Mr. Speaker, I should add that I am sharing my time with my colleague from Saint Boniface, who will pick up when we resume debate on this matter.

    What I am struck by is the whole lack of any semblance of balance or fairness on this issue. It is all gone. It is out the door and members across the way make no pretense.

    I often find myself sitting here thinking of the fact that, like many of my colleagues, I go into schools to talk about how democracy does and does not work, how we as members of Parliament advance issues, how there is opportunity for community members to speak to both sides of the issue. Here is a good case study for students on what one does not want to see in a democratic country: muzzling, gagging, misinformation, keeping people out of meetings.

    Mr. Leon Benoit: That is the Liberal leadership race you are talking about.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    Order. The hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre does not have a whole lot of time before we have to call in the members, so maybe we could just let her finish her comments.

Hon. Anita Neville
    Mr. Speaker, boys have their fun too; I do not mind.

    The muzzling began with a private meeting in Saskatoon. We have heard about that. We have heard about how the interested parties in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were not invited. We heard how the--

Mr. David Anderson: They were invited. Get the facts right.

Hon. Anita Neville: Only when they asked for an invitation were they included, and in the back row, not at the table, my friend.

    We heard about this meeting earlier. We heard about the appointment of a task force. Any semblance of balance was absolutely gone. Just give one, two, three people an opportunity who might put forward a pro-Canadian Wheat Board position, but no, they do not trust the arguments that might be there.

    Now we have documented evidence of lobbyists setting it up so that we get letters from those who are opposed to the Wheat Board. Anyone with a contrary opinion has been ignored by the Conservative government.

An hon. member: It will not be a Conservative government for long.

Hon. Anita Neville: It will not be the government for long, as my colleague says.

    Any semblance of dissent has been stifled. Does my colleague here think that those who work for the Wheat Board, those who are concerned with the Wheat Board are allowed to speak to their members of Parliament? Are they too frightened, or does the gag order go that far?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion at this time. Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting.

* * *



Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Routine Proceedings + -

Committees of the House -

Agriculture and Agri-Food + -


The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    The hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre has four minutes left for her speech.

Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this last few minutes to speak about the importance of the Canadian Wheat Board, what it means in Manitoba and what it means to Canadians.

    I am going to very quickly touch on three main points. My colleagues have spoken on a number of them. I want to talk about the tainted task force report. I want to talk about the Canadian Wheat Board II that is proposed and its difficulties against the giant American companies. I want to touch on the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board and the impact it will have on my home city of Winnipeg, which is significant.

    I want to say that the tainted Migie task force is totally lacking in two key areas. There was no information on who was consulted. We know that producers were not. We know that academic experts on grain economics were not. We know that provincial agricultural ministers were not. We know there were no public meetings. We know there was no list of submissions. We know there was no input except from those the government wanted to hear.

    There was no discussion in the report about the economic advantages of destroying the Canadian Wheat Board. There is no economic analysis of any sort. There is even no argument presenting the economic advantage of dual marketing versus single desk. Why?

    The task force report states that hopper car assets, the building on Main Street in Winnipeg and a contingency fund will be transitioned to the new Canadian Wheat Board II. This package is worth approximately $109 million.

    The international grain trade, as we all know, is dominated by five very large players. Cargill, Archer-Daniels-Midlands, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus and ConAgra simply dwarf the Canadian Wheat Board.

    For example, Archer-Daniels-Midland's net earnings for the quarter just ended equalled $403 million, $292.3 million more than the assets that the Canadian Wheat Board would receive. ADM has assets of $16.3 billion. How the tainted task force members and my colleagues opposite think that the new Canadian Wheat Board II could compete against such a giant is clearly flawed logic, exactly like the report states.

    Archer-Daniels-Midland has a board director named Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada. What a convenience to the current Prime Minister.

    The Americans have tried for years through the WTO to eliminate CWB single desk marketing. It is what they want. It was reported in Inside U.S. Trade magazine that “the timeline is not crucial to U.S. producers, so long as Canada eliminates the monopoly powers”.

    The loss to Winnipeg is significant: 2,200 jobs in Winnipeg, 460 jobs at the Wheat Board, more than $66 million in wages and salaries, and a gross provincial income impact of $86 million.

    We need a plebiscite.

     In this House we speak of laws every day. We speak of new laws and of upholding laws already in existence. The Canadian Wheat Board Act is the law when it comes to grain farmers.

     What we need is this: that the farmers will decide, that there will be a plebiscite held with a clear question, and that we will all abide by a democratically arrived at decision by the farmers. The provisions of the Wheat Board provide this mechanism that will settle the debate. It is incumbent upon us as legislators to honour the law of this land.

Hon. Raymond Simard (Saint Boniface, Lib.):  
    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak on my hon. colleague's motion, which would ensure a plebiscite was held by farmers on whether they support the single desk selling of the Canadian Wheat Board. However, like many Manitobans, I am extremely concerned with the Conservatives' objective of destroying the Canadian Wheat Board for purely political reasons.

    I am receiving a lot of calls from people in Winnipeg who realize the importance of this institution to the province of Manitoba. It is important to speak about the Wheat Board and the critical role it plays in western Canada.

    The Canadian Wheat Board has been in existence since 1935. It is the largest single seller of wheat and barley in the world. It sells to customers in more than 70 countries. Annual sales revenues average $4 billion and an independent study has indicated that the Wheat Board nets an additional $265 million per year for producers in western Canada.

    In 1998 the government changed the structure of the Wheat Board and put in place a board of directors composed of 10 members elected by the producers themselves and five members appointed by the federal government. The reason I say this is because it is important to note once again that this is a democratic organization run by western producers and recent polling has actually indicated that the Canadian Wheat Board is supported by 73% of western farmers. It is respected worldwide as a premier institution in the sale of wheat and barley.

    The new Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food want to essentially gut the Wheat Board and do away with this essential tool. I do not think anyone on this side of the House is surprised by this. The new government, as it likes to call itself, has not exactly been a model of democracy over the last eight months. We have seen it in the muzzling of not only its members of Parliament but also of the civil service. Civil servants are being intimidated into not cooperating with members of Parliament. I have never seen anything like this. I have never experienced this in my four and a half years here in the House of Commons.

    I am beginning to understand why the PMO is now being called the Kremlin. Not only are the Conservatives prepared to act on bringing in a dual marketing system without a plebiscite as required by law, but they are also now selectively removing 16,000 names from the voters list in an effort to determine who will be able to vote in the next board of directors election.

    The anti-democratic way the Conservatives are going about destroying the Wheat Board is one thing, but they also have to consider the economic impact. My colleague has just mentioned the incredible economic impact it will have on the city of Winnipeg if we include the Wheat Board itself and all the spinoff industries, the Cargills and the other organizations that are set up in Winnipeg because of the Wheat Board.

    I can assure everyone that the Liberals are not the only ones saying this. The premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, has stated publicly that “destroying the Wheat Board would have a major economic impact on Manitoba”. What bothers me is that the Conservative MPs from Manitoba know all this. They know their constituents are furious with the Conservatives over this. They know the economic impact to Winnipeg and Manitoba will be devastating. They know the Wheat Board works well for farmers. The proof is when the local Winnipeg media tries to contact them to defend their government's position, they are nowhere to be found. It is obvious the gag order is on once again, just like for every other issue the Conservatives have brought forward.

    The only member of the Conservative Party who has stood up for his constituents is the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette. He has publicly stated that he will support the Wheat Board because his constituents have made it clear where they stand.

    If the Conservative MPs from Manitoba and the prairie provinces are so convinced that their constituents would agree with doing away with the Wheat Board, why not allow these same people to vote on it? It is a simple question. Allow the farmers to vote on this issue and we will all live with the outcome of such a plebiscite, but it has to be done fairly. The list of farmers cannot be manipulated prior to an election or a plebiscite. There also has to be a clear question.

    The Conservative party members talk about transparency and we have seen nothing but back door ways of obtaining their objective of shutting down the Wheat Board. I can only hope that at one point the Conservatives' obligation to their constituents will outweigh their obligation to their leader.

    It is important to note as well that numerous producers who have traditionally supported the Conservatives and never thought their party would go through with this are now saying that they will never vote for the party again and that is a very strong message. It is more than that. There is a more cynical plot behind this. This is seen by many as the first step in dismantling Canada's vaunted supply management structure. I am being contacted by groups in Manitoba that have absolutely no link to the Wheat Board that are terrified with what the Conservatives are doing.

    The milk producers for one feel that if the Conservatives can do away with an institution that has worked as well as the Wheat Board, why would they not attack supply management next? We all know supply management has served its members extremely well and it has been a thorn in the side of our American neighbours. I guess it begs the question, whose interests are the Conservatives protecting here?

    Yesterday the Minister of Agriculture tabled his task force report and I put the onus on “his”. This is a task force appointed by the minister with a very specific objective: the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    The report's recommendations were a foregone conclusion and let me say that the reaction has been harsh. Stewart Wells, President of the National Farmers Union, said of the report:

    Buried in the platitudes is the underlying theme of absolute government control of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    Mr. Wells also said:


    It is significant that the task force report was first unveiled not to western Canadian farmers or even to the Canadian public, but to a large U.S. business publication Inside U.S. Trade. That should provide some indication of whose interests are being served with this report.

    David Rolfe, President of the Keystone Agricultural Producers, had a similar reaction to this report and the negative impact it will have on farmers. He said, “This report is a fraud. It's a cover-up for something this government was planning on doing for a very long time. It doesn't speak to any economic reasons why you should dismantle the Wheat Board. It doesn't recommend a vote by farmers as required by law. It doesn't address the true consequences of introducing a dual marketing system. The fix was in and we got exactly what we anticipated”.

    This has to be stopped. The producers are the ones who should be deciding on how their crops are marketed. Why would this new government that apparently believes in transparency and accountability not allow this democratic process to proceed? What is it afraid of?

    If the government has such a good pulse on the wishes of producers, as it claims, then it has nothing to worry about. The reality is different. We can look at the recent cuts the Conservatives have made to many programs to our most vulnerable people and the enormous backlash they are facing.

    In fact, the government is showing that it is totally disconnected with the Canadian mainstream and its right wing ideology is not selling at all, so it must be forced down people's throats. It is wrong. It is undemocratic and producers, who the Conservatives have always taken for granted, will remind them of this in the next election.

Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague has talked somewhat about the impacts in Manitoba. Would he elaborate for members of the House on the very serious impact that a dual marketing system would have on the port of Churchill and how important the port of Churchill is to the economy of the north and to Manitoba?

Hon. Raymond Simard
    Mr. Speaker, our colleague from Churchill has been in the House debating this question as well. She has indicated very clearly the impact that Churchill will face.

    The mayor of Churchill, Mr. Spence, has also come out publicly indicating that it would devastate the town and there is absolutely no doubt about it. It is not only the town, but also all these small towns along the railway line would be affected by this decision.

    As members may know, people feel that the port of Churchill, in the next five or 10 years, may play a much greater role in moving wheat and barley across the world. There is no doubt that this will obviously have a devastating impact on the town of Churchill, the port of Churchill, and also all the small communities along the way to the north.

Mr. Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, CPC):  
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Manitoba a question.

    He often uses the term “right wing ideology”. I would like to point out to him that in my province, Quebec, we suffer from Liberal party policies that are on the extreme left.

    In 1968-1969, led by the then honourable prime minister, you recognized China, a country which is currently closing down companies in the province of Quebec. There was no plebiscite and you never asked for permission.

    My question for my colleague from Manitoba is as follows. When Manitoba is involved, all is well and good. However, when the province of Quebec is starving because you recognized China, which is competing fiercely with us right now, that does not bother you. I would like your comments on this.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    I remind the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles to address questions and comments through the Chair.

    The hon. member for Saint Boniface.

Hon. Raymond Simard
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

    In a way, he is quite right. I have always wondered how the Quebec Conservatives, who are usually a little more to the left, could be part of a party like the one we see today. I sit on the committee with my dear colleague and I find that he is a very reasonable person. I am surprised that he can fall in with a right-leaning party as we see him doing today.

    We are not talking about a progressive conservative party, we are talking about something totally different. We are talking about a party that sets aside democracy at every opportunity. If we are truly convinced that an open market is the solution, why not ask the producers? That is what surprises me. If the people on that side of the House are so convinced that the market will work, then quite simply let us ask farmers the question—we will be prepared to live with the answer.

Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives seem to have a propensity these days of manufacturing a crisis in order to bring in their own policies to fix that manufactured crisis. I speak of my experience in Ontario from 1995 to 2003 when Mike Harris was the premier and a number of his ministers, one in particular, Mr. Snobelen, was heard to say that if one wanted change, one manufactured a crisis and then brought in the change to respond to that manufactured crisis.

    I just want to ask the hon. member for Saint Boniface whether there is a crisis in the west where grain and wheat are concerned. Will doing away with the Wheat Board somehow fix the problem or is this just another manufactured crisis?

    I was here the other night speaking to this issue and members around me from Saskatchewan and western Canada suggested that I really had no place speaking about something that I lived so far away from. I told them that my concern was, as you said in your speech, first the Wheat Board, then supply management and what would be next. As you are closer to the situation, is there a crisis that this is responding to?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    I would just remind the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie to address his questions and comments through the Chair.

Hon. Raymond Simard
    Mr. Speaker, it is important for people from eastern Canada to discuss this issue as well. This is not just a western Canada issue. Obviously, people in western Canada are affected the most by it, but I have had some people from Quebec calling me because they are concerned about supply management.

    The Wheat Board has been doing extremely well. The latest reports indicate that farmers have really benefited from the Wheat Board. It is absolutely impossible for the government to manufacture a crisis on this. Every report seems to tell us that farmers are doing better with the Wheat Board than without it. Obviously, the government will not be able to manufacture a crisis in this case.

     I appreciate the question because it is important. I do not think members on this side of the House should be muzzling other members who are interested in knowing what is going on in western Canada with the Wheat Board.

Mr. Rick Casson (Lethbridge, CPC)
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the government's vision for the future of the Canadian Wheat Board because the future of the Canadian Wheat Board will be bright.

    To speak to the motion before, we fully realize that farmers want input on this issue before any changes to the Canadian Wheat Board are made. We are committed to moving forward in an orderly and transparent manner.

    There should be no surprises and no hidden agenda. We will be clear and up front with Canadians about our commitment to marketing choice for western Canadian wheat and barley growers.

    We were clear and up front with the sector about our commitment to consult and to listen. On July 27 we held a round table discussion in Saskatchewan with a cross section of western Canadian farmers and stakeholder organizations that support marketing choice. Some good ideas came out of that exercise, including the recommendation to launch a task force to explore transitional and structural issues.

    We went ahead on that and yesterday the minister was pleased to release the findings of that task force report. The report recommends a four stage transition from a Canadian Wheat Board with monopoly powers to a marketing choice environment, preparing for change, forming a new Canadian Wheat Board and launching the new Canadian Wheat Board with transition measures and post-transition.

    We are very appreciative of the work of the task force. It did a lot of hard work on a short time line. We will be examining the report in detail and we would like to consult on the ideas the task force has put forward.

    As part of that consultation, an hour ago the minister announced that a plebiscite on barley will be held in the new year. The government considers that this plebiscite will form part of the ongoing consultation with producers on the issue. The plebiscite will be on barley only.

    We think farmers are ready to make a decision on the barley side. It will have a wide voter base and be founded on a clear question. This is in line with provisions in the Canadian Wheat Board Act which requires that the voting process be determined by the minister.

    The minister will wait until the beginning of the plebiscite period before he will announce the voter's list and the exact question or questions which will be put on the ballot. Until then, he welcomes and we all welcome the input of farmers and farm groups on what these questions should be. The minister also wants to engage in a more general consultation about the ideas from the task force or others on how a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board can be a viable player in a marketing choice environment.

    When we cut through the rhetoric and the noise that we hear constantly around the wheat board issue, what we are really talking about is opportunity. Opportunity is what brought people to Canada and it is what continues to draw them today. Opportunity is what settled the west and made it the agricultural powerhouse it is today. Opportunity is what will carry the Canadian agriculture and agrifood sector into the future.

    On January 23 of this year, Canadians voted for change and Canadian farmers voted for change. We campaigned on the promise to create new opportunities for Canadian farmers. What is our rationale for that change?

    First, the government intends to do the things we promised to do. People voted for change and that is what will be delivered.

    Second, producers tells us that the current system is suffocating innovation and stifling entrepreneurship. Farmers are independent-minded, which is why they have chosen the path they are on. They are entrepreneurial business people. They want to call their own shots on when to plant, when to harvest and how to market.

    Canadian agricultural producers want and need opportunity. Like their forebears who first broke the prairie ground, they want the opportunity to succeed and the freedom to make their own choices on how they produce and market their crops. They do not think they should be criminalized for that, as they have been in the past.

    In the face of a long term decline in bulk commodity prices, farmers want the opportunity to add value to their crops and capture more profits beyond the farm gate. They take all the risk and they make all the investment. They deserve to have the opportunity to seek out the best possible return for their product, just as they would with canola, pulse crops, apples or hogs or a number of any other farm products raised in Canada. For most of the past seven decades, western Canadian wheat and barley growers have not had that choice.

    The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly on wheat and barely was imposed by the Parliament due to a variety of different dynamics. The system was essentially designed to collect the grain produced by thousands of small farmers at small country elevators, market it around the world as a uniform commodity on the basis of grade standards and divide the returns from this process among all the producers who contributed the grain.

    Today, those dynamics have changed and our approaches and structures need to change with them.

    The idea of selling a uniform commodity made much more sense in the days when a few countries dominated the grain export market and large quasi-government buyers negotiated long term supply contracts on a national level.

    Today, there are numerous new or growing exporters in South America, the former Soviet Union and Australia.

    The buy side of the market, too, has moved away from the commodity procurement model of the past toward a situation in which a large number of mainly private buyers select a range of quality attributes for particular market segments. Due to low cost competition, the commodity end of the market is under relentless pricing pressure.

    We must make no mistake. Farmers do see a future in grain. However, they are looking for new, value added revenue streams and greater marketing flexibility. No longer are Canadian producers the proverbial hewers of wood and drawers of water. Over the last 15 years, there has been a paradigm shift. We are seeing the advent of the value added side of agriculture, the agrifood side, and it is doing very well. It has seen huge increases. It is controlling the vast majority of the exports and domestic use in this country now.

    Currently, by law, western Canadian wheat and barley growers are fenced off from that business. They are prevented from having the same rights as every other producer in the country about where to sell their product, starting a pasta plant, for instance, or a value-added organic grain business, or supplying high yield low protein wheat to ethanol plants in the U.S.

    Those are only examples. Every producer and every situation is unique. The best person to decide the best production and marketing options for their farms is the person who makes the decisions, takes the risk and lives with the consequences. We want to level the playing field and give western Canadian grain producers the same rights and opportunities that other farmers in Canada have.

    To those who want to continue to restrict western grain producers from having the same rights as others, I ask them to show me solid proof that such a ban is actually paying benefits for them. I have yet to see any.

     Our vision for the Canadian Wheat Board is a strong, voluntary and profitable wheat board, one that can offer farmers a viable but not an exclusive marketing choice.

    There are some out there who would say that we should get rid of the Wheat Board but I am not one of them and neither is our government. We want to have a wheat board but we want it to be in a marketing choice world.

    We see a bright future for a strong, viable and voluntary wheat board for those who choose to pool together and use its services. Western Canadian wheat and barley farmers have a world-class product. They will now be given the opportunity to use their savvy, market intelligence and initiative to maximize their returns. If they choose, they will still be able to sell to the Canadian Wheat Board.

    Even farmers who strongly criticize the current federal government imposed monopoly have said that the Canadian Wheat Board needs the opportunity to succeed in a commercial environment and to be a viable, ongoing marketing option for producers. I see no reason why the board cannot continue to function and be a strong force in the international grain market.

    To conclude, change is never easy, especially change of this magnitude. There will be adjustment and transition but I am convinced that at the end of the day the sector will be stronger and more viable with marketing choice than without.

    I started out talking about opportunity. Despite the negativity that is out there, we see a bright future for the Canadian Wheat Board if things are structured properly and in a way to meet producers' needs.

    What must drive everything we do is meeting producers' needs. This is why we, as government, are moving forward on better business risk management programming, on biofuels, on restoring beef trade, on science and innovation and on a number of other critical issues where action has been long overdue. It is why we allocated $1.5 billion to this sector in this year's budget, three times our original commitment. It is also why we are moving forward on marketing choice for our producers.

    The grain industry is of vital importance to Canada's economy and it is a proud part of our natural history. The government intends to serve it well and it intends to act in a way that provides the best chance to earn a living for these proud men and women who toil in the fields so all Canadians can enjoy the fruits of their labours.

Hon. Raymond Simard (Saint Boniface, Lib.)
    Mr. Speaker, I apologize because earlier on, when I was speaking to this, I was speaking mostly from Manitoba. I know you are from Saskatchewan. If you were not neutral, if you could speak on this, I am sure you would probably support everything I have said, but obviously you cannot do that.

    One of the things my hon. colleague has mentioned is that the dual system will provide options and choice to farmers. Every expert, who has spoken on this lately, has indicated very clearly that if the current Wheat Board loses its monopoly and leverage to sell on the world stage, it will disappear. Could my colleague expand on that?

    Second, why would the Conservatives not ask farmers the question? Why not put it to them? What is so wrong with the democratic process of asking them the question? Let them decide on their futures.

Mr. Rick Casson
    Mr. Speaker, the member opposite should be brought up to speed. A few hours ago the Minister of Agriculture announced that there would be a plebiscite on barley. We are going to go to the farmers and asking them what they want to do.

    Furthermore, it is interesting that this is called the Canadian Wheat Board, but it applies only to three provinces and the Peace River district of B.C. It is the western Canadian Wheat Board. It restricts western Canadian farmers.

    Over the last number of years of dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board issue, one of the things that has stopped innovation and value added industry from starting, is the Wheat Board's buyback. To start a pasta plant that takes durum and turns it into a product, the durum has to be sold to the board and bought back, adding a cost to that product.

    We are not saying that the Wheat Board does not have a place in all of this, but we could take away that monopoly. It is a move that we will put to the producers in a plebiscite, as has been asked for day after day in the House. One would think the members opposite would be rejoicing that the government is doing this because they have been asking for it. If we are truly going to move into the next century and if we are going to allow our producers the freedom and the ability to maximize their returns, then we have to move in this direction.

    I do not consider myself a farmer. I have some farmland. This year I grew malt barley and it managed to make the grade. If I want to sell that barley for malt, I have to move it through the Canadian Wheat Board. I have no option.

    There are options out there for producers. The bottom line is trying to maximize returns on investments. Land prices and input costs are going up. Producers need to have the freedom to maximize what they get back in their pockets. Giving them the tools to do that is what this is all about.

    The member opposite says to go to a plebiscite. We are doing that.

    Hon. Raymond Simard: On barley.

    Mr. Rick Casson: On barley, of course, but we are taking one step at a time. When we take the monopoly off barley, it will become very clear in a very short period of time that this is the right thing to do. We will see a value added industry. We will also see a higher return to the producer.

    If we put that in with the other initiatives the government has come up with in the short period we have been in government, the biofuel initiative will absolutely be a critical part as we move forward from this point. All the other things that we have done to help the producers maximize their returns and to keep them on the land is absolutely critical, and this is a big part of the puzzle as we move forward.

Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the speech by the member. He said Canadians voted for change. Yes, they did, because they were unhappy with the Liberals, but they did not give the Conservatives a majority government. They gave them a minority, which means they are supposed to work with all of us around the House. To come in with such a unilateral aggressive move where the Wheat Board is concerned does not portray that at all.

    The hon. member referred to a meeting of July 27 in Saskatoon. I was in Saskatoon that day at another meeting across the road with about 250 farmers, leaders of farm organizations from across the country. They were not invited to that meeting. Why?

    The hon. member also said that there would be a plebiscite on barley. Then he went on to say that the government would wait until just before the vote to share information on the question in that plebiscite, how the voting process would take place and who would be allowed to vote. Why not be open and free and sharing with the farmers about the question, how that vote will happen and who can vote? What is it about democracy that frightens the Conservatives so?

    Why were folks across the road not invited, the 250 farmers and the farm leaders, to the meeting in Saskatoon on July 27? Why will the Conservatives not just have a plebiscite like all plebiscites happen? Let us have the question. Tell us what the process will be and who can vote.

Mr. Rick Casson
    Mr. Speaker, the issue is it will be an open process. The first step was announced today. There will be a plebiscite. The consultations will continue. We are hoping there will be input from all parties on the wording of the question and the process that plebiscite will take.

    Right now we are at the start of an election process for the elected members of the board. Does the hon. member want us to become involved in that? I do not think so. Let us wait until that transpires.

    The member has mentioned the fact that this is a minority government and not a majority government. The government has moved forward on many issues as a minority government, working with all parties, moving ahead. Our budget went through. We have bills that have gone through the House. The federal accountability act, the most sweeping legislation to come through government in the history of the country, is languishing in the Senate. We have done an awful lot.

    On the issue of majority, I invite the member to look at the rural ridings in western Canada on the electoral map to see who is representing them. It is members of this government. We campaigned on the issue of dual marketing and marketing choice. The people in the rural areas responded. They want to see some change. They have seen declining returns for years and they want the tools put into their hands so they can turn that around. Today's announcement on the plebiscite on barley was the first step to get that done.

Mr. James Bezan (Selkirk—Interlake, CPC)
    Mr. Speaker, I am quite excited that we are holding a plebiscite on barley and that we are moving ahead in listening to producers. This is what we stand for as a party. Part of our platform was that we would move ahead on choice. We also said that part of our policy was we believed in consultation with producers, and a plebiscite is the best way to do that.

    I am not at all interested to hear the rhetoric from the opposition parties on this. The only opinion that counts is that of grain growers. That is the exact feedback we will get through a plebiscite.

    I am a farmer in my rural riding. There are producers on both sides of this issue. This is a divisive issue, but they want to know which direction we are taking. We will move ahead on the issue of barley and all things will come about in time. Right now we know that producers for some time have considered whether having barley on the Wheat Board is worthwhile. It is a rather small crop that has been marketed by the Wheat Board, so let us go forward on that side of it.

    I want to have a little more input from my hon. colleague, another farmer as well in Lethbridge. I want to hear the thoughts of the producers in his area, which I know are very strong for choice.

Mr. Rick Casson
    Mr. Speaker, I and many members of Parliament have been getting 50 to 100 letters from farmers every night on our fax machines The balance is kind of interesting. I have had three or four from my riding who are strong Wheat Board supporters and support its monopoly.

    The rest of the farmers are looking for some help. They appreciate what the government is doing to help them, but they want to help themselves. They want to maximize their own returns and to do that we have to give them the tools they need.

    People all across the country were clamouring for a plebiscite and our government is delivering. There will be one. In a very short period of time we are going to see a change to the agricultural community in our country, particularly to our grain and oilseed producers.

Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP)
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important issue.

    There is an axiom that many of us in public life should remember: if we cannot be helpful, at the very least, we should do no harm. I would suggest that in this instance the government would want to be really careful because it is walking a fine line.

    I have heard from farmers in my own area. On July 27 I was at a meeting in Saskatoon where some 250 farmers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta gathered in a room. If what I heard from the farmer leadership that day is any indication of what the government will do over the next number of months as it does away with the Wheat Board, it is going to do great harm to the farmers across this country.

    The farmers in my own area understand that when the Wheat Board goes, the next target could very well be supply management. They have gone through some very difficult times over the last number of months and years in the beef and dairy industries. They know that supply management is the only thing that saved a number of farmers

    When they speak to me or when there are public gatherings, there is always a very strong message to government and to those of us who represent the farmers and speak on their behalf to government that we must protect the instruments that have been put in place by the farmers themselves over a number of years to protect themselves. This is especially so in this global economy in which we find ourselves. When product can be moved so easily from one country to the next, competitiveness becomes very important and we have to have some advantages. The farmers look at countries around the world that provide subsidies to their farmers, such as just across the border in the United States. We do not do that for our farmers but they have to compete against that.

    The only vehicles that are unique to our country are supply management and the Wheat Board. The farmers are very concerned that if that is taken away and they end up having to compete in this world where huge subsidies are being given to farmers across the continent, they will be even worse off than they are now. Indeed many of them are struggling now.

    I say to the Conservatives who are here tonight and to others that if they are going to do this, at the very least they should respect the democratic principles upon which this country is based and which we use so often to solve issues such as this one when there is a difference of opinion. They should respect the democratic processes.

    The member who spoke before me said that the Conservatives are going to have a plebiscite on barley. He then went on to say that they are going to consult some more, but they are not sure with whom. We know whom they consulted with to arrive at the report they tabled today. We know whom they consulted with in Saskatoon on July 27 of this year. They consulted with their friends in the corporate sector who want to get rid of the Wheat Board because it gets in the way of their reaping even more profits at the expense of the farmers.

    They will consult with those they think will give them the answers they are looking for, and that is a problem. They have done that up until now to arrive at the report that was tabled today. I suggest that as they move forward with this plebiscite on barley the process that the member spoke of should be the same. He said they will not announce until just before the plebiscite what the question will be, what the process for the election itself will be, and who will vote.

    That brings me to my next question for the government. It is a warning to everybody and the government again about democracy concerning this issue and the election of the Wheat Board. We know they have summarily decided through an edict, an order in council driven by the Prime Minister that unilaterally 16,000 farmers cannot vote for the Wheat Board. How democratic is that? What is it that the government is afraid of where the democratic process is concerned?

    When I was an MPP in Ontario, I heard the Conservatives at that time as they drove their agenda, and I mean drove their agenda, in 1995 until 2003. They said they did not need to consult with anybody because they had consulted in the election. There is consultation in an election in a very superficial way, in a brief and busy way, but there is no in-depth consultation or effort to figure out the pros and cons. As I said, try as much as one can, if one is not going to help, then do no harm while moving forward.

    The member who spoke before me said that the people of Canada voted for change. Yes, they did. They voted to change the government that we had; they were not happy with the Liberals because of all of the shenanigans that they were reading about. But Canadians voted for a minority government, a government they thought would be thoughtful, process oriented and willing to sit down and work with others to move things forward, such as the evolution of the Wheat Board.

    When I was in Saskatoon on July 27 I heard the farmers and the farm leadership say that they were not against the evolution of the Wheat Board. They knew there were some shortcomings and that they had to get into the day that they were in, make change, listen to farmers and respond to the concerns that the farmers were bringing forward. They were committed to doing that and wanted to do that and would have liked some help from the government, some resources so that they could do the proper consultation.

    But no, that is not what the government chose to do. It did not choose to sit down with the farmers and the Wheat Board. As a matter of fact, the Conservatives have told the Wheat Board that it should stop its lobbying, stop acting as it naturally should do on its own behalf in order to protect what it has to protect, that vehicle which has served farmers so well will continue to serve farmers well as it evolves.

    That is my first concern regarding this concurrence motion, along with the action of the government where the Wheat Board is concerned. There is the whole issue of freedom and democracy and yes, true choice, not manipulated choice and not as we saw in Ontario, the creation of crises so people might begin to believe they have no other choice in a given matter.

    I am here tonight to put my own thoughts on the record along with the thoughts of my farmer constituents whom I spoke to only two weeks ago as I went through our area with my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, who is our agriculture critic. He asked me to put on the record some thoughts on behalf of our caucus, on his behalf and of course, as I said, on behalf of the farmers with whom he met in my constituency and in the constituency next door, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. I will put on the record the thoughts that I heard very clearly and confidently from the over 250 farmers and the leadership of agricultural organizations across the country who met in Saskatoon on July 27 this past summer.

    The Conservative government is not acting in the best interests of democracy. The whole process of the Canadian Wheat Board task force is a sham and a needless waste of energy.

    I will repeat what my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior has said and what our leader has stated, that it is important for farmers to have a say in their future. This should take the form of a vote or a plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board as a single desk seller and not a plebiscite manipulated by the government in the way we are beginning to see with the plebiscite on barley. Instead, the Minister of Agriculture has chosen another approach in choosing a task force of anti-Wheat Board individuals to recommend how the Canadian Wheat Board, a viable, credible player on the international scene, can be transformed into the Canadian Wheat Board II, another grain company that will somehow be able to successfully compete with the powerful multinational stakeholders.\

    A thought came to me as I was saying that. There is one comment that I heard and which really struck me when I was at that meeting on July 27 in Saskatoon with those 250 farmers and the leadership of the agriculture community. The comment was about there being people out there who are willing to pay more for the barley than what is being paid now and that those people will come forward once the Wheat Board is gotten rid of. It was said tongue in cheek, but I think they were serious and it is something we all ought to think about. Is there someone out there who will pay more for the barley and the wheat once the Wheat Board is gotten rid of? I do not think so.

    It is a further insult to farmers. The minister has changed the format of the Canadian Wheat Board director election in midstream to sow confusion among farmers. He recently fired a Canadian Wheat Board director who spoke out against this nonsense. That is the process that is in place now. That is the kind of thing that is going on as we speak.

    Let us look at this so-called report. In essence, it is the wrong approach, ideologically driven and a blueprint for the Americanization of our grain industry. We have seen an approach by the government to bring a group of people together who agree with the destruction of single desk selling of the Canadian Wheat Board. Then a so-called task force was appointed to recommend how this should be done.

    Before looking at this totally undemocratic process, perhaps we could suggest what could have happened instead. The minister could have met with the Canadian Wheat Board board of directors to discuss the possibility of change, for example, to leave the current status quo as a possible option. A balanced task force could have been set up to discuss all options and include a truly representable segment of farmers who currently use the Canadian Wheat Board.

    The conclusions of these deliberations could have been provided to farmers to make an informed decision on their future by way of a plebiscite. Obviously, to respect the democratic process, there would have been no tampering with the Canadian Wheat Board director election process. This would probably have taken more than a month, but could have resulted in a fair and balanced review of the Canadian Wheat Board. Instead, we have big government interference and steps of how to fulfill this bizarre agenda.

    One of the rationales for doing away with single desk selling has been the supposed effect this has had on our milling industry. Yet statistics show that Canadian wheat and durum milling has increased by 31% since 1991 compared to 14% in the United States. Canadian flour mill capacity has grown from 7,700 tonnes per day to about 10,300 tonnes per day. Canada's mills enjoyed the sharpest increase in flour production among the leading milling nations since 1990. I do not know where the problem is here that we are addressing.

     If the Conservative government has its way, its Canadian Wheat Board II will just be another grain company with no power to secure and maintain quality world markets.

    Here are some very possible scenarios: one, farmers uncertain of the future would not buy shares in the Canadian Wheat Board II; two, rail rates would increase to conform to the U.S. rates; three, Canadian Wheat Board II would be marketing U.S. grain; four, Churchill would suffer and jobs would be lost; five, the Canadian Wheat Board II would not be allowed to administer cash advances. This could hit farmers hard.

    Basically, the transformation to the new free for all system would cause confusion and uncertainty not only in Canada, but in the global marketplace. This would wind up to be another bad deal for Canada, just as the softwood lumber agreement is a bad deal for Canada.

    This exercise is a sham, a waste of time and a slap in the face to the democratic process. Hopefully, reason and good judgment will prevail in the months to come.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): previous intervention next intervention
    There are a few minutes left before the time allotted for this debate is to end.

    The hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.

Mr. Larry Miller (Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, CPC)
    Mr. Speaker, to my hon. colleague from the NDP, I am farmer. I am a producer. I have sold wheat. In Ontario I have a choice. I can sell my wheat directly or I can sell it through the Ontario Wheat Board. It is my choice. What a concept. Obviously, the party across the way does not believe in that. Obviously, the party of my colleague to my right does not agree with that.

    That is what this is all about. The political rhetoric in trying to make this into something that it is not is wrong. I have relatives in Saskatchewan and in Alberta. I do not in Manitoba, but they all ask me why should they not have the same choice that I have as a farmer in Ontario. I would ask the member to comment on that.

    Further, the members bring up supply management and how it will affect supply management. Again, it is nothing short of fearmongering because there is a big difference that has to be recognized. Under the Wheat Board it is split across the country, but in supply management there is 100% unity behind it. How can the member explain that?

Mr. Tony Martin
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. I know he is a farmer and a good farmer. In eastern Canada, yes, that is the way that producers market grain. In western Canada farmers have chosen to do it differently. Over the years they have elected themselves a board and that is the way that they have chosen to do it.

    All that we are saying is if the government wants to make changes, it should at least talk to the farmers. I was in a room with 250 farmers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta on July 27 of this year. Every one of them, including the leadership of the agricultural organizations from across Canada, spoke and were in favour of the Canadian Wheat Board. They knew that it was not perfect but they were willing to work to make it better and have it evolve.

    However, at the very least at that meeting they were saying, “Let's have a vote. Let's have a plebiscite, not a controlled manipulated plebiscite but a true plebiscite, a free plebiscite. That is what we're asking for”. The member accuses me of fearmongering. I have to say it is not me.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    It being 7:10 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today all questions necessary to dispose of the motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Wednesday, November 1 at 5:30 p.m.

* * *



Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Routine Proceedings 

Committees of the House 

Agriculture and Agri-Food 


The House resumed from October 31 consideration of the motion.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)
    It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the second report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in the name of the hon. member for Malpeque.


    Call in the members.

*   *   *

    (The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

(Division No. 52)



Bell (Vancouver Island North)
Bell (North Vancouver)
Brown (Oakville)
Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley)
Cullen (Etobicoke North)
Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca)
Martin (Winnipeg Centre)
Martin (Sault Ste. Marie)
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Ménard (Hochelaga)
Ménard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin)
Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe)
Murphy (Charlottetown)
St. Amand
St. Denis
Thibault (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques)
Thibault (West Nova)

Total: -- 155



Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Barrie)
Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country)
Cannon (Pontiac)
Del Mastro
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
MacKay (Central Nova)
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest)
Thompson (Wild Rose)
Van Kesteren
Van Loan

Total: -- 121




Total: -- 4

The Speaker
    I declare the motion carried.

* * *

Response of Harper Government to Motion passed by the House:

OTTAWA, Ontario, November 3, 2006 - The Honourable Chuck Strahl, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, today issued the following statement after Members of Parliament voted on an opposition motion related to the future of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and marketing choice for western Canadian wheat and barley.
“We campaigned on the promise of freedom of choice for marketing of wheat and barley and voluntary participation in the CWB. Since forming government, we have taken careful and deliberate steps towards developing a marketing choice environment in consultation with grain producers in Western Canada.
“The November 1st vote stemmed from a recommendation by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food to hold a plebiscite with the same voters list as a Wheat Board election. The government respects the work of the committee, but we could not support this motion.
“We have promised to implement a system of marketing choice, and we are moving in that direction. As we do so, we will be consulting with producers. To that end, earlier this week, I announced that we intend to hold a plebiscite in the new year on the marketing of barley. I will develop a plebiscite question that is clear and that will be decided on by a broad base of voters. We have not yet made a decision on how best to proceed with respect to wheat. This motion would limit the government’s ability to make decisions on this important matter and goes beyond what the Canadian Wheat Board Act requires.
“Canada’s New Government will continue to work towards giving producers more power in the marketplace through creation of a marketing choice environment, something they have long deserved.”
For information on the new government’s path towards marketing choice, please visit <>
- 30 -
For more information, media may contact:
Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
Jeff Howard
Press Secretary
Minister Strahl’s office

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