October 18, 2006


Canadian Wheat Board

Committees of the House 

Agriculture and Agri-Food

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.

*   *   *

Return to CWB under attack page.

Return to The Holm Team home page.