IN THE HOUSE ~ Debate ~ C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts

41st Parliament, 1st Session

Context : Questions and Comments

    M. Peter Julian: Monsieur le Président, j'apprécie beaucoup la question de mon collègue de Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, une question de très grande qualité, par rapport à la dernière question qu'on a eue des conservateurs, qui était de mauvaise qualité à mon avis. Le député de Chicoutimi—Le Fjord fait une très bonne représentation en ce Parlement, même s'il n'y est que depuis quatre mois. J'ai vécu à Chicoutimi et je reconnais la qualité des représentations qu'il fait dans ce Parlement.

    La question est très bonne, très simple et très claire: quel va être l'impact économique sur les fermiers — les fermiers du blé par exemple — de l'Ouest canadien? Les conservateurs n'ont aucun intérêt à divulguer s'ils ont fait des études, car ils savent très bien que la terminaison de la Commission canadienne du blé va mener à une diminution du revenu familial des fermiers. On parle d'une situation où ce sont les familles, mais aussi toute la communauté, qui vont souffrir de cet impact économique. Or le gouvernement n'a fourni aucun chiffre.

Context : Debate

    Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I had understood that a Conservative was going to rise and speak at this point but, after hearing the force of the arguments from this side of the House, Conservatives have decided not to participate in the debate. I think that is very welcome.

    I have heard some of the comments the Conservatives were making earlier. I will start at that point because the government's tendency has been to constantly, significantly and regularly divide one Canadian from another, one region from another and one type of Canadian from another. That was not the Conservatives' hallmark before the election campaign. Members will remember they were wearing sweater vests and saying they were going to be a moderate government. One of their commitments at that so-called moderate time was to keep the Wheat Board.

    However, since the election the Conservatives have taken off the sweater vests and they have become incredibly intransigent and ideological in the kinds of things they are bringing forward to this House. One thing that clearly indicates that shift to fight for radical-type, right-wing politics' privatization agenda is what the Conservatives would do with the Wheat Board. Marketing choice, what a crock.

    We see that the farmers in western Canada voted 62% to retain the single desk on wheat and the government says it is going to run roughshod over those western farmers. On this side of the House, the NDP caucus is saying we are going to stand up for that 62% of western farmers and we are going to say “no” to this bill.

    The other aspect that has been brought forward by members of the Conservative Party is that somehow the Canadian Wheat Board would continue. When we read through Bill C-18, we see the parts that deal directly with the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board. The Conservatives will say that is not their plan for the moment but we know that the intent is to remove what has been a mainstay for western farmers for generations.

    Coming from British Columbia and being part of what we have seen in western Canada over generations, it is fair to say that we have often seen governments in Ottawa neglect or not address western Canadian concerns. It is particularly surprising to me that we see the government putting ideology over what should be a forthwith and significant effort to listen to what western farmers have had to say about the Wheat Board and to look at the significant economic benefit that western farmers get from the Canadian Wheat Board.

    When farmers in western Canada, given a plebiscite, vote significantly with a strong majority of 62% saying they want to retain the single desk for wheat, why would a government then say that farmers' opinions are not important, that how the farmers have voted is not something it is going to consider?

    It is clear to us on this side of the House that the Conservatives are not willing to listen to western farmers. They are not willing to engage or in any way allow western meat or barley farmers to vote or consult on this issue. As the leader of the opposition, the member for Hull—Aylmer, said yesterday in the House, the Conservatives are breaking the laws that say that the Wheat Board needs to have consultations with farmers and to have that vote from farmers before the government could proceed. The government is choosing not to do that and run roughshod.

     Worse, we are now seeing closure being brought in this debate. After one day of discussion, the Conservatives realize they are losing this debate, that they do not have substantive facts to bring forward and they do not even have a business plan. They did not do an impact study. They have done nothing except rely on their base ideological beliefs.

Context : Debate

    After only one day of debate, the government found it had increasing difficulty making its views known, so it brought in closure. It is running roughshod. Not only is it saying that it will break the law and run roughshod over the clearly-expressed opinions of western farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 62% of which are saying yes to the Canadian Wheat Board and the single desk, it is now saying it does not want this debate to get out. It does not want to hear from the public and it does not want the public to have time to react to this. It does not want democracy to have its place and it certainly does not want to consult with western farmers because they will reject what it is putting forward, so it is going to use a sledgehammer and shut down Parliament.

    It is fair to say that if the government has its way, for years to come many people in western Canada will remember how it decided to run roughshod over western Canadians through these actions. The NDP will continue to speak for western farmers and all western Canadians and bring their point of view to the House of Commons because we understand this is a fundamental debate.

    It is not just the fact that the plebiscite showed very clearly that 62% of western farmers wanted to keep the single desk, it is also the fact that Conservative MPs actively campaigned to gut the democratically-elected members of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. Year after year there continues to be a strong majority of western farmers who support it. We are not talking about one single plebiscite or referendum that the government is ignoring. Despite the keenest, most basest ideological attempt to gut the Canadian Wheat Board, western farmers said no time after time. They elected a majority of members on the board of directors who support the CWB.

    What we are talking about is a systematic pattern of arrogance, running roughshod and trampling on western farmers, despite the fact that they have clearly expressed their support for the Canadian Wheat Board time and time again. Why is that? I know you do not come from western Canada, Mr. Speaker, but you can certainly understand that historically western farmers were cast adrift by Ottawa due to policies of both the former Conservative and Liberal governments time and time again. Western farmers had to organize and push.

    Western Canadians, generally, have had to push things that were often of benefit to the entire country as well. We will recall, of course, that the federal Parliament refused to hear anything having to do with public health care. It was a western Canadian and a western Canadian freely and democratically-elected administration under the direction of Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan that established public health care in this country and now all Canadians enjoy it.

    Western Canadian innovations include a lot of other things. As we well know, the co-operative movement, particularly in the agricultural sector, was born and prospered in western Canada, as well as the credit union movement, which is very popular in Quebec through the Caisse populaire but its strongest area is in western Canada. The co-operative wheat pools were brought together by farmers. It was Canadian farmers saying they needed this kind of single desk that led to the actions a few generations ago to establish the Canadian Wheat Board.

    Why did farmers want that? Why have farmers continued to support it year after year despite the actions of first the Conservative Party in opposition and now the Conservative Party in government trying to beat them back with a sledgehammer saying that they are wrong and the government is right. A few folks in Ottawa are saying western farmers are wrong and the government is right. Why have farmers supported the Canadian Wheat Board year after year? It is very simple. The reasons are economic.


Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, this is exactly what we have been making as a point over the course of the few hours that the government has permitted debate, this despicable, ideological agenda, like somehow it is impossible for anybody to actually talk to a western farmer that supports the wheat board. This is the ideological mindset that is on the other side of the House, that somehow there has to be some kind of plot because how could we support the wheat board because they do not, because they are Conservatives and they do not support it.

    Sixty-two per cent of western farmers said they wanted to keep the wheat board. In his riding, 62% of the farmers, on average, support the wheat board. My question back to the member is why is he not standing up for farmers in his riding that support the wheat board? Why is he not standing up for them? Why is he not their voice in Parliament, rather than being the voice of the Prime Minister. Rather than just throwing out these prepared speaking notes from the Prime Minister's Office, why is he not speaking up for western farmers? Why is he ripping up the mandate that he got. He should be speaking up for them. He should be speaking up on the floor. He should be--

Context : Debate

    We can see what the economic basis has been for the Wheat Board. We can compare the economic indices of western farmers with those of areas that do not have a wheat board at all, such as the United States, or have done away with their wheat board, and the member for Winnipeg Centre was very passionate about what happened in Australia.

     To see the economic utility of the Wheat Board, we can then understand why western farmers, despite the most mean-spirited pressure from the government in a constant and ongoing way, have continued to support the Wheat Board year after year, generation after generation. No mean-spirited, ideological attack by the Conservative government, taking off the sweater vest and getting down to a very mean-spirited divisive business, is going to change the fact that the economic realities have been good for western farmers.

    To compare the Wheat Board, the single best marketing power that western farmers have, with what happened in Australia and continues to exist in the United States, we see a profound economic benefit to the Wheat Board in the same way as, such that the NDP has always defended, supply management. Supply management and the Wheat Board provide the collective force that makes a real difference to agriculture communities. When we talk about the economic benefits, it is not just for the farmers themselves, it is for the entire community.

     When we look at the supply managed sector, which has been a Canadian innovation, the Conservatives pay lip service to defending it, but they are ready to sell it out at a moment's notice. I know this because I have been on the trade committee for seven years, and every year since the Conservatives have been elected, bureaucrats come and talk about what portion of supply management the Conservative government was willing to sell out. We know what the economic ramifications are for that.

    It is similar to the Wheat Board. There are economic ramifications. For the Australian wheat farmers, since they did away with and privatized a similar body, their revenues fell. Predictions were made at the time that it would particularly impact the smaller farmers, those with less clout. Those predictions, sadly, have come to pass.

    In the United States, we have seen a similar situation. It has been unfortunate that there is not the same degree of collective action in the United States. They are often at the mercy of big multinational grain companies. Farm income has steadfastly, over the last few years, fallen considerably in proportion to the average American household.

    In Canada, the area that has the lowest level of farmer seats is the province of Alberta. Why is it that agricultural management in Alberta has meant that farmers are poorer off than anywhere else in the country?

    It is a very simple question to answer. Right wing privatization agenda, the type of mean-spirited agenda that we are now seeing from the Conservative federal government, drive down agricultural seats and drive down income in agricultural communities. In areas where there is more collective action and where there have been strong NDP governments, agricultural seats are higher.

    We are seeing this mean-spirited attempt by the Conservatives to run roughshod over western farmers, even though 62% voted in favour of maintaining the single desk. That can only lead to lower incomes for most farmers.

    Now Conservatives would say that they do not care about that. They just care about the top 10%, 1%, or whoever wants to contribute to their electoral fund. However, the reality is that a government has to be more mature, responsible and less ideological. A government has to look at the interests of all of the west and the interests of the agricultural communities. The government is not doing this.

    I spoke earlier about the sweater vest. We remember when the Prime Minister was going around the country in a sweater vest talking about moderation and how the Conservative government would somehow be more moderate than anyone expected them to be. That was what the Conservative's commitment was.


Context: Debate

    The commitment from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, going into the election on May 2, was to let farmers decide. That was the commitment. Those were stolen votes that Conservatives were able to obtain in those key riding.

    Mr. Speaker, you will remember as I do that in a lot of those hotly contested Prairie ridings, there was a hot contest between Conservatives and New Democrats. The Conservatives made that commitment that farmers would be able to make the decision.

    We saw the results of that decision on September 12. It is important to read it into the record again:

Sixty-two percent of western farmers voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat.

    It was 62%. If that is not a clear victory, then what about the Conservatives who got 35%, 37%, 38%, and perhaps someone can tell me the percentage, of the vote nationally.

    If the government has a mandate with 38% of the vote, then what kind of mandate is 62% of the vote? That is a strong mandate to maintain the Canadian Wheat Board. It was 62% of farmers saying that they want to retain it.

    Time and time again, despite the worst and most underhanded tactics of the government, and some of the government MPs, to try to undermine the Wheat Board, the board of directors, who are elected and maintained, are the directors who support the Wheat Board.

    When that is coupled with a commitment made by the government going into the election, because I guess they were scared of losing their seats, that it would let farmers decide, and then the farmers decide, and the government says “No, the heck with that. No, we are not going to let farmers decide on this now. No, no. We have this majority with our 38% of the vote and we are going to run roughshod over that clear majority.”

    It was a clear majority by anyone's standard, unless one lives in Ingerhoxis, Albania. There is no reason to question 62% support for the Wheat Board that came out of the plebiscite. Yet the government with 38% of the vote is saying that it is going to stamp it down. It is going to rip it apart. The government is going to produce Bill C-18, talking in part 4 about the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board.

    The government is saying it is going to destroy that collective, single-desk marketing that has given farmers so much power and clout, and turn them over to the mercy of some of the world's largest grain companies. That will drive the prices down, and drive the income and receipts in agricultural communities all across western Canada, on the Prairies, from Alberta through to Manitoba. It is going to drive those receipts down.

    What does that mean? That means less money in the pockets of farmers. However it is not just that direct impact of what the government is doing that is so despicable, it is the indirect impacts that are going to be felt right across the west. It is the small mom-and-pop grocery stores in some of those smaller communities across the western provinces. Coming from British Columbia, I have driven across this country, back and forth, many times. It is the grocery stores, the credit unions, the auto repair shops and the farm machinery shops, all of them are going to feel the impact of this irresponsible action.

    That is why we are voting no on Bill C-18. It runs roughshod over what farmers in western Canada have clearly expressed, time and time again. It has a profound economic impact, as we have seen in other jurisdictions where they have done that. The government has done no preparation and has no business plan. It cannot even tell us what the impact is going to be.

    The government is doing this strictly for ideology. On this side of the House, we are standing up for western farmers. We are standing for wheat farmers. We are saying yes to the Canadian Wheat Board, and no to Bill C-18.

Context : Questions and Comments

    M. Peter Julian: Monsieur le Président, c'est sûr, et je remercie la députée de sa question. Elle apporte aussi une contribution énorme en cette Chambre et je suis bien content qu'elle soit ici.

    Quand on regarde ce qui est arrivé en Australie, c'est très clair, les chiffres ne mentent pas. Là-bas, une fois que ce mécanisme pour protéger les fermiers a été enlevé, le revenu familial des fermiers qui cultivent le blé est tombé. En Australie, la situation est très claire. Aux États-Unis, on a vu que les fermiers qui oeuvrent dans le même domaine ont souffert énormément du fait qu'ils n'ont pas justement en place quelque chose comme une Commission canadienne du blé, et c'est peut-être pour cette raison que les Américains depuis des années essaient de couper la Commission canadienne du blé, parce que les fermiers au Canada sont plus prospères que les fermiers aux États-Unis.

    Qu'arrivera-t-il si on enlève la Commission canadienne du blé? Personne ne sait dans quelle amplitude on verra une diminution dans les revenus familiaux des familles, et les revenus indirects dans toute la communauté. Du côté des conservateurs, personne ne le sait. Ils n'ont pas fait les études. Il n'ont aucune idée de l'impact que cela aura, mais nous pouvons prédire justement que l'impact sera néfaste, très négatif et considérable. C'est pour cette raison qu'on se bat contre ce projet de loi C-18.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member to the House. I know he is a new member.

    We have 62% of western farmers supporting the single desk. It is not a few lobbyists, which I know Conservatives have been meeting, who make the difference. It is what farmers want. Sixty-two per cent of western farmers have said, clearly and unambiguously, that they support the single-desk market. Many of them live in ridings that the Conservatives won.

    Now, admittedly, the Conservatives said they were going to let farmers decide. They are not letting farmers decide now.

    So, my question back to the member would be, is he prepared, now to break ranks with his government when he knows that western farmers do not want this legislation?

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: There was not actually a question there, Mr. Speaker, but I would like to ask a question back to the hon. member.

    What does he not understand about 62%? We hear Conservatives sitting on this side of the House saying they know this farmer or that farmer who is opposed to the wheat board and they are basing their entire strategy of gutting the wheat board on a few friends who do not like it. Sixty-two percent, and in that member's riding as well, 62% of farmers said to keep the wheat board. It is a simple message. It is something that any Conservative MP should understand. Sixty-two percent of western farmers want to keep single desk marketing.

    Why will those members not listen to the needs and desires of western Canadian farmers?