Hon. Lyle Vanclief (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and make some comments on Bill C-4. I am pleased to speak in support of the motion to refer Bill C-4 to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food.
I congratulate my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, for the work he has done in the process of developing the bill over the last number of years.
For 62 years the Canadian Wheat Board has been one of the cornerstones of our nation's success in agriculture and agri-food. Changes in Bill C-4 build on that success by providing for a more modern Canadian Wheat Board, one that is more accountable to farmers, more flexible and more responsive. Farmers will have a direct role in shaping the operations and directions of the corporation. They will have more power to take on the very real challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Throughout the preparation and debate on the legislation we have done everything possible to ensure that everybody with an interest in this complex issue has a had a full and fair opportunity to voice an opinion.
In July 1995 my predecessor as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food established the western grain marketing panel to conduct a comprehensive examination of western grain marketing issues. One year later after extensive consultations, including 15 town hall meetings and 12 days of public hearings across the prairies, the panel completed its report and submitted it to the minister.
The minister distributed a summary of the report's recommendations to all farmers in western Canada and invited their feedback. In one way or another more than 12,000 individuals and organizations responded to the panel's recommendations.
In December 1996 Bill C-72 was tabled in the House of Commons. In February 1997 the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, which I chaired at that time, held a series of meetings across western Canada. We visited Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Grande Prairie. We heard from more than 40 groups and a similar number of individual farmers during those committee hearings.
As a result of those hearings we made more than 20 amendments to the bill before we reported it back to the House in April 1997. I am pleased to note that the amendments were retained in the new bill. The system does work.
Over the course of the past summer the minister responsible for the wheat board continued to conduct informal consultations with the grains industry officials to hear views on the legislation. In early September he requested views from farm organizations on the appropriate principles to govern the election of the directors. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the future of the Canadian Wheat Board has been exhaustively discussed and debated.
The purpose of the amendments is to respond to some of the major concerns raised during the debate and to ensure that the CWB is well positioned to continue as a reliable, responsive single desk seller of Canadian wheat and barley in the years ahead.
Our objective is to build on the proven strengths of our existing marketing system while enhancing its accountability, improving its responsiveness to changing producer needs and opportunities, providing more flexibility and faster cashflows, and minimizing future complications in international trade.
We are taking action on all of the points raised by the panel with regard to the accountability of the Canadian Wheat Board. As the minister responsible for the wheat board has explained, under the legislation the current commissioner structure of management would be replaced by a part-time 15 member board of directors.
It would be comprised of ten producer elected representatives and five government appointees including a full-time president. Both the chief executive officer and the full-time president would be responsible for the day to day operations of the board.
The CWB status as an agent of the crown and crown corporation would end when the new board of directors assumes office. The Canadian Wheat Board Advisory Committee would be terminated when deemed appropriate by the minister responsible for the wheat board but not before the end of its current mandate at the end of 1998.
The changes in the bill would also allow the Canadian Wheat Board to offer farmers more options in terms of pricing and timing of payment for their grain and provide it with greater flexibility in the way it acquires grain. At the same time the amendments leave intact the basic principles of single desk selling.
The legislation also includes provisions for adding additional grains to the marketing mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board. I want opposition members to listen to the process that has to take place. In such a case the request would first have to come from a recognized commodity group and the board of directors would have to recommend the inclusion. Then a vote on the inclusion by the producers of that grain would also have to be held. There are a number of steps. After that the changes to the marketing mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board could then be made through an order in council.
The amendments in the bill would also give the board of directors the power to exclude specific types, classes or varieties of wheat or barley from exclusive Canadian Wheat Board jurisdiction in the domestic or export market. This authority would be exercised only upon the recommendation of the board of directors. There would have to be assurances from the Canadian Grain Commission that the necessary quality control measures were in place to avoid co-mingling of grains.
If the board of directors considers the exclusion to be a significant change, a vote of the producers would also have to be held. Again a number of steps would have to take place.
A Canadian Wheat Board governed by a board of directors comprised of a majority of producer elected members would improve accountability to and communications with producers. It would also result in an increased sense of producer ownership of their marketing organization.
While the self-sufficiency of the Canadian Wheat Board would increase, the government would still have an important role to play in supporting it. For example, the government would continue to provide financial backing for initial payments, borrowing, and for such programs as the credit grain sales program. The changes would provide the board with more flexibility in the acquisition and the pricing of wheat and barley enabling it to operate more efficiently, increase returns to farmers and reduce the risk to government.
As I have discussed the bill responds to views expressed by numerous stakeholders. It is important to note, however, that the amendments do not constitute the full response of the Government of Canada to the concerns of the Canadian grain producers and the recommendations of the western grain panel. We are also pursuing many other avenues to address other issues that they brought forward related to grain marketing and transportation.
For example, last November our government introduced legislation to modernize the Canada Labour Code. Among other things those amendments stipulate that while grain handlers and their employees will retain the right to strike and lockout, in the event of a work stoppage involving other parties in port related activities, services affecting grain shipments must be maintained.
On another important issue, specifically the efficiency of our transportation system, the Minister of Transport, the minister responsible for the wheat board and I met this summer on July 25 with key members of the grain industry in Winnipeg. As as result of that meeting the grain transportation industry has developed and put in place a monitoring program and a contingency plan to ensure efficiency in the movement of grain.
Through Bill C-4 and other actions the Government of Canada is demonstrating it is listening to the concerns of Canadian grain producers. It is taking action to address those concerns. It is laying the foundation for continuing growth and prosperity in the grain sector and Canada's rural communities.
I call upon all the members of the House to lend their support to the amendments contained in the legislation.
Subtopic: Canadian Wheat Board Act