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Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Bill

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Plett, seconded by the Honourable Senator Patterson:

That, in accordance with rule 74(1), the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine the subject-matter of Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts, introduced in the House of Commons on October 18, 2011, in advance of the said bill coming before the Senate;  And on the motion in amendment of the Honourable Senator Chaput, seconded by the Honourable Senator Mahovlich, that this motion not now be adopted, but that it be amended by adding:  "and, if the Committee decides to hold hearings on the subject matter of Bill C-18, it give consideration to hearing from all the thirteen current Directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.".

Hon. Nicole Eaton: Honourable senators, I would like to speak on behalf of the farmers of Canada. 

Western Canadian farmers have, this year, finished harvesting a very high quality wheat and barley crop that will feed the world. They have managed that crop every step of the way. They have seeded it, sprayed it, fertilized it and harvested it. Many of them are farming 5, 10, 15 and 20,000 acres. We believe that those farmers are capable of marketing their crops. They do not need anyone from downtown anywhere telling them what to do with their product.

In the June 2011 Speech from the Throne, our government reiterated our commitment to ensuring that Western farmers have the freedom to sell wheat and barley on the open market.

Honourable senators, we are committed to delivering on that promise. We will deliver marketing freedom to Western grain farmers. This party ran election campaigns in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011 very clearly stating that it was our intention to give Western grain producers marketing freedom, and we received overwhelming support from our rural supporters in Western Canada. This is an issue that has been debated ever since the monopoly was first imposed 68 years ago and certainly since farmers sent our government to Ottawa five years ago.

This is not a new debate, honourable senators. As the Minister of Agriculture said the other day, he has not heard anything different in this most recent debate than he has heard over his entire career in public life.

I think everyone would agree that a general election carries more weight than a non-binding survey the Canadian Wheat Board held this fall. This expensive non-binding survey did not even include marketing freedom as an option. Further, the Canadian Wheat Board's own spring survey indicated that a majority of farmers preferred a change from the monopoly. The official 2007 plebiscite on barley found the majority of farmers wanting an alternative to the single desk, which the Canadian Wheat Board and Parliament would not honour. In any case, the Canadian Wheat Board Act does not require a plebiscite before Parliament considers whether to repeal the act itself. Clearly honourable senators in the other parties have one thing in mind; they want to delay this bill at all costs. If they delay it, they think they can disrupt the markets enough that it will not be successful.

This government truly respects the right of Western Canadian farmers to have the same marketing freedom and opportunity other farmers in Canada and around the world do. Western Canadian wheat, durum and barley farmers want to be able to choose whom they sell their grain to, and when. They want to be able to market, based on what is best for their business.

We want constructive dialogue, but unfortunately the colleagues opposite are only interested in slowing up the process. This is doing nothing but sowing uncertainty and doubt in Canada's heartland.

They say you want more time to debate. I have no problem with constructive discussion, but not delay tactics that create unnecessary confusion within the industry, all of which will ultimately cost the Canadian farmer.

We are moving forward for farmers, and I invite all our colleagues to join in.

The fear mongering and stall tactics we have seen from the opposition threaten to destabilize a $16-billion western grain industry and could undermine the livelihoods of thousands of grain farmers. Today's entrepreneurial farmers are proving over and over that they can and will help drive our economy. They have control over their farms and their bottom line. They have already made marketing decisions on their canola and pulse crops. They want the same marketing freedom for wheat and barley. We live in a free country, and giving farmers the freedom to choose is the right thing to do. Removing the Canadian Wheat Board single desk is the best thing for the economy and will result in increased innovation, investment, value-added opportunities and employment.

We want to extend to all Western Canadian wheat and barley farmers the same marketing freedom and opportunity as other farmers in Canada already have. We fully recognize there will be significant change associated with this transition.

Honourable senators, we recognize that this is a major change for agriculture in Western Canada. That is why we have been consulting extensively with stakeholders from across the supply chain from farm to sea port. Over the summer, a working group comprised of experts in the field heard a broad range of advice on how the grain marketing and transportation system could transition from the current Canadian Wheat Board-run single desk system to an open market that includes voluntary marketing pools. The working group is one of the many ways the government is seeking advice on how to move forward.

During our extensive consultations, industry raised a number of valid issues around transition. I would now like to address those concerns.

Honourable senators, fear is always man's biggest enemy in change. We need only to look at the Australian experience to see how a wheat industry can prosper once it is unshackled from a monopoly. Australian Minister for Trade Dr. Craig Emerson said recently that:

It was a remarkably smooth transition. . . . There is no call to go back, to turn back the clock. . . . It's been one of the great reforms in Australia, and I'd certainly recommend it.

Already we are seeing the same kind of excitement and innovation building — not only in Canada but across the continent — as buyers begin to jockey for farmers' business. For the first time ever, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange will be accepting Canadian grain for futures settlement. Rita Maloney, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange's director of marketing, business development, communications and media relations, said:

We do see this as an area of growth potential for us as it will allow producers, elevators and marketers across Canada to be able to not only use the contract for hedging, but also be part of the delivery process in the future.

Meanwhile, ICE Futures Canada in Winnipeg is working on creating its own spring wheat and durum wheat futures contracts based in Western Canada.

Marketing freedom will usher in a new springtime for Canadian wheat. Over the past two decades we have seen wheat and barley acreage decline as farmers voted with their air seeders and turned to canola and pulses. A record harvest of canola is forecast this year. We must not buy into fear. We must embrace a future where producers will be able to manage their business as never before, with transparency of prices and control over whom they sell to. Young farmers will have the tools they need to make their farming dreams a reality, and farm entrepreneurs can harness innovation and add value to crops beyond the farm gate.

It will open the window to new investment in innovation and value added potential right here on our prairie soil. Farmers will be able to contract directly with processors to deliver the consistency and quality customers are demanding. The sky will not fall under marketing freedom, honourable senators. The sky will be the limit.