18 October 2011
Honourable senators, this afternoon I would like to talk about an issue that is very important to Western Canada: the Canadian Wheat Board.
It is, of course, more than coincidental that I rise today, because today is the day that the Minister of Agriculture brought in the piece of legislation that will kill the Canadian Wheat Board. I know that there are those over on that side who say, "No, no, no, it will not die." The fact of the matter is that this legislation will kill the Canadian Wheat Board.
As I said several weeks ago — and I have to repeat this because it captures it so well a sentiment that I am seeing more and more across the way — in spite of all the evidence — it does not matter what the evidence indicates; it does not matter what experts say; it does not matter what is obvious and logical — this government will continue to deny whatever it is that all of that evidence supports and defends.
We have to remember the Monty Python skit where that parrot is clearly dead, that parrot is stiff and dead, and the clerk to whom the parrot is being returned says, "No, that parrot is not dead. That parrot is not dead."
The fact of the matter is that in the face of all the evidence, this government continues to say things like, "Climate change is not really a problem, and the Canadian Wheat Board really will not die when this piece of legislation comes in."
Well, it will die. The Canadian Wheat Board, in the words of Monty Python, will cease to be. Let me tell you why that will be the case and then indicate some of the things we will lose as a result of that.
However, before I start, I would like to mention a couple of statements made by the senior-most people in this government that debase and diminish this debate in a way that I think is disconcerting. In fact, these statements amount to bullying, and they are very unbecoming of the people who made them.
I notice that the Prime Minister said — last week, I think it was — that there is a train barrelling down the tracks and it will crush the Canadian Wheat Board. Why would the Prime Minister of Canada say that? Are there not tens of thousands of Canadian farmers who, in spite of the fact that they actually disagree with the Prime Minister — and this is the kind of freedom they have, which Senator Finley spoke about so eloquently today, to be able to stand up and disagree with the Prime Minister. These are hard-working Canadians who happen to disagree. They want the Canadian Wheat Board. They are opposed to this legislation. They are confronted with the senior-most political figure in this country using the kind of language that debases and diminishes them in a way that is absolutely unbecoming and diminishes the kind of public policy debate that we need to have in this country. If the Prime Minister cannot elevate that debate, imagine where we are going. Let us stop that kind of bullying.
Then we hear the Minister of Agriculture talk about how today is the Canadian Wheat Board's birthday and he is happy to go and blow the candles out, the implication being that he does not particularly care if the Canadian Wheat Board dies. Imagine the senior-most agricultural official in this government treating farmers who happen to disagree with that policy with that kind of sentiment.
I just mention that this is very unbecoming, and it says something about the nature of this government. This government should watch itself in that regard.
Why will this bill kill the Canadian Wheat Board? It will for a number of reasons. First — and this is the most insidious argument that the government uses — the government says, "If the Canadian Wheat Board is so good, why does the Canadian Wheat Board not just compete and prove how good it is?"
The fact is that over decades, the Canadian Wheat Board has never taken profit out of what it does and put that profit into investing in infrastructure that would allow it to compete with the private grain companies that in fact have done that. These grain companies take money out of their processes — they take profit — and they have invested in grain terminals and collection facilities for the grain trade.
The Canadian Wheat Board has not done that. They have taken what would otherwise have been profits and passed that along to farmers.
It is interesting that when Canadian National and Air Canada were privatized, they both received hundreds of millions of dollars — in fact, billions of dollars — of capital infusion by the Canadian government to give them a chance to stand and compete. If you used nothing more than those two examples, it would certainly dictate that if the government is serious about giving the Canadian Wheat Board a chance to compete, the Canadian Wheat Board should get some kind of infusion of capital so that they could, in fact, have the facility to compete. Without those facilities, they will be reduced to depending upon their competitors' facilities. They have done that now, but of course there has been legislation to give them priority and presence in that process.
As soon as this new Canadian Wheat Board legislation passes, they will not have that legislative priority and they will simply be at the whim of their fiercest competitors, who will not, one would think, be inclined to be particularly helpful to the Canadian Wheat Board's efforts to manage grain transportation, shipment and marketing on behalf of the many farmers who have supported that institution for so long.
Speaking of competition, just to give honourable senators an idea of exactly what is at stake here, it is very interesting to see the response and the interest in the U.S. to the thought that U.S. negotiators would win the negotiation with Canada to do away with or otherwise restructure, or in this case it will be do away with, state trading enterprises like the Canadian Wheat Board. The representative of the U.S. Wheat Associates said to the United States trade representative, that the single most important action to come out of the multilateral WTO process would be the elimination of export state trading enterprises, and I say, "like the Canadian Wheat Board." The single most significant advantage that these wheat interests in the U.S. could achieve would be the destruction of state trading enterprises like the Canadian Wheat Board.
One would think that, if that gain is such an important advantage to these interests in the U.S., we would have got something in return, that Canada with its great government negotiating — hard as I am sure they think they did — would have received something in return. What did we receive? We have asked and asked that question. We gave up a huge concession in this Canadian Wheat Board legislation and we have and will receive absolutely nothing in return.
Why would we do that? Why would we hand one of our fiercest competitors — the U.S. wheat competitors — this advantage and get nothing in return? It could be nothing but an ideological obsession of this government to do away with this kind of institution no matter what the economic consequences are. There will be tremendous economic and other consequences.
Let us just begin to itemize the losses that we will see once the Canadian Wheat Board begins to diminish in its presence and ultimately dies. First, consider that 75 per cent of the shipments that go out of the Port of Churchill in Manitoba are Canadian Wheat Board wheat. As sure as I am standing here, as sure as we are all in this place, and you watch: Churchill's Port will close very quickly. The government will be responsible for that. The second thing is producer car groups. Some farmers just want some competition out there in the railways. Senator Eaton was eloquent about the railways and made some good points. The fact is there are only two railways, apart from the short-line railways which are diminishing and dying. These two railways do not even allow these other smaller railway companies to use their lines. There is all kinds of precedent for that, with respect to cell phone usage and fibre optics. The government has insisted we allow competition. There is very little competition in railway transportation right now. The quotes are within pennies of each other. After thousands of miles of shipping this stuff, millions of tonnes, pennies of difference, there is very little competition.
What there is has been sustained by the work of the Canadian Wheat Board because it is Canadian Wheat Board wheat that goes on the short-line railways. It is Canadian Wheat Board wheat that supports the sidings that sustain agricultural communities and their ability to deliver wheat quickly to the system. It is Canadian Wheat Board wheat that supports producer pay car groups — the ones where the groups buy their own cars and do not use the multinational cars. The Canadian Wheat Board has defended and advocated frequently on behalf of Western Canadian farmers to get proper railcar allocation because it is too much trouble for the major railway companies to bother to get the railcars where they need to be when needed. We will lose huge elements of competition that have been sustained by Canadian Wheat Board wheat and Canadian Wheat Board advocacy efforts. We will lose that in the face of this piece of legislation. That kind of competition is going to die. Those are some of the losses that we are going to see in the not-too-distant future because this bill will, as surely as we are here, kill that Canadian Wheat Board process.
It is a question of democracy. Once again was it not Senator Finley who argued so eloquently today for defending democracy? Our values around the world are defended by our military. Absolutely they are. We need to defend some of these values here in Canada and have the support of people like Senator Finley and his government. What farmers and the Canadian Wheat Board are asking for is simply the opportunity to have a fair, open vote. Why do we not let farmers decide? We just had a vote that this government will not recognize. The Canadian Wheat Board held one in which 61 per cent of the farmers who voted, voted in favour of a single desk Canadian Wheat Board. This government stands on such a high pedestal when it talks about democratic values. What part of a vote for the Canadian Wheat Board cannot they see as being important and significant to sustaining democratic values? Why is it that this government that does not want to intervene and does not like paternalistic government is taking this decision out of the hands of Canadian farmers? What is it afraid of? Let democracy work. What is it about freedom of speech this government does not get? What is it about freedom of speech that this government cannot broach when they stifle the Canadian Wheat Board and say, "You cannot advocate for your farmers on this particular issue." They could not defend themselves. How does that serve democracy?
The fact is that this policy is all wrong. Canadian Wheat Board is going to die as a result of this legislation. It will die because the Canadian Wheat Board has passed along its profits rather than invested in infrastructure. It has been able to do that because it had priority in the use of that infrastructure due to legislation that protected its interests and the interests of the many farmers that benefited from it. There will be profound losses once the Canadian Wheat Board is gone, in many different ways. One of the most significant ways is the loss of any kind of competition in transportation for these farmers' product.
There is also going to be the loss of a great advocate in the Canadian Wheat Board, the advocacy that they perform with the major railways to ensure there are adequate railcar allocations and they have performed over and over in U.S.-Canada trade disputes. Does anyone in this chamber think there will not be an enhanced number of trade disputes with the U.S. when they start seeing more and more independent Canadian trucks driving down there with Canadian wheat? All of a sudden, that will elevate the impact of Canadian exports to the U.S., and it will elevate the ire of their farmers. We know American farmers are not particularly fussy about competition with their Canadian trading competitors. We will see more and more trade disputes with the U.S., and the Canadian Wheat Board will not be there to defend them. I wager that this government will not be there to defend the farmers because they do not get how important it is that the interests of farmers in this country be defended. The very core, the heart, the base of Western Canada's economic interests will be eroded, diminished and undercut by this Canadian Wheat Board legislation. We will stand here in; will it be a year, two years, maybe three years. and we will say "Absolutely, we told you so."