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Legislative Debates (15 November 2006)

Legislative Debates

From Hansard - 15 November 2006

Support for Canadian Wheat Board

The Assembly was debating the following motion put forward by Mark Wartman (NDP - Regina Qu'Appelle Valley):

That this Assembly recognize the Prairie Producer Coalition’s support for rights of producers, as legislated by the Canadian Wheat Board Act, and the resolution passed by 85 per cent of the delegates at SARM 2006 annual convention calling for the federal government to continue its financial support of government guarantees and single-desk selling of the Canadian Wheat Board;

Further that this Assembly call upon the federal Conservative government to respect current federal legislation and to honour the democratic process by allowing all producers of wheat, barley, and durum the right to affirm or deny any proposed change to the Canadian Wheat Board through a producer plebiscite as stipulated in the Canadian Wheat Board Act, section 47.1.

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Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’m certainly pleased to be able to enter into this very animated and emotional debate that the Minister of Agriculture’s put forward, Mr. Speaker. As we witnessed by the speakers, there’s certainly a lot of emotion attached to this issue, Mr. Speaker. There are certainly valid arguments, Mr. Speaker, on both sides of this issue, and the speakers on both sides of the House have certainly put those arguments forward, Mr. Speaker.

However there is one dimension that I would like to touch on that hasn’t been touched on in this debate, and that is the whole area of empowering producers, Mr. Speaker. Producers are empowered on this issue in two areas in my mind. One is the empowerment in the marketplace, and we’ve certainly heard that debate on both sides of the House this afternoon. But the other area where producers can be empowered and they have been asking for many years to have more power is in the whole area of policy-making.

In the area of policy, Mr. Speaker, particularly with regards to that segment of the industry — the grain and oilseed and pulse area — producers really don’t have a lot of power in policy making for one main reason, I think, and that is because a lot of policy that, ag policy that pertains to that sector is made at the federal level. And the reason for that is because with most commodities we in Western Canada and here in Saskatchewan, we produce way more than what we consume. In fact for most commodities we probably export 80 per cent of what we produce and only consume within Canada 20 per cent, so that prices for those commodities in the grain, oilseed, and pulse sector are set in the international market and they’re subject to the vagaries of farm policy in other areas of the world, in our competitors, Mr. Speaker.

And I know, speaking to a number of farm leaders, leaders of farm organizations, that the area of influence in policy making at the national level was one of their greatest frustrations. I remember a conversation with the founding president of APAS [Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan], Mr. Terry Hildebrandt. He had spent a lot of time, him and his group, his executive, in Ottawa working on the agricultural policy framework, putting forward good alternatives and suggestions that would work for Saskatchewan farmers. They took many trips to Ottawa to meet with bureaucrats, to meet with the Minister of the Environment. At the end of the day all they received was lip service. They were . . . said oh yes, you’ve got some good ideas; we’ll certainly take them into consideration. And yet when the final decisions were made, I remember a conversation with Terry Hildebrandt saying that he was very disappointed and frustrated because of the fact that their suggestions were virtually ignored, or at least many of them were, Mr. Speaker.

And some of that happens at a provincial level except that, Mr. Speaker, the producers and through their organization and as individuals have greater access to the policy makers and to the bureaucrats, Mr. Speaker. So I think a number of producers, when they sit down and think about this whole issue that we are debating about today, some of them at least I believe realize that this is an opportunity for them to have some real impact on an ag policy, on what probably is the only real ag policy that we have in that whole sector and that is the way we market our cereal grains, Mr. Speaker.

Because in the area of grain and oilseeds and pulses, I recall the words of Dr. Andy Schmitz, who spoke at the ag committee meeting at the MLC [Midwestern Legislative Conference] that this province hosted in the summer of 2005. He was asked to speak to the agricultural committee and outline a Canadian farm policy. And he was allocated 20 minutes to speak and he used less than five because here is what he said. He said, in Canada, particularly with grain and oilseeds, we don’t have a national ag policy. All we have is a number of programs that respond to crisis situations.

And you know, Mr. Speaker, he was absolutely right. We have ag policy in the supply managed sector but we really don’t have a national ag policy in the grain and oilseeds sector. And, Mr. Speaker, that’s a result of an unwillingness I think over the years for both levels of government to deal with it.

It’s a difficult area. For many years those of us involved in that sector have heard from the federal government and from the provincial government that the solutions to our problems as grain and oilseed producers will have to be solved at the world trade talks, at the WTO [World Trade Organization]. Well, Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard that for 20 years and we’ll probably hear it for another 20 years. It’s not going to happen. The time has come to have a made-in-Canada solution for that sector of this industry.

And so I believe, Mr. Speaker, that the producers of Western Canada look at the only long-term ag policy for their sector that we have had, the wheat board issue, as an opportunity to have some real input into making policy, Mr. Speaker.

So, Mr. Speaker, I have, like many other members, I have constituents who have very strong feelings on either side of this particular issue, this wheat board issue and a number of . . . There are some in each camp I believe — in fact I know because I have spoken to them — who don’t want to have a vote on the issue. But, Mr. Speaker, I have consulted as much as possible with the producers of my constituency, and I have found that the vast majority of them want to have the ability to influence farm policy, Mr. Speaker. They want to have the right to vote on this issue, Mr. Speaker. That is what I’ve been told. I have done a lot of work on this issue, Mr. Speaker, and I believe that those statements, my statements represent the majority of the producers in my constituency, Mr. Speaker.

So if we are going to have this vote, as the federal Minister of Agriculture has already said, on the barley issue . . . that he said he will certainly have a vote before changes are being made to the way farmers of Saskatchewan and Western Canada market their barley, he’s going to have a plebiscite. So what we need to do, Mr. Speaker — and I believe this is what the producers of this province would want — is to ensure that we have a fair and balanced question on this plebiscite, a question that will accurately reflect the position of the majority of the producers in Saskatchewan.

And the second thing that we need to ensure is that the voters list is a fair voters list, that it’s made up of actual producers and not of absentee landlords who really haven’t got a stake in this whole issue, who really don’t care about this issue, who some of them don’t even live in this province in fact, Mr. Speaker.

So, Mr. Speaker, when I look at this whole issue, Mr. Speaker, and I look at the motion that the Minister of Agriculture has put forward, I see once again this government trying to play politics with an issue that is so important to the farmers of this province, Mr. Speaker.

They bring forward a motion which is not . . . the first part of it is not accurate, Mr. Speaker. As my colleague from Melville-Saltcoats has said, it’s not accurate. They quoted a motion from the March 2006 SARM [Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities] convention, but they failed to recognize that at the SARM mid-term convention in November, just last week, that SARM has backed away from that position. And they have said, as my colleague from Melville-Saltcoats has said, is that SARM’s position now is to let the federal government and the producers decide this issue.

Well my interpretation and the interpretation of the constituents that I have spoke to is that they feel that the producers should be voting on this issue, Mr. Speaker. So I would have thought that perhaps the Minister of Agriculture would have had someone amend his motion to more accurately reflect what SARM’s current position is. But he failed to do that, Mr. Speaker. The second part of the motion I don’t have a problem with, Mr. Speaker. I believe that producers should have the right to vote on this issue, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, I have consulted widely with my constituents, Mr. Speaker. And, Mr. Speaker, I’m proud to be a member of the Saskatchewan Party led by the member from Swift Current — a party, Mr. Speaker, that has the flexibility within it and the way it’s structured, Mr. Speaker. And therefore, Mr. Speaker, even though I have these reservations about the first part of this motion, Mr. Speaker, I believe I have the duty as a member of this Legislative Assembly to accurately reflect the views of my constituents, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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