Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Bill—Third ReadingPublished on 16 December 2011 Hansard and Statements by Senator Tommy Banks (retired)
Hon. Tommy Banks:
Honourable senators, later today I will have the honour of casting the last vote that I will cast in this place. It will be against the bill which is before honourable senators. I will cast that vote not because someone else told me to; not because the whip has said one word to me about it, because he has not; and not because it is someone else’s idea that we should oppose it as a matter of course. It is because I will be casting my vote in the interests of wheat and barley farmers in my province of Alberta and in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the significant majority of whom have told us unequivocally what their view is with respect to this change in the marketing of wheat and barley in Canada — a system that has been in place lo these many years.
There have been parties of which some members opposite have been members whose main tenet was that one should listen to constituents, find out what they say and do that. That is not always a good idea. When the constituency is so clearly defined, as it is in this case, and when the persons who will be affected by a proposed piece of legislation are so clearly circumscribed in the case and where the effect upon them is so clearly expressed, it is a good idea to listen sometimes to those constituents.
Those constituents have told us that they want to continue with the single-desk marketing system for wheat and barley. They have told us that by a majority of 62 per cent in a referendum conducted by the Wheat Board, which ought, in fact, to have been conducted by the minister, but which was not.
We know, senators, that the minister’s act of introducing this bill in the other place was, in itself, a contravention of the law. The Federal Court has told us that. Others of us have said from time to time that, whether it was a contravention of the law or not, it is doing by the back door something that cannot properly be done by the front door. I will read you a quote by a member of this place from 2004:
We are seeing, with [this bill], a crass manipulation of a system that is supposed to be non-partisan. Shame on those of us who advocate this, and shame on all of us who support this tampering with our laws by writing new laws to get around existing laws.
Those words were said, on the question of Bill C-49 at the time, by Senator Marjory LeBreton. That is exactly what we will be doing if we pass this bill, senators. This bill is not in the interests of the persons it will mostly affect, namely, producers of wheat and barley.
Senator Eaton said a couple of weeks ago that this should not be a case of downtowners telling farmers what to do, but that is exactly what this bill is. That is exactly what this bill does. This is someone saying to the farmers, ‘We know better than you what is best for you.’
There is something that some of us clearly do not understand, senators, in our consideration of what we will do here today. The Wheat Board has, for the past many years, been controlled by farmers and not by anyone else. The board of the CWB, as it is presently constituted, is comprised of 15 members, 5 of whom are appointed by the government and 10 of whom are elected by the farmers themselves. For the past many years, those farmers — the people directly affected by this bill in ways that other Canadians are not — have elected a majority of pro-single desk members to the seats they control. The government suggests that it has a mandate to do this because 20 per cent of the Canadian electorate elected the present government. However, the mandate that was given to the members of the Wheat Board by the farmers who elected them was 80 per cent, 8 members of 10. Eighty per cent of those farmers said that they wanted to continue to elect members and to continue the single-desk marketing system. The government — I guess the downtown boys that Senator Eaton was referring to — is saying, ‘Well, farmers, you just do not know what is good for you. You are wrong about this single-desk marketing system that you have been voting for for years. Just to prove it, we will ignore the law. We will flout the law. We will not obey the law, and we will disable the Wheat Board.’
I am not saying the Wheat Board is perfect as it is presently constituted. Nothing is perfect. In fact, ways in which the CWB should probably be changed have been suggested. One good way to change it would be to simply give it to the farmers. They really own it anyway, morally, and they probably own it legally, as I shall refer to later. The best thing we could do is eliminate the government seats on the board, let the farmers elect the entire board, rather than the government appointing it, as is proposed in this bill, and let that board decide what to do.
That would be democratic. Instead, what we have here is virtual expropriation, senators. We have the government saying, in the bill before us, that there will be no more of this election nonsense and that they will appoint all the members of the board, and then everything will be okay.
‘Hello, I am from the government, and I am here to help you.’ These are words to strike fear in the heart of every western farmer. This government is promising a gold mine to the farmers, but all they will get is the shaft, senators. You see, this is a despicable ploy. The government appoints directors to run a viscerally damaged institution. The institution will fail, and the government will say, ‘Well, we told you that the Canadian Wheat Board was a bad idea. It cannot even stand on its own two feet.’
You set the thing up to fail; then it fails, and you say to the public, ‘See, it failed.’ That is what we are doing.
However, there will be big winners, honourable senators, if we pass this bill. There will be some very big winners. Can you say CN? Can you say Archer Daniels Midland? Can you say Cargill? There will be another big winner, too — the syncophants who simply want to get rid of any form of government intervention in agricultural marketing, including the Canadian Wheat Board and including, of course, inevitably, supply management. These are things that some of our trading partners do not like. They do not like them, and they do not need them. The U.S. and many European countries provide such preposterously high subsidies to their farming communities that not only is market protection not needed in those countries, but also those farmers can dump commodities on the international markets, at prices with which we simply cannot compete. We do not have the proportionate ratio of population base to farmers to allow us to give those kinds of subsidies. We have to even the playing field in other ways, like supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board.
After the passage of this bill, it will be a lot easier to cosy up to the protectionists in other countries when you can say that we did exactly what they wanted us to do. If we pass this bill, honourable senators, our trading partners will rub their hands in glee. That is the ulterior motive here, and the idea of the family farm will simply be gone. Signs at the farm gate will end in ‘Inc.’ In order to compete, farms will all be in the tens of thousands of acres after a few years, and they will either be owned by or be beholden to large corporations. The price of grain, as Senator Mitchell said yesterday, will be driven down so far that no family farm, not even big family farms, will be viable any longer.
Once this is gone, senators, once we have lost supply management — and that will surely be the next move — and once we have lost the Wheat Board, we can never get them back.
This is it. This is our chance, honourable senators, to do what the Senate is specifically designed to do. It is not designed to ensure the quick and seamless passage of whatever the government, whatever colour it is, sends from down the hall. That is not our job. We have a much more difficult job than that. We should do that job here and now, senators, by opposing this bill.
There are a couple of things I want to point out just before I sit down.
Some Hon. Senators: Do not sit down; keep going.
Senator Banks: I have to sit down. I am nearly 75, for goodness’ sake.
Please look at the bill, page 8. I have had the pleasure and honour of serving governments of both stripes, from time to time, on boards, commissions and councils, and I have never seen language like this. The five directors of the new Wheat Board will be appointed by the Governor-in-Council. That is subclause 9(3), at the top of page 8. Subclause (4) says:
Unless the Governor in Council directs otherwise, the directors, with the exception of the president, must perform their functions on a part-time basis.
This is what it then says:
The directors are paid the remuneration that is fixed by the board.
What? I have never heard of any such thing. I have never read any such thing anywhere else in any piece of government legislation, any Crown corporation, any enabling legislation by anyone. That simply is not right, senators, that the board decides what they will be paid. Usually the Governor-in-Council decides or designates what directors will be paid and the means by which they will be paid.
There is one other thing in the bill to which I wish to direct honourable senators’ attention. We have heard from the government that it has no intention of dismantling the Wheat Board. The Wheat Board will be free to compete. If it works, it works. If it does not, it does not. I want you to look at Part 4, but first look at Part 3. Part 3 of the bill is the part where the monopoly is removed. It is where it says the Wheat Board is no longer the single desk through which you farmers in the West can sell your wheat and your barley. That is what Part 3 says.
This is what Part 4 says, in clause 46:
This Part applies only if the Corporation is not continued under Part 3 within five years, . . .
— which is at the pleasure of the government —
. . . or any shorter period specified by the Governor in Council, after the day on which that Part comes into force.
There is a provision here that the Governor-in-Council can shut down the Wheat Board any time it chooses. Remember that the Government of Canada contributes not a dime to the operation of the Wheat Board. The contingency Fund, which is in the amount of $200 million, belongs morally and perhaps legally to the farmers, because it did not come from the government. It came from the farmers. Clause 51 of the bill says:
Any surplus that remains after the satisfaction of the debts and liabilities of the Corporation and the winding-up charges . . .
— winding up is contemplated —
. . . costs and expenses belongs to Her Majesty in Right of Canada.
— not to the farmers.
Senator Moore: Expropriation.
Senator Banks: Her Majesty is expropriating the funds. Just to make sure that we understand what is in store, clause 52 says that the minister can appoint a liquidator to liquidate the Canadian Wheat Board.
Honourable senators, if we do the right thing, if we do what we are charged to do by the piece of paper that hangs on all our walls, we will have second thoughts about it this afternoon when we vote on this bill at 5:30. We will see that it is — I hate the word — not only flawed, it is wrong. It is morally wrong to do this to the people to whom we will be doing it, and we will rue the day.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.