Monday, October 24, 2011

Not making sense: Harper attempts to kill wheat board as Dunderdale prepares to birth fish board

I spoke in the House of Commons on Monday, Oct. 24th, against Bill C-18, an act to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to speak on the Canadian Wheat Board from the perspective of a Newfoundlander, a Newfoundlander with a particular interest in the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries.

Last week, for example, I introduced my private member’s bill — the Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Rebuilding Act.

But I rise today to speak on the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.

To speak out against the dismantling of the wheat board.

The bays and harbours, the cliffs and craigs, the fishing grounds of Newfoundland and Labrador may be a world away from the Western provinces, but fishing and farming have much in common these days in Canada.

What fishing and farming have most in common at this particular moment in our history is that they’re under direct attack by the Conservative government.

In the Prairies, the Conservatives are attacking the livelihood of farmers with their attempts to kill off the wheat board.

On the West and East coasts the fisheries are their target with ongoing moves to gut what’s left of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

What the Conservative government should realize, what the Conservative government must realize is that their buddies on Bay Street cannot feed Canadian families.

That’s a simple fact of life.

So I don’t understand why the Conservatives have it in for Canada’s primary producers — fishermen and farmers.


Who will benefit?

Who will be threatened?

Ultimately, such actions could jeopardize our food supply, could threaten the family farm, could threaten the family fishing enterprise — the small businesses that this country was built on.

As a Newfoundlander, I’m particularly baffled about why the Canadian Wheat Board is being targeted.

At the same time that the federal Conservatives are attempting to kill off the wheat board, back home in my home province the provincial government — the Progressive Conservative government — is moving towards the creation of a marketing board for fish.

So, the federal Conservatives are killing off the wheat board, which markets and brands Canadian wheat and barley around the world, at the same time that the provincial PCs in Newfoundland and Labrador are attempting to create a similar type fish board to market and brand our seafood around the world.

That doesn’t make sense.

If anything, it shows that there should be more study, more investigation, more review, so that smart decisions are made.

The federal Conservatives are killing the wheat board while the provincial PCs are birthing a fish board.

I just don’t get it.

How does that make sense?

The responsible thing to do — the right thing to do — would be to carry out a cost-benefit analysis.

The Canadian Wheat Board is the largest and most successful grain marketing company in the world.

That’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that the wheat board is a Canadian success story with a proven track record of providing the best possible returns for farmers and minimizing their risk.

Why mess with a good thing?

As the honourable member for Winnipeg Centre has pointed out in this House on numerous occasions — and this is a point that has resonated with me, and should resonate with all Canadians — there has never been one shred of evidence, not one shred of evidence, that farmers will be better off without the wheat board.

So how can the Conservative government — which bills itself as being such a great steward of the Canadian economy in these tough economic times, in these tough economic times that will likely get tougher — how can the Conservative government be so reckless and irresponsible as to turn the Prairie farm economy on its head without even doing a cost-benefit analysis?

That doesn’t make sense.

Bill C-18 proposes to dismantle the farmer-controlled and funded Canadian Wheat Board by eliminating the single desk marketing of wheat and barley across Canada.

But do farmers want it?

Apparently not.

On Sept. 12, a majority of farmers voted to keep the wheat board in a plebiscite.

A total of 38,261 farmers submitted mail-in ballots during the plebiscite — for a participation rate of 56 per cent.

Which was on par with the last three federal elections.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents voted in favour of retraining the single desk for wheat, while 51 per cent voted to retain it for barley.

Allen Oberg, chair of the wheat board’s farmer-controlled board of directors, reacted by saying, “Farmers have spoken, their message is loud and clear, and the government must listen.”

The quote continues: “Western Canadian producers have voted to keep their single-desk marketing system for wheat and barley … they cannot be ignored.”

Sure they can — have they not met this Conservative government?

For years, fishermen on the East Coast of Canada — the fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador — warned that they weren’t being listened to.

The fishery collapsed, and one of our largest fishing companies — Fishery Products International — was later broken up and sold off.

Including FPI’s marketing arm.

Today, our province is moving towards a marketing board for Newfoundland and Labrador seafood products.

Part of the marketing strategy will be to set up a council to promote Newfoundland and Labrador seafood in general.

Maybe they’ll call it the Canadian Fish Board?

The government will also facilitate a consortium of companies so they can work together on branding their products.

I say — New Democrats say — the Conservative government should withdraw Bill C-18.

In the interest of large American grain companies, the Conservatives are meddling to erode prices and market security for our own farmers.

For our own farmers.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a single desk.

Farmers in Western Canada sell their wheat and barley together through the wheat board, their sole selling agent.

The structure helps ensure farmers get their highest overall returns as they have an effective “monopoly” on the sales.

Farmers have more strength when they act as one.

Fishermen have more strength when they act as one.

Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen know this.

Prairie farmers know this.

Why does the Conservative government not know this?

Western grain farmers can look to Australia to know what’s in store for them when the single desk is eradicated.

It’s not pretty.

When Australia had its single-desk power Australian wheat could command premiums of over $99 a tonne over American wheat.

But by December 2008 it had dropped to a discount of $27 a tonne below US wheat.

In three short years Australia’s 40,000 wheat farmers went from running their own grain-marketing system — selling virtually all over Australia’s wheat — to being mere customers of Cargill’s, one of the largest agribusiness corporations, which is privately owned and based in the U.S.

If we’re not careful the family farms, the family fishing enterprises that made this country great, will be no more.

Learn from the mistakes of the East Coast fishery, the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

Listen to fishermen.

Listen to farmers.

We’re stronger when we act as one.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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