December 1st, 2011
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Peterson for his passionate, well-reasoned speech on democracy for wheat farmers and on the responsibility that we have as senators to do the right thing for farmers.
I would like to begin my speech by thanking all farmers in Canada for their hard work. Unfortunately, what they do for us as Canadians is often overlooked.
Honourable senators, I live in the city of Dartmouth and I grew up in the city of Sydney. My grandparents lived on a farm in Grand Mira along the Mira River in Cape Breton, and I remember many happy days spent there as a child.
Despite my agricultural roots, I am not an expert on agriculture, nor would I pretend to be. As a resident of Nova Scotia, I am certainly not an expert on wheat farming. I did spend time on the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, but at that time the committee was doing a study on forestry — an excellent study, I might add.
Why am I speaking on Bill C-18? It is because I believe in democracy and fairness for farmers.
I also told the farmers with whom I met that I would speak on their behalf in the Senate chamber. Like Senator Mockler, I, too, think it is important that those of us from the Atlantic region speak out on behalf of our fellow Canadians who live in other parts of the country. We must stick together.
When Bill C-18 was introduced in the other place, the teacher in me knew that I better start my studies to better understand the implications of the bill brought in by this reform Conservative government. I read articles on this subject. Of course, I read the bill. I listened to those more knowledgeable on the issue than I. I met with farmers from Saskatchewan last week, and those farmers expressed their frustration with Bill C-18. Some of them voted Conservative in the last election, and they took Minister Ritz at his word when he said that the farmers would be given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted the government to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board. Unfortunately, their trust in the minister was misplaced. I do not think he told the truth.
The farmers were hopeful that senators, both Liberal and Conservative, would support farmers and oppose Bill C-18. The farmers I spoke with felt that they were shortchanged by the process in the other place. The House of Commons committee invited only one witness in support of the Canadian Wheat Board, and the farmers felt that political games were played to limit the testimony of witnesses by having long preambles to eat up their time so that the witnesses got to say very little. The farmers reiterated the fact that 62 per cent of producers supported the single-desk in a vote — 62 per cent — yet this government is ignoring farmers' wishes.
Senator Plett spoke earlier about the results of the last federal election. While I was not very happy with the results of the election, I am happy that democracy works. Unfortunately, this government seems to feel that democracy for Canadians should stop on election day.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Cordy: That is shameful.
The farmers I spoke with were also very frustrated by the government's plan to withhold the $200 million contingency fund contributed to by farmers. The government is taking this money and using it to fund the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.
This money, honourable senators, is farmers' money. The contingency fund was set up as an emergency fund for circumstances such as fluctuations in foreign exchange currency and hedging. I say again, this money belongs to the farmers. The government is taking over this money and using it to wind up the Canadian Wheat Board, even though 62 per cent of producers support the single-desk. The government is taking control over $200 million of farmers' money. That is shameful.
When I read the bill, clause 51(1) states:
Any surplus that remains after the satisfaction of the debts and liabilities of the Corporation and the winding-up charges, costs and expenses belongs to Her Majesty in right of Canada.
The money is going to the government coffers and not to the farmers who paid this money into the fund. This is shameful, and I was dismayed.
Senator Gerstein spoke last week about this government not raising taxes, yet this government is taking money that belongs to the farmers. I guess if it is not a tax, it is a money grab on farmers for being prudent with their money.
Farmers also spoke about the current system at the Canadian Wheat Board and how this system is transparent for producers. The farmers know exactly what the cost is at every step of distribution. Ninety-eight per cent of the profits go back to producers. This will not be case under the proposed reorganization. The farmers stated that the middlemen will not be required to report to farmers what the actual costs are at every step of the process. There will be no transparency.
The farmers would like to see fair and balanced hearings in the Senate of Canada.
Honourable senators, I believe this is a very reasonable request to those who provide wheat to Canadians and to people around the world. I would like to thank the farmers from Saskatchewan who spent so much time meeting with me last week and answering my many questions. Is it little enough to provide a fair process with balanced hearings in the Senate of Canada for the wheat farmers in Western Canada. We owe it to them.
Honourable senators, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald called the Senate the "chamber of sober second thought." Sadly, this quote, which should reflect the work that the Senate of Canada could do best, seems to be falling by the wayside. The senators who are part of the Harper government seem to feel it is their responsibility to follow blindly the wishes of their leader rather than examining legislation and determining what is best for Canadians. I believe that it is our duty as senators to review and evaluate legislation. We should not pass legislation with little or no study.
Honourable senators, we have a responsibility to study all legislation. Some very valid concerns have been raised concerning Bill C-18. Wheat farmers, and indeed all Canadians, should see these concerns addressed before this legislation is passed or not passed. That is democracy. We owe it to Canadians to follow the democratic process, and we certainly owe it to the Western wheat farmers to follow the democratic process.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the farmers who met with me, a senator from the Atlantic region, to express their concerns. It is a shame that this government does not want to meet with farmers and voted against allowing the Senate Committee on Agriculture to hold public meetings in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Some Hon. Senators: Shame.
Senator Cordy: I would also like to thank all the people from across the country, but especially from the Western provinces, for the time they took to write letters to me. In fact, I would like to quote some of the letters I have received over the past few weeks:
Even though I have typically voted Conservative, I vigorously object to the administration's dishonest, mean-spirited treatment of the Canadian Wheat Board and all of us who wish to retain the single desk marketing structure. Their appalling behaviour has become a source of embarrassment for many of us!
The Harper Conservatives keep pretending to be the champions of Western Canadian farmers, but if their campaign to dismantle the CBW single desk is so honourable, why must they resort to such dishonourable tactics to accomplish it? Since when does a supposedly noble objective justify a corrupt means of bringing it about? Not only is this government breaking the law by ramming through the current legislation without a producer plebiscite, but from the outset its clumsy handling of the issue has demonstrated an alarming disregard for free speech and the democratic process.
That was from someone who voted Conservative in the last election.
Another Saskatchewan farmer wrote:
I started farming in 1983 with one quarter section of land. My family and I have toiled to build a sustainable farm of 12 quarters. Without the Canadian Wheat Board's guarantee of sales and regulation of quality standards, my dream would never have been realized.
What system is the government going to put in place that will replace the CWB service to the Canadian farmers? Many farmers are not able to market their products on a daily basis and compete with the multi-national grain companies that have historically guaranteed us a fair market price for our grains. The end of the CWB will inevitably be the end of small farmers. The rising marketing costs will force the small farmers to sell their farms to bigger rivals or agri-business companies. This will directly affect all small prairie towns that are dependent on individual farmers to support their businesses.
Another letter from Saskatchewan:
I'm worried and frankly outraged at the C-18 bill being pushed through Parliament without due process, without giving farmers the vote they were promised before a decision would be made. It makes no sense to me that a bill to obliterate the Canadian Wheat Board could be passed without any consultation with Canadian farmers.
Honourable senators, I believe in the democratic process. We owe it to Western wheat farmers to give sober second thought to this bill. We owe it to farmers to listen to them.
Senator Plett and the Conservative government say that this is the right decision for the wheat farmers of Canada. Since you will use your majority to pass Bill C-18, I hope that you are right. In fact, I pray that you are right because if you are not, the board will be destroyed and there is no way, with the trade agreements in place, that the decision will ever be able to be reversed.