STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE SENATE ON AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
CONSIDERATION OF BILL C-4
(An Act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act)
HEARING SUMMARY - APRIL 2, 1998 - WINNIPEG, MANITOBA
Winnipeg - The Senate Agriculture Committee held public hearings on April 2 on Bill C4. With the passage of the proposed legislation through the House of Commons on February 17, it is now being considered at Committee Stage in the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee determined that public hearings on the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) Bill in Western Canada were essential to full consideration of its implications, particularly its impact on grain producers. In Winnipeg the Committee met throughout the day to hear presentations from 10 individual farmers, 10 agricultural groups, and the Manitoba Agriculture Minister. Sen. Len Gustafson, chairman of the Committee pointed out that 92 individual farmers, 34 agricultural groups and 3 provincial Ministers of Agriculture have made presentations to the Senate Committee during public hearings in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Carl Ostberg is opposed to Bill C4 and the CWB monopoly as a civil rights issue. He sees the Senate hearings as another futile political process and, though he supports the continuation of the CWB, he wants freedom of choice. Alan Kennedy supports the CWB but sees problems with a shift away from crown corporation status. He sees a contingency fund as acceptable only as a reserve and though he supports an elected board of directors, he is concerned that any democratic election can be hijacked if abuses such as unlimited campaign expenses are permitted.
Bill Uruski supports the CWB as it is. He is in favour of inclusion and opposes dual marketing. He sees the democracy proposed in Bill C-4 as dangerous and is concerned about the politicization of commodity groups in director elections and in inclusion votes. David Suderman, a retired CWB market development director, strongly supports Bill C-4 as a long overdue change. He believes it puts farmers in the drivers seat when it comes to directing Wheat Board operations while maintaining the CWBs marketing strength as a single desk seller.
The Hon. Harry Enns, Manitoba Minister of Agriculture believes that Bill C-4 will have substantial implications for the governance, structure and operations of the CWB. Though the Government of Manitoba supports the proposed legislation, the Minister expressed concern with the inclusion clause and appointment of the President. While it would be desirable to have all directors elected, Manitoba supports the proposal for two-thirds of directors to be elected by producers. The Province recommends a board role and structure similar to that of the Ontario Wheat Board and believes that the President should be appointed and accountable to the Board. The Minister also recommends the removal of the inclusion clause.
Don Dewar and Linda MacNair of the Keystone Agricultural Producers believe that the amendments proposed under Bill C-4 are a commendable beginning. They agree with the proposed board structure and recommend a delegate director election process. Keystone supports the contingency fund and the inclusion and exclusion clauses, however they would like to ensure that the CWB has the obligation and duty to always act in the best interests of Western farmers. They see Bill C-4 as a living document addressing to an ongoing need to re-examine the function of the CWB.
Though Charlie Swanson and Anders Bruun from the Manitoba Wheat Pool are pleased with some of the changes presented in Bill C-4, specifically the composition, role and powers of the board of directors, they believe further improvements are required. The Manitoba Pool is a long standing supporter of the CWB. They believe that the President should be accountable to the board, that federal government guarantees must continue, and that cash purchasing powers and the contingency fund should be removed from the Bill.
Fred Tait, representing the National Farmers Union, presented the Committee with examples and illustrations of income gains to farmers provided by the CWB. He is opposed to open market and dual market concepts. He also expressed concern about the development and repercussions of localized corporate monopolies if the CWB were eliminated. He suggested that the inclusion and exclusion clauses be dropped or that the inclusion clause be amended to permit general farm organizations to trigger an inclusion vote.
Ted Allen and Blair Rutter of the United Grain Growers expressed their appreciation for the Senate Committees hearings in the West. They believe that Bill C4 will not give Prairie farmers the marketing freedom they are demanding. They commended the Ontario proposal. The UGG believes that the compulsory provisions of the CWB Act represent an unacceptable intrusion on the rights of prairie farmers to own and enjoy property. They recommended that
the object of the CWB be changed to be in the best interests of producers, that the President be accountable to the board, and that the inclusion and exclusion clauses be dropped from the Bill.
Alex McWilliams from the Farmers for Justice provided the Committee with detailed descriptions of farmer protests against the CWB. He believes that farmers who want to market through the CWB should be able to, but that those wanting to market elsewhere should have freedom of choice. He opposes the CWB monopoly.
Bennett Corn and Bruce Love of the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange focused uniquely on their objections to the inclusion clause in Bill C-4. They told the Committee that inclusion is a move in the opposite direction of the global, national and provincial trend towards a more open market structure. They believe that the mere existence of the proposed inclusion clause creates uncertainty regarding the future structure of the industry.
Jonathon Roskos of the Manitoba Canola Growers believes that the open market system has greatly contributed to the success of the canola industry. He opposes the provisions of Bill C-4 that have the potential to bring canola marketing under CWB jurisdiction, specifically the inclusion clause. Bruce Dalgarno and Ernie Sirski of the Canadian Canola Growers Association recommended that Bill C-4 be amended to specifically exclude canola and rapeseed or to delete the inclusion clause.
Kevin Archibald, Paul Earl and Dan Kelly of the Coalition Against Bill C4 told the Committee that the Coalition is a group of 16 farm and industry organizations united in their opposition to the inclusion clause in Bill C-4. They object to the use of closure in passing the Bill through the House of Commons and suggested that the federal government should hold a producer plebiscite on the Bill. The Coalition also suggested that consideration of Bill C-4 be delayed until the Estey Review is complete.
Bill Toews, Keith Ryan and Tim Groening presented the views of Concerned Farmers Saving the Wheat Board. They urged the Senate to pass Bill C-4 as quickly as possible and believe that problems with the CWB become more serious as the controversy over the Bill continues. They support the CWB and see Bill C-4 as enabling legislation that presents opportunities for its future. They suggest that the contingency fund receive matching contributions from the federal government and be developed as an equity account. They would also like to see a delegate process for producer director elections and eventual accountability of the President to the board.
Robert Broeska of the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association represents companies in Canada that purchase and process oilseeds from farm producers. He wishes to preserve the commercial environment for oilseeds and recommends elimination of the inclusion clause that could provide for monopoly marketing of oilseeds by the CWB.
Kenneth Sigurdson is a strong supporter of the CWB who wishes to see Bill C-4 withdrawn. He expressed concern over loss of crown agency status, cash buying, the contingency fund, the inclusion and exclusion clauses, and reduced pooling periods. He believes that Bill C-4 represents the federal governments withdrawal of support from the CWB. Edward Cook believes that Bill C4 demonstrates government disrespect for the Western agricultural industry. He is opposes to the inclusion clause as it potentially limits his freedom of choice in marketing options.
Lois Edie expressed concern over the inclusion clause, the secrecy of the CWB, the CWB monopoly, and lack of choice in wheat marketing. She would like to see a similar system to that proposed for Ontario and she urged the Senate to delay consideration of C-4 until the Estey Review reports. Carol Masse told the Committee that farmers are burning out because the farm alone cannot support farm families. She believes that the majority of farmers want and need the CWB and, as an oat grower, she is pleased with the inclusion clause. She asked that Bill C-4 be amended to eliminate cash buying and the contingency fund.
Andy Baker is a supporter of the CWB as it is and outlined for the Committee net farm income benefits of 17.4% he has received as a result of CWB marketing. He urged the Committee to deal with the Bill quickly, allow directors to be elected and let them make the changes. Brad Mroz supports the CWB based on the financial returns he has experienced in his operations. He expressed concern with loss of any government guarantee through the contingency fund. He supports the inclusion clause and election of directors by a delegate process.
Senators on the Committee asked questions and raised issues related to:
- possible compromises to defuse the polarization and controversy among producers over the CWB;
- impacts of increased input and transportation costs as a result of elimination of government support programs such as the Crow rate;
- activities and holdings in Canada of major grain companies;
- CWB existence under dual marketing or opting out systems;
- implications of delaying C-4 until the Estey Review reports;
- the status, nature and implications of the Ontario Wheat Board proposal;
- rationale for CWB exclusion from oversight by the Auditor General and the Access to Information Act;
- fiduciary responsibilities of elected directors and possible conflicts of interest;
- geographic distribution of elected producer directors;
- reporting relationship and accountability of the CEO to the board of directors;
- availability to producers of CWB financial and management information;
- implications of a contingency fund as evolution from government guarantees;
- the repercussions of which producers vote on any grain inclusion;
- the delegate structure versus direct election for producer director elections;
- politicization of the producer director voting process; and
- the impact of inclusion of other grains on international markets and customers.
During public hearings in Western Canada, the Committee met in Brandon on March 24, in Regina on March 25, in Saskatoon on March 26, in Calgary on March 31, in Edmonton on April 1, and in Winnipeg on April 2. Further hearings are expected to be scheduled in Ottawa later in April. Information on hearing times, locations and witnesses can be obtained from the Clerk of the Senate Committee at 1-800-267-7362.
The Standing Committee of the Senate on Agriculture and Forestry is chaired by Senator Len Gustafson. The Deputy Chair is Sen. Eugene Whelan. Other Senators who are members of the Committee are: Sen. Raynell Andreychuk, Sen. Thelma Chalifoux, Sen. Joyce Fairbairn, Sen. Dan Hays, Sen. Fernand Robichaud, Sen. Eileen Rossiter, Sen. Herb Sparrow, Sen. Mira Spivak, Sen. Gerry St. Germain, Sen. Terry Stratton, and Sen. Nick Taylor.
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