Speech - Following News Conference for Tabling of Canadian Wheat Board Legislation
Remarks for Minister Ritz, P.C., M.P.
October 18, 2011
Good morning everyone.
Canada's farmers and food processors do more than produce the food for our tables - they drive our economy.
As you've heard me say time and time again, our Government wants to help farmers earn from the marketplace, not the mailbox.
That's why during my tenure as Agriculture Minister we've worked tirelessly to level the playing field abroad, securing market access for our farmers in every corner of the world.
Simply, we've been creating an environment where farmers have the opportunity to do what only they do best - Farm.
Sadly, this has not been the case for our wheat and barley farmers here at home.
The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, born in a different time to meet different needs, cast a chill on Western Canada and the entire grain sector.
The fact is, today's entrepreneurial farmers are proving over and over that they can and will help drive our economy if they have control over their farm and over their bottom line.
For the grain industry this means -
- a choice in how they market their grain;
- a choice in when they sell their crop;
- a choice in whom they sell their crop to;
- a choice in what price they sell their crop for; and ultimately,
- a choice in whether they sell their crop through a voluntary Wheat Board or on the open market.
Since Day One, the Harper Government has made it very clear that marketing freedom was a cornerstone of our platform.
And in return, Western Canadians gave us:
- a clear mandate;
- a strong majority; and
- the responsibility to deliver on our promises.
And just like the farmers here today who make agreements on a handshake, we made a handshake with the farmers of Western Canada on May second when they sent us to Ottawa.
I'm pleased to announce, we're delivering.
At ten o'clock this morning, I tabled the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act that when passed will give Western Canadian wheat and barley farmers marketing freedom.
Marketing freedom will spur our economy, attract investment, encourage innovation and create jobs.
Marketing freedom is what Western Canadian grain farmers want and deserve.
So why make them wait?
The Harper Government intends to pass this vital legislation by the end of the year.
And when we do, this historic Act will give farmers marketing freedom on August 1st of 2012.
Every farmer in Western Canada will have the freedom to choose how to market their grain, whether that's individually or through the Canadian Wheat Board.
Let me be clear - every single Western Canadian farmer will finally have the right to choose how they market their grain.
This Act is about more than just clauses and subsections.
It's about giving wheat and barley farmers across Western Canada the same rights as the Kenny family enjoys here in Ontario.
It's about giving Western farmers the right to do what they want with the crop that they:
- paid to plant;
- spent months to grow; and
- worked tirelessly to harvest.
This legislation is about today's market-savvy farmer who is taking over her parents' farm and wants to make sure her wheat crop is as profitable as the others.
It's about the farm family who has suffered from drought in recent years and wants the ability to sell their wheat and barley when it suits their situation and business plan.
It is about the skilled barley farmer who wants to join with other farmers to start a value-added processing co-operative without having to buy back his own crop first.
Most of all, it's about creating an environment where farmers can run their business because we know that when they can do that, they can help drive our economy.
As you must know by now, the Harper Government's Number One priority is the economy.
Marketing freedom will unlock new value-added investment, new jobs, and new growth for Canada's economy.
The removal of the monopoly will allow farmers to sell their grains directly to a processor, whether it's a new pasta manufacturer, a new flour mill or any other processing plants.
We have seen tremendous growth in value-added opportunities for oats, pulses and canola across the Prairies over the past 20 years.
We have every reason to believe that our wheat and barley growers have what it takes to succeed just the same.
Just the promise of marketing freedom has already spurred investment.
Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister and I were in Regina to celebrate the announcement of a new pasta plant that will buy local durum wheat directly from farmers and create 60 local jobs.
This long-awaited announcement is only the beginning.
An open market will increase the number of buyers bidding on our wheat and barley, just as they do for our canola, pulses and oats.
Unlike what some people may claim, they sky will not fall in an open market.
Instead, the sky will be the limit.
And to reach that limit, the Harper Government has developed a comprehensive plan that will provide for an orderly transition to an open market.
We developed a working group of experts from across the grain value chain, experts on rail, handling, science, innovation, and marketing.
They met with 50 organizations or individuals and received twenty 20 written submissions.
Further input from all of our provincial colleagues in the Wheat Board area was carefully considered.
And today, we bring certainty and clarity with a comprehensive plan to farmers, industry and the market.
Our Government has always agreed that farmers must have a choice in how they market their grain, whether that's individually on an open market or through a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board.
The Act enables the Government to provide the Canadian Wheat Board with the support required to operate as a voluntary marketing organization, allowing it time to transition to full private ownership.
We will work with them to ensure this transition happens as soon as possible.
Once passed, the Act will also allow farmers and grain companies to immediately enter into forward contracts for the purchase or sale of wheat, barley and durum for execution after August 1st, 2012.
This will allow farmers and the entire value chain to plan accordingly and transition in an orderly fashion.
The Harper Government has always agreed with farmers and the industry that grain research and market development is vital.
That's why the Act will allow for the implementation of a voluntary check-off that will support the ongoing work of the:
- Western Grains Research Foundation;
- the Canadian International Grains Institute; and
- the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre.
Producer cars will continue to be allocated by the Canadian Grain Commission and access to them will continue to be protected through the Canada Grain Act.
As recommended in report by the Working Group, we will give market forces every opportunity to work and will work with industry to monitor any anti-competitive behaviour.
The Harper Government will also implement our Response to the Rail Freight Service Review as quickly as possible.
The Government of Canada remains committed to Churchill and we understand the importance of economic development and diversification to the community, the region and the North.
The Government also acknowledges that the changes to the Canadian Wheat Board - while giving farmers marketing freedom - will also lead to a period of adjustment for Churchill and the surrounding region.
That is why we are taking the necessary steps to support the community and Port of Churchill through this transition.
The Government will provide an economic incentive of up to $5 million per year during the five year transition period to support shipments of grain, including oilseeds, pulses and special crops through the Port.
Working with the Port owner, Transport Canada will invest more than four million dollars ($4.1M) to repair the existing Port assets and support the safe docking of vessels.
This will also enable the port to remain in sound operating condition to take advantage of any future business opportunities, and could create jobs resulting in economic benefits to the community over the next three years.
Western Economic Diversification Canada will work with the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation on Port infrastructure improvements and extend the project completion date an additional two years, from 2013 to 2015.
Additionally, the Harper Government will continue to explore short term initiatives to support the ongoing operations of the Port.
As we all know, nothing good ever comes easy.
Evident by our comprehensive plan outlined today, our Government is working diligently with industry to make the road to an open market as smooth as possible.
We are taking every precaution to ensure that the transition period is as smooth as possible for farmers and industry.
So in conclusion, let me be clear, on August 1, 2012, farmers will have marketing freedom.
Canada's farmers grow world-class food in a global marketplace that is ripe with opportunity.
We want to put wheat and barley farmers back in the driver's seat so they can seize these opportunities.
Today, we are writing a new page in our nation's great history, and Canada and our grain sector will be better for it.
Our Government will free our farmers so they can continue to drive our economy and feed the world.