Statement made on 22 November 2011 by Senator Maria Chaput
Hon. Maria Chaput:
Honourable senators, the Senate has a duty to carefully study every bill that comes before us. Given the huge number of letters we continue to receive from Canadian farmers, it is clear that the government has failed here. Canadian farmers have spoken and the government did not listen.
My office has received many letters from farmers who are not only concerned about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, but also disillusioned by our system of democratic governance, which does not seem to take their opinion into account.
Here are some excerpts from letters that I have received.
We voted as to whether we wished to keep the Canadian Wheat Board, and the majority said, "Yes." It seems the government, which claims to listen to the people, has turned a deaf ear to the producers.
I am very concerned about the lack of debate on Bill C-18 and the potential loss of the single desk and the effects it will have on my farm.
Another one states:
Bill C-18 should not be rushed along, as appears to be the case. What is being proposed by the federal government now is not democratic, fair or just.
Here is another:
I deeply resent my federal leaders limiting parliamentary debate on a piece legislation which adversely affects my livelihood, as well as that of my friends and neighbours.
Again, I quote another:
Senators, as members of a senior legislative body with oversight responsibility, one of your essential duties must surely be that bills submitted for Senate review do not impinge on or undermine individual liberties and democratic freedom. Bill C-18 is one piece of legislation that does.
Honourable senators, here is one more:
I support the legal right of farmers to control the Canadian Wheat Board. I believe there needs to be further study of the potential impact of this dismantling it, that a clear and transparent plan for transition needs to be presented, and that more time is required for open discussion. The bill is a larger issue than the Canadian Wheat Board. It is a question of democracy. Why the need to rush it through?
Another has written:
I am voicing my objection to the decision to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board on the grounds that the Prime Minister has not adequately consulted, as he is required to do, the relevant Canadian wheat and barley farmers on this matter.
There are more. This one states:
I am disgusted with the undemocratic actions of the Canadian government against the welfare of hard-working Canadian farmers.
Again, I quote:
I am writing to express my alarm of the anti-democratic process employed by the Harper government to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.
I have great respect for the role of the Senate and ask that you reject political influence in your affairs and uphold the honourable tradition of the Senate as the house of sober second thought.
Honourable senators, in the excerpts I read today, I left out all the financial concerns farmers have about abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board. The economic arguments for maintaining the Canadian Wheat Board and the single-desk system have already been explained by many orators in this chamber.
The letters from all the Canadians who took the time to write to us, some of them by hand, and to share their family stories also show that our farmers are truly worried about what the future holds as a result of the government's arbitrary decision to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board and, with it, their financial stability.
What the excerpts I read today demonstrate above all is the fact that Canadians are worried not only about their economic situation, but also about the deterioration of the democratic process. Indeed, I could read dozens more excerpts from letters written by Canadians who do not understand why the process of good democratic governance does not apply to them.
Honourable senators, bills never receive unanimous support across the country but, even if we never completely agree on the substance of the bill, our democratic and legislative process should allow us to agree on the procedure to follow.
In the case of the Canadian Wheat Board, the government is not only violating the wishes of our farmers on the substance of the issue but it has also adopted a cavalier attitude by rejecting the procedures of good democratic governance — the procedures by which community interests are heard and discussed and the debate is conducted in a spirit of openness and cooperation.
Honourable senators, the situation is clear and it is troubling. Our farmers feel cheated by the government's decision and they feel particularly cheated by the democratic process that should have given them the opportunity to speak their minds. I firmly believe that it is our duty not only to listen to their presentation as part of the examination of Bill C-18 but also to show them that we in the Senate respect our mandate and to re-establish their confidence in our legislative and democratic process.
Honourable senators, it is for the reasons I have spoken about that it is so critical that the Senate exercise care and meticulous diligence in its examination of Bill C-18 and the subject matter thereof.
Honourable senators, one of the most consequential changes to the Canadian Wheat Board proposed by Bill C-18 is the transformation of its board of directors. As such, I think honourable senators will agree that hearing from the current board of directors is of the utmost importance. If the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry is to examine the subject matter of Bill C-18, it must, without question, hear from the board's current directors, be they elected or appointed.
Motion in Amendment
Hon. Maria Chaput:
Honourable senators, I therefore move that this motion not now be adopted, but that it be amended by adding:
"and, if the Committee decides to hold hearings on the subject matter of Bill C-18, it give consideration to hearing from all the thirteen current Directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.".