CO-OPERATOR CONTRIBUTOR / OTTAWA
The Conservatives have the legislation to strip the Canadian Wheat Board of its wheat and barley monopoly on a forced march through Parliament.
Second reading debate began Oct. 19 and was set to conclude Oct. 24 as theCo-operatorwas going to press. The government will use its majority to give the bill approval in principle as it did to defeat two opposition motions to delay or amend the bill.
Government House Leader Peter van Loan brought in time allocation within a couple of hours of the start of debate to limit second reading to a total of three days.
After that, the legislation would normally be referred to the Commons agriculture committee for detailed study. However, committee chairman Larry Miller said in an interview he was informed on Oct. 19 that a legislative committee would be created to review the bill.
Government spokespersons did not respond to queries about why this rare procedure was being employed. Miller said the committee is holding hearings on Going Forward 2, but that didn t seem to be a reason for it not to study the CWB bill.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz wants the legislation passed by early 2012 so farmers, the board and grain companies have time to prepare for open marketing on Aug. 1. But the government hasn t said why that s a reason to place the legislation on such a tight timetable when a long list of questions remain about the contents of the legislation including how the CWB will operate in the future and the fate of the producer cars, the board s hopper cars, the future of the Port of Churchill and the two ships the board has on order.
Normally those issues are dealt with during committee stage hearings, but resorting to a legislative committee signals the government will use its majority to curtail the number of witnesses that MPs will hear.
Keystone Agriculture Producers, which is focused on trying to get the best deal for its members, might not get the opportunity to present its concerns.
The government says it wants the grain industry to start forward contracting in January, but with the government s majority, there isn t any reason for farmers and the grain industry not to prepare for the end of the monopoly next summer without worrying about whether the bill becomes law in January or March.
The debate in the Commons was mostly a recital of well-worn arguments.
NDP trade critic Pat Martin proposed an amendment that would have effectively gutted the bill. The bill is a mistake in the making. We are watching a terrible economic mistake unfold before our very eyes.
The opposition was in a hopeless position because the Conservatives have chosen to use their majority to ram this change through to the rural Prairie economic base without even consulting farmers or allowing them the vote they are guaranteed through legislation, he added.