Question Period
(16 April 2015)

From Hansard - 16 April 2015

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Canadian Wheat Board Ownership

Ms. Sproule: — Mr. Speaker, the federal government has handed the Canadian Wheat Board to a US [United States] agri-food giant and a state-owned company from Saudi Arabia. An incredible valuable organization that was publicly owned and farmer controlled is now foreign owned and Saudi controlled. Stewart Wells who is a farmer-elected Canadian Wheat Board director calls this the “ . . . biggest transfer of wealth away from farmers in the history of the country,” and farmers weren’t consulted about this deal at all. Was the Agriculture minister consulted? And what did he tell Minister Ritz on behalf of Saskatchewan producers?

Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the member for that question. The Canadian Wheat Board and federal government announced the sale of 50.1 per cent interest in CWB [Canadian Wheat Board] to G3 Global Grain Group for $250 million yesterday, Mr. Speaker. The other 49.9 per cent will be kept in trust for farmers who deliver grain to the board. Any farmer who does deliver will get a $5 per tonne equity in the organization. In seven years, G3 Global Grain Group has the option to buy back the shares from farmers at market value.

Ms. Sproule: — Mr. Speaker, we thank the minister for reading Mr. Ritz’s news release, but I asked him the question whether he was consulted or not by Mr. Ritz. The controlling shares, as the minister said, are valued at about $250 million, but no dollars are changing hands. This multinational is not paying a cent for this company. This is a handover to a US agri-food giant and a Saudi-owned, state-owned agricultural investment firm.

That amount, by the way, is close to the amount that was left in the contingency fund which should have been distributed to farmers. But, Mr. Speaker, we can’t find out any details about that because Gerry Ritz has veiled the CWB books in a cloak of secrecy. Does the Agriculture minister know anything about these books, and does he support this federal cloak of secrecy?

Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I know where the member gets her information, and I discount it accordingly. This investment ensures the new company will be well capitalized and will be a competitive force in the grain industry globally.

We appreciate that Canadian farmers will also have the opportunity to own equity in the new company through the farmer equity plan, Mr. Speaker. I think that this is generally a good thing for farmers in Western Canada, and it will increase the global penetration of our grain marketing system in Western Canada.

Ms. Sproule: — Mr. Speaker, the minister should know the offer made to the farmers is shares in a trust fund. It’s not equity at all; it’s just shares in a trust fund. He should check his facts.

The other night in committee, the minister said it made sense to sell the assets of Livestock Services of Saskatchewan Corporation to agricultural producers. The minister said:

The assets were purchased by the industry through the revolving fund so, in the event of a default or abandonment of the contract, I think it would make sense that the assets go back to the industry. They’re public assets and their sales should benefit the producers who relied on them, end quote.

They’re public assets and their sales should benefit the producers who relied on them. To the minister: why doesn’t the same logic apply to the Canadian Wheat Board assets?

Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Well thank you, Mr. Speaker. I know that the members on the opposite side of the floor live in the past, in a time when certain commodities from Western Canada were under the control of a federal government agency called the Canadian Wheat Board. Mr. Speaker, we’ve moved on. G3, the new company, is a joint venture between Bunge Canada and SALIC [Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company] Canada.

Farmers will benefit from this deal by having another major company with global market penetration, Mr. Speaker, which cannot be said for the Canadian Wheat Board in its current form. Canadian farmers will also have the opportunity to own equity in the Wheat Board through the farmer equity plan and, Mr. Speaker, they will have an opportunity to capitalize that equity in seven years.

Ms. Sproule: — Mr. Speaker, this government can’t have it both ways. What part of his own position doesn’t he understand? In committee the minister said:

The assets were purchased by the industry through the revolving fund so, in the event of a default or abandonment of the contract, I think it would make sense that the assets would go back to the industry.

They’re public assets and their sales should benefit the producers who relied on them. So it’s one standard when it comes to livestock producers but a totally different approach when it comes to grain producers. To the minister: how can he possibly stand in his place and fully support the actions of Gerry Ritz?

Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Wheat Board debate is over. Now it’s about global penetration of markets for our commodities, Mr. Speaker, and this company will be an improvement over what existed before in Western Canada.

Mr. Speaker, Jim Wickett, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, had this to say. You know, he said in an answer to a question, to Jim Smalley, he said:

You know, that is not a big concern for me. We live in a global economy now, and it doesn’t matter. You know, the same farmer that, you know, might be mad about that is going to drive a John Deere combine or a Case tractor, and they are not owned by Canadian . . .

This is a global company, Mr. Speaker. It’s a global economy. We export the vast majority of what we produce in Western Canada in terms of commodities, and global market penetration is key to our success.

Ms. Sproule: — Mr. Speaker, we know that two years ago, in the second-last crop year, farmers lost $3.3 billion because of the grain companies. Last year, in the last crop year, they’re likely to lose $2 billion. And this is because of studies that have been done. The minister knows that’s the case. Adding one more multinational with a Saudi state-owned corporation who is only interested in their own country’s food sovereignty is not the answer.

What we want to know and we asked earlier, Mr. Speaker, is this question: was this minister consulted by the Agriculture minister for Canada, and what did he say on behalf of Saskatchewan producers?

Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Mr. Speaker, the preamble to that question is simply not true. It’s not true. It’s information that the members opposite don’t have enough agricultural background to refute. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s bad for business in Western Canada, Mr. Speaker, and it would be extremely bad for farming business in Western Canada if those members ever became the Government of Saskatchewan again. I predict that won’t happen.


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