These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Jailed Farmers

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, today some hardworking prairie farmers are going to prison. Why? Because they grew their own wheat on their own land, doing their own work, taking their own risks. Yet this government says they cannot market their own product. It is an industry that is going bankrupt yet the government puts farmers in jail for trying to make a living.

My question is very simple. Why is the government throwing farmers in jail for selling their own wheat?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, let us be very clear. The protesters from 1996, who are facing the difficulty in Lethbridge today, have chosen this particular route to express themselves. They chose this particular method. It was not imposed upon them. They have been seeking to maximize their publicity in this matter. That is their right. However, let us be clear, the choice with respect to the jail proceedings is one that was chosen by them.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I would like to see that member make the choice, that lawyer make the choice of running in a rural riding in Saskatchewan.

The government chose to make it illegal for prairie farmers to market their own grain. The government chose to change the rules to ensure this was the case. The government chose to have a completely different set of rules for western Canada than for eastern Canada. The government also chose to charge these farmers.

Why is the government refusing to allow prairie farmers the same right to market their own grain that it gives to other Canadian producers?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, with respect to the comparison to Ontario, it should be noted that in fact grain is marketed in and from Ontario under the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board. The flexibilities that have been achieved in Ontario have been achieved by the democratic decisions taken by the directors of the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board. The act of the Canadian Wheat Board was amended in 1998 to provide directors of the Canadian Wheat Board in western Canada with the ability to make the same decisions in western Canada.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it blames the farmers. The government is losing a grip on its own caucus. It should loosen its grip on western farmers.

It is hiding behind the board. It is a government that allows child pornographers to go free but jails farmers. It is a government that allows Hezbollah to operate in Canada but denies farmers the freedom to sell their own wheat. Today, farmers will be handcuffs because of the policies and decisions made by the Canadian Wheat Board and the minister.

For prairie farmers and their families, I ask one more time, why are they being locked up for doing what should be legal and is legal in the rest of Canada, selling their own product?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, let us be very clear. If any farmer wishes to export wheat from any part of Canada, it requires an export permit. That applies nationally across the country.

The changes we made in 1998 include these facts: the Canadian Wheat Board is no longer a crown corporation; it is no longer run by government appointees; and it is controlled by a board of directors with a two-thirds majority directly elected by farmers themselves. All the powers of the Canadian Wheat Board are vested in those directors.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it is Halloween today and the Liberals' policy is as pathetic and scary as their responses.

Today the Liberal government will throw prairie farmers in jail for what is perfectly acceptable in the rest of Canada, selling their own wheat. This is not a complicated issue. Farmers should have the individual right to sell their property to the buyers of their choice.

When will the government stop throwing farmers in jail and give them the freedom to market their own wheat?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the legislation that was enacted in 1998 provides very clearly for how the mandate of the Canadian Wheat Board can be changed. That mandate requires consultations with the board of directors and it requires a vote among prairie producers.

Interestingly, when we debated that legislation in 1998, this side of the House wanted to put in provisions that would allow farmers to trigger the whole change process and that was taken out at the request of the opposition.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Speaker: Order, please. I encourage members who want to carry on discussions that are not on the record to do so perhaps in the lobby. Those of us who are in the House want to hear the questions that are asked. The member for Crowfoot has the floor and everyone will want to hear his question.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the only thing more distasteful than this policy is the government's refusal to take responsibility for it.

In 1996 the first farmer to be charged with selling outside the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly was found innocent. Immediately the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board rushed out to change the regulations, ensuring that all subsequent charges would result in a conviction.

When will the minister admit that he is personally responsible for sending those innocent farmers to jail?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman's allegations are patently ridiculous. What is being suggested here by the opposition is that there should be some intervention in a court proceeding. That would obviously be an ethical violation and I will not do it, even when requested by the official opposition.