There are many words that could be used to describe the Conservative government decision to rush through Parliament momentous legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board single desk.
‘Efficient’ comes to mind, ‘decisive’ perhaps or ‘determined’.‘Democracy’ and ‘due process’ are not among them.
Considering the importance of the issue for prairie farmers, the amount of debating time it has taken over almost four decades and the irreversible consequences of ending the single desk, the legislation is moving through Parliament at unprecedented speed.
The bill was introduced Oct. 18, debate at approval-in-principle stage was limited to three parliamentary days and then it was sent to committee for two evenings of public hearings during which supporters of the bill dominated the witness list as voted by the Conservative majority.
One evening of limited clause-by-clause discussion took place and presto, it is back to the House of Commons for a few more days of debate and then off to the Senate for quick passage.
It seems certain the bill will be through the Senate and proclaimed into law by the time Parliament rises for a six-week Christmas break Dec. 15.
That will be less than two months of parliamentary time from start to finish for what is a historic change in agricultural policy.
Three decades ago when the Liberal government of the day wanted to undermine the Crowsnest Pass grain freight rate system, debate went on for months.
In the end, the Liberals got their way but no one could argue that the critics, the supporters and the opposition did not get their say.
On the CWB file, that is not the case. Just three prairie farmers who support the single desk – Allen Oberg, Stewart Wells and Ian McCreary – got to speak and they were given just an hour, shared with University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist Ken Rosaasen.
Supporters of the legislation dominated the seven hours set aside for witnesses but even they did not have much time, although they were happy to see the debate end quickly.
Their argument, like that of agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, was that it is an old debate and the end result is clear so let’s move on.
But missing from that equation is the small inconvenience of Parliament as a forum where issues old or new are debated.
The wheat board debate is decades old but Bill C-18 with its tight timeline and surprising provision to fire all farmer-elected directors this winter so government appointed directors can run it for the next five years is new.
Parliament has been around for a thousand years or so to hold governments to account for such policy bombshells.
“A majority government does not bestow absolute power,” CWB chair Allen Oberg told the committee.
He is right in principle but this government, with 39 percent of popular support May 2, is proving day after day he is wrong in practice.
The CWB is not the only example.
House leader Peter Van Loan has restricted debate on other bills, arguing that voters gave the Conservative a mandate to fulfill their agenda.
Funny, none of the Conservative election material delivered to homes on the Ottawa West-Nepean riding mentioned turning Parliament into a Third World rubber stamp.