Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

The fight over the Canadian Wheat Board is starting to heat up, although it may not mattter in the end. However, it is amazing to watch the Conservatives distort and outright mislead, combined with a justification for action which translates to irony in the extreme. The people have spoken!:
"Our government has always put farmers first, which is why western Canadians gave this government a strong mandate, and now they expect us to deliver on our commitments," Ritz said Monday in a written statement.

Let's follow the logic to its rightful conclusion. Again, the government now speaks of this mandate from the people which has some direct corelation to killing the CWB. The underpinning for this decision is the democratic will of voters, which surely must be respected and acknowledged. Let's adopt this assertion, but if we do, let's show some consistency before we champion "mandates".

The CWB isn't some monolith that exerts its will on farmers, it's a democratic entity that ELECTS members to the board. Further, this issue of single desk vs choice has been a central issue for many past elections, and guess what? In almost overwhelming fashion, FARMERS keep electing people who favour the single desk, who favour a monopoly. If memory serves, in the last expression, 3 of the 4 elected were single desk proponents, it was the central message in their "campaigns". In other words, when we speak of "mandates", what carries more weight a true, clean majority will or a party which has FOREVER ignored said democratic expression, even going further and attempting to bastardize choice, blur lines and downright deny CWB participation in expressing a point of view? Ritz using democracy and mandates to solidify the Conservatives decision is laughable and selective, the record is clear, this government has continually ignored the very tenets it now champions as absolute.

In addition, this government is creating a false reality as they dismantle the CWB. It defies the most basic of common sense, that if you eliminate the single desk, the CWB can still function on a voluntary basis. The Conservatives argue the CWB can still operate, but it's all a ruse to soften the true impact of their decision. What is inevitable, a slow death as the CWB influence wanes and competing interests swamp any idea of collective. If the government were truly being honest and upfront, they would just admit, their reforms will kill the CWB, let's all just move forward with this clear assumption confirmed.

You can argue that every individual farmer should have the right to decide their own direction. You could also argue that every single Canadian voter should have that right as well. However, with democracy, you speak of the collective want, you speak ot expression in their totality when deciding directions and policy. Those that oppose the CWB, but must remain within it's grasp have a right to dissent, no disputing many farmer don't support. However, again, you could extend this to the great population, many of us don't support Harper, but alas we are stuck with him until we can convince more of our fellow Canadians to turf him (and this is a kind analogy because the CWB support is a majority in ever sense of the word, not one borne of structure and inefficiences). Farmers unhappy with the CWB, you have a healthy, grassroots expression at your disposal, VOTING. Why do the single desk proponents keep winning elections in overwhelming fashion? If the CWB is so a slight that needs to be destroyed, surely we should see more farmers voicing their opinion by voting in like minded individuals?

After watching how this government has acted towards the CWB since it came to office, there is nothing more laughable that people now referring to mandates and democratic will to justify their decisions. If this was really about said democracy, then it would be business as usual, because beyond the wider populus, it is clearly what FARMERS want.


ricky said...

Its a return to the "wild west of America" in Canada 150 years later. The CWB has been successful selling wheat. It is what helps our Farmers succeed in the world of big mega farming. I suggest that the big conglomerate types will love the demise and the smaller farmers will suffer.

Jerry Prager said...

You keep trying to find logic in their actions when all there is ideology, certainly not principle, and clearly, while the majority of Canadians reject their ideology, the media endorses it.
However, the only true opposition left is the one Brigitte DePape identified: the street. In four years time the streets will be filled with people.
And Rick Barnes is right, this is about corporate takeover of agriculture and the destruction of the family farm, here in Ontario, the family farm is starting to disappear.
The corporations are coming for the arable land and the water.

In the old Tommy Douglas metaphor of cats and mice, with the libs and cons being cats, and the NDP the mice, Layton's mice are turning into rats.
The liberals need to champion the street, and I don't mean Bay street.

A Eliz. said...

If I am not mistaken, wasn't the Wheat Board an idea of Conservative, RB Bennett, as well he brought us the CBC and the Bank of Canada.
Harper is so out of it, he probably thought it was a Liberal who brought in all these things!

Tof KW said...

I'm actually just waiting to see the shit hit the fan on this issue. The Harper Government® aren't conservatives so much as being populists. Neo-liberal ones yes, but still populists; of the western firebrand variety to be precise.

Scuttling the potash sale to save their CPofC Saskatchewan seats was a sterling example of this populism in action. Funny convergence really, since I agreed with the Harper Government® 100% on this action, but based on my classical Red Tory instincts to protect Canadian sovereignty and economic assets.

But as far as Harper was concerned this was a move of pure western populism, since it was starkly against Reformatory neo-liberal economic policy. You are not supposed to block corporate sales in a global economy (unless you are China or Japan).

My point in bringing this up is at some point the individual farmers will be protesting, as a body within the CWB along with the provinces of MB and SK. The CPofC has a majority now, but they'd like to win another one in 2015 too, and losing these seats across the prairies to the NDP (maybe even a few going red?) doesn't help in that cause.

Something has to give at some point.

Omar said...

I can't help but contemptibly smile at the bed these western farmers find themselves laying in. It's not like the Harpercons kept their plans for the CWB a classified secret. You pays your money and you takes your chances. Enjoy.

Mark Dowling said...


Your example of "the great population" and the current government reminded me: If the Wheat Board is such a good idea, why are growers in BC and Central/Eastern Canada not subject to it? Why are only Prairie growers forced into a collective model?

Steve V said...

Not sure Mark, perhaps you could ask the former Conservatives who brought it to pass ;)

Joe said...

Back in the good old days the CWB made good sense. Since most farmers didn't have a phone marketing their wheat was difficult. Hauling the wheat to the elevator left him at the mercy of the elevator grain buyer giving the farmer what ever price the grain buyer wanted to pay at that particular time. Instead of playing the spot market the farmer was assured of the same price for a year and maybe even get a bonus at the end of the year. Of course hitching the horses to the wagon and taking a load to the elevator was much quicker and easier for the farmer whose bins were a half a mile from the elevator than the farmer whose land was 8 miles from the elevator so it was nice to know that no one could haul sell more than the other because he could make more hauls. Under such circumstances the CWB made sense. Now however the farmers can market their grains world wide with the click of a mouse. They can lock in contracts and prices months and even years in advance. They can load up the semi and drive it to the nearest inland terminal or getting rail cars spotted along the tracks that he can fill as he wants. He can haul whole bins at a time and not even break sweat assuming of course the air conditioning in the semi still works. Under these circumstances the CWB loses its appeal. If there is any doubt about that lost appeal simply look at the increased acreage of canola vs wheat. Why is canola so popular? Because it is not a board grain. The farmer can sell however much of it he wants to whomever he wants whenever he want to sell. Try doing that with a bushel of wheat and you will end up in jail. With canola the farmer could start his own crusher and sell the oil to anyone who wants to buy it. With wheat he has to pay the CWB a hefty fee even if he wants to mill his own flour and sell it to his neighbour. The fee consists of the spread between selling to the board for what they pay for it and buying it back at what they sell it at and a freight fee which would be the equivalent of shipping his wheat to the nearest port and back. Yes the growing and marketing of grains has changed in the last 80 years and maybe Canada should catch up by changing the CWB.

Steve V said...

A touching narrative Joe about days of old, and a compelling argument except for one little fact, the same FARMERS keep voting in single desk candidates. Why oh why do they keep doing this if there is no upside to farmers? Strangest thing eh?

People that want to axe the CWB can never acknowledge the democratic underpinnings, just gloss over it, even though it is the single most important consideration when discussing what farmers want.

Joe said...

Well Steve of those farmers who choose to vote about 60% of those farmers with a permit book want to keep the board. Many farmers don't have a permit book and thus are intelligible vote. Now compare that to the event that happened under PET. At that time almost all farmers had permit books and well over 80% of them voted to keep the Crow Rate. PET decided he could 'screw the West and just take the rest' so he abolished the Crow. Now if 80% of western farmers could be ignored when it came to getting rid of the Crow rate then using that standard I would say that the elected government has the moral right to kill the CWB any time it wants. After all 60% of actual grain producers not just permit book farmers want to board's monopoly gone.

sharonapple88 said...

If the Wheat Board is such a good idea, why are growers in BC and Central/Eastern Canada not subject to it?

Parts of BC are a part of the Canadian Wheat Board. As for why Ontario isn't... there could be a number of reasons.

1. The amount of wheat grown in Ontario is small. The Prairie provinces account for 95% of the wheat grown in Canada. The top crops in Ontario are corn and soyabean, and for a long time wheat was grown simply as part of the crop rotation. Also the wheat in Ontario is of a different kind than the wheat out in the Pairies (soft wheat in Ontario, versus hard wheat in the Prairies). Most of the wheat in Ontario is sold locally, and there usually isn't enough to fill the market. So, Ontario produces less wheat than the province needs, but it's also a different kind than the one in the Prairie.

2. At the time the Canadian Wheat Board was formed, there were three individual pools -- one each in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba -- that collapsed around the time of the Great Depression. The Federal government stepped in to save them, and when it was clear that the pools needed long-term help, they merged them. (If there was an Ontario Wheat Pool, and if it collapsed, it's possible it would have been merged with the others by the Feds. <--- Personal assumption.)

As for whether the Canadian Wheat Board will continue to exist in an voluntary market... probably not. The Australian Wheat Cargill bought it after it turned voluntary. The Ontario Wheat Producer Marketing Board is gone, merged with the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which deals with corn and soyabean.

Interesting paper here on what might happen to the Canadian Wheat Board once it loses its single seller desk.

Steve V said...


Oh, so it's a permit issue, of COURSE! That's lame. I stopped reading with the Trudeau reference as well btw. Yawn.

As was first stated, all that will be achieved is the collective will now be guided by gigantic companies and their seven figure, stock option parastical leadership. That's progress!

sharonapple88 said...

Well Steve of those farmers who choose to vote about 60% of those farmers with a permit book want to keep the board. Many farmers don't have a permit book and thus are intelligible vote

Permit books are "required in order to sign-up delivery contracts and to receive payment for your grain deliveries." Sorry for the confusion here, but doesn't this imply that most wheat farmers would have to sign up for a permit book?

One note: in Ontario's open market, the province has crop price insurance to protect grain farmers from a volatile market. Going from this article, wheat farmers in the province have lost money planting the crop. No utopia in the free market.

James Bow said...

What I don't understand is why the Conservatives make such hay over this (no pun intended). Why don't they just make their move? If they were so certain about the merits of their position, why didn't they just declare this a confidence issue and threaten to have an election if the opposition pushed back?

I would be surprised if you would find that more than 10% of Canadians east of the Manitoba border are aware that we have such a thing as a Canadian Wheat Board, or that it has a monopoly on the sale of wheat. I would _guarantee_ you that if the Conservatives moved to end that monopoly, they would not lose a single eastern Canadian vote. Not one.

So, why the bombast? Why are they running scared?

I suspect that what they're trying to drown out is the fact that the Wheat Board has strong support among _western_ farmers, and that unless they make some sound and fury about acting on behalf of "THE PEOPLE!!", they're worried they'll lose votes in rural western Canada. This ideological action might be putting them at odds with people who'd previously been the strongest supporters of their base.

James Bow said...

If the Wheat Board is such a good idea, why are growers in BC and Central/Eastern Canada not subject to it?

Ontario had one, I'm told, until the 1980s. Then the farmers voted to end the single desk, and it ended.

I would expect that if western Canadian farmers had voted to do the same, this issue would have been dealt with years ago.

James Bow said...

And I'm serious: if the Conservatives really thought this was an important issue during the minority parliament, they should have made the matter a confidence issue and be willing to fight an election on it. The slogans write themselves: "Let my Wheaties go!"

East of the Manitoba border it would have been a smart move. It's a strong free market stance, and the opposition could not have justified their opposition without eastern Canadians going, "why should we care? If they want to sell their wheat on the open market, let them do so for goodness sake!"

No. I'm pretty sure the Conservative reluctance was due to the possible result _west_ of the Manitoba border.

Sean Cummings said...

You truly have to live in a province like Saskatchewan to understand this whole debate - it's central to the very culture of farming on the prairie. The better half is from the farm, her entire family are farmers - they want this thing gone. It's intrusive, it limits growth and stifles profit potential.

Yes, there are some farmers who lack the marketing know-how to make a go of it, but the same can be said of hundreds of thousands of family run businesses, and let's remember, running a farm is a business. You have to run it by the numbers. It's compounded in difficulty because the damned weather can be a blessing or a curse. It's hard to forecast what you're going to grow in the next year, five years, ten years - there's a lot of intangibles that impact the profitability of the family farm... but ... it's still a business and you either fly or fry in a competitive market. That's life.

Mark does make a very solid point about the Wheat Board - if we're going to keep it, make farmers in the east operate under the same rules as farmers in the west. It's not good enough, Steve, to answer that challenge by saying "ask the former Tories".

What do you think? Should we keep it? Do you know anything about farming? Is it in your blood? Are generations of your family tied to the farm and the farming life?

I thought not...

The issue is simple: do we need the wheat board or not and if we're going to keep it, why not make all farmers across Canada operate under the same rules?

I say scrap that damned thing - it's a relic of a bygone era. Resources exist to help farmers who lack the knowledge needed to make a go of it.

You're not from the farm, Steve. The wheat board has to go.

Mark Dowling said...

Thanks to Joe and Sharon for their replies. I grew up in Irish dairy country so while I know a little about supply management (including people diversifying because they can't get a quota) I know damn all about grain :)

Stephen Gordon (Laval Univ) makes an interesting point in the Globe Economy Lab today. While the Wheat Board can move prices on the world market, the farmer does not receive the world price, it receives the price the wheat board offers net of Wheat Board costs. If the Wheat Board apparatus costs more to sell the wheat than the farmer can him/herself then the money received at the farmgate is lower.

Proponents of the Board point to its ability to corral CN and CP and I think the Feds would have to leave some vestigial coordination body to ensure the freight lines properly serve elevators, but that should be the elevator operators issue, not one which restricts the operations of farmers.

Steve - you might like to see this issue as one to stymie the Tories on but the reality is that a lot of people who aren't Tories can't understand the rationale of keeping something because we've had it for 80 years, and where farmers who do well from the system can override not only those who don't and drive others into selling non-Board produce. I can more or less be okay with giving farming associations anti-trust protection but forced collectivism is something else again.

Steve V said...


Really, then why does Sask keeping sending single desk proponents to the CWB board? Last election, the only anti-single desk winner came from Alberta. Again, people extrapolating their own sense with no real world manifestation.


This isn't a wedge issue for me, and it is also true that many Cons farmers don't agree, so your point works both ways.

Steve V said...

"What do you think? Should we keep it? Do you know anything about farming? Is it in your blood? Are generations of your family tied to the farm and the farming life?

I thought not..."

All I'm going to say to that one is BAHAHAHAHA, you have no idea :) Again, an ignorant fool, it's like your calling Sean.

Steve V said...

And yes sorry, thanks for the terrific detail Sharon :)

Steve V said...

Districts 6,8, voted last December, both in Saskatchewan, both put single desk people into the board. In Alberta, 2 single desk and one choice elected.