Saturday, August 4, 2007

Adrian Measner: Harper's Campaign Against the Wheat Board

Harper will certainly do the right-wing thing if not the right thing and continue his campaign against the Wheat Board. The Conservative policy after all is to do away with the Board's monopoly or single desk selling. While it is true that the recent barley plebescite was manipulative in that it had three choices rather than a simple yes or no question, farmers did vote as a majority to either have dual marketing or no involvement of the Wheat Board in barley marketing at all. There is no way of getting around the fact that many farmers are mesmerised by the idea of choice in marketing.
The elimination of the Wheat Board is a prime aim of the big grain companies and of the US. If Harper wins he will no doubt see Conservative coffers swell from donations from grateful corporations.

The Harper Government and the Canadian Wheat Board
By Adrian Measner
When a federal government is elected there is an expectation that they will
develop sound policy by consulting with both the people directly affected by
policies and Canadians as a whole. That is what farmers and Canadians
expected of the Harper government with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board
(CWB) issue.
Instead, the Harper government has deliberately attempted to
bypass good process and existing laws. This flawed approach slashes deep
into the principles and expectations held by Canadians when they elect
governments. The government has been able to get away with this only
because farmers are a small voice in this country, and farming has neither
drawn the concern, nor the interest of the broader population.
This is a government that would initially not engage at all in policy
discussion because the decisions abut the CWB were already made. This is a
government that only after much outrage and pressure moved to engage, but
then sought direction only from the groups that agreed with its position.
This is a government that placed a gag order on the very organization, the
CWB, whose future was at stake – the only organization that was large enough
and knowledgeable enough to be a balancing force against the government
This is a government that terminated the terms of its appointed directors,
including mine, before our terms were up, in order to alter the composition
of the CWB Board – a Board on which eight of the ten democratically elected
farmers disagreed with the government’s direction.
This is a government that held a plebiscite that prompted at least one
professional pollster to question whether the authors of the questions were
either incompetent or diabolical. Two other professional pollsters said
that the questions would not yield meaningful results. The plebiscite had
no official voters’ list for scrutiny; multiple ballots were sent to many
voters; and the ballots were numbered. And then, when after all of that the
government failed to get the results it wanted, it simply added two of the
questions together to justify its predetermined actions!
Legal challenges have been brought to bear against a number of these
actions.* But it is my opinion that if this had been any other issue of a
more national scope, rather than one having to do with a minority, farmers,
there would have been a major revolt. These actions go beyond the rights
and powers conferred upon the federal government by Canadians.
Why is our Prime Minister so focused on this issue?
We see the influence of ideology and what I would view as a personal agenda
dating back to his days with the National Citizens Coalition.
We also see the intervention of some very large companies whose shareholders
will benefit enormously from Harper’s efforts.
A recent newspaper article talked about the price of gas at the pumps,
saying that while it is easy to say “competition will take care of
everything”, when you have a few sellers and many buyers as is the case in
the oil industry you experience higher prices at the pumps. That is because
oil companies set prices as a cartel. Given that truth how can anyone
believe the arguments of Rolf Penner of the Frontier Institute and other
right-wing think tanks supporting Harper’s agricultural agenda, that
destroying the CWB and forcing many farmer sellers to sell their crops to a
few private grain buyers is going to give farmers higher prices. It defies
the logic of supply and demand, and defies any real-life examples in other
That is why four out of five CWB Directors, voted in by farmers as recently
as last fall, support single-desk marketing. It is the elected Directors’
role to ensure the organization is delivering maximum value for the farmers
it works for. From working eight years with those Directors I can tell you
they are very good at their job.
One element that should never be overlooked when discussing the CWB issue is
that the CWB is a Canadian company with a top-notch international
reputation. A recent poll in the Globe and Mail showed that 68 percent of
Canadians surveyed were concerned about foreign ownership of Canadian
companies. Similar comments have been made by prominent CEOs in Canada who
feel the government should be doing more to protect Canadian companies from
foreign ownership. The CWB is the last chance for a significant Canadian
presence in the international grain market. In the CWB’s absence the market
will be dominated by a handful of international companies as is the case in
all countries operating without single desk marketing.
This is a road we should not go down. The better alternative is to maintain
the single-desk marketing that is wanted by and that benefits the vast
majority of farmers, and to continue to support a Canadian institution, the
Canadian Wheat Board, that is recognized internationally for the quality it
delivers, and that brings credit to all Canadians. Any changes in the CWB’s
role should be made by farmers.
Adrian Measner is the former CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board who was fired
by the Harper government for his decision to follow the direction of the
CWB’s farmer-elected Board of Directors and his refusal to acquiesce in the
government’s decision to strip the Board of its monopoly position in the
Canadian grain market. He was the guest speaker at the CCPA-MB Annual
General Meeting in Brandon in June 2007.
* One of the CWB court challenges was initiated in response to the Harper
government’s attempt to end the CWB monopoly on barley sales by an
order-in-council that would allow barley producers to sell their crops
without going through the CWB. The CWB argued that this action contravened
the Canadian Wheat Board Act. On July 31, 2007 Federal Court Judge Dolores
Hansen ruled that the federal government’s action was illegal, because the
Act requires that changes to the powers of the CWB be voted on in
Parliament. The question now is: will the Harper government do the right
thing, and terminate its campaign to dismantle the CWB?

No comments: