Monday, November 12, 2007

Canadian Wheat Board has been a Tory target for 20 years

This is an old article from NUPGE. It shows how connected Harper is to the battle to wreck the Wheat Board and marketing boards as well. Now Wall will help his comrades in Ottawa attack the board's single desk feature that will in effect destroy its effectiveness.

Canadian Wheat Board has been a Tory target for 20 years

Fight to kill board vindictive, ideological and pro-corporate

Ottawa (13 June 2007) - The announcement by Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl that the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) will be stripped of its exclusive marketing authority for barley on Aug. 1 fulfills a long, vindictive and ideological campaign waged by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. The Harper Index

The CWB had a government mandate for decades to market Canadian grains on behalf of Western farmers. The CWB took no profit from the sales. Instead, it pooled the returns and redistributed them to farmers. Independent studies undertaken by agricultural economists dating back to 1997 show that farmers were far better off marketing their grain through the CWB than they otherwise would have been. They earned higher returns every year, varying from $530 to $655 million annually.

The CWB has been targeted by the giant multinational grain trading companies, the railroads, the Prairie grain handling companies and the right wing farm groups associated with them. That coalition convinced the Mulroney government to move unilaterally to remove oats from the CWB's jurisdiction in 1989.

When it arrived on the scene, the Reform Party engaged in a crusade to achieve an entirely free market system for agriculture. This policy included dismantling the CWB and the orderly marketing systems in place for dairy products, poultry and eggs. Stephen Harper was a key figure in the Reform Party's 1991 policy conference in Saskatoon, and he helped Preston Manning to turn back grassroots resolutions calling for a continuing government role in agriculture.

In 1997, Liberal Agriculture Minister Ralph Goodale was pressured into holding a farmer referendum regarding the CWB's authority to sell barley. The farmers voted 2-1 to retain the Board as the exclusive marketer of their barley.

The CWB also came under increasing attack by European and American corporate interests and governments at the World Trade Organization and elsewhere. The Board had been a Crown Corporation, so Ralph Goodale moved in 1997 to have it become arms-length from government, with 10 of 15 members of its directors to be elected by farmers.

Attacks continued

This change did not allay the critics or halt the attacks. American companies launched 14 separate actions alleging that the CWB is an unfair trader, but tribunals ruled in the Board's favour every time. The Reform Party, and later the Canadian Alliance continued their domestic attacks while the Americans mounted challenges.

Soon after he chose to resign as an MP in January 1997, Stephen Harper became president of the secretive, right-wing National Citizens' Coalition (NCC). The NCC focused its most strident attacks on medicare, unions and the Wheat Board. In a letter to the Brandon Sun in 1999, Harper described the CWB as a "draconian wheat monopoly [that] for years has relied on force and fear to exist." The NCC poured money into third-party attack ads against the CWB during elections for its farmer-controlled board.

By 2004, Harper had graduated from the NCC, won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance and orchestrated its takeover of the foundering Progressive Conservatives. In the campaign that year, Harper promised that, if elected, he would change the Board. He lost that election but he made the same promise in his victorious 2006 campaign.

Harper planned to emasculate the CWB by regulation but could not ignore polls indicating that nine farmers out of 10 wanted a plebiscite. A majority of the CWB's directors also opposed the government's autocratic plans to dismantle the Board by fiat, a position echoed by Inky Mark, a rural Conservative MP from Manitoba.

Harper and Strahl responded by issuing a gag order on the board of directors and firing CEO Adrian Measner, who had worked at the CWB for 30 years. The government then orchestrated an intentionally divisive referendum farm activists called "bogus." The vote would be about the CWB's authority over barley (grown mainly in Alberta), but not about wheat (grown mainly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan). The renewed attack on wheat would be left for another day. The questions were loaded and manipulative, quite in contrast to Harper's insistence, when he was the Reform Party's constitutional critic in 1995, that the Parti Quebecois provide a clear and concise question for the Quebec referendum.

Aggressive campaign

Conservative MPs campaigned aggressively during the CWB referendum, while the Board was bound by a government-imposed gag order and unable to defend itself. There were no third-party spending limits. Major farm organizations were not allowed to scrutinize the ballot-counting procedure. Despite appearance of blatant manipulation and loaded questions, 38 percent of farmers voted to retain the CWB's existing marketing arrangements, but the Conservatives declared total victory.

The American grain industry is delighted. The former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers said that if the CWB loses its single desk selling authority, "U.S. wheat would be more competitive in markets such as Asia, the Middle East and Central America, where the two countries go head to head."

For Canadian farmers, the outlook is less promising. The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board told a Winnipeg news conference that it will go to federal court to have Strahl's order-in-council removing barley from CWB jurisdiction declared null and void. The challenge is being led by 12 barley-producing farmers from across the Prairies.

Source: This article was originally published June 12 by The Harper Index.

No comments: