|Farmers’ voices not heard; CWB|
|Local Content - Local Agriculture|
|Written by Trevor Busch|
|Thursday, 20 October 2011 20:46|
The single desk marketing structure of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has been slated for destruction by a federal government determined to give marketing freedom to Prairie farmers.
Yesterday, the Conservative government tabled legislation in the House of Commons that if passed, will abolish the CWB’s single desk and allow farmers to market their grain as they see fit.
However, those within the CWB and supporters of the grain marketing organization across the Prairies have already vowed it will not go quietly into the night. During a press conference earlier this week in Winnipeg, CWB board chair Allan Oberg had strong words of warning for federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz about the consequences of driving headlong into the open market.
“The Canadian grain industry is at the brink of a major upheaval.” Legislation will soon be tabled to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). Many of you have heard Minister Ritz rejoicing about this — I’m here to tell you that the farmers in Western Canada are not rejoicing. We are, in fact, fearful of the future.”
The federal government’s high-pressure timetable for eliminating the single desk will create market chaos in Canada, according to Oberg.
“This government has no plan, it has done no analysis, it has not even consulted farmers. Its approach is based solely on a blind commitment to a sound-bite phrase called ‘marketing freedom.’ ”
“Yet here we are barreling ahead on a timeline that will rip apart a 75-year-old marketing system in a matter of months, and hamper any potential successor organization. This government’s reckless approach will throw Canada’s grain industry into disarray. It will jeopardize the $5 billion export sector. And it will shift money away from the pockets of Canadian farmers, and into the hands of Canadian corporations.”
For Oberg, abolishing the CWB will mean open season on Canadian farmers for massive multi-national grain marketing organizations, as well as encroachment by the Americans.
“Canada is the last country in the world where giant multi-national grain companies cannot source wheat. If the CWB’s single desk is abolished, that will change. We will see a fundamental shift of marketing power and wealth away from Prairie farmers and into the hands of huge, foreign-based corporations. For no other reason beyond an ideological crusade, this government with hand the Americans what they want on a silver platter and get nothing in return.”
Oberg was heavily critical of the federal government’s timing for dismantling the CWB, which he said will eliminate a stable marketing system at a time when global market instability is reaching new heights.
“Minister Ritz and Prime Minister Harper would like you to believe that this is a done deal. They would like farmers to give up and simply accept the inevitable. But I’m here to tell you that this is not over — we cannot, in good conscious, give up this fight. The government’s approach is illegal, it’s against the wishes of farmers, and it is harmful to the economic interests of Canada. We will fight this in Ottawa, we will fight this in the courts, and we will fight this in the court of public opinion.”
Once a decision has been made to eliminate the single desk, Oberg indicated Canada’s international obligations do not allow for a reversal, should it prove disastrous for farmers.
“Once this change is made, there is no going back. NAFTA is clear — once the CWB has been dismantled, it cannot be re-created. This fundamental change cannot be revisited. Truly, that calls for careful deliberation by Parliament before proceeding.”
The CWB is ready to go to bat for farmers, added Oberg.
“This should not be the government’s call. Farmers pay for the CWB, they run it, and they should decide what happens to it. Our plebiscite results that were released last month clearly show that most Prairie farmers are opposed to removing the CWB single desk, and this government has ignored them. The government is abdicating its responsibility to farmers. They have done no analysis on the effect the decision will have on farmers and Canada’s grain industry. We sent crucial business information to them in July, but we have yet to receive a meaningful reply. Canada’s milling and baking industries have also expressed concern.”
In the end, Oberg indicated, the question isn’t only about marketing freedom, asserting the government’s capricious and arbitrary approach to the entire situation does not bode well for the future — if it is us today, it will be you tomorrow.
“We have a government that is ignoring the laws of the land, ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of farmers, and running roughshod over people for reasons they won’t make clear. Whenever this government is asked about its vision for the future, they try to push that onus back on the CWB. They rely on vague media lines about ‘free markets’ and ‘marketing freedom.’ It all sounds good, but nobody knows really what it means. I encourage farmers to stand up for their rights and demand that their wishes be respected.”