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Wednesday, 08 August 2012 11:49

New marketing era for farmers cause for division

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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A new era of marketing freedom for prairie farmers started last week, but opinions on what this means for grain growers are still mixed.

Cypress Hills – Grasslands MP David Anderson joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on a farm near Kindersley on Aug. 1 for a media event to celebrate the end of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) single-desk for selling wheat and barley.
“It was a great day in Kindersley,” Anderson said. “We had about 800 very happy farmers who had come out to celebrate marketing freedom day. Many of them had fought for years to get the freedom to market their own grains and they were ecstatic to be there.”
The CWB has signalled the start of a new beginning by announcing a fresh corporate image the previous day. The company’s new logo includes the rays of a rising sun and Anderson shared their optimism.
“I think the future for the Wheat Board is a bright one,” he said. “They’ll have to compete in the market place, they’ll have to sell their programs to farmers, convince farmers that they should support them. If they do that, they will be viable for a long time to come.”
While farmers now have more options to market their grain in an open market, he felt they still have good reasons to continue using the CWB.
“One of them is that the government guarantees on the Wheat Board’s pricing and price commitments still exist,” he said. “A second reason is that there is still pooling being provided by the Wheat Board, which was kind of the main feature of the past Wheat Board.”
Anderson’s optimism was not shared by Swift Current area farmer Stewart Wells, who was an elected director of the single-desk CWB. He is currently the chair of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB), which is challenging the validity of Bill C-18 in court.
“The legacy of the change that Harper has made is really just the transfer of wealth and influence away from farmers,” Wells said. “So it’s not appropriate in any sense to celebrate that. Neither is it appropriate to celebrate the fact that they made the change without letting farmers vote on the subject.”
He felt the influence of prairie farmers on the grain trade is diminished under the new system, as there is no longer any organization with the resources and capacity of the old CWB to be a strong voice for farmers on issues such as the railway revenue cap, grading or the introduction of genetically modified wheat.
Some farmers might still continue to sell their grain through the new CWB because it is what they have always done, but Wells said he will not be one of them.
“The minister is in total control of anything and everything that happens at this Conservative Wheat Board and there’s just no way that I’m going to place my grain in the hands of the minister,” he mentioned. “I guess I would have much more comfort in dealing with private companies just because this government has turned this Conservative Wheat Board into purely a political enterprise.”
At the Kindersley event Prime Minister Harper announced a pardon for the farmers who were convicted in the 1990s for taking grain across the border to sell in the United States and he acknowledged Anderson for suggesting it.
“It seemed to me to be reasonable that they didn’t have to be held accountable for having broken a law in the past that no longer exists,” Anderson said. “It was very well received; there were farmers there that were very excited about that.”
He was not concerned over any negative perceptions that he is condoning illegal behaviour as a result of the pardons.
“There’s a whole history of intimidation and basically what I would call deceit that went on,” he said. “These farmers were just trying to market their own grain, to get their own product to the market as best they could. So certainly I have no apologies to make for having pursued this for them.”
Wells felt the farmers were committing an act of civil disobedience, for which they have to be prepared to take the consequences. He also considered the pardon to be consistent with the Harper government’s approach towards the Wheat Board issue.
“The Harper legacy in this is this tremendous transfer of wealth and influence away from farmers,” he said. “The pardons are a real attempt just to change the channel and distract people from that reality of removing the wealth and influence from farmers.”
(See related story on Page 17)

Read 793 times Last modified on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 14:27