This may not be popular

A letter to the editor that is on these pages lays out clearly the point that this editor has, at least of late, been pretty quiet about the Canadian Wheat Board. Before you read this column you should read Art Gagnon’s letter that challenges me to come out in support of the farmers who wish to maintain the monopoly for the Canadian Wheat Board. Gagnon raises, as always, many good points.
The CWB was first formed in the 1930s as a voluntary board. It had mixed success. In the early 1940s, the CWB was given mandatory selling authority over Canadian Wheat. Some say it had more to do with keeping the price of wheat low enough so that Britain could afford it during the huge war efforts of WWII. Some say it was to maximize the income over the long haul for western Canadian farmers.
Some want the monopoly to stay, some want it gone. Both sides are passionate in their views. The federal Conservative government has run three elections with elimination of the wheat board monopoly as part of their platform. Now comes the interesting part. The CWB only has control of wheat sold in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of B.C. It doesn’t control wheat sales anywhere else in Canada, albeit most of the wheat grown in Canada is in those four provinces. Every constituency that grows wheat in the CWB area returned a Conservative MP to parliament and some areas by overwhelming votes. The government says it now has a mandate to make the change. Monopoly supporters say the CWB legislation requires a plebiscite to take away the monopoly. The government says the plebiscite is only required to add or take away a grain from the CWB.
There are people who figure the wheat board control of their grain is wrong and besides that they claim the CWB is not getting the best returns available on wheat. In short, they say, the CWB has cost them opportunity dollars. The CWB monopoly supporters say that without the wheat board, they will not be able to market their grain properly.
So back to Gagnon’s challenge. I am a free trader. If I had my way the CWB would not have a monopoly. I have consistently said that for years. The CWB has years of world-wide grain marketing experience and they should be able to sell wheat. I said that 20 and 30 years ago. It’s unfortunate that recently the CWB has spent so much energy creating uncertainty in the market place by fighting a battle they won’t win and at the same time appearing to give up on pursuing markets. The CWB should contract with farmers and sell the wheat they have access to.  
That said, the government  has a huge problem on their hands. Half  of the farmers want out of the monopoly, half or so want to keep it. Even when a vote is held, it’s almost impossible to determine who should have a vote as the voter’s lists are in pretty bad shape. 
I believe there are far bigger problems in farming than whether the CWB has monopoly or not. The CWB is a marketing board but, unlike the other boards, it wasn’t voted in by farmers, it was imposed by the federal government. However, the CWB and all the other marketing boards have a strangle hold on farming that severely limits innovation, seeking of markets and entry into farming. Its almost impossible to start up farming in the traditional pathways of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Today, the financial threshold of land, inflated by quota value and the actual quotas themselves, keep any sane person away from farming. On the pretense of supporting farmers, we have built barriers to entry into farming.
Another big thing that drove farmers off the land was the lack of facilities on the farm and in the farmhouse, a lack of opportunity and communication. Today, all those obstacles have been beaten back as our towns have all the social amenities, our transportation system, while needing improvement, is much better than the 1960s or 50s and we have instant communication in every farmhouse. Many of the old obstacles are gone but the marketing board obstacle remains
I can’t predict how the CWB debate will end up. I can predict that some farmers will be very happy with what I have said and some will not. 
I will continue to defend the little guy as Mr. Gagnon suggests, it just doesn’t seem to me that the CWB, or the largely defunct grain co-ops did a great job of defending the little guy either. 
And as soon as the monopoly is gone, I will be willing to invest in and promote a flour mill and wheat products factory in the area. That’s something we can’t easily do now. While we are at it, how about a cheese plant so we can have some local cheese on our bread? Oops, sorry, that’s still virtually illegal due to the milk board monopoly.

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