Last month, the Government of Canada delivered on a long-standing promise to give Western Canadian grain farmers marketing freedom. Introduced by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, Bill C-18, The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, will remove the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), giving choice to Western Canadian farmers to market their wheat and barley in the best interest of their individual farms and businesses – a freedom enjoyed in other provinces.
Many Canadians may not recall that the Canadian Wheat Board was formed some seven decades ago as a means to get much-needed grain to war-torn Europe. Prairie farmers had no choice but to use its services when selling their grain. Following the war, the government of the day persisted in renewing the CWB’s regulatory power over Western farmers.
Giving prairie farmers a choice as to how they will market their grain will not hurt family farms – as has been suggested by the Bill’s detractors. Wheat producers who follow world-wide commodity prices could sometimes fetch $1 or $2 more per bushel for their bread wheat – a figure that could mean the difference between running a profit or loss.
But an issue even greater than a monetary one, underlies the CWB question. Shouldn’t Western Canadian farmers have the same rights as farmers in the rest of Canada? I believe they should and have defended those rights in the House – a house divided sharply between east and west.
For decades it has come down hard on Western farmers – to the extent of prosecuting and jailing those who have the courage to try to market their own wheat.
The refusal to allow Western farmers marketing freedom is a fundamental violation of property rights. Currently a farmer does not own his own wheat. He can buy it back from the CWB, and then sell it, but he has no choice but to accept the CWB’s offered price. In addition, he must pay the freight for his grain to Thunder Bay, Ontario – even if the grain is never moved.
Those M.P.s opposing Bill C-18 demonstrate a lack of understanding of its deeper issues. In their attempt to thwart it, the opposition (with scarcely a farmer among them) has even suggested that some of the Conservative M.P.s who do farm and know the issues intimately, should not vote due to a conflict of interest.
The restructuring of the CWB has the potential of nurturing the soul of Western grain farmers. It will do so by offering each farm family the right to make their own choice, including the opportunity to continue using the organization.
As a matter of principle, we need to take down the Iron Curtain that separates prairie wheat and barley producers from the freedom other Canadians producers enjoy.