Facts and Fiction in the Wheat Board Debate

Commentary, Agriculture, Frontier Centre

In politics, it is not the truth that counts. It is what people can be made to believe. If enough people believe it, it becomes the truth. If a thing is repeated often enough and energetically enough, no matter whether it is true or not, people will usually begin to believe it and then it becomes the truth. People are more inclined to believe what they want to believe instead of inconvenient truths, generally things that fit their prejudices, habits and outlooks. Different people can observe the same facts and come to completely opposite conclusions. Supporters of one point of view are routinely appalled by the inability of holders of another point to see the truth as they see it.

Politics sucks. The western grain-marketing situation is pure 100% politics. It really sucks.

The following statements are verifiable facts. The Canadian Wheat Board is a government agency because the government of Canada owns its assets and is responsible for its liabilities. The Wheat Board is not a corporation unless it is a Crown corporation, because it is owned by the government. If it were a corporation, but not a Crown corporation, it would have shareholders. If it had shareholders, they would not elect directors on the basis of “one vote per person” but on the basis of one vote per share. The Canadian Wheat Board does not obtain any price premium for wheat and barley, since any farmer can take almost any sample to almost any elevator in North Dakota and be offered a better price than that promised by the Wheat Board. The Canadian Wheat Board is not controlled by farmers because its directors, elected and appointed alike, serve at the discretion of the federal cabinet. If it were not so, the directors of the Canadian Wheat Board would have it in their power to expose the taxpayers of Canada to liabilities of billions of dollars without responsibility nor accountability to the taxpayers. The duty of the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board is to represent, and especially to protect, the interests of the only shareholder this peculiar entity has.

These are facts. No director elections and no number of press releases blizzarded by the Wheat Board propaganda contraption can change them. Nothing gives those directors passionately obsessed by their monopoly power any license to continue to thwart the intentions or authority of their owner.

The present situation with Wheat Board governance is exactly the same as if every owner of a General Motors vehicle had one vote in the annual election of directors of General Motors Corp., and the owners of General Motors stock were expected to accept the results and all ensuing consequences.

The Wheat Board and the supporters of its lead-pipe monopoly have no cause to chortle. In a country where the rights of tiny minorities, sometimes a fraction of 1% of the population, are assiduously protected and guarded, it is inconceivable that the rights of a minority as large as 40% can be ignored and trampled, which is precisely what the anti-choice forces want to keep doing. It is not possible to give monopoly supporters what they want without abusing the rights of monopoly opponents. Furthermore, the government which grants a monopoly has the moral authority to continue it or to remove it at will.

Many things are missing here. If the monopoly is so widely supported and preferred, why its there not a general, persistent movement, comparable in durability to the pro-choice movement, to put all western crops under monopoly marketing control? Why is no one demanding that Ontario and Quebec grains be put under the same monopoly? Why is no farm organization advocating the replacement of vulnerable supply-management marketing boards with a government agency such as the Wheat Board? Why has it not even crossed anyone’s mind that agencies should be created on the Wheat Board model to market, say, lumber, coal, iron ore or crude oil?

The process of terminating the monopoly has not been well handled. Anyone could have predicted the storm of protest from fanatic pro-monopoly quarters to the suggestion that the government has the right to remove a privilege it has granted. The only thing on which there is any agreement is that farmers should have a vote.

And so they should. But it is time for some common sense. Eligibility should be the same as for the director elections. However, the voter list provided by the Wheat Board should include the quantity of wheat and barley sold by each permit holder in the last two completed crop years. The results should be tabulated in two ways. One count should be on the present, however improper, basis of “one man (or woman), one vote.” The other should be according to the amount of grain sold by each voter, or one tonne one vote, representing the relative economic interest of farmers subject to the single desk monopoly. The Wheat Board has the necessary information.

The results would go a long way to resolving this. It doesn’t look like anything else will.