NDP Stuck in the 1930s on CWB: Ideological battles must stop

Commentary, Agriculture, Joseph Quesnel

Modern wheat and barley farmers are sophisticated and able to make marketing decision on their own.

So, why, pray tell, is the Manitoba government still continuing its fight against inevitable legislative change at the Canadian Wheat Board that will allow wheat and barley farmers to enjoy marketing freedom?

Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers is standing against federal changes.

“The federal government is making a big mistake and it’s the farmers that will have to pay for it. This rushed, careless legislation takes a heavy-handed approach which will hurt farmers, their families and the economy as a whole. We won’t just stand by and let them rip the CWB apart,” said Struthers.

“Minister Ritz is putting ideology ahead of everything else. This bill is both regressive and anti democratic.” But who is really putting ideology ahead of everything else? The issue of marketing freedom has been debated by both federal Liberal and Conservative governments and is a long overdue change.

One does not have to be an ideologue to realize the marketing conditions of 2011 are not similar to those in the 1930s. Canada is simply joining the ranks of major advanced industrialized countries that have abandoned monopoly wheat boards.

Manitoba’s NDP government should stand with the commercial wheat and barley farmers who yearn for freedom and wish to maximize marketing opportunities.

The province is trying to create fear over jobs lost in Winnipeg and especially the Port of Churchill. The Canadian Wheat Board is the single biggest user of the port, shipping 600,000 tons of wheat last year. The port saves wheat and barley farmers on transportation costs.

However, Milton Boyd, an agricultural economist at the University of Manitoba, said there is no reason for “doom and gloom scenarios.” He said there is no reason to assume private grain companies liberated by the changes would not use the port as well, if it is deemed an efficient and cost effective shipping route.

It is also interesting Struthers said the government has no viable solutions for the Port of Churchill, one day after the federal government pledged to “invest heavily in the Port of Churchill” and support infrastructure and diversification efforts for the Port.

Manitoba will have a right to demand Ottawa follow through on this commitment, but they should not cynically assume it will not.

Opposing marketing freedom is not something Manitoba should become known for. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) is another federal monopoly that forces freshwater fishers in the Prairie provinces to sell to it, despite declining prices paid for its fish, for a whole host of reasons.

Saskatchewan announced it will remove itself from the FFMC’s jurisdiction in 2012. The Northwest Territories is also studying that option. Both governments are busy working with fishermen organizations to help ease the transition to dual marketing and access marketing opportunities.

Manitoba should follow the lead of these jurisdictions in the case of the CWB and help its farmers and employees seek new jobs and opportunities, not continue this ideological battle with Ottawa.