Harper must accept the Canadian Wheat Board | National Union of Public and General Employees

Harper must accept the Canadian Wheat Board

Western farmers support the board and they need it more than ever in bad economic times, says NUPGE president James Clancy.

James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)Ottawa (12 March 2009) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is calling on the Harper government to abandon its campaign to kill the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), which democratically represents the interests of some 80,000 western grain farmers.

NUPGE president James Clancy says Prime Minister Stephen Harper was dealt a major blow last December when western farmers elected pro-wheat board candidates to four of five positions on the CWB board of directors despite flagrant interference by the government to influence voting in favour of anti-board candidates.

"The prime minister should listen when the heartland of the Conservative government sends a message like that," Clancy said.

"He would be even more misguided to persist with the campaign now, given the disastrous state of the Canadian and global economy. The worldwide recession shows how much we need government to be there when things go wrong," he added.

The value of public institutions

"Farmers understand this as well, or better, than other groups in society," Clancy said.

"They cannot rely on the private sector to protect them. Only the government, through public institutions like the wheat board, can do that. This is why the board was created in the first place."

Clancy said failure of the Harper administration to reverse course in the current dire circumstances shows how far out of touch it has become with the views of mainstream Canadians.

"I call on the prime minister to end this vendetta now and accept that farmers in particular and Canadians in general support the Canadian Wheat Board and want it to continue."

NUPGE has been working in solidarity with the National Farmers Union (NFU) to save the wheat board.

Established in 1935

Established in 1935, the CWB was one of the important new national institutions of the day that helped lift Canada out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has maintained orderly grain marketing through good times and bad ever since.

If abolished, grain marketing would be opened up to corporations such as Cargill Ltd., Louis Dreyfus Canada Limited, Rahr Malting Canada Limited, Agricore United, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (no longer a farmer cooperative), and James Richardson International Ltd.

The CWB is governed by a 15-member board of directors. Ten directors are elected democratically by farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and parts of British Columbia. Four directors are appointed by the federal minister of agriculture and the 15th member — the president — is appointed by federal governor in council which, in effect, means the prime minister.

Thus, Ottawa controls one third of the board without elections and needs only three of the 10 elected members to gain majority control.

Electoral interference

The Harper government has done everything in its power to wrest control of the board, including direct interference by the federal agriculture minister and several Conservative MPs in the CWB election process.

Their tactics, prior to the December elections, included:

  • Harper vowing last summer to "walk over" board supporters if he did not get his way.
  • The federal agriculture minister instructing the board to reduce the number of eligible farmer-voters by one third in advance of the December elections.
  • An unexplained malfunction in the website where ballot applications were made available to farmers for voting.
  • Direct interference by several Conservative MPs in election process, including abuse of their parliamentary mailing privileges to advertise on behalf of anti-board candidates and contravention of the Privacy Act by using confidential information to contact farmers directly and pressure them to vote for government-approved candidates.

Despite this, supporters of the board prevailed.

Larry Hill of Swift Current, Sask., a CWB candidate who won in District 3, said farmers would be foolish to abandon the board, especially in the current economic climate. Other pro-board directors elected were Kyle Korneychuk of Pelly, Sask., Bill Nicholson of Shoal Lake, Man., and Allen Oberg of Forestburg, Alta. The only anti-board candidate to win was Henry Vos of Fairview, Alta. Three of the five winners were incumbents.

Historical advantage

The board gives individual farmers increased marketing power to sell their grain around the world. It also provides government-guaranteed payments and borrowing power.

"A 1990s study showed that, historically, farmers make a substantial premium per tonne compared to prices they would receive by selling without a single-desk marketing board," Clancy said.

"If the wheat board is dismantled, there is every reason to believe farmers would go back to the bad old days. Sooner or later they would be competing against themselves again to sell grain at ever lower prices, just as the grain companies and the railroad monopolies forced them to do in the early part of the last century," he said.

"No one but the vested corporate interests - and their accomplices in the Harper government - wants that to happen."

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE