Backroom dealings will see the CWB (formerly known as the Canadian Wheat Board) either sold off or liquidated without benefit to farmers and setting the stage for possible future foreign takeover.
Saskatoon (2 Dec. 2014) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is joining the National Farmers Union, in opposing the privatization of the CWB (formerly known as the Canadian Wheat Board). This follows the hostile takeover of the CWB by the federal Conservative government (for more background see Mowed Down: Dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board, Who Will Really Reap the Rewards).
The backroom negotiations around the selling off of the CWB's assets is leaving the country's wheat farmers worrying that their concerns for the future will, once again, be ignored by this government. The importance of the issue is coming increasingly to the public's attention, as Canada's mainstream media provides more coverage.
The negotiations around privatizing the CWB are cloaked in secrecy:
- The Farmers of North America, a Saskatchewan-based cooperative whose bid was rejected for an unknown reason, had to agree to non-disclosure terms.
- Conservative Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is withholding all financial information from the public.
- The CWB is not revealing the criteria it is using to assess competing bids.
As was reported at NUPGE's recent International Conference on the New Forms of Privatization, secrecy is the hallmark of these kinds of negotiations.
According to James Clancy, President of NUPGE, "the global privatization industry thrives in secrecy and does tremendous damage with its backroom deals and sweetheart schemes. Canada's farmers are learning that lesson the hard way right now."
“Public accountability has been dismantled along with the single desk,” said Jan Slomp, NFU President.
“When the so-called Marketing Freedom Act was drawn up, the government added wording that allows the Minister to keep the public in the dark. How has the CWB used the 349 million tax-payer dollars it was allocated by Federal Agriculture Minister Ritz in 2012. How has it used the $145 million of farmers’ money that made up the contingency fund? And how is it using its government guarantee that gives it a triple AAA credit rating? These important issues are all still secret.”
Not a sale but a political manoeuvre
The NFU is reporting that it has learned that the “buyer” of the CWB assets will get to keep both the assets and the money used to pay for them. The long-term equity that farmers have created in the CWB will not be compensated. Furthermore, the price “paid” will not be disclosed.
Last January, the federal government started looking for accounting firms to evaluate all CWB assets in the event it is liquidated. While the government claims it does not own the CWB, it must sign off on any privatization deal.
“The CWB is supposed to sell itself and then keep the money. But if the CWB is liquidated instead, who will cash the cheque?” said Ian Robson, NFU Region 5 (Manitoba) Coordinator. “Clearly, this sale is not a business deal — it is a political manoeuvre.”
Setting the stage for takeover by a bigger company
Slomp thinks that eventually a privatized CWB will be taken over by a bigger, possibly foreign-owned company.
“The privatized CWB’s footprint would be too small to compete with multinational grain companies even if it had its own west coast port terminal. As a stand-alone company, it would just be a stopping point on the road to take-over by a bigger company,” said Slomp.
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