Farmers Vote “No” on Plan to End Wheat Monopoly


The following article is from Bloomberg:

by Whitney McFerron and Andrew Mayeda

Wheat and barley growers in Western Canada voted to retain the Canadian Wheat Board’s control over grain marketing in a non-binding plebiscite organized after the government said it planned to end the group’s 69-year monopoly.

About 62 per cent of wheat farmers and 51 per cent of barley growers were in favour of maintaining the “single-desk” marketing system, according to a statement posted today on the board’s website. Farmers currently sell almost all their wheat and barley to the board, which then exports the grains and makes sales to domestic food processors.

Since 1942, wheat and barley farmers in Western Canada have been required by law to sell grain for human consumption to the board, under a system the government created to stabilize prices. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, arguing that an open market will encourage investment and innovation, plans to eliminate the monopoly by August.

“Today, we have heard from farmers,” Allen Oberg, the board’s chairman, said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “Their message is loud and clear and cannot be ignored. They voted in overwhelming numbers to retain a unique and valuable marketing structure.”

About 38 per cent of wheat farmers and 49 per cent of barley growers in the plebiscite were in favour of selling in the open market as U.S. growers do. The plebiscite was administered by MNP Consulting, a Calgary-based accounting firm that organized the vote with the board. The board’s jurisdiction in Western Canada covers the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of British Columbia. The region produces the majority of Canada’s wheat. The country is expected to be the world’s third-largest wheat exporter this year, according to the International Grains Council.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Sept. 2, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the government would introduce legislation this year to make the change, even if plebiscite results showed farmers favoured the current system. He called the vote “a propaganda stunt” and “not a legitimate process,” because the board decided who received ballots.

“The results of the plebiscite are inconsequential,” Ritz said on Sept. 9 in a conference call with reporters. “At the end of the day, the government of Canada will ensure that farmers in Western Canada have the same right to an open market as farmers around the world.”

In an interview last week, Oberg, the board chairman and a farmer in Forestburg, Alta., said the vote was fair because it was administered by an independent third party, MNP. Farmers got ballots if they had a permit with the board in the past two years and delivered wheat or barley within the past five years. About 68,000 ballots were mailed out, he said. Voter participation was 56 per cent.

“By any measure, this is a fair plebiscite,” Oberg said. “This is the clearest expression of what the majority of farmers are thinking. We asked the minister repeatedly to conduct his own plebiscite, as required by law, but he chose not to do so. It seems ironic he’s criticizing this very fair and credible process.”

The board spent $270,000 on the plebiscite, with an additional $175,000 on advertising to farmers, Oberg said.

In a lawsuit filed in June, the growers group Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board applied to Canada’s Federal Court for an order to bar the government from abolishing the monopoly without first seeking the approval of farmers through a vote. A judge in Winnipeg ruled Sept. 9 that the group’s challenge can proceed.

“Parliament created the monopoly, and it will take Parliament to remove and move beyond it,” Ritz, the agriculture minister, said last week.

Source:  Bloomberg

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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