Wheat Board Plebiscite
Yesterday, the Conservatives announced three ballot options for an upcomingÂ mail-in vote on the Canadian Wheat Boardâ€™s marketing of barley: (1) maintain single-desk marketing, (2) end the Boardâ€™s marketing of barley, or (3) have the Board market barley without its monopoly.
In effect, Board elections have always been plebiscites on the organization’s role and supporters of single-desk marketing have always won. Earlier this month, the Government of Manitoba held an explicit plebiscite.Â The vote in favour of the Board wasÂ 70% for wheat andÂ 62%Â for barley. Given thatÂ the Conservatives are inclined to dismantle the Board, but most western farmers clearly support single-desk marketing,Â two aspects of the Conservative strategy stand out.
First, by presenting three options, the federal plebiscite reduces the likelihood of majority (50%+1) support for any one option. If options 2 and 3 together garner more votes than option 1, the result could be interpreted as a democratic mandate to remove the Boardâ€™s monopoly. This scenario seems probable given that option 3 misleadingly appears to be the “compromise” choice. In fact, the real issue is whether or not to deploy the market power of a monopoly on behalf of western farmers selling grain into volatile world markets.
Second, the federal plebiscite focuses on barley, which is mainly sold within Canada rather than exported through the Board. Single-desk marketing is less relevant to barley than to wheat. As the Manitoba vote revealed, support for single-desk marketingÂ is stronger for wheat than for barley.Â Â Perhaps more importantly, whereas wheat production is concentrated in Saskatchewan, barley production is concentrated in Alberta, the province least supportive of single-desk marketing.
I hope that the Boardâ€™s supporters will be able to mobilize a majority of barley producers to vote for option 1. Otherwise, this three-option barley plebiscite may be the thin edge of the wedge, allowing Conservatives to chip away at the Board even though most western farmers support single-desk marketing.