Two Tory Tactics and the Wheat Board

The following column by Bruce Johnstone, The Leader-Post’s Financial Editor, does a much better job than I did of explaining the Conservative government’s flawed barley plebiscite.

This column, which is particularly interesting coming from an ardent free-marketer like Johnstone, touches on a couple of the Harper government’s favourite tactics:

1. “The Thin Edge of the Wedge”

– holding a plebiscite on barley, the crop least dependent on export markets and most produced in Alberta, to create a mandate to chip away at the Wheat Board

– trying to use the popular cause of “labour mobility” to insert sweeping, TILMA- like private enforcement powers into the Agreement on Internal Trade

– starting to appoint elected Senate nominees to push toward a fully elected Senate

2. Regulating (or Deregulating) Rather Than Legislating

– curtailing the Wheat Board by regulation rather than by act of Parliament

– implementing the Security and Prosperity Partnership

– encouraging provincial governments to join TILMA

– not enforcing the gun registry

The first tactic is generally effective and the second one is particularly useful in a minority Parliament. Both tactics tend to circumvent, or undermine, the House of Commons.

Tories sinking to new depths on barley
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Page: B4
Section: Business & Agriculture
Byline: Bruce Johnstone

So Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl got his wish and 62 per cent of 29,000 western Canadian farmers voted to get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly over barley sales. “What a great day for western Canadian farmers,” Strahl enthused. “Sixty-two per cent of barley producers said they want their freedom of choice to market their own barley … We are going to give them the choice that farmers demanded.”

Maybe it was a great day for Strahl and Stephen Harper, but I’m not so sure it was a great day for western Canadian farmers and Canadian democracy.

First of all, 62 per cent of farmers didn’t vote clearly for marketing choice, as Strahl would have us believe.

In fact, 45 per cent of the 15,300 Saskatchewan producers who voted — roughly half of all the producers polled — wanted the single desk retained, as did more than 50 per cent of 3,700 Manitoba producers.

Only in Alberta, where the government campaigned against the CWB monopoly on barley marketing, did a clear majority (63 per cent) favour marketing choice.

But what does marketing choice really mean?

In addition to options to keep the status quo or remove barley from the board, the plebiscite posed this loaded option to producers: “I would like the option to market my barley to the Canadian Wheat Board or any domestic or foreign buyer.”

Could some producers have been fooled into believing that they could have their cake and eat it too? In other words, keep the Canadian Wheat Board but have the option to market their grain elsewhere?

Why wouldn’t they? That’s what Strahl kept telling them, even though Strahl’s own handpicked task force said operating the Canadian Wheat Board in an open market was unworkable.

For the full story, click here.

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