Nevermore

November is a grim month. Leaves have fallen, the land is dead, darkness grows and the mind becomes occupied by regrets and the ghosts of betrayed hope.

At this time every year I brush off my Poe and read The Raven, which seems to perfectly sum up the feel of the month.

Here’s the final stanza:

“And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

I used to have most of the poem memorized, but age and the affect of  three small children has apparently washed most of the words out of my mind, at least for now.

But I imagine something of that feeling is occupying the minds and haunting the souls of pro-CWB farmers right now. For many of them, the inexorable progress of the federal government’s campaign to destroy the board’s monopolies must seem like the looming raven, and the past two decades must seem like the shadow from out of which they can’t seem to move.

The death of the wheat board comes after the ballooning and collapse of the prairie farmer-owned pools elevator companies – which were the product of huge farmer effort and decades of support – and after the death of the Crow rate and benefit – which seemed to many farmers to be a fundamental

national support for their farming lives – and after the loss of a host of other cooperative-type organizations, including the prairie hog marketing boards and various supply management processing companies. The death of the board seems like the ultimate step in ending a dream of large-scale farmer marketing cooperatives that lived from the 1920s to now, something dear to the hearts of thousands of farmers.

Personally, I don’t think the situation is so bad for farmers in a practical way, because I don’t necessarily believe large scale marketing cooperates were always or generally superior to private or publicly traded companies doing the same things. (I don’t think they were necessarily worse either.) But I imagine if the notion of large-scale cooperation is a manifestation of the way you think the world should ideally work, then this ending of the CWB must seem the nadir of farmer fortunes and the worst point of a long nightmare.

I’m thinking about this because I, like many, many others, have been wondering about why there has been such low farmer turnout for pro-CWB events. The plebiscite said 62 percent of farmers wanted to keep the wheat monopoly, but some events haven’t seemed to bring out more than 62 actual farmers. I don’t believe only a handful of farmers actually care about this issue, so why the low turnout? There really have been no mass rallies.

It seems most likely to me that pro-monopoly farmers are despondent, depressed and disengaging from an issue for which there seems no hope of winning. A handful will revel in loudly and publicly fighting a losing battle, but for most, being on the ropes and being pummeled by the reality of what’s happening in Ottawa must be extremely disheartening.

And lost battles of the past have left a lot of scar tissue on the soul’s of producers, especially around the ending of the producer-owned grain elevator companies. Who wants to revisit that and go through all that heartache again?

On the weekend I was talking with a friend who is a former executive with a non-farmer-owned grain company. He told me he didn’t think the ending of the CWB was a huge deal, because the grain trade can easily deal with wheat in the way it deals with canola, oats, pulses, etc. Nothing new there. But he still is saddened by the losses of the producer-owned grain companies, which he thought were good and valuable parts of the Canadian grain trade and which unfortunately destroyed themselves unnecessarily with reckless overexpansion. For him, the CWB ending has far less impact on farmer’s control of the system than losing the prairie pools. So this situation now is more of a denoument to a farmer-dominated system than a cataclysmic climax of a war.

And maybe that’s the feeling keeping pro-monopoly farmers from getting too engaged here. The government’s actions are just one of the final steps of a journey that’s been going on for a long time, so the weight of logical inevitability might seem to be pressing down upon many farmers, like Poe’s raven and its shadow.

 

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