Expropriation of farmers’ assets un-Canadian

Bill C-18, which would remove the Canadian Wheat Board single desk, is named the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act by the Harper government.

Marketing freedom should not mean the state is free to expropriate farmers’ assets without compensation. Expropriation can be used when a highways department acquires property, with compensation by agreement or settled in the courts.

Bill C-18 confiscates farmers’ property by nationalizing the CWB building, rail cars, lake vessels, computers, software and the contingency fund without compensation. It fires the farmer elected directors and replace s them with five government appointees, who are under direct control of agriculture minister Gerry Ritz. I abhor this behaviour by the Harper government.

Marketing freedom does not mean the government is free to trample the democratic process. Andrew Coyne, in the Dec. 5 issue of Maclean’s,suggested that “Parliament is dying.”

Limitations on debates allow the Harper government to be a colossal bully, despite being elected by only 24.3 percent of eligible Canadian voters.

The Saskatchewan Party received 64 percent of the popular vote, a landslide victory. When 62 percent of farmers in the CWB’s plebiscite favoured keeping the single desk for wheat, the Harper government reckons it does not matter. Do we adhere to democratic principles in Canada or do we not?

Harper’s roots in the Reform party valued Parliament’s accountability to voters. His closure on debate, on enforced party-line voting and no plebiscite on the CWB is a strong denial of the principles on which his party was founded.

Farmers feel betrayed by ministers Ritz and Chuck Strahl, who both made campaign promises to conduct a producer vote on changes to the CWB.

The perpetuation of urban myths and untruths have been reinforced by Ritz, suggesting that farmers went to jail for exporting wheat to the U.S. without an export permit.

In one case, a farmer named Andrew Michael McMechan hauled wheat into the United States without an export permit, but the fines and incarceration applied were not due to the missing permit.

“It will be apparent, however, that the accused was not charged with a violation of s. 5 of the Regulations, but, rather, with other offences under the Customs Act, the Immigration Act, and the Criminal Code,” Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice Charles Huband wrote in a 1998 decision.

The Canadian canola market is not exemplary, as Ritz would have you believe. The processors’ crushing margin for a bushel of soybeans in the U.S. is normally 30 to 90 cents per bushel.

The margin in the Canadian canola crushing industry is frequently in the $2 to $4 per bu. range. Canola at $12 per bu. has been a good crop. With reasonable competition, one might have expected $13 or more.

The removal of the CWB single desk triggers reduced prices and immediate losses of more than $500 million to prairie farmers, communities and Canadians, according to eminent economists who examined actual CWB sales records.

The lower selling price for wheat benefits foreign consumers and enables oligopolies in the prairie grain handling and transportation sector to increase their margins. These oligopolies have numerous foreign shareholders who will benefit while Canadian farmers will lose.

The U.S. countervail case against Canada on wheat concluded that Canadian farmers received higher prices than U.S. farmers for durum for 59 months out of 60.

Using an anecdote from one farmer, Ritz states that the spot price in the U.S. on a selected day is above the CWB pooled price and this is deemed as evidence.

Anecdotes should not trump analysis. Canadians expect parliamentarians to make informed decisions.

Rosaasen is an agriculture professor at the University of Saskatchewan and a farmer.

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