Caustic politics, American- and prairie-grain-style

So there’s only one more day of misleading, dishonest, nasty and caustic politics to survive before the American election is over. I’m willing to call the winner of the presidential race right now: it will be a well-meaning moderate. Who won’t be able to fix America’s financial and economic mess in the next four years.

You’d never get the sense that the presidential contest is a struggle between two reasonable centrists from listening to the partisan rhetoric, because each side has been busily painting its opponents as dangerous radicals, and portraying the differences between the sides as vast gulfs between almost alien peoples. It’s more extreme in lots of the local congressional battles, with opponents portraying each other as lazy, uncaring, possibly corrupt and just generally bad people.

It’s all part of the nasty, caustic reality of democracy, and the good thing about democracy is that it lets us thrash this stuff out with words and advertising in the media, rather than with civil war with the streets. We get to purge the nastiness every once in a while, then get back to life and business.

I’m rattling on about this because it struck me the other day how nice it is this crop year to be mostly-free of the rancor, nastiness, despair and triumphalism that gripped the prairie farm sector last year at this time. Remember way back in the autumn of 2011, when the legislative battle over ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly raged in Parliament, legal challenges gripped the courts and farmers found themselves either on one of the extreme poles of the crisis, or just part of the generally worn-out-by-the-unending-CWB-issue majority? There were a lot of ugly sentiments floating around at the time, lots of people thinking very harsh and nasty thoughts about the fellows on other sides of the issue, and it really seemed a time of ugliness. To me, anyway, because I don’t particularly enjoy political polarization or ideological fervor. I know that some people revel in that sort of stuff, so possibly for them the autumn of 2011 is a glorious memory.

Last year at this time I was covering rallies, legal challenges, news conferences and announcements of action around the wheat board issue. Now it’s quite pleasantly quiet, as the new grain marketing world evolving in a practical and pragmatic manner. With the political battle over, the new commercial order has come to life, and everyone’s adjusting.

At the end of this week I’ll be covering the University of Manitoba’s Fields On Wheels conference, a conference that brings together the players of the prairie grain logistics system, from farm groups to elevator companies to railways to shipping companies. Everyone’s there. They’re the people who are most closely living through the new grain marketing system. Last year they held a special conference on what the new marketing system would mean for the existing logistics system. This year they will obliquely discussing the post-board world, but are trying to avoid discussing the details of the transition too intensely and are instead focusing on longer term supply and demand stuff. As the conference website notes about the new grain marketing system:

“It is too late to predict, yet too early to evaluate, how the landmark changes to CWB grain marketing
and industry structure (i.e. Viterra) might affect the industry. There are many other factors impacting
Canadian agribusiness and logistics, many beyond Canadian borders. Fields on Wheels will discuss
those this year.”

So the relative quietude within the grain industry will likely continue on Friday at Fields on Wheels, and we may have a quiet winter in the prairie grain trade this winter – until the next crisis afflicts us.

South of the border, the ending of the election will also probably bring in a period of quiet. For a couple of minutes. Then it’ll be onto the next crisis: the Fiscal Cliff. And preparing for the next elections. And on and on and on . . .



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