Occupy Lombard Street!!!

A major social upheaval took place in Winnipeg yesterday. Here’s a pic of the outbreak of civil unrest:

Yes, a new furniture store opens and Peggers go crazy. Since moving here 12 years ago I’ve come to realize that nothing motivates a Pegger more than the hint of a deal on something, hence the 800 people that queued up overnight to be the first allowed into Winnipeg’s newest big box store.

I wasn’t there. I was sick at home, as I whined about in my last post. Wouldn’t have been there anyway. Not my kind of a social event.

Recently a more substantial social movement was discussed at a grain industry gathering in downtown Winnipeg – one that could lock down Portage and Main: “Occupy Lombard Street.”

(Portage and Main above had a barricade the other day, but it was nothing to do with a protest movement)

This would be a movement to protest against the lack of input prairie farmers now have in the prairie grain industry and about the weak position small grain merchants and companies have in the post-CWB monopoly era.

The phrase was a joke, uttered by former University of Manitoba Transport Institute director Barry Prentice, after a panel discussion looking at life after the CWB. The term was Prentice’s wry acknowledgement of the seeming unlikeliness of Paul Earl and John DePape calling for more farmer and small grain company power and protection within the prairie grain trade. Both men have been associated with the aggressive efforts of right-wingers to break the CWB’s monopoly and have been seen by some to be firmly on the side of the corporate interests who stand to gain most by the end of CWB and farmer control within the industry.

But in the wake of the monopoly’s end, both have called for various small and weak players – including farmers – to be given some voice and protection. Earl argued during the panel discussion that the new grain industry is in danger of substantial “imbalance” without farmers being represented, and DePape said he thinks new regulations or rules of some sort might be required to protect small grain players who now have little influence within their own system.

What I found pleasant about hearing these thoughts from these people was how refreshing they were from the stale and well-worn views about the CWB monopoly that they and all combatants in the multi-decade CWB were stuck repeating while the fight went on. Now the monopoly fight is over, there seems to be room for people like Earl and DePape, and for everyone else, to discuss the non-ideological elements of the grain business. I doubt either Earl or DePape is uttering any views they haven’t had before, but the monopoly issue burned up all the oxygen in the air for years, and no one was interested in the more refined issues, like these.

Hopefully these issues will get some attention from policymakers and politicians now all the monopoly excitement is over. But I wonder if there will be enough force behind the views to get anything done. Earl and DePape were on the winning side of the monopoly debate, so they probably feel relaxed and confident these days. But for those who were on the opposite side of the debate – the traditional champions of farmer influence – the mood is grim and resigned. Do any on the pro-monopoly and pro-farmer-control side want to get into another debate about farmer control? Or are they so sick and tired of arguing that they’re going to pull away from public discourse for a while? It would certainly be freakishly weird to see some of the lefties joining hands with Earl or DePape and singing Kumbaya and working together on issues.

I expect there’s also  a dark desire of a minority of monopoly supporters who hope for problems to arise in the post-monopoly era so that they’ll be able to say “I told you so!” These will be the same ones who are refusing to sell their grain through the CWB because they feel they’d be helping the Conservative government to disguise the violence it has done to farmer collectivity and power if the CWB survives. They’re not going to want to help iron out the imbalances in the new system, a new system they fought hard against. They’d see that as collaboration with the enemy.

So it was refreshing to hear nuanced and original thoughts from two of the monopoly debate pugilists recently, and to believe that it will be possible in the new era to finally move on to deal with issues other than should we or should we not have a grain export monopoly. But I wonder if there will be any interest at all in dealing with new issues after everyone has exhausted themselves debating the old issues. I doubt many politicians, bureaucrats, farm group leaders of activist farmers feel like getting engaged in another farmer control push right now.

Personally, I’d be quite pleased if an Occupy Lombard Street movement arose. Lombard Street is the road just behind Portage on Main on which both the massive Grain Exchange Building and the Richardson Building stand. It’s the artery that runs through the heart of the Canadian grain trade. If a colourful protest movement arose and occupied Rorie and Lombard, I’d have front row seats to watch it and report on it. My office sits seven floors above the intersection, at 177 Lombard.

They’d better not block the exits to the Rorie Street Parkade, though. No protest movement has the right to get in the way of my drive home.




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