Believe it or not, there is a relationship between the backlog in prairie grain and the Fair Elections Act. Here’s how.
As prairie farmers wait anxiously for the backlog in grain transportation to be resolved and for prices that at least cover the cost of production, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz and friends continue to meet with devotion in the sanctuary of “free-dumb.” Farmers on the Prairies can no longer afford these bizarre ideas from Ritz and Co.
One of their proposed solutions is to lift the revenue cap for rail companies, which are required by law to move grain. As a constrained, monopolized system, railroads would enjoy even higher profits if allowed to create a bidding war that would have farmers paying even higher freight rates.
It has always been clear that mountains and long distances to ports have stopped prairie farmers from receiving the full world market price for their grain.
In the early 1900s, western grain farmer were outraged over the monopoly power of the Canadian Pacific Railway, grain dealers and millers. Their frustration spurred them to demand a stake in the game, organize themselves and work co-operatively to form the prairie pools.
The Canadian Grain Commission, created in 1912, had the power to enforce regulations governing grain movement from farmgate to loading point.
The federal government created the Canadian Wheat Board when farmers demanded fair and stable prices and protection against exploitation by grain traders.
Farmers lobbied hard to keep the Crow Rate to maintain equity in grain transportation costs.
These and other mechanisms helped ensure that land-locked prairie farmers could compete successfully in the world market.
Western anger is rising again be-cause other than a greatly diminished grain commission, these hard-won institutions have been demolished by Ritz and his ilk.
The current chaos in grain transportation is caused by the loss of the CWB’s co-ordination at port terminals and the lack of enforcement of the statutory obligation for rail companies to move prairie grain.
The CWB, with its single desk authority over sales, railroads and port facilities, ensured the system worked efficiently to achieve premium grain prices and minimize transportation costs for prairie farmers.
Now to the Fair Elections Act and its relationship to grain transportation.
Canada’s chief electoral officer, who reports directly to Parliament, ex-posed the unethical interference of the Conservatives in the lead-up to the last federal election, for which their knuckles were soundly rapped.
Not surprisingly, the Conservatives’ Fair Elections Act will weaken the chief electoral officer by turning his investigative powers over to a commissioner appointed by the director of public prosecutions. This commissioner will report to the prime minister instead of to Parliament as a whole.
The government’s undemocratic behaviour regarding the new elections act is something prairie farmers have previously seen.
Even though prairie farmers repeatedly elected a majority of CWB directors who supported the single desk, the Conservatives disregarded the requirements of the CWB Act for a producer vote and unilaterally dismantled the single desk. The farmer-elected board was terminated.
Likewise, the chief electoral officer, who is the protector of Canada’s democratic processes, has been stripped of power and his former authority given to a puppet of the prime minister.
If minister Ritz wanted to improve transportation and farmers’ grain prices, he would consult with Allen Oberg and other former directors of the farmer-elected CWB board, who made grain move well and also managed to sell several classes of wheat for premiums that have since vanished.
He would also talk to Adrian Measner, the CWB’s former chief executive officer, who was removed by the Conservatives and brought to heel in much the same way as the chief electoral officer has been.
According to the proposed 2014-15 budget, the federal government is using $349 million to help sell what is left of the CWB to the private grain trade. Conservatives also appropriated $200 million of farmer-owned CWB assets when they ended the single desk.
What would happen if Ritz and Co. gave farmers that $549 million to create a farmer-controlled agency to co-ordinate prairie grain transportation, with the authority to discipline railroads , and to buy or build port facilities to export prairie grain?
Just imagine that.
Jan Slomp is president of the National Farmers Union and an Alberta dairy farmer.