Keeping the Alexandre MacKenzie connection

Man, I worry that Canada’s going to blow its high quality wheat reputation.

I fret about it like a an old auntie frets about her best china getting chipped.

Fret, fret, fret.

I fret about this because, as I’ve written here many times before, every time I go to the Canadian International Grains Institute to meet with foreign buyers of Canadian wheat, they tell me that they will pay higher prices for Canadian crops than other nations’ crops because our quality is tops and our consistency even more important.

I hear this again and again and again. And I heard it yesterday, when I met with Edson Fernandes Csipai of Bunge Brasil (from Brazil), whose company will pay $60-$70 per tonne more for Canadian wheat than for wheat from Argentina – which is right next door.

Edson Fernandes CsipaiFor a high quality, high value miller like Bunge, quality and consistency are everything, so they’ll come most of the way across the western hemisphere to get our wheat rather than take the easy, lower quality stuff available just south of them.

That’s one heck of a marketing advantage for us to have, and it’d be a crime to lose it.

I fret about this because of the changes to the Canadian Wheat Board. Many people say there is no reason why the Canadian grain system can’t maintain its quality, cleanness and consistency without a CWB monopoly. The grain companies say they’re up to it and the Canadian Grain Commission appears to be confident they can manage the system to ensure we’re still shipping exactly what we say we’re shipping – which is the primary concern with buyers. The grain from other countries often dismays foreign buyers because what they’ve contracted and what they get are often two very different things. Not so with Canadian grain – so far.

My concern comes from the fact that it’s easy to disrupt and break a system like the CWB monopoly and suffer a lot of collateral damage inadvertently. Could quality and consistency be an innocent bystander who gets shot in this thing? We won’t know for a few months or maybe a year or two. But I hope we don’t cock it up.

It’s funny how these relationships develop. I have been surprised to find Brazilian buyers a few times at CIGI, and I always think about the human relationships that underlie these trans-ocean commercial relationships. People do business best when they know the folks on the other side of the deal, and it’s always nice to see at CIGI foreign buyers getting to know all sorts of Winnipeg-based Canadian grain trade folks, from places like the CGC, our grain companies, scientists, etc.

And some of these international relationships are deeper than we’d – or at least I’d – expect.

This morning when I was writing up my story for the paper from my interview with Csipai I checked his business card to ensure I didn’t completely cock-up his name. I noticed Bunge’s address in Sao Paulo is on Av Alexandre MacKenzie. What the????????, I thought. That’s gotta be a Canadian name. Perhaps even the early prime minister. Why in the world would a major business street in Brazil’s commercial capital be named for a possibly Canuckish person?

So I did what any glib, lazy and impatient journalist does when looking for The Truth about something: I Googled the name.

Here’s what came up:

Sir Alexander Mackenzie, lawyer, businessman (b at Kincardine, Canada W 30 June 1860; d there 12 July 1943). Son of a Scottish farmer, Mackenzie left school at 17 and articled with a Toronto legal firm, being called to the bar in 1883. In 1899 Z.A. LASH, Canada’s pre-eminent corporate lawyer, sent Mackenzie to oversee the legal arrangements of the São Paulo Tramway, Light and Power Co in Brazil. Fluent in Portuguese and conversant with the Brazilian legal and political systems, in 1904 he joined the Rio de Janeiro Tramway, Light and Power Co and served both companies as resident vice-president until their merger into Brazilian Traction in 1912 (BRASCAN). When F.S. Pearson, Brazilian Traction’s founder, drowned on the Lusitania in 1915, Mackenzie assumed the presidency, and under his leadership Brazilian Traction became Canada’s largest single overseas investment. He retired in 1928, remaining a company director. In 1919 he was knighted for his services in bringing Brazil into WWI.

That’s from The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Funny how we have these connections that span more than a century and hardly recognize them.

Let’s hope we don’t blow them.

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