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The beginning of the end

By Steven Martinovich

The Professor(August 7, 2006) Slowly, but surely, the end appears to be coming for a Second World War-era federal government agency founded on the principle of legalized theft. Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl recently announced that he intends on moving forward with plans to end the Canada Wheat Board's monopoly on marketing grain internationally.

It would probably shock Canadians to know that farmers in Western Canada are not allowed, under penalty of federal law, to sell their own wheat -- in fact, several farmers in recent years have been sent to prison for doing just that. Why this is so goes back to the Second World War and the heinous internment of Japanese-Canadians. As a course of action, the federal government expropriated their homes, businesses and personal property.

Using the same law it passed to take the property of Japanese-Canadians, Ottawa decided to extend wartime powers granted to its wheat board and expand its control over the production of farmers. Although western farmers protested and fought the move, the British Privy Council sided with the federal government. The legacy of shameful wartime internment is that Canada's farmers are not allowed to ply the free market. Despite the fact that the war has been over since 1945, the Canada Wheat Board continues to hold a monopoly on virtually all grain sales.

Strahl met late last month with a group of farmers to discuss the introduction of a dual-marketing system, essentially a plan that would allow Western farmers to employ the services of the CWB or go it alone when selling their wheat. If reforms go far enough, farmers could even create their own wheat marketing boards to compete with the CWB. Not surprisingly, the CWB's prime concern seems to be its own survival.

"If he's got some firm proposal that does make a viable wheat board in the future, we're interested in hearing about that," said CWB director Ian McCreary.

No country can call itself free when a large sector of its economy is not. The CWB is imposed on farmers without their consent even if a bare majority, as occasional polls of farmers suggest, support the system. It is immoral to force individuals who do not wish to be members of the CWB to do so, and even more immoral to prosecute farmers who wish to take the risks and benefits of a free market, something most of us take for granted.

The CWB itself must be reformed as soon as possible to allow choice for farmers. It is immoral, but unfortunately not illegal thanks to a court decision in the late 1990s, to force farmers to sell their grain through this collective. The CWB must be eliminated, or turned over to the farmers themselves, with membership being voluntary. It is offensive that farmers are required to sell their production and skill to one buyer, namely the federal government, at the price it determines in secret.

It's maddening to know that when the existence of the CWB is being defended that it is the mass and forced expropriation of farmers' property in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba that is being upheld. Few other professions in this nation are forced to give up the efforts of their own production to a government agency if they wish practice their trade. It's time that the government put to bed the notion that farmers living in an ostensibly free society like Canada shouldn't be allowed to ply their trade on the world market without government intervention.

Many, perhaps even most, farmers want to sell their wheat through a marketing board -- whether a government agency or private firms -- but that does not excuse the imposition of a collectivist system on all farmers. Farmers must be allowed to exercise their economic rights despite what the majority may think. Hopefully Strahl will live up to the Conservative Party's promise and grant farmers the same rights that the rest of us would be outraged to lose.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich


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