Farmers for economic freedom
Updates from the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network, Canadian Farmers for Justice and the Prairie Centre. Several of the items appearing here originally appeared in an email list operated by Dwayne Leslie at http://www.prairielinks.com.
web posted September 25, 2000
Don't call it democracy
In a matter of weeks, prairie grain farmers in five of the ten CWB election districts will be electing directors to the Canadian Wheat Board. They will receive their ballot in the mail and, after ranking the candidates in order of preference, will mail it back to be tabulated by the election coordinator.
According to CWB Minister Ralph Goodale, this process makes the corporation democratically accountable to producers. By deciding who will run the CWB, producers across the prairies exercise control over its policies and performance, which theoretically should quell all unrest.
Nice theory, but in reality it doesn't work that way. The optics of having producers in charge of their own destiny might make for nice CWB press releases, but practically the process is closer to something you would see in a dictatorial banana republic.
(1) The CWB Act says that elected directors must act in the best interests of the corporation. The CWB's new Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest Guidelines goes even further, forbidding directors from acting in the best interests of farmers when it conflicts with the best interests of the Board. In other words, the best interests of the corporation are not necessarily the best interests of farmers. In what kind of a democracy are the elected officials barred from promoting and establishing policies which line up with the wishes of their constituents?
(2) Incumbent directors are not allowed to make statements that are "inflammatory, defamatory or intended to undermine the reputation of the corporation". Or, as Thumper would say, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all." That might be nice in a children's story, but it's a ridiculous policy for a supposedly democratic forum on significant issues. Whether or not the intent of this policy was to muzzle incumbent directors who are unhappy with the CWB, this will undoubtedly be the result.
(3) Elected directors are under no obligation to provide any detailed information about the corporation that would allow voters to evaluate the performance of the CWB or their director. While representatives elected to federal and provincial legislatures are subject to Freedom of Information laws, the CWB is not. Directors do not have to give producers information which would reveal what positions they took in the board room, how they voted, or what policies they personally promoted. Although the directors say their job is to maximize price returns for farmers, no detailed information is ever released that would enable growers to independently evaluate whether this goal has been achieved.
While the federal government likes to compare the CWB to private corporations, it is anything but. It is the only corporate entity in Canada -- and perhaps the free world -- that demands the power of a public-sector monopoly, the secrecy of a private-sector business, and the accountability of neither. Unlike a democratic institution, you cannot elect a representative to change it. Unlike a private corporation, you cannot take your business elsewhere.
You can call it what you like, but don't call it democracy.
web posted September 18, 2000
Is someone manipulating the price of wheat?
By Craig Docksteader
Understanding the marketplace is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright frustrating, especially for farmers who just want a fair price for their grain. The traditional sign-posts suggest prices should be edging up, yet they continue to stubbornly resist any significant upward movement.
Perhaps that's why the National Farmers Union seems confused by the latest world wheat trade numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The statistics indicate that the 2000/01 stocks/use ratio for wheat will be at its lowest level in 30 years.
This ratio's purpose is to easily identify the relationship between supply
and demand. It compares how much wheat is on hand at the end of
a year with the amount used throughout the year. If wheat supplies
are getting tighter, the ratio drops. If the ratio rises, it means
the world's stockpile of wheat is growing.
The NFU points out that because the current stocks/use ratio is dropping, prices should be rising. Instead, we have record low wheat supplies and persistently low prices. According to NFU President Cory Ollikka, the conclusion is simple. "It is getting harder and harder to maintain the fiction that farmers' grain prices are determined by supply and demand. This is clearly market failure -- or possibly manipulation."
The NFU's proposed solution to the problem is for farmers to decrease production. As NFU Vice-President Fred Tait put it in an August press release, "With supplies low, small changes in supplies can have large positive effects on prices... a credible agreement to reduce production could lead to swift results." More than one organization is suggesting that governments cooperate in a land set-aside, where land would be taken out of production in order to decrease supply.
But here's where it gets confusing. On the one hand, the NFU insists that market forces of supply and demand don't work in agriculture. But on the other hand, their solution is to withdraw production from the marketplace because they're convinced that the law of supply and demand will force the world price up. So if supply and demand don't work in the grain industry, exactly how is it that you can use them to increase the price of grain?
Although there is no way to reconcile the NFU's contradictory policies on grain prices, there is an answer to why the price of wheat remains stubbornly low in spite of a low stocks/use ratio. Policy analysts point to one key factor: Competition is high in the export market. The Europeans insist on selling their wheat below its market value forcing everyone to sell low, wheat stocks are concentrated in the hands of exporter nations making it a buyer's market, and, in general, the world is more comfortable with having less wheat around, relative to consumption.
Stocks/use ratio is an important indicator of market activity, but prices are not hostage to it. 11 years out of the last 28, the ratio said prices should go one direction and they went the other. Almost 30 years ago in 1972, the ratio was identical to this year, yet the price of wheat was half of what it is now.
Yes Victoria, there is a Santa Claus, but there's no bogeyman in the grain industry.
web posted September 11, 2000
Open letter to farmers - Prairie Centre responds to CWB chair
The Chair of the Canadian Wheat Board, Ken Ritter, has been circulating an open letter to prairie farmers in which he accuses the Prairie Centre of gross exaggeration and character assassination. Following is the Prairie Centre's response to Mr. Ritter. Ritter's letter to the Prairie Centre can be viewed on the Prairie Centre's website at www.prairiecentre.org .
September 8, 2000
Dear Mr. Ritter,
I received a copy of your September 1 "Open Letter to Farmers" in which you accuse the Prairie Centre and myself of gross exaggeration and character assassination. I would like to respond with a few comments:
A) The Prairie Centre is unaware of any inaccurate information in the commentaries to which you refer, either in regard to the Canadian Wheat Board or yourself. If you would care to point out and document the specific factual errors that you allege to have been made, we would be happy to address the situation. If you are unable to do so, then perhaps your accusations should be retracted.
B) Over the years, the Canadian Wheat Board has been very careful to
repeatedly point out that the selective comparison of spot prices is an
inaccurate method of measuring overall marketing performance. Nonetheless,
this is what you attempt to do in your letter, using one low-end market
price while ignoring higher cash pricing throughout the U.S. Midwest.
C) Although the price of grain is of vital importance to every prairie farmer, the key question is, "Who makes the decision to accept or reject the offered price?" Your view is that the CWB, which carries no risk, should always make those decisions on behalf of the farmers who carry all the risk. The Prairie Centre's view is that prairie farmers who prefer to make their own marketing decisions should be free to do so.
D) In your letter you conclude with the statement, "Each individual must ask themselves the question: Am I better off facing the challenges of the 21st century with or without a new farmer-controlled Canadian Wheat Board?'" Regrettably, you pose the question but refuse to accept the answer already provided by CWB-sponsored polls, which reveal majority support for a voluntary CWB.
E) Although you accuse the Prairie Centre of "cold war rhetoric", it is impossible to discuss the role of the CWB without it. Mandatory participation in government marketing collectives is "cold war" ideology, made popular by the former Soviet Union and other communist states which routinely and deliberately trampled individual rights. Perhaps you are unaware that unlike prairie producers, farmers in the Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Hungary and even Russia are no longer compelled to participate in such marketing schemes.
Your own 1998 CWB election brochure sums up the Prairie Centre's position nicely: "The future success of the Board depends upon its ability to compete both at home and abroad. Competition has proven to provide better economic returns and services than monopolies. By the Board competing for farmers' grain, it will gain the voluntary allegiance of farmers, thereby securing its own long term future." While you have clearly changed your position, the Prairie Centre has not. Prairie farmers who prefer to make their own marketing decisions should be free to do so.
web posted September 4, 2000
You don't have to be a political analyst to figure out that Joe Clark and his federal Tory party are in trouble. The landscape is shifting, and it's leaving Joe behind. Although there's always an unpredictable element in politics, it appears to be only a matter of time until Joe is the last one on the island in his political version of Survivor.
I suppose that when it happens, Joe will point a finger at all kinds of people. In politics there's always someone to blame when things don't go the way you thought they should. But at the end of the day, Joe will have no one to blame for his mistakes but himself.
Joe's first mistake was to make self-preservation the primary objective of his party. Instead of focusing on the real goal of promoting constructive change in Canada, Joe got caught up in a romance with the past, when Tory-blue ruled. His loyalties were to a party, rather than to a cause or a movement. It was at this point that his mission turned inward and he embarked on a journey into the political wilderness.
Joe's second mistake was his failure to adapt to changing times and attitudes. His allegiance to an organization and identification with the past caused him to miss a critical opportunity. Consumed with protecting his turf, he thumbed his nose at innovation and change, and hunkered down to weather the storm. Little did he know that this storm would not pass.
Joe's third mistake followed this progression quite naturally. Differences in opinion over direction and purpose began to be solved by power struggles where the loser left voluntarily or was thrown overboard. By refusing to change, Joe not only quit listening, but began to characterize advocates of change as the enemy. They were viewed as threats to the establishment and branded as disloyal.
Regrettably for Joe, it didn't have to be this way. He could have been at the front of a movement that is positioning to present a bonafide challenge to the governing Liberals in the next election, and possibly take the reigns of power. He could have been at the table with those who are making it happen, working together to develop policy, strategy and initiatives for a better Canada. Instead, he appears destined for the backwater of politics, with a diminishing caucus, diminishing public support, and no real political levers left to pull.
For those who care to see it, there is a striking parallel between Joe's predicament, and how the Canadian Wheat Board is positioning itself in prairie agriculture. Even a cursory reading of publications, press releases and public statements by the Board reveals their preoccupation with their public image. The battles of the 80's and 90's have left the Board in a mode where image and self-preservation appear to be their highest priority.
Like Joe, the CWB is also refusing to adapt to changing times and attitudes. Although the majority of prairie farmers want a voluntary marketing agency, the CWB refuses to admit that the support exists and simply maintains that such an arrangement would be unworkable. As a result, those who insist that significant change is essential to the future health and development of the prairie grain industry are routinely branded as enemies and characterized as a threat to the establishment.
Although it's unlikely that Joe's Conservative party will survive, it's not too late for the CWB. All we need to get started is some CWB directors with vision for a marketing agency that's good enough to thrive without a monopoly.
web posted August 28, 2000
The problem with gun control
By Craig Docksteader
Gun control just won't go away. Or should I say, the opposition to gun control won't go away. Normally, once a law has been passed by Parliament, those who opposed it take their licks and begin to move on to other things. It becomes difficult to maintain momentum and keep the issue on the public agenda. Many people start to give up, insisting that "there's nothing you can do now", and resign themselves to defeat.
The fact of the matter is, though, that when it comes to public policy, it's never over. Issues which were once thought settled and gone can come back on the table and take a completely different direction. When the matter has been rammed through Parliament without adequately resolving objections to the Bill, the potential for a shift in public opinion is even greater.
Gun control is one of these issues. Although Bill C-68 -- the Firearms Act -- continues to enjoy a significant amount of public support, it has been under constant fire since being passed by Parliament in 1995. If those who oppose the initiative continue to do so, the law is highly vulnerable to an eventual shift in public opinion for a number of reasons:
1) The push for gun control is fueled more by emotion than reason.
2) Gun control doesn't work.
3) Many key stakeholders do not support gun control.
4) The gun registration process is riddled with problems.
5) Criminals like gun control.
Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc. "Where Do We Go From Here" is a feature service of the Prairie Centre.
Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
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