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Farmers for economic freedom

Updates from the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture in Regina, Saskatchewan.

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web posted September 24, 2001

Central planning in Saskatchewan

By Craig Docksteader

Throughout the '40s and '50s, Saskatchewan's CCF government was consumed with what was often referred to as "The Plan". Under Premier Tommy Douglas' leadership, a 1947 Cabinet report by the party's Economic Advisory and Planning Board summarized the Plan as follows:

"The purpose of comprehensive Socialist planning is to mobilize our communal resources, to raise the over-all standard of living and to ensure an equitable distribution of economic wealth and privilege. The C.C.F. believes that the achievement of such a purpose can only be affected by replacing the present Capitalist system with a Socialist form of society. In this context, Socialism carries its original and broadest definition as the use of the mechanism of the state, under the democratic control of the electorate, to perform most of the economic functions heretofore held in the hands of private owners of Capital."

Considering the economic and demographic challenges facing Saskatchewan today, most observers would rightfully conclude that the Plan didn't work. Ironically, however, the CCF's Plan did succeed in a number of areas as illustrated by the following excerpts from the same 1947 planning document:

"A most important limiting factor on the Plan which cannot be ignored is the population pattern of Saskatchewan. The population of the province has been declining since 1936 as a result of the mechanization of its one crop economy and the impact of the drought and depression... It is not likely that the Plan can do much to alter this basic tendency nor perhaps would it be wise to attempt to do so. Taking the Prairies as a whole, it is logical to expect and plan for industry near the cheap power sources of Alberta and for Winnipeg to continue to attract service and distribution trades, while Saskatchewan will remain mainly agricultural and require fewer people per acre each year."

"Within the province we can expect a continuation of the drift away from the isolated farm homestead to the villages and cities. There are positive advantages to the province in such a tendency since some of the major costs in administering the present community lie in its scattered population. It is proposed, therefore, that the Government should adopt a definite policy of encouraging greater concentrations of population..."

"As a first step in this direction, it is suggested that careful study should be given to the various communities throughout the province and certain ones designated for priority treatment in the installation of services. The highway, power and telephone pattern should be fitted to the basic design of the designated communities and power and telephone rates made slightly preferential for them. In addition, hospitals, medical services, schools and libraries for these communities should receive favoured treatment in buildings, equipment and staffs. All these facts should be advertised to attract population to such centres."

"The rapid aging of the population is another problem to be considered... This is due to the large-scale emigration of young people... This trend has serious consequences with respect to the burden of old age pensions and the general productivity of the province."

Although somewhat alarming to us, it was all part of the plan in 1947: Industry was to continue going west to Alberta, service and distribution trades would go east to Manitoba, and Saskatchewan would focus on exporting raw agricultural products. Young people would leave, there would be no population growth, rural areas would be de-populated, and an aging population would place an increasing burden on government programs.

Considering how accurately this describes Saskatchewan today, maybe Tommy Douglas was a prophet after all.

Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre Policy Institute.

web posted September 17, 2001

Identifying with America

By Craig Docksteader

The horrific images which were broadcast to the world on September 11, 2001 will remain etched in our memories forever: Airliners crashing into the World Trade Center; bodies falling from the Towers; the Towers crashing to the ground on live television; people running from the cloud of dust and debris that rolled down the streets; the Pentagon burning; rescue workers struggling through the night to find survivors; the desperate faces of those waiting for word from loved ones. It was a day like no other. And one we hope to never to see again.

But in the days that followed those tragic events, there was another image that grabbed my attention. The picture was not of destruction, chaos, or grief, but it was striking and significant, and one that I had never seen before. It was the image of Canadians carrying American flags.

At first I thought I misunderstood the announcer on the TV newscast: Canadians were buying U.S. flags. Not only buying them, but displaying them as a silent demonstration of support, sympathy and solidarity with the U.S. On the day of mourning that followed later in the week, Canadians were encouraged to wear red, white and blue, as an indication of their identification with the tragedy that struck Americans and, in reality, the whole world.

For the first time that I can remember, Canadians reached out to embrace their American neighbours and to affirm them as friends, allies, and in a sense members of their extended family. We shared their grief, felt their pain, and did what we've never done before. We accepted them without reservation, and they drew strength from our comfort. Like many relationships, there is a time when the stronger needs the weaker.

It is possible that our relationship with the U.S. will never be the same. Not that the politics will be any different; not that we won't still have trade disputes and the usual haggling back and forth; not that we won't continue to be Canadians and they Americans those things will never change. But perhaps we have grown up a bit and will stop acting like we are always intimidated and inferior.

Perhaps it has been because we are smaller. Perhaps it has been because we are economically and culturally overshadowed by the U.S. Perhaps it has been an insecure attempt to protect what we perceive to be our unique identity. Whatever the reason, our public policy and private mindsets have been collectively programmed to be wary of all things American.

In many parts of the country, you can win a debate on health care, taxes, education, transportation, or agricultural policy by simply pointing out the parallels in your opponent's position to existing U.S. policy. Without even considering the merits of the argument, many listeners tune out the moment anything sounds like it's "American".

Whether out of ideological bias or political opportunism, politicians have played up this "big, bad, American" factor for years. And we have bought it. On the one hand we want our leaders to have a good working relationship with the U.S., but on the other hand, when they get too cozy we get nervous, lest they somehow sell us out.

Tragedies and disasters have a way of maturing people quickly. Pettiness is often put aside, and stereotypes unmasked. Priorities are realigned, and things which once seemed important become marginal or trivial in light of what is truly valuable. Displaying American flags in Canada does not mean that Canadians are interested in becoming Americans. But perhaps it does mean that we have put aside our insecurities. If so, it will only make our country a better place.

Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre Policy Institute.

web posted September 10, 2001

The joke's on taxpayers

By Craig Docksteader and Ken Dillen

A few weeks ago, the Saskatchewan Department of Highways was handed a $230,000 penalty for safety violations which caused the death of two Saskatchewan residents. Tragically, a Department of Highways truck had been parked on a highway without proper warning signs. Although the truck had its own signs and warning lights, there was no advance warning for motorists, creating a safety hazard. A 21-year-old semi-driver slammed into the back of the Highways truck, killing himself and a Highways worker.

At first glance, one might think justice was served through the trial, conviction and resulting fine. The Department of Highways pled guilty to the charge and had to absorb the $230,000 penalty. As provincial Judge Timothy White noted about the case, when a government department violates safety regulations, the penalty must be substantial to deter further violations, especially when there is a loss of life. But a closer look suggests that the penalty is little more than a bad joke on taxpayers and a bureaucratic exercise in public relations.

The story would have us believe that somewhere there is a separate account from which the Department of Highways pays the fine of $230,000. In actual fact, it will come from the provincial government's general revenue (tax dollars).

The expenses, salaries and miscellaneous costs for Occupational Health and Safety, which laid the charges, will also be paid by taxpayers. The Crown prosecutor is paid by taxpayers, as is the defense lawyer, the judge, the court workers, and any other trial costs (which could reach $500,000). To top it off, at the end of the day, the penalty will be paid to the Department of Justice and all except $30,000 of it will be put back into general revenue.

If not for the tragic results, the story seems better suited as an episode for the British comedy series "Yes Minister". The government takes itself to court, finds itself guilty, charges itself a fine, pays itself the fine, and the public is led to believe that justice has been served. Like a fancy shell-game, the coin moves around from one hand to the next changing nothing but costing taxpayers dearly.

If a private-sector company had operated in the same unsafe manner that contributed to the deaths of two men, charges of manslaughter would have been laid under the Criminal Code, pink slips would have been handed out, and civil action initiated against the company. But so far there is no indication that any government employee has been disciplined, no one has been held personally responsible, and the Minister of Highways, who is ultimately responsible for the Department, did not do the honourable thing and resign. Instead, bumbling bureaucrats walk away unscathed, while two families grieve and taxpayers absorb the financial hit.

No one would have complained if the fine had been awarded to the victims' families, criminal charges laid and those responsible fired with cause. But to take $230,000 out of general revenue and then return it after an expensive trial is a joke. The only problem is, it's not funny.

Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre Policy Institute. Ken Dillen is a Director of the Institute.

web posted August 27, 2001

Learning about wealth creation

By Craig Docksteader

If an individual wants to live in most parts of Canada or the US, an understanding of English is essential. An immigrant arriving in the prairie region from Holland, Russia, or Japan, with no knowledge of English, could get by for a season, but over the long haul would have a pretty tough time.

Whether it's Japanese in Japan, Cantonese in China, or English on the prairies, the ability to speak a common language means an individual can gather and evaluate information in order to make good decisions. Language facilitates movement and constructive interaction. It's the primary vehicle on which business, social interaction, and even learning is transported.

The knowledge and language of economics does the same when it comes to money and wealth creation, which explains why a comprehensive knowledge of economics is in the best interest of any society.

The fact that thousands of people, including a good number of politicians, are unfamiliar with the particulars of wealth creation, or economics in general, says a lot about available options. It's true that all people spend and earn money, but that's about as elementary to economics as saying "good morning" and "goodbye" is to speaking English.

In our part of the country, how wealth is created isn't even taught in public schools. Despite this, upon reaching the age of 18, every citizen is eligible to cast a ballot in favor of a political candidate who is often elected on the basis of how he or she will handle economic matters.

By way of comparing the prairie region with other parts of the world, consider the understanding of economics that grade school students have in the state of Arizona. Prior to reaching the end of grade six, Arizona children have been taught the opportunity cost of a choice and the role of natural resources, human resources, and capital in the creation of wealth. They will also have an understanding of how price incentives affect peoples' behavior; how voluntary exchange helps both buyers and sellers; and how entrepreneurs take risks to bring new goods and services into being that never previously existed.

Before completing grade eight those same students will have learned how limited resources and unlimited human wants cause people to choose some things and give up others; how specialization in production improves the standard of living; and how the protection of property rights provides incentives to conserve and improve property, thereby enhancing a society's overall wealth.

High school students study the role of capital, labor, land, and entrepreneurship in production; the necessity and function of profit; and the role of financial institutions and securities markets. Before graduating, students will also have learned the difference between a command, market, and mixed economy; how the incentives of a free market economy preserve political and economic freedom; how gross domestic product, inflation, and unemployment statistics are determined; fiscal policy and its effect on inflation; the function of the federal reserve system; and how private investment raises living standards for everyone.

Suffice it to say that a 17-year-old graduating from high school in Arizona will be armed with a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the factors that facilitate the creation of wealth. He'll speak the language -- fluently. Compare that with the understanding of economics and wealth creation that our graduates receive, or even the basic understanding of wealth creation that many of our politicians possess.

It's a sobering thought.

Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre Policy Institute.

Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
#205, 1055 Park Street
Regina, SK
S4N 5H4

Phone: 306-352-3828
Fax: 306-352-5833
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The CFEN needs your help! The battle against the Canada Wheat Board can only continue with your support.

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Box 521
Central Butte, Saskatchewan
S0H 0T0

Write the following and demand free market rights for Western Canadian farmers!

The Canadian Wheat Board
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R3C 2P5

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Ralph Goodale
Minister Responsible for the Canada Wheat Board
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K1A 0E4

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