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 October 23, 2000
"Shouldn't You Be Selling Wheat?"
By Craig Docksteader
Last month, the Prairie Centre received its highest-ever volume of traffic at its Internet web site. Total hits for the month reached 13,446 -- an average of 448 per day. That's up from about 3,500 a month at this time last year, or about 120 per day.
The increase in visitors is no accident. As part of its mandate to make relevant and timely information available to prairie producers on issues that directly affect their industry, the Prairie Centre has worked hard at developing and updating its web site.
Along with previous Prairie Centre publications and weekly commentaries, the site contains many items of interest including: Information on wheat marketing systems around the world; an analysis of endangered species legislation in Canada; a complete listing of CWB employee salaries, amended to comply with the Privacy Act; an overview of the problems that plague the prairie grain handling and transportation system; the inside story on former CWB Commissioners' severance packages; the historical origins of the Canadian Wheat Board; and more.
Even the CWB has taken an interest in the web site. In the last four months, the CWB has logged almost 1,600 hits to www.prairiecentre.org, ranking it the third most frequent user in August and the number one user so far this month.
While somewhat flattered with the attention, the CWB's interest is curious and raises a number of questions. Does the Prairie Centre web site contain information necessary for the Board to do its job? Or does the CWB simply make a habit of monitoring organizations that promote a voluntary Wheat Board? Which CWB department could possibly be responsible for this type of activity? Communications? Legal? What are they watching for? What do they do with the information they find? How are farmers better off because of it? And wouldn't their time be better spent selling wheat?
Furthermore, if this kind of activity is viewed as a constructive use of farmers' money, what else do CWB staff spend their time doing? Given their penchant for secrecy, the CWB might be a little uncomfortable knowing that they leave "electronic footprints" when they surf the net. Like many other Internet users, the CWB has what's known as a static Internet Protocol (IP) address -- a string of numbers which is recorded in web site access logs. Punch the CWB's IP address into any Internet search engine and the result will show web sites where CWB staff have been.
For example, what interest does the CWB have in logging hits on Internet sites such as SAAN Store, Q94 FM in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and weddingcentral.com? These are all web sites that have recorded multiple CWB visits but would appear to be a little distant from their mandate.
Regrettably, however, farmers can ask all the questions they want, but the CWB is under no obligation to provide answers. Senior bureaucrats at the Board insist that everything they do must be exempt from the federal Access to Information Act, even though being subject to the Act would not give any exposure to commercially sensitive information. Apparently the CWB likes to be the watcher, but not the watched.
If the CWB finds value in the Prairie Centre's Internet site, we're happy to be of service. But since they won't sell a bushel of wheat while browsing, the Prairie Centre web site has been configured to greet them with a friendly reminder. It detects when someone from the CWB visits, and displays the following message on their computer screen:
Welcome Canadian Wheat Board!
web posted October 16, 2000
Maybe it'll happen again
By Craig Docksteader
Maybe it'll happen again. If Prime Minister Chretien calls a fall election, we could be spared from seeing Environment Minister David Anderson's endangered species Act become law. The Bill would "die on the order table", and have to be re-introduced by the new government after the election.
This is exactly what happened in 1997 to Bill C-65, the Canada Endangered Species Protection Act (CESPA). Opposition to CESPA was strong from all sides, delaying its passage through the House of Commons. When an election was called, the Bill died, only to be later revived as Bill C-33, the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
When CESPA died, it was the best thing that could have happened. The proposed law took a very heavy-handed approach to conservation, attempting to provide protection to endangered species by using threats and intimidation. There was no mention of voluntary stewardship, nothing about compensation, and no effort to encourage a cooperative approach to conservation. Landowners didn't like the proposal, resource industries didn't like it, and even environmentalists didn't like it. At the end of the day, letting the Bill die was an easy way out for the government.
This time the situation is a little different. Minister Anderson is quite confident that he has struck a good balance with his new law, and appears somewhat anxious to get it through the parliamentary process before an election is called.
He has, in fact, made a number of good changes to the Act, incorporating voluntary, cooperative efforts as a key component of conservation and including a promise of compensation for landowners who are negatively impacted by the law. Although it remains to be seen whether compensation will be adequate, or just a symbolic gesture, simply having it in the Act and on the table for discussion shows how far things have come.
Anderson has also introduced tax incentives to encourage voluntary stewardship efforts and -- much to the chagrin of extreme environmentalists -- has ensured that Parliament retains the final word on which species will be protected rather than leaving the decision to an unaccountable third party. The work done by organizations and stakeholders pushing for a more responsible endangered species law, has begun to pay off. Many aspects of this Bill are far better than the previous one.
Nonetheless, there are still many reasons to be concerned: The reach of the law has been extended to provincial and private land; the habitat of an endangered species can now be protected by regulatory restrictions on land use (even if it's private land); fines and penalties are draconian, ranging from $50,000 to $1,000,000 plus possible jail time of up to five years; and, on the second offense, the maximum fines double, or are piled on top of each other if the offence involves more than one species. Although a lot of ground has been gained, there's a long way left to go before the Act could be called a good one.
Consequently, if SARA dies before it can be passed, concerned stakeholders will be somewhat relieved. But the real relief won't come until we know how the new government will shape up.
If the Liberals are re-elected with a majority government, the law will likely be re-introduced and passed through Parliament, as is. But if the Liberals end up with a minority, we could easily find ourselves with an endangered species law that's worse than what is now on the table, depending on who holds the balance of power.
On the other hand, if the Liberals fail to form the next government, there's an even better option available: Leave SARA in the trash bin and adopt a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based approach to protecting endangered species.
web posted October 9, 2000
Monopolizing the public debate
By Craig Docksteader
It's something that grain producers have known for years: While farmers have been struggling to obtain significant change in the Canadian Wheat Board's mandate, the CWB has been intentionally working to undermine their efforts. Assuming an ever-increasing vocal position in public policy debates, the CWB has been unashamedly using farmers' own money to oppose their efforts and bolster support for the status quo monopoly marketing system.
Obviously, there is a legitimate need for the CWB to communicate with farmers. A failure to do so would demonstrate irresponsibility on behalf of a corporation that handles billions of dollars of producers' money each year. But increasingly, CWB communication has taken on a political tone, rather than an informational one.
For many years, the CWB was careful to maintain an appropriate distance from the political debates which defined its role and responsibilities. It wasn't until the early 70's when the CWB established a Department of Information Services that things started to shift. As explained by William Morriss in his book, Chosen Instrument II, this was when the CWB began, "modifying its previous low-profile image of working quietly in the background."
Even with this development, however, the Board was careful about actively promoting its own interests when it came to public policy. During the debates in the 70's over removing domestic feed grains from the CWB's control, and possibly granting it control of rapeseed, the Board kept to the sidelines. But in the early 80's this changed.
The move was prompted by the CWB Advisory Committee in January 1983, when it waded into the raging debate on the Crow Rate. Although it was not the first time the Advisory Committee had taken a public position, the move represented a significant departure from what was seen as the appropriate role of the CWB, prompting protests from two Committee members who insisted that government policy was out of the Committee's domain. Within months, CWB Commissioners joined the fray as well, openly staking out a public position, even though producers themselves were not in agreement on the issue.
By the time we reached the early 90's, the CWB had begun to aggressively ratchet up its communications budget. While spending on communications hovered around $150,000 a year in the 80's, in 1992 it suddenly jumped by 24%. Over the next nine years, the budget skyrocketed to where it stands today at more than $2.1 million. In the past ten years, the CWB has increased the size of its communications budget by more than ten times.
Even a cursory reading of recent CWB publications reveals its intent to continue using farmers' money to protect its vested interests. In a recent publication on transportation reform, the CWB claimed that, "The Canadian Wheat Board is a powerful voice for producers today... It has a mandate to speak and a commitment to the vigorous defense of producers' interests." Rather than recognizing the fact that it is using producers' money to advance policies many producers don't want, the Board is arrogantly elbowing its way to the front, claiming to be the advocate for prairie farmers.
To make matters worse, while the CWB exhibits no reservations about freely spending farmers' money to promote its own political interests, it has not hesitated to gag its directors' ability to represent the interests of those who elect them. The CWB Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest Guidelines obligates CWB directors to disregard the views of farmers in their district when it conflicts with the Board's interests.
In somewhat of an ironic twist, however, the CWB's behaviour betrays its awareness of the growing support for a voluntary CWB. In order to protect its monopoly status in grain marketing, it has become necessary for the CWB to try and monopolize the public debate as well.
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.
web posted October 2, 2000
A producer speaks out
By Rosana Ramos
My husband and I run a mixed farm in the district of Esther, AB, which has been in his family for 3 generations, and we hope that our children will one day be able to continue farming here, if they so wish.
However, my background is not in the farming community. I grew up in Brazil, and only moved to Canada as an adult. All my childhood and teenage years I lived under a military dictatorship. Although I was too young to actively fight against such a political regime, I grew up to have very strong feelings about freedom of choice, freedom of information, and the right to make my own decisions, right or wrong.
Lately I have seen too many similarities between the Canadian Wheat Board and the military in Brazil. Both seem to believe they had the best interests of the people in mind. Both achieved a position of power due to circumstances where, maybe, at the time, there was a need for such an institution or political regime. Both struggle to let go of such a position of power, even if times have changed. And, worst of all, both make people believe that they are not capable of making their own decisions.
I remember when the military finally left and we had our first elections in 20 years. People were afraid of voting. People would make comments like, "Brazilians are not capable of choosing their own president," or "A civilian president will not be as well prepared as a military general to rule the country." And, there were those people that simply thought, "If it has worked for so many years, why take our chances and change it?"
It all worries me very much, because I see so many parallels to the CWB debate. We all have heard people say lately, "Farmers are not capable of marketing their own grain," or "A private institution will not be as well prepared as the CWB to market our grain." And, of course, "If it has worked for so many years, why take our chances and change it?"
I think behind all those statements there is a feeling of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of making the wrong decision and having to face it. Fear that your neighbours will be better prepared to market their grain than you are.
My husband and I are not immune to those feelings either. There is already so much weighing on our shoulders. Why should we bring upon ourselves the job of marketing our own grain? The answer to this question is simple: Because it is a right we should have in a democratic society! I am not against the voluntary alliance of those farmers who wish to market their grain through the CWB. But, I believe it is a violation of our civil rights that we are not allowed to market the fruit of our labor ourselves.
I have been told that the CWB monopoly exists for the good of all farmers, and that a voluntary marketing system would destroy its capability to market grain in an international market. I do not believe this is true, as history has shown that socialism has impoverished proud nations, while competition always encourages economic growth.
I have been called an egoist, a capitalist and even naive because of my beliefs. What really surprises me is that, from my point of view, my husband and I share the same feelings and principles that were fostered by your parents and grandparents, the pioneers of these prairies -- enterprise, freedom of choice, and love of democracy.
In my birth country people finally realized that they were capable of making their own decisions. I wonder how long it will take for people in my adopted country to realize the same.
Rosana Ramos farms with her husband Darryl near Esther, Alberta, and are members of the Prairie Centre.
Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
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