Farmers for economic freedom

Updates from the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network. Several of the items appearing here originally appeared in an email list operated by Dwayne Leslie at http://www3.mb.sympatico.ca/~dleslie/aglinks.htm

An open letter to CWB election candidates

By Craig Docksteader

Dear Candidate for Directorship of the Canadian Wheat Board:

Congratulations on your successful nomination as a candidate for the upcoming election of CWB directors. The campaign should prove to be vigorous and lively, as you and your 64 colleagues attempt to win the support of eligible voters.

In the interests of helping eligible voters determine how they will cast their vote, perhaps you could clarify your position on the following issue: Will you support ending secrecy at the Canadian Wheat Board?

As I’m sure you are well aware, the CWB operates under a policy of strict secrecy, revealing little information beyond that which is necessary to satisfy their legislated requirements. While this has frustrated the efforts of farmers to evaluate the Board’s performance in the past, it will prove to be increasingly unworkable with an elected board. In the same way that secrecy has prevented the objective and independent evaluation of CWB performance, it will also make it impossible to evaluate the performance of its elected directors.

The simplest and most effective way to resolve the problem of undue secrecy is to make the CWB subject to the federal Access to Information Act. This Act clearly identifies what information can be released publicly, and establishes a process and timeline for doing so.

As you may know, there are a number of objections raised whenever the issue of making the CWB subject to the Access to Information Act is discussed. Perhaps the following answers to these objections will help to clarify the issue in your own mind, and be helpful to you in your campaign.

OBJECTION: The CWB cannot be subject to the Access to Information Act because of its commercial nature.

ANSWER: The Access to Information Act already makes provision to protect commercially sensitive information. If the CWB was subject to the Act they would not have to release any information which is commercially sensitive or personal.

OBJECTION: The CWB does not need to be brought under the Access to Information Act because it is already audited by a reputable private sector audit firm.

ANSWER: Bringing the CWB under the Access to Information Act has nothing to do with how reputable the existing auditor is. It pertains to the release of information NOT contained in the CWB’s annual reports, audited financial statements and other publications already publicly available.

OBJECTION: Calling for the Access to Information Act to apply to the CWB implies poor performance or wrongdoing at the Board.

ANSWER: Calling for the Access to Information Act to apply to the CWB is an essential step toward ensuring legitimate public disclosure in an entity established by an Act of Parliament. It is in no way reflective of, or contingent on, the performance of the CWB.

OBJECTION: The CWB already releases more information than its private sector competitors.

ANSWER: The CWB is not a private sector company and therefore cannot expect to abide by the same public disclosure requirements as those who are. Giving politicians the right to establish corporate entities demands an assurance that there will be a high degree of public accountability from those entities. The CWB is such an entity.

Ending secrecy at the Canadian Wheat Board is the only way to ensure the accountability of the CWB and it’s elected directors. I trust that you will take every opportunity to provide voters in your district with a clear understanding of your position on this important issue.

Getting on track

By Craig Docksteader

Common railway running rights it's an idea that keeps coming up. And for good reason, it just might be the way to successfully introduce competition into rail transportation. Competition would in turn introduce accountability, encourage efficiency, and prevent the railways from unilaterally jacking up rates in a de-regulated environment.

In a nutshell, common running rights involves making the existing rail lines accessible to any qualified carrier. This would mean that a CP line could be used by CN, and vice-versa. Other railway companies could get in on the action as well, which would increase the options for rail transportation even further. Freight brokers or transportation users could shop around and find the best deal for their money and contract with that particular service provider. If for any reason they didn't like the service, they could take their business elsewhere.

The underlying concept is actually quite simple you separate the control of the infrastructure (rail lines and beds) from the commercial activity that takes place using this infrastructure. Because the owner of the infrastructure still holds a monopoly, this part of the industry must continue to be subject to performance-based regulation. The service provider, however, is thrust into a competitive, market-based system where business must be attracted on a level playing field.

This is precisely what has happened in the Canadian telecommunications industry. Today, an assortment of long-distance companies compete for your business using the same physical phone lines. AT&T does not have to run it's own phone line down the road and into your home in order to sign you up as a customer. They use the existing lines, along with all the other players in the marketplace who compete for your business. If Sprint can convince you that it can do a better job and give you a better deal, you might take your business over there. If it doesn't come through, you can always choose another service provider. The telecommunications infrastructure is not an impediment to this kind of competition because all players are ensured equal access.

The same developments have taken place in different industries in many parts of the world. The electricity industry in the United Kingdom was separated into three components generation, transmission and distribution, and supply/marketing. Competition was introduced in the first and the last component, while the middle one is managed by performance-based regulation. The result? Numerous companies compete to supply electricity which is delivered over the same power grid. Similar changes have taken place in the U.S. natural gas industry and more recently with a number of European rail networks.

It's interesting to note that there is little dispute over the fact that introducing competition in the rail industry will benefit farmers. Giving farmers choice in how their product is transported to port is the most efficient means of ensuring they are getting the best possible value for every dollar they spend on freight. When customers have choice, they don't need inquiries and commissions and panels and reports and confidential studies based on secret information to tell them they're getting a good deal. They already know if they are or not. On the other hand, when a monopoly runs things, you are never really certain where you stand especially if it conducts its business in secret.

How ironic, then, that the latest proponent of common railway running rights is the Canadian Wheat Board. Their second brief to Justice Willard Estey recommends "competitive railway access" in order to see "increased railway competition, accountability and service". Almost makes you wonder if someone at the CWB is beginning to understand that choice is good for farmers.

Evaluating the performance of CWB directors

By Craig Docksteader

With the campaigning underway to elect ten directors to the Canadian Wheat Board, a number of voices are already encouraging farmers to cast their vote solely on the basis of the candidate's expertise in running a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

The objective seems to be to steer attention away from the issue of the role of the Board and put it on each candidate's ability to run the Board. "This is not the marketing debate anymore," said one candidate.

I’m not sure if anyone really believes this, or if it’s just the politician-thing to say, but it’s a far fling from reality.

When most voters mark their ballot, the number-one issue on their mind is going to be whether the candidate is in favour of maintaining the CWB buying-monopoly, or giving producers choice. Although important, the primary issue has never been how well the Board is run, but whether farmers should be forced to let the Board sell their personal property. Whether or not the Board is doing a good job usually enters the equation only as producers attempt to shore up their respective positions on the board's monopoly status.

But the emphasis on the performance of elected directors raises an important question: How will anyone possibly know if the directors are doing a good job or not?

It's common knowledge that the Board operates under a policy of strict secrecy, revealing little information beyond that which is necessary to satisfy their legislated requirements. This policy has successfully frustrated all previous attempts to independently evaluate the Board’s performance, and has resulted in studies with conclusions which are conflicting and unverifiable. Monopoly supporters can be found lining up behind the studies that support the Board, dual-marketers queue up behind the others, and nothing is resolved.

So when re-election time comes around, how are farmers supposed to evaluate the director in their district? Can you ask for a copy of board meeting minutes? Can you examine expense claims? Can you review CWB sales options and make a determination if directors are doing a good job overseeing sales strategies? What about the records on how the directors voted at board meetings -- will they be publicly available? Can you compare sale prices of the Board with sale prices on the open market? Can you examine budgets and administrative expenses that have been approved by the directors? Can you ask for copies of internal audit reports that document the effectiveness of board decisions and policies?

The respective answers to these questions, are as follows: No, no, no, no, no, no, and no.

It’s like electing someone as a Member of Parliament who then has no responsibility in law to release any details of anything during their term. The cameras would be taken out of the House of Commons, the reporters banished, all government orders would be top-secret, expense claims would be kept under lock and key, you could never hear the debates, never know how your representative voted on the issues, and never be sure of what they actually stood for or did once they got inside those walls. All you would get to see is an annual report which summarized the year’s financial transactions.

Obviously, this kind of arrangement would never fly in a general federal election. But when it comes to electing directors to the Canadian Wheat Board, it's reality for prairie farmers. Regardless of a candidate's qualifications, secrecy at the CWB will make it impossible to evaluate their performance as a director or ensure any measure of accountability.

It's what CWB Minister Ralph Goodale likes to call democracy. After all, you get to vote.

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.

Liberals see farmers as more dangerous than robbers, says Reform MP

The Liberal government is treating peaceful farmers more harshly than armed robbers, says Jake E. Hoeppner, M.P. for Portage-Lisgar. Hoeppner rose in the House of Commons October 26 to compare the treatment of farmers who sell their grain outside the Canadian Wheat Board to that of a man convicted of armed robbery.

"In 1996, a Lethbridge farmer was sentenced to a $4 000 fine, or six months in jail for taking $5 worth of grain across the border. The judge who handed out that cruel sentence has a son. The judge's son was convicted of robbing a casino that same year of $1 970 at knife-point, but he received nothing more than a suspended sentence and a year probation," the M.P. revealed.

"Now 29 farmers are going to court in Regina for selling their own grain outside Ottawa's Wheat Board. Why is this Justice Minister seeking such cruel punishment for farmers trying to get a fair price for their own grain?" demanded Hoeppner.

Wheat Board Minister Ralph Goodale responded that rules and regulations in law must be followed, even if they are unpopular.

But Hoeppner says the treatment of farmers is unfair. "A knife-wielding robber gets a suspended sentence. But the robber's father hands out huge fines and jail sentences to farmers for selling their own grain. Who is the greater threat to society? A knife-wielding robber, or a hard-working farmer trying to make ends meet?" Hoeppner concluded.

NCC will continue advertising during elections despite gag attempt

The National Citizens' Coalition announced in early October that it would continue its fight against the Canadian Wheat Board during the so-called "elections" for Directors this fall.

"Farmers have a right to know what is wrong with the Wheat Board and its policies," says NCC President Stephen Harper. "They also have a right to know what a sham this entire electoral process is."

NCC ads will point out that, under Wheat Board legislation, the federal government has effectively stacked the election by gerrymandering the electoral districts, selecting its own voters (including tens of thousands of non-farmers), directly picking one-third of the winners, and limiting the mandate of the Board.

"Our ads will point out that Agriculture Minister Ralph Goodale seems to get his definition of democracy the same way Chrétien does lately - from people like Suharto and Castro," says the NCC leader.

The NCC campaign was welcomed by the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network (CFEN), which has ridiculed the election process, calling it a "demockery."

Harper hopes NCC efforts will remove the "chill effect" that Ottawa is attempting to impose on Prairie farmers through restrictions on free speech and advertising contained in recently released election regulations.

Harper notes that "the NCC position is that such gag laws are unconstitutional and unenforceable. We intend to freely express our political opinions using our own resources. We encourage other organizations and individuals to do the same."


The CFEN needs your help! The battle against the Canada Wheat Board can only continue with your support.

Canadian Farm Enterprise Network
Box 521
Central Butte, Saskatchewan
S0H 0T0
CANADA

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

The Canadian Wheat Board
423 Main Street
P.O. Box 816, Stn. M.
Winnipeg, MB
Canada
R3C 2P5

Telephone: (204) 983-0239 / 1-800-ASK-4-CWB
Fax: (204) 983-3841

Email Address: cwb@cwb.ca

Ralph Goodale
Minister Responsible for the Canada Wheat Board
Department of Natural Resources Canada
21 - 580 Booth Street
Ottawa, ON
Canada
K1A 0E4

Telephone: (613)996-2007
Fax Number: (613)996-4516
Email Address: rgoodale@NRCan.gc.ca




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