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 December 25, 2000
New year brings new opportunities
By Craig Docksteader
With the New Year comes new beginnings. Many people see it as a time to leave the past behind, make new resolutions and turn the page. It's a time to look forward to the opportunities that tomorrow will bring, and put aside the disappointments of yester-year.
But for former CWB Commissioners Lorne Hehn, Richard Klassen, and Gordon Machej, this January 1 is more significant than usual. After leaving the CWB, all three were handed a severance package worth a quarter of a million dollars, on the condition that they would not work in the grain trade in a competitive position with the CWB for two years. January 1, the two years are up, and the former Commissioners can go to work for whoever they want.
The purpose for the two-year condition was understandable. As former Commissioners, Hehn, Klassen and Machej were privy to significant amounts of commercially-sensitive information. The severance deal ensured that they would be prevented from taking that information and using it to the benefit of a CWB competitor at the possible expense of the CWB.
Now that the two years are up, however, the playing field is wide open. Anything is permissible. Hehn could go to work for the Australian Wheat Board, Klassen could become the next CEO of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and Machej could go to work as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All of the formerly commercially-sensitive information is two years old and apparently of little consequence.
That is, unless you're a producer.
It's no secret that the CWB routinely denies producers information on grain sales under the claim that the information is commercially sensitive. Even if a sales contract was closed in the 70's or 80's, producers are told that making the information public would result in lost sales, lost customers, and lost revenue for farmers. More than one CWB department head has insisted to the Prairie Centre that even sales information from the 1950's would be valuable to CWB competitors.
Although such alarming claims are useful in derailing requests for detailed information on grain sales, their accuracy is questionable for a number of reasons:
1. The two-year severance package for former Commissioners suggests that the CWB's real window of commercial-sensitivity is about 24 months. Since Hehn, Klassen and Machej can now take what they know and go to work for CWB competitors, producers should have access to the same dated sales information.
2. If historic CWB sales information has that much value in the marketplace, former CWB Commissioners should be a pretty hot commodity. Grain traders around the world should be standing in line to snap them up. There is little evidence that this is actually the case.
3. Grain trade insiders claim that those in the industry's inner circle are well aware of who is selling to whom, and often know the sale prices. Information travels quickly once a deal is made in the business world, and the grain trade is no different. It's only producers who are on the outside.
Most prairie producers would wish the former CWB Commissioners well in whatever new line of work they find themselves. The lack of commercial sensitivity in two-year-old CWB sales information means there is nothing to be gained by restricting the Commissioners' future employment opportunities. But it also means there's no reason to restrict producers' access to the same dated CWB sales information.
No Christmas cheer in endangered species recommendations
REGINA - (December 22) Farmers and ranchers could pay dearly for protecting endangered species under recommendations submitted to the government yesterday, says the Centre for Prairie Agriculture (Prairie Centre).
Environment Canada yesterday released a report by Dr. Peter Pearse, which outlines how the federal government should handle the issue of compensation to landowners affected by the proposed Species at Risk Act.
"If the recommendations of this report are adopted, a farmer or rancher could be forced to absorb thousands of dollars in lost income or lost property value in order to protect an endangered species", said Craig Docksteader, Coordinator with the Prairie Centre.
The report by Dr. Pearse recommends that compensation to landowners should not kick in until landowners experience a loss equivalent to 10 per cent of their property's value. Once that threshold is reached, only 50 per cent of any additional losses will be compensated.
"This means a farmer would receive only $4,000 compensation for a $10,000 loss on land worth $20,000", Docksteader said. "This does not constitute a fair approach to covering the cost of public policy. Since all Canadians benefit from protecting endangered species, all Canadians should share the costs equally. Putting a disproportionate burden on landowners will discourage their voluntary conservation efforts and could endanger species at risk rather than protect them."
Docksteader said all compensation should be at full market value. "The
federal government's concern that full compensation may serve as a disincentive
for voluntary conservation efforts, can be easily resolved", he added.
"Drop the stick and stick with the carrot. Build on the good will
of landowners, and work in a cooperative fashion without the threat of
regulatory confiscation. Voluntary, cooperative efforts have proven to
be the most effective approach to protecting endangered species. Regrettably,
the punitive nature of Dr. Pearse's recommendations will erode the effectiveness
of this approach."
web posted December 18, 2000
When a duck is not a duck
By Craig Dockstead
Someone once said, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck." Apparently, that someone was not acquainted with the Canadian Wheat Board.
In recent comments to the media, spokespersons for both the Wheat Board and CWB Minister Ralph Goodale have attempted to deflect calls for the CWB to come under the Access to Information Act by noting that the CWB is no longer a government institution. Because the purpose of the Access to Information Act is to "provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution", secrecy advocates smugly point out the CWB's peculiar "non-government institution" status and think they've played a trump card.
But not so fast. It's true, that the CWB Act states, "The Corporation [CWB] is not an agency of Her Majesty and is not a Crown corporation within the meaning of the Financial Administration Act." In other words, it's not a duck. However, the Act also says the following:
Technically, the CWB is not a government agency. Even though it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and holds the right to legally pose as a duck, it's not a duck.
The CWB is called a "shared governance corporation" -- a relatively new term dreamed up by the federal government's Treasury Board when it needed a name for a duck that is not a duck. At first they were going to call it a "mixed-enterprise", but that didn't work because mixed enterprises have to be corporations with shareholders. Although the CWB likes to call farmers shareholders, the bureaucrats apparently didn't buy the fact that you can be a shareholder if you don't have any shares. Most farmers don't buy it either.
But contrary to what Goodale's office and CWB spokespersons would lead producers to believe, the CWB's non-duck, duck status poses no barrier to seeing it placed under the Access to Information Act. Although the CWB is not a Crown corporation within the meaning of the Financial Administration Act, it easily falls within the definition of "government institution" found in the Access to Information Act. Furthermore, Port Authorities across Canada are shared-governance corporations just like the CWB, and they're all under the Access to Information Act.
Bringing the CWB under the provisions of the Access to Information Act would be a win-win situation for producers and the CWB. It would establish a clearly-defined, accountable process for obtaining information, while protecting commercially sensitive information. Duck or no duck, there's no reason for the CWB to oppose it.
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.
Canadian Wheat Board and Minister's office misleading producers
REGINA - The Canadian Wheat Board and CWB Minister Goodale's office are misleading producers by suggesting that the CWB cannot be brought under the federal Access to Information Act. Spokespersons for the Wheat Board and Minister Goodale attempted to dodge producer demands last week that the CWB be made subject to the Access to Information Act by noting that the Board is now technically neither a government agency nor a government institution.
"Producers need to be aware that the objections of the CWB and the Minister's office are simply nonsense," said Craig Docksteader, Coordinator with the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture. "Even a casual reading of the CWB Act and the Access to Information Act reveals that in spite of the Board's peculiar legal status, there is no barrier to bringing its operations under the Access to Information Act."
Under federal legislation, prairie producers are obligated each year to surrender 4 - 6 billion dollars of grain to be marketed by the Wheat Board, but are then prohibited from requesting information about CWB operations under the Access to Information Act. Docksteader noted that even the Bank of Canada, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are subject to the public disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act. While the CWB has recently implemented an information policy, the policy does not meet the standards set by the Access to Information Act, and fails on 24 of 31 elements, including no appeal process, no fixed timelines for the release of information, and no penalties for failure to comply.
"Decisions over what information farmers can obtain should not be arbitrarily decided by Board employees, with no accountability to the federal Information Commissioner," Docksteader said. "Producers are entitled to the same level of accountability from the CWB that is routinely required of other public policy initiatives. There is no legitimate justification for establishing sweeping public policy measures such as those granted by the Canadian Wheat Board Act and then exempting their implementation from public scrutiny."
Docksteader said that unlike the CWB's proposed information policy, the procedures established by the Access to Information Act would give producers an appropriate level of access to information, while providing all of the protection necessary for commercially-sensitive information.
web posted December 11, 2000
Obtaining information from the CWB
By Craig Docksteader
It was April 1, 1999 when the Prairie Centre wrote to the Canadian Wheat Board asking for information on historic oat sale prices. Addressed to CWB CEO Greg Arason, the request was straightforward:
"We are currently undertaking a study evaluating the Canadian Wheat Board's performance in the marketing of oats from 1979 to 1989. We wish to compare sale prices obtained by the CWB with open market prices of the day, on a sale by sale basis, as well as in aggregate. In order to facilitate this project, we are requesting detailed information on all CWB oat sales made during this time period. In addition, we would appreciate copies of any internal evaluations conducted by the CWB on this issue."
It was four months later when Mr Arason finally replied, saying the request was being considered.
Then, on August 4, 1999 the Prairie Centre received a letter from Bob Roehle, Head of Corporate Communications at the CWB. In part, the letter read: "Before responding to your request, the [Communications Standing] Committee felt they required more information on your organization. Specifically the Committee would like information on the Prairie Centre's objectives and mandate, membership (number and composition), board of directors and executive (names, addresses and affiliation), and its sources of funding."
The response was suspect. To clarify the CWB's intentions, the Prairie Centre wrote back,
"Further to your letter... we would be happy to provide the information you requested on the Prairie Centre. In order to assist us in ensuring our response is of sufficient detail to meet your requirements, we would appreciate clarification of the specific criteria employed when determining your response to requests of this nature."
Bob Roehle wrote back, "...The Standing Committee on Communications has not established fixed criteria as such for evaluating information requests. Committee decisions are largely judgement calls based on available information."
By now the picture was becoming clear. In spite of the fact that no criteria existed for evaluating information requests, the CWB was requesting additional information in order to respond. The Prairie Centre attempted again to clarify the CWB's intentions, writing the following:
"If the CWB Board of Directors does not employ any specific criteria when determining their response to information requests, on what basis does it determine that more information is necessary...? Is it standard CWB policy to respond to information inquiries by seeking to carry out an investigation of the individuals or organizations making the request? Does the CWB release information to only certain Canadian citizens, farmers, or media personnel after a type of ad hoc litmus test has been passed, the criteria of which is secret and unavailable to the general public, farmers and farm organizations?"
That was October 18, 1999. The Prairie Centre never received a reply from the CWB and never received the information. CWB Director Michael Halyk later indicated to Prairie Centre staff that the information was compiled and he saw no reason why it couldn't be released. Nonetheless, it never arrived.
On November 28, 2000 the CWB released their new Information Policy. It spells out the details of how information can now be obtained from the Wheat Board and concedes that, "Farmers have the right to information pertaining to CWB performance."
Regrettably however, although the objectives of the policy are commendable, it contains nothing to assure farmers and farm organizations that they won't continue to get the run-around. The Policy is missing 24 out of 31 required elements, including an appeal process and a time limit for releasing requested information. To top it off, the CWB insists on knowing why information is being requested, and reserves the right to review any research conducted.
Time will tell if the new Policy changes anything, but one thing is already clear: There is still a long way to go to end unnecessary secrecy at the Canadian Wheat Board.
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.
New CWB Information Policy Gets Failing Grade
web posted December 4, 2000
Down home humour
By Kevin Avram
The humour of rural people is easy to love. It tends to be simple and straightforward. I suppose that's why small towns and rural communities can be so much fun.
A couple of months ago, I was visiting some friends in the rural areas of the mid-west. It's sand hill country -- lots of ranches mostly. The area has a rich history and the lifestyle is flavoured with a good measure of down-home humour. One of my good friends is a rancher in those sand hills. He's about 55 years old now, but the memories of a mischievous youth are never far away.
One particular story he tells is about the time he and a couple of buddies turned a whole passel of chickens loose in the high school. Late one night they got a truckload of them, and then one by one, pushed them into the school through a ground floor window. When he described what it was like to sit back and watch the teachers chasing all those chickens the next morning, trying to catch them, he laughed so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks.
The subject of small town humour also came up at a family get-together I recently attended. Once a year a good number of uncles, aunts, cousins, and assorted others gather in Regina to reminisce and renew old acquaintances. It's always fun and this year was no exception. We laughed about a number of stories, and then one of my older uncles mentioned a humourous letter to the editor that years before he'd clipped out of a newspaper.
He has several scrapbooks that are truly wonderful. They're full of political memorabilia and old newspaper clippings. He even has copies of old newspaper ads from back in the Tommy Douglas days when the Saskatchewan government was running more money losing crown corporations than it is now. One ad that he has declares that all people should "Buy Saskatchewan Government Boots!" He laughed when he showed it to me and said that they were lousy boots because every pair had two left feet.
The day after this most recent family get-together he dug into his treasure and came up with a copy of the letter he'd told me about. The date isn't on it. The name of the newspaper he got it from is forgotten. It was written early in the last century and addressed to the US government. It's a wonderful example of country humour.
- - - - - - - - - -
Dear Uncle Sam,
A friend here in Cattaraugus County, received a $1,000 cheque from the government this year for not raising hogs. So, after giving it much thought, I too am going to go into the not raising hogs business. I intend to start right away.
What I want to know is - in your opinion - what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on, and what are the best kind of hogs not to raise? I would prefer not to raise any of them razorbacks, but if that is not a good breed not to raise, I would just as gladly not raise any Berkshires or Durocs. I figure the hardest thing in this not raising hogs business is going to be keeping an inventory on how many I haven't raised.
My friend is very joyful about the future of the business. He has been raising hogs for more than 20 years and the best he ever made was $400. That was in 1918. This year changed all that when he got paid $1,000 for not raising hogs.
If I can get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, then I assume I'll get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs. I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to not raising about 4,000 hogs, which means I'll have eighty thousand dollars. I'd like to buy a boat.
I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of year for not raising hogs.
Yours very truly,
PS: Can I raise 10 or 12 hogs on the side while I am in the "not-raising hogs business" - just enough to get a few sides of bacon to eat?
Kevin Avram is a former director of the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, and continues to sit as a member of the Prairie Centre's Advisory Board.
web posted November 27, 2000
Dispelling the myths about a voluntary CWB
By Craig Docksteader
Despite the rhetoric of the nay-sayers, there is no reason why the Canadian Wheat Board could not survive as a voluntary agency. All the huffing and puffing to the contrary is pretty nonsensical and deserves to be put to rest.
Consider the following:
1. The prairie Wheat Pools successfully operated like a voluntary wheat board in the 1920's, marketing more than 50 per cent of the prairie wheat crop. If a grassroots movement could do it almost 80 years ago, how come CWB bureaucrats can't figure it out today? It was only when the Pools started speculating in the marketplace and gave cash advances on unhedged wheat that they went bankrupt.
2. The Wheat Pools' voluntary wheat board originally operated without owning a single elevator. They simply contracted with the existing companies who were only too happy to ensure that Pool wheat moved through their facilities. There is no reason why the CWB couldn't successfully operate in exactly the same manner.
3. At the height of the voluntary pool movement in 1927, the Pools controlled only 15 per cent of the country elevator space and 27 per cent of terminal space. Yet they successfully moved more than 50 per cent of the prairie wheat crop. Today, the CWB has a monopoly on marketing, and federal law states that "every elevator shall be operated for and on behalf of the [CWB]". Yet the system is plagued with problems, inefficiencies, and unaccountability. How can CWB bureaucrats suggest with a straight face that the monopoly makes things work better for farmers?
4. A voluntary CWB could continue to offer government-guaranteed initial payments. The federal government already has a program in place to provide this service to voluntary marketing cooperatives. Suggestions that guarantees and interest-free cash advances would be lost under a voluntary CWB are wrong. Those who perpetrate this myth have either not done their homework or are simply trying to scare producers from thinking for themselves.
5. Premiums. But what about the CWB's premiums that it earns because of the monopoly? First of all, no one has ever proven that any such premiums exist. Secrecy at the CWB prohibits a conclusive analysis. Secondly, just ask any producer if he received last year's premium for marketing through the CWB monopoly and see what he says. One recent study that suggests CWB premiums do exist never checked at the farm gate. Another study that did check at the farm gate found that grain producers in Saskatchewan take home $500 million a year less than their counterparts in North Dakota and Montana. And the difference has nothing to do with subsidies.
6. When the CWB was forced to operate under a dual-market for barley in 1993, only one thing changed: Producers got better service from the CWB than they did prior to the implementation of the dual market. Suddenly the CWB had to compete with the private trade for farmers' business. In response they used producer contracts to ensure supply, made changes to improve returns on the barley pool account, gave farmers more delivery options, and considered implementing penalties for poor performance. Farmers were better off and the CWB continued to be an active and successful player in the barley market.
Fears about removing the CWB's monopoly on wheat and barley are completely unfounded. They are based entirely on fiction, not fact.
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.
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