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 20, 1999
Thumbs down for Anderson's proposed Endangered Species Law
By Craig Docksteader
I guess we were supposed to cheer. After fighting to see issues such as voluntary stewardship, cooperation and compensation included in the federal government's plan to protect endangered species, Environment Minister David Anderson's recent announcement should have been a welcome surprise for prairie landowners.
And, on one hand, it is. After all, Anderson is now promising to work with landowners by putting in place positive incentives instead of relying on threats and intimidation. He seems to at least be giving a little more attention to the fact that you cannot protect endangered species while endangering landowners. All of a sudden his tone is more conciliatory and cooperative. Quite a switch from when he first took over the environment portfolio in mid-summer.
The problem with Anderson's plan, however, is that it bears striking resemblance to the proverbial Trojan horse. The package is sort of attractive, as long as you don't peer inside.
The most ominous provision of Anderson's proposal is his so-called "Safety Net". Anderson plans on passing legislation which would allow the federal government to come barging into provincial jurisdiction and trample on private property rights. Like a parent hovering over a fully-grown child, Anderson wants to monitor how the prairie provinces are doing in protecting endangered species, and reserve the right to step in. Nevermind that in a recent independent study commissioned by the federal government, the prairies scored far higher than the federal government in endangered species protection. Anderson's paternalistic approach will have federal wildlife officials peering over the shoulder of their provincial counterparts to make sure they're doing their job.
If this provision doesn't incense provincial politicians, then they're asleep at the wheel. Both wildlife and private property rights have historically been provincial turf. Provincial premiers trashed the federal government's plan to include property rights in the 1981 Charter of Rights and Freedoms for this very reason. Under the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (signed in 1996 by all federal and provincial wildlife ministers) the federal and provincial governments were supposed to introduce complementary legislation, not contentious legislation. If this is the federal government's interpretation of complementary, the prairie provinces should pull out of the Accord.
If you probe a little deeper, it gets worse. Anderson plans on including criminal penalties in the Act for infractions. Although he makes a valiant effort to ensure us that such provisions will only impact bad people who hate animals, his arguments offer little reassurance. Just ask any environmentalist, and they'll tell you that we're not losing endangered species because of a few criminals who wantonly destroy wildlife. 80 percent of endangered species got that way due to a loss of habitat which occurs primarily as a result of agriculture, forestry and urban expansion. You don't have to be an environmental scholar to realize that this is where the law will have its greatest impact -- on agriculture, forestry, and municipal governments, both rural and urban. Thanks to David Anderson, tomorrow's new criminals will be farmers, ranchers and municipal officials.
But perhaps the most objectionable aspect of Anderson's proposal is the fact that it is largely unnecessary.
The fact is, all three prairie provinces are ahead of the federal government in their initiatives to protect endangered species and their habitat and already have adequate endangered species legislation in place. Voluntary efforts and landowner stewardship activities are making commendable progress towards both preserving habitat and protecting endangered species.
The federal government should mind its own business before telling the provinces and landowners how to run theirs. When it does, then we can cheer.
web posted December 13, 1999
The trouble with transportation
By Craig Docksteader
I wonder if anyone anticipated the difficulties that would be met when the decision was made to reform the prairie grain transportation and handling system. Initially, the process seemed destined for success. There was a clear consensus that change was essential; a deep frustration with the existing system; and cheers were heard all 'round when the Estey Review was first announced. Participants on all sides were anxious to see constructive reforms implemented which would prevent the system failures experienced in 1993-94 and 1996-97.
But it didn't take long for the rosy sheen to rub off the glasses. Early in the process, it became evident that the same polarization of opinion which has repeatedly undermined efforts to reform the marketing aspect of the prairie grain industry, was in danger of paralyzing transportation reform as well.
At this point nobody's very confident about the outcome of the review process. While the government will claim to have succeeded no matter what happens, formerly optimistic farmers have been sobered after seeing the extent of fear and suspicion toward change and deregulation. Regrettably, the odds seem increasingly in favour of a stalemate. The push for substantive change could end in failure.
If this happens, there will undoubtedly be many contributing factors. But one particular issue stands out above the rest -- the government's failure to incorporate the issue of marketing into the terms of reference for the transportation and handling review.
The reality is, transportation is a function of marketing. Without marketing, there is no need for transportation. It is a sale that both creates the need and determines the nature of the necessary transportation. The location of the market, timing of the sale, and other contractual obligations all have an impact on transportation decisions. If the product does not arrive, or arrives at the wrong time or place, it affects not only that sale, but future sales as well.
The CWB likes to trumpet these facts as support for their insistence that they must have a central role in transportation. As the farmer's marketer, their ability to do a good job supposedly hangs on it. But in reality, this is the very reason farmers must be given control of the marketing of their own crop. It is the farmer, not the CWB, that carries the risk involved in both marketing and transportation, and it is the farmer that needs to be in a position to manage that risk in the manner he deems best.
Allowing farmers to bypass the existing monopoly marketing system will give them the option of bypassing the transportation system as well. If a farmer is not happy with his transportation options, he may look for alternative markets which allow him to access more efficient modes of transportation. Or, he may choose to get out of shipping his raw product entirely by moving into value-added processing. Then again, he may choose to sell his product directly to a local grain buyer and walk away with his money in his pocket, leaving someone else with all the risk and logistics headaches. Whatever his decision, however, marketing choice means he would no longer be forced to relinquish control of his product while retaining all the risk.
Up until this point, the debate surrounding the reform of the transportation and handling system has centered largely around the issues of competition and contracts. While introducing these to the system would bring improvements, they will not achieve the results necessary until the foundational issue of marketing choice is resolved. Until we address this issue we will always have trouble with transportation.
Sent by the centre in response to a recent column by Environment Minister David Anderson in several weekly Canadian newspapers
After calling Environment Minister David Anderson's office numerous times over a ten-day period, and dutifully leaving messages at the voice-mail prompts, nobody called me back. I eventually gave up. But although neither Minister Anderson nor anyone else in his office appear to have time to return his phone calls, it is encouraging to see that he does have time to read prairie weekly newspapers.
Regrettably, however, in a recent letter to the editor, Anderson was wrong in his assertion that there are errors in the Prairie Centre's information regarding his proposed endangered species legislation. A closer look at Anderson's response to the seven points made in the disputed Prairie Centre commentary tells the story:
Point #1: Regulations under the proposed endangered species law will apply to private property as well as Crown land. Anderson's response: Minister Anderson did not dispute this. He was the one who announced this fact.
Point #2: This means the federal government could regulate the use of your land because an endangered species lives on it. Anderson's response: Minister Anderson did not dispute this either. He admitted it was so when he attempted to downplay it by suggesting that such regulated use of land "would occur very rarely".
Point #3: The federal government could regulate the use of your land if an endangered species lived on an adjoining property Anderson's response: Minister Anderson did not dispute this fact.
Point #4: This regulation of your land could result in a loss of income by restricting activity on the land. Anderson's response: Minister Anderson did not dispute this fact either.
Point #5: This regulation of your land could result in a loss of potential future income by limiting your ability to develop the land. Anderson's response: Minister Anderson did not dispute this fact.
Point #6: This regulation of your land could affect its resale value. Anderson's response: Minister Anderson did not dispute this fact.
Point #7: You will not be paid compensation for personal losses in either income or land value due to the impact of the endangered species legislation on your property.
Anderson's response: Minister Anderson has waffled on this since he took over the department of the Environment. His predecessor, Christine Stewart assured stakeholders that compensation would be part of the package. Minister Anderson first suggested compensation would not be included and is now saying it might be. He is still making no guarantees.
Although Minister Anderson would like us to think that the direction
he is headed with endangered species legislation is different from the
U.S. experience, the facts on the table so far offer little reassurance
to landowners. If such reassurance surfaces in the future, the Prairie
Centre would be delighted. In the meantime, the public record indicates
landowners have good reason to be wary.
web posted December 6, 1999
Legal opinions on property rights in Canada
By Craig Docksteader
The fact that Canadians have no protection for their property rights has been verified repeatedly by lawyers, judges, legislative researchers and constitutional experts. The following are quotes from some of their findings:
web posted November 29, 1999
Prairie Centre Applauds Proposed Changes to Access to Information Act
REGINA (November 22, 1999) - The Prairie Centre is applauding the introduction of a Private Member's Bill by Roy Bailey, Member of Parliament for Souris-Moose Mountain, which would make the Canadian Wheat Board subject to the Access to Information Act.
"Farmers' efforts to obtain detailed information about the activities and performance of the CWB have been repeatedly frustrated by unnecessary secrecy at the CWB," Docksteader said. "The changes proposed today in Bailey's Private Member's Bill would solve this problem by giving farmers a clear, accountable process for obtaining detailed information on CWB operations, while protecting commercially sensitive information. It's what farmers have repeatedly asked for over the last five years."
Docksteader noted that the election of farmers to the CWB board of directors did nothing to solve the problem of CWB secrecy. "The CWB not only continues to be secretive, but now appears to be in a state of confusion on this issue as well. The Prairie Centre made a written request for information from the CWB on April 1of this year, and didn't even get a response for four months."
"Today, almost nine months later, we still don't have the information, nor any indication of whether it will be forthcoming. The response we did get from the CWB indicated that they have no fixed criteria to evaluate such requests, and were uncertain about how to proceed. This is a joke."
Docksteader said that making the CWB subject to the Access to Information Act would clear up a lot of uncertainty for both farmers and CWB directors. "When it comes to requesting information, the process, timelines, requirements, and exemptions are all laid out in the legislation," Docksteader said. "It takes the guess work out of it for everyone and gives a clear avenue for appeal if someone isn't following the rules. It would be a win-win situation."
A real crisis requires real solutions
By Craig Docksteader
Few prairie grain farmers can remember a time when farming was this difficult. Costs are up, prices are down, and profit margins are non-existent for many. Even good managers are feeling the pinch.
Although the technical details of the current commodity crunch are tedious and complicated, the bottom line is simple: There is too much supply and too little demand. Economic problems in importer countries are putting downward pressure on market demand; subsidy levels in exporter countries are propping up artificially high production levels; and record crops worldwide in four of the last five years have resulted in large carryover stocks.
The end result is that when supply goes up and demand goes down, the price goes down with it. Factor into this equation input prices that just keep on rising, and grain transportation costs that have more than doubled since 1995, and you have desperation on a broad scale.
Surviving the next few years will not be easy for some. The increasing number of voices calling for a cash payment from the government testifies to the growing apprehension. Without some kind of cash infusion, many face a bleak future and the growing prospect of bankruptcy. One can only farm below the cost of production for so long. Some are already at the end of their rope.
Like all fluctuations in commodity markets, however, this one will pass too. Life will return to some semblance of normal, we will survey the damage, pick up the pieces, and carry on. Hopefully, we will learn something through it all that will help us to be better prepared for future swings in commodity prices.
Perhaps the greatest lesson already emerging is a recognition of how damaging some government policies can be. Especially those that either distort market signals, or unnecessarily impede a producer's ability to respond to those market signals.
The most obvious example of this is the foreign subsidies on grain production or grain exports in the European Union and the U.S. Farmers in the EU don't really care if there is a glut on the wheat market because their government has guaranteed them a healthy price for their crop. Under normal market signals, the Europeans would seed less wheat, which would aid a speedy market recovery. Instead, they carry on oblivious to market realities, forcing prices down further and hindering market recovery.
But while it's easy to point fingers at the Americans and Europeans, we tend to be a little slow seeing the application of this truth in our own backyard. The fact is, all subsidies are harmful to a healthy marketplace, whether domestic or foreign. Too few producers recognize the inherent contradiction of calling for an end to foreign subsidies on one hand, while lamenting the loss of our own Crow subsidy on the other. Like the Europeans, when one needs the cash, it's all too easy to ignore the long-term consequences, if we recognize them at all.
The prairie grain industry has more than its fair share of government policies which either impede producers' ability to respond to market signals, distort those signals, or simply block them altogether. From the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board to an unaccountable, dysfunctional transportation and handling system, the problem is rampant on the prairies. Rather than helping farmers through a crisis like the current one, these policies hinder them by eliminating options, restricting competition, removing their access to risk management tools, and denying them the ability to individually capture the full benefit of any value-added venture.
The farm income crisis is real. That's why farmers need real solutions. Cash will get many of them through, but unless we change the way we do business in the prairie grain industry, it's just a matter of time until we find ourselves in the same place all over again.
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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