Harper uses new math to kill the CWB

I’ve come to the disturbing conclusion that Canadians in general and the Conservative Party of Canada in particular can’t count. Here are some examples:

-Between 2006 and May 2011 Stephen Harper and his Conservatives led two minority Parliaments, and yet they tried to run this country as if they had a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, proroguing Parliament whenever the Opposition got uppity.

-On May 2, 2011, 39 per cent of voters in Canada cast a ballot for the Conservative Party of Canada, and yet they control 54 per cent of the seats.

-The Conservatives plan to build more prisons and just rolled out their omnibus crime bill, which has been touted as a response to increased crime, despite the fact that Statistics Canada says that all crime, including violent crime, is at a its lowest rate in almost 40 years.

Most recently Gerry Ritz and his moustache have stated that the Conservatives will move forward with their plan to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) monopoly, despite 62 per cent of wheat farmers and 51 per cent of barley farmers voting to keep the “single-desk” system.

On Sept. 19, Opposition MPs asked the “Harper Government” to consider the will of the farmers before dissolving the CWB, but Harper and Ritz stood behind their claim that the plebiscite was non-binding and their argument that, since Conservative MPs were elected in almost every rural riding in the West, they have a “mandate” from farmers.

Frankly I find this logic to be pig-headed. Do the election results also mean the Conservatives have no say in the affairs of Quebec or Newfoundland — which are dominated by NDP and Liberal ridings, respectively? No, of course not. These provinces will be as impacted by the polices of Harper’s Conservatives as Alberta.

In all of the posturing by Harper and Ritz, arguing about what metric should be used to determine what farmers want, it seems like the importance of the CWB, which has provided a valuable service to Canadian farmers since its inception in 1935, has been ignored.

Put simply, the CWB supports Western Canada’s grain farmers. They do this by marketing their wheat, barley and durum — 80 per cent of which is sold outside of Canada; transporting the grain to market; providing farmers with “initial payments” to cover their costs between when the grain is dropped off at an elevator and sold; pool farmers’ crops to spread risk across a large number of individuals; research all aspects of grain production and use this knowledge to increase the crop’s value.

To do all of this the CWB employs hundreds of people around the world, 430 in Winnipeg alone, and claims that, in Manitoba, 3,000 jobs have been created as a direct result of their existence.

Furthermore, outside of its operating costs, the CWB does not keep any revenues from the sale of farmers’ grain. In 2010 this meant more than $5 billion was returned to prairie farmers according to the CWB.

Critics will still say, though, that farmers should have the right to market their wheat as they see fit, and that if the CWB does its job well, farmers will continue to support it in a competitive market. This, however, ignores what a competitive market does to the price of goods, which is decrease them.

The CWB argues that one of the most severe consequences in an environment where several companies are marketing Canadian wheat will be that sellers could be forced to undercut each others’ prices, reducing the return to farmers. This return could be impacted to an even greater degree if for-profit companies step in to market grain, which would no doubt take a cut above and beyond the operating costs currently retained by the CWB.

Why are these benefits of the CWB and drawbacks to its demise not entering the debate over the future of this Canadian institution? Why are Harper and Ritz so content to stand behind their “mandate” and dismiss MPs for being too “urban” instead of engaging in a productive debate?

It’s because they are wrong, and they know it, and acting like politicians instead of dictators would expose the shallow neo-conservative motives behind their “ideals.”

Sixty one per cent of voters didn’t cast a ballot for the Conservative Party of Canada and 62 percent of wheat farmers want the CWB to stay intact, which according to Harper’s sums means he can do anything he damn well pleases.

To read Spencer Fernando’s take on the CWB’s monopoly follow this link

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