The Canadian Wheat Board Alliance (CWBA) members say they got a good hearing from Liberal government MPs, including a couple of cabinet ministers, when they lobbied in Ottawa recently to restore the Canadian Wheat Board.
“No one said no (to the idea),” CWBA spokesman and Swan River, Man., farmer Ken Sigurdson said in an interview March 11. “The single desk is not off the agenda.”
The CWBA met with Transport Minister Marc Garneau, parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister, Jean-Claude Poissant and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. It also met with the NDP’s rural caucus.
The former Conservative government ended the single desk Aug. 1, 2012 after a long and divisive debate.
In an interview after last October’s federal election, Ralph Goodale, a Saskatchewan Liberal MP and former minister responsible for the CWB, said various trade agreements prevent a restoration. But even if that hurdle could be overcome, he isn’t sure the majority of farmers wants it back.
“You’d have to very carefully assess producer opinion, because over that long period of time the debate was going on, there was ample opportunity for producers to raise an outcry over the loss of the board and some did, but the vast majority didn’t,” Goodale said.
Sigurdson said a lot has happened since the CWB’s demise, including a better understanding among farmers over what was lost. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a populist economic think-tank, also says the CWB should be revived.
The alliance cites research by University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist Richard Gray which estimates grain companies took $6.5 billion in excess profits from farmers in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
The CWBA attributes that loss directly to loss of the CWB single desk.
Gray’s research, however, concluded the extraordinarily wide basis (difference between futures and cash grain prices) was caused by a record harvest and a shortage of rail capacity. “While the impacts of the rail capacity shortage could plausibly have been smaller under the CWB single desk, estimating this impact would be difficult and certainly require a different analysis,” Gray said in a written statement Feb. 19.
His research found that basis levels were normal during the 2012-13 crop year, the first year following implementation of the open market. Basis levels have also returned to normal levels in the 2015-16 marketing year.
At a news conference in Ottawa, Sigurdson said that under the CWB, farmers received 90 per cent of the price grain sold for, now it’s 40 to 50 per cent.
Fellow campaigner Andrew Dennis of Brookdale, Man. said the result has been a “hemorrhage” of cash from the West, and rising debt loads.
He said Canada’s customers are also unhappy with the change. “Ending the single desk has put Canada’s reputation for high-quality grain in jeopardy,” said Dennis.
Restoring the CWB “is the only cost-efficient way to address all of these problems with no long-term costs to Ottawa,” Sigurdson said.