“I’ve been at meetings for years where CFA people have been around and I may be forceful and make my points but I’m certainly not confrontational. I think I know the difference.”
– TERRY BOEHM
The National Farmers Union (NFU) didn’t get to meet with provincial agriculture ministers last week because the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), which organized the event, said the NFU would be “confrontational.”
NFU president Terry Boehm takes umbrage with the CFA’s characterization of him and the NFU.
“We’re just expressing a different viewpoint,” Boehm said in an interview last week from his farm near Allan, Sask. “I’ve been at meetings for years where CFA people have been around and I may be forceful and make my points but I’m certainly not confrontational. I think I know the difference.”
Canada’s agriculture ministers held their annual meeting last week in Saskatoon. The CFA met the ministers before their meeting as it’s done the previous 10 years.
“The meetings have always been a very open and frank discussion between ministers and the members of CFA,” CFA president Ron Bonnett said from his farm near Bruce Mines, Ont. “We’re not going in for a big fistfight.”
The NFU wanted to ask agriculture ministers to support legislative changes to save producer car loading sites, push for a review of railway costs and to oppose the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
The CFA’s ministerial meeting agenda focused on the CFA’s National Food Strategy. To complement the discussion the CFA invited the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Grain Growers of Canada and Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance to attend, Bonnett said.
In an email rejecting the NFU’s request to take part, CFA executive director Brigid Rivoire wrote that the CFA and NFU had worked closely on some issues in the past.
“However, the board was concerned about the confrontational tone of the NFU at this year’s FPT (federal, provincial territorial ministers’ meeting) and its planned protests and felt this was not in keeping, and in fact could serve as a detraction, from the collaborative and constructive tone of the meeting.”
The NFU did hold a demonstration July 6 attended by 50 or 60 people, followed by a meeting. But Boehm said when the NFU asked to participate, it hadn’t announced the demonstration.
“I think that was a convenient escape valve…” he said.
With just a few legislative changes, Canada’s federal government could do a lot to help western grain farmers, Boehm said. Farmers, for example, can save more than $1,000 loading their own wheat in rail cars, but the railways are scrapping producer car loading sites.
“A century-old right to producer cars is essentially being undermined by the practical reality of not having loading sites within a reasonable distance so farmers can access them and fill a car within 24 hours,” Boehm said.
A recent study commissioned by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) says farmers are paying more than $8 a tonne too much to the railways for shipping grain. Ottawa, he said, must review rail costs to see if the report is accurate and, if it is, adjust the formula for setting the cap on railway revenues for grain shipping.
“It’s no surprise that farmers in Canada are carrying a $63-billion debt load when regulation and legislation has allowed this massive externalization of costs in the rail and grain-handling system to farmers,” he said.
The NFU also opposes the Canada-EU trade deal currently being negotiated. According to Boehm the draft text contains draconian regulations that would give more power to seed corporations and compromise farmers’ right to save seed.
“I’ve read the entire draft text and see almost nothing in it for Canada,” he said. “Farmers might think a trade agreement with Europe would open the doors to Canadian GM crops but Appendix 1B says all European GM regulations are exempted from the terms of this agreement.”
According to Boehm there are plans to tackle state trading enterprises, which include the CWB. Given both the Canadian government’s and EU’s dislike for the CWB, Boehm suspects the agreement will be used to attack the board and supply management.
The deal also proposes to prevent provincial and municipal governments from preferential hiring or procurement.
“This (agreement) has implications for health care, for provincial insurance schemes, provincial utilities, water delivery schemes et cetera,” he said. “It really opens everything up to potential takeover by outside interests.”
Another round of talks is scheduled for next week in Brussels and for Ottawa in October. Canada and the EU want an agreement ratified by the first half of 2011, according to Boehm. [email protected]