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Monitor open market, Goodale says

The new open wheat and barley market promised for western Canadian farmers starting Aug. 1 should be monitored by an independent institution so the findings can help guide future policies, says Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.

“Unless you start working on this right now from the beginning and follow it through from Day 1 you won’t have a reliable baseline of facts and figures and information to deal with,” Goodale said in an interview Jan. 6.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure. It seems to me it’s important to know what the consequences are of this decision.”

He recommends the University of Saskatchewan’s Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy as a candidate for the job.

Goodale said federal government is guaranteeing the voluntary board’s initial payments, but will initial payments be lower to reflect uncertainty of supply how much grain will flow through a voluntary board?

Traditionally initial payments represent about 70 per cent of the wheat board’s expected final return. Under a voluntary board will that drop to 50 or even 30 per cent, Goodale asked.

“If you expect that to compete against spot market prices obviously this is a turkey set up to fail,” he said.

There are questions about the economic viability of farmer-owned inland terminals, short line railways and producer cars, Goodale said.

“Surely it’s time to make decisions on evidence and hard facts instead of just on a wing and prayer and cross your fingers,” he said.

Other questions that need answering, he said, include:

  • Are there adequate price-discovery mechanisms available and functioning?
  • Are wheat and barley producers getting more or less in total returns per tonne from an open market?
  • What checkoffs are going to be deducted from grain payments, where will that money go and who is accountable?
  • What carrying costs will have to be paid by private grain companies to finance grain payments to farmers upon delivery, which were previously financed for those grain companies by the CWB at government interest rates?
  • Is there a practical vehicle available to farmers to challenge grain companies or railways on service levels or costs?

The government should help fund the monitoring and analysis but it’s unlikely to do so, according to Goodale.

“I don’t think they want the facts,” he said. “They might be inconvenient.”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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