After connecting with Manitobans through a “virtual” meeting on the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) June 29, there’s no question most Manitobans support the board’s statutory single desk, Stan Struthers says.
More than 70 per cent of respondents who voted over the phone favour that, Manitoba’s minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives said in an interview June 30.
More than 70 per cent of those who voted also supported the province’s decision to raise awareness of the federal plans to end the CWB’s single desk without first polling farmers as is required under current legislation.
“It was very good to hear from people and clarify the questions that they had,” Struthers said of the event, which connected people from across the province via telephone for just over an hour. “It really says to me that Manitobans, first and foremost, want farmers to have a vote on the future of their marketing agency, the Canadian Wheat Board.”
Manitoba’s two CWB directors – Bill Toews and John Sandborn – also participated.
The results didn’t surprise Struthers. In 2006, a Manitoba government plebiscite that asked farmers whether they wanted to keep single-desk selling or opt for an open market almost 70 picked the single desk for wheat and 62 per cent for barley.
Sixty-five per cent of the 7,343 ballots issued were returned.
The results are similar in the CWB’s spring survey with 69 per cent of Manitoba respondents saying they would pick the wheat single desk over an open market. However, only 39 per cent said they’d keep the single desk for barley, with 44 per cent opting for an open market.
The Manitoba government’s position on the CWB makes sense politically, pollster David Herle of the Gandalf Group said.
“This could be an opening for a change in the politics of rural Manitoba because Manitoba farmers are the most vociferously supportive of the wheat board in the country,” Herle said.
Many of Manitoba’s rural constituencies are currently held by Progressive Conservatives. Leader Hugh McFadyen has criticized the NDP government for fighting Ottawa over the CWB. Struthers, in turn, condemns McFadyen for failing to stand up for Manitobans.
“As a matter of fact the provincial Conservatives are aiding and abetting the federal Conservatives in running a knife through the Canadian Wheat Board,” Struthers said.
Struthers ducked the question when asked if the NDP is making the CWB an issue in October’s provincial election.
According to Struthers Ottawa’s stance on the CWB is ideological.
“They have no business case, they have not rationale that they can explain how it’s going to help farmers or our communities or our economy,” Struthers said.
SERVE FARMERS BETTER
According to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz an open market will serve farmers better allowing them to get higher prices and exploit new markets.
An open market will also encourage new value-added processing in the West, creating new jobs and boosting the Manitoba economy, according to Ritz.
“I just don’t believe that,” Struthers said. “We know what the economic hit is going to be when they dismantle the wheat board. We’ve seen it in Australia.”
Although around 21,000 citizens participated in the telephone town hall, about 60,000 people were invited to take part, a provincial government official said. The list of people invited to participate was partly random using the phone book. In addition people who had called the government in the past about agricultural issues were called.
This reporter received a recorded message from Struthers June 28 with an invitation to take part. The message said a call would be made June 29 and those who wanted to take part just had to stay on the line.
Participants could ask a question or make a comment by pressing nine.
An official said the virtual town hall cost six cents per participant, noting that it was far cheaper than using the postal service.
The goal was to reach a wide cross-section of people, Struthers said.
“I was really, really pleased with the participation rate from every region of Manitoba,” he said.
“I think it’s a good way to keep in touch with people and so I’m always open to exploring the new technology that’s available to us to do these things. I was very impressed with the process and the advice I got last night.” [email protected]