Aproposal for a revamped voluntary Canadian Wheat Board that calls for no startup capital would be “a recipe for disaster,” the board’s current chair Allen Oberg says.
“If it has to operate on strictly commercial terms it will not survive for long,” the Forestburg, Alta. farmer said in response to the plan released by the Western Canadian Wheat Growers.
But Oberg said he agreed with the suggestion that the government appoint new directors to replace the CWB’s existing board.
“The re’s no doubt you wouldn’t want a board that’s of the belief that this whole thing won’t work and that it’s a recipe for failure,” he said.
Oberg also agrees with the recommendation the government continue guaranteeing the borrowings of the CWB’s replacement for three years, although other grain companies oppose it because it would be unfair competition.
And at present, there is no commitment from the federal government to provide that.
Oberg said it’s hard for any group, including the board, to put together a plan without knowing what the federal government is prepared to do to assist the new organization.
“What’s the point of putting a plan together if you don’t know if any of these things are on the table?” he said.
The CWB has investigated more than a dozen post-monopoly models, but none provide as much value to farmers as the current one, Oberg said.
“And our examination of these models has been difficult because we have not been provided with any firm sense of what role the government expects it to play for farmers or what commitment the government is willing to make to ensure its viability,” he said. “We’ve had no answers to even
the most basic questions that could enable work to begin on creating a new organization.”
The government says this fall it will introduce legislation to end the CWB’s single-desk marketing authority for western Canadian wheat and barley effective Aug. 1, 2012. However, the government has also said it wants the CWB to continue operating in an open market.
“Whatever the future holds one thing is certain: if the single desk is eliminated the landscape of Prairie wheat marketing will change dramatically,” Oberg told reporters during the CWB’s crop-year- end news conference. “The CWB will end. And if a new organization is created it will bear no resemblance to the Canadian Wheat Board that exists today.”
Oberg also faulted the WCWGA’s plan for not calling on the government to assist the CWB’s replacement to get access to elevators and terminals.
“To me that’s the second part of the equation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz praised the WCWGA’s effort.
“We hope that the Canadian Wheat Board will use this work by the wheat growers as an example of how they too
can play a positive role in shaping the transition to an open market where farmers not only have the freedom to market individually but also have the opportunity to pool their wheat, durum and barley,” he said in a statement.
Oberg noted the government is breaking its promise it made in a news release Jan. 16, 2007 not to remove the single desk without a farmer plebiscite.
“I am announcing today that Canada’s new government will hold a further plebiscite on the marketing of wheat at an appropriate time,” said then agriculture minister Chuck Strahl. “Western Canadian farmers have the government’s commitment that no changes will be made in the Canadian Wheat Board’s role in the marketing of wheat until after that vote is held.” [email protected]
– Allen Oberg