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Democracy Doesn’t Just Happen

It’s election season for farmers. Not only did rural municipalities recently have elections, but producers have received ballots in the mail for director elections to the Canadian Wheat Board. Democracy is great, but it does have its foibles.

Overall election activity was up across the province and that’s a good thing. Too many sit on an R.M. council for decades without ever being challenged.

The R.M. s can find me when the property taxes need to be paid, but there’s no requirement to send election information directly to ratepayers. I’m sure they’re following whatever procedure is prescribed for advertising the election, but I never see it and I doubt that I’m alone.

By contrast, the Canadian Wheat Board election is one you can’t miss. It’s underway in the five odd-numbered districts across the Prairies. Eligible voters should have received a ballot along with candidate profiles in the mail.

These are often hard-fought elections pitting supporters of the CWB single-desk authority against those who want to see marketing choice for wheat, durum and barley.

This time around the CWB election is a bit different. In all the previous elections, virtually all the candidates clearly identified themselves as being either a supporter of the current single desk or a supporter of marketing choice. This time, no candidates are identifying themselves as being supporters of marketing choice.

There are eight candidates who support the single desk and five (one in each of the districts) who talk about needing improvements to CWB marketing, but stop short of calling for an end to the single desk.

It has the appearance of an orchestrated approach – perhaps something recommended by a strategist who advised all five of them. In the past, these same people haven’t been shy about saying they wanted marketing choice and it’s hard to believe their opinions have changed.

There are arguments to be made for both the single desk and for marketing freedom. In any election, it isn’t useful for candidates to mask what they truly believe. It’ll be interesting to see if the strategy has a discernable effect on the outcome when the ballots are counted.

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and SaskCanola also have mail-in elections underway. These organizations are funded by producer levies and since they involve important crops, big dollars are collected and spent on research, market development and communications.

These sorts of elections are less dogmatic and personal than the CWB election. Unfortunately, they also tend to generate a tepid voter response.

When we aren’t sure who to vote for, we should contact the candidates and talk with them before casting a vote. Instead, too many of us take the easy way out and just neglect to return the ballot.

Confidence in the election process is sometimes undermined by the receipt of numerous ballots for the same election. Farmers may have sold crops as individuals, partnerships and as a farming corporation and receive a ballot for each. Maintaining an accurate voters’ list is challenging.

Almost all the crops are represented by commissions that collect a levy, but in many cases producers win director positions on these commissions by acclamation. Not enough producers put their names forward to even have an election.

We should take our democratic processes more seriously.

Kevin Hursh is a consulting agrologist and farmer based in

Saskatoon. He can be reached at [email protected]

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