Ashocking announcement has erased all doubt as to the level of contempt that the Canadian Wheat Board holds for western farmers. The CWB purchased two brand-new ships for the purpose of transporting grain on the Great Lakes. Farmers with no choice in the matter will finance the $65-million purchase over four years.
At the CWB’s press conference, chair Allen Oberg talked about the strong business case for buying these lakers and how doing so would supposedly put extra money in farmers’ pockets. This may or may not be the case. No matter what degree of due diligence done, no one ever knows these things for sure until long after they are set in motion. Mr. Oberg and company are speculating. They are doing so with other people’s money.
This really is the crux of the whole matter. It is not up to the wheat board, a government-legislated monopoly, to decide how best to “invest” farmers’ hard-earned money for them. It is illegal for Prairie farmers to sell their milling wheat and malting barley to anyone other than the CWB, which puts the agency in a privileged position.
The board holds farmers’ grain and money in trust for them. It is not Mr. Oberg’s or the CWB’s money to do with as they please. To spend it in this way is an abuse of trust, an abuse of power, and goes well beyond the board’s mandate of marketing grain.
Others have pointed out that farmers have not been consulted about this purchase. Many feel blindsided by the announcement, and rightly so. In the recent wheat board director elections, for instance, none of the incumbent directors campaigned on the issue of buying ships, even though they had to have known about the plan to purchase them.
Nor was there any mention of ships in last year’s annual producer survey. But so what if they had consulted? And so what if a sizable chunk of farmers were in favour of the idea? The CWB board of directors would still have no business going ahead with this scheme because it’s not their own money they are putting at risk.
Wheat Board Minister Gerry Ritz was clearly not happy with this decision. When asked about it in question period, his response was, “I have constantly told the wheat board that farmers’ money in the pool accounts is off limits to it. It should not be misappropriated like this.” But we have yet to hear what the minister responsible for the CWB intends to do about this misappropriation of growers’ funds. To do nothing should not be an option.
The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association would like to see Minister Ritz do one of two things. Either direct the CWB to stop the purchase entirely, or at the very least give wheat and barley producers the ability to opt out of funding the purchase if they so choose.
Prairie farmers have a moral right to their grain, but they also need the legal right to sell their grain to whomever they choose – as is the case elsewhere in Canada. But private member’s bills have a difficult time being passed into actual laws, and even the most optimistic time-line would only see Mr. Stanton’s bill come into effect sometime in 2013 or possibly 2014.
Minister Ritz is going to have to act faster than that if he wishes to safeguard farmer funds.