PM Harper and Canada's Wheat Board

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Prime Minister Harper insists he will do away with the Canadian Wheat Board. He has tried on several occasions, only to have the board of directors of the cooperative thwart his plan.

They've used the courts, farm-gate elections, and mobilization of both grain farmers and public opinion to oppose dismantling this keystone of Canadian agriculture.

Not everyone wants the Wheat Board. There are family-run farms that oppose the Board's monopolistic control of certain grains. These farmers are close to the American border; they want to be able to sell to the highest bidder, either on the US market or to the Board, whichever pays best. How could anyone fault them?

The majority of grain producers can't afford to ship to the USA. They depend on the Board to use its significant grain volumes to get them best price on the world market. Without such a cooperative, each producer would be at the mercy of the world's giant grain corporations.

They are the other group who want to end the Wheat Board -- the corporate grain cartel. There are four, Cargill, Dreyfus, ADM, and Bunge, and the Board is their big competitor. The Wheat Board keeps them out of the huge Canadian market, and creates an international competitor.

They argue that the Board's monopoly is unfair and socialistic. They claim to be fighting for free trade in world grains, and to be upholding the principles of market competition -- which leads, the theory goes, to better prices to the producers and more choice in the management of farms.

However, the Wheat Board was set up in the first place because none of this is true -- it is an old scam of pitting farmers against farmers and driving down the price by isolating each producer against the cartel. It only sounds good.

Mr. Harper claims he can now have his way with Canada, since 40 percent of Canada has finally said "yes" to his majority. No one can stop him, although the first few weeks of his grand majority have proven unimpressive. The NDP's filibuster against forcing a contract on postal workers seemed to catch Harper flat-footed.

The Harper Government Inc. will recover, and will take another run at gutting the Wheat Board. It has the votes. The loss of the Wheat Board would be a real blow for family-run agriculture because it would knock the legs out from under all supply management plans -- the plans which have kept Quebec and Pontiac farms surviving.

The idea that once the Wheat Board is emasculated, some idealized open market will step in and bring fair prices is idiocy.

At this moment the government of Argentina is prosecuting the four international grain corporations for hiding a billion dollars in profit, and is moving to seize their assets.

Argentina, per capita, is as powerful a grain producer as Canada. It uses the market system run by a few players. They easily could collude. Argentina's investigations have uncovered a network of dummy companies and paper shipments, all to avoid paying taxes.

Argentina gave these corporations their single greatest gift -- control of one of the world's richest grain producing regions -- and they responded by trying to cheat that government of its relatively modest taxes.

The Harper Government Inc. wants to do this to Canada. It's a direct threat to Pontiac farming.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.11