Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Leadership and the Single Desk

Like Hank Williams Jr. says, it’s all over but the crying.  The Conservatives got the majority that they wanted and needed.  So now one of the key questions for Western Canadian farmers will be what is the future of the Canadian Wheat Board?

One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb for me was the reminder that the results of CWB director elections and federal elections don’t seem to be consistent.  I say “reminder” because this isn’t the first time this has happened.

Last night, in the federal election, 67% of the rural voters in the CWB Designated Area favoured the Conservatives whose platform included giving farmers the right to choose who they sell wheat and barley to (in other words, making use of the CWB voluntary by removing the single desk monopoly).  Provincially, Conservatives won handily in all three prairie provinces; 70% in Manitoba, 57% in Saskatchewan and 76% in Alberta.  By all accounts, a resounding endorsement of the Conservative platform.  Even though the other federal parties argue that, because the Conservatives have only 40% of the National popular vote, 60% voted “against” Harper and his Conservatives, that can’t be said in the CWB designated area.  With 67% of the rural vote, it can be said that only 33% don’t agree with the Conservative platform.

To compare, in the last CWB election (last fall), 57% of the votes in the final round went to single-desk minded candidates (those that want to protect and keep the single desk).  Individually, the single-desk minded directors won with the following share of the votes cast:  Stewart Wells (55%), Allen Oberg (64%), Kyle Korneychuk (57%), and John Sandborn (66%). 

A couple of questions come to mind:

Where were all the CWB single desk supporters during federal elections?  For example, those that want to keep the single desk view MP David Anderson and CWB Minister Gerry Ritz with contempt for their efforts to reform the CWB, yet these two MPs won their ridings handily by a margin of 70% and 67% respectively. 

And where were all the open market supporters during CWB elections?  David Anderson’s riding overlaps a great deal with Stewart Wells’ CWB district.  Although David Anderson won with 70% (20,560 votes), Stewart Wells won his CWB election – although only 54.6% (1,872 votes), he still won.  Clearly, many, many farmers voted for David Anderson knowing his view of the CWB, yet didn’t seem to be interested in voting for a similarly minded CWB director.

It needs to be said that any political party has more than one plank in its platform (perhaps with the exception of the Green Party) and that voters respond to more than one issue.  The gun registry, health care, job creation, and the economy all come to mind.  All very important issues – but isn’t the CWB an important issue on the prairies?  You’d certainly think so during the CWB director’s elections.  In fact, the singled-desk minded candidates ran on the main plank of keeping the single desk monopoly because it is deemed so important in ensuring farmers get the best value from their production.  

The CWB seems to believe that CWB director elections are more relevant to the single desk issue than federal elections.   Immediately following the federal election, the CWB released a statement.  In it, the CWB states:

“The same important democratic principles that determined yesterday's federal election also apply to farmers' decisions on grain marketing. Prairie producers have been clear that they should determine the future of the CWB as their marketing organization. Through a sound democratic election process, they have chosen their representatives on the CWB's board of directors since 1998.
"Farmers have the right to continue to make the decisions themselves about the role and structure of their marketing approach. The path forward must be forged in clear accordance with their wishes.
"This issue is crucial to farmers' livelihoods, to the economic stability and competitive viability of Canadian wheat and barley exports, and to the spirit of democracy."

Even though the CWB acknowledges that it plays a role in the “economic stability” of the prairies, CWB elections are restricted mainly to CWB permit book holders.  Many other commercial farmers, growing a wide variety of different crops are shut out of the CWB elections, unless they choose to hop through the administrative hoops needed to just get a ballot.  Since they believe they are farming around the CWB as it is, why would they even bother?

The future of the CWB should not be left in the hands of CWB permit book holders only.  Beyond the obvious possible issues around a list maintained only by the CWB itself, the greater issue is that the CWB clearly affects all farmers and most people in the Designated Area.  Even those farmers who believe they are “farming around the CWB” by growing only non-CWB crops are affected by the CWB. If democracy rules the day, they too should have a say in the future of the CWB.  

Since the CWB has a direct effect on the financial results of farmers, it has an impact on all other people who choose to make the prairies their home; local implement dealers, elevator employees, shop keepers, machine shop operators, school teachers, truck drivers, municipal employees, and so on.  The “important democratic principles” that Mr. Oberg talks about apply to everyone that the CWB touches.  The federal election results should play a greater role than CWB director elections in deciding the future of the CWB, not the other way around.

One definition of leadership is making tough decisions and taking appropriate action even though it may be unpopular by many.  With a lack of evidence that the CWB provides value beyond its costs, and with a very clear mandate in the CWB Designated Area, the new Conservative government should use its new majority and amend the CWB Act to make it voluntary.


  1. Thanks for keeping at this John, the beginning is in site. Don't let your guard down yet. It's my guess the left wing board types will use our money to file some lawsuits. By doing some consultations the government can head off some of them.

  2. Restricting a producer's right to sell his product to a single purchaser is no less odious than restricting a consumer's right to purchase from a single source.
    While grain farmers are victims of the former, I know of no jurisdiction where the latter would apply. Except, perhaps, North Korea or Cuba.

  3. i beleive in democratic principlesMay 4, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Why should a school teach, truck driver or shop keeper have any say in how I run my business and market my grain? Do i have a say in how much of a raise the teachers get or how much the shop keeper charges for his product?

    As for if a person votes conservative it doesn't mean they support their entire mandate. a Person would hope that they would leave it up to the people that grow the grain to decide how to market it, not everyone that lives in the MP's riding.

  4. After the election I immediately thought of the future of the CWB, considering its questionble connection to the Oil for Food scandal under the Liberal government. I believe that the Conservatives will reform it and make it VOLUNTARY!

    Rita Moore
    a farm girl in Ottawa

  5. Immediately after the election, I thought of the future of the CWB and was so happy the Conservatives can now make it VOLUNTARY for western farmers. I grew up on a farm in Southern Ontario and my Dad never needed to sell wheat through the CWB. Liberty for our western farming brothers!!
    Rita Moore

  6. I am so happy that the Conservsatives can finally put an end to the FORCED selling of wheat to the CWB by our western farmers. I grew up on a farm in Southern Ontario and my Dad never had to deal with this Communist monstrosity. Liberty for our farmers, all across Canada!!

  7. I am amazed at how many farmers I talk to that don't realize the Wheat Board's impact on non-board crops. Nevertheless, even when pro-Boarders are presented with heaps of clear and damning evidence of the Board's wasteful, counterproductive nature they hunker back into their commmunist-minded cocoon. The one, consistent fall-back position they always revert to is that, IN THEORY, the Wheat Board should be better. In theory, I should be able to control my own property. Alas, in both cases, reality doesn't match up with the theory.

  8. It is unfortunate that you choose to take a "cheap shot" at the Green Party in this post. They do in fact have a complete platform, one more comprehensive than I think anyone expects them to that has not looked into it.
    I suppose it is unlikely to hurt your credibility with your base but it is unfortunate anyway.