Monday, May 9, 2011

Single desk democracy

In last fall’s CWB director election, voters (I won’t call them farmers because we all know they’re not all farmers) elected five new directors, four of which support the single desk.  Single desk supporters herald this as firm support of the single desk, some saying 4 out of 5 directors means the single desk has 80% support of farmers.  Truth is, these directors won with only 57% support.  And single-deskers ignore the fact that many farmers don’t even vote in CWB elections because they don’t support the CWB in the first place.  Saying the single desk has 80% support of all farmers sounds impressively decisive – but it’s just not true.

And when it comes to the federal election where every rural riding in the CWB designated area elected a Conservative MP running on a platform that included the removal of the CWB single desk (by an average of 67% of all rural voters), single-deskers say that there are more issues than the CWB single desk when voting for as MP so you can’t say that those that voted Conservative automatically support removal of the single desk. 

If they’re right, the same applies to CWB director elections.  As a scrutineer in the 2008 CWB election, I saw ballots that voted for a single desk candidate as the first choice and a strong “choice” candidate as the second choice – and vice versa.  Clearly to these voters, the single desk was not the only issue.  You can’t have it both ways – you can’t say that the future of the CWB is not an election issue in federal election yet say that it is the only issue in the CWB elections. 

What carries more weight on the single desk than either election are the CWB’s own survey of farmers and the barley plebiscite of 2007. 

Single-deskers don’t like the question that includes a dual market option but I suspect that is just more of the same posturing as with the election results.  They take the approach that, if it agrees with you, run with it; if not, tear it down any way you can.  Truth is, most people understand there really are three options – keep the single desk just as it is, make the CWB optional (no single desk), or don’t have the CWB involved at all (again, no single desk). 

The last CWB survey asked 1,300 farmers; the plebiscite was answered by over 29,000.  The results of the CWB survey and the federal government plebiscite on barley are remarkably similar:
CWB survey

“Solely CWB”
“Retain single desk”
“Dual marketing”
“CWB or other buyer”
“Open market”
“No CWB role in barley”
The key here is the support of the single desk – less than 40% in both.  Single-deskers try to say that many farmers don’t understand the dual market option, or that a vote for the dual marketing option is still a vote in favour of the CWB.  Even if you agree with either of these rationales, it’s undeniable that voting for a dual market indicates support for having marketing options – clearly not in support of the CWB acting as the sole marketer using the single desk.  Even when the CWB asked the simple “single desk or no single desk” question, the single desk still only garnered 42% support.

Many, many farmers have told me they support a “dual market” because, although they prefer an open market, they’re not about to tell others that they can’t use the CWB if they want to, so they vote for the dual market option.  Whether farmers believe the CWB will survive without the single desk is not the issue – the real issue is whether single-deskers will continue to support the CWB without the single desk.

The CWB doesn’t need the mandatory single desk for market clout; it only needs support from farmers.  The fact that single-deskers like the NFU fear the CWB without a single desk won’t have support from farmers says a lot about what they recognize about farmers; like anyone else, farmers look for and respond to value.  Going forward, the CWB needs to decide what value they offer. 

Remember the old Smith Barney commercial?  Open market supporters are simply saying, “Do it the old fashioned way.  Earn it”. 

So what’s the purpose of all this navel-gazing about votes, elections and plebiscites? 

The votes on direct questions on the single desk are in; and consistently, the majority of farmers who participated in the CWB surveys over the years and in the 2007 barley plebiscite really don’t support the single desk as much as the NFU would like you to think.

I said before that, as a vote on the future of the single desk, the federal election is more valid than the CWB director elections because everyone has a stake in it, not just permit book holders.  I’ll go even further. The CWB’s own surveys and the barley plebiscite are even better indications.  Having said all that, there really is no need to vote anymore.  Supported by the CWB’s own surveys and the 2007 barley plebiscite, the Conservative government has indicated it’s going ahead with the voluntary CWB option. Logically, this should also satisfy those that want an open market even without the CWB, therefore satisfying the majority of farmers out there. 

It’s time to stop arguing about voting and just get on with it.

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