Editor’s note:  (February17) On Family Day we are printing this article to honour those farm families who contribute so much to Canadian society and the legacy their forbearers created. 

 by Murray Hidlebaugh

 (Feb 17/2014) Grain farmers on the prairies are rediscovering their ability to work together and with others for a common cause. That cause is remedying the erosion of their democratic rights by a central government catering to demands from transnational corporations intent on expanding their control of the food system. The most public manifestation of this was the refusal of the federal government to allow farmers to vote on whether they supported the retention of the Canadian Wheat Board single desk marketing system. There was considerable evidence that the vast majority of prairie grain farmers supported single desk marketing.  So the government went ahead and dismantled it without a plebiscite. Other, less public issues that farmers find themselves pitted against the government are on grower’s rights and seed patenting, on grain handling and transportation, and on pricing.

This is not new. Farmers found themselves in a similar struggle in the early part of the 20th century. Banks were repossessing the farms of many who were unable to repay their loans when grain prices were lower than the cost of production. Freight rates were rising and service was declining. A growing number of farmers decided that since they couldn’t influence government they would become a political force. The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) entered the political arena in 1919. UFA candidates captured all but two of the Alberta federal seats in the 1921 federal election. In 1929 the UFA joined with the Labour Party and other political groups that lead to founding of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in July, 1933.

There was much hardship and frustration among the unemployed in the “Dirty thirties”. In 1935, the “On to Ottawa” march and reaction to its brutal suppression in Regina  was a start of grass roots push back against the establishment. Push back lead to the establishment of the Canadian Wheat Board in 1935. It was established as an agricultural marketing board charged with the orderly marketing of western grains. The system worked well and the farm economy improved after World War II with many veterans returning to participate in relatively profitable farming.

However, by the early 1970s corporate pressure started to negatively impact the farm economy. Input prices were increasing and grain prices were decreasing. In the 1980s farmers were told that globalization and free trade markets would solve their growing debt problem. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect with high expectations that agricultural issues would be solved. Many farmers believed it even though David Orchard, a Saskatchewan farmer and politician, provided compelling research that there were real concerns that people should try to understand. Of particular concern, he noted, was Chapter Seven  Section A – Agriculture  that targeted the dismantling of farmer controlled marketing boards, and Chapter Seventeen: Intellectual Property that would lead to loss of the ability of farmers to control seed genetics. The supporters of the NAFTA dismissed his arguments as being out of touch with reality and farmer freedom of choice was going to be enshrined by their entry into a so-called free market.

However, current assessments by some agricultural researchers would indicate that in fact Orchard’s assessment was quite accurate. The research states,

While income for farmers is on the decline, food prices continue to rise. The results over the years have shown that NAFTA undermines our sovereignty and has weakened local governments’ ability to make decisions concerning food and agriculture. There desperately needs to be more measures put in place to better protect farmers. Our globalized food system is a complete failure and has served to benefit multinational corporations, at the expense of small independent farmers.”  (D. Gabriel)

And here we are again. Farm debt is rising. Farmers are being told they have freedom. Harper has unilaterally dismantled the CWB. And recently he has signed an MOU with the European Union to implement the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Some analysts have described the CETA as the NAFTA on steroids. Terry Boehm , a Saskatchewan farmer and past president of the National Farmers’ Union, has been the leading researcher and spokesman on the CETA. He has warned farmers that under the CETA’s intellectual property-rights articles, corporations will be able to sue farmers for just an “alleged” infringement on seed patents and other related property rights. Before the charges are even taken to court the corporation alleging the infringement will be able to legally freeze the farmer’s assets, including bank accounts, machinery, and grain inventory, as a precautionary measure to ensure payment. In addition to private control of seed and related production, corporations will also be able to challenge farmer controlled marketing boards, food processing and distribution systems, including farmers’ markets and the right to control dumping of agricultural products.

At a meeting to discuss farmer options hosted by the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, Dr. Jim Harding in his presentation noted, “in the 1920’s and 30’s farmers, workers and aboriginals although not natural partners had worked together on common cause.”  He reminded the participants that out of this had come the CCF and the CWB that were intended to protect the democratic rights of all and in the latter case specifically farmers. He also noted that Harper had planned to emasculate the CWB by regulation but could not ignore polls indicating that nine farmers out of ten wanted a plebiscite. Farmers wanted to be participants in a democracy that respected their rights to have a real say in their future. What a radical idea to want to have a say in something that directly affect you.

 When a similar attack on farmers’ rights occurred in the 1920s farmers organized, formed alliances, and developed structures that worked for a democratic society. The fight then was not without effort and considerable sacrifice by men and women and families. But it lead to a better life for the future generations. The mainstream media and the government of the day called them radical. That time is here again. Men and women farmers who value the right to live in a democracy and who feel that is being eroded can work together again. Past generations have shown what can be done. Together farmers can rebuild the democratic rural system despite the naysayers. Contacting the CWBA and getting involved  is a positive opportunity for concerned farmers. You can start by contacting the CWBA.


  1. Harper has changed CAnada! Many farmers were duped to his way of thinking. Lets not think JUStIN will save us.
    Farmers must again work together.

  2. I really liked your article post.Thanks Again. Really Great.

  3. dave soloway

    totally agree…we need the farmers voice to be heard..we need to have demonstrations..to show the media and the public what is happening to prairie farms and show how HARPER and the multi nationals are trying to control every aspect of food production…