(April 11, 2014) Many commentators have remarked on Prime Minister Harper’s humourless approach to life and government, but Bill C-30 “the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act” shows how wrong they are.  The Prime Minister and his Agriculture Minister must be nearly anoxic with laughter over the debate in the farm community on the merits of the Act and who can blame them?

For almost 78 years western grain farmers retained what lawyers call the “beneficial ownership” of their grain as the Canadian Wheat Board sold it for them to end use customers around the world.  With the exception, sort of, of producer car loaders, it is now the grain companies that own the grain as soon as it leaves the farmer’s truck – a fact too many farmers have yet to get their heads around.

It was less than 18 months ago that Minister Ritz said one of the virtues of killing the Canadian Wheat Board was farmers would no longer be responsible for the grain “once it hit the elevator pit.”  Which is now exactly the case – farmers now have no choice but to sell their grain directly to the elevator companies or some broker working for one of the big five grain companies.

So farmers are no longer “shippers” of grain and really have no legal interest in rail service, port prices, quality control, or much else they have taken for granted over the past three generations even though all those things and more make a critical difference to the economic viability of western Canadian grain farming.

Farmers also took for granted the fact the Wheat Board regularly returned better than 90% of the international price for wheat back to the producer.  Now the farmers’ share has dropped to around 40% and it is likely to hover in that area as long as the new system Minister Ritz boasts about continues to operate.

Western farmers outraged by grain prices that have fallen by half are asking where “their” money went.  In spite of evidence to the contrary, the Western Grain Elevators Cartel is claiming they have nothing to do with the missing money and are pointing the finger at the railways.  A lot of less informed farmers seeing they cannot deliver to the local elevator have fallen for this bit of misdirection.

Sadly, this claim is not even remotely accurate.  In fact grain car unloads at Vancouver have yet to run at less than 98% compared to last year and overall grain exports are down a mere 6%.  So the grain is moving and being loaded into ships at essentially normal levels.

The grain companies are making record profits through their stranglehold on logistics.  If ships have to sit there waiting for the correct grain, or if farmers in the west have to wait a few months for the convenience and profit of the grain companies, well, as an oil company executive essentially remarked, that’s free enterprise.

Punch and Judy Victorian

Grain companies present market data

So Ottawa’s “fair rail for grain farmers’ act” is really a bit of comedy to pacify their more unquestioning supporters.  In fact it will make the lives of the grain companies a little bit easier and allow them to continue laughing all the way to the bank while farmers debate the merits of giving the railways more money, maybe, at different times of the year while pondering the mysteries of the “basis” and other shadow puppets in the Punch and Judy show being pulled by the private grain trade.

This latter is especially ironic when you consider the magnificent western farm leader Ed Partridge saw through this whole charade over 90 years ago and galvanized the movement which created the single-desk Canadian Wheat Board to get farmers the full value for their grain.

It is said history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.  Who says Prime Minister Harper and his sidekicks in Agriculture and Transportation do not have a sense of humour?


  1. Harold Bell

    The grain robbers have been waiting for this for years and the ostrich farmer delivered at the farmers cost

  2. Stephanie

    You should use your twitter account and post these stories there. I just checked, the last one you’ve got on your twitter feed is from March 18. It’s a good vehicle to share stories like this one.

    Keep it up! Get it on twitter with the hashtag #cdnpoli

    • Thanks for the reminder Stephanie. You’re right I have been slow to post things to Twitter. Will try to do better.