By Ken Larsen, The Starphoenix March 5, 2015

Larsen is a farmer in Benalto, Alta., and a member of the board of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board, which is engaged in a classaction lawsuit over changes to the structure of the CWB.

Ottawa has killed the Canadian Wheat Board several times over the last 120 years, and each time western farmers have successfully demanded its return. The length of time farmers would tolerate working without the single desk wheat board became shorter each time.

Those who profit from taking the CWB away from farmers would like everyone to believe that creating a new board is impossible because of international trade deals. However, recent events in lumber, steel, labour law, and U.S. and EU agricultural subsidies show this is not necessarily correct.

So what do a chunk of Canadian softwood lumber, American steel, and restoring the CWB all have in common? The short answer is they all show that so-called “trade deals” are an excuse for Ottawa to do what it wants.

Most experienced farmers will remember the endless and ultimately successful efforts by the railways and their supporters to get rid of the Crow’s Nest Pass freight rate agreement. We were assured that killing the Crow was the way to put an end to U.S. and European farm subsidies.

Of course, in spite of the free trade deals and Canada’s Boy Scout position in killing the Crow, the Americans and Europeans actually increased their agricultural subsidies while western farmers saw their co-operative elevator systems bankrupted in an attempt to meet the increasingly unreasonable demands of the railways.

Western Canada went from more than 5,000 community elevators to around 360. Ottawa did nothing to protect our co-operatives or insist that western farmers be compensated by the U.S. and EU for their continued farm subsidies. Instead, in round after round of General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) talks we were assured by successive Ottawa governments that a level playing field was just around the corner, if only we gave up just one more thing that helped western farmers.

Now we’ve been forced to give up almost everything, and the playing field just keeps getting more uneven.

Remember a few years ago when, despite the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., Canadian softwood lumber exports were heavily penalized by the Americans and Ottawa did nothing beyond imposing and collecting the U.S. tariff from Canadian producers? It was a definite win for Ottawa’s treasury, but hardly a happy outcome for British Columbia softwood lumber producers.

How about a more recent example of how meaningless these trade agreements are to all concerned when national interests are at stake?

Look at the recent invocation by the Harper government of an obscure law called the Canadian Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act to block the use of American steel in a construction project for an American ferry company dock in Prince Rupert, B.C. No fireworks. No Marines landing at Rideau Hall. Just a very quiet capitulation by the Americans.

What these instances demonstrate is that when it comes to international trade relations, national interests take priority over trade law and agreements.

Without getting into all the ways the single-desk CWB can be reinstated, two things should be remembered. First, collective bargaining is protected in our Constitution. Second, the courts have yet to speak on the legality of destroying the single desk without compensating the farmers who owned and benefited from it.

While these do not lay out a red carpet for the restoration of the single-desk wheat board, they do make the road to that destination smoother.

So when you hear some apologist throw up their hands and say we can never get back a single-desk CWB, drop a little piece of softwood lumber on their toe and remind them that a little Canadian steel in the backbone of our federal politicians means that we can exercise our right to restore a single-desk Canadian Wheat Board whenever we chose to do so.

– The StarPhoenix

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