(April 16, 2015)  Less than five business days after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the claims of western farmers that they had a property interest in the value of the single-desk Wheat Board, Federal Agriculture Minister Ritz announced the sale of its remaining assets to a combination of Bunge, one of the smaller of the big four international grain companies, and a Saudi Arabian company “formed for the purpose of investing in Canada’s agricultural grain industry” according to the news release accompanying Ritz’s announcement.

Now that Minister Ritz has moved ahead with transferring ownership from Canada to foreign interests it is useful to remember that it was just six months ago he rejected an offer from Saskatoon based Farmers of North America, a 10,000 farmer membership company supplying farm inputs saying there was no time to consider it.  Now six months later we have this.

Minister explains sale  - Not exactly as illustrated

Minister explains sale
– Not exactly as illustrated

Most farmers also remember Minister Ritz’s infamous promise before the last Federal election that farmers would have a vote on ending the Wheat Board single-desk.  That promise lasted until the Harper administration received its much coveted majority courtesy of the voters in the greater Toronto area.

In yesterday’s press conference the Minister even had the audacity to accuse one young farmer of making things up when he asked the Minister how he could ignore the independently conducted plebiscite of 40,000 prairie wheat and barley producers held in 2011 showing 62% of farmers supported keeping the single-desk CWB.  You can see a promotional video for the plebiscite here and you can see the plebiscite results summarized here.

Farmers also remember and can still look at the last audited statement from the farmer-controlled single-desk CWB which showed its assets had no significant debts against them aside from two laker-type grain ships which would have been paid off in less than five years.  So Minister Ritz’s excuses about being forced to put taxpayer money into the organization after he took it over ring a little hollow for this writer, especially when he is the first agriculture Minister in over 75 years who has refused to table a full audited statement for his crippled Wheat Board.  This secrecy lends credibility to charges the CWB sale was effectively subsidized with taxpayer money.

Killing the single-desk CWB and transferring its remaining assets to the private sector amounts to “the most massive transfer of wealth and earning power from farmers to the international trade in Canadian history” according to quotes from a number of informed people.

Earning power” is the key part of that quote because it was the single-desk which gave the CWB its collective bargaining power and was also the key to the complex web it administered to extract maximum value from international customers for western Canadian farmers while providing high end customers like Saudi Arabia and others with quality-assured product.  As has been said before, the CWB without the single-desk is a much diminished and less valuable organization both to western farmers and their former customers.

However, the buyers of what is left of the old CWB may still find themselves suffering “buyers’ remorse” over the next few years.  The first thing they will discover is the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board still have a very active case attached to some of the remaining assets of the old Wheat Board.

Secondly, some of the buyers may be under the impression they are buying the old Wheat Board, the one with the international reputation for quality assurance, reliable delivery, a high-end customer base, and most importantly a very dedicated membership of the most astute grain farmers in Western Canada.  This strong majority of prairie farmers consistently elected 8 out of 10 farmer-elected directors who pledged to keep the single-desk farmer-controlled Wheat Board.  This is the same group whose votes Minister Ritz and his predecessor Minister Strahl did their best to sabotage and ignore.

The next thing the buyers may well discover is that the reputation and even the very ability to economically provide quality assurance which was one of the pillars of the farmer-run single-desk CWB effectively ended with the single-desk.  To date the replacements offered by the private trade have not measured up.  Farmers are not happy with low prices and former high end customers are on very public record complaining about our “crappy wheat.”

With the loss of democratic Canadian control of our grain marketing and crop genetics to giant foreign corporations both the Canadian public and Canadian farmers are left to ask how secure their food futures really are.

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