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Killing the Wheat Board, Killing the Canadian Family Farm: How Harper and Agro-Giants Plan to do It

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CWB board chair comments on federal government approach to future of grain marketing
by Allen Oberg, Canadian Wheat Board (CWB)
The Canadian grain industry is at the brink of a major upheaval. Legislation will soon be tabled to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. This morning, many of you heard Minister Ritz rejoicing about this. I am here to tell you that the farmers of Western Canada are not rejoicing. We are, in fact, fearful for the future.

This government has no plan. It has done no analysis. It has not even consulted farmers. Its approach is based solely on a blind commitment to a sound-bite phrase called "marketing freedom".

Yet, here we are, barrelling ahead on a timeline that will rip apart a 75-year-old marketing system in a matter of months, and hamper any potential successor organization.

Listen to the Webcast of this news conference
This government's reckless approach will throw Canada's grain industry into disarray. It will jeopardize a $5 billion export sector. It will shift money from the pockets of Canadian farmers into the hands of American corporations.
Canada is the last country left in the world where giant multinational grain companies cannot source wheat. If the Wheat Board's single desk is abolished, that will change. We will see a fundamental shift of marketing power and wealth away from Prairie farmers and into the hands of huge foreign-based corporations.

For no reason, beyond an ideological crusade, the government will hand the Americans what they want on a silver platter, and get nothing in return. We will see the Americanization of our grain marketing and grain quality systems. And farmers will be the big losers.

At a time when the world's economy is shaky, our government is removing a system that provides financial stability and premium grain profits for Prairie farmers. And it is doing so against their wishes, without even consulting them.

Minister Ritz and Prime Minister Harper would like you to believe that this is a done deal. They would like farmers to simply give up and accept the inevitable. But I am here to tell you that this is NOT over. We cannot, in good conscience, give up this fight.

The government's approach is illegal, it is against the wishes of farmers and it is harmful to the economic interests of Canada. We will fight this in Ottawa, we will fight it in the courts and in the court of public opinion.

This government is trampling over the decisions of farmers and ignoring their democratic rights. The Prime Minister said last week that his train will run over anyone who disagrees with his plans or gets in his way. That obviously includes the Prairie farmers, who voted against his plan for the Wheat Board. This is nothing but contempt for farmers and contempt for democracy.

We fear that this pattern of government behaviour will continue when the legislation is tabled. Instead of broad consultation with farmers and a fullsome debate, the Minister is indicating that measures will be invoked to limit debate and remove opportunities for farmer and public consultation.

Once this change is made, there is no going back. NAFTA is clear. Once the CWB is dismantled, it cannot be recreated. This fundamental change cannot be revisited. Surely that calls for careful deliberation by Parliament before proceeding.

We continue to stand up for farmers - it is we as farmers that have the right to decide this issue. It should not be the government's call. Farmers pay for the CWB, they run it, they should decide what happens to it. Our plebiscite results, which were released last month, clearly show that most Prairie farmers are opposed to removing the CWB single desk. The government has ignored them.

The federal government is abdicating its responsibility to farmers. They have done no analysis of the effect their decision will have on farmers and Canada's grain industry. We sent crucial business information to them in July, but have yet to receive any meaningful reply. Canada's milling and baking industries have also expressed concerns. The government either doesn't know or doesn't care about the harm this will cause, as they push ahead with an extremely hasty and unrealistic timeline.

Majority governments do not eliminate the need to consult and to listen. They do not confer absolute power. We have a government that is ignoring the laws of the land, ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of farmers and running roughshod over people for reasons they won't make clear.

Whenever the government is asked about its vision for the future, they try to push the onus back on the Canadian Wheat Board. They rely on vague media lines about "free markets" and "marketing freedom". It sounds good, but nobody really knows what it means.

I encourage you to insist on meaningful explanations and clear answers. I encourage farmers to stand up for their rights and demand that their wishes be respected. And I urge all Canadians to stand up for fairness and democracy... from a government that seems to believe these things don't matter anymore.


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