Province fights for wheat board

Government launches $180,000 ad campaign

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In a last-ditch effort to save jobs from Main Street north to Churchill, the provincial government is taking on the Harper Tories over their plan for the Canadian Wheat Board.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/06/2011 (4188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In a last-ditch effort to save jobs from Main Street north to Churchill, the provincial government is taking on the Harper Tories over their plan for the Canadian Wheat Board.

The $180,000-media blitz Premier Greg Selinger announced Monday will feature newspaper and radio ads along with an online petition that takes direct aim at Ottawa’s plan to strip the Winnipeg-based CWB of its marketing monopoly.

Provincial government officials say some 2,000 jobs are on the line in this high-profile political fight that will have huge ramifications for Manitoba’s economy well beyond the agricultural sector.

WAYNE.GLOWACKI@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger wants the federal government to let farmers vote on the future of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Wheat Board.

“Someone has to support producers at a time when there is a threat they will lose their voice entirely in something that they pay for and control,” Selinger said. “Someone has to stand and up and support them and it’s reasonable for us to do so.”

The wheat board is a farmer-controlled organization, and a majority of its board members have been elected on a campaign to preserve the monopoly. Selinger wants Ottawa to let Prairie producers vote on the fate of the CWB.

Selinger was joined by Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, who warned his community could be virtually wiped out if the CWB stops shipping grains out of the northern seaport.

The Port of Churchill relies on the CWB for 90 per cent of its cargo traffic. Spence said if that is drastically reduced, it will have a serious effect on the town and the 200 residents in the community of 1,000 who work at the port or for the Hudson Bay Railway.

“It will be devastating,” Spence said.

Spence wants the federal government to slow down and consider what the impact will be.

“They are going about it too quick,” Spence said. “We need to sit down and digest where they are going. Let’s roll out a plan we can all agree with. We need to find out what the feds have in store for Churchill.”

But provincial Conservative opposition leader Hugh McFadyen characterized the provincial government’s decision to come out in support of the CWB weeks after the federal election as pure electioneering in advance of the Oct. 4 provincial election.

“People in Manitoba are practical,” McFadyen said. “If Greg Selinger had been out there on this issue prior to the decision, that would be one thing. But six weeks late with a negative attack campaign against the federal government is not the way to build a province.”

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the election of a Conservative majority government on May 2 negates the need for another farmer plebiscite.

Ritz accused Manitoba of ignoring the will of most farmers.

“Our government has always put farmers first, which is why western Canadians gave this government a strong mandate, and now they expect us to deliver on our commitments,” Ritz said Monday in a written statement.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising that the Manitoba government would be against an open and competitive market that would attract investment, encourage innovation and create value-added jobs.

“The CWB and the Manitoba government should work constructively to let every farmer decide how they market their grain instead of engaging in gratuitous fear-mongering.”

The Saskatchewan and Alberta governments support the federal government’s move.

The elimination of the CWB monopoly will mean farmers will be free to find the customer willing to pay the most for their crops, and it will fundamentally shake up the grain business in the Prairies. Whether the CWB itself will have a future in that scenario remains to be seen.

Many believe there is no viable role for the wheat board in a post-monopoly setting. CWB chairman Bill Oberg said an internal study is underway to investigate options.

“We have decided we are gong to identify what will be required to start a brand new organization on the Prairies in terms of capital base and access to facilities,” he said.

As to how much Oberg thinks it will cost, “The capital investment will be huge,” he said.

There is an ideological motivation on the part of many Conservatives and anti-CWB farmers to end the single-desk sale of Prairie grain. But there are also many who believe that the political wrangling must come to an end and more constructive conversations need to take place about how the industry will adapt.

Curtis Sims, a farmer near MacGregor, said it’s time for the wheat board to end its siege mentality.

“The industry needs to get ready instead of all the fighting and negativity,” said Sims, who’s in favour of marketing choice but admits he’s fine either way.

Paul Orsak, a farmer near Binscarth, agreed with Sims.

“It’s not just about marketing choice and finding a competitive bid for my grain,” he said. “It’s about commercializing the industry as opposed to having it stagnate under a heavy wet blanket of a government agency which interferes with market signal and people’s willingness to invest.”

How that kind of investment materializes will likely not be immediately evident, but farmers like Sims and Orsak seem to believe the end of the monopoly will open up some new developments.

Among other things, they talk about the need for more research and development into different varieties of wheat, alternative uses for some of the minor, low-value types and new ideas on how to leverage the most out of the Port of Churchill.

 

— with file from The Canadian Press

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

The province’s pro-CWB urban ad message

Winnipeg would lose the head office of a world-renowned company — and more than 2,000 jobs directly or indirectly supported by the CWB.

Manitoba’s economy would lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Manitoba’s future as a continental transportation hub could be compromised.

The Port of Churchill and our Arctic trade opportunities would be jeopardized.

The province’s pro-CWB rural ad message

Eliminating the CWB’s single desk would affect the entire industry — from grain handling, transportation and marketing to trade, risk management and farmer returns.

Farmers own the CWB. It returns every penny of profit to farmers.

Eliminating the CWB would rob farmers of these advantages. Forever.

That’s why farmers have supported the CWB in the past… and why farmers should decide its future.

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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