Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/5/2011 (3563 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is visiting the Canadian Wheat Board's offices in Winnipeg this morning -- by the CWB's account, for the first time -- and everyone's expecting him to be wielding an axe.
Ritz has given notice that ending the board's mandate as the sole marketer of Prairie wheat and barley will be one of the first items of the Harper government's fall sitting of Parliament.
Wheat board officials have said they have no illusions about escaping the Tory agenda, but are prepared to continue to fight.
As the dismal prospects for the CWB start to sink in, backers are ramping up the rhetoric.
"Farmers are up against enough already in terms of flood conditions without having to put up with a federal government running a knife through the wheat board," Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers said Monday.
Supporters of the CWB -- who according to some surveys include more than 60 per cent of Prairie grain farmers themselves -- say it's the producers who deserve the right to determine the fate of the CWB.
But the day after the Conservative government's majority election victory earlier this month, Ritz said there would be no need for another vote from farmers about the fate of the wheat board.
"We already did that," Ritz said. "It's called a general election."
Wheat board chairman Allen Oberg said they will continue to push for a producer vote until there is absolutely no hope left.
Pat Martin, the Winnipeg Centre NDP MP who is the Opposition critic responsible for the wheat board, quipped that maybe Ritz was in Winnipeg to announce he was converting the CWB's headquarters into a bingo hall.
"What can we do?" Martin asked rhetorically. "We can launch a fight-back campaign the likes of which you have never seen."
Martin said the fight will mobilize on two fronts: pointing out what he called the undemocratic heavy-handedness of the Harper government and the economic impact such a move will have on the Winnipeg corporate economy and the general Prairie agricultural economy.
"This is a great Canadian institution and for it to be legislated out of existence is unprecedented," he said. "The public should be screaming from the rooftops."
With less than one per cent of that public engaged in agriculture in this country, Martin said he understands it may be a challenge capturing the public's attention on the matter.
But the NDP Opposition in Ottawa will not be going it alone.
In fact, Ritz will likely be getting an earful from Struthers, who also has a meeting today with the minister.
The primary reason for Struthers' meeting with Ritz is to discuss flood conditions and the number of acres that may not be seeded.
But he said in that context, it is exactly the wrong time to be saddling producers with the prospects of losing what many of them believe to be a valuable asset to their operations.
"I have made our position on the CWB very clear to minister Ritz and my predecessors have as well," said Struthers. "We stand with the farmers. Every time there have been elections for wheat board director specifically dealing with the single desk issue, they have voted in favour of the single desk."
Currently, eight of 10 farmer-elected directors of the wheat board are strong supporters of its role as the sole marketer of Prairie wheat and barley.
Struthers and Martin can barely contain their anger over the intended legislation because, they say, it is based solely on ideological grounds.
"There is no business case for this," said Martin. "In fact, it will take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Prairie farm economy and put it in the pockets of the shareholders of the big grain companies like Cargill and Viterra."
There are some who say Martin and the opposition to whatever legislation gets tabled will be restricted to ineffective bleating and nothing more.
But Martin said there are techniques available to tie them up legislatively.
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.