There are many things wrong with the way that the Conservative government has handled the wheat board issue. The decision has been made on purely ideological grounds, without even so much as a departmental review, let alone a proper study by an independent commission. That didn t need to be a review of whether to make the change, but rather to get the industry ready for the changes to come.
Of particular concern is how the government has turned Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada into a cheerleader for Conservative Party policy, using the staff to organize partisan events and using the AAFC website to throw out an assortment of inaccurate and meaningless statistics to criticize the board s performance. In doing so it s brought into question AAFC s reputation as a source for unbiased analysis.
But when all is said and done, the government was elected with a majority in Parliament, and under both the spirit and letter of the law in Canada, Parliament is supreme.
Wheat board supporters who protest otherwise on this issue need to take a step back. There is no question that whatever the board s merits, its operation has required a certain measure of restriction on the laws of trade and commerce in Canada. Until now, those who believed that the advantages of that restriction outweighed the disadvantages have been able to convince governments to keep the board monopoly.
The other side has now won the argument, and Parliament must be as free to remove the restrictions as it was to impose them. You can t argue this both ways, as the CWB directors are effectively doing by suing the government to try and stop the decision. It s also likely to give the Western Canadian Wheat Growers the satisfaction of winning another one. Why do they want to do that?
It may or may not be the right decision, but it s time to move on. It s understandable that the directors and other board supporters don t find that easy to do. It wasn t so long ago that farmers, through their co-ops, owned most of the grain-handling system and a good chunk of the processing system in Western Canada. Farmer-elected directors controlled much of the marketing system through the wheat board.
That s all come to an end. It may be hard to watch the last remnants of this system go without a fight, but the directors need to admit that this battle is lost.
Suits and countersuits are just wasting farmers money, delaying the inevitable and continuing the misery of this debate. The challenge now is for farmers to work together of re-establishing some measure of influence in the handling, marketing and transportation systems.