for economic freedom
Updates from the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Hot off the press! Don Baron's Jailhouse Justice
web posted March 25, 2002
Reactions speak louder than words
By Kevin Avram
Some Albertans are known to be outspoken and very candid. Self-confident people are always like that. Theyre kind of forthright. Consider a recent trip that Jim Ness made to Winnipeg:
After being appointed to the Alberta Grain Commission, Nesss fellow commission members decided that he should attend a CIGI course. CIGI is the Canadian International Grains Institute, which is a non-profit organization thats operated by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and Agriculture Canada. Occupying several floors of the Canadian Grain Commission building, CIGIs facilities house a flourmill, bakery, noodle plant, pasta plant, and food testing laboratories.
The first session, of the first class, on the first day, wasnt five minutes old when Nesss forthrightness and politically incorrect manner presented itself to the room. The instructor, who happened to work for the CWB, was explaining what the Wheat Board is and how it operates. He claimed it is a mandatory co-op. Ness took exception to the statement, later on explaining in his slow spoken, down home manner, that there can be no such thing as a mandatory co-op because in order for a co-op to be a co-op, membership must be voluntary hence, the notion of co-operation.
For the next several days, everything the CWB officials said came under the purview of Nesss forthright manner and politically incorrect eye. He repeatedly spoke up and was candid about what he thought.
At the end of one arduous day, the 29 people attending the course gathered at a nearby restaurant to share a meal. When everyone sat down at the same long table, it turned out that Ness and a CWB official found themselves across from each other.
Wanting to join in with the small talk, the CWB official asked Ness about grasshopper conditions in Alberta. Jim answered. Then, in the easy manner for which he is well known, followed with a postscript: You know, I can hardly wait until the only monopoly you Wheat Board guys have is on grasshoppers. After the laughter subsided, Ness said he discovered that that particular Wheat Board official had a vein just above his left eye that puffed right up when he got mad.
Throughout the week, Ness became familiar with that vein. When told by the CWB, that the CWB and its people work for farmers and only farmers, Ness responded with a question. Im a bit confused, he said. Maybe you could straighten me out. Did you say that you work for us farmers? He was assured that such is the case. Tell me then, he wanted to know. How much do we pay you? When describing what happened next, Ness said that although the answer to his question was nowhere to be seen, the vein over the guys left eye did a dance.
When the CWB claimed that a certain processing facility in Alberta was expanding its operations as a result of the good job being done by the CWB, Ness again interrupted, wanting to know if that companys board of directors would attribute its expansion to the CWB. He even went so far as to suggest that he might want to give some of them a call to find out. The CWBs assertion was immediately amended.
Despite the CWB propaganda, Ness said he found the course valuable and would highly recommend it to anyone. He also said that one of the most informative aspects of being there was seeing the way certain CWB officials reacted to his legitimate, albeit, politically incorrect questions. That spoke louder than anything else that was said.
Kevin Avram sits on the Prairie Centres Board of Trustees.
web posted March 18, 2002
An Open letter to Hon. Eldon Lautermilch
By Ken Dillen
As a founding Saskatchewan director of the Prairie Centre Policy Institute, I take great offence at your dismissal of the Prairie Centre as a "right-wing think tank". The Institute is made up of people with diverse backgrounds who share a common goal to identify and propose practical solutions to the real challenges facing the prairie region and Saskatchewan in particular. Our purpose is to advance ideas on wealth creation in order to enhance the economic and social well-being of the prairie region, not participate in partisan or ideological bickering.
Around the world, governments of all stripes have recognized that the keys to a healthy economy are no secret. Taxes must be kept low, trade barriers removed, markets deregulated, infrastructure upgraded, the private sector strengthened, and government intervention in the economy minimized.
In Europe, Ireland has recently experienced vibrant growth by acting upon these proven principles. It is now considered the economic tiger of the European Union, and expatriate Irish are returning home to enjoy the new-found prosperity. In some cases, countries in the former Soviet Union have moved ahead of Saskatchewan to embrace true reform and position themselves as competitors in the world marketplace. Rather than being ideologically-driven, these changes are taking place because governments are putting ideology aside and considering the clearly-proven track record of what works and what doesn't.
The fact is, Saskatchewan has significant potential for economic growth which could reverse the trend of young people leaving the province. This potential did not suddenly emerge in the past few years. It has been here all along, undeveloped, because too many individuals and political parties have chosen to advance policies based on their political philosophy rather than practical common sense.
The Prairie Centre Policy Institute firmly believes that Saskatchewan can be a growing "have" province and a leader in Canada and the world. The political administration which gets to oversee that transition and reap the subsequent public favour, will be the one which puts its ideology aside and embraces time-tested solutions, regardless of their origin. Frankly, we dont care which political party that is, as long as it happens. The future of Saskatchewan is too bright and too valuable to squander with the kind of stereotypical whitewashing represented by your recent comments concerning the Prairie Centre Policy Institute.
I am a member of the Serpent River First Nation and hold a status card. I am also a former President of Local 6166 of the United Steelworkers of America, which at that time was the largest industrial union in the Province of Manitoba. Furthermore, I am a former Member of the Legislative Assembly for Manitoba, representing the Thompson constituency for the NDP. Years ago I chose to set aside my personal ideological preferences in order to pursue common sense solutions. I respectfully submit that you should do the same.
Ken Dillen sits on the Board of Directors of the Prairie Centre Policy
Putting Saskatchewan Back on a Track for Growth: Economic analysis and forecast dubs Saskatchewan "This Year Country"
Tuesday, March 12, 2002 - A new report released by the Prairie Centre Policy Institute indicates that Saskatchewan has significant potential for economic growth which could reverse the trend of young people leaving the province.
"Saskatchewan has all of the ingredients to become a growing have province and leader in Canada and the world," said Dr. Graham Parsons, author of the report. "If the right decisions are made, Saskatchewan can support more people and offer the opportunity for our children to stay in the province."
The report, entitled, This Year Country: Creating Wealth in Saskatchewan, examines the potential for economic growth in Saskatchewan, and considers the factors which will be necessary to see the province attain this potential.
"This report is a bit of a wake-up call," said Ken Ziegler, President of the Prairie Centre Policy Institute. "Were sitting on a wealth of opportunity and natural resources, but unless the right changes are made in both attitude and public policy, we wont realize that potential."
Dr. Parsons, who served as chief economist for the province of Saskatchewan and chief economist for Western Canada at the Canada West Foundation, noted that agriculture and energy are two significant opportunities for increased wealth creation within the province. "These two sectors alone are enough to clearly demonstrate the potential for wealth creation that exists within Saskatchewan."
Along with opportunities for economic growth, the report identifies a number of obstacles that constrain wealth creation in the province. These include demographic challenges, government involvement in business, uncompetitive tax rates, the predominance of Crown corporations in the economy, provincial trade policy, a focus on wealth redistribution rather than wealth creation, and corporate and public attitudes.
This study is the first in a series that the Prairie Centre Policy Institute
will be commissioning to advance ideas on wealth creation in the prairie
web posted March 4, 2002
A window of opportunity closes
By Craig Docksteader
It was with a jumbled mixture of pessimism and optimism that prairie producers waited for the Auditor General's report on the Canadian Wheat Board. For the first time in more than 65 years, the CWB's books had been opened up to the nation's financial watchdog, providing an unprecedented opportunity for public accountability. Would the report provide real insights and information into the CWB's performance, or would it be an exercise in PR and spin-doctoring, tainted by two years advance notice and a strict mandate that hobbled what the AG could comment on? At the end of the day, it provided a little of the former and a lot of the latter.
Getting the Auditor General through the doors of the CWB was no small task. Producers and opposition MPs had been calling for the AG to be appointed as the CWB's auditor for years. While the CWB is audited annually by reputable auditors, the AG is the only one with a mandate to audit Crown entities from a public policy perspective. The regular audit makes sure the numbers add up but the AG usually evaluates whether a Crown entity is adequately achieving the results intended when it was created by Parliament. In the midst of growing protests in the 1990's, against the CWB's secrecy and monopoly position, prairie producers demanded that the AG be given ongoing access to the CWB's books.
After the request was repeatedly rejected by both the CWB and the federal government, the AG was finally given access with an amendment to Bill C-4 (An Act to Amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act) made by the Senate Committee on Agriculture. Regrettably, it would be one-time access with no subsequent accountability and a very narrow mandate that would not allow the Office of the AG to do its usual job. Although delighted the AG got through the door, producers were dismayed at the tight restrictions that accompanied the mandate.
In the end, while offering solid recommendations on a number of operational items, the only performance that the AG evaluated was management, not marketing. Perhaps in an attempt to steer away from commenting on the CWB's mandate, the AG only offered recommendations on how to make the CWB work better, without considering if its monopoly position is working in the best interests of producers.
Recommendations were made in the areas of governance, strategic planning, and information technology. But when it came to marketing performance, the AG basically told the CWB it should do a better job evaluating itself -- no independent, third-party analysis of whether the single-desk marketing system is serving farmers well.
Surprisingly, CWB Chairman Ken Ritter, interpreted the audit results "as a confirmation that the CWB is an effective marketing organization." Yet the AG report is clear that it only examined whether the CWB achieved its results economically and efficiently, but did not measure the outcome of the results. In other words, we have the AG's word that the CWB gets good gas mileage, but not a peep about whether it's taking producers and prairie agriculture where it needs to go.
It is arguable that the CWB monopoly has had a greater impact on the prairie economy than any other single public policy measure. In light of this, the absence of an unbiased evaluation of the broader economic impact of the CWB monopoly is baffling. While conflicting studies have quarreled over the monopoly's impact on net returns to producers, the impact of the monopoly on diversification, value-added processing, lost opportunity costs, and prairie agriculture in general has never been calculated.
The brief but limited window of opportunity given to the AG is now closed. And within minutes of its closing, supporters of the CWB had already begun to spin the report as an endorsement of the monopoly. The other 75 percent of prairie producers are still waiting for someone to do an evaluation of what really matters.
Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre Policy Institute.
Auditor General's Report on CWB Misses the Mark
REGINA - The Auditor General's report on the Canadian Wheat Board has missed the mark by a wide margin because it fails to examine the CWB's marketing performance, says the Prairie Centre Policy Institute.
"This is the first time in 67 years that the CWB has been subjected to the scrutiny of the Auditor General, and yet the audit report contains no detailed analysis of the CWB's marketing performance," said Craig Docksteader, Coordinator with the Prairie Centre. "This is extremely disappointing. The demand for AG access to the CWB's books was primarily about measuring sales performance, not recounting the numbers and tweaking management procedures."
Docksteader expressed surprise that the CWB is interpreting the audit results as a confirmation that it is an effective marketing organization. "How can you conclude you're doing a good job as a grain marketer when your marketing performance was not evaluated? The AG report is clear that it only examined whether the CWB achieved its results economically and efficiently, but did not measure the outcome of the results. That's like being excited because you got good gas mileage without knowing if you arrived at your destination."
Docksteader also suggested the AG's recommendation that the CWB improve its performance measures will do little to reassure farmers. "Most producers are not interested in the CWB's self-evaluation. They want access to information that will enable an independent evaluation of marketing performance. While the CWB claims it is accountable to producers, it refuses to release the details of grain sales even when the transactions are 50 years old. Regrettably, the AG's report is silent on this issue of the disclosure of sale prices, despite its direct implications on public accountability."
For More Information Contact: 1-306-352-3828 or 1-800-827-3417
The Prairie Centre Policy Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan organization
dedicated to advancing ideas on wealth creation in order to enhance the
economic and social well-being of Canada's prairie region
Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
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