Farmers for economic freedom
Updates from the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network, Canadian Farmers for Justice and the Prairie Centre. Several of the items appearing here originally appeared in an email list operated by Dwayne Leslie at http://www.prairielinks.com.
Talkin' the talk without walkin' the walk
By Kevin Avram
Jean Chretien is talkin' the talk, but there ain't no way that he's walkin' the walk. The Prime Minister went to the Ukraine to speak about the evils of monopolies. Back in Canada the media reports referred to it as a stern lecture and an "unusually tough message."
The Ukrainian economy is shrinking. It's fifty percent smaller today than it was ten years ago. And nearly half of its exports are sent to Russia. Unfortunately, the Russian ruble is worthless. Monopolies, bureaucracy and political corruption are common. The Prime Minister was there to preach a message of deregulation, free enterprise, and activism by citizens. He called for stronger laws that protect foreign investment and spoke aggressively about the need to oppose bureaucratic obstacles.
When speaking of the means to create wealth and renew the economy, he was down right hawkish about the negative effect of monopolies. They are a "recipe for poverty and stagnation and alienation!" he declared. "Not worthy of a great nation and great people." He sternly declared that it is the responsibility of every citizen to be preoccupied with the political process. "Otherwise, you won't have a real democracy..."
While Chretien was giving the Ukrainians a stiff lecture about ending monopolies and resisting bureaucracy, half a world away, Bernie Sambrook was sitting on his farm in southern Manitoba. Sambrook is the embodiment of everything Chretien was telling the Ukrainians to be. He is active, enterprising, opposed to monopolies, and is consistent in his involvements in public policy issues. Because the government of Canada will throw him in prison if he attempts to do exactly what the Prime Minister is telling the Ukrainians they must do, he's also frustrated.
When he learned of the content of Chretien's sermons to the Ukrainians, he couldn't help but send off a letter to the Globe and Mail. He pointed out that the new class of citizen that Chretien says is so desirable for the Ukraine is being suppressed in Canada.
"This new class of entrepreneur that the Prime Minister is speaking [to the Ukrainians about] has been trying to break free from the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) monopoly and Ottawa's dominance over them," he said "[Yet], Prime Minister Chretien and CWB Minister Ralph Goodale have quashed all efforts by wheat farmers who wish to practice exactly what the PM is preaching abroad."
To further confirm Chretien's credibility gap on the issue, he points out that a recent blue ribbon research commission that was appointed by Chretien's own government carried out an exhaustive study on the matter, and recommended an end to the CWB's 50-year-old monopoly. The recommendations were instantly pushed aside by Ottawa. Since then, numerous farmers have been fined or imprisoned for the crime of selling their own wheat and barley.
Being imprisoned for engaging in commercial enterprise is something that the Ukrainians would undoubtedly understand, but how could they know that the Canadian Prime Minister who loudly bangs the drum of free markets is guilty of propping up the very scenario he so vehemently attacks?
In truth, it is the Ukrainians who should be preaching to Chretien. That's because, throughout 1997 and 98, while the Canadian government was having farmers arrested and thrown in prison for the crime of bypassing the government's wheat and barley monopoly, the Ukrainian government went on record as recognizing the need to de-monopolize their grain industry and privatize Khlib Ukraina. Khlib Ukraina is the state monopoly that oversees the grain sector in the Ukraine.
The obvious irony to this situation suggests that Jean Chretien, either deliberately preaches what he doesn't practice, lives in a fantasy world, or has no idea what goes on in his own country. Regardless of which of the three are true, the implications are troubling.
Kevin Avram is a former director of the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, and continues to sit as a member of the Prairie Centre's Advisory Board. He currently works as Projects Coordinator for the US organization, Americans in Motion, and makes his home in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Old habits die hard
By Craig Docksteader
In early January, a farmer from New Brigden, Alberta, dialed the Canadian Wheat Board's 1-800 number. The toll-free line had been advertised as an avenue for farmers to get information from the CWB, and the question on his mind was a simple one: Had the former CWB commissioners received their severance payments yet?
The fact that the commissioners were entitled to payouts approaching $300 000 was already public knowledge, but with talk of possible contractual roles for the former commissioners, the question of when the money would be paid was a fair one.
He never got an answer. His call was returned by Pat Wallace, head of Human Resources at the CWB, but Ms. Wallace refused to tell him anything. Coy and evasive, she would only say that "the commissioners' mandate ran out December 29, 1998."
A few weeks later, a Lethbridge-area farmer picked up the phone and dialed the same 1-800 information hot line. Concerned over the appearance of large CWB-sponsored ads in daily papers, he wanted to know how much farmers paid for the ads. Bob Roehle, head of Communications at the CWB, refused to say. It was in the $70 000 to $100 000 range, he conceded, but the exact amount was a secret.
Shortly after, however, the CWB told people in the media that the ads cost $75 000. For some reason, the farmer was not entitled to detailed information, while certain members of the media were.
Stories like this are not unique. For years, the CWB has hidden behind the claim that releasing detailed information would damage its commercial viability. The resulting emphasis on secrecy has consistently frustrated farmers' attempts to obtain detailed information about CWB operations.
While it's true that some information should be protected for a limited period of time, there are at least two good reasons why this does not justify keeping all detailed information locked up indefinitely.
In the first place, commercially sensitive information can still be protected while releasing other kinds of information. It's a simple matter of blocking out the commercially sensitive details. This is a standard procedure under the federal Access to Information Act. It's done all the time by other government agencies and could easily be employed by the CWB as well.
Secondly, detailed CWB information is not commercially sensitive for very long. Consider that the former CWB commissioners received a large severance payment designed to prevent them from getting jobs in the grain industry for two years. The reasoning behind this was simple: Former commissioners were privy to information which the CWB does not want falling into the hands of its competitors.
But in January 2001, any of the three former commissioners can go to work for the Australian Wheat Board or any other CWB competitor. The CWB's own assumption is that by then anything the commissioners now know about the CWB will have no significant commercial value.
Something's wrong with this picture. While farmers are being denied information that's ten, twenty, thirty and forty years old, former commissioners are free to take information that's two years old and go to work for Cargill or ConAgra.
This double standard by the CWB underscores the need to have a clearly defined, accountable process for obtaining information from the CWB. Like the federal Access to Information Act, it should be legislated and not simply subject to the whims of the CWB directors of the day. It needs to clearly lay out the parameters for both determining what information is actually commercially sensitive and how farmers can access information that is not.
After 63 years of secrecy, old habits die hard. Nonetheless, it's time for the CWB's days of hiding behind the "commercial sensitivity" argument to come to a close.
Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
Save the Clams!
By Dennis Rice
When the council of the Rural Municipality of Headingley, near Winnipeg Manitoba, went to trench a sewer pipe across the Assiniboine River in November of 1998, they had no idea what was in store for them. Apparently, a colony of freshwater clams had been discovered in the part of the riverbed where the trench was to be dug. In simpler times, the clams would have been ignored and moved quite effectively with a backhoe. Instead of that, a surprising edict was issued by the provincial environment department: move all the clams out of the way first.
This is one of those "I am not making this up" kind of stories. It might even be considered humorous, except that the Municipality of Headingley is not laughing. According to Reeve John Curry, the bill for the removal could approach $10 000. Since the clam removal was a requirement of the environmental license necessary to complete the sewage project, Headingley had no choice but to comply.
Divers had to be hired to swim along the riverbed, picking up the clams one by one in baskets, sorting the dead ones from the live ones, and then carrying the live ones upstream. At that point, the clams had to be methodically set right side up, since clams are not capable of doing this on their own. All in all, about 3 000 clams were moved, about 2 000 having been found to be dead. Only at this point could work on the trench proceed. Reeve Curry quite rightly termed the exercise a "frivolous waste of money".
What is particularly disturbing about this whole exercise is the fact that in no way are these freshwater clams considered an endangered species. In fact, multitudes of them exist in waterways all over Canada. Insofar as no one seems to care to eat these things, they have little economic value either. While they do have a role to play in filtering and cleaning waterways, trenching one sewer line across a river bottom hardly constitutes wholesale, senseless destruction of their environment.
The precedent created by this requirement bodes ominously for future construction near rivers and streams. Will clam removal now be a requirement every time someone erects a bridge across a river? Will farmers soon find themselves harassed by environment officials monitoring how much topsoil gets washed into waterways, potentially choking some clams? Will necessary drainage and flood control projects be held up in the future until the impact on clams can be considered? Will clams be the only entities getting special protection, or will the long arm of the environmentalist movement use this as a stepping stone for further restrictions on development and progress, extending protection to trees, shrubs, earthworms and who knows what else?
The ideological foundation of this preoccupation with clams can be found in the doctrine of intrinsic value, which holds that any living object, whether it be a clam, a duck, a tree or an angry grizzly, should never be considered less valuable than the life, happiness and health of any human being who happens to live in the same environment. By virtue of this doctrine, a clam has as much worth as a municipality wishing to construct a sewer line at reasonable cost.
Reeve Curry has an inquiry in with the environment department as to whether Headingley is the first community to have had to move clams. Whether that turns out to be the case or not, one thing is for certain: they probably won't be the last.
Dennis Rice is a member of the Prairie Centre and farms near Starbuck, Manitoba.
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