Farmers for economic freedom
Updates from the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network and the Canadian Farmers for Justice. Several of the items appearing here originally appeared in an email list operated by Dwayne Leslie at http://www3.mb.sympatico.ca/~dleslie/aglinks.htm
If you've nothing to hide, why are you hiding it?
By Kevin Avram
Of all institutions that are attached to government, or that have anything to do with government, the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) is perhaps the most curious. Its 1996-97 Annual Report is an unusual mix because of what it does say and because of what it doesn't say.
Detailed information on selling prices for grain are secret and do not appear in the report. Likewise, information that could easily be obtained about other government agencies and departments does not appear and is not available. This includes details on travel expenses, pensions, salaries, and operating costs. The CWB's exemption from the Freedom of Information law means secrecy is the status quo.
Although details are secret, a few general lump sum figures are in the annual report. These lump sums paint a picture. For example, CWB fixed assets are listed as having cost $118 million. Farmers, through the CWB, have $588 000 invested in automobiles; $86 million in hopper cars; $20 million in computers and computer systems; $4.8 million in furniture and office equipment; and $4.6 million in their building.
The report shows a management staff of eleven. If the money that the CWB spent on automobiles were divided equally among these top eleven people, it means each of them are driving around in a $53 000 car. There's $20 million tied up in computer equipment and systems, meaning that farmers have spent the equivalent of $40 000 on computer technology for each of the 500 people who work there. $4.8 million on furniture and office equipment other than computers works out to about $9,500 per employee. By anybody's standards this is a very, very, ritzy operation.
From 1996 to 1997, CWB administrative and general expenses went from $42.4 million to $47.4 million a jump of 12 percent. The cost to run the administrative and operations arm rose by $5 million in 1997. Spending on CWB publications climbed by $187 000 to a total of $731 974 an annual increase of 34 percent. Expenditures on area representatives were up by 25 percent. Legal fees and court costs were $376 000. CWB management consulting cost farmers nearly $500 000. If the Premier of any province spent $500 000 on management consulting and refused to tell anyone the details the media would go wild. Yet, at the CWB, such secrecy is accepted as normal. Traveling and transfer of CWB staff cost $1 506 784.
Total expenditures for salaries, pensions, group insurance, employee benefits, etc., were $26 269 319. Assuming that there are the equivalent of 500 full time employees running the operation, the expenditure per employee is slightly more than $52 000, an amount that is absolutely staggering. How many people can even think of another institution that has an average annual per employee cost of over $52 000?
The bottom line to all this is that the bottom line does matter. What this year's Annual Report demonstrates is that the CWB has the ability to increase annual expenditures by 12 percent, spend nearly $600 000 on automobiles, pay an average annual compensation package of over $52 000, and keep all the details secret.
If any of these people who run the CWB were actually interested in
serving farmers and being accountable to growers, why would they even
want to hide the details of what they do? If any farmer sent an information
request to a provincial government asking for a list of cars and trucks
owned by the province and financed by taxpayers, a list would be forthcoming.
What it comes down to is that having the ability to evaluate performance is the only way farmers will ever know if the CWB is operating in their interest. The political wrangling can go on but once accountability is embraced and details revealed, the arguments will cease.
Electing a new board of directors won't make the CWB accountable. Only opening the books can do that.
Whose Bread I Eat His Song I Sing
By Kevin Avram
I first came across the story of the wild hogs in Horseshoe Bend ten years ago. Norm Baker, who is now a director with the Prairie Centre had given it to me. It's a true story that was written by Dr. J. McDaniel. It was originally published forty years ago in a bulletin of the Fulton County Medical Society. The article was originally called Whose Bread I Eat His Song I Sing, but came to be known as the Wild Hogs in Horseshoe Bend. Some have likely seen the story before, but as the truths contained in it go to the core of some of our most profound societal challenges, it's worth repeating on occasion. Here's what McDaniel had to say:
I remember as a small boy in knee britches going with my father to hear an address given by the Honorable Stephen Pace, then a member of the government. It was on the banks of the river. There was a barbecue, and citizens, especially farmers, from all over the area gathered. This was before the First World War.
It seemed that someone in government had introduced a bill that would give the farmers some money provided they did something. Mr. Pace vigorously opposed it. I have no idea what it was because I was busy watching a ground squirrel play with a pine cone. He snapped me back to attention, however, when he said, "I'm going to tell you a true story about the wild hogs that once lived about 40 miles down the river."
"Years ago," he said, "in a great horseshoe bend down the river, there lived a drove of wild hogs. Where they came from no one knew, but they survived floods, fires, freezes, droughts, and hunters. The greatest compliment a man could pay to a dog was to say he had fought the hogs in Horseshoe Bend and returned alive. Occasionally a pig was killed either by dogs or a gun. Whenever that happened it would be talked about for years to come.
"Finally, a man wearing a single suspender came by the country
store on the river road and asked the whereabouts of these wild hogs.
He drove a one-horse wagon, had an ax, some quilts, a lantern, some
corn, and a single barrel shotgun. He was a slender, slow-moving, patient
man -- he chewed his tobacco deliberately and spat very seldom. Several
months later he came back to the same store and asked for help to bring
out the wild hogs. He stated that he had
"Bewildered farmers, dubious hunters, and storekeepers all gathered in the heart of Horseshoe Bend to view the captive hogs.
"'It was all very simple,' said the man, tugging at his suspender strap. First I put out some corn. For three weeks they would not eat it. Then some of the young ones grabbed an ear and ran off into the thicket. Soon they were all eating it; then I commenced building a pen around the corn, a little higher each day. When I noticed that they were all waiting for me to bring the corn and had stopped grubbing for acorns and roots, I built the trap door.
"'Naturally,' said the patient man, they raised quite a ruckus when they seen they was trapped, but I can pen any animal on the face of the earth if I can jist get him to depend on me for a free handout.'"
We have had patient men in our own central government for years. The only difference is that they are using our own dollars instead of corn. Maybe that's why I still think about the trap door, and the slender, stooped man, when he spat tobacco juice and turned to the gathered citizens many years ago and said, "I can pen any animal on the face of the earth, if I can jist get him to depend on me for a free handout."
The ability to measure is an essential quality in life
By Kevin Avram
Having the ability to measure is how we know what we're doing. Days, months, and years measure time. Odometers and speedometers measure distance and speed. When a manufacturer is setting the specifications for sophisticated machinery, the ability to accurately measure is what facilitates the process. Every farm has numerous measuring devices too, as farmers have to measure fertilizer, chemical, and seed application rates.
If someone were to make a list of all the things we measure it would be a long one -- a real long one. Elections measure politicians; degrees measure temperature; calories, vitamins, and protein, are measured in food. Businesses get measured too. They get judged on the basis of service, price, and quality of the product.
One of the very few things anyone can think of that absolutely cannot be measured is the Canadian Wheat Board. No other single institution has as much influence on the conditions of the prairie region of Canada, yet during the many decades of the CWB's existence, not one farmer has ever been able to measure its performance. The exception to this was prior to 1950. That's when much of what the CWB did was still debated in Parliament. In the spring of 1947, direct access to this information allowed Senator Walter Aseltine of Rosetown, to confirm that farmers had up until that point lost $535 million due to the CWB monopoly. Many believe this explains why CWB selling prices from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, are a secret.
If no one can know selling prices, no one can measure performance.
The details of how many hundreds of millions of dollars the Wheat Board
has spent on demurrage and other inefficiencies over the years are secret
too. If they weren't, farmers could measure what's gone on and come
to their own conclusion about things. When questioned about such matters
the people who run the CWB
The stark reality is that the CWB has consistently done all it can to stop farmers from having the ability to measure its performance. It owes its ongoing existence and continued power to the fact that no one -- and I mean no one -- has the ability to get out a ruler, a yardstick, or any other kind of gauge, which could actually measure what the CWB does.
If it's not the case that the CWB has outright lied to farmers in the past, it has done the next thing to it. It has consistently concealed information about itself, which would permit a legitimate evaluation of its performance. That's why now, as the rhetoric is starting to heat up prior to the CWB elections, we need to remind ourselves that for the time being there's only one thing about the CWB that needs to change. Changing this will change everything. It's more important than who is elected to the new board. It's more important than who the new president and CEO will be. It's even more important than the current price of wheat.
This one thing is to have the ability to measure what the CWB does. The day secrecy at the CWB ends is the day there will be a new beginning for the prairie grain industry. It is the day when every bit of the political rhetoric surrounding the CWB monopoly issue will cease. It is the day that the truth will become apparent. It is the day that farmers will, for the first time, be in a position to measure what is actually going on.
Kevin Avram is a member of the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc. advisory board. "Where Do We Go From Here" is a feature service of the Prairie Centre.
Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture
The Prairie Centre is a non-profit, non-partisan member organization, supported by over 10 000 farmers and ranchers in the prairie region. The purpose of the Prairie Centre is to promote greater freedom for the individual and to carry out an educational role with respect to wealth creation and responsible public policy.
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