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.
web posted November 22, 1999
How the CWB promotes value-added processing
By Craig Docksteader
Ken Ritter doesn't get it. In a recent speech, the new chair of the Canadian Wheat Board board of directors said, "We state categorically that we support processing of grain on the Prairies, and we will encourage and foster further growth in the processing industry here."
At a time when input costs are rising, commodity prices falling, and a growing number of farmers are struggling to make it, one would hope that what Ritter said was true. One would hope that CWB policy would recognize the importance of allowing farmers to individually capture whatever increased value they could add to their product. One would hope all the CWB directors would wake up one morning with the revelation that the entrepreneurial spirit of prairie farmers could breathe new life into the agricultural economy. And one would hope that instead of merely giving lip service to the idea, they'd actually do something substantive about it.
But if Ritter's bold statement was an accurate reflection of reality, he and the other CWB directors had the perfect opportunity to demonstrate it when the Prairie Pasta Producers asked for the opportunity to bypass the CWB pooling system. Instead of giving them the exemption they needed, however, a majority of the directors chose to hunker down and protect the increasingly fragile status quo. Rumour has it that Ritter himself cast the deciding vote against the PPP to break a boardroom tie.
But even though the CWB has effectively slammed the door on seeing a PPP operation in Canada, Ken Ritter should be happy to know that there are others who still believe his assertion that the CWB promotes value-added processing. One such farmer approached me a few years ago to make a confession of sorts. "Don't tell anyone I said so", the farmer appealed to me, "but the Canadian Wheat Board has done more to foster diversification and value added activity on the prairies than any other single factor."
Frankly, I was puzzled. Here was a man who preferred to have the option of selling his wheat through the marketing agency of his choice; was keenly aware of the impact the monopoly has on encouraging the export of unprocessed grain; viewed with contempt the policy that forces farmers to "buy-back" their own grain at an inflated price before they can reap the benefits of processing; had an extensive understanding of the industry; and participated in numerous industry committees, organizations and initiatives. And he was telling me that the CWB has been influential in the growth of value-added activity in the grain industry.
Concerned that I not misunderstand, however, he quickly proceeded to explain. "It's true," he said. "Many farmers are doing whatever they can to get out of dealing with the Board. They're building processing plants for peas, alfalfa, chick peas and other commodities, and, as much as possible, getting right out of Board grains. They're diversifying into other areas and taking advantage of any opportunity to add value to their product. They're not going to wait around for the CWB to get out of their way. They're going around them."
Ironically, Ritter is right. The CWB's adamant refusal to budge on their archaic policies does promote value-added processing -- just not in the way he thinks.
web posted November 15, 1999
Still no accountability at the CWB
By Craig Docksteader
For many years, farmers, farm organizations, journalists and Members of Parliament have been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to obtain non-commercially sensitive information from the Canadian Wheat Board. With a public policy mandate to be the exclusive exporter of prairie wheat and barley, stakeholders and elected officials have a genuine interest in examining the CWB's activities and performance, but are routinely denied the information necessary to do so.
The specific reasons for denying access to information are usually vague and mysterious at best. CWB officials often claim that the commercial nature of the Board does not allow them to release any detailed information. Yet if you press them about exactly what information is commercially sensitive and how long this sensitivity lasts, they are unable to answer. Either they've never sat down to figure it out, or they're simply grasping for any excuse to maintain the cloak of secrecy that surrounds CWB operations.
According to CWB minister Ralph Goodale, the election of ten farmer-directors was supposed to change all this. The new directors have access to all CWB records and are free to establish policies governing the release of information. Goodale insists that there is no need to bring the Board under the federal Access to Information Act because the elected directors can ensure that acceptable levels of disclosure are established through a clearly defined process. But as the following events indicate, eleven months have passed since the new board of directors took office, and such a process has still not been defined.
On April 1 of this year, the Prairie Centre wrote to the CWB requesting information on oat sales made between 1979 and 1989. Since the CWB has not sold a bushel of oats for ten years, and has no mandate to re-enter the oats market, this information is clearly not commercially sensitive. Under procedures followed by virtually every other government department and agency, the information should have been provided within 30 - 60 days. It was July 30th before the Prairie Centre received a brief note from the CWB acknowledging that the information request had been received.
On August 4th, a letter was sent to the Prairie Centre's Regina office from Bob Roehle, Head of CWB corporate communications. The letter indicated that before responding to the request, the CWB Communications Committee required information about the Prairie Centre. But when the Prairie Centre requested clarification of the specific criteria employed by the CWB when responding to requests of this nature, the CWB's answer was revealing. In his following letter dated October 1, Bob Roehle admitted that, "The Standing Committee on Communications has not established fixed criteria as such for evaluating information requests. Committee decisions are largely judgement calls based on available information."
Roehle's admission is troubling. If the CWB Board of Directors does not
employ any specific criteria when determining their response to information
requests, on what basis does it determine that more information is necessary
in order to proceed with responding to a request? Is it standard CWB policy
to respond to information inquiries by seeking to carry out an investigation
of the individuals making the request? Does the CWB release information
to only certain Canadian citizens, farmers, or media personnel after a
type of ad hoc litmus test has been passed, the criteria of which is secret
and unavailable to the general public, farmers and farm organizations?
Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc. "Where Do We Go From Here" is a feature service of the Prairie Centre.
Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
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