The Canadian Wheat Board Finds its Western-based Support


I’ve earlier posted about the Conservatives’ stealth tactics when it comes to inserting their preferred political policies in the face of an electorate which, by and large, doesn’t support them. One of my points was their attempt to replace the president of the Canadian Wheat Board with a partisan supporter who would help the Conservatives implement their policy of ending the CWB’s monopoly on Canadian wheat and barley exports.

My point was, despite the Conservatives’ strength in western Canada, and despite their open campaigning to end the CWB’s monopoly (and despite the consistency of that vision with their general pro-market approach), they were acting sneakily because they were afraid a bold move would alienate voters in western Canada.

I was particularly interested in making this point because the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly — which applies to grain and barley farmers in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and no where else in Canada has been cited in some quarters as a reason for alienation in western Canada, an example of eastern Canadian arrogance in imposing its will on its western colony. Even when polls cite the CWB’s popularity, even when Stephane Dion gets a favourable reaction during a town hall meeting in Alberta when he speaks of maintaining the CWB’s monopoly, detractors tend to brush this off, saying “how many of these guys are farmers?” or “This is just a pet project by city-based bloggers.”

Well, to the Conservatives’ credit, they’ve gone some distance in answering this question once and for all by setting up plebiscites in the prairie provinces, allowing wheat and barley farmers to speak their mind about the CWB’s monopoly. But the Manitoba government — a supporter of the wheat board — decided to have a plebiscite of its own. And the results?

Manitoba farmers have voiced clear support for the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on wheat and barley sales in a symbolic plebiscite dismissed by the federal agriculture minister as a waste of money.

About 70 per cent of farmers who cast ballots in the Manitoba government’s vote said they want to keep the status quo on wheat. The support for the barley monopoly was 62 per cent.

the response rate of 65 per cent was well above the 40 to 50 per cent rate for the board’s director elections in recent years.


Now, you could argue that the 35 per cent who didn’t show up might be, by abstaining, saying ‘no’ to the wheat board’s monopoly, but that’s not how elections typically handle abstentions (unfortunately).

So, as an eastern Canadian who didn’t even know of the Wheat Board’s existence five years ago, let me say to any western Canadian who is upset that there is a Canadian Wheat Board with a monopoly on wheat and barley exports in this country, please don’t blame me for its existence. To my mind, Ottawa seems just to be implementing policy that has (or had) support from western farmers. If you really want things to change, you should first talk to the western farmers that are standing firm on the wheat board’s monopoly.

Hat tip to Scott Tribe.

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