Wheat Board monopoly's death a seismic shift for Prairie agriculture
The CWB unveiled its new logo on July 31, 2012 in Winnipeg.
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2012 7:15PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 31, 2012 7:21PM EDT
Born: July 5, 1935.
Died: July 31, 2012.
For most of the last 77 years, it’s been against the law for western farmers to sell wheat or barley they’ve planted, grown and reaped to the highest bidder.
Tonight at midnight, that Canadian Wheat Board marketing monopoly dies.
Never again will a prime minister ask, as Pierre Trudeau did in 1968, “Why should I sell the Canadian farmers' wheat?”
The answer is… well… the government doesn’t. Not anymore.
Stephen Harper travels west on Wednesday to celebrate this major policy milestone -- one plugged deep into his Reform Party roots.
He will become the prime minister who finally killed a marketing monopoly that’s been an irritant to some farmers, a security blanket to others.
He’s expected to go even further. Sources say he’s prepared to issue pardons or extend clemency to the Prairie farmers convicted of symbolically violating the marketing monopoly.
On an April morning in 1996, 18 Alberta farmers hauled truckloads of wheat across the border to Montana where they secured higher prices from American buyers. Upon their return, they were charged under the Customs Act for failing to secure an export permit and, a few years later, a dozen of them opted for time in jail instead of paying the fine.
Then-backbencher Harper angrily defended the rebels as crusaders with a cause. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein denounced their incarceration.
So Harper will no doubt delight many westerners by forgiving the farmers their marketing trespasses, although it’s not clear if they’ll be pardoned or given one of those “record suspensions” recently introduced under Conservative law-and-order legislation. Different name, same effect. Their criminal record is vanquished.
Ironically, there were hints last week some of the convicted farmers have declined the pardon offer, viewing their record as a badge of freedom-fighting honour.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but despite that political grandstanding, the board’s demise is a seismic shift for Prairie agriculture.
While the Supreme Court has yet to hear if the monopoly can legally be broken without a former farmers’ vote, this political toothpaste is out of the tube and there’s no squeezing it back. This monopoly game is over.
“There is no business case for abolishing the CWB. There never was,” NDP critic Pat Martin told me. “They’ve thrown the Prairie agricultural economy into uncertainty and instability at the worst possible time.”
Perhaps. Arguments will always rage whether the wheat price advantage would’ve been with the competitive market or the single order desk. And Pat Martin may well be correct in predicting “chaos” will reign in the open system.
But this is a long-standing promise first made by a fledgling party leader named Stephen Harper -- and it’s a promise he has finally kept.
If for nothing else, that means the government can be pardoned for celebrating its demise.