Save the Canadian Wheat Board

On October 18th, Prime Minister Harper introduced legislation to dismantle the 68 year old, farmer-controlled Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). With a Conservative majority in Parliament, it is expected the Bill will become law before Christmas. Legislation to come into effect August 2012 would allow a farmer to sell directly to grain handling companies. With no ‘single desk selling’, the farmers will have no collective capital base or access to grain handling facilities.

The CWB Act requires that farmers must vote in favour before major changes can be made to the CWB. The government is ignoring that law, and the 37,000 western grain farmers (62 per cent overall) who voted in a mail-in plebiscite this summer to retain CWB control over the marketing of grain.

Allen Oberg, chair of the CWB’s farmer-controlled board of directors, spoke at a November 15 demonstration in Ottawa: “We are here because we cannot sit idly by while this government sacrifices farmers’ interests to those of giant American grain corporations. We cannot stand and watch farmers’ democratic rights be steamrolled. This should be a farmer’s decision – not one that is made in Ottawa.”

CWB is spearheading a “Stop the Steam Roller” media campaign. Close to 30,000 Canadians sent letters to the federal government in just over a week demanding the CWB control be saved. Court challenges are underway. The labour-based New Democratic Party, the Official Opposition in Parliament, as well as the NDP provincial government of Manitoba, have denounced the federal government’s anti-democratic move.

Once the bill becomes law, grain handlers such as Viterra, Cargill and the Winnipeg-based Richardson International Ltd will be allowed to immediately sign forward contracts with farmers for their 2012 grain harvests. Other transnationals, such as U.S.-based firms Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland, are expected to expand into Canada. Only the very largest farmers will be able to negotiate effectively with the conglomerates, to the detriment of family farms and rural communities.

Canada is the world’s top exporter of spring wheat, durum and malting barley. This legislation will represent a major shift of power from western Canadian grain farmers to transnational agri-food conglomerates.

It is no surprise that major food processors, and their right wing think-tank economists, see the CWB defeat as an opportunity to demand of the government that the historic rights of Canadian poultry, egg and dairy farmers be dismantled, or be fundamentally weakened. The ‘supply managed’ sectors have legal authority to control import levels, plan production and collectively bargain prices for their products. Free-trade advocates claim these farm protection measures must be dismantled for Canada to participate in multi-country trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

The CWB should be defended by all who believe in food sovereignty, collective bargaining and democratic process. Solidarity of all working people with western Canadian farmers is critical at this time.

Capitalist governments are attacking the historical, institutionalized gains of farmers and the working class as a solution to the rulers’ economic crisis. Only a worker-farmer alliance can ‘stop the steamroller’ and fundamentally change society in the interest of the majority.

> The article above was written by Tom Baker.