Former Canadian Wheat Board chairman Ken Ritter’s call for the federal government to consider compensating farmers when or if it ends the CWB’s single marketing desk amounts to “preemptive surrender” from where the National Farmers Union sits.
Ritter, speaking Tuesday on CBC in Saskatchewan, suggested the federal government set up an impartial committee to consider how farmers should be compensated if the board’s marketing powers over Prairie wheat and barley are dealt away in world trade talks.
The Kindserley, Sask. farmer and lawyer predicted that during the current round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, Canada would likely make tradeoffs to preserve its supply management system for domestic dairy, poultry and egg production.
That could be the end for the CWB, he told CBC, because “whether it be a Conservative government or a Liberal government, when push comes to shove, (Ottawa) will support supply management over the wheat board.”
National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells, an organic grower from Swift Current, Sask., on Tuesday called Ritter’s suggestion “the same kind of idiotic nonsense that has destroyed farm incomes in Canada.”
Specifically, he said, “net farm income from the markets has fallen to $125 million per year, while the farm debt has ballooned to $60 billion because of the sellouts and giveaways by Canada’s so-called farm leaders and farm organizations over the recent past.”
“The Crow Rate was destroyed by exactly the same faulty logic,” said NFU vice-president Terry Boehm, who farms at Allan, Sask. “Farmers were promised all sorts of improvements in service, lower rail costs, and shorter rail car turnaround times, but what we have seen is the exact opposite…
“When the Crow was killed the livestock associations and corporate-friendly ‘farm organizations’ talked endlessly about the benefits that would come to livestock producers,” Boehm continued. “Well, guess what — things have never been worse for cattle and hog farmers in Western Canada. And now these same organizations and spokespeople are trotting out the same false arguments to use against the Canadian Wheat Board.”
“This type of disarming before we prepare for the negotiations makes Canada a laughing stock in international trade circles,” Wells continued. “Canadians have been called boy scouts when it comes to international trade, but boy scouts can learn from their mistakes.”
Wells said he recently returned from a private meeting in Ottawa with Gilles Gauthier, Canada’s chief agricultural negotiator at the WTO. “And the last thing they need is somebody stabbing them in the back when they are out trying to make other countries respect Canada’s position.”
The CWB’s current chairman, Swift Current farmer Larry Hill, told CBC it’s too early to start talking about compensation ahead of the end of the CWB.
“This is a time to remain firm,” he said. “You don’t show any weakness to your negotiating competitors.”
Although the current federal government has made no secret of its wish to deregulate Prairie grain marketing, it plans to defend the CWB at the WTO, Hill said.
According to Hill in an interview last month with Reuters, the government is of the view that the CWB’s future is to be decided in Canada, not at the WTO.