It can be easy to take for granted the fact that we have the right to freely market our skills. If you are seeking a master’s in business administration (MBA), you will be able to market yourself to countless businesses; if you are an artist, you will be free to share your work and attempt to sell it at various galleries and stores.
Imagine a different scenario. What if you were required to submit your skills or products to a board that would then decide for you where and to whom your product was sold or your skills utilized? What if this board stripped you of your rights to sell the product you created, or seek employment at a place of your choice, and demanded instead that you submit to their will? I think you would rightfully see this as an infringement of your freedom and your rights.
This scenario is not imaginary. It exists in a large sector of our economy. It is exactly the situation western farmers are currently facing.
Western Canadian farmers do not enjoy the same rights as other farmers in Canada. They are unable to freely market the products that result from their labour.
The Canadian Wheat Board holds a monopoly over Western Canada’s grain market. The CWB likes to refer to themselves as “the single desk,” which is a nice name for a coercive monopoly. The CWB is a monopoly because it does not allow competition, and it is coercive because farmers are forced to give their grain to the CWB, unless using it for animal feed.
Thankfully, the CWB monopoly will soon be brought to an end. There are some who claim the wheat board is being “destroyed.” This statement, though good at garnering media coverage, is factually incorrect. The wheat board will still exist, and if it is able to compete in the free market it will exist as long as it provides a worthwhile product at a price people are willing to pay. If it is unable to succeed in the free market, then it will be a sign it was inefficient in the first place, and we will be better off with new choices and options.
Some people will point to the results of the CWB “plebiscite” — another word for referendum — and claim the 62 per cent of wheat farmers who voted to retain the “single-desk” should have the power to maintain the CWB monopoly position. To begin with, the results of the plebiscite do not include those farmers who wished to retain their marketing freedom and chose not to farm wheat and barley. The CWB was able to choose who the eligible voters were for the plebiscite, as well as formulate the question those voters saw on the ballot.
The more fundamental question about the plebiscite is this: “Do some wheat and barley farmers have the right to infringe upon the freedom of others?” One of the most important values of Canada is giving people the right to make their own choices. We believe people should be free to decide what they do unless those decisions harm others. Why would we ignore this fundamental principle when it comes to western Canadian farmers? Nobody is hurt by allowing farmers to freely market the products they worked to produce. Limiting the freedom of western farmers goes against one of the principles we believe in as Canadians.
I do not believe that the CWB monopoly serves the public. They serve only to protect the narrow interests of a small group of people. Those who support the CWB monopoly should ask themselves this: “Would you apply the principle of monopoly control to your own life?” Unless those who support the CWB monopoly would be willing to give up their own rights to market their skills or products, they should not demand that western farmers do the same.
The end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly restores the rights of western farmers, and shows we respect the freedom of individuals to control their own labour and the products of that labour. It is the right thing to do, not just economically, but also because it lives up to the principles upon which Canada is based.
Spencer Fernando is the Comment Editor of the Manitoban.