Restoring the rights of western Canadian farmers

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.

To read Leif Larsen’s take on the CWB’s monopoly follow this link

9 Comments on "Restoring the rights of western Canadian farmers"

  1. A CWB defender mentioned to me that the majority of hard red spring wheat sold by Canadian farmers must meet a certain standard in order to make it to the market. It may make more sense for the CWB to reinvent itself as a quality assurance board, instead of a marketing board.

  2. Where do I even start with this piece?

    First, the obvious. Eastern farmers. Ontario had a wheat board, they voted to get rid of it. We voted to keep ours. Fair is fair. They got to vote on their wheat board’s future, we deserve to vote on our wheat board’s future.

    Second, the big. Spencer said “We believe people should be free to decide what they do unless those decisions harm others.” The minority’s decision to dismantle the CWB would harm others. It would harm the majority’s ability to capture the best price for their wheat by working together.

    Third, the ridiculous. If the CWB loses its single desk, it’s gone. The CWB is nothing, it’s like dairy quota. If your $20 million worth of quota no longer has the legislation behind it saying it’s worth $20 million, it’s instantly not worth the cost of hydro to display it on a computer screen. Same thing with the CWB, if it doesn’t have the legislation saying it’s the sole seller of Western Canadian wheat, durum and barley. The premiums it can get are instantly gone, why would a buyer pay more when there are multiple sellers. That’s the whole point of a free market, meaning prices to farmers will go down. Either way, the CWB has no assets or money. How exactly is a company with no money and no assets going to start up and compete against massive companies that own tonnes of assets and have piles of money? Oh, and the new company would be forced to go cap-in-hand to their direct competition asking nicely if they could use their assets to accept, store and load the grain.

    Forth, the incorrect. The CWB didn’t write the questions on the ballots by themselves. They were reviewed and approved after the last time Harper tried to mess with the CWB by the three main Ag groups of the prairies (Alberta’s Wildrose Agricultural Producers, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, and Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers) and the National Farmers Union. As for farmers who no longer grown wheat, durum and barley, they aren’t wheat, durum and barley farmers so they don’t deserve to vote on the future of wheat, durum and barley marketing. Just like if you were to move to Calgary, you don’t deserve to vote in Winnipeg elections.

    And last, the just plain silly. Spencer said “I do not believe that the CWB monopoly serves the public.” Well, of course not! Serving the public would be giving all the grain away for free. Not a chance! Farming is business just like any other business, it’s to make money. Making money for farmers, or as Spencer put it that “narrow group of people”, means getting the highest price out of the buyers (the public who is going to be doing the eating). I would hardly call the CWB a giant infringement on freedom. You can deliver to any elevator you want, though that doesn’t mean much when there is only one or two in town and they fill up quick. They have a list of pricing options that you can pick from depending on what you think the market will do. Sure, they are a monopoly, but farmers are the sellers and there is nothing better than being the seller in a monopoly.

  3. I have no problem agreeing with everything in your “Editorial?” except for anything relating to this comment.
    “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”
    Ridiculous comment.
    My question to you is WHO is going to keep it going?
    Government doesn’t care. Harper is ideologically driven and has offered nothing to back up your claim of a dual market CWB. He is a free market supporter and will not subsidize the CWB in a free market.
    The CWB board of directors sees no point in trying to create a grain company out of nothing especially when any value the single desk was presumed to have is now gone.
    Farmers who supported the single desk see no point to another grain broker. There’s enough of them around all ready.
    Grain companies certainly don’t want another competitor and would use their financial strength and asset ownership to block the CWB at every turn.
    The CWB staff who are paid a salary to work there certainly aren’t going to try and risk keeping it going. Why would they want to take blame for what is sure to be a monumental failure?
    Farmers will get their freedom Spencer (good for them), but any idiotic notion of a strong and viable dual market Wheat Board is nothing but organic fertilizer meant to sway public opinion away from what is really happening. The CWB is being destroyed.

  4. Jayson – where do I begin.
    1. Just because Ontario farmers voted doesn’t make it right. Spencer has it right – no one should be able to decide how you market what you produce.
    Farmers didn’t vote to establish the CWB.
    Farmers didn’t vote to establish the single desk.
    Farmers didn’t vote to make the CWB permanent.

  5. Jayson – where do I begin.
    1. Just because Ontario farmers voted doesn’t make it right. Spencer has it right – no one should be able to decide how you market what you produce.
    Farmers didn’t vote to establish the CWB.
    Farmers didn’t vote to establish the single desk.
    Farmers didn’t vote to make the CWB permanent.
    2. You’re making the assumption that the CWB gets premiums. Even though the CWB will say it does, the evidence says it doesn’t. Nice idea, but it just doesn’t happen in practice.
    3. The CWB system is costly and does not encourage or foster competition. Costs will go down raising the net price to farmers. In fact, prices for non-CWB grains and oilseeds will also see support as wheat becomes a cash crop.
    4. You’ve fallen victim to the CWB rhetoric about working with the grain trade. A voluntary CWB can absolutely work with the current grain handlers – if they really want to.
    5. Your idea that if you’re not growing wheat or barley you shouldn’t get a vote is ridiculous. The CWB impacts all crops – if you’re going to have a vote, all farmers should vote, not just wheat and barley farmers and certainly not just the ones the CWB thinks should vote.
    6. Spencer is right – the CWB does not serve the public. The CWB is a drag on the whole western economy, taking billions of returns away from producers and keeping entrepreneurs from building the economy.

  6. Your commentary is full of holes.

    Comparing art and skills to wheat is absurd. I’ve been part of a farm my entire life. The skills and creative knowledge of how to establish a strong crop or farm practices have never been dictated to us by the CWB. The coercive nature you speak up is a joke. The CWB’s sole purpose is to get farmers the best price they can

    Your article also fails to mention a VERY important factor – LARGE GRAIN CORPORATIONS. The ‘extra money’ you think gets wasted by the board (2 cents/bushel) will go to grain companies. Theses companies buy each other out until they CONTROL THE MARKET. These companies like to tought the term “CHOICE” around but in the end we all know that they want to pay you the least price they can. This is why the CWB got started in the first place.

    Please go to for more info. You can view this video for some more clarity:

  7. John, you say no one should be able to decide how you market what you produce. But yet you have no problem having the minority force the majority how they market their grain. Don’t try and give us the dual-market lie. The reason why supporters of the single-desk support the single-desk is because the single-desk. What else did you think it was? A catchy name?

    Farmers didn’t vote to form the single-desk, they protested in the streets because they were getting ripped off by the grain companies.

    Let me guess, your evidence the CWB doesn’t get premiums is a spot price from the US? Guess what will happen to those spot prices when the whole Canadian crop starts flooding in? They will tank, its called supply and demand. The US price is often an island of high prices in the world market, not anymore with the extra supply from Canada. Oh, unless of course they shut the border. Ask a cattle producer how that feels. Softwood lumber, anyone?

    The CWB costs around $70 million/year. That’s hardly costly for a company that sells over $5 billion per year and for everything they do.

    Again, I have to shake my head over you anti-CWB people. The CWB is in place so farmers aren’t competing against each other driving the prices down. Maybe that’s why you don’t like it, because you don’t know what it does… Side note, the CWB doesn’t say how much elevators charge for elevation, they are already free to charge less than the maximum set by the CGC. But get this?! They don’t. So technically, your ‘free-market competition” should be driving the prices down now, but it’s not because it doesn’t work that way in the real world where we only have a couple elevators available to each farmer.

    Sure, a voluntary CWB might be able to exist. But what exactly is it doing? CWB supporters support the single-desk marketing structure. Again, what did you think it was? Catchy name? Memories of stories grandpa used to tell?

    So wait, does the CWB have the ability to effect prices and change the dynamics of the grain trade or not? First you say it doesn’t get premiums, and then you say it impacts other crops. Either way, explain why people who don’t use the CWB should get a vote? They gave up their “voting shares” when they stopped using it. Same if you sold your shares in a company, you don’t get to vote anymore. People who don’t use the CWB don’t have any money in it.

    Please show how and where the CWB is taking away billions of returns from producers? Because it isn’t, the only returns they are keeping away are elevator company’s returns. You’ll notice in the news the only people happy about this change are elevator companies like Viterra and our competition like Australia. Yeah, you know it’s a great idea when your competition cheers it on. I bet Pepsi would cheer too if Coke decided to change the flavour to something that tasted bad.

    The only thing keeping entrepreneurs away from the prairies is the small population and the fact wheat, durum and barley are far easier to ship in bulk than flour, bread, pasta, or beer is. Oh, and if they did want to set something up. The CWB has things for them.

  8. Spencer, you are dead wrong on so many issues.

    The plebiscite was open to producers who grow ANY grain, not just wheat and barley.

    Ontario and Quebec farmers got to decide their grain marketing through a vote — why are Prairie farmers not afforded the same right?

    And, if you believe what you are saying about freedom to market, you should be writing editorials against all supply management, such as for milk and poultry, and for Peak of the Market. Why single out the CWB?

    The CWB’s mandate is to serve farmers, not the general public. The majority of farmers want to keep the CWB. The government knows this, which is why they refuse to hold their own vote and why they ignore the results of the CWB vote.

    And why, as a Manitoba student, do you support a measure that will eliminate hundreds of jobs in Winnipeg and Churchill, without any compensation from the feds?

  9. Farmers should be able to sell the grain to whom they wish

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