A remnant of the pro-Canadian Wheat Board movement is still alive, and still punching above its weight, even though it’s been three-and-a-half years since the federal government buried the CWB’s single desk monopoly.
The latest example of the vocal minority receiving mainstream attention: “Prairie Farmers Calling for the Return of the Canadian Wheat Board” read the headline on Global’s websites on Monday. The Canadian Press wire story was also picked up by CTV, the CBC and the Regina Leader-Post.
The article stemmed from a pro-CWB meeting of around 50 farmers in Swan River, Manitoba last week. (Swan River is in the riding of Manitoba Ag Minister Ron Kostyshyn, who’s fighting to hang on to his riding for the NDP in the provincial election on April 19th.) After hearing from Kostyshyn and former CWB director Kyle Korneychuk, the attendees unanimously voted in favour of a resolution calling for “the re-establishment of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), and single-desk selling of grain in western Canada.”
The headlines themselves might lead the reader to think Western Canadian farmers seriously want the CWB to return, but that’s not the case. There are tens of thousands of farmers in Western Canada. They managed to get several dozen who still support the idea of the board in a room, but they don’t speak for all stakeholders, and they’re deceiving themselves if they actually believe the government has the political will or mandate to re-establish the monopoly (see David Akin’s tweet and video from the House of Commons below). Most farmers are pretty happy with the ability to market their own wheat when, where and how they want. They saw the headline and thought “really? Those guys are still making noise?”
The thing is CWB proponents, however many there are, have always been well-connected and well-organized, as evidenced during CWB director elections, and in the post-CWB elections for the boards of the new wheat and barley commissions/associations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They’re good at rallying the troops. In meetings, at rallies and in the media, the pro-CWB side has been adept at leveraging its network of pro-single desk farmers, friendly reporters, political allies, and unions to maximize their influence and perceived weight.
There were rallies during the final days of the CWB with several hundred people in attendance, but as an ag reporter, it was difficult to find grassroots farmers to interview. There were farmers who were CWB directors, National Farmers Union leaders, labour union reps, CWB employees, NDP and Liberal politicians, and people from the Occupy Movement, but it was hard to find a farmer with a pragmatic point of view arguing to keep the single desk. There were some big turnouts reported by mainstream media, but the numbers of “farmers” involved were overstated.
Diehard: strongly or fanatically determined or devoted: strongly resisting change (Merriam-Webster)
So here we are, in 2016, still talking about the CWB, at least for a day or two. Most farmers have adapted to the open market just fine and are pleased to market their wheat as they do other crops. Restoring the single desk is not a priority for the federal government — certainly not something worth the effort that would be required in the face of domestic and international opposition. The chances of the Canadian Wheat Board being brought back to life are next to nil. It’s not happening. But as in the past, CWB diehards are good at getting attention.
— David Akin (@davidakin) February 16, 2016
— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) February 16, 2016
— Robert Brunel (@rpbrunel) February 15, 2016
— Jay Schultz (@WheatlanderJay) February 15, 2016