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Friday, October 27, 2006

Elsewhere, but some here, too

Ian Welsh has posted a good piece on the Conservatives attempt to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. However, I don't think he's looking deeply enough. He sees transnational corporations wanting to grow wheat and barley, but while farms are getting bigger, transnationals have no interest in operating them. Employees have to be paid, whereas farmers work for damn near nothing.

The farms that want to see an end to the wheat board aren't transnationals, but they definitely no longer can qualify as "family farms" either - farm operations several sections large that benefit from the economy of scale that allows them to put machinery on their fields that qualify less as "tractor" and more as "industrial equipment." Those are the farmers that think they'll gain the same scale advantage moving their product without interference from the CWB.

To be sure, the CWB is not operating as well as it could, it having been designed for a different time. It's long overdue for an overhaul, something it's already starting to do for itself. But dismantling it is (to use a hoary old metaphor) tossing the baby with the bathwater. Toss it out, and in half a decade the same big farms will decide they need a marketing board again. That sort of cleansing fire could be a very good thing, except that NAFTA and the WTO, which grandfather the CWB, aren't going to be as friendly to a new marketing board.

If the Tories take apart the CWB, it's the end of the wheat business for small farms, but then again, small farms have been moving slowly away from wheat and barley for years, because the financial yield is too low. Five years forward from the dismantling, it'll also be the end of the Tories in rural western Canada, when the farms and small communities forget their own complicity in the CWB's destruction, and the end of the CWB replaces the birth of the NEP (something else Albertans have conveniently forgotten their complicity in) as the Great Betrayal.

Edited to add: I only wish the Western Producer wouldn't hide so much of its good content behind a subscription barrier. Pragmatic, left-leaning, and with deep roots in rural western Canada - who does that remind me of? Hmmmm.

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