By Gerry Ritz
Across Canada, harvest is in full swing as farmers now reap the benefits of months of hard work put into their fields.
Regretfully, a double standard still applies to Canadian grain farmers: while farmers in Ontario and other parts of Eastern Canada seek out the best possible prices for their wheat, and barley, Western Canadian grain farmers are forced to sell to the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board. Our Government's top priority is the economy in which the agriculture industry plays a vital role. We know that an open market for grains and barley will attract investment, encourage innovation and create value-added jobs. That's why our Government is committed to giving Western Canadian farmers the marketing freedom they want and deserve.
When the CWB announced it would hold farmers meetings to discuss its future, I was hopeful that these meetings would be used to listen to farmers and look towards a future that can include a viable, voluntary Canadian Wheat Board. Unfortunately for farmers, these meetings were no more than a traveling road show, carbon copies of each other that only three per cent of the CWB's own members attended. Nobody was surprised when reports surfaced that questions appeared to be scripted and that some pro-board participants had to be bussed in to legitimize the process. Even cousin organizations of the CWB, such as the Community Party of Canada, were fully represented.
What these meetings showed was that a select few at the Board are unwilling to forgo their defeatist approach to the future. It's apparent that some Board members are more interested in sustaining their own future instead of working to earn farmers business in the future. WHile they claim that the pooling system is paramount, they refuse to believe that farmers are business minded enough to use it under their own free will. As I have said before, it's disappointing that a select few at the Board would rather sink the ship than try and float in different waters.
While the Board wants only the pro-board percentage of farmers to have their way, our Government wants to provide every farmers with marketing freedom, whether that's selling individually or in a marketing pool. We remain hopeful that the Board will put aside their defeatist approach and come to the table with a responsible and reasonable business model for their future in an open market.
Farmers can be assured that our government will continue to consult wit the entire value chain, including the Canadian Wheat Board, to ensure a smooth transition to Western Canadian grain marketing freedom.
Gerry Ritz is the Federal Agriculture Minister.