Saturday, March 31, 2007

Do Farmers Know What They Really Voted For?


The convential wisdom of the whirlitzer (C.W.W.) goes something like this:

WINNIPEG (CP Mar30/07) - Western Canadian barley farmers who have spent years lobbying for the right to choose how they market their grain could finally get their wish this summer.

Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl said Wednesday that 62 per cent of the 29,000 farmers who cast eligible ballots in a plebiscite voted to either have the Canadian Wheat Board participate in a competitive market, or stop dealing with barley altogether.

Strahl called the results "unequivocal" and says he'll now take steps to get the cabinet approval needed to remove the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly by August, in time for the start of the crop year.

It never ceases to amaze me, however, how far off the mark the C.W.W. actually is.

I mean, if you were to just read that lede above, which was, essentially, repeated from sea-to-shining-sea by a whole lotta media organs (ie. not just the CP) and then to move on, you would figure that Mr. Strahl was giving you the straight goods based on a convincing and unequivocal mandate from a supra-majority of farmers.

But, if you were to dig a little deeper in the google news cache (and/or head over to Buckdog's place) you would find stuff like this:

In the four western provinces, where the CWB monopoly rules, the overall result saw only 37.8% back the so-called "single desk," while pro choice hit 49.4%. But when the Saskatchewan numbers were broken out - where 15,327 farmers voted - 45% chose to extend the monopoly.

In Manitoba, where it appeared a boycott was in the works, 50.6% of only 3,703 barley producer cast ballots saying leave it be.

In B.C., the vote was 49.4% pro choice. But only 156 ballots were in the boxes.

Apparently the results were decisive enough for the minister to vow he's going to "deliver."

Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun Mar29/07

Which, of course, leaves Alberta.

Now, if you were to fall into a conventional wisdom trap of a very different kind, you might say to yourself..... "Ah ha! Of course. It's all the fault of those roto-tilling reactionaries from Wild Rose Country."

But why, if that is really the case, did Mr. Strahl's operatives feel the need to campaign/advertise, cajole and obfuscate like heckfire in Alberta (and, apparently, only in Alberta) in the run-up to the vote.

Which is a gleaming little gold nugget of hard-panned information that comes our way courtesy of the Regina Leader-Post's financial editor, Bruce Johnstone, who has a whole lot more to say about the manner under the header 'Tories Sinking To New Depths on Barley.'

Here are just a few examples of the questionable tactics used: misleading plebiscite options; issuing "gag orders'' against CWB directors and staff; firing the CWB president during the election; arbitrarily changing the voters' list during the election; disenfranchising thousands of producers; sending multiple, numbered ballots to producers, then calling them to ask which ballot they wanted counted; no third-party spending limits; etc.

The list of dirty tricks and undemocratic practices (no public voters' list, no secret ballot, no third-party spending limits) would make a Third World dictator blush.


Whatever one thinks about the Canadian Wheat Board, the tactics employed by the Conservative government during its year-long battle with the CWB are reprehensible, undemocratic and possibly illegal.

And finally, there is this about the wording of the plebiscite itself, from Mr. Johnstone:

In addition to options to keep the status quo or remove barley from the board, the plebiscite posed this loaded option to producers: "I would like the option to market my barley to the Canadian Wheat Board or any domestic or foreign buyer."

Could some producers have been fooled into believing that they could have their cake and eat it too? In other words, keep the Canadian Wheat Board but have the option to market their grain elsewhere?

Why wouldn't they? That's what Strahl kept telling them, even though Strahl's own handpicked task force said operating the Canadian Wheat Board in an open market was unworkable.

As the National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells noted, ask a misleading question and you'll get a misleading answer. Wells said many farmers voted for Option 2, thinking they were supporting the CWB.


I sure hope Mr. Strahl didn't dip any fingers in purple paint in the wheat fields round Wetaskawin.


Please note the fact that the anti-conventional wisdom pieces cited above come from, in turn, the Edmonton Sun and the Regina Leader-Post, neither of which is known for it's waygone lefty views.


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