The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

A win for Western Canadian farmers: the end of the Wheat Board monopoly

By in Opinions

The Manitoban (University of Manitoba)

WINNIPEG (CUP) — As students, we have the right to freely market our skills. If you are seeking a master’s in business administration, you can market yourself to countless businesses; if you are an artist, you can 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 where and to whom your product could be sold or your skills utilized? What if this board stripped you of your rights and demanded instead that you submit to its will? I think you would rightfully see this as an infringement on 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 — or more specifically, a monopsony: an economy in which there is only one buyer. The CWB likes to refer to itself as “the single desk,” which is a nice name for a coercive enterprise. 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 they are using it for animal feed.

Thankfully, the CWB regime 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 indefinitely. If it is unable to succeed in the free market, this will be a sign it was inefficient in the first place, and we will be better off with new 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 as it currently stands. But 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 the eligible voters for the plebiscite, as well as formulate the question those voters saw on the ballot.

The more fundamental question is this: do some wheat and barley farmers have the right to infringe upon the freedoms of others? In Canada, 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 farmers goes against a Canadian principle.

The CWB doesn’t serve the public. It serves only to protect the narrow interests of a small group of people. Those who support the CWB monopoly should ask themselves if they would enjoy monopoly control over their own lives. Unless they 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 built.

Photo: krystian_o/Flickr

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