I’m an exiled city girl. For the past seven years, I’ve lived in a farm town. I don’t farm, curl, vote Conservative or attend church, which makes me a bit of an oddity.
I’m no Margaret Mead but, after long hours spent observing the local rituals from the fringes, I “get” sodbusters. It takes more than a Rider Pride truck flag and a Saskatchewan driver’s licence to gain admittance to the fold.
That’s why I’m so puzzled that Stephen Harper, a city boy who’s gained acceptance among Western Canadian farmers, would risk alienating this hard-won base. So which Tory MP had the bright idea to dismantle the monopolistic Canadian Wheat Board?
In the heartland, the gun registry debate is mere cocktail chatter compared to the CWB. Grain producers, currently overwhelmed with harvest, will soon be expected to play the salesman Herb Tarlek, too.
In a recent plebiscite, 62 per cent of farmers voted to retain the Wheat Board’s “single desk” structure. That’s far more popular support than Mr. Harper received in the last election (39.7 per cent). Like the contentious potash issue, watch for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to weigh in next. This populist politician, who will face his largely rural electorate on Nov. 7, will side with the producers or risk losing massive voter support.
Mr. Harper apparently feels secure enough to demolish a Canadian institution. But this is just more ideological claptrap from a rigid government that favours unbridled capitalism over “socialist” grain co-operatives.
Since 1935, the CWB has successfully matched up grain producers with global markets. Without CWB support, how will one individual farmer cope with that daunting task?
Rural Saskatchewan is not known for its marketing savvy. Primitive plywood signs line our bumpy highways. You have to crane your neck to read them from your vehicle because they’re mounted sideways. Motorists must slow down to decipher the tiny hand-scrawled signs that read: Rottweiler Puppies for Sale.
When I’m farm-gating for local food, I often find a harried producer at the other end of the phone, a person who doesn’t have an answering machine or even high-speed Internet. I’ve driven down many a bumpy road in search of fresh carrots or organic potatoes. But are large European grain buyers prepared to go looking for the family farmer?
The Harper government’s CWB decision will put many fragile family farms out of business. Only the massive corporate farms will have the necessary reach to sell their products to international markets.
Commodity analysts say prices will drop in a deregulated market. That’s the logical impact of thousands of farm operators flooding the marketplace with come-ons. As a freelance writer, I face stiff competition every day in a crowded and shifting marketplace, a factor that only drives rates down. Some editors even ask me to forgo payment. They tell me, “A byline is good for self-promotion.” “No thanks,” I reply, then quote Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
Like me, grain and barley producers just want a fair price for their product. They shouldn’t have to go door to door like a knife salesman to get it.
Mr. Harper will pay dearly for this policy shift. Prairie people hold mighty grudges, and they have long memories. Take it from this ex-urbanite: Dismantle the Wheat Board at your peril. You’ll be shunned at the post office, at the local curling rink and, most noticeably, at the polls.
Patricia Dawn Robertson is a Saskatchewan freelance journalist.