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Saskatchewan Party wants to end single desk selling

by Paul Beingessner
Canadian farmer, writer

(Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- With the notable exception of a few specific parts of the province, Saskatchewan's rural areas have tended to vote for right wing parties in recent provincial elections. This has gone on for about as long as the farm economy has been in the dumps. (This time can now be measured in decades.) The discontent many farmers feel translates itself into voting against governments, rather than for opposing parties. Whether or not farmers clearly understand the source of their problems, governments are convenient targets, sometimes with good reason. Take Ag Minister Lyle Vanclief (please someone take him!). Were Vanclief to hang around for one more federal election, it is difficult to imagine any farmer voting for the Liberal Party.

Nevertheless, farmers are often no better informed about politics that their urban counterparts. I remember a farmer expressing surprise after the last federal election when he found out that the Canadian Alliance party was campaigning to get rid of the monopoly powers of the Canadian Wheat Board. Now, perhaps not all farmers lack such basic information, but my informal survey indicates that many farmers are not very clear on the policy platforms of various parties.

The Saskatchewan election currently underway is no exception. The farm community is rather bedraggled and bewildered, in the midst of the mad cow crisis, drought and the return to low grain prices. While those issues are controlled largely by God, world markets or the federal government, the provincial government's financial response to the crisis will be something of an election issue.

However, Saskatchewan's financial means are relatively limited in the wake of last year's drought devastated crop and this year's below average one. This is reflected in the relatively modest proposals from all of the parties concerning education taxes. Saskatchewan farmers have complained for some time that the education component of property tax leaves them paying too much, relative to other taxpayers in the province. While all parties are saying there will be some relief from this, the proposals are pretty paltry.

One controversial issue came up recently in the policy platform released by the Saskatchewan Party. The party says it will "negotiate a dual market for wheat and barley". The wording is interesting because it implies the Sask Party believes the federal government is still in control of the Canadian Wheat Board. This is disappointing for a party that sees itself as rural-based, since two-thirds of the directors of the CWB are directly elected by farmers. It is also disappointing that the Sask Party believes it is appropriate to interfere with the governance of the CWB. The federal government has made it clear that farmers will make the decisions where the mandate of the CWB is concerned.

The Sask Party should also know that the idea the CWB could in any way be effective within a so-called dual market is nonsense. As a marketing agent, the CWB derives its strength from being the only seller of Canadian wheat and barley in export markets. If there are multiple sellers, prices will necessarily drop. Farmers recognize this because they continue to elect directors to the CWB who support single desk selling.

Perhaps the Sask Party can be excused for making this mistake. Politicians tend to listen more to themselves and their inner circles than to the electorate. The inner circles in the right wing parties are influenced by the radical element in the farm community. Thus they tend to overestimate the support for destroying single desk selling. If the Sask Party succeeds in winning Saskatchewan's election, it will quickly find this out.

When Saskatchewan farmers cast their ballots in early November, they should be sure they understand the policies of the party they vote for. To do less is to shirk our duty as citizens.

(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax beingessner@sasktel.net