On Wednesday, Oct. 29, ballots will be mailed to 4793 grain producers in central, west-central, and south-western Alberta. The choice made by these growers will determine their representative on the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board and quite possibly even the future existence of the CWB itself. Without question, this election is the most important vote in the history of the CWB and it is critical growers in CWB District 2 understand what the CWB is, the issues at stake in this election, the voting procedure, and exercise their democratic right in determining the future of the CWB.
What is the CWB?
The CWB has changed significantly since it was instituted by the Progressive Conservative government of RB. Bennett on July 5, 1935 to prevent the total collapse of the western Canadian agricultural industry. Because of the economic uncertainty caused by the Great Depression and the insolvency of the cooperative prairie wheat pools, the only buyers for western Canadian grain were a few multinational corporations. By creating the CWB, the federal government provided farmers with a marketing alternative. Initially the CWB was a voluntary agency but after losing $78 million in the first 3 years (1938 dollars) the CWB was granted a sales monopoly.
The biggest change the CWB has undergone is its transfer from being a government board to a farmer directed marketing agency. Section 4.2 of the 1985 Canadian Wheat Board Act makes this clear by stating: The corporation is not an agent of Her Majesty and is not a Crown corporation. Today 15 directors, 10 of who are elected by farmers, oversee and guide the operations of the CWB.
The only role the government is to play in the CWB is to provide a financial guarantee of initial payments, provide a financial guarantee of borrowing, and provide a financial guarantee of credit sales.
The CWB now offers risk management, delivery, cash flow, and value added marketing options. Instead of only being able to sell through the pricing pools, growers now have 22 different marketing options to choose from to better meet their individual farm needs.
The CWB remains the sole marketer for all wheat and barley grown for human consumption domestically as well as wheat and barley grown for export. However, growers are not required to market wheat and barley they grow for the domestic feed market or the ethanol industry through the CWB.
The biggest issue of this election is the single desk power of the CWB. The questions voters must answer are: Does having a monopoly increase marketing power. And, could a voluntary CWB, with no grain handling facilities, continue to exist when over three quarters of the world wheat trade is controlled by four multinational grain companies?
Control of the CWB is the second issue. The CWB act clearly states: the board of directors shall direct and manage the business and affairs of the corporation. (Section 3.01) yet the federal government has interfered in those duties through actions such as the firing of the CEO, Directors, and other CWB staff. The government also tried to change the CWB through regulation rather than legislation as required by law, interfered in the director election process by dropping 16,000 names from the voter’s list and unilaterally dropping third party spending limits, and taking numerous other undemocratic actions against the board and its supporters. Growers voting in this election have to decide if it is farmers, industry, or government that they want directing the CWB.
The most overlooked issue voters must weight is the value the CWB offers farmers. Besides marketing grain in over 70 countries, the CWB also provides growers with the opportunity to load producer cars, administers the cash advance program, defends western Canadian grain producers against international trade actions, and provides all western grain growers with a voice in negotiations with government and industry. The CWB is also involved in grains research, market development, and brand recognition.
The most important issue should be the candidates themselves. A director in any organization has a legal, moral, and fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the organization. Do the candidates have the skills to do the job and the willingness to work in the best interests of the CWB and all the farmers the CWB represents?
On Sept. 5, 2008 a voter confirmation was mailed to all CWB permit book holders in districts where director elections are being held. If you received the confirmation you are eligible to vote in the district identified in the confirmation letter. On Oct. 29, 2008 all confirmed voters will be mailed a preferential ballot on which they will rank in order of preference those candidates they wish to vote for. You do not need to rank all candidates; only those you support. Completed ballots must be postmarked by midnight Nov. 28, 2008 to be valid.
Grain growers and interested parties who do not have a valid CWB permit book will also be eligible to vote if they apply to the Election Coordinator for a ballot before November 14. Eligibility requirement includes anyone 18 years of age or older who has grown at least one of wheat, oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, rapeseed, OR canola in either this or the previous crop year. Growers seeking an application to vote or wanting more information on the election should go to www.cwbelection.com or phone the Election Coordinator office at 1.877.500.0795
Growers in District 2 will be asked to choose between two candidates. Both have websites which outline their qualifications and platforms. Before voting, take the time to review the information about each candidate, take time to ask any questions you have of the candidates, and most important, VOTE. The CWB is your board!