Opinions struck a cord

National Post
June 24, 2002

Lawrence Solomon‘s opinions struck a perfect cord with my own views about farming subsidies (Record Harvest of Profits All Came From Subsidies, June 13). This is an excellent piece, and I hope the electorate wakes up to these socio-economic facts. It is high time we accept reality: Subsidies will not end in this world, and a smart Canada would save its billions to develop other, more productive industry and infrastructure, while it sucks those same billions from the other loser countries who would destroy their own productive industry in the process.

I suggest that Saskatchewan would make a better tourist attraction with big game roving the range than a swaying wheat field. At least a park contributes to the tourist economy. Grasslands National Park is a case in point (and it probably should be bigger, too).

Lionel Berry, Oshawa, Ont.

Lawrence Solomon does a breathtaking job of writing off Canada’s farmers and Canada’s agriculture as burdens around the neck of every taxpayer. And he identifies Prairie farmers as the worst of all, seems to suggest they should be abolished, the land turned back to the buffalo and the gophers. But is he missing something?

Every grain grower and everyone living in rural communities knows deep in his heart the burning challenge facing the Prairies, and perhaps even Canada itself, is: How do we build this great Prairie treasure house? How do we get back to creating jobs and wealth? How do we rebuild our rural communities?

Yes, grain prices are now at disaster levels and huge foreign crop subsidies threaten to keep them there. We educate the kids and they leave because the good jobs are elsewhere. Too many farm communities are failing. And it’s getting worse. Statistics Canada found Saskatchewan lost over 6,000 farms in the five years between 1996-2001. This deepening crisis is beyond the control of individual farmers and rural communities. And it may be the most controversial political issue in Ottawa.

The reason the Prairies are failing to live up to their potential is no mystery. A century ago, a few U.S. preachers decided they had discovered a blinding truth – capitalism was the problem! Abolish capitalism, they cried, and turn the economy over to honest politicians. The idea was called the social gospel. Most Americans thought it was a dumb idea. So those preachers crossed the border into Canada’s Prairies. And we swallowed their social gospel message and set out to put the politicians in control.

But this plan had a fatal weakness. Ottawa proceeded to create a wheat monopoly which denied growers the freedom to manage their farms and to sell their own crops. Grain growing/selling became an exercise in politics, not business. Ottawa had seized control of the prairie economy, and it has maintained that stranglehold to this day. If Ottawa had opened the door to the entrepreneurial spirit in the West, the Prairies would have turned massively to processing its enormous grain crops, increasing dramatically the value of the raw crops grown.

But Ottawa’s policies forbade that. The Crow Rates subsidized raw grain shipments out of the Prairies, but not processed products. This forced Prairie flour mills to shut down, robbing the West of jobs and wealth creation, preventing a full-scale move into food processing and value-added.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s grain monopoly seizes every grower’s wheat and barley as it comes out of the combine, denies him the freedom to sell it to waiting markets. Now, the West doesn’t process its grain into flour and breakfast cereal and bread and cakes any longer. Ottawa transfers the jobs and the wealth to central Canada. It robs growers of the freedom to manage their own operations and their own industry. The time is long overdue to end that and, as a start, to return grain to a business operation.

When will Ottawa finally move to end its grain monopoly, and free up Western growers to sell their own grain and manage their own farms? And to process their wheat and barley right at home, creating jobs in their own communities? And keep the kids at home. Because only this kind of freedom will allow the West to return to wealth creation.

The time is overdue for Ottawa to clear the way for farmers to go all out in building their own farms and their communities. They must be free to build sizable cattle and hog enterprises and set the stage for new meatpacking and grain-processing plants. Or will Ottawa continue to shamelessly impose its smothering political grain monopoly over the West? If it intends to do this, then Mr. Solomon is right – close down Prairie agriculture.

Don Baron, Regina

To read Larry Solomon‘s article, “Record Harvest of Profits All Came From Subsidies,” please click here.

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