Those of you who haven’t met my friend Leader-Post Financial Editor Bruce Johnstone likely only know him by his strong opinions expressed in the newspaper — some of which you may frustratingly disagree with.
Heaven knows, I share your pain.
Ronald Bruce Johnstone is likely the first person I met when I move to Saskatchewan 31 years ago. We’ve been pretty much arguing ever since — arguing about football, business, politics and, of course, the need for the Canadian Wheat Board as a single-desk seller of wheat and barley.
While I might share some of Bruce’s sentiments about the rather undemocratic way the federal Conservatives and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz ended its monopoly, the notion that modern-day, market-savvy farmers were well served or even still wanted the restrictive CWB is simply something I just don’t buy.
However, as a highly principled person who passionately believes in the democratic process, Bruce simply did not accept the argument that Harper and Ritz had the right to end the board’s monopoly exist without a democratic plebiscite vote. The demands of larger producers did not outweigh the right of every farmer — even those retired and renting their land — to have a say in that vote, Bruce argues.
One might not agree with his position but you do admire the integrity of Bruce’s argument. Similarly admirable is factual basis upon which all his arguments are built.
This is why one of his recent columns in which he suggests the real scandal of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government right now is not the Senate but its handling of Saskatchewan agriculture issues is such an intriguing read.
In his column, Bruce calls the “wholesale dismantling of government institutions, including the Canadian Wheat Board, Canadian Grain Commission, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Community Pasture Program, and Agro-forestry Development Centre” likely “more damaging in the long run in the Tory heartland of rural Saskatchewan.”
I won’t re-live years of Canadian Wheat Board arguments, but I did admire one particular acknowledgement in Bruce’s column: “It’s true that the sky didn’t fall on Aug. 1, 2012, when the monopoly was removed ... just as Ritz predicted.”
That said, Bruce also raised some interesting and still-unresolved questions about the long-term impact of the CWB’s demise — including, the added costs to farmers for producer cars now that the CWB is no longer allocating them.
Bruce also noted the cost to farmers as a result of Bill C-45 that changed the Canadian Grain Commission. A reduction in federal funding to $5.4 million from $37 million will surely hurt producers. Similarly, the tripling of inspection fees to $1.60 per tonne and a 33-fold increase in elevator licensing fees will add an additional $2,750 cost to a 5,000-acre farm, Bruce noted in his column.
He also noted the cuts to the Community Pasture Program done without consultation that not only will put endangered plants and animals at further risk but also will cost livestock producers. “How much money will be saved? About $10 million a year, maybe a third of that in Saskatchewan,” Bruce wrote. “Who will foot the bill? Farmers again.”
Similarly, the elimination of Indian Head’s 112-year-old Agroforestry Development Centre that has grown 610 million trees for farmsteads and shelterbelts across Western Canada saves a paltry $3 million a year — a tiny saving to Canadian taxpayers at the expense of farmers.
And while Ritz has announced tougher rules to prevent outbreaks of E. coli at slaughterhouses, Bruce noted past cuts to the Canada Food Inspection Agency makes it tough for the CFIA to enforce those rules.
“Saskatchewan voters — more than half of whom voted Tory in the last election — must be wondering what they did to deserve this,” Bruce concludes.
Of course, you may not agree with all of Bruce’s conclusions, either. But, as always, he puts forth some interesting arguments.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.