Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dogma is the root of all evil … a short discussion on the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board …

An ear of wheat is seen on the Canadian prairies near Lethbridge, Alberta,
September 7, 2011.  -- REUTERS/Todd Korol

Well, money is generally considered the root of all evil and there is no question that its pursuit has destroyed our economies, made it impossible for kids to find work, made it impossible for normal people to buy houses, and made a very small number of people very, very rich on our backs. But that’s not the point of this story … instead, let’s discuss dogma, the other root of all evil. Just ask any American democrat what they think of republican dogma, and then contemplate the fact that our own federal government has decided to clone that dogma north of the border.

And again I digress Smile

Our Canadian Federal Government seems to like to push its dogma whenever it can, and with little thought as to the consequences. Oh, I’m sure that the politicians have put in plenty of thought, it’s the lack of critical thought that should scare all Canadians.

This dogma includes, of course, the privatization of many government services regardless of risk to the public. It includes deregulation, that has proven to be disastrous to the general public in many cases, as our economies and banking systems will clearly attest. And it includes the stepping up of our war on drugs, which has been unequivocally proven to be futile and to have unnecessarily ruined many lives. This last one really chaps my ass, as there is no reason whatsoever to waste so many good men’s time on busting young people who want to smoke up. Just regulate it and stop wasting everyone’s time and ruining lives. But that’s yet another story.

So, apparently nothing can stop a neocon in heat, as was well documented in many articles on the destruction of the long standing Wheat Board, the latest of which is by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg (the center of the known universe in case you were wondering.) I’ll quote from it unashamedly in this piece, but I encourage you to read it in situ if the topic interests you.

You see, this government has had a huge hard-on for the Canadian Wheat Board ever since taking office, and they crowed to anyone who would listen when they finally destroyed it. And without having a strong plan for its replacement, there is disaster looming. On August 1 of this year, it will cease to exist, being replaced by the private wheat handlers themselves, who do not have the same systems in place for managing of the farmers’ income ebb and flow. And if anyone thinks we can get along without farmers, well, you need your head read.

By the way, guess who these private handlers actually represent?

But for years, big American grain interests have been trying to destroy it and grab control of our grain industry for themselves.

Yes, that’s right. Big grain in the USA. What a shock that they want to seize control of Canadian wheat production. They must have had a collective orgasm when Ontario had a collective brain fart and installed the neocon majority. (Ontario’s inexplicable brain fart is what gave the neocons their majority.)

The neocons, of course, will celebrate the end of an evil monopoly, but how does the rest of the world view it?

Well, the buyers are pretty nervous, because as we all know by now, anything that you put in the hands of the private sector will turn to shit in a hurry if that is what must happen to maximize shareholder value. That’s right … privatizing a long standing service like the wheat board may very well lead to a lower quality product. If that shocks you, then I admire your ability to cling to the great fantasy that is the “American Dream” …

From the “friends of the CWB web site”

The farmers themselves battled pretty hard against the government with a class action suit to fight their policy of killing off the wheat board, but to no avail. There is apparently a law in place that requires that the farmers vote on any proposed changes to the wheat board and it appears that our government used its long standing policy of ignoring such inconveniences to push through anyway. Quite literally, it simply did not hold the vote.

Actually, it goes a tad deeper than that. A federal judge ruled against the government for breaking Wheat Board law. They appealed. And in the end, they just side stepped by leaving a tiny version of the Wheat Board around to compete with the big grain handlers. Easy Peasy. All you gotta do is take the wolf’s fangs and you have a lap dog.

Their shenanigans did succeed in destroying the Wheat Board monopoly, which was what their dogma called for. And that is the real concern, as farmers are now cast loose and customers now have to negotiate with more than one grain handler. One supposes that this is how it is done elsewhere, but then, they don’t have Canadian wheat. And soon we may not either, at least not the wheat that Japan, Mexico and Venezuela have come to rely on.

For all of its flaws (and the Wheat Board’s management has not always been a shining star from what I have read), the Wheat Board provided a consistent grade of grain year on year to consumers like Japan, who are known to have the highest of standards. Mexico as well is a huge customer.

A broad swath of wheat buyers, including Japan, known as the most quality-conscious wheat importer, has raised concerns that the consistent, top-quality wheat they have long bought from Canada may not be the same in the open market system, said Rex Newkirk, director of research and business development at the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI).

"We trust Canadian wheat, so if we didn't have the quality we've had, it would be a catastrophe for us," Miguel Montalban, production manager of the Harinera La Espiga mill in Mexico City, told Reuters through an interpreter.

This level of mistrust should concern us all. These customers do have other countries, even though our product is currently tops. But for how long, as the mighty dollar screams and the CEOs of these companies see ways to “enhance their personal holdings?”

Will they do this, when it might cost a bit more?

The Wheat Board aimed to give farmers the highest possible returns, but also sought to keep buyers' loyalty by at times delivering better-quality grain than it was getting paid for, Newkirk of CIGI said.

Not a chance. Instead, we’ll have this …

"The concern (of millers) is that when grain companies are selling now, what they might do is sell everything to the lowest end of the grade," he said.

Might? Have you been paying attention to the degeneration of the middle class at the hands of the wealthy? Do you think the farmers stand any better chance? Let’s let Rick Mercer speak on that issue …

If the new handlers decide that crappy wheat will make more money, you can bet that Canada will suddenly be in the crappy wheat business. The little guy will have to take whatever their handlers choose to offer, or do we think that these little guys will suddenly learn the ropes of international negotiations for their wheat and barley? No … they will let the handlers do that job, only now there are several and each is trying to maximize shareholder value instead of trying to keep farmers and customers happy.

Ask Venezuela what they think …

"We are very tied to Canadian wheat," said mill manager Freddy Rivas. "We're concerned about availability in the future, and quality. We want to know that we can count on that."

Yeah, good luck with that.

But wait … there is hope on the horizon. All we have to do is talk and understand each other Smile

The solution lies in millers and wheat exporters clarifying up front exactly what specifications they need, from protein content to the level of disease presence, as buyers already do to source U.S. wheat, Newkirk said.

"We can still provide a reliable product, we just need to make sure we clearly understand each other."

Right … so when the mighty dollar screams, a little conversation will be all that is necessary to maintain Canada’s high standards.

So … after that rambling whinge, I pretty have to summarize by admitting some worry over the rather huge upheaval that has been set into motion pretty much for the satisfaction of a small few people in government who have forced their chosen dogma onto everyone.

Proponents of deregulation and privatization might want to point out that the computer and telecommunications industries have benefitted from an aggressive cost cutting and profit maximizing strategy … but the application of such concepts to the food industry frankly scares the shit out of me.

When deregulation starts to hit home, we’ll see errors creep into the system as jobs are cut and people are asked to do more with less, just as it is in other industries. But when there is the inevitable failure in the food industry, people die

Example: Listeriosis Outbreak at Maple Leaf foods, and the same agriculture minister who so bravely destroyed the wheat board made jokes about people dying, saying that he hoped it was a Liberal. What a tool.

Example: Walkerton E. Coli breakout that killed numerous people. The government was notified five times that surface water was seeping to the supply, well in advance of the disaster. Curiously, this was a different conservative government in Ontario.

My point is that if it is not being measured, it is not getting better and it is probably getting worse. Privatizing regulation is just asking for trouble, as the dollar generally wins. The “do more with less” mantra just means “do less” and the trite “work smarter not harder” mantra also means “do less” … because this is what smart people do when they are overwhelmed.

Privatization and deregulation and the inevitable cost cutting that follows is going to come home to roost at various points in the future. People will perish unnecessarily and governments will put forth their “action plans” to ensure it never happens again. And then they will retire with their gold plated pensions and their board positions, secured by the very policies that started this ball rolling in the first place …

Oops … I’m rambling again Smile