Quote, September 14 2011 — Polls & Surveys

‘To which Mr. Ritz replied “No expensive survey can trump the individual right of farmers to market their own grain.”’

– Gerry Ritz, Canadian federal Agriculture Minister, quoted by Lorne Gunter in “Lorne Gunter: Ottowa delivers freedom to farmers over protests of Wheat Board”, National Post, September 13 2011 (site last accessed September 14, 2011)

For those who are unfamiliar with Canadian grain markets (and I’ll admit I’m not an expert, so apologies in advance for any mistakes), wheat & barley grown for human consumption in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of British Columbia has to be sold to Canadian Wheat Board.

Has to be. By law.

Whatever price they pay, that’s what the producer gets. Doesn’t matter if the farmer could find a better price on the open market — or if the prices on the open market are worse, for that matter. They have to sell to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Looking at the Wikipedia article on the Canadian Wheat Board, various forms of it date back to World War I. The present organization can be traced back to 1935, although at different times it’s been in control of setting the prices for different crops. Since the early 1970s, their control has been over non-feed wheat and barley only.

The National Post article is good to read, not just for the quote, but for a discussion on how the aforementioned ‘expensive survey’ had questionable results. Poll respondents were only offered the options of marketing themselves or the Canadian Wheat Board continuing as the only legal buyer, but were not offered the option of both being available at once, meaning the Canadian Wheat Board would still exist and could be sold to but poll respondents would have the option of marketing their grain by themselves if they chose.

From the article, the option of the CWB continuing to exist but no longer being mandatory would have likely been the most popular option had it been an available option & the allegation is that option was deliberately left out of the poll in order to boost the numbers of people saying they still wanted the Canadian Wheat Board to be the only legal buyer.

And then there is the question of who actually was included in the polling —

‘Brian Otto, president of the Western Barley Growers Association (a pro market-choice organization) said he called over 1,100 producers on the list last fall and discovered “deceased producers, producers who had exited the industry, retired producers and so called interested parties, who were receiving a ballot.”

So there’s even a question as to how many current farmers voted in this poll, and whether the poll would have looked different if the polling had been limited the people most affected by the current policy.

(Which is not a discussion unique to Canada — in the U.S. there can be significant differences in polls of “adults”, “likely voters” or “registered voters”, even when the polls are taken in the same areas & are regarding the same issues.)

Anyway, interesting article, and I’m glad to see a politician say that principles trump a survey, even if it’s an expensive one.

Further links:

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