September 27 marked the final official day of yet another Harper sellout deal, which abolished the 80-year-old, farmer-controlled Canada Wheat Board and gave complete control of Canada’s grain industry to a partnership of a private U.S. monopoly called Bunge and the royal family of Saudi Arabia. It is (1) another instance of nation wrecking by neo-liberal globalization – thanks to Harper and his flunky Minister of Agriculture, Gerry Ritz, this key sector of Canada’s food industry is now under foreign control; and (2) another deposit to the unholy, barbaric U.S.-Saudi alliance by the Harper government, which includes massively subsidized exports of armoured personnel carriers from General Dynamics, one of the largest arms merchants in the world, to Saudi Arabia. It demonstrates why the MLPC calls for a new direction for the economy. A release from the National Farmers Union issued in April, 2015 explains.
“Today (April 15, 2015) Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced that G3, a joint venture owned by two foreign corporations, Bunge and the Saudi investment company SALIC, is the beneficiary of CWB* [Canadian Wheat Board] privatization. With this, the Conservative government has accomplished the biggest transfer of wealth away from farmers in the history of Canada,” said Jan Slomp, National Farmers Union (NFU) President. “The CWB’s physical assets, its commercial relationships, and its good name have all been given away. The ‘buyers’ of the CWB actually get to keep the $250 million pittance they are ‘paying’ for it. Bunge’s 2014 sales totalled $58 billion and multi-billion dollar SALIC is a subsidiary of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, PIF.”
“Where is the financial report or accountability? This is our money and taxpayer dollars,” said Ian Robson, NFU Board member from Manitoba. “The whole deal has been brokered in complete secrecy.”
The federal government has refused to release the CWB’s complete financial statements after dismantling the single desk, and has tabled only the non-financial portion of its annual report. It commissioned an audit of the CWB’s assets in the lead-up to privatization, and has refused to release the results. The new G3 entity is private and thus will not publish financial statements.
“Until August 1, 2012 farmers had full disclosure of the CWB’s financial position,” Robson continued. “The so-called marketing freedom and choice being offered today is a black box.”
Touted as an opportunity for farmers to own equity in the new company, a “Farmers Trust” will be set up to own 49.9 per cent of the company. Individual farmers will be allocated $5 in equity per tonne of grain delivered. After seven years or when it reaches $250 million, G3 can buy it out. In effect, this is a sunset clause to terminate the farmers’ equity. The Trust will be managed by three appointed trustees, with one of them getting a Board seat. The farmers’ equity will not be shares in the company, but merely “units” in the trust fund. Farmers who participate will have zero control over this equity stake, nor will they have any say in how the company operates. The decision to terminate the Trust is entirely in G3’s hands.
“This $250 million ‘Farmer Trust’ 49.9 per cent equity gimmick is an insult,” said Doug Scott, NFU Board member from Alberta. “Since they destroyed the single desk, farmers have lost more than $7 billion in less than 3 years. We had an elected Board of Directors at the CWB that managed the business in our interests and earned premium prices in the world market for all western grain farmers, year after year. Now, the Bunge-Saudi partnership plans to bribe us with our money just to get us to do business with them.”
“At least $170 million of public money was transferred to the CWB to promote its privatization, and Ritz claims – but will not provide evidence – that the total taxpayer investment was around $300 million,” noted Slomp.
“The federal government has turned over all of this value, on top of the tangible and intangible assets of the single-desk CWB, to the complete control of Bunge, an American multinational grain dealer and SALIC, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, while farmers and the Canadian public have been locked out of all decision-making. This is not responsible, accountable, or transparent. This is not acceptable in a democracy.”
* The Canadian Wheat Board was a farmer run marketing board with a monopoly on the purchase of wheat and barley on the prairies. It was established by the Canadian Wheat Board Act in 1935. Following the Harper majority government’s election in 2011 one of its first acts of nation-wrecking was to pass the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act in December of that year eliminating the Board’s public monopoly. This was done despite the vigorous opposition of the farmer members and other workers across Canada.