Today marks the start of something new in Western Canada: the end of a 77 year monopsony on wheat, durum and barley for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and part of British Columbia. As a result of Bill C-18 the Canadian Wheat Board is now voluntary. It marks the beginning of a new era for Western Canadian agriculture: an era where farmers can opt-out of the board, and market their own grain in hopes of earning a better price. Previously, farmers east of Manitoba could join optional marketing boards to sell their goods, but unlike the Canadian Wheat Board, were non-compulsory.
This step towards marketing freedom, and indeed, market freedom could not have occurred at a better time. On July 31st, 2012 people across the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Milton Friedman. Friedman was with out a doubt the most influential economist of the 20th century. He expressed his free-market views in a manner which the everyday individual could grasp the concept. He did not merely speak to academic institutions. If Milton Friedman was alive today, what would he think of the Canadian Wheat Board? He would celebrate the step towards freedom and participation in the open market. He would see this as a step forward for the Canadian economy and for Canadian society.
“We’re ready for this new environment,” says Ian White, Canadian Wheat Board president and CEO told reporters. He unveiled the new business plan to face the future of Canadian agriculture. If the Canadian Wheat Board is truly the best way to market wheat, durum and barley it will be successful in its endeavors. However, now that the market is open it may find that it must become innovative to keep up with the market place. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz explained that the shift away from the Canadian Wheat Board grants the same freedom to farmers to make business decisions that regular businesses take for granted. This will empower farmers to get the prices they want.
Some caution that this could lead to “competition” among farmers…as if that’s a bad thing! As a society we do not scold a new business from opening because it could make things harder on other businesses on the area. Why should farmers be barred from a competitive market place? Market freedom means farmers can explore opportunities to add value to their wheat and barley, without having to buy back their own crop. Furthermore, farmers can explore opportunities to improve, market, and sell their products to any buyer- not just the Canadian Wheat Board.
Today, we can celebrate not only marketing freedom for farmers in Western Canada, we can celebrate market freedom. Now that the Canadian Wheat Board is an optional association, farmers across the country will all enjoy the freedom to add value to their goods and sell the to any willing buyer. This is a step away from bureaucracy and a step towards a fair, open market. Let us wish Milton Friedman a happy birthday, and celebrate the Canadian market becoming just a little bit more open, and just a touch more voluntary.