Our Board Our Business: Why Farmers Support the Canadian Wheat Board


128 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 978-1-55266-237-3
DDC 354.5'90971




Edited by Terry Pugh and Darrell McLaughlin
Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.


In the raucous history of Canada’s farmers, potent brews have been concocted by combinations of money, ideology, and politics. Farmers have generally considered themselves entrepreneurs, but also individuals who work with their hands and find practical solutions. In return, they derive living wages and are attuned to the value of the dollar and the prices for the commodities that they produce. As incomes are not large for most, rewards are often reaped when operations are sold or passed on at the time of retirement. Consequently, some agriculturalists, such as those currently supporting the National Farmers Union that has produced this book, are activists in orientation and collectivist in the interests of their vocation. Threatened by the neo-conservative ideology of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and some in his government, the National Farmers Union sprang to the defence of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), first by holding a conference in 2006, and then by publishing the results.

Marketing boards have long served as the talisman dividing the right from the left in farm ideology and politics. Debates over supply management systems have been interminable nationally and internationally for several decades. The ideological right tends to see marketing boards as costly and unnecessary encumbrances to the more efficient operation of a market economy that can supply goods and services more cheaply. The left argues the necessity of orderly marketing and makes the case that agriculture is incapable of being turned around on a dime in response to market gyrations. In this book the supply management supporters supply a figure. The Canadian Wheat Board, it is maintained, returns $800 million annually into the hands of Western grain producers that would be lost in its absence. As with all econometrics, so much relies on statistical inputs to arrive at such a number that little credence should affixed to the sum.


This short book is essentially a sensible polemic that does not contribute to the debate over the Canadian Wheat Board as much as it attempts to provide a case for its continuing importance to prairie farmers. As with many activist statements, the contributions to this volume at times tend to go over overboard, either in making absurd claims or speaking to the converted through language so arcane as to be indecipherable to the uninitiated. One of the editors, a sociologist from the University of Saskatchewan, asserts that the “current debate over the future of the CWB is a defining moment in [the] country’s history.”


I am afraid that few think this a defining moment even though low commodity prices, fewer farmers, larger farms, and vertical integration in the agri-food sector make many unsettled. Neo-conservative governments in Ontario emasculated the Ontario Wheat Producers Marketing Board, and Stephen Harper is quoted as referring, in 1999, to the “powerful Canadian Wheat Board and its draconian wheat monopoly.” When Conservative agricultural minister Chuck Strahl engaged in some tough sticking in the game of politics, many were apprehensive. Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are unlikely to invite trouble during their second minority government by either abolishing the CWB or transforming it into “market choice.” For those rooting for the left in the debate, this volume can inform in preparation for the next battle in the continuing war over marketing boards.


“Our Board Our Business: Why Farmers Support the Canadian Wheat Board,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/27407.