Saskatchewan farmers have been continually ignored in Canada's institutional
landscape. Never has the situation been more evident as it is with the possibility of
Quebec separation. The Canadian governments ignorance of farmers' needs has caused a
cynical view of the political process in the eyes of farmers. One of the major sources of
the cynicism is that Canadian federal institutions are developed so that most political of the
clout is developed from the east. The eastern domination of the House of Commons, and
indirectly the Senate, means that Saskatchewan wheat farmers do not have a strong voice
in Canadian political decisions. But what does the Saskatchewan lack of representation in
Canada's political institutions in Ottawa mean? What can Saskatchewan wheat farmers do
to rectify the situation? And, following a Quebec separation what can wheat farmers do to
uphold their livelihood? The intent of this report is to focus on the actions Saskatchewan
wheat farmers can take to ensure their success in the future.
A focus on the recent
political policy decisions by the federal government, the need for intrastate institutional
reform, and effects of a possible Quebec separation will all be analyzed.
The current institutional landscape of Canada has not acted favorably for
Saskatchewan wheat farmers. The development of the institutions, ie. the House of
Commons and the Senate, and the policies that have developed from these institutions
have continually ignored the needs of prairie farmers, emphasizing the cynicism
Saskatchewan wheat farmers have towards the political process. The antipathy towards
the political institutions has developed because of recent cost-cutting initiatives and
deregulatory procedures by the government and by mis-representation of farmers' needs in
government today. The failure of Saskatchewan wheat farmers to express their needs in
the Canadian political arena successfully, when compared to other constituencies, is based
on the fact that Saskatchewan's representation in Canada's political institutions is weak.
The result is the development of policies contrary to what would be accepted by farmers.
Saskatchewan wheat farmers, in accordance with most constituencies in the west,
have desired a institutional change to the Upper House in Canada. In 1867, when the
institutions were developed, the goal was to develop two different political 'bodies'. One,
the House of Commons, would represent the Canadian people by means of elected
representatives in a representation by population scenario. The second, the Senate, would
be a source of 'sober second thought.' In its creation the senate was intended to protect
the ideals of individual regions. However, to the chagrin of Saskatchewan wheat farmers,
the intended regional focus of the senate never developed and, hence, the senate has been
an institution that has been the focus of a lot of antipathy from the West. The drive for
modifications to the Senate has been pressed by Saskatchewan wheat farmers in an
attempt to uphold their livelihood in a nation in which they're ignored.
The development of intrastate federalism in the senate is typically the most desired
institutional change. Intrastate federalism aids in bringing regional representation to the
national political arena. The desire for regional representation in the Senate is held in high
demand by Saskatchewan wheat farmers. The most prominent suggestion is for a Triple E
senate (equal, effective, and elected) instead of the current form of the Upper House.
Support for a Triple E senate is virtually guaranteed by Saskatchewan wheat farmer,
because their views would have better representation in a central political institution which
historically has ignored their needs. The reasoning behind the lack of regionalism in the
Canadian senate is based on two important factors. 'First, Canadian senators were not
selected by provincial legislatures or governments, but rather were appointed by the
federal government... Secondly, Canadians opted for equal representation by region rather
than equal representation by province.' Thus, the senate's actions are extremely similar
to the actions of the House of Commons.
To answer the question of what Saskatchewan wheat farmers need to do to uphold
their livelihood concentrates on the necessity for a senate reform based on intrastate
federalism. The hope is that by doing so Saskatchewan farmers would have a strong voice
in the national political arena. However, modifying the senate is an extremely arduous
task. Senate reform would most likely have to follow the current amending formula of the
seven-fifty rule. The seven-fifty rule declares that any amendments made to the
constitution have the support of two-thirds of the provincial legislatures (seven, in the
current Confederation) containing fifty percent of the population agreeing to the
modification. The modifications would be difficult to achieve because the politicians in
the east, who currently hold a lot of the clout in the current landscape, would be opposed
to any changes that would see them lose power. Upon Quebec separation senate reform
would be even more difficult to achieve. Without Quebec, Ontario currently has 49.8% of
the remaining population. According to Statistics Canada demographics from July 1st,
1996. So, using the current amending formula without Quebec in confederation , the
likelihood of Saskatchewan farmers having a voice in central political institutions becomes
even less likely as modifications to the institutions would only be possible if all the
provinces, besides Ontario, were in favor of the change.
Without provincial representation in a central institution the needs of
Saskatchewan wheat farmers will be continually ignored as the provinces with the largest
population continue to develop policies to achieve their own goals. One suggestion has
been modification to the House of Commons, however, this seems even more unlikely
then reform to the Upper House. The goal of the senate in its creation, as was noted
earlier, was to provide 'sober second thought.' Regional leaders can argue that the senate
does not fulfill the goals it was created to attain, and hopefully modify the senate to attain
the regional needs they desire. The House of Commons intent was always to be an elected
body that was selected through representation by population and, thus, modifications to
the House of Commons are less likely then changes to the Senate because the intentions of
the House of Commons have been achieved.
The fact that the institutional landscape in Canada currently favors the east can be
seen in three recent policy initiatives by the federal government. The policy changes have
not been beneficial to farmers in Saskatchewan, and continue to be focused on what will
help the east develop. The policy changes have involved 1) the elimination of the
monopoly the Canadian Wheat Board had; 2) deregulatory initiatives involving the
creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and, 3) a cost-cutting
policy initiative that saw the elimination of the Crow's Nest Pass Agreement. Each policy
change has caused deep cuts at the roots of Saskatchewan wheat farmers. A focus on the
policy changes shows that the policies have gained some support in other provinces,
namely Alberta, but the policies have considerably hurt Saskatchewan farmers.
Making modifications to price-support systems, such as the Canadian Wheat
Board (CWB), is not a pragmatic solution in the minds of Saskatchewan wheat farmers.
Price-support systems have always been supported by Saskatchewan wheat farmers but
recently Alberta wheat farmers have complained that the CWB is not effective and elected
for a free-market system. Currently, the CWB operates under a pooled-payment system in
which, 'Farmer's are currently paid an average price based on the board's sales profits.'
The strength of the CWB in Saskatchewan was firmly developed in the CWB's ability to
rescue farming life during the Depression of the 1930's. It is for that reason that many
Saskatchewan wheat farmers are skeptical of losing the CWB and the possibility of
returning to a financially insecure market, as was prominent in the 1930's.
For any change to be made by the federal government there has to be support for
the change in some part of the country. In the case of developing a free-market system
most of the support came from Alberta wheat farmers. Alberta wheat farmers support a
free market system because of the recent high prices which are not reflected in the CWB,
as it sets a moderate price so that it can support farmers in times of trouble. Desiring to
take advantage of the high prices Alberta wheat farmers seemingly ignore the problems
that a free-market system brings with it, especially in the fluctuating market that would
likely develop following Quebec separation. Both the price-support and free-market
systems have there pro's and con's and perhaps only time will tell which system is more
effective. Alberta farmers, however, were not affected by the Depression as much as
Saskatchewan farmers which is much of the reasoning behind the support for the CWB.
The development of Free Trade has been another deregulatory concept that has
been detrimental to Saskatchewan wheat farmers. The passing of the Canada-United
States Trade Agreement (CUSTA), which has since developed into the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has caused the agricultural economy to drop
considerably. The National Farmers Union 1991 statement assists in highlighting the
effects that free trade has had on farmers. For example, milling wheat for consumption
was $7.00 per bushel before the introduction of CUSTA and almost instantly the price
dropped to $3.75 per bushel. The current price is now $3.10 per bushel. The net loss
forced unwillingly on the prairie wheat farmers was $300 million dollars. The loss of
which is certain to have a detrimental effect on the lifestyle and progress of Saskatchewan
With the continuing focus of the east towards free trade and the loss of power held
by the CWB, the international market becomes very important. A focus on the
international market is extremely important as it highlights the effects of Saskatchewan
farmers as the market proceeds in its current direction. The competition that is waged
between the United States, European Community, and Canada causes the price of wheat
to drop due to the elasticity of wheat on the world market. Wheat is an elastic
commodity, especially with the inception of free-trade, because of the vast number of
available substitutes. What the elasticity of wheat means to Saskatchewan farmers is that
any price changes will have a serious effect on the quantity of goods bought by
consumers. With even a modest price increase consumers will simply look elsewhere for
wheat, an option available to them because of Free Trade. The result is a drop in prices as
the competition looks for means to attract the masses towards their product.
Unfortunately for farmers the low prices mean low profits, and a deprivation of their
livelihood. Quebec separation would develop yet another arena of competition from
Quebec farmers, despite their small numbers. The argument that Canadian farmers would
be successful in a free-market system where they can compete with international
competitors is false. The elasticity of wheat means that, even if Canadian farmers were to
become the largest wheat suppliers in the world, they would do so only with low prices
and insignificant advantages to Saskatchewan wheat farmers.
One recent federal cost-recovery initiative involved the abolition of the Crow's
Nest Pass Agreement. The agreement was arranged in 1898 when the Canadian Pacific
Railway was granted 'a $3.3 million subsidy to build a railway over the Crowsnest
pass...In return, the CPR agreed to reduce in perpetuity its eastbound freight rates on
grain.' In practice, the Crow, as it was commonly referred too, protected wheat farmers
from outlandish high transportation costs that the CPR previously used in the prairies to
cover its expensive maintenance costs in the Rocky Mountains and Lake Superior areas of
Canada. With the elimination of the Crow on August 1st, 1996 a modest increase in the
cost of transportation costs placed on farmers to $15 a tonne was seen. 'To soften this
blow, the federal government [shelled] out $1.6 billion in land payments to farmers and
[spent] $300 million improving the transportation system.' Unfortunately for farmers,
the one-time support of the federal government after the crow will not prevent continuing
transportation prices in the future. With the death of the Crow, small railways and grain
elevators will shut down in favor of larger and more centralized means of collecting and
preparing grain for transport meaning that small-scale farmers will have to travel farther
with their wheat to get it off to market. Additionally, as the quasi free-market develops,
an expectation for lower wheat prices gives the small-scale farmers another slap-in-the-
face. One author predicts, '...hundreds of miles of railway track will be abandoned, scores
of elevators close, large swathes of farmland will be returned to native grasses and dozens
of small communities will die as development shifts to larger regional centers.'
The abolition of the Crow has gained a small amount of support from farmers in
Alberta. The reason being that the transportation costs will not affect the farmers as bad
as they will in Saskatchewan and the development of large regional centers, already
present in Alberta, will bring new initiatives and diversity. In the meantime, the
Saskatchewan wheat farmers have been forced to sacrifice their lifestyle to survive in a
new economic agenda pushed by the bureaucrats in the east and by an open market
competition to the south. Survival for the common farmer in Saskatchewan has become
increasingly more difficult as the federal government continues on its policy changes based
on the idea that bigger is better, to the demise of the common farmer.
One of the alleviating factors during the abolition of the crow was the possibility of
Saskatchewan wheat farmers to use the St. Lawrence Seaway as a means of finding lower
costs to farmers. However, with the possible separation of Quebec, the use of the St.
Lawrence Seaway is unknown. Depending on the agreements made by the Quebec and
Canadian governments following separation the price of transportation may go up even
further as Saskatchewan wheat farmers would lose a possible location to ship their grain.
This would assuredly cause an influx of prices in transportation costs to farmers as the
Canadian Pacific Railways would undoubtedly continue its trend of charging high prices to
prairie farmers transporting their goods to the west, to combat the expenses of getting
through the treacherous Rocky Mountains.
Exports are a concern to Saskatchewan farmers on a whole, but more so to those
involved in the egg, poultry, and dairy aspects of agriculture. Egg, poultry, and dairy are
produced under a Supply/Management organization. In other words, there is a strict
management of goods to ensure that farmers produce only what will satisfy domestic
needs. When the system works efficiently no surpluses or shortages of egg, poultry, and
dairy are created in Canada. If Quebec were to separate, especially with Quebec being a
primary dairy producer in Canada, a number of initiatives would need to be developed to
ensure that there is neither a shortage or surplus of goods. The repercussions of this
would involve the need for farmers in Saskatchewan to focus more on dairy production,
so that the needs of the nation are matched. Also, egg and poultry producers in
Saskatchewan may be down-scaled or forced to close as the goods they produce would no
longer be needed by the rest of the country. To prevent any developing problems it is
imperative that the Saskatchewan farmers have some voice in the political discussion
following a Quebec separation. Theoretically, we could simply import from Quebec after
separation is made to ensure that the demand of Canadians are met by Quebec supply.
However, the solution is not an easy one because the cost of dealing with Quebec would
likely be a high one due to an increase in transaction costs. Transaction costs are, 'the
costs arising from finding a trading partner, negotiating an agreement about the price and
other aspects of the exchange, and of ensuring that the terms of the agreement are
fulfilled.' Simply put there would be an influx in the transaction costs between Quebec
and Canada as the trading agreement is modified. Again Saskatchewan farmers, upon
Quebec separation, are faced with yet another hurdle to clear in their attempts to uphold
In sum, the political policy development that has been developed in the East has
seriously effected Saskatchewan wheat farmers. They have lost a means for protection
from a fluctuating market because of modifications to the price-support structure of the
CWB, which could be extremely detrimental with the development of a new country and
unstable economy. The international competition, witnessed through the eastern
politicians focus for free trade, has caused the price of grain to drop considerably because
of the elasticity of wheat caused by an increase in competition and substitutes. Finally, the
rising transportation costs, due to the elimination of the Crow's Nest Pass Agreement, has
meant that Saskatchewan wheat farmers spend more money to get their product to a
market which has gotten progressively worse. Saskatchewan farmers are forced to spend
more money to get their product to a weak market, which could get weaker in a new
developing country due to an unstable economy and the increase in transaction costs.
The importance of the institutions ability to steer Canada's policy needs to be
analyzed here to ensure its power and importance is understood. 'Institutions are like
channels or grooves along which economic, ideological, cultural and political forces
flow.' Simply, the power of political institutions is not an abstract quality . With the
branches of government built under the principle of representation by population the
political clout is going to be held where the largest population is held, the east. The result
is that of small constituencies are weakly represented in national governments which fail to
realize the practical implications their policy developments have to constituencies not
prominent in the east, such as Saskatchewan wheat farmers. The policies the national
government have developed in recent events have spoiled the agricultural community in
Saskatchewan. However, a change to the political institutions would cause a change in
the policies that the governments created simply because the 'grooves' would cause
policies to follow a different political, cultural, and economic flow.
Canadian political institutions have a serious effect on policy development in the
nation. With the power being held almost solely in the east small constituencies, such as
Saskatchewan wheat farmers are forced to concentrate on methods to modify the
institutions so that they serve their needs. Recent policy developments have had a
detrimental effect on Saskatchewan wheat farmers growth and the only means for farmers
to prevent this in the future is to modify the institutions. However, Quebec separation
poses a difficult problem for Saskatchewan wheat farmers. Not only does separation
mean that the economy farmers rely heavily on will drop but it separation also means that
institutional reform is even less likely. The situation is not futile, and although the road is
a difficult one Saskatchewan wheat farmers have faced adversity before. It appears that
their unity and strength will be called upon again as they attempt to gain representation in
Canada's national institutions before their lifestyle becomes a concept of the past.
Keith Archer et al., Paramters of Power: Canada's Political Institutions.
Scarborough:Nelson Canada (1995), pg. 180.
Canadian Dimensions- Population and average growth rates, Canada, the provinces, and
territories.' Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, July 1st, 1996. Web site:
David Roberts, 'Farmers worry report won't bring change,' The Globe and Mail (July
11, 1996), A9.
Terry Johnson, 'After the Crow, new hope in the country,' Alberta Report (August
21st, 1995), 15.
Richard Gwyn, 'End of an Era,' Calgary Herald (August 1st, 1995), A5.
Terry Johnson, 'After the Crow, new hope in the country,' Alberta Report (August
21st, 1995), 15.
Robin Bade et al., Economics: Canada in the Global Enviroment. Toronto: Addison
Wesley Publishers Ltd. (1991), pg. G-13.
Keith Archer et al., Paramters of Power: Canada's Political Institutions. Scarborough:
Nelson Canada (1995), pg. 3.