Unheard Voices

Essay by A man without purposUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, December 1996

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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

wheat farmers.

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

their lifestyle.

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.