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Conservative government selling out wheat farmers?

A staple in any trainspotter's life in Canada is the ubiquitous Canadian Wheat Board grain car. Recently, though, I have been seeing a change in them -- they no longer appear to be owned by the Wheat Board. They seem to have been sold -- and not to the farmers as the Canadian Wheat Board had demanded.

Former Wheat Board hopper

In the last few years, I have photographed just shy of 400 Wheat Board-owned railway cars, a small fraction of their total fleet. Some of them are lettered -- the railway equivalent of a license plate -- "CPWX", for Canadian Pacific Railway handled Wheat Board cars, and the others are lettered "CNWX", for Canadian National handled Wheat Board cars. The ones I have been seeing recently are lettered simply "CP" and "CN" with the "WX" painted out, suggesting the cars are now owned by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, not just handled by them.

It may not mean much, but I have not found any news stories or press releases about this change. With the Conservative government's pinching of the Wheat Board over the past couple of years, one has to wonder if they are being forced to sell off assets like their large railway car fleet against their wishes. It is worth noting that the Alberta and Saskatchewan government owned freight cars for carrying wheat, lettered ALNX/ALPX and SKNX/SKPX respectively, do not appear to be suffering this same fate.

The CWB's apparent sell-off of their wheat-carrying fleet is made doubly curious by the fact that the Wheat Board was complaining about being gouged by the railways for maintenance costs on these same government-owned cars just a few months ago. It seems a bit strange to me to turn around and sell the cars to the operators you just accused of gouging you.

Especially, that is, when you consider that the Wheat Board told a Commons committee 4 years ago that "[o]ther [grain car fleet] divestment options presented or discussed would significantly increase farmers' costs with no commensurate benefit. In essence, farmers would be paying for an asset owned by another entity." At the time, the Wheat Board was endorsing a proposal by a group called the "Farmer Rail Car Coalition" to purchase the fleet from the Government, with the "other divestment options" that they warned about appearing to be what has now happened. Two years ago, the Conservative government refused to sell the Wheat Board's 12,000-odd grain cars to the Wheat Board-endorsed Farmer Rail Car Coalition.

So what's going on? The Conservatives seem to have blocked the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board rail car fleet to the country's wheat farmers, only to turn aroudn and sell it off to the railways themselves. Is the Conservative government simply selling the Canadian Wheat Board rail car fleet to the highest bidder because it has run out of other assets to sell to balance the federal budget, or is this yet another attempt by the Conservatives to hurt Canadian wheat farmers and act against their wishes?

Posted at 04:29 on July 07, 2008

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Returned Order of Canada the height of arrogance | politics | Municipal tax revenue issue has been very badly framed

Chrystal Ocean (challengingthecommonplace.blogspot.com) writes at Mon Jul 7 12:47:36 EDT 2008...

An important post. Thank you.

Beijing York writes at Mon Jul 7 16:59:20 EDT 2008...

Interesting observation. Either scenario is possible given that both advance Harper's fixation with destroying the CWB.

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