The wind was howling in southern Saskatchewan this morning and when that happens, our internet sometimes doesn’t work so my commentary is coming out this evening. The day turned out very nice. We got to +2 with the sun shinning and when we put out feed for the cattle this afternoon, it was a real pleasure to be outside.
What wasn’t a pleasure was the government announcing on the Friday of a long weekend that they were dipping into the so-called rainy day fund again to balance the province’s books. I think this is 5 out of 6 budgets or maybe it’s 6 out of 7 that once again the Sask Party government has got their revenue forecast wrong.
We all know what the Provincial Auditor said about the rainy day fund and the Sask Party’s bookkeeping so I won’t go into that. But you would think that they could do a little better job of forecasting or planning ahead which seems to be a totally foreign concept for this government.
Two years ago when Federal Minister Ritz was so gung ho to do away with the CWB and go to what he called “marketing freedom”, many people in all facets of the grain and commodities marketing infrastructure warned the Minister that the current marketing capabilities for Canadian bulk commodities would become at risk. The dramatic change to the grain industry without an interim logistics system being put in place would push transportation to places it didn’t want to go. Mr. Ritz and his supporters like Brad Wall and the Sask Party government simply brushed aside those concerns and said “be happy and we will all take advantage of these high commodity prices across the board”.
The sad reality is that our grain transportation system and the systems of other commodities that compete with it for space in the railway pipeline are sadly at risk. We now have the situation where we still have markets worldwide for our commodities albeit at lower prices than last year but the market is still there for everything we can produce.
Huge amounts of that production are not going to get to those markets. This situation has been evident since late last summer. On the Federal level, we have had a stubborn refusal to accept the fact that this move was not well thought out. There were no proper contingency plans put in place to replicate the services that were provided by the logistics group at the CWB.
Canadian grain companies and their counterparts in the railways were living in some kind of a dream world to not appreciate a return to full-scale production of agricultural products along with new entrance like oil to the railway logistics problems. The short-sighted cutting of diesel locomotive power and the crews that went with them by CP Rail and its senior management have only made a bad situation become an awful one. The Federal government seems incapable of holding these people accountable.
In response to this dithering by the Federal Minister and his government, we have our provincial Sask Party government which represents half the arable land in Canada saying absolutely nothing until the last couple of weeks. Mr. Wall comes home from his car auction with the rock stars in Arizona and wakes up to the fact that the province of Saskatchewan is going to forego billions of dollars in gross income and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue because 2013’s crop will not get to market on time. Along with that, other commodities like potash, oil, lumber, coal and manufactured products are competing for space on a rail system which is totally dysfunctional in Canada’s current winter conditions.
Mr. Wall sends three Cabinet Ministers and a loud-mouthed backbencher off to Winnipeg to talk to grain companies which are currently enjoying some of the highest profit margins in history between Saskatchewan and the Port of Vancouver. There are reports of grain pipeline profits of $100/tonne simply between the price offered here and in the Port of Vancouver before all of the other charges around cleaning, elevation, loading and demerge are factored in. Winnipeg was not the place for Mr. Wall to send his Ministers.
Our Premier was very quick to run off to Ottawa to see the Prime Minister to save Bill Doyle’s and PCS’s bacon when BHP threatened to buy the shares. Mr. Wall was quick to run off to Washington, DC to talk about the Keystone XL Pipeline because some of his large oil company donors in Calgary thought he should be there. The only person from the Saskatchewan government that should be taking a trip is Mr. Wall and he should be going to Ottawa. A Premier who represents tens of thousands of farm families and half the farmland in Canada needs to point out to the Prime Minister and his Ag Minister that they did not think things through when they dismantled the logistics of grain movement in Canada. They had better get with the program of putting in place an organization or someone that can bring short-term order to the system and demand that the various components of the system live up to the expectations of Canada’s farmers and our customers around the world.
If your budget is short Mr. Wall, it’s probably because our agricultural production is sitting in bins, grain bags and piles all over this province and not going to market where it belongs. And until a couple of weeks ago, you said absolutely nothing about it. Get on a plane, go to Ottawa and demand what is rightfully Saskatchewan’s place in confederation.
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