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Issue: 12 Section: Canadian News Geography: Canada Topics: nfu, privatization, food security, prison, corporate

December 22, 2003

Canadian News

Farms Produce More, Earn Less: Farmers' Union

Faemers say they are contantly sttaining greater efficiency, but all possible profits are taken by powerful agriculture technology corporations and declining prices from nearly-monopolized buyers.
A report released last week by the Farmer's Union of Canada says that while revenues have increased on a per farm basis, actual income is quickly approaching zero.

The report, entitled "The Farm Crisis, Bigger Farms,and the Myths of'Competition' and 'Efficiency'" says that farmers find themselves in a double bind. They must constantly invest in technology and expansion todeliver more produce for less money, but must also make do with falling prices.

Most farmers, the report says, "arestruggling with the worst farm income crisis since the 1930s."

Prices paid to farms have held steady since the 1960s, while all other prices have gone up. The price of a loaf of bread, for example, has more than tripled since 1975. By contrast, wheat prices have hardly changed during the same period.

The report finds similar trends in corn and cornflakes, barley and beer, and hogs and porkchopspork chops. In each case, the price of the processed product has more than tripled, while the commodity itself has stayed at aconstant low price.

The Farmer's Union pins these trends on elementary principles of economics. While economies of scale result in greater efficiencies, the resulting large entities hold a greater concentration of power.

This, according to the studies cited by the report, can result in higher prices despite lower costs of production. "Given the opportunity to charge less, but also the power to charge more, corporations will act predictably."

Under "free trade" deals like NAFTA, Canadian family farms must compete with each other and with farmers worldwide for a very small number of powerful buyers.

In Canada, for example, two multinationals pack the vast majority of Canadian beef. Similar concentrations exist in almost all sectors.

While multinationals consolidate control over distribution through mergers, the report argues, farmers are constantly forced to compete with more of the world.

Shortly after the report was released, Maple Leaf Foods began a takeover of Schneider's, a move that would give the corporation control over 80% of slaughter capacity in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Independent hog farmers say the deal will take away "even the pretext of competition".

Dru Oja Jay

* * *

Martin Axes Housing Minister, Creates Privatization Czar

Upon taking office as Prime Minister, Paul Martin hasundertaken a radical cabinet shuffle. One of his most radical changes has been the elimination of the secretary responsible for housing. Mississauga MP Steve Mahoney, previously in charge of housing, was dropped from cabinet along with his job. Responsibility for the housing portfolio will fall to Environment Minister David Anderson, a move the Toronto Star called an "odd fit".."

Housing activists say that the change indicates a de-emphasis on affordable housing. Murray Dobbin, author of CEO for Canada, called it a cynical move, since "Martin eliminated all federal funding for social housing" while Finance Minister. The Prime Minister has said that he intends to "build a society based on equality, not privilege."

Meanwhile, Martin has created a new position: "Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance with special emphasis on Public Private Partnerships (P3s)." Covered by almost no major media outlets, the new position will be filled by John McKay, an MP from Scarborough East. Little information is available about the position, but in a news release the new "P3 Czar" named "affordable housing" and "electric power" as being among several areas that could benefit from P3 deals.

P3s involve offloading government services onto private-sector firms. P3 advocates say that the deals are necessary when governments don't have enough money to fund important projects. Opponents claim that P3s are significantly more expensive in the long term, move government funds to the private sector, and provide a short-term excuse to cut social programs. (Toronto Star, John McKay, MP)

    » Press Release: John McKay appointed Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

    » Toronto Star: Martin continues the Liberal assault on affordable housing

* * *

BC Great-Grandmother Chooses Jail Over Promise not to Protest

Betty Krawczyk will spend Christmas in jail, declining an offer of parole in exchange for a promise not to protest anymore. The 75-year-old great grandmother was arrested while protesting the logging of numerous forests in British Columbia.

Krawczyk has previously spent a total of two years in jail for various other protests, and will likely not be released until mid-February. She is launching a Charter of Rights challenge to the fact that she was charged with criminal contempt of court, as opposed to civilecivil contempt, which carries lighter sentences.

Increasingly, those arrested en masse at demonstrations in Canada are finding they cannot get out of jail without signing away their right to protest. Some activists have been denied the right to associate with certain people in order to get out of jail; others have travel restrictions. (Canadian Press)

    » Canadian Press: Anti-logging granny won't trade in jail cell for promise not to protest

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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