Driving across the prairies at this time of year has always been a wonderfully Canadian experience for me. Green or brown tend to dominate the landscape, depending on how wet the summer has been.
Harvesting of hay and other early crops is underway, and there’s a peace and serenity to the picture which is quietly inspiring.
There have definitely been changes since I first traveled that stretch between Winnipeg and Regina, long before I was old enough to be the person behind the wheel. The biggest change has been the disappearance of those familiar wooden elevators, including the red one at Fleming that said Lake of the Woods Milling. It came down in an unfortunate fire a couple of years ago.
Others have mostly been replaced by those imposing concrete structures called inland terminals. They carry names like Cargill and Viterra and Richardson. They are the product of the global economy, and politics.
Since the beginning of August, the Canadian Wheat Board no longer has the monopoly to sell wheat and barley that is grown on those prairie fields. The CWB has been around for more than 70 years, and it appears they are not about to quickly fade away.
As the first crop year under the new regime begins, hundreds of Wheat Board employees have been terminated, but the survivors seem to be doing quite well.
They have concluded grain handling agreements with a number of major players including Richardson International of Winnipeg. This will give farmers more than 170 locations across the prairies where they can deliver their crop and be confident that it will be handled and marketed by experienced people who know what they’re doing.
Chances are the producers who continue to market through the Board will be barely acknowledged by the likes of Stephen Harper and Gerry Ritz, but don’t be surprised if they do amazingly well on a world market where prices are very strong.
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Bonjour mes amis. Comment ca va? That is about the extent of my ability in Canada’s other official language I’m afraid.
Truth be told, with the notable exception of wonderful and lively communities like Gravelbourg in Saskatchewan and St. Pierre Jolys in Manitoba, the Canadian prairies will never be francophone country.
The CBC spends many millions of dollars delivering local TV news in French on the prairies. It has long been argued that it would be cheaper to pick up that small group of francophone viewers and drive them to a theatre where they could watch the broadcast on a closed-circuit. Sadly, it’s only a slight exaggeration.
But Pierre Trudeau’s vision of Canada lives on in the person of Canada’s Official Languages Commissioner. Graham Fraser occupies that job at the moment. He has dispatched his troops as mystery shoppers. Their mission is to find out how francophone-friendly Canada’s major airports are.
They’re checking things like bilingual signage, and whether airport staff greet travelers in both languages. These are the standards for airports that serve more than a million passengers a year. The eight that are being mystery-shopped are Winnipeg, Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Strangely missing are Calgary, Regina and Saskatoon. Perhaps Edmonton and Calgary take turns, but why is the entire province of Saskatchewan left out ? Perhaps the folks in Mr. Fraser’s office are relying on old numbers.
Both Saskatchewan airports are now regularly handling more than a million passengers a year, and more growth is expected in the future.
Ralph Goodale is my favourite prairie politician. He may eventually be remembered as “one of the best prime ministers we never had”. He readily admits that a major reason was his lack of ability in French.
He also comes from the province that Canada continues to forget for some strange reason, even though it’s no longer a have not.
Roger Currie is a writer, blogger and broadcaster.
He lives in Winnipeg, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org