Manitoba Grain Growers Assoc
Fighting for Farmers' Rights
by George Siamandas
ADDRESSING FARMERS' GRIEVANCES:
THE 1900 MANITOBA GRAIN ACT
Responding to farmers's concerns that they were not being treated fairly by the grain companies and their elevators, the 1900 Manitoba Grain Act sought to establish rules and regulations on how farmer's and their grain were marketed. It described what allowable dockage or reductions for stones and chaff, weighing procedures, grading, pricing. But regulation was not working for farmers.
The elevator companies got around these laws in 1901 by forming the North West Elevator Association which controlled more than two thirds of the elevators. The farmers called it the Syndicate of Syndicates. There were connections to the Grain Exchange which the farmers called the House with Closed Shutters.
The companies actually reduced the price they paid farmers and the railways also gave the elevator companies preferential access to rail cars. The companies were accused of heavy dockage, low weights, low grading and other such practises.
They proved it in a case that went to court known as the Sintaluta Case. Sir JAM Aikins later the Lieut Gov of Manitoba defended the railway. Representing the regulatory powers was TC Mathers who would later be a chief justice of Manitoba. A fine of $50 was levied against the railway. The Sintaluta case proved that railways did not follow the laws on giving grain producers the number of cars they were entitled to and showed that only 7 of 67 cars were available to farmers during fall 1901.
SEEING THE VALUE OF ORGANIZING
Farmers had already organized in Saskatchewan and had established the Territorial Grain Growers Assoc. It had been spearheaded by a farmer from Saskatchewan named WR Motherwell. Motherwell attended the March 1903 Manitoba convention and convinced Manitoba farmers of the need to develop an association representing farmer's interests. Twenty-two new locals of farmers had been established in Manitoba and at a meeting in March 19, 1903 held in Brandon, Manitoba farmers agreed to form the Manitoba Grain Growers Assoc. The President was J W Scallion from Virden.
THE MGGA'S BOLDEST DEMAND: A MONSTER PETITION
The Manitoba Grain Growers Assoc wanted the government to take over all the elevators believing that if it had to be a monopoly better a government monopoly.
The Partridge Plan as it was called was presented to and endorsed by the 1908 annual Manitoba Grain Growers convention. But the Manitoba government did not act believing the public ownership of elevators to be too expensive for government, and politically and philosophically unacceptable.
But it changed its mind. It was due to a monster petition presented by the MGGA signed by 10,000 Manitoba farmers. And just before a critical by-election. For political reasons the Manitoba conservative government had once again opted for public ownership and in 1910 established the Manitoba Elevator Commission.
HOW DID THE PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF ELEVATORS WORK?
The Manitoba Elevator Commission bought out 154 existing elevators but many were not suitably located. In some locations the government bought five elevators side by side and at the peak owned 207 elevators in Manitoba. The plan was a disaster costing over a million dollars to initiate and earning only 55% of its costs in 1910-1911. Roblin called the farmers unfaithful as they continued to shrewdly pick and chose elevators for best price. Only 20% of farmers delivered to them. The Grain Growers Grain Co the predecessor to the UGG started to lease the government elevators starting in 1912. By 1928 the government got out of this disaster completely. The failure of this government-run operation had some benefits. It resulted in the other option of the cooperative model which was established in Alberta 1923 and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1924.
WHAT DID THIS MOVEMENT ACHIEVE?
From a farm issues advocate to a half-pregnant political party, the MGGA provided a vehicle for the expression of farmers' interests. It also helped spawn a variety of other movements and organizations that followed. The MGGA itself later became the United Farmers of Manitoba. Other streams of the grain growers movement became the Grain Growers Grain Company, later known as the UGG.
The United Farmers of Manitoba became a political party that was not willing to work like a party. The UFM came to power in 1922 without a leader. During midnight of election night, they drafted John Bracken, a reluctant pragmatist, and head of the Agricultural College. They wanted to behave as independents with no party discipline, free to speak their minds and vote on their convictions. They ran Manitoba between 1922 and 1927. Here began the rural domination of Manitoba by a government of farmers who believed in fiscal conservatism.
In 1927 the UFM withdrew as a party and Bracken became a Progressive.