Canadian Wheat Board Files Lawsuit Against Federal Government
October 28, 2011
Calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government bullies, the chairman of the Canadian Wheat Board has made good on a promise to take the government to court over legislation to strip the board of its monopoly.
"This Harper government has acted illegally and unethically in its attacks on the Canadian Wheat Board and it must be stopped," Allen Oberg said on a family farm on the western edge of Winnipeg.
"We have no choice but to take this stand on behalf of farmers. We will not be intimidated by bullying tactics."
Standing in front of a grain bin, Oberg was backed by the farmer-elected board that runs the marketing agency, but he admitted the decision to pursue legal action wasn't unanimous. He was flanked by six of the 10 directors as he made his announcement.
The division on the board has already led one director to resign his seat. Henry Vos of Fairview, Alta., said he disagrees with what Oberg and the rest of the board are doing.
"What is happening at the CWB today is, in a word, wrong," Vos said in an open letter outlining his decision.
"To continue to work within the existing dysfunctional CWB board would be a disservice to those who voted for me as their director. It would also be a disservice to all the farmers who want change and an option of using a voluntary CWB."
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was quick to say Oberg and the rest of the board have little chance of succeeding in court.
Oberg is pinning the lawsuit's claim that the government acted illegally on a section of The Canadian Wheat Board Act. It requires a plebiscite among affected producers before any grain can be removed from the board's control. When Ritz refused to hold one, the board conducted its own vote and a majority of farmers who cast ballots backed retaining the monopoly.
But Ritz said the legislation as it stands doesn't stop the government from wiping out the monopoly the board has enjoyed for about 60 years.
"Section 47.1 simply covers the commodities sold by the board under the monopoly, not the existence of the single-desk monopoly itself," he said.
Parliamentary supremacy, which Ritz called "an essential feature of Canadian democracy," is at stake, he said.
Terming the court challenge reckless and baseless, he also suggested it might reduce the chances of the wheat board continuing on a voluntary basis, something he has said the government would help enable.
Ritz also praised Vos for his decision. "Farmers and our government thank him for his tireless work. Our government will give every single farmer in Western Canada choice."
Ritz said the court challenge, along with another one filed by a group called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board, won't alter the government's plan to have an open market for western wheat and barley by next summer.
The bill is expected to pass through the House of Commons before the end of the year.
Parliament's ethics commissioner decided Wednesday it's OK for MPs who are grain farmers to vote on the bill. The Opposition NDP had suggested that would be a conflict of interest.
Mary Dawson ruled that the wheat board bill is exempt from rules that bar members from voting on matters in which they have a particular interest.
Oberg said the government is giving the Americans what they have wanted – an international grain market without the wheat board getting in the way.
"Canada is the last country on earth where huge multinationals cannot source wheat and barley. When the CWB is gone, that will change. Western Canadian wheat will be added to the corporate inventory, while Prairie farmers lose the benefits of being direct sellers."
That alone is a benefit that is worth about $500 million a year to farmers, he said.
Written by Scott Edmonds, The Canadian Press
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