Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wheat Board sues Federal Government

    A lawyer for the Canadian Wheat Board told a federal court in Winnipeg that the Conservative government Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law when he ended the Board's monopoly on marketing western wheat an barley. Another lawyer for the board Matthew Fleming noted:"Farmers were promised a vote. The minister himself made that promise."'
   A section of the Canadian Wheat Board Act that set up the board says that changes to the marketing of wheat and barley cannot be changed except  "the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension."  The agriculture minister interprets this to mean that the farmers must vote only on what commodities will be excluded or included not the monopoly powers of the board. However as critics noted he did promise a vote on the monopoly issue as well.
   If the court interprets the section in the manner of the agriculture minister no doubt it will find that no law has been broken. The Wheat Board lawyers seem to anticipate this result by arguing that the court should rule that the government has a duty to hold a plebiscite since it had promised to do so.
  If the Wheat Board wins its case the Conservative government may be forced to hold a plebiscite before the monopoly powers are set to end on August 1st 2012. The U.S. representing the interests of big grain companies has been a constant critic of the board challenging the Board's powers several times but losing every time. The challenges often claim that the Board gives the farmers an unfair market advantage. A list of 14 challenges and their disposition can be found here.
 The Board was set up by farmers back at the time of the Great Depression. By binding together they sought higher prices for their grain. Now some farmers want the power to seek better deals themselves. Good luck as individual farmers face bargaining with oligopolistic global grain buyers. For more see this article.

CWB board chair Allen Oberg speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Winnipeg.CWB board chair Allen Oberg speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Winnipeg. (Claudine Richard-Beaudoin/CBC)

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