News Canada

Message is clear, say some farm groups

By Glen Hallick

The Valley Leader

Following the Canadian Wheat Board's announcement on the results of its plebiscite on single desk selling, it didn't take long for pro-CWB groups to voice their opinions in prepared statments.

About 62 per cent of mail-in ballots cast by Western Canadian farmers were in favour of maintaining the market monopoly on wheat. And just over 51 per cent of farmers want the same for barley.

Earlier this spring federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced the Harper government would end the CWB's single desk selling of wheat and barley.

Although required under the Canadian Wheat Board Act to have a plebiscite among producers selling to the CWB before any major structural changes are made, Ritz has been steadfast in refusing to abide by the plebiscite results.

The minister has repeatedly said the results of the May 2 federal election, in which the Conservatives won a majority of seats on just under 40 per cent of the popular vote, is the Harper government's mandate to press ahead with their plans for the CWB.

But the National Farmers Union is calling on the Harper government to respect the wishes of western Canadian farmers to keep the market monopoly on wheat and barley.

"Farmers have clearly shown that they support the single desk, and the advantages it clearly brings, just as they always have. The message that farmers have sent Ritz is crystal clear. It is absolutely necessary that he respect the wishes of the majority of Western grain farmers, and abandon his plans to eliminate the single desk," NFU President Terry Boehm said.

The chair of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance echoed those sentiments.

"Farmers have spoken," Bill Gehl noted. "If this government really believes in democracy and if it really does respect farmers, then it will listen. It's that simple."

And in the midst of a provincial election, Premier Greg Selinger and Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers voiced the NDP's comments.

"Farmers have voted clearly to preserve the single desk marketing system," Selinger said. "Dismantling the Wheat Board would be a slap in the face of prairie farmers and a risk to jobs and our economy."

Meanwhile Struthers took a shot at the Progressive Conservatives and their leader Hugh McFadyen for their support of the Harper government's designs on the CWB.

"If you want to be premier of the province, you have to show leadership that's on the side of Manitobans," said Struthers. "It's time for Mr. McFadyen to stand up for producers and show Manitoba families that their opinion matters."

Of the four prairie provinces, Manitoba is the only one to openly oppose plans to end the CWB.

Another group is pursuing court action as it sees the Harper government violating Section 47.1 of the CWB Act.

The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board recently won a victory over the Harper government as the latter attempted to have the legal challenge thrown out.

"This is a complex case which raises issues that have not been before the courts until now. Prairie farmers stand to lose an estimated $500 million per year if the federal government is successful in getting rid of the single desk," the group's legal counsel Anders Bruun said.

The Friends of the CWB took their case to the Federal Court of Canada, and Bruun said he expects the matter to end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Not credible results

Meanwhile, the Western Barley Growers Association (WBGA) sees the results of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) plebiscite as not being credible, says president Brian Otto.

The CWB has consistently refused to ensure that the voters list accurately reflects active commercial producers in our industry, he suggested.

"In last fall's CWB director election, in phone calls I made to over 1,100 producers, I discovered deceased producers, producers who had exited the industry, retired producers and so called interested parties, who were receiving ballots", states Otto.

This is the same list that the CWB used for this plebiscite, so he said the CWB makes this plebiscite irrelevant by its own inaction to make the voters list credible.

"Every CWB survey and vote conducted in the last ten years has shown that barley producers want an open and commercial barley market. To ask barley producers to believe that 51 % of them voted in favour of retaining the single desk shows that this plebiscite had significant flaws and is not credible," comments Otto.

"I have consistently heard from commercial producers and young farmers that they need the ability to decide to whom and when they sell their grain, coupled with transparent pricing. They want a commercial system that will enable them to make decisions that meet the needs of their farm", says Otto. The WBGA feels that nothing could be farther from democracy than having one producer take away the right of another producer to choose how they market their grain.