Ag groups rip Tories over CWB electioneering

Two groups of farmers who support the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk have lodged complaints over federal Tory MPs’ allegedly tax-funded support for CWB director candidates who don’t.

Real Voice for Choice, a pro-single-desk farmers’ group, said Thursday it has filed a protest with Ian Craven, the co-ordinator for this fall’s round of CWB elections with accounting firm Meyers Norris Penny.

Members of the group said they have been contacted by several farmers in four of five CWB electoral districts who received letters from Conservative MPs, “urging them to vote for anti-CWB candidates.”

The letters, RVC said, give “very specific instructions on how voters should mark their ballots to ensure an anti-CWB candidate wins in their district.”

The farmers’ claims, RVC said in a release Thursday, raise “serious questions about the propriety, and indeed legality, of MPs acting as third-party interveners.” The group accuses the MPs of “using taxpayer funds to influence a farmer election by endorsing certain candidates.”

RVC, in its release, also alleges the letters were addressed using the CWB voters’ list.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the National Farmers Union also blasted the Conservatives on the same issue, specifically the Tory caucus’ parliamentary secretary for the CWB.

The NFU quoted southwestern Saskatchewan MP David Anderson as saying, in a letter to farmers, that he is “confident that Sam’s experience in bringing divergent views together will well serve prairie grain farmers if he is elected as a CWB director.”

The NFU said Anderson’s letter is “shilling” for Sam Magnus, who farms at Luseland, Sask., and whose campaign information cites his combined eight years of service on the national councils of the Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties.

In a copy of the letter posted to the NFU’s website, Anderson urges voters to mark the preferential ballot with a 1 or 2 for Magnus and for Walter Suntjens, another pro-“marketing choice” candidate from Hanna, Alta., though the letter makes no other specific recommendations on Suntjens’ behalf.

The NFU said Anderson’s letter “completely ignores” pro-single-desk candidate Bill Woods of Eston, Sask.

“Spending limit”

“I am outraged that Mr. Anderson has the taxpayers of Canada footing the bill to communicate his own policy position,” NFU president Stewart Wells said in a release Wednesday. “This is a completely inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars to try and directly influence the outcome of what should be a democratic process paid for by CWB permit book holders.

“Perhaps this was the reason that the Conservative government removed the spending limit on third parties before the election started — so governments could use unlimited amounts of taxpayer dollars,” Wells, a farmer at Swift Current, Sask. and constituent in Anderson’s riding, alleged in the release.

Larry Hill, the current chair of the CWB’s board of directors and also a constituent in Anderson’s riding, added in a release Thursday that the CWB itself “is committed to neutrality in this election process because we believe that farmers should determine who represents them at our board table.

“It is reasonable to expect representatives of the federal government to take the same approach, refrain from attempting to influence the outcome and respect farmers’ ability to choose for themselves,” Hill said.

Pat Martin, a New Democrat MP from Winnipeg and the party’s deputy ag critic on the CWB file, also denounced Anderson’s letter in a news story Wednesday. The news agency Canadian Press (CP) quoted Martin as calling for an investigation into Anderson’s free mailing privileges as an MP.

The same article quotes Anderson as saying the Tories have made no secret of their support for the pro-deregulation position they call “marketing choice.”

The point of the letter, Anderson told CP, “was to actually let people know who the pro-choice candidates are so that they can hopefully vote for candidates who will be able to work with the government after the election.”

District 4, where Woods, Suntjens and Magnus seek the director’s seat, is currently held by Kindersley, Sask. farmer Ken Ritter, the former CWB chair. Ritter can’t run again, having reached the CWB’s maximum term length for board directorship.

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