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CWB audit years away: Ritz

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz doesn’t expect his call for a full audit of the Canadian Wheat Board to produce immediate results.

Ritz on Thursday responded to the CWB’s Feb. 17 invitation for federal ag and finance officials and Auditor General Sheila Fraser to review its risk management practices, by instead calling for “a full audit of all operations” at the CWB.

But Ritz was also quoted in an article Thursday by the Reuters news service as saying the previous day that he had spoken with Fraser and believed it would take “a couple of years” before her office could again audit the CWB.

The Auditor General’s office last released a “special audit” of the CWB in 2002, following a two-year review of board operations, at the invitation of its directors. A new audit would also have to come at the invitation of the CWB board, Ritz said.

Calls for a review came after the board recently announced in its 2007-08 annual report that market volatility had led to losses in the contingency fund that underwrites the risks associated with its producer payment options (PPOs). The fund’s current deficit is $28.9 million.

The CWB posted an $89.51 million loss in fiscal 2008 and a $39.93 million loss in fiscal 2007 on the operations of its Fixed Price Contract (FPC) program, for a total of $129.44 million.

“Despite record prices in the marketplace, the CWB lost nearly $130 million in farmers’ money over the past two years,” said Ritz in a release Thursday. “That’s money that comes directly out of farmers’ pockets.”

Reuters on Thursday also quoted Richard Gray, an agricultural economist at University of Saskatchewan, as saying there’s no need for an audit of the CWB since it releases audited statements annually.

“That’s pure politics,” Gray told the news service, but was also quoted as saying there’s a “legitimate discussion” to be had on how the CWB manages risk.

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