CWB to appeal reinstated “gag order”

The Canadian Wheat Board’s board of directors plans to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on the matter of its ability to publicly advocate for its single marketing desk.

The board decided Thursday to move ahead on an appeal and said it plans to have its application filed by Sept. 22.

The CWB directors’ decision follows a June 23 ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal, which set aside a June 19, 2008 Federal Court decision overturning the federal government’s so-called “gag order” on board officials.

At issue is an October 2006 order-in-council issued by Chuck Strahl, who was then the Conservative federal government’s agriculture minister. Strahl’s order blocked the CWB from spending on public advocacy for its single desk for Prairie wheat and barley.

The minority-government Conservatives oppose the CWB’s single desk but lack the votes in the House of Commons to deregulate the CWB through legislation.

The Court of Appeal last month shot down Federal Court Justice Roger Hughes’ ruling, in which Hughes said the government failed to show its order came from any real concern for the spending of public funds.

The original order’s “plain purpose,” the appeal court said last month, “is to ensure that the Wheat Board no longer advocates a mandate that is at odds with government policy.” Hughes’ suggestion that the order was “concealed under the guise of a non-existent financial purpose is, with respect, misconceived.”

The appeal court also shot down Hughes’ assertion that the CWB is entitled to Charter protection of its freedom of expression. “The Wheat Board is a creature of statute and as such, it has no powers, rights and duties save those bestowed on it” by the CWB Act, the court said.

“Question of control”

CWB board chair Larry Hill said last week that the board’s application to Canada’s top court concerns the “vital question of control” of the CWB.

“Western Canadian farmers believe strongly that they, through their elected directors, are in charge of their grain-marketing organization,” said Hill, who farms at Swift Current, Sask.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers, a pro-deregulation group, on Monday declared itself disappointed that the CWB has decided to try and take its court fight to the next level.

“It’s disappointing the CWB is bent on wasting more of our money to fight this court ruling,” group chairman Mike Bast said in a release. “The appeal court ruling is clear in its findings and strongly dismisses the CWB arguments.”

The Wheat Growers noted that last month’s appeal court ruling foundthe government’s ability to direct the activities of the CWB was “actually strengthened in the 1998 amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act.”

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