Just days after suing over the removal of spending limits on third-party electioneering for Canadian Wheat Board directorships, a Prairie farmers’ group is taking the federal government to court again over further changes to the election process.
“The Harper government’s latest attack on the CWB is clearly designed to prevent legitimate voters from receiving ballots in the upcoming CWB director elections,” said Cam Goff, a member of the group Friends of the CWB and farmer at Hanley, Sask., in a release Thursday.
“As a candidate in these elections, I want all eligible farmers in my district to be allowed to vote — not just those that meet criteria picked by (federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz) in violation of the law.”
Specifically, the Friends’ latest suit, filed in Federal Court in Winnipeg, asks the court to declare unlawful a July 23 order by Ritz that limits the number of CWB permit book holders who will automatically receive a ballot to vote on or around Oct. 20.
The Friends’ suit notes that under the CWB Act and regulations, the voters’ list is to include producers who are named in a permit book on the day the list is sent to the CWB election co-ordinator, or who were named in a permit book during the previous crop year.
However, the election rules as laid out on the CWB election website for this fall limit ballots sent automatically to those who delivered wheat or barley to the CWB in the 2007-08 or 2008-09 crop years. Other growers, or those who grow other grains, will need to apply for a ballot.
Ritz’s order, the Friends argue in their application to the court, was issued “for the improper purpose of ensuring that one category of persons who are not producers as defined in the Act and are known to be generally be opposed to the CWB can cast a ballot in the election and another category of persons who are producers and who are generally known to support the CWB will not be placed on the voters list even though entitled to this.”
Those excluded permit book holders “therefore will have only a much more restricted and time-consuming process available to them for casting a ballot in the election.”
Apart from the statutory declaration that growers of non-board crops were able to use to apply for ballots in previous CWB director elections, this year’s election also allows farmers to use a production insurance contract for the 2007 or 2008 growing season or grain receipts or cash purchase tickets from those growing seasons to prove eligibility.
“Democracies are founded on the rule of law and allowing all eligible and legitimate voters to freely exercise their right to vote,” said Friends member Stewart Wells, a grain grower from Swift Current, Sask. and president of the National Farmers Union, in the Friends’ release.
“The Harper government is not only offside on both counts, but it appears to be taking a step toward aiding and abetting the kind of state-sponsored anarchy one sees in Third World dictatorships by ignoring laws they don’t like.”
The CWB director election period ends Nov. 27. Farmers who aren’t on the voters’ list automatically can apply for a ballot before 5 p.m. on Nov. 14.