“Hobby” grain farmers to lose CWB vote

Prairie grain growers would have to produce more than a permit book before they can vote in director elections for the Canadian Wheat Board, under a new bill announced Tuesday.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz introduced amendments to the CWB Act Tuesday in the House of Commons that would require a Prairie farmer to produce at least 120 tonnes of grain in either of the two crop years before a CWB director election.

“You earn the right to call yourself a farmer by growing crops, not by filing paperwork,” Ritz said in a release Tuesday.

“Many producers who are named in a (CWB) permit book have retired, rented out their land, or only grow small amounts of grain as a hobby,” the government wrote in Tuesday’s release.

The Conservative government said it plans to have these new eligibility requirements in place for director elections taking place in five districts this fall.

The CWB Act currently allows any producer to vote in director elections. Former agriculture minister Chuck Strahl had revised the voters’ list for the 2006 elections to include only farmers who sold and delivered grain to the CWB in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 crop years — but other producers could make a statutory declaration to have their names added to the list as per the CWB Act.

Strahl had said his decision was based on the advice of a CWB election review panel which in 2005 recommended voting eligibility be restricted to those who had delivered grain in at least one of the previous two years.

Given Statistics Canada’s estimated average yields for Western Canada in 2007, under Ritz’s bill, a Prairie farmer would have to seed at least about 135 acres of wheat or 110 acres of barley in one of the two years before an election and produce average yields or better to qualify for a ballot.

The Market Choice Alliance, a farmers’ group favouring market deregulation for Prairie wheat and barley, said in a press release Tuesday that 120 tonnes would be roughly the production of one quarter section (160 acres), while the average size of a Saskatchewan farm, according to StatsCan in spring 2007, was 1,450 acres.

“These amendments mean that retired farmers and others who don’t actually produce grain can’t vote. That’s the way it should be,” said group spokesman Brian Otto of Warner, Alta., in the release.

“This brings legitimacy to these elections and, I predict, will increase voter turnout because real farmers will realize that they now have a much stronger voice in the process.”

It’s not yet known whether this bill (C-57) would survive a vote in the minority House of Commons, or whether it could be enacted in time for this fall’s director elections if it does.

A separate bill, C-46, proposes to end the CWB’s single desk for marketing of Prairie barley, although at least one opposition MP says there’s “no way on God’s green earth” that C-46 would pass for the start of the 2008-09 crop year on Aug. 1.

Regardless of who’s able to vote, this fall’s director elections will already see at least three new farmer-elected members join the CWB board out of the five even-numbered districts to be contested. Incumbents Ken Ritter, Ian McCreary and Jim Chatenay have reached their term limits.

Another incumbent, Rod Flaman, is already nominated to run as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election, in a Regina-area riding now held by Tory MP Andrew Scheer.

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