Pro-CWB farmers aim to test Ritz’s plans in court

The federal government’s plans to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley without a farmer vote are the target of a suit filed by a Prairie farmers’ group Monday.

The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB) has filed in Federal Court in Winnipeg for a judicial review of the government’s plans.

The FCWB, in a release Monday, cited section 47.1 of the federal Canadian Wheat Board Act that requires a grower plebiscite and consultation with the CWB’s board of directors before any crops can be added to, or subtracted from, the CWB’s single desk.

“We are launching this lawsuit today because the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board believe that Prairie farmers have a long-standing legal and legitimate expectation to be consulted via plebiscite before any amendments to the CWB Act are introduced into Parliament,” Lyle Simonson, a durum grower from Swift Current, Sask., said in the release. 

The release also cited an indirect quote from federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz at a farmers’ meeting at Minnedosa, Man. on March 15.

The FCWB said Ritz, “in reference to farmer director elections showing eight out of the 10 elected directors support the CWB’s single-desk marketing authority, boldly stated that he would respect farmer democracy.”

St. Leon, Man. grain farmer Luc Labossiere, addressing Ritz in Monday’s release, said “it is dishonest for you to now claim that the May 2 federal election was a farmer vote on the CWB and that you have a mandate to remove the CWB’s statutory marketing authority on wheat and barley without a farmer plebiscite.”

“What is best”

Speaking Wednesday at the Grain Growers of Canada summer meeting in Winnipeg, however, Ritz formally reiterated that the Conservative government and its newly-minted majority will “ensure that western Canadian grain farmers are given the freedom to choose whether to sell grain on the open market or through the Canadian Wheat Board.”

“Our government is supporting the grain sector through our commitment to marketing freedom for wheat and barley growers in Western Canada,” Ritz said in a release.

“We know that grain farmers will be able to make their marketing choices based on what is best for their own business, and opening up the market will attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger economy.”

The government, in the release, stated it “wants to work with the grain industry to find positive, constructive solutions for moving the sector toward a brighter economic future.”

The FCWB’s last CWB-related court challenge ended in March at the Federal Court of Appeal, which upheld a Federal Court dismissal of the group’s case.

The FCWB had challenged orders Ritz made ahead of the CWB director elections in 2008, limiting the number of CWB permit book holders who would automatically get a ballot to vote in those elections.

The group claimed a partial victory, in that the appeal court overturned the Federal Court’s ruling that FCWB members had no legal standing to file that challenge.

The farmer group is represented by Winnipeg lawyer Anders Bruun, a former general counsel for the CWB and for Manitoba Pool Elevators (now part of Viterra).

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