WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — Canadian Wheat Board attorneys argued successfully in federal court this week that Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law by drafting legislation to dismantle the C.W.B.’s grain marketing monopoly without involving the C.W.B. or western Canadian farmers.
A federal judge in Manitoba on Dec. 7 ruled Mr. Ritz had acted wrongly by not consulting with the C.W.B. or allowing farmers to vote before moving ahead with Bill C-18 that basically strips the C.W.B. of its sole grain marketing power as of Aug. 1, 2012.
“Had a meaningful consultative process been engaged to find a solution which meets the concerns of the majority, the present legal action might not have been necessary,” Justice Douglas Campbell said in his decision. “Generally speaking, when advancing a significant change to an established management scheme, the failure to provide a meaningful opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard and accommodated forces resort to legal means to have them heard.”
The government said it would appeal the court ruling as it moves forward with the legislation. Although the ruling cannot stop the bill, it does support C.W.B. efforts to force a vote that would let farmers, rather than the government, decide the board’s fate.
“On behalf of the western Canadian farmers we’ll continue to finalize Bill C-18,” Mr. Ritz said in the House of Commons after the court’s decision. C-18 has passed through Canada’s House of Commons but needs Senate approval and royal assent before it becomes law.
“We call on Minister Ritz to comply with the spirit of this ruling and immediately cease actions that would strip away Prairie farmers’ single-desk marketing system without first allowing a vote by affected producers,” C.W.B. chairman Allen Oberg said as he prepared to address a Senate committee this week. “We argued strongly that farmers should have the final say over changes to their grain marketing agency. As farmers, we pay for the C.W.B., we run it and we should decide what happens to it. The minister now needs to do the right thing, obey the law and hold a vote — as he should have done from the beginning.”
The C.W.B. held a non-binding vote during the summer in which farmers indicated they wanted the C.W.B. to retain its wheat marketing monopoly, with only a slim majority also supporting the barely monopoly.
“This is all about fairness,” C.W.B. attorney John McDougall said before the court this week. “The minister’s conduct, in my submission, was unfair and contrary to the law.”
The decision should have been made by Canadian farmers, Mr. McDougall said, referencing section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act that says changes cannot be made unless “the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension.”
The government maintained section 47.1 pertains only to which commodities can be sold by the C.W.B., not to the board’s monopoly. Mr. Ritz argued that grain can be sold competitively and that the C.W.B. could continue to market wheat and barley on a voluntary basis.
The C.W.B. was established after the Great Depression to generate higher prices by serving as the sole marketer of Canadian wheat and barley. Those who oppose the C.W.B. suggest open market competition may create better deals and that other grains and oilseeds and farmers in other provinces already participate in the open market.