Wednesday, 21 September 2011 15:04

CWB plebiscite raises concern for some farmers

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By Jamie Woodford
It’s no surprise debate is sparking over the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) plebiscite results, but it may be a surprising to learn it’s not just government brushing it off, some farmers are shaking their heads as well.

According to the results released by the CWB, 62 per cent of wheat producers voted to keep the single desk, while 38 per cent wanted the monopoly removed; 51 per cent of barley producers voted in favour of the single desk system, and 49 per cent were opposed.

According to Brian Otto, president

of the Western Barley Growers Association those results are not credible because the CWB voters’ list

is flawed.

“(The voters’ list) doesn’t reflect what

I call actual producers, commercial producers,” he said.

Otto can attest to the “seriously flawed” list because during his run in last November’s CWB director elections he embarked on a telephone campaign and called more than 1,100 producers on the list.

“When I made the phone calls I found there were people on that list that were deceased, I found people on that list that had retired from farming, and then we have what we call interested parties voting,” he said citing a bank with a mortgage as one example of such a party.

“(The bank) may be listed in a permit book, so they would receive a ballot too,” he said.

“If they want to hold a vote, and especially in director elections or this plebiscite — at least make sure that the voters’ list is accurate.”

CWB chair Allen Oberg dismissed Otto’s statement arguing only those who held permits in the last two years were eligible to vote.

“To say that the list is not current, that’s not correct because it’s within the last two years,” he said.

“The rules in this current plebiscite were that if you were a current permit holder, or one in the previous year, you automatically got a ballot. That’s about as current as it gets.”

As for interested parties receiving a vote, Oberg said it could happen.

“If they actually had an economic interest in the board, and they were actually making deliveries to the board, that is possible.

“That’s what it’s based on: user pay, user vote.”

He admitted deceased farmers have been known to get ballots as well, but that is a situation the board can’t foresee.

“There will be people that have died recently, and you’re not aware of it and that does happen,” he said. “In that case, obviously if the estate is still farming, the executor of that estate would have that vote.”

Oberg went on to say comments against the CWB and its plebiscite are diverting from the issue at hand.

“These groups and (Agriculture Minister Gerry) Ritz himself have been trying to discredit this plebiscite right from the start,” he said. “And it wasn’t our choosing to hold this plebiscite.

We pushed the minister himself to do just that because that’s what the law called for.

“Nearly 40,000 farmers can’t be wrong. This is the clearest expression of all of what farmers want.”

With Ritz not budging from his stance to move forward with the monopoly-crushing legislation, Otto said it’s time for the wheat board to move on. He added it could function just fine in an open market.

“Producers have moved on, and it’s time for them to move on and develop

a business plan to operate in an open market,” he said. “That’s what producers expect of this board and that’s what they should be doing now and not spending a bunch more money out of our pooled accounts in a needless way.”

Oberg disagreed.

“We’ve said all along that we don’t think a dual market is possible,” he said, adding a successor organization might be possible with significant federal capital and regulated access to facilities. “But the minister has not been forthcoming at all on what assistance they’re willing to provide,

if any.”

In the meantime, the CWB will continue to defend its monopoly.

“Yes, we’re going to continue to put

all the political pressure we can on the minister to change or not go ahead with the legislation,” he said.

Should the new legislation pass, Oberg said the CWB may look into legal action.

“We will look at all avenues to try to make sure that that single-desk advantage is maintained for farmers because that’s what farmers have told us we should do,” he said.

The Western Barley Growers Association along with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association recently launched a website dedicated to “promoting grain marketing freedom for wheat and barley farmers in western Canada.”

Found at www.wheatandbarley, the website is a “one-stop resource” for people “to learn more about the benefits of moving to an open market.”

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