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Wednesday, 11 January 2012 16:14

Legal battle against CWB changes continues for Swift Current farmer

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By Matthew Liebenberg — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Swift Current farmer and former elected Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) director Stewart Wells believes the organization’s single-desk marketing advantage can still be saved, although federal legislation has already been approved to end the monopoly.

Wells and seven other former elected directors, who have all been removed from the CWB after Bill C-18 received royal assent on Dec. 15, have instructed their legal team to proceed with court action. The aim is to put a motion to the federal court that will oppose an appeal by the Harper government against a ruling by Justice Campbell.

In his ruling on Dec. 7, 2011, Justice Campbell stated the federal government acted contrary to Section 47.1 of the CWB Act by not consulting farmers on abolishing the single desk. However, his ruling was only a statement on government action that did not prevent government from proceeding with the bill.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Wells said.

“The government should either delay the implementation of the bill or they should appeal, but not both.”

The former CWB directors are also party to another case before the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench to request an emergency stay of implementation of Bill C-18. The next court appearance for this case is set for Jan. 17.

According to Wells the government’s approach has made it a much wider issue than simply ending the CWB’s single-desk monopoly through the enactment of the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act.

“Our lawyers tell us that there has been only three cases in Canadian history when a Canadian government has refused to comply with a court ruling,” he said. “Those three cases are all since 2006. So when it comes to the degradation of democracy and parliamentary integrity we’re just talking about the Harper government.”

To help cover the cost of these legal actions, Wells is appealing to farmers and anyone with an interest in parliamentary integrity and democracy to make a financial contribution.

“If the government says that it never has to abide by any previous laws that are on the books right now, why should  any other Canadians abide by the law,” he asked. “Surely the people who make the laws should have to follow them as well.”

Wells, who farms on about 3,500 acres east of Swift Current, will contribute $3 to $4 per acre to legal fees. He made the commitment publicly at a meeting in Cantuar Hall Jan. 5.

“I know that a lot of people won’t want to contribute that much, but I’ve been closer to this issue than most,” he said. “I know the value of the Wheat Board, what it contributes to farmers, and I’m also keenly interested in having a federal government that follows the law.”

He was the speaker at the Cantuar meeting, which was called by the National Farmers Union. It was attended by about 45 people.

“There was overwhelming support in that room to keep on fighting for democracy and for the advantages that people knew were inherent in the Canadian Wheat Board,” he said.

The Harper government argued there was a real urgency to pass Bill C-18 before the end of 2011 to allow farmers time to sign contracts with grain companies for delivery of wheat and barley after Aug. 1, 2012.

Wells felt the legal action against the federal government should not be blamed for creating additional uncertainty for farmers.

“That’s an issue that the federal government has created all on its own,” he said. “They just thumbed their nose at the law and moved ahead. They knew full well there would be court cases if they were out there breaking the law.”

What he would still like to see happen, is for the federal government to have a proper vote of farmers under section 47.1 of the CWB Act and to then proceed in accordance with the results from that vote.

“We would live by any result of a fair and accurate plebiscite of farmers,” he said. “It would be the farmers’ (as a collective) decision.”

He emphasized any government claim of support for its position can only be determined with certainty through a plebiscite of farmers.

“Why won’t they just talk directly to the farmers and sponsor a fair and accurate plebiscite,” he asked.

He is not confident that a small, voluntary CWB can survive. He referred to the example of the Australian Wheat Board, whose grain handling operation was sold to Cargill within 24 months of the end of the single-desk.

“It will also be sold to some other, larger player and it will disappear completely,” he said about a voluntary CWB.

According to Wells the government may not realize what it is doing, because it has not done a financial analysis of the impact of these changes.

“They have a philosophical, ideological notion of what the grain trade should look like in Canada,” he said. “That notion is that the grain trade should be dominated by these large multinational players.”

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, a former Wheat Board Minister, has proposed that in case of a smaller CWB there is a need for an impartial, independent institution to monitor and report on grain marketing results. This will provide farmers with information on an open market.

Wells agreed there is a need for such an institution, which he said should be started and funded by the federal government.

“There’s going to be absolutely no price transparency,” he noted. “Without somebody doing that work on Canada it will be impossible to know what even the average price of contracted grain is. Each company will be offering as little as it can in order to secure the grain supplies that it wants.”

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