The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) is rethinking its position on which farmers should get a ballot in Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) director elections.
The issue was referred to KAP’s grain and oilseed committee during KAP’s general council meeting here July 22.
“We need to revisit this and make sure everybody is comfortable with the position we had,” KAP president Ian Wishart said in an interview later.
This spring KAP announced its support of the federal government’s Bill C-27, the Canadian Wheat Board Payments and Election Reform Act. It proposes only western Canadian farmers who produce at least 40 tonnes of the seven crops listed in the CWB Act (wheat, oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, rapeseed and canola) in the current or previous two crop years are eligible for a ballot.
A resolution from KAP District 1 said KAP’s position needed to be clarified because it was inconsistent with its position taken in 2005 that only farmers who grow CWB grains be eligible to vote.
Wishart said a search of KAP records failed to find that policy, but added he was not opposed to reviewing KAP’s current position.
“If there are people in our organization who think we have an incorrect position we’re quite prepared to go back and review it,” he said.
The resolution was tabled and referred to the committee.
Under current regulations any producer, 18 or older, with a valid CWB permit book is eligible to get a ballot. So-called “interested parties,” such as crop-share landlords also qualify.
However, in the last two elections in 2008 and 2006, the respective agriculture ministers ordered that any farmer who had produced one of the seven crops listed in the CWB Act be eligible for a ballot.
Normally all permit book holders would get a ballot automatically, but in the last election only those who delivered grain during that or the previous crop year got ballots automatically and the others had to apply for a ballot as did non-permit book holders.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the order and Bill C-27 are designed to prevent retired and hobby farmers from voting.
But CWB supporters see it as an effort to help directors opposed to single-desk selling get elected.
One of the steps to changing the CWB’s mandate is that the board of directors back it.
KAP vice-president Doug Chorney said KAP supported C-27 for two reasons: one, it promised to speed up government approval of higher CWB initial and adjusted payments, resulting in farmers getting their money faster; second, by allowing farmers who grow crops other than those marketed through the CWB it would make the election process more inclusive and democratic.
But according to some estimates from single-desk supporters, if C-27 became law 29,000 farmers would be knocked off the CWB’s voters’ list.
Wishart said KAP also supported the 40-tonne threshold because it believes that will prevent the introduction of weighted ballots favouring larger farmers.
The CWB’s board of directors also endorsed C-27, he said.
However, seven of the eight farmer-elected directors who support single-desk marketing, voted against it, saying they believed C-27 was undemocratic.
The CWB’s board also endorsed the 2005 CWB election review committee’s report, which recommended farmers should have to have produced and delivered 40 tonnes of grain to the CWB in the current or previous crop year to get a ballot.
While the election committee’s recommendation and C-27 share the 40-tonne threshold, there’s a subtle but important difference between them, noted former KAP president and review committee member David Rolfe.
“If you’re a customer of the wheat board then you have an interest in the future of the wheat board obviously,” Rolfe said in an interview this spring. “Even if you grow 40 tonnes you may have never had a (CWB) permit book. You may just be a bystander and not have a true interest in the business (of the CWB).”
There was initially some confusion about what was in C-27, Wishart said in an interview.
“There were so many things going on,” he said. “We were a little misled by the minister’s comments that were quoted. At one point he talked about ‘delivered’ (grain) and that muddied the waters.” [email protected]