Conservatives’ CWB bill clears Senate, royal assent

The Conservative majority in Canada’s Senate, and Canada’s governor general, have passed the bill ordering sweeping changes to the marketing of Western Canada’s wheat and barley.

Bill C-18, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, passed third and final reading in the Senate Thursday afternoon by a vote of 51-33, after the Conservatives invoked closure to halt debate and order the final votes.

The Parliament of Canada’s website reports the bill also received royal assent on Thursday from Governor General David Johnston, despite written appeals from Liberal leader Bob Rae and Canadian Wheat Board chairman Allen Oberg that Johnston reject the bill.

C-18 is a package of legislative amendments that will strip the CWB of its single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley and eventually repeal the CWB Act, to allow the board to be either privatized or wound down.

The bill also allows for Prairie farmers to immediately begin forward contracting of wheat and barley sales for delivery after Aug. 1, 2012, and for the immediate buying and selling of futures contracts for Prairie wheat and barley with delivery after that date.

Ritz has called a celebratory event and press conference to be held Friday morning at a farm near Balgonie, Sask., just east of Regina.

The bill’s passage comes in the wake of a court challenge filed Wednesday by the CWB’s eight remaining farmer-elected directors, asking that C-18 be invalidated. Hearings on that challenge are scheduled for Friday morning in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench in Winnipeg.

The challenge, and the appeals to Johnston to block the bill, were both based on last week’s declaration by a Federal Court judge that Ritz "breached his statutory duty" in introducing Bill C-18 without first conducting a vote among eligible Prairie grain growers, as the CWB Act requires.

Judge Douglas Campbell’s Dec. 7 ruling declared Ritz’s actions "an affront to the rule of law" but didn’t rule on the validity of C-18 itself, saying that was "not at issue in the present applications."

The directors’ application to Queen’s Bench will also seek an interim order preventing the government from implementing C-18 until the court can rule on the bill’s validity.

"That parrot is dead"

Opposition senators on Wednesday took parting shots at C-18 ahead of its passage.

Quebec Liberal senator Celine Hervieux-Payette said she has not seen "any market studies that prove that the farmers in question will fare any better" following the deregulation of Prairie wheat and barley marketing.

"More importantly, I did not see the studies conducted by the government to show how these products can have any added value once the multinationals get their hands on the commodity," she said. "Based on my review of the file, I conclude that this policy will be very bad for Canadian consumers."

Senator Grant Mitchell, an Alberta Liberal, noted the federal government’s recent moves to increase the capacity of the CWB’s contingency fund, which he described as "a clear red flag that they know that the Canadian Wheat Board will fail."

Referencing a 1969 sketch on a British TV show, Mitchell said the CWB "will die. As they said on Monty Python, ‘That parrot is dead.’ It will die."

Subsidies to farmers, he said, "will increase because prices will drop. The transport costs will go up because competitiveness in transport, as limited as it is, will go down."

U.S. trade challenges against Canadian grain exports "will expand," he said, "because the trade will become more evident" to U.S. producers.

Until Aug. 1, 2012, the government continues to prohibit deliveries of Board wheat or barley for export or human consumption to anyone other than the CWB. Only the CWB, or those with CWB export licenses, may export Board wheat or barley until then.

After Aug. 1, 2012, however, export licenses will no longer be required and Prairie growers will be able to directly arrange deliveries with, and deliver wheat or barley to, any domestic or export buyer.

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