Farmer directors of the Canadian Wheat Board plan to ask Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench to invalidate the legislation stripping the CWB of its single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley.
The board’s eight farmer-elected directors will go to court armed with last week’s Federal Court ruling that federal Ag Minister Gerry Ritz "breached his statutory duty" in introducing Bill C-18 without first conducting a vote among eligible Prairie grain growers.
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."
With that part of the ruling in mind, the federal government last week vowed to continue its push to pass C-18 before the end of the year.
C-18 has already cleared the House of Commons and awaits third and final reading in the Senate, where the Conservative majority plans to move closure Thursday (Dec. 15), halting debate and requiring the final vote on the bill immediately.
CWB chairman Allen Oberg on Wednesday called it "unconscionable for a government in a parliamentary democracy to proceed with legislation in the face of a court order that has declared it illegal."
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.
Oberg said Wednesday he has also written to Governor General David Johnston, asking him not to give royal assent to C-18 because of its "illegal nature."
"I believe it would be an affront to our system of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law to grant assent to a bill that has been declared in violation of Canadian law," Oberg wrote in that letter.
Oberg, a farmer from Forestburg, Alta., reiterated Wednesday that Prairie farmers "were promised by successive federal governments — including the current minister and his predecessor — that any changes to the CWB’s marketing mandate would be put to a producer vote, as required by law."
The law in question is Section 47.1 of the CWB Act, requiring a producer vote and consultation with the CWB’s directors before changes can be made to the CWB’s marketing mandate. The CWB Act itself is up for amendment and, ultimately, for repeal in C-18.
The Federal Court last week ruled it was "unreasonable to interpret (47.1) to conclude that while the minister must consult and gain consent when extracting or extending a grain, she or he is not required to consult or gain consent when dismantling the CWB."
Although C-18 remains on track through Parliament, the federal government last week also filed to appeal Campbell’s ruling.
A pro-deregulation group, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, announced Wednesday it will apply to intervene against the CWB directors’ application as soon as it’s filed.
"This reckless action by the CWB directors is causing needless uncertainty in the marketplace," Cherilyn Nagel, the Saskatoon-based group’s past president, said in a release. "It is costing farmers money. It’s time to put a stop to it."