Supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board took their protest to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, in a last-ditch effort to sway legislators as the bill to deregulate the board moves toward third reading.
Several CWB directors and a few Prairie grain farmers urged the Conservative government to drop plans to end the CWB’s marketing monopoly on Prairie wheat and barley destined for milling or export.
Legislation to end the monopoly as of August 2012 would allow western farmers to sell grain directly to grain handlers, and may be only a few weeks from becoming law.
"Eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board will cost Prairie farmers money, cost Canadian jobs, be a drain on taxpayers and change the nature of the country because thousands of family farms will disappear," CWB chairman Allen Oberg said in Ottawa.
A CWB spokeswoman said the directors planned to meet with MPs and senators this week in Ottawa.
The CWB monopoly, in place since the Second World War, has long divided Prairie farmers. Supporters say the monopoly’s marketing clout offers them the greatest returns, but others say they want the same flexibility in selling wheat and barley that they have with crops like canola and oats.
Alberta farmer Brian Otto, a longtime foe of the monopoly and head of the Western Barley Growers Association, said the CWB debate has gone on for decades and farmers have had their say.
The end of the monopoly does not threaten small farms who rely on the CWB to sell their crops, he said.
"It’s an insult to any farmer in my opinion to tell farmers they don’t know how to run their business. Small farmer or large farmer, we’re all capable of marketing our own crops."
In a non-binding summer plebiscite conducted by the CWB, 62 per cent of farmers voted to keep the wheat marketing monopoly. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, a former Saskatchewan farmer, has said that vote was flawed.
The government bill to end the monopoly is expected to pass third and final reading in the House of Commons next week. After that, it needs approval by the Senate and royal assent to become law.
The Conservatives hold a majority of seats in both the House and the Senate, ensuring the legislation will pass.
Once the bill becomes law, likely next month, grain handlers such as Viterra, Richardson International and Cargill will be allowed to immediately sign forward contracts with farmers for their 2012 grain harvests.
The CWB itself would then come under government control on its way to either privatization or dissolution.
It’s unlikely to survive without its monopoly since it has no capital base or ownership of grain-handling facilities, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, a former federal CWB minister, said Tuesday.
Court date set
The CWB and its supporters are also scheduled in a few weeks to argue against the government’s plans in court.
A Federal Court judge in Winnipeg is to hear the CWB’s case on Dec. 6, at the same time as an earlier application for judicial review from a farmer group, Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The CWB and FCWB maintain the government broke the law by neither consulting the CWB board of directors, nor holding a farmer vote before introducing legislation to scrap the monopoly.