Appeal Court upholds “marketing freedom” law

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz didn’t break the law by introducing legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled.

“We are pleased with this decision,” Ritz said in an email.

In December, Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell agreed with the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board that Ritz breached Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states an agriculture minister must first consult with the wheat board’s directors and then get farmers’ approval through a vote before adding or removing crops from the board’s single desk.

Federal Appeal Court Justice Robert M. Mainville, writing on behalf of his two colleagues, disagreed.

“After carefully considering the legislative history and the context in which Section 47.1 was adopted, I am of the view that none of the arguments advanced by the respondents or the interveners can sustain an interpretation that would preclude the minister from introducing in Parliament legislation which would fundamentally modify the CWB’s mandate or which would lead to the repeal of the CWB Act,” Mainville wrote in a 47-page decision.

The ruling was a disappointment, said Stewart Wells, a former wheat board director and chair of Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board.

“Section 47.1 was an insurance policy against the reckless and irresponsible actions of some government,” said the Swift Current, Sask. farmer.

“Now that farmers need the coverage… the government is saying if you look at the fine print this insurance policy only covers minor changes… not the complete loss of the single desk.”

It’s absurd to think a farmer vote is required to add or remove a crop from the wheat board’s mandate, but not if the board’s single desk is being removed completely, said Wells.

The court noted the new act does not “restrict the ability of grain producers to associate for the purpose of marketing or pooling their products” — an issue at the heart of a $17-billion class-action lawsuit launched by the Friends group. However, Wells said his group plans to continue that court action.

Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association president Kevin Bender welcomed the Appeal Court’s ruling.

“Marketing freedom is here and here to stay,” said Bender.

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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