How well did CWB, the government grain company formed after Ottawa ended the Canadian Wheat Board’s sales monopoly July 31, 2012, do during its first year in an open market?
We may never know.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz tabled CWB’s 2012-13 annual report, including its audited financial statement, in Parliament in July. But only the notes to the financial statement are public.
“(T)he minister (of agriculture, Gerry Ritz) tabled the CWB financial statements in Parliament as per the legislation,” an official in Ritz’s office wrote in an email Sept. 18.
“Certain sections were withheld under Section 21(1)3 of the act that allows the minister to withhold information deemed commercially sensitive.”
Stewart Wells, a former farmer-elected wheat board director and chair of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB), says he is outraged.
“There is a legal and moral obligation to the taxpayers of Canada and farmers to publish their results from 2012-13,” Wells, who farms near Swift Current, said in an interview last week.
“What would this minister have done if the farmer-elected board of directors had refused to publish an audited financial report?”
The old wheat board published a lot of detail about its activities, including its audited financial statements without compromising its business, he added. The same was true of the farmer-owned grain companies — which no longer exist.
The 26 pages of notes to CWB’s financial report help explain the statements, but don’t say how much money CWB made or lost, where it earned revenue from, where it spent money, how much grain it marketed or how the pools performed relative to spot prices.
Wells believes Ritz has overstepped his legal authority by essentially deeming the entire annual report commercially sensitive. The FCWB is considering asking the courts to force Ritz to make the report public, Wells said.
“We didn’t do it sooner because the minister’s office has promised that this report would be public when Parliament resumed,” he said.
Wells said he suspects CWB did poorly in its first year of operation. If so, that runs counter to Ritz’s promise of a “strong and viable” voluntary wheat board, he added.
The Canadian Wheat Act says CWB is to prepare an annual report and audited financial statement and present it to the minister of agriculture by March 31. The minister must soon after table it in Parliament, but can withhold commercially sensitive information.
According to Wells that would include specific sales prices to specific customers — something the wheat board never revealed either.
Since CWB is a government agency, taxpayers have a right to see the books, he said. So do competing grain companies to ensure the competition is fair.
Farmers should also see the books because the government promised they’d be better off in an open market than with single-desk selling for wheat and barley. If they’re not, FCWB could presumably use that information to bolster its $17-billon class-action lawsuit against the government for removing the wheat board’s monopoly.
Meanwhile, CWB has been on a buying and building spree, adding country elevators and eastern port terminals.
Coincidently, Farmers of North America is asking farmers to consider investing in a company to purchase CWB so farmers would control it. But why would farmers invest in something when they can’t see the books, Wells asked.