Canadian Wheat Board election co-ordinator Ian Craven is investigating whether four Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) illegally used the CWB election voters’ list to send letters last month advising farmers how to vote.
He’s also seeking a legal opinion as to whether federal politicians should be registered as third-party interveners.
The letters, sent on House of Commons letterhead by MPs David Anderson, Randy Hoback, Kevin Sorenson and Ed Komarnicki, instruct ballot holders to vote for pro-open market candidates in the CWB elections. (The letter also incorrectly tells farmers they can fax in their ballot. In fact, ballots were to be returned in a special envelope.)
Opposition MPs have accused Anderson, who is the parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for the CWB, with breaching the MPs’ Code of Ethics and misusing parliamentary privileges, such as free mail delivery to constituents.
The matter was referred last week to the ethics commissioner and Speaker of
“There needs to be a serious investigation into this.”
– Stewart Wells
the House of Commons for a ruling.
Under CWB election rules only candidates have access to the voters’ list. Non-candidates that spend money to support a candidate must register and account for their spending.
Several pro-CWB farm groups, including Real Voice for Choice, say some names and addresses only appear in CWB permit books and on the list.
“All the circumstantial evidence points in that direction,” said National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells. “There needs to be a serious investigation into this.”
Craven, who works for the accounting firm Meyers Norris Penny, said in an interview Nov. 27 two of the candidates named in Anderson’s letter said they didn’t know Anderson was sending the letter. They also said they did not give Anderson the voters’ list.
Craven said this is the first time federal politicians have promoted specific candidates in a CWB election. He’s seeking legal counsel on whether those MPs should have registered as third-party interveners.
When asked if he used the voters’ list Anderson replied: “We’ve got all kinds of lists of people. Over the years I’ve talked to thousands of people about this issue. There’s obviously phone books. There are lots of lists out there and there’s cer tainly nothing behind this.”
Asked to explain having names of individuals and numbered companies that only appear in permit books Anderson said, “the only permit book I have access to is my own.”
The MPs Code of Ethics says MPs are not to use their office to further their own private interests by promoting someone else’s interest. The code says MPs’ action shouldn’t “result, directly or indirectly, in… the person becoming a director or officer in a corporation, association or trade union; and the person becoming a partner in a partnership.”
The code also states: A Member shall not use his or her position as a Member to influence a decision of another person so as to further the Member’s private interests or those of a member of his or her family, or to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests.”
It’s no secret the Conservative government wants to end the CWB’s single-desk marketing authority and create an open market, but according to NDP MP Pat Martin, Anderson’s actions were undemocratic and an abuse of government power.
“They’ve crossed all sorts of lines here,” Martin said from his Ottawa office. “Implicit is the message that ‘we’re the government and here’s what we want you to do.’ You could read into that there would be consequences or a downside if you don’t do this…”
CWB chair Larry Hill said he was disappointed by Anderson’s actions. The issue is for farmers to decide without others interfering, he said.
Anderson said if he had thought his actions were wrong, he wouldn’t have sent the letters.
“We think it’s important to work with the board after the election, to have board members there willing to work with us,” he said an interview. “That was really the only purpose behind the letter – to let people know who those candidates are and to let them know they are willing to work with us and we’re willing to work with them.”
Anderson, unrepentant last week during question period, said opposition critics were out of touch with western farmers.
“I’m sorry they only get their advice from extremists in the agriculture community,” Anderson said. “I’m sorry they’re here today defending the big wheat board against the individual farmers.
“We’re going to bring marketing choice Mr. Speaker and we’re going to do that soon.”
The deadline for returning CWB election ballots was Nov. 28. Results will be announced Dec. 6 or 7, depending on the need for a recount.
The future of the CWB hinges on the outcome. Currently eight of the 10 farmer-elected directors oppose the government’s call for an open market in wheat and barley. And they hold the balance of power, despite the fact that presumably the five government-appointed directors back the government’s agenda.
If a majority of the board endorsed an open market it might make it easier for the minority Conservative government to pass legislation creating an open market. [email protected]