“It’s one of the few well-defined pieces of the regulation: what information (candidates and third parties) have to provide.”
– IAN CRAVEN, MNP
Two candidates in last fall’s Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) director elections and a pair of third-party interveners have declined to disclose their donors and advertising expenses, highlighting the need to clarify election rules, their enforcement and the penalties for breaking them.
Election regulations, under the CWB Act, state each candidate and third-party intervener must submit a report to the election co-ordinator listing the names of donors of more than $100 and the amount, as well as how much was spent on advertising (see related story, page 15). One of the reasons for disclosure, according to CWB chair Larry Hill, is to ensure fair elections.
Unsuccessful District 10 candidate Barry Reimer of Killarney said he didn’t submit the information as a “protest against the wheat board,” adding that “I have nothing to hide,”
But Morris-area District 10 candidate Rolf Penner and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA), which registered as a third-party intervener, claim they complied with the regulations, even though the election co-ordinator, Ian Craven of Meyers Norris Penny, disagrees.
Penner and WCWGA executive director Blair Rutter said they submitted the required informat ion to Craven on the condition he not share it with the CWB. Craven said he could not agree to those conditions, based on legal advice he received, and listed both as “non-reporting” in his report submitted to the CWB.
“It’s not up to the candidate or up to the third-party intervener to provide instructions as to what can or cannot be done with the information provided,” Craven said in an interview. “It’s one of the few well-defined pieces of the regulation: what information they have to provide.”
Section 28.1 of the regulations state: “After each election, the election co-ordinator shall submit to the (CWB) president a report on the election, which may include any matter concerning election expenses.”
Rut ter said Sect ion 28. 1 doesn’t specifically state that the CWB is to get the names of donors.
“The regulat ions aren’t clear,” he said. “Did Parliament intend that a list of all donors be disclosed publicly?”
According to Hill, it is clear and necessary that candidates and third parties report so elections are transparent. Farmers want to see if anyone has an “undue influence” over the process.
Larry Bohdanovich, chair
of the pro-CWB group Real Voice for Choice, said farmers need to know if grain companies, or others who would benefit at farmers’ expense by the CWB’s demise, are funding the WCWGA or individual candidates.
The WCWGA doesn’t want the CWB seeing the names of its donors for fear of reprisals, Rutter said. Penner cited the same reason for not disclosing the names of his donors.
“The wheat board has discriminated against those who don’t share its political views so why should we put our members at risk for holding political views that are different from those of the wheat board?” Rutter said.
Asked for examples, Rutter said WCWGA members are routinely denied export licences and some of its members who grow durum wheat believe they are singled out more often for CWB bin audits.
Hill denied the allegations as “mudslinging.” If such abuses occurred they would have come to the attention of the CWB’s board of directors, he said.
The WCWGA received five donations of more than $100, totalling $2,600, to be used in the CWB election, Rutter said. The WCWGA didn’t spend any money on election advertising, he added.
Penner said 46 people contributed $15,116.67. Donations ranged from $100 to $1,500. He spent just under $14,000 on election advertising.
Bohdanovich, who farms at Grandview, was the other third party who didn’t submit CWB election donations and spending to the election coordinator. Bohdanovich said he registered as a third party, but didn’t receive donations or spend on advertising. He said he expected to have the matter cleared up this week.
All agree on the need to clarify the CWB election rules and how they are enforced. The CWB has a list of recommendations it will present to Ottawa to make the process better, Hill said.
CWB elections need to be overseen by an independent commission instead of a company hired by the CWB, Rutter and Penner said. That was among the recommendations made by a farmer-panel appointed by the federal government three years ago.
Meyers Norris Penny has said enforcing election rules is up to the CWB, Rutter said.
Bohdanovich said he complained, to no avail, to the CWB for failing to force several Conservative MPs to register as third-party interveners after sending letters to CWB voters urging them to vote for anti-single-desk candidates.
Hill agreed changes need to be made to make election rules enforceable. He added that the CWB will write those who haven’t provided their election information.
A CWB official confirmed that until they do, Penner and Reimer will not get their $500 deposits returned.
If Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz requests the WCWGA make public the names of its CWB election donors, it will comply, Rutter said.
Asked in an e-mail if he would do so, Ritz replied: “Everyone recognizes that the Canadian Wheat Board director election process needs to be improved. It’s our hope that the opposition parties will work with us for the benefit of western Canadian farmers.” [email protected]