Making sure farm-e rs control the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and not the federal government has become a top priority for CWB chair Allen Oberg and the CWB’s board of directors.
The CWB’s board voted at its meeting last month to clarify and enhance farmer control of the marketing agency, Oberg, who farms at Forestberg, Alta., said during a news conference July 30.
“What I’m hearing from farmers is they do want more control over their own democracy, they want clearer rules when it comes to election of directors, fewer directives from Ottawa and only used in exceptional circumstances,” he said. “I’m not saying there isn’t a role for government in the operation of the board but it certainly needs to be a proper balance there.”
Farmer control was the intent of amendments to the CWB Act in 1998 that made the CWB accountable to a 15-member board of directors, 10 of whom are farmers, elected by farmers, according to Ralph Goodale, the minister of agriculture at the time.
While the CWB has won some legal challenges in its battle with a hostile federal government, the courts have ruled under Section 18(1) of the CWB Act the governor-in- council (cabinet) can issue directions “with respect to the manner in which any of its (CWB) operations, powers and duties… shall be conducted, exercised or performed.”
There’s been a running power struggle between the CWB and Conservative government since it first formed government in 2006 promising to abolish the CWB’s single-desk marketing powers. The CWB’s board says that should only occur if farmers approve it in a properly conducted plebiscite as prescribed in the CWB Act.
Oberg said the CWB will continue to make its views known to the government, as well as opposition parties.
There are two bills before the House of Commons now dealing with the CWB. Bill C-27, which comes from the government, proposes to change the rules for voting in CWB elections.
However, C-548, Goodale’s private member’s bill, would overhaul the act firmly putting farmers in the driver’s seat.
Private member’s bills rarely become law, but given the government doesn’t hold the majority of seats, Goodale said he’s optimistic it will pass if the bill gets debated.
“WhatI’mhearing fromfarmersistheydo wantmorecontrolover theirowndemocracy, theywantclearer ruleswhenitcomesto electionofdirectors, fewerdirectivesfrom Ottawaandonly usedinexceptional circumstances.”