Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB) is appealing a Federal Court decision upholding changes to the CWB’s voters’ list made by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in 2008.
The coalition of farmers and others in support of the CWB contend Justice James Russell erred on two points in Winnipeg Jan. 29, said FCWB spokesman and Swift Current-area farmer Stewart Wells.
Justice Russell ruled Ritz had the legal authority to stop CWB permit book holders from automatically getting a ballot in the CWB’s election for directors if they didn’t deliver grain to the CWB in either the 2007-08 or 2008-09 crop years.
Those permit book holders could still request a ballot. But according to Wells, CWB election regulations state permit book holders should automatically get a vote.
“If they (federal government) are able to attack the permit book and change the permit book regulations just with letters from the minister then it’s really an attack on the whole orderly marketing system,” Wells said in an interview Feb. 27.
Justice Russell also ruled the farmers who triggered the court challenge didn’t have the legal standing to do so. The CWB has the authority to take the matter to court, but Wells said the current federal government, which doesn’t support the CWB, could order it to stand down in future actions. In that case, neither farmers nor the CWB could fight government orders believed to be illegal, Wells said.
“That’s a scenario the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board are prepared to guard against and try to make sure doesn’t happen,” he added.
Under the CWB Act and regulations, CWB permit book holders, and interested parties such as crop-share landlords named in the permit books, are to be placed on the voters’ list provided to the CWB election coordinator and automatically receive ballots. However, in a July 23 letter to the CWB, Ritz ordered the CWB not to include permit book holders on the voters’ list if they haven’t delivered grain either that or in previous crop years.
“Although these individuals may hold permit books they have not clearly established they are eligible producers,” Ritz stated in the letter, which FCWB only found out about Sept. 15, 2008 after writing the CWB.
“Once you have a permit book, according to the act, you are an eligible voter, period,” Wells said in an interview in 2008. “It has nothing to do with having delivered grain to the wheat board last year.”
According to FCWB, Ritz also directed the CWB to add to the voters’ list “a number of persons who are not defined as producers in the (CWB) act and thus are not eligible to vote in the elections, which is contrary to the act and regulations.”
Wells accused the government of making it harder for those inclined to vote for candidates in support of single-desk selling to do so and easier for those who support an open market.
Russell, in his ruling, said he found “no evidence” that any of the individuals who filed FCWB’s application had been directly affected, or might be directly affected, by Ritz’s order. Based on that alone, FCWB’s application should be dismissed, Russell wrote. But he ruled on their application’s merits anyway, “in the event it is determined I am wrong on the issue of standing.”
If the three-member Federal Court of Appeal upholds Justice Russell’s decision, the FCWB will have to get the law changed so the minister cannot unilaterally change how the CWB operates, Wells said.
“What that would signify is… the government would be taking control of the wheat board instead of the farmers and that’s just a step backwards for the farmers of Western Canada,” he said. [email protected]