“By taking this to court the Friends attempted to prove that this was not just a dirty trick, but it was an illegal dirty trick.”
– STEWART WELLS
AFederal Court judge has dismissed a farmer group’s call for a judicial review of changes in how the voters’ list is drafted for Canadian Wheat Board director elections.
Federal Court Judge James Russell dismissed the application by members of the Friends of the CWB Jan. 29, in which the group sought a review of orders made by federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Gerry Ritz in 2008 before CWB director elections that year.
The decision, which followed a hearing Jan. 20 in Winnipeg, also granted costs to the respondents in the case: the federal minister and attorney general, Meyers Norris Penny in its role as CWB election co-ordinator, and the CWB itself.
“We believe that farmers should be the ones voting in directors’ elections, not landlords and bankers,” Ritz said in a statement following the ruling. “It’s good to have validation from the courts on this important issue.”
Ritz’s order limited the number of CWB permit book holders who would automatically get a ballot only to those who delivered wheat or barley to the CWB in the 2007-08 or 2008-09 crop years.
Other growers, or those who grow other grains, thus need to apply for ballots, whereas previously all valid permit book holders received CWB election ballots.
APPEAL UNDER CONSIDERATION
“By stripping thousands of voters off the voters’ list and not directly telling them, the Harper government had engaged in another of a series of dirty tricks against the farmers and the CWB – full stop,” said Stewart Wells, spokesman for the Friends of the CWB in a release.
“By taking this to court the Friends attempted to prove that this was not just a dirty trick, but it was an illegal dirty trick,” Wells said.
Wells said his group is considering an appeal.
In a copy of the decision forwarded from Ritz’s office, Russell found the group’s allegation, that Ritz’s order was meant “to disenfranchise a certain group of eligible voters,” did not correspond with a reading of Ritz’s order “as a whole.”
Russell also poured cold water on the FCWB’s allegation that Ritz’s order was “inconsistent” with regulations governing the CWB and its elections.
Such an al legat ion, he
wrote, is “based on the faulty assumption that being named in a permit book is conclusive proof of an individual’s status as a producer.”
A permit book, he wrote, gives a person the right to undertake a certain activity, but doesn’t guarantee that the permit book holder will actually undertake that activity.
Russell also found “no evidence before me” that any of the individuals who filed the FCWB’s application had been directly affected, or might be directly affected, by the order.
The application listed 12 farmers including National Farmers Union past president Wells and current president Terry Boehm, former CWB
directors Butch Harder and Art Macklin, and former CWB candidate Paul Beingessner, who died last June and has been removed as an applicant.
Russell pointed out that but for one applicant farmer, Keith Ryan, all the applicants appeared on the initial voters’ list. Even Ryan’s right to vote “was not affected, and he may have even voted in the (2008 directors’) election.”
“It seems to me,” the judge wrote, that the FCWB members’ concern was not how Ritz’s order affects their voting rights, but to ensure the order doesn’t lead to changes in how the CWB does business.
Specifically, he wrote, there are “suggestions” from the FCWB members that behind Ritz’s decision is “some devious ploy to load the board of (the) CWB with directors who will be sympathetic to new ways of grain marketing.”
However, he wrote, “there is no evidence before me to connect these speculative fears with (Ritz’s order) and, even if there were, any personal impact upon the applicants would remain highly tenuous.”
On that basis alone, Russell wrote, the FCWB’s application should have been dismissed, but the judge ruled on their application’s merits anyway, “in the event it is determined I am wrong on the issue of standing.”
Russell wrote that he views Ritz’s order as “an attempt to ensure that only (grain) producers get onto the voters’ list and vote for directors. This is precisely what the (CWB Act) says must occur.”