“Charlie Mayer and Bill Knight, …they didn’t much like the Canadian Wheat Board, but they didn’t attempt to shoot it in the head in the middle of the night.”
– RALPH GOODALE
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is trying once more to turn control of the Canadian Wheat Board over to farmers.
The architect of the 1998 amendments to the CWB Act has introduced a private member’s bill to clarify and strengthen the intent of those changes.
Those reforms, which changed the board to a “shared governance” agency with farmers electing 10 out of 15 board of directors, have been eroded by recent court rulings that found the federal government is within its legal authority to impose its will.
Goodale said Bill C-548 would:
Increase the influence of western farmers in selecting independent, outside directors to serve on the CWB’s board of directors and reduce the role of the federal government;
Limit the government’s authority to give orders to the CWB to cases where the government’s financial guarantees or Canada’s international trade obligations might be affected;
Strengthen the rules for a fully democratic vote among grain producers before any legislation could be introduced to change the CWB’s single-desk marketing system; and
Require the federal government to conduct itself in a more consultative and collaborative manner in dealing with the CWB.
Private members’ bills are usually a low priority in Parliament and few become law. However, it’s different in a minority House of Commons.
“I think if we can get it to a vote we will win the vote,” Goodale said.
The bill appears to include what the CWB’s board of directors has been asking for, said chair and Forestberg, Alta. farmer Allen Oberg.
“Obviously this will need to go to our directors in July and then we’ll have a really close look at it,” Oberg said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement it’s good Goodale recognizes his 1998 legislation is flawed.
“It’s unfortunate that the Liberals still won’t admit that their legislation’s biggest flaw is that it continues to shackle western farmers to the unfair monopoly,” Ritz said.
“If the Liberals care about democracy they’ll help us pass legislation to make sure real farmers are the ones voting in directors’ elections. That change has to come before any other changes are discussed.”
If farmers vote to end the monopoly in favour of an open market, based on a clearly worded plebiscite and fair election, Goodale said he would accept it.
To facilitate a fair vote Goodale’s bill includes the question’s wording based on what was recommended by a number of general farm organizations, including the Keystone Agricultural Producers.
Farmers would select one of two options:
Option 1 – All domestic and export sales of _____ should be removed entirely from the single-desk marketing system of the Canadian Wheat Board and placed on the open market.
Option 2 – The Canadian Wheat Board should remain the single-desk seller of all ____, with the continuing exception of feed grain sold domestically.
Goodale rejects the government’s position that farmers can have the CWB and an open market. “Our point is just be honest about that. It’s either the single desk or it’s the open market – make your choice.”
Currently the government appoints the CWB’s president-chief executive officer and four directors. Under Goodale’s bill the government will still appoint the CEO, but just two other directors; the CWB’s 10 farmer-elected directors would appoint the other two.
The purpose of the outside directors is to get additional expertise, Goodale said.
“This government, unfortunately, has… tried to nullify producer control by appointing directors who hold clearly hostile views to those who are elected…”
According to Goodale, the government’s ongoing efforts to undermine the CWB demonstrate it doesn’t believe farmers, in a fair plebiscite, will vote to give up the single desk. He described the government’s actions from firing its CEO, to openly interfering in CWB elections, as “shocking and illegitimate.”
“You think back to the years with (Progressive Conservative agriculture ministers) Charlie Mayer and Bill Knight, they didn’t much like the Canadian Wheat Board, but they didn’t attempt to shoot it in the head in the middle of the night,” Goodale said. [email protected]