The Manitoba government is putting up $180,000 to pressure the federal government into letting farmers decide the Canadian Wheat Board’s future through a vote.
The provincial government hasn’t ruled out funding a legal challenge to prevent Ottawa from unilaterally removing the CWB’s monopoly on the sales of all western Canadian wheat and barley destined for export or domestic human consumption starting Aug. 1, 2012.
“We’ll consider that later,” Premier Greg Selinger said at a news conference June 13 at the CWB’s Winnipeg headquarters. “First of all it’s a parliamentary decision and so it’s a democratic debate. So we want everybody to be able to understand the issues and to be able to weigh in on the debate.”
The province’s campaign includes a petition farmers can sign online or at Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ offices.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our government stands firm in its resolve against the federal government’s recent decision and we’re calling on political representatives and all Manitobans to stand up for our farmers’ right to choose the future of their own Canadian marketing agency and to stand up for the benefits that accrue to our farmers and the economy,” said Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers, backed by cabinet colleagues Rosanne Wowchuk and Eric Robinson.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Gerry Ritz said western farmers gave the federal government the go-ahead in the recent federal election.
“Western Canadians gave this government a strong mandate and now they expect us to deliver on our commitments,” Ritz said following the Manitoba announcement.
He said the Manitoba government’s position is disappointing, but not surprising. “While the CWB claims to be supported by the majority of farmers, they fail to realize that every single farmer should have the right to choose how they market their grain,” Ritz said, noting the Saskatchewan and Alberta governments are on side with the federal stance.
“Our government wants the CWB to be a strong, viable option which is why we want to work with the board to avoid any delays in its transition that will only hurt its competitiveness in earning farmers business starting August 2012.”
The CWB was created by legislation in 1935 to assist in the orderly marketing of wheat after a voluntary wheat pool collapsed in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and low wheat prices that ensued during the Great Depression.
It has long been the Conservative government’s policy to end the CWB’s single- desk marketing powers and create an open market – the first time since 1943 for wheat and barley.
Although the CWB currently requires farmers vote on removing or adding crops to the CWB’s single desk, the Conservatives can use their majority in Parliament to change the legislation.
As for Ritz’s claim that the CWB can play a role in an open market, CWB chair Allen Oberg says only if the CWB receives the capital it needs to become a grain company. And even then it might not survive.
Losing the CWB would hurt the economies of Winnipeg, Churchill, Manitoba and the West, Selinger said. The CWB employs 400 people directly, plus 4,000 jobs are indirectly connected to the grain marketer, he said.
Churchill Mayor Mike Spense said the CWB accounts for 90 per cent of the business that goes through the only inland, deep-water seaport in the Prairie provinces.
CWB chair Allen Oberg said the ending of the single desk will have a huge impact on farmers and the entire Canadian economy.
Wheat is Western Canada’s largest volume crop with about 23 million tonnes produced annually. Ninety per cent is exported to 70 countries, he said.
“It is Canada’s biggest and highest -value agr icul tural export bringing Prairie farmers about $5 billion per year,” Oberg said.
“The Canadian Wheat Board was created for farmers, it exists for farmers and its future must be determined by farmers. We run it, we pay for it, we must decide its future.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Doug Chorney said its members are on both sides of the CWB debate, but KAP’s position is farmers should vote before the mandate is changed.
“I am a little perplexed that both Minister Ritz and my MP James Bezan promised before and during the election that farmers should be deciding the future of the CWB,” Chorney said. “To his credit James Bezan is on record as continuing to support that farmers should be the decision makers.”
Chorney, who is the treasurer of Lake Line Railroad, says without the CWB producer cars might not be viable and without producer cars short-line railways and producer car-loading facilities are at financial risk.
Currently the CWB takes delivery of almost all the producer cars shipped. Few go through grain companies, which would rather farmers deliver to their elevators.
Chorney said KAP has written Ritz asking him to explain how the CWB can add value in an open market.
“We need to know his plan to make this work,” he said. “Casual references saying, ‘don’t worry about the CWB it will be there,’ are not enough for farmers to be feeling that all is well.
“Manitoba farmers need to know about this issue and we need to hear answers to our questions.” [email protected]
– STAN STRUTHERS