CWB privatization attracts national attention

The former wheat board responds in ‘open letter,’ while the NFU calls on the western provinces 
to buy the board’s assets until farmers can take control

Maybe it was MP Pat Martin’s question to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz: “Has the minister lost his freaking mind?” or a recent Globe and Mail editorial, but CWB’s transition to a private grain company is getting lots of attention beyond the farm sector.

So much so CWB issued an ‘open letter’ Dec. 5 to explain what it’s doing and the National Farmers Union (NFU) is asking the western provinces to buy and hold CWB’s assets until farmers can take control.

What fired up Martin, the NDP member from Winnipeg Centre, and the Globe, are rumours the federal government will give away CWB’s assets, possibly to an American grain company.

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Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Unlike Martin, the Globe and Mail supports the federal government’s decision to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s sales monopoly. But what the colourful MP and national newspaper do agree on is the government’s and CWB’s lack of transparency, including Ritz’s decision not to release CWB’s financial statements.

“Given that CWB is a company owned by Canadians, a creature of Parliament with its board and management appointed by the government, this can’t be justified,” the Globe said. “It’s CWB, not CSIS. It’s a business that markets grains. As long as it’s a public company, make its financials public. That way, if and when it is sold, Canadians will be able to judge whether they got value for money. This shouldn’t be hard for the government to understand.”

The notion that the CWB is being given away probably stems from an Oct. 11 Winnipeg Free Press story that reported the money used to purchase CWB will remain with the new company providing additional working capital.

CWB’s Dec. 5 letter says it needs a partner with a lot of capital and grain-handling experience.

CWB also justifies keeping its financial information secret noting its competitors do too.

Meanwhile, some farmers are afraid they will lose CWB’s assets, estimated by former wheat board directors at around $300 million, based on the board’s final public annual report. (CWB and Ritz say CWB assets belong to the government, not farmers.)

The National Farmers Union is urging the western provinces, including British Columbia, to purchase and hold them until a plan putting farmers in control is developed.

“The federal government is preparing to confiscate millions of dollars’ worth of assets built up by the farmer-directed CWB and appears ready to turn them over to one of the same multinational grain companies the single-desk CWB successfully competed with in the world grain market until August 1, 2012,” Deleau farmer and NFU director Ian Robson said in a news release. “How did Minister Ritz develop this sinister plan to steal the farmers’ CWB assets?”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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