If Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) assets are sold, the money should be returned to producers, says Ron Kostyshyn, the province’s newly minted minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives.
“The sacrifice of two cents on a bushel of wheat, historically… was put into some type of investment for the betterment of grain transportation,” he told reporters during Brandon Ag Days.
If items such as rail cars are now sold, the profit should be put back into programs designed to help farmers transition to the open market, Kostyshyn said.
“And what’s going to happen with the CWB building in Winnipeg? Where are some of these assets going to be distributed?” he said. “Isn’t it fair to continue to ask for some of the money to be used within the provincial Treasury Department to provide additional support whether it be through educational programs, or through some other means of subsidizing the transition period?”
Discussions between the federal government, the provincial Finance Department, and grain producers would be needed to facilitate such a transfer of assets, said Kostyshyn.
Earlier this month, a class-action lawsuit was filed by Regina lawyer Tony Merchant targeting CWB assets valued at more than $15 billion. In a release, he stated assets such as buildings, cash and rail infrastructure, “cannot simply be subsumed by the federal government.”
The statement of claim names Duane Filson of Woodrow, Saskatchewan, a municipal politician and farmer, as the representative plaintiff.
When asked about the viability of the lawsuit, Kostyshyn said he would like to think it will be successful.
Other legal challenges have also been brought against Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom Act for Grain Farmers, which passed the Senate last year, and has received royal assent from Governor General David Johnston.
Following a legal challenge by the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board last December, Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell ruled that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the Canadian Wheat Board Act by introducing into Parliament Bill C-18, which will create an open market as of Aug. 1, 2012.
Kostyshyn didn’t rule out the use of provincial money to fund potential transition programs if federal funding is not forthcoming, but said there have been no formal discussions regarding the issue.
“But we are, right now, in the budget-processing (period), so money is on the table,” he said.
Assistance for producers in areas with less access to his department’s offices would be one of the priorities, said the minister, adding he wants to keep lines of communication open and consistent during the transition process.
“Our government stood with the majority of producers that wanted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board, but as we all know we now face new realities,” he said. “Now we need to adapt and keep moving forward.”