Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz declared the battle for “marketing freedom” all but won in front of a friendly crowd at the 42nd annual Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association convention.
Noting that Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, received royal assent on Dec. 15, Ritz cited the “supremacy of Parliament” as meaning that the law to end the CWB’s monopoly over Western Canada’s wheat and barley trade will stand despite an upcoming legal challenge.
“At the end of the day, this is a done deal, folks. No one is going to weaken, no one is going to back off, C-18 is the law of the land,” said Ritz, who was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation at the conference titled, “Gearing up for Marketing Freedom.”
He urged farmers who have signed forward marketing contracts for their wheat and barley to send copies to his office to provide a “visual” in support of the government’s position ahead of the Jan. 17-18 Winnipeg Court of Queen’s Bench hearing.
Eight former CWB directors are calling for an injunction to stop the implementation of the law and restore the monopoly on those dates, but having a “stack” of contracts would help the government support its argument that farmers are embracing the prospect of dual marketing, he said.
“Our legal teams assure us that this injunction has no basis,” said Ritz, in response to a question on whether the court case might derail C-18.
In response to a question from Henry Vos, a former CWB director from Fairview, Alberta, who recently resigned from the board, about other legal “bumps in the road,” Ritz dismissed his opponent’s proposal of a class-action lawsuit over alleged lost premiums on grain sales as a “nuisance lawsuit.”
“They are trying a back-channel, scorched earth effort to throw every wrench or hump into the road they can. That’s where the steamroller image is great. We’ll just flatten them out and keep going,” said Ritz, to another round of applause from the crowd.
“The eight who were closing the door on a lot of options are no longer there. In fact, the locks have been changed. So there you have access,” said Ritz, to more applause.
Ritz acknowledged that many farmers, even if though they don’t support the single desk, still regard the CWB favourably. Those farmers will still be able to use the board, if they choose, he added.
“But by not moving an inch, they have lost any groundswell of support that they had in Western Canada,” said Ritz. “I’ve noticed a huge shift in them going too far in what they’ve done.”
Cherylyn Jolly-Nagel, WCWGA director and past president, said that the passage of Bill C-18 represents a culmination of WCWGA efforts over the past 42 years.
“Who are we kidding? We’ve been gearing up for decades. The exciting thing is that now everyone is joining us,” she said.