Pro-single-desk directors continue to hold the balance of power at the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) following the most contentious wheat board election since they began in 1998.
Four of the five directors elected want the CWB’s monopoly on the sale of western wheat and barley for domestic human consumption or export to remain. That includes district 10 incumbent Bill Toews of Kane, Man., who won on the first count of the preferential ballot.
“Given the fact that the federal government did its best to undermine certain candidates and the board I think they (government) should step back and respect the process and respect the farmers and respect the elected directors,” Toews said.
“The board needs to be able to do its job and move ahead with marketing and branding Canadian wheat. The government’s actions are a significant distraction and (it) needs to stop.”
When combined with farmer-elected directors in odd-numbered districts, eight of the 10 elected directors support the single desk – the same ratio as before the election.
The Conservative minority government has tried to end the single desk since first elected in 2006. A change in the CWB’s mandate requires Parliamentary approval, which isn’t assured given the government’s minority status. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says if a majority of CWB directors supported an open market, opposition parties might be more agreeable to a change in the CWB’s mandate.
Ritz was unavailable to comment at press time.
Observers believed this election provided the pro-open-market side its best chance. Two long-time incumbent pro-single-desk directors, Ken Ritter and Ian McCreary, couldn’t run again because of term restrictions.
Some thought pro-single -desk incumbent Rod Flaman was vulnerable because he ran as a Liberal candidate in the recent federal election.
Meanwhile, Ritz removed around 16,000 names from the CWB voters’ list – a move some pro-CWB groups allege was illegal. He also lifted the
cap on third-party spending on election advertising.
The most controversial move, however, was letters sent by four Saskatchewan MPs, including David Anderson the Parliamentary secretary for the CWB, instructing ballot holders how to vote. The letters were sent postage-free on House of Commons stationery.
Several farm groups, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), accuse the MPs of misusing their office and failing to register with the election co-ordinator as third party interveners. The NFU also suspects the MPs may have had illegal access to the voters’ list and has asked the election co-ordinator and the government’s privacy commissioner to investigate.
Pro-single-desk farm groups are elated, however, with the election results.
“This is a huge victory for farmers,” NFU president Stewart Wells said in a news release.
“This was an important vote on the future of the CWB and prairie farmers have today unequivocally expressed their views at the ballot box,” said Seven Persons, Alta., farmer Laurence Nicholson, a member of Real Voice for Choice.
But the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA) says support for “marketing choice” is growing.
Open-market candidates garnered 43 per cent of first-round votes, up from 37 per cent in 2006 and 34 per cent in 2004, it said in a release.
“The odds are stacked against us when CWB records are used as the basis for determining the initial voters list,” WCWGA president Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel said in a release. “The election rules should be changed so that all bona fide grain farmers automatically receive a ballot, regardless of whether they deliver grain to the Board.”
Ballots were sent automatically to CWB permit book holders who had delivered to the CWB during this or the past crop year. All other grain producers could apply for a ballot.
Election co-ordinator Meyers Norris Penny said there were 31,244 eligible voters and 16,384 eligible ballots returned for a 52 per cent response – a huge response for a mail-in election.
The best return – 57.9 per cent – was in district 10; the poorest was 48.2 per cent in district 2 where Jeff Nielsen, the only pro-open-market candidate was elected.
The results are as follows:
District 2: Jeff Nielsen, Olds,
Alta., pro-open market.
District 4: Bill Woods, Eston, Sask., pro-single desk
District 6: Cam Goff, Hanley, Sask., pro-single desk
District 8: Rod Flaman, Edenwold, Sask., pro-single desk (incumbent)
District 10: Bill Toews, Kane, Man., pro-single desk (incumbent)