The Conservatives have tapped their Prairie bench strength to serve on a special legislative committee that will review the bill to end the Canadian Wheat Board s monopoly over wheat and barley sales.
There was nearly endless political jockeying over the bill, with NDP MP Pat Martin charging it was a conflict of interest for MPs who had, as farmers, dealt with the CWB something Tory MPs Rob Merrifield, David Anderson, Randy Hoback and Bob Zimmer have all done. Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said there is no formal conflict.
It is my understanding that there are some 70,000 grain farmers in Western Canada, she said. Although members who are grain farmers will have an interest in the subject matter of Bill C-18, it is an interest that is shared with a broad segment of the public and therefore falls within the exclusions set out in the act.
Alberta s Blaine Calkins will chair the committee. The opposition MPs on it include NDP ers Martin and Niki Ashton, and Liberal Frank Valeriote, don t have an agriculture background.
The bill has been given second reading, effectively approval in principle, and will now be studied by the committee before returning to the Commons for final approval and then on to the Senate.
Anderson said the government chose a legislative committee rather than the Commons agriculture committee so it can focus on the future, rather than go over what we ve already heard. It will hear from witnesses, including Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, on issues such as the future structure of the CWB, and how it will deal with grain companies and farmers in its post-monopoly future. Anderson said he didn t know how long the committee will be given to study the bill, but the process, including approval, is expected to be a quick one.
The president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture criticized the decision to use a legislative committee. Ron Bonnett said farmers should get a chance to address the agriculture committee about the impact of ending the monopoly.