The Canadian Wheat Board, farm groups and other grain industry stakeholders have this summer to submit their ideas to the Harper government for keeping the CWB viable without a monopoly on wheat and barley sales.
David Anderson, the parliamentary secretary for the CWB, said in an interview legislation to end the monopoly won’t be presented to Parliament until the fall. Bureaucrats will be drafting the legislation over the summer and the government is looking for suggestions for the bill.
The government is within its powers in ending the monopoly the same as it was created – by an act of Parliament, officials say.
However, don’t expect a producer plebiscite as some groups have urged, the most recent being the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Anderson says ending the monopoly has been a clearly stated Conservative objective since 2006. Winning 49 of the 53 Prairie seats, including all the rural ones, is enough of a plebiscite, officials say.
The legislation will aim at ending the monopoly for the 2012-13 crop year, which begins in 14 months. The government wants to stick to a tight timeline for passing the legislation so farmers will know before next spring what the CWB will offer, he said.
“Over the next few months, we want to put in place a strategy for keeping the board viable for the farmers who want to use it,” Anderson said. “We want to hear from the whole value chain on what would work.”
Grain Growers of Canada, backed by other farm groups, have urged CWB chairman Allan Oberg and president and CEO Ian White to begin discussing what changes are needed “to have an effective and competitive CWB in an open market environment.”
Key issues that need to be discussed are what federal financial guarantees are required, whether the board should be a co-operative or even a private company, if it should have an ongoing role in providing cash advances to farmers and how the board would market crops.
“Our goal at the Grain Growers of Canada is, and has always been, to see a successful CWB in the open market and are prepared to work with you to ensure you have the tools in your tool box to make that opportunity a reality,” Grain Growers president Stephen Vandervalk says in a statement.
The two sides have “a year to think through, not only what the CWB will look like, but also how to handle all of the change-related issues,” he adds.
Farmers should have the choice of selling grain on their own, to processors, grain handlers or the board, he said. “It’s now time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get to work on progressively shaping change.”
Grain Growers and other commodity groups want the government to replace the Canadian Wheat Board Act with a Grain Marketing Act “which provides for marketing choice and the continuation of the CWB as a voluntary marketing organization. This approach will also ensure the legislation can withstand any possible court challenges, which will invariably occur if efforts are made to simply tinker with the provisions of the existing act.”
Among the issues that need to be resolved are the “use of CWB cars, car allocation, shipper of record, future acquisition of assets, ability to market other crops, outstanding debt and interest charges on CWB sales, government guarantees, cash advances, Canadian International Grains Institute funding, bonding, wheat and barley research checkoffs, dispute resolution processes, grain-handling agreements, ownership structure of CWB, etc.,” the groups said.