The Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) election co-ordinator says it’s not up to him to determine if the five Conservative MPs who urged voters to vote for open-market candidates in the CWB elections last year should have registered as third-party interveners.
“There’s really no ability for the election co-ordinator to do any investigative function,” Ian Craven said in an interview March 10. “We were not able to get any guidance (on the MPs actions) that was very conclusive, and at the end of the day, we felt we were going to have to leave that issue up to somebody else to determine.”
If it’s not the election co-ordinator’s job, whose is it?
Probably not the CWB’s, at least not directly, since the reason for hiring an election coordinator is to keep the CWB at arm’s length during elections.
The election regulations under the CWB Act point to the election co-ordinator, stating in part, that the “co-ordinator shall ensure that the conduct and management of the election of directors is conducted fairly, impartially and in accordance with the act and the regulations.”
The CWB agrees with Craven, said corporate secretary, Deborah Harri.
“The co-ordinator doesn’t have that kind of power, but that’s one of the issues that we’re going to be looking at in our own review (of election regulations),” she said.
The CWB will then make recommendations to the federal government on how to improve the elections which alternate between even-and odd-numbered CWB districts every two years.
In contrast, during the 2000 CWB election Craven’s predecessor, Peter Eckersley, believed he had the power to identify third-party interveners and did. But when the group he fingered didn’t comply, the question then became who enforces the regulations and how?
More than eight years later there’s still no answer, although the CWB acknowledges gaps in the election regulations need filling. Either the election coordinator has the authority to enforce the rules but doesn’t want to, or the regulations need to be clarified and strengthened.
The National Farmers Union and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, which agree on little, have never liked the co-ordinator system. Both have said Elections Canada should oversee CWB elections. But in 2005, a government-appointed election review panel said Elections Canada doesn’t have that mandate.
Included among its 14 recommendations the farmer-panel said the CWB’s board of directors should replace the election co-ordinator with an “independent election commissioner,” with his or her own budget.
“The independent election commissioner will promote the autonomy, transparency and integrity of the electoral system,” the panel’s report says. “This power does not exist in the current system to enforce election rules and regulations.”
None of the recommendations has been implemented, but not for a lack of trying, according to, David Anderson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resource. The government responded by tabling Bill C-57 last May. “The opposition refused to let this bill pass,” Anderson said in an e-mail.
However, C-57 proposed only one change. Instead of all actual producers and interested parties getting to vote, only actual producers who produced at least 120 tonnes of grain in either of the two previous completed crop years would get a ballot.
(The panel recommended the threshold be 40 tonnes.)
Ian Wishart, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, says it’s important that the election rules are enforced to ensure the integrity of the outcome. But he opposes opening the CWB Act under a government so hostile to the CWB.
“I can’t see them being friendly to put in the changes that we would need to clarify this without trying to slip something else in,” he said. “Just look at all the things they slipped in with this incentive budget that didn’t need to be there.”
Craven said he will soon hand over his election report to Ian White, the CWB’s president and CEO. The report will become public, but Craven and the CWB are at odds over whose responsibility it is to distribute it. Craven says it’s up to the CWB, while CWB spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry says it’s the election co-ordinator’s job.
The co-ordinator’s website was recently shut down. If the co-ordinator distributes the report, presumably the website will be reopened. [email protected]