Support for single desk wasn’t ‘cooked up’

And farmers won’t control 
the voluntary CWB


CWB sign

In the heat of debate it’s easy to forget a fact or dismiss your opponent’s argument out of hand.

Perhaps that explains why Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz accused Lowe Farm farmer Dean Harder of citing a “cooked up” number when the two were sparring April 15 in Winnipeg over the privatization of CWB — the remnants of the old Canadian Wheat Board stripped of its monopoly marketing authority over western Canadian wheat and barley Aug. 1, 2012.

Dean Harder
Dean Harder speaks with the media after the CWB meeting. photo: Dave Bedard

“Sixty-two per cent of western Canadian farmers wanted to keep the single-desk selling, so choice does matter,” Harder told Ritz. “And now we are not given the choice of control (of CWB) anymore.”

“That’s a number you cooked up,” Ritz said. “I don’t agree with that at all.”

But the number wasn’t “cooked up.” In the summer of 2011, the wheat board conducted its own plebiscite, when counter to the wheat board act, the government refused to do so.

Farmers were asked if they wanted to retain the single desk or replace it with an open market. More than 38,000 ballots (a 56 per cent return) were counted and 61.8 per cent of farmers voted to keep the single desk for wheat and 51.1 per cent voted to keep it for barley.

As much as Harder would like the single desk returned, his question to Ritz was about the soon-to-be sold CWB not having any farmer control.

“My point is, will you reconsider the ownership (in CWB) — farmers gaining majority ownership? Because that is a travesty — a major travesty,” Harder said.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz taking questions from the media after the CWB meeting. photo: Dave Bedard

“In your opinion it is, but you’re a very minor portion of farmers out there,” Ritz replied. He earlier stated all the “relevant” farm groups support the sale.

Ritz had earlier promised farmers could have an open market and a “strong and viable” voluntary board controlled by farmers.

Appearing before the House of Commons agriculture committee Nov. 2, 2011 Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was specifically asked if farmers would control a post-monopoly wheat board.

“Yes, they will elect their own board,” he replied. “After the interim period, where we control it as a government, yes, they will elect their own board should they decide to do that.

“So once we’re past that interim (period) absolutely farmers will run it.”

Last week’s deal reveals farmers can earn up to 49.9 per cent equity in the new CWB by delivering grain, but only one trustee overseeing that equity will serve on CWB’s seven-person board — and equity holders won’t be able to choose that representative. After seven years, CWB has the option to buy out the farmers’ equity trust. However, farmers have no ability to cash in their equity unless they retire from farming or die.

CWB also says the company’s financial report will not be made public, although some details will be shared with farmers in the equity trust. Nor will there be annual farmer accountability meetings like the wheat board used to have.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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