By Stewart Wells
Western Producer, May 24, 2012

So here we are, a little more than 60 days from the end of the orderly marketing of wheat and barley in western Canada.  When July ends, so do the marketing advantages of the real Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

Of course those that have made careers by mindlessly bashing the Board at every turn are pleased.

But what about the rest of us—you know—the majority.

Despite the endless hype from Minister Gerry Ritz, and the long line of grain companies that pledged to ‘play nice’ with a voluntary Board, only one company has actually signed a handling agreement with the Board at the time of writing.

In July of last year, the farmer-lead CWB sent a letter to Minister Ritz outlining six points which we needed the government to think about if it was serious about trying to maintain some kind of voluntary Board.  Those six points included:

  •  Government willingness to be the initial owner of a new entity that has a share capital structure.  Under the circumstances, and in view of the short timeframes, a new entity would be unable to become operational under any other ownership structure.  An appropriate exit strategy would have to be put in place to enable the government to divest its shares in a new entity in due course.
  •  Government willingness to ensure regulated access to country and port terminal to ensure competitively-priced access to these facilities with service levels that would enable third parties to compete effectively.
  •  Government willingness to provide a new entity regulatory authority to direct its own grain to port terminals of its choosing.

Our concerns didn’t come out of thin air—they came after years of planning and looking at different options under which the CWB could continue to operate and add value for Prairie farmers.

And the Minister’s response to the issues we raised in the points above?  After a delay of several weeks, the Minister rejected these issues with one sentence in a return letter saying that our issues “appear inconsistent with an open and competitive grain market”.

Instead of acting responsibly, the government then went on to publicly insult the elected Directors as individuals, and the staff and CWB as an organization.  And on October 18 the Minister illegally introduced legislation which ended any elected any farmer oversight and control of the CWB.

As for the Minister’s creation—the Conservative Wheat Board, it is the exact opposite of ‘strong and viable’.  The recent announcement that the new temporary Board would cut its staff by more than ¾ shows just how maliciously untrue the Minister’s statements have been.  No asset-less start-up grain company is strong or viable when it has to rely 100% on its competitors for its day to day operations.  Period.

Organizations like the Friends of the CWB, the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance,  the Producer Car Shippers of Canada, the former elected Directors, the National Farmers Union, and others are fighting back.

In 2007 the Harper government tried to illegally remove barley from the jurisdiction of the CWB.  The Friends of the CWB and the CWB itself forced the issue into federal court and prevailed.  A peer-reviewed analysis by U.S. based economists that had access to the CWB books showed that our court action has put an extra $428 million dollars into the pockets of western Canadian farmers since 2007.

We did it then, and we can do it now.  To find out more visit  Don’t settle for less—support the Friends of the CWB and settle for more.

Stewart Wells was a farmer-elected director of the CWB and is currently the chairperson of The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board.

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