(September 29, 2014) With all the fuss over the private grain trade using their new-found position as middlemen between farmers and international customers to take over two billion dollars in extra profits just on wheat in the last crop year, the shenanigans surrounding Ritz’s crippled Wheat Board have been largely overlooked.

Growing with famers' and taxpayer dollars

Growing with famers’ and taxpayer dollars

This spring for the first time in 79 years the CWB failed to make their annual audited statement of operations public. The law requires the CWB to supply the Minister Responsible for the CWB with an audited statement by the end of the first quarter of each year. One can imagine that had the farmer-elected Directors behaved this way the cries of outrage from the Minister and his cheering section of astro-turf groups could have been heard all the way to Tasmania.

Yet the Minister’s office has done everything it can to prevent farmers from seeing this crucial document and is trying to off-load the responsibility by claiming it is the CWB who considers the audit confidential – never mind the fact the legislation is clear it is the Minister who has ultimate authority over the Crippled Wheat Board.

Finally under pressure from the Friends of the Wheat Board, media, and MP inquiries the Minister’s office released an audited statement but with the numbers on grain handlings, sales, and expenses removed. It is worth noting the only significant number in the partial audit released to the public is an acknowledgement that the Friends Class Action Law Suit constitutes a potential liability of $17 billion dollars.

Meanwhile Ritz’s CWB has been spending on inland grain handling facilities, even starting to pour concrete for a new terminal in Manitoba.

For farmers whose hundreds of millions of dollars in cash as well as the value of both hard assets like rail cars, ships, the downtown Winnipeg office building, and the billions of value in the CWB brand are at stake, the withholding of the audited statement seems ominous.

Canadian taxpayers should also have concerns. They are the ones providing financial guarantees to Minister Ritz’s Crippled Wheat Board. Minister Ritz has also allocated $350 million dollars of taxpayer money to his Wheat Board some of which showed up in last year’s audit for transition costs, but the rest is unaccounted for. Many suspect that part of the reason for the cash infusion was to provide political cover for the Harper government who promised a “strong and viable” voluntary CWB.

As many critics of killing the single-desk farmer-controlled Wheat Board pointed out, a strong and viable voluntary Wheat Board really meant creating a new grain handling system to compete with the already well established multinational giants. Creating that new grain handling system will cost billions of dollars with an uncertain outcome at best.

The fact Minister Ritz has chosen to keep the audit with real numbers for his Crippled Wheat Board a secret makes this writer suspect that there is much more to this story than Minister Ritz and his Prime Minister want revealed.

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