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Wheat Board: Harper thumbs his nose at democracy and the courts

Reg McQuaid

January 10, 2012

Few issues more clearly demonstrate the anti-democratic and arrogant style of the Harper government than its five-year campaign to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

To farmers, the right to market one’s produce collectively is as valuable as factory workers’ right to bargain collectively. But neither right has any place in the free market world of the Tories, still committed to a failed model which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few while destroying the social fabric and the environment.

On October 18, Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act was introduced in the House of Commons, and was rushed through the legislative process without allowing Agricultural Committee hearings. It passed third reading on November 28 and was sent to the Senate for action, where similar fast-track treatment from the Conservative majority awaited it. It passed third reading in December, and was sent to Governor General David Johnston for Royal Assent before Christmas.

Wheat Board supporters have organized, led by CWB’s farmer-controlled board of directors, and have fought back against the government takeover at every turn.

Last summer, when the government refused to organize a plebiscite on the issue as required by existing legislation, the Wheat Board conducted its own plebiscite, which showed nearly two-thirds of wheat farmers in favour of continuing single-desk marketing.

When the government ignored the results of the plebiscite by unilaterally introducing Bill C-18, the CWB and supporting organizations filed a court action in Winnipeg against the proposed legislation. Federal Court Judge Douglas Campbell ruled the government violated the Canadian Wheat Board Act by not holding a vote among farmers before introducing legislation eliminating the Wheat Board’s monopoly position. The government immediately announced it would appeal the ruling, while ignoring its effect by pushing forward with the legislation.

The Wheat Board and its supporters wrote to Governor General Johnston, asking him not to assent to Bill C-18, to no avail. A plea to a Winnipeg provincial court, asking for an injunction against government implementation of the bill before a final ruling with regard to its legality, was rejected.

All this has created confusion for wheat and barley farmers, who should now be entering into sales contracts for their 2012 crop. This is a direct result of the actions of a government that puts the interests of multinational grain companies over that of Prairie farmers.

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