Legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly being tabled

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Legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board s monopoly was to be tabled in the House of Commons Oct. 18, but the board is fighting back and is urging farmers to fight too.

(Agriculture) Minister Ritz and Prime Minister Harper would like you to believe that this is a done deal, wheat board chair Allen Oberg told reporters Monday in Winnipeg.

But I am here to tell you that this is not over. We cannot, in good conscience, give up this fight. The government s approach is illegal, it is against the wishes of farmers and it is harmful to the economic interests of Canada. We will fight this in Ottawa, we will fight this in the courts and fight this in the court of public opinion.

Oberg said he ll call a board of directors meeting this week to go over the bill and plan the board s legal action.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told farmers and reporters at Matt Sawyer s farm near Acme, Alta., Monday that the government wants to pass historic legislation to remove the board s monopoly over the sale of western wheat and barley by year s end.

Farmers and the markets need clarity and certainty that marketing freedom and an open market is still on the horizon, he said.

The six-decades-old Canadian Wheat Board monopoly is yesterday s solution for yesterday s problems. The fact is today s farmers are entrepreneurs proving over and over again that they can do better if they have control over their farm and control over their own business bottom line.

With opposition parties vowing to have a full debate, the government could be forced to limit debate on the controversial bill.

No details

While Ritz didn t discuss the bill s details, he said farmers would still be able to market through a voluntary wheat board.

It wasn t known at press time what, if any, assistance the federal government might give the wheat board s successor to help it operate in an open market.

The wheat board, however, released six business requirements a new grain-marketing entity will need. The requirements, prepared by the board and KPMG, were sent to Ritz in July, but he hasn t responded to them, Oberg said.

They are:

” Capital/equity. Government needs to contribute $225 million to finance grain inventories and conduct business operations.

” Financing/borrowing. Government needs to guarantee borrowings for at least five years. The board says a new entity cannot access financing without government guarantees, given it has no track record.

” Risk management. Government needs to provide $200 million to replace its current guarantees of initial payments. A risk reserve is necessary to offer price pooling.

” Ownership structure. Government has to be the new entity s owner until there s time to draw up a different structure.

” Access to country and port grain terminals. Regulated access is needed to ensure competitively priced access and service to grain-handling facilities.

” Export access. Government needs to provide a new entity with regulatory authority to direct its grain to the port terminals it wants to use.

The current wheat board act requires farmers to approve, through a vote, any changes to the board s mandate, Oberg said.

This government has no plan, he said. It has done no analysis. It has not even consulted farmers. Its approach is based solely on a blind commitment to a sound-bite phrase called marketing freedom.

In the board s own plebiscite earlier this year 62 and 51 per cent of farmers voted to keep the board s monopoly for wheat and barley, respectively.

The wheat board adds $500 million a year to farmers bottom line, which will be transferred to giant multinational grain companies in an open market, according to Oberg.

For no reason, beyond an ideological crusade, this government will hand the Americans what they want on a silver platter and get nothing in return, he said. We will see the Americanization of our grain-marketing and grain-quality systems. And farmers will be the big losers.

Doing as promised

According to Ritz an open market will result in higher grain prices for farmers, more value-added processing in the West and boost Canada s economy.

Unlike what people may claim, the sky will not fall with an open market, Ritz said. We ve seen positive growth in both Ontario and Australia as farmers were given a choice.

Canada s farmers grow world-class food in a global marketplace that is ripe with opportunity. Farmers deserve the right to seize these opportunities. Our government will give farmers that right and the marketing freedom they want and deserve.

The Conservatives campaigned to end the board s monopoly during this spring s election and won every seat in the wheat board region, Ritz said. Now the government is making good on its promise.


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