Manitoba To Fight Changes To CWB

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The province of Manitoba will lead an advertising campaign to stop the federal government from stripping the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly on the western Canadian grain trade, the provincial government said last Monday.

Canada’s Conservative government plans to introduce legislation this autumn to end the board’s marketing monopoly on wheat, durum and barley by August 2012.

Premier Greg Selinger said the province is joining the CWB and some farm groups in demanding that Ottawa hold a vote by farmers to decide the CWB’s future, as required by the current legislation.

“With a farmer-controlled organization, it’s fundamental that they have the say and the plebiscite.”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has refused to call a farmer plebiscite. Selinger, who faces an election in autumn, said he would consider a lawsuit to stop the change only once the House of Commons has debated the new legislation.

The province’s New Democratic Party government is concerned about a potential loss of 400 jobs at the wheat board under the new marketing system as well as reduced shipping through Manitoba’s seldom-used Port of Churchill on Hudson Bay. The Conservative federal government has said that the wheat board can survive as a buyer of farmers’ grain on a voluntary basis, but the board says it cannot compete with private grain handlers without its own capital and grain storage.

While the board is campaigning against the change, it is also privately talking with the Canadian government about a potential new role for it, said wheat board chairman Allen Oberg.

“A strong and viable organization is possible, but the minister needs to have a business plan communicated to me and communicated to farmers,” he said. “Our role is to identify what would be required for a new organization on the Prairies, which is what you would be creating.”

The country’s biggest grain handler, Viterra, said last week it supports ending the monopoly, which it said would lead to greater returns for farmers, the industry and its own shareholders.

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