Liberal senators have become more of a speed bump to the speedy passage of a bill to strip the Canadian Wheat Board of its marketing monopoly than the government expected.
Senators wrangled over a motion to refer the bill to the Senate agriculture committee during their sittings Nov. 22-24 without putting it to a vote. They advanced the same arguments that opposition MPs have employed complaining about the trampling of farmers democratic rights.
The Senate debate was to resume Nov. 29. The Senate s procedural rules are more flexible than the Commons, which gives the Liberal senators the latitude to pester the government.
However, the government can use its majority in the Upper House to bring the issue to a vote.
The government wants the Senate to take the unusual step of beginning to study the bill before it receives final approval from the Commons. MPs held their final debate and vote on the bill Nov. 28 when it was expected to be passed.
The government used its majority to defeat 12 opposition amendments to its Freedom for Grain Farmers Bill Nov. 23 and get the bill moved to third reading in the Commons. It has imposed a limit of one day for debate and a final vote on the bill after which it goes to the Senate.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the bill has to pass before Parliament starts its Christmas recess, which is expected to begin Dec. 16 or sooner. Otherwise, farmers won t be able to start forward contracting their 2012 crop in January.
Appointed directors remain
Speaking to reporters after a speech to the Grain Industry Symposium Nov. 23, Ritz said that as soon as the bill passes, he will order an audit of the CWB s books to see what shape they re in.
While the farmer-elected CWB directors will be dispensed with when the bill passes, he plans to retain the five government-appointed directors to lead the CWB s transition to its new structure.
He said that CWB president Ian White and John Knubley, the deputy federal agriculture minister, will continue to discuss the shape of the CWB after Aug. 1.
In a speech after the minister, Knubley said the government wants to give the CWB a chance to reinvent itself. It hopes the CWB will have a new business ready sooner than the four years the government is giving it.
Knubley headed the working group this past summer that laid the groundwork for the CWB legislation. There s still work to do on that file in regards to transportation and port facilities. The department is also working on a study on the working of the grain value supply chain, he added. The government also wants farmers to have the chance to learn to use marketing tools.
Much of the first day of the conference was devoted to life after the CWB monopoly. Unlike the political debate, there was little board bashing or praising.
The most critical comment came from Brant Randles, president of Louis Dreyfus Canada. He said the CWB brought a combative attitude to dealings within the grain system when a collaborative approach is needed for Canada to grow its export business.