Strahl fires wheat board president

Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl fired the president of the Canadian Wheat Board on Tuesday, amid a controversy over the Conservatives' plan to end the agency's monopoly.

Measner 'very disappointed' but not surprised by firing

Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahlhas fired the president of the Canadian Wheat Board amid a controversy over the Conservatives' plan to end the agency's monopoly.

Adrian Measner, a 32-year veteran of the wheat board who has led it since 2003, was issued his termination notice Tuesday, officials with the Winnipeg-based grain marketing agency said.

"I'm very disappointed. It's still a shock to have this happen, there's no question about that," Measner told CBC News Tuesday from his home near Winnipeg. However, he added, he "knew it was going to happen."

"The minister never talked to me— and still hasn't talked to me— [but] his staff were fairly open in the press that I would be terminated if I didn't support marketing choice and I'd still continue to follow the direction given to me by the farmer-elected board of directors, which isn't marketing choice," he said.

Measner had criticizedPrime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives over theirplan to dismantle the board's monopoly on marketing wheat and barley. The Conservatives want to let farmers choose whether to sell the grainsthrough the board or independently.

'Time to make a change'

Speaking to reporters near Winnipeg Tuesday, Strahl said his government is moving forward, without Measner,withitselection promisetointroduce dual marketing of wheat and barley.

"It's a position that serves at pleasure. And that position was no longer his and I thanked him for his service and it's time to make a change," Strahl said.

Greg Arason, whom Strahl appointedas interim president and CEO on Tuesday, will serveuntil a permanent replacement for Measner is found. Arason was Measner's predecessor, serving from 1998 until the end of 2002, when he retired.

"I am pleased he [Arason] has accepted this interim appointment, as it will allow us sufficient time to make sure we find the right person to do the job on a permanent basis," Strahl said in a release.

Critics, including Measner,argue that scrapping the board'ssingle-desk marketing systemwould effectively kill the farmer-run organization and result in lower grain prices for farmers. Opponents of the wheat board say producers should have the right to choose how they sell what they grow.

Speaking to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 19, Measner said changing the wheat board's single deskwould be is "as wrong as it is un-Canadian" and could harm the ability of Western Canadian farmers "to deliver the world-class grain for which we are known."

'Gag order'

Earlier in October, Measner and the wheat board were hit with a"gag order" from the federal government, barring them from spending money tolobby for retaining the single-desk system.

On Nov. 29, Measner received a letter from Strahl saying his appointment as president and CEO would be terminated. He was given until Dec. 14 to submit his response.

Speaking to a rally of pro-wheat board farmers that day, Measner gave his response: He would not change his pro-monopoly position.

"I don't know what they're thinking," farmer and wheat board directorRod Flaman of Edenwold, Sask.,told CBC News Tuesday.

"I think it's a great loss to the organization. It's a great loss to the farmers who use the Canadian Wheat Board to market their product internationally."

Bill Toews, another board member and a farmer from Kane, Man., said he was incensed by Measner's firing but was relieved to hear Arason would be taking over immediately.

"Having Mr. Arason there is somewhat of a relief because we do know him. We respect him," Toews said Tuesday.

However, Toews added, the board will want a commitment from Arason that he will be responsible to the board's directors, not the federal government.