Wheat board directors defend embattled president

Directors of the Canadian Wheat Board say they're standing up for president and CEO Adrian Measner, whose job is being threatened by federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl.

Directors of the Canadian Wheat Board say they're standing up for president and CEO Adrian Measner, whose job is being threatened by federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl.

Measner, a 32-year veteran of the federal grain marketing agency, has been a critic of the Conservative government's plan to dismantle the agency's monopoly on wheat and barley.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Strahl wrote that he wants to terminate Measner's appointment as president, and he has been given until Dec. 14 to forward any comments relating to the termination.

Measner told staff of the termination threat on Thursday, so on Friday morning the wheat board's directors held an emergency teleconference to discuss its response to the termination threat, laterreleasing a statement calling on Strahl to "reconsider his actions."

"We have asked that the minister have consultations with the board before Mr. Measner’s appointment is terminated, as this would put the CWB at risk during this critical time in its history and potentially jeopardize the ability of the board to be held to account by Western Canadian farmers," the release read.

The directors also sent Strahl a resolution expressing their "complete confidence" in Measner's abilities as president and CEO of the wheat board.

"It's a message to the minister. I don't know how much clout it would have. I would hope that he would pay attention to the wishes of the board. If he shows more disrespect for the board, I think it's a problem for the minister and not so much for us," Kane-area farmer and board director Bill Toews told CBC News after the meeting Friday.

Toews addedthat Measner hadrecently passed a CEO job evaluation.

"There is no good reason that he should be released, because he's been a valuable asset for farmers, for the wheat board and for our customers," he said.

"We're very concerned about this. It's been our opinion that it doesn't take into account that the wheat board changes are supposed to be determined by farmers, not by the government."

Farmers split over news

Observers say Measner's job threat is part of a larger battle over the wheat board's grain marketing monopoly, which Measner has strongly advocated to keep. Strahl wants to end the wheat board's monopoly in favour of a open-market system.

Farmers in Saskatchewan were split on the impending firing, with some agreeing with Strahl's intentions, and others not.

"The government doesn't have the mandate to legislate what's happening, but they certainly have the power to change the overall view of the board," said farmer Gordon Wilson on Friday.

A selection committee of wheat board directors and one government representative chose Measner as president in 2002. But since his hiring is by an order-in-council, he can be let go by a vote of the federal cabinet.

Rene de Moissac, another Saskatchewan farmer, said he thinks Strahl's actions are heavy-handed and an abuse of power.

"If I was sitting around the board table of the Canadian Wheat Board, I would be very concerned if my chief executive officer wasn't thinking along the lines of what we as a board, or I as a board member, was wishing to do," he said Friday.

But in recent weeks Strahl has appointed four new wheat board directors who support the government's position on disbanding the board's monopoly. The outcome of the latest director election, which ends Friday, could possibly produce a board with a pro-government stance.

Sinclair Harrison, president of the Farmer Rail Car Coalition in Saskatchewan, warned that the Conservative government should proceed with caution in its relations with the wheat board, or else lose votes in the next federal election.

"I just don't think dealing with the wheat board in this fashion is going to serve the farmers of Western Canada well," he said.