Manitoba

Wheat board head stands ground despite firing threat

The embattled head of the Canadian Wheat Board says he will continue supporting their existing monopoly on wheat and barley sales — even if his stance could get him fired.

The embattled head of the Canadian Wheat Board says he will continue supporting the organization's existing monopoly on wheat and barley sales — even if his stance could get him fired by the federal agriculture minister.

Speaking to a rally of more than 300 wheat board supporters in front of the board's Winnipeg headquarters Thursday afternoon, Adrian Measner, the CWB's president and chief executive officer,said he had faxed a letter to Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl saying he won't change his position on the future of the wheat board's single-desk marketing system.
About 300 supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board rallied outside the board's Winnipeg offices on Thursday. ((Donna Lee/CBC))

"Based on my 32 years of experience in the grain industry, and based on the direction given to me by the farmer-elected board of directors,I will continue to support the single-desk marketing of prairie grain," he told the crowd.

Strahl, who has expressed plans to disband the single desk and give farmers a choice as tohow they market their grain, informed Measner in a Nov. 29 letter that he intends to terminate his position as wheat board president. Strahl had given Measner until midnight Thursday to reply and explain why he should keep his job.

"Ifind it incredible that I've been asked to follow the course laid out by the Government of Canada, which is not the law of Canada," Measner said.

"And[I've been told]if I continue to follow the laws of Canada, and continue to follow the direction given to me by the farmer-elected board of directors, that I will be terminated."

'Not been pleased': Strahl

Strahl has been equally harshtoward Measner, alleging thathe spends more time lobbying for the wheat board's monopoly than helping farmers.

"Make no mistake, I've not been pleased with what I see is a lack of direction at the board right now," Strahl said Thursday.

"I've seen an awful lot of action on a political front and not enough action selling grain for farmers."

Measner and the Wheat Board have defended its "single desk" selling power as the key to getting better profits for farmers on international markets. But single-desk critics have said farmers can make more money if they sell their grain directly.
Canadian Wheat Board President Adrian Measner told the rally he will not change his position on the wheat board's future. ((Donna Lee/CBC))

Strahl said Thursday that he supports havingthe CWB, but he is also keeping a campaign promise to open doors for farmers who want to go their own way.

Some farmers favour Ottawa's approach

Some, like MacGregor-area farmer Curtis Simms, support the government's approach.

"We want a voluntary wheat board, a chance for independent thought, initiative and energies," Simms said Thursday.

"The Wheat Board can stay for those who want to deal with it and we might deal with it ourselves a bit — but on a voluntary basis, not a compulsory [one] …They must attract our business, not compel it."

But others, like rally co-organizer Andy Baker of the group Friends of the Wheat Board, pointed out that four out of five CWB board directors recently elected by farmers were in favour of retaining the existing single-desk system.

Baker said politicians should listen to what farmers want.

"Sooner of later, I think the MPs are going to have to listen to their constituents, and their constituents are telling them that the board is none of their business," Baker said.

"Farmers will decide what happens to the board. We have the mechanisms in place to do it."