Saskatchewan

Ottawa's wheat board plans already hurting farmers, CEO says

The federal government's push to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on marketing grain is already hurting Prairie farmers in the pocketbook, the board's embattled chief executive officer says.

The federal government's push to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on marketing grain isalready hurtingPrairie farmers in the pocketbook, the board's embattled chief executive officer says.

"There isn't a customer that I meet with where we don't spend over half of the meeting talking about that issue," wheat board president and CEO Adrian Measner said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have pledged to give farmers the choice to sell their own wheat and barley or go through the wheat board.

Some farmers believe that if they had the choice, they would get better prices.

However, supporters ofthe so-called "single-desk" system say it already gives farmers the best prices and predict thatending the monopoly will kill the Winnipeg-based agency.

Measner, who supports the current system, received a letter from federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl last month saying his position is under review and he will likely lose his job.

The issue fired up again Tuesday when Measner and board chair Ken Ritter went to Ottawa. They were to appear before the standing committee on agriculture, but the meeting was cancelled — so they held a news conference instead.

Measner said the customers who buy Canadian wheat that he's talked to aren't happy and the uncertainty is leading to delays in sales. That'shaving a negative impact onthe money farmers get, he suggested.

"They're trying to understand where their business partner is going to be two or three years down the road.They appreciate doing business with us. They appreciate doing business with Canada and it does have an impact on our reputation," he said.

On Monday, the Canadian Wheat Board launched a lawsuit against Ottawa to fight a federal order cabinet banning the board from advocating in favour of the monopoly.

Conservative MP Gerry Ritz, the chair of the Commons committee, said the meeting was cancelled after the wheat board filed its legal action, but will likely be rescheduled for Thursday.

Ritz said the committee still might not be able to discuss the court action, but it will be able to discuss Strahl's letter to Measner.

Strahl told CBC Tuesday he hasn't fired Measner yet, but has asked for aresponse from Measneroutlining why he should continue as president.

"That's a position that serves at the pleasure of the government,"Strahl said. "Obviously, I'm not pleased right now at what's going on at the wheat board."