Wheat board changes kick in, directors out
Government-appointed directors discontinue court injunction, former directors press on
Five government-appointed directors now in charge of the Canadian Wheat Board decided Friday morning in Winnipeg to drop the board's bid to block legislation ending its marketing monopoly for Prairie wheat and barley.
Legislation to end the wheat board's single-desk became law Thursday night, when Gov. Gen. David Johnston gave royal assent to Bill C-18.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was jubilant Friday morning, telling farmers gathered in Balgonie, Sask., that it's a great day.
"This feels damn good. It's been a long time coming," Ritz said. "Finally you have marketing freedom."
Farmers in the room with Ritz cheered.
A Dec. 7 Federal Court ruling found the government violated the Canadian Wheat Board Act by not consulting farmers about the changes in a plebiscite. On Wednesday, Allen Oberg, the now-former chair of the board, announced an application for a court injunction to stop the government's actions, based on that decision.
The eight former directors were listed as individuals on the application for the injunction. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs were in court Friday in Winnipeg.
They have vowed to press on with the court action against the government despite the appointed board's decision to drop the case, according to Kyle Korneychuk, a former director who spoke to CBC News Friday.
Immediate injunction denied
Later on Friday, a judge overseeing the case denied a request to grant an immediate injunction to stop the government from proceeding with its changes to the board.
However, the issue will be back before the judge on Jan. 17 and a lawyer for the eight former directors said another application will be made for an immediate injunction.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday that he doesn't expect a court to issue an injunction.
"Western Canadian farmers have demanded that choice for a couple of generations now and we've passed legislation in that regard. Parliament is certainly within its right to pass such legislation, even if the wheat board doesn’t agree with it. It is our right, we've done so and I know western Canadian grain farmers are looking to marketing freedom in the 2012 crop year," Harper said.
It's unclear what other changes are planned by the new government-appointed board, now that the transition to a new smaller, voluntary wheat board is underway.
Farmers split over changes
The new law has been welcomed by some farmers who have long said they want the right to sell their grain to whomever they want. But others say the decades-old monopoly has helped ensure good prices for their crops.
Under the new law, the wheat board loses its grain-marketing monopoly on Aug. 1.
The wheat board will still exist, but will no longer be the only buyer for many grain farmers. Some critics say that will be the beginning of the end for the Winnipeg-based agency.
Ritz said a "reinvigorated" wheat board "will still be there" for farmers who want to use it to market their grain.
Passage of the law means farmers can begin to negotiate contracts with flour mills or grain companies as long as the delivery date is Aug. 1 or later.