Wheat board's future sparks heated Commons debate
The Conservative government's push to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales came under fire as Parliament's fall session got underway on Monday.
Opposition MPs called on the Conservatives to accept the results of a wheat board plebiscite, in which 62 per cent of wheat growers and 51 per cent of barley growers voted in favour of maintaining the board's monopoly, also known as a single-desk marketing system.
The board conducted its own plebiscite after federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz refused to hold one as required under the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
Ritz maintained that his government will ignore the plebiscite results and eliminate the single desk as early as next August, in favour of a dual-marketing system that he said will allow farmers to choose where they sell their wheat and barley.
But as question period began Monday afternoon, Guelph Liberal MP Frank Valeriote urged Ritz to accept the Wheat Board plebiscite results and change his plans.
"The law is clear and farmers have spoken again. Why doesn't he honour the will of farmers, heed his own words now, and keep the Wheat Board?" Valeriote said in the House of Commons.
In response, Ritz remarked that "farmers in western Canada always love to hear someone from Ontario — who have a voluntary board — give them advice."
"Let me quote the CWB director for District 2: 'It's a glorified survey. We've admitted that it's not binding.' Mr. Speaker, we accept that," Ritz added.
Harper goes head-to-head with Winnipeg MP
Another Liberal MP, Kevin Lamoureux of Winnipeg North, then stood up and appealed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to listen to the Wheat Board plebiscite.
"They want to retain the Canadian Wheat Board," Lamoureux said.
"I appeal to the Prime Minister — who claims to be an MP from the Prairies — why won't he stand up for the Prairie farmers and guarantee that we will have the Canadian Wheat Board well into the future?"
Harper replied, "It's interesting to have a question from a member who doesn't have, to my knowledge, a single farmer in his riding."
"In this so-called plebiscite, not only did a significant portion vote against the Wheat Board, it didn't include those tens of thousands of farmers who have walked away from that institution," Harper went on to say.
"The Wheat Board gets to pick its own voters, and I guess if they could do that over there, the Liberal Party could even win an election in the West," he added. "The fact of the matter is, western farmers voted for marketing freedom, that's what they're going to get."
Ritz has said the Wheat Board's single desk must go if Canada's wheat growers are going to achieve their full potential. He believes farmers should be able to choose to whom they sell.