Wheat board seeks court injunction to stop bill

With the Harper government's bill to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly nearing its final vote in the Senate, the board wants a court injunction to stall the reforms.

Court asked to declare C-18 invalid and stop all changes until the case is heard

The Canadian Wheat Board is asking a judge to overturn federal legislation that would strip the board of its monopoly over western wheat and barley sales.

"The Harper government has reneged on its promise and is now breaking the law, and we intend to hold them to it and ensure that farmers' democratic rights are respected," board chairman Allan Oberg said Wednesday.

The board will file an application with the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, asking it to rule Bill C-18 invalid. The bill is currently before the Senate and could become law within weeks, so the board is also asking the court for an injunction to suspend the bill until the case is heard.

The government has already suffered one legal setback over Bill C-18. A Federal Court judge ruled last week that the bill violates the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which says the government must consult farmers via a plebiscite before making major changes.

Justice Douglas Campbell made it clear, however, that his ruling was simply a statement on the government's actions. He did not order the government to halt the bill and said he was not interfering in the legislative process.

Board officials are now taking that ruling to the Court of Queen's Bench in hopes of getting such an order.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has said farmers deserve the right to sell grain independently and Parliament has the right to change laws.

"We continue to stand up for all farmers and are equally disappointed that the directors would continue to put the industry at risk with this desperate and reckless action," Ritz said in a statement Wednesday.

The government filed an appeal of the Federal Court ruling last Friday.

Final vote soon

C-18, the legislation to enact the wheat board changes, is nearing its final vote in the Senate and Royal Assent is expected within days. Last week, Liberal attempts to stall the bill at the Senate agriculture committee were unsuccessful.

Questions of privilege were also raised Thursday in both the House of Commons and the Senate about the appropriateness of proceeding with C-18 in light of the court ruling. The Senate Speaker dismissed the question, while the House Speaker has yet to rule.

Senior Liberals were in Winnipeg Wednesday to show their support for the wheat board.

Rae, deputy leader Ralph Goodale and Liberal Senator Robert Peterson all appeared with Oberg as he announced the board's latest legal move.

"This legislation takes away an existing right on the part of farmers to decide, together, how they're going to do business," Rae said in Winnipeg Wednesday.

"I think, frankly, our Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms are all about balancing the rights of Parliament and the rights of others with respect to ensuring that their rights are protected."

On Monday, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae wrote to the Governor General to ask him to withold Royal Assent for C-18 until the case is resolved in court.

The board was set up following the Great Depression to help Prairie farmers band together and seek higher prices. It currently markets about 21 million tonnes of grain to customers in 70 countries.

Supporters say the board's monopoly prevents producers from competing against each other for sales. But opponents say they want the freedom to seek better deals on the open market. They point out that producers of other grains and wheat farmers in other parts of Canada already have that freedom.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, which supports the government's position on the wheat board, said in a statement Wednesday it would oppose the wheat board's legal action.

with files from CBC News