Ottawa may face C$15 billion suit over Wheat Board

Mon Jan 9, 2012 4:10pm EST
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By Rod Nickel

(Reuters) - A Saskatchewan lawyer said on Monday that he will file a C$15.4 billion ($15 billion) class action lawsuit against the Canadian government over the dismantling of the Wheat Board's grain marketing monopoly.

But Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz called the proposed legal action "baseless" and said it would not affect Ottawa's moves to overhaul the Wheat Board and create an open grain market in Western Canada.

Lawyer Tony Merchant said the government must pay western farmers for the Canadian Wheat Board's assets, which he said include C$100 million in cash, 3,402 rail hopper cars, Great Lakes freighters, an office building and other assets.

In addition, Merchant said in an interview, Ottawa should also pay compensation for the value of the CWB itself and the value of its marketing monopoly - including the premium prices some say it gets for grain and savings on transportation costs.

"(The government) can do whatever they like, but when they take away assets, then they have to pay," Merchant said.

He said the Conservative government must compensate farmers for what they are losing, similar to how the former Liberal government paid farmers for removing a grain transportation subsidy in the 1990s.

The move is the latest of several legal entanglements around the government's move to end the world's last major agricultural monopoly, which has sharply divided farmers.

"It's disappointing to see further misguided legal action against Western Canadian farmers and their right to the same freedoms as farmers in Ontario already enjoy," Ritz said in a statement.   Continued...