Canada court won't hear wheat board lobbying appeal

Thu Jan 21, 2010 10:09am EST
 
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Supreme Court of Canada said on Thursday it will not hear an appeal by the Canadian Wheat Board of a lower court ruling that it cannot spend money to advocate keeping its grain monopoly.

The decision is a victory of sorts for Canada's Conservative government, which has long wanted to end the wheat board's legislated monopoly to buy and sell Western Canada's wheat and malt barley, but it does not move Ottawa any closer to changing the grain marketing system.

The government issued an order in 2006, shortly before a farmer vote on whether to keep the CWB's barley monopoly, blocking the CWB from lobbying to keep its monopoly.

A court ruling struck down the government order, but Canada's Federal Court of Appeal overturned that court's decision in June 2009 and sided with the government.

The earlier court decision found that Ottawa's order violated the board's right to freedom of expression, but the appeal court said the CWB's authority and rights were restricted by the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

The CWB, most of whose directors are elected by farmers, has said blocking its lobby efforts undermines its authority to spend its funds as it sees fit.

The Supreme Court, as is normal, did not give reasons for not hearing the wheat board's appeal.

The Conservatives have only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, leaving the government without the necessary votes to pass legislation needed to change the Wheat Board Act and give farmers a choice in who they sell their grain to. The wheat board wants to keep the monopoly, arguing that it can return higher prices to farmers that way.

It is one of the world's largest grain marketers, with revenue of C$8.4 billion ($8.2 billion) in the 2007-08 crop year. Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of spring wheat, which is used in baking, and the top shipper of durum wheat, used in pasta.

The Wheat Board has held its grain monopoly since World War Two.

($1=$1.03 Canadian) (Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway)