Canada farm minister says CWB wasted farmers' money

Fri Jan 22, 2010 2:26pm EST
 
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A Supreme Court decision that backed the Canadian government's move to prevent the Canadian Wheat Board from spending money on lobbying to maintain its grain marketing monopoly shows the CWB wasted farmers' money, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Friday.

"This government has always maintained that the CWB should stick to its mandate of marketing grain, not spending farmers' money on lobbying for their own political purposes," Ritz said in a statement. "The decision to dismiss with costs proves the wheat board wasted farmers' money to bring forward a frivolous court action."

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 upheld the government's 2006 order not to spend on lobbying.

The federal Conservative government has long wanted to end the board's legislated monopoly to buy and sell Western Canadian wheat and barley, but lacks enough seats in the House of Commons to do so without opposition support.

Wheat board Chairman Larry Hill said the only expense he can recall from lobbying to keep the monopoly was a print advertisement before 2006.

"As directors we speak to producers every year and producers don't want to see the wheat board spending their money to tell them how good the board is," Hill said in an interview. "What they want is factual information and that's what we stuck to."

The board wants to keep the marketing monopoly -- which it has held since World War Two -- arguing it can return higher prices to farmers that way. The CWB is one of the world's largest grain marketers.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway)