Court says Ottawa broke law on Wheat Board

Wed Dec 7, 2011 4:14pm EST
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A judge ruled on Wednesday that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law by not consulting with the Canadian Wheat Board or holding a farmer vote before moving to end the board's grain marketing monopoly.

The Federal Court's decision does not have the power to derail a government bill to end the monopoly on marketing wheat and barley from Western Canada, but it gives the Wheat Board ammunition in its public relations campaign calling for Ottawa to let farmers decide the CWB's fate.

"Had a meaningful consultative process been engaged to find a solution which meets the concerns of the majority, the present legal action might not have been necessary," Justice Douglas Campbell wrote in his decision. "... The minister will be held accountable for his disregard for the rule of law."

The current law requires that the government consult with the board and let farmers vote on any changes to the types of crops that fall under the CWB's monopoly. The government's lawyers argued that those requirements don't apply to a broader change, such as eliminating the monopoly, but the judge called that line of reasoning "an absurdity."

The government said it will appeal the decision and continue to push forward its legislation, formally called Bill C-18, to end the monopoly and restructure the Wheat Board as a smaller, optional grain marketer in an open market.

"At the end of the day, this declaration will have no effect on continuing to move forward on freedom for Western Canadian farmers," Ritz told reporters. "Bill C-18 will pass."

Ritz said the government will make no changes to the bill and expects it to become law by the end of the year.

The Conservative government's bill to end the monopoly as of August 1, 2012, has passed through the House of Commons and needs Senate approval and royal assent before becoming law.   Continued...