Canada Wheat Board to ask court to block bill

Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:18pm EST
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Canadian Wheat Board said on Wednesday it will ask a court to stop the federal government from ending its 68-year-old grain marketing monopoly, casting more uncertainty on the validity of a bill poised to become law this week.

A Federal Court judge ruled last week that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz had breached existing law by not consulting with the Wheat Board or holding a farmer vote before introducing legislation to end the CWB's monopoly on sales of Western Canadian wheat and barley. But he did not order the new legislation to be killed, and the government has appealed his ruling.

Wheat Board Chairman Allen Oberg said the board will ask a Manitoba court to rule that the government's bill is invalid because it breaks the law, and ask for an order stopping its implementation.

"This government has put itself above the law by proceeding with this bill," Oberg said, adding that the board wants farmers to be granted a vote to decide the monopoly's future.

Ritz said in a statement that ending the monopoly is a question of freedom for farmers to sell their crops to whoever they choose and the government remains focused on passing the legislation.

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

Under the Conservative government bill, the Wheat Board's monopoly on marketing western wheat and barley for milling or export would end next August, the start of the 2012-13 crop marketing year. The bill would also allow grain handlers, millers and farmers to sign forward contracts immediately for 2012 crops, but legal challenges to the legislation have left all three groups hesitant to move aggressively.

The bill has already cleared the House of Commons and is scheduled for a final vote by the Conservative-controlled Senate on Thursday evening. After that it needs only the usually automatic royal assent by the governor general to become law.   Continued...