Draconian to suspend Canada Wheat Board law: judge

Fri Dec 16, 2011 6:08pm EST
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By Rod Nickel and Randall Palmer

WINNIPEG/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Former directors of the Canadian Wheat Board asked a Manitoba court on Friday to suspend a new law ending the board's grain marketing monopoly, but faced skepticism from the judge.

While Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz celebrated the newly opened market for sales of western wheat and barley, the CWB's former chairman and farmer directors pressed ahead with their court challenge.

"You're asking for a fairly draconian remedy," Judge Shane Perlmutter said of their request to have the law suspended.

The former directors ultimately want the judge to strike down the law on the grounds that the former legislation governing the Canadian Wheat Board required Ritz to hold a farmer vote before changing the 68-year-old marketing monopoly.

Federal lawyer Joel Katz said that in any case, a stay of the law would only apply in Manitoba and not the rest of Canada, since the appeal was before a provincial court.

Despite the considerable uncertainty created by the legal challenge, Canada's biggest grain handler, Viterra Inc, began offering forward contracts for the next crop year.

The Conservative government bill became law late Thursday, allowing Ottawa to take control of the board from farmers who oppose its plans to create an open market, effective next August.

Ritz told a news conference in Saskatchewan that the farmer directors' roles ceased to exist with the passage of the bill. "They're now on winter vacation," he said.   Continued...