Farmers sue to regain control of Canadian Wheat Board

Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:19pm EST
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Several farmer organizations that support the Canadian Wheat Board's grain marketing monopoly are launching a court action aimed at restoring farmer control of the board and collecting C$17 billion ($17 billion) in damages for farmers.

The lawsuit, launched by the law firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, will present constitutional arguments to try to remove the CWB from government control, and collect damages farmers may incur from the board's weakened market clout, the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board group said on Wednesday.

The move follows the launch of a similar, C$15 billion class action by Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant last month. That suit does not attempt to change who controls the CWB.

The Conservative government passed legislation in December ending the CWB's marketing monopoly over Western Canada's wheat and barley for milling or export as of August 2012. Once the law passed, the government took control of the board by removing eight farmer-elected directors.

The farmer groups' case is based on 1998 amendments to the previous law governing the Wheat Board, which ensured farmers elected most of the CWB's directors, said Anders Bruun, a lawyer who is also working on the suit.

The implications of that law are that farmers have the right of association to collectively market their grain, and also the freedom of expression through the directors they elected, Bruun said.

A court will first decide in a few months which of the two class actions to certify, and the lawsuit itself may take several years to decide - which could make rebuilding the grain monopoly impractical, Bruun acknowledged.

Within a few years, the government may still control the Wheat Board, or the CWB might have moved to a different ownership structure with farmers holding shares, or another grain company might have acquired it.   Continued...