WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The province of Manitoba will lead an advertising campaign to stop the federal government from stripping the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly on the Western Canadian grain trade, the provincial government said on Monday.
The government plans to introduce legislation this autumn to end the Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly on wheat, durum and barley by August 2012.
Manitoba has no direct say in the future of the Wheat Board, which is governed by federal law and controlled by government appointees and farmer-elected directors.
But Premier Greg Selinger said the province is joining the Wheat Board and some farm groups in demanding that Ottawa hold a vote by farmers to decide the CWB’s future, as required by the current legislation.
“With a farmer-controlled organization, it’s fundamental that they have the say and the plebiscite,” he told reporters at a news conference.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has refused to call a farmer vote on the CWB’s future, saying that farmers voiced their opinion by electing the Conservatives in the May 2 general election.
“It’s disappointing but not surprising that the Manitoba government would be against an open and competitive market that would attract investment, encourage innovation and create value-added jobs,” Ritz said in a written statement on Monday.
“The CWB and the Manitoba government should work constructively to let every farmer decide how they market their grain instead of engaging in gratuitous fear-mongering,” he said.
Selinger, who faces a provincial election later this year, said he would consider a lawsuit to stop Ottawa’s change only once the House of Commons has debated the new legislation.
The monopoly requires Western Canadian farmers to sell wheat, durum and barley only via the Wheat Board, unlike the open-market system for other crops. The board, which had revenue of nearly C$5.2 billion in 2009-10, is the world’s last major agricultural monopoly and has been in place since the Second World War.
Manitoba is one of the three major grain-producing provinces on the Canadian Prairies and its capital, Winnipeg, is where the Wheat Board’s head office is located.
The New Democratic Party government is concerned about the loss of about 400 jobs at the Wheat Board under the new marketing system, as well as reduced grain shipping through Manitoba’s small northern seaport of Churchill on Hudson Bay.
Canada is the world’s biggest shipper of spring wheat, durum and malting barley, mostly through the Wheat Board.
The federal government has said that the Wheat Board can survive as a buyer of farmers’ grain on a voluntary basis, but the board says it cannot compete with private grain handlers without its own capital and grain storage facilities.
While the board is campaigning against the planned change, it is also privately talking with the government about a possible new role, said Wheat Board Chairman Allen Oberg.
“A strong and viable organization is possible, but the minister needs to have a business plan communicated to me and communicated to farmers,” he said.
“Our role is to identify what would be required for a new organization on the Prairies, which is what you would be creating.”
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Rob Wilson