OTTAWA (Reuters) - Legal challenges won’t stop Canada’s government from passing a law by the end of 2011 to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s grain marketing monopoly, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said on Tuesday.
The Wheat Board and a third-party group will challenge the Conservative government’s plans in a Manitoba courtroom on December 6, arguing that Ottawa acted illegally by moving to scrap the CWB’s monopoly without holding a farmer vote, as the current law requires.
The Conservatives maintain that any government has the right to change legislation. Their draft bill, once approved next month, would allow any grain marketer, including a restructured Wheat Board, to sign forward price contracts with farmers to buy their 2012 wheat and barley harvests.
The Wheat Board’s monopoly on marketing Western Canadian wheat and barley for milling or export would end as of August 1, 2012 according to the legislation.
Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of spring wheat, durum and malting barley.
“The court challenge is not going to stop us,” Ritz told reporters at the Canada Grains Council meeting in Ottawa. “I don’t think there’s a court in the land that doesn’t agree that Parliament is the top court in the land. And we will continue to move forward.”
Ritz said he can’t predict when the House of Commons will hold its final vote on the legislation, but he expects it will then make its way through the Senate and become law before Christmas.
The Conservatives control the House and the Senate and will not need the support of an opposition party to pass the legislation.
Ritz said he has not had many recent discussions with Wheat Board Chief Executive Ian White and four other government appointees to the CWB board about plans to transform the agency into an open-market player once the legislation becomes law.
The CWB would become a much smaller organization and a voluntary option for farmers to market their grain.
The revamped board would get some short-term government support, but it would not get start-up capital from government or regulated access to country elevators or port space.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Rob Wilson