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The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) building is shown in Winnipeg on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. (Trevor Hagan/Trevor Hagan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) building is shown in Winnipeg on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. (Trevor Hagan/Trevor Hagan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Farmers owed $15-billion, wheat-board suit says Add to ...

A class-action lawsuit has been filed claiming Canadian farmers should be repaid $15.4-billion when the Canadian Wheat Board is dismantled.

Regina-based lawyer Tony Merchant said Monday that the federal government can end the board's monopoly on the sales of western wheat and barley, but he argued the assets belong to farmers.

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“This isn't a lawsuit about politics. It isn't a lawsuit about stopping what the government wants to do,” Mr. Merchant said. “But if they're going to do this they're going to have pay compensation.”

The federal government passed legislation in December that will allow western wheat and barley growers to sell their grain on the open market instead of having to go through the board. Ottawa also removed farmer-elected directors from the organization.

The changes came after a debate that divided farmers across the Prairies.

Board supporters argued the monopoly prevented producers from competing against each other for sales and ensured better prices. They also said the new legislation leaves farmers at the mercies of railways and big, international grain companies.

Board opponents wanted the freedom to seek better deals on the open market.

The board will still operate with government support for five years.

Mr. Merchant said the issue is that the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act makes clear the federal government has no intention of compensating farmers when the board winds down.

The lawsuit claims the wheat board's assets include $100-million in cash, more than 3,400 hopper cars, lake freighters and an office building.

“The money that's been developed ... that's farmer money,” Mr. Merchant said.

The representative plaintiff is Duane Filson, a farmer from Woodrow, Sask. Mr. Filson supported keeping the wheat board's single-desk marketing system.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who had long pushed to end the board's marketing monopoly, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

However, Mr. Ritz said in an email that “it's disappointing to see further misguided legal action.”

“This baseless action in no way affects the duly passed Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act or western farmers' ability to forward contract right now for an open market on Aug. 1, 2012,” he said.

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