An angry opposition attacked the Harper government’s newly-tabled bill to kill the Canadian Wheat Board, accusing the Conservatives of treating Prairie farmers like “trash” and of mounting an “ideological crusade.”
Leading the charge in Question Period Tuesday was Manitoba’s Pat Martin, a politician known for not holding back.
The NDP MP labelled the government “reckless,” arguing there was no “business case” for dismantling the Wheat Board and “not one shred of evidence” that farmers will be better off without it.
“If the wheat board isn’t such an advantage to Prairie farmers why is the American agrifood business so eager to kill it and the big question is why is the government willing to do their dirty work for them?”
Outside the House, he continued raising doubts about the government’s proposed legislation, asserting its move to end the 60-year-old monopoly on western wheat and barley sales will turn “the rural Prairie economy on its head.”
“There is no evidence this will be of net benefit to the Prairie farmer,” he said, characterizing the government’s motives as an “ideological crusade because they don’t like the collective action associated with the Canadian Wheat Board.”
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz tabled the legislation Tuesday morning. It is something the Tories have been promising for a long time but were unable to deliver until they formed a majority government.
It is an issue that’s not only dividing politicians but also farmers, some of whom want to be able to sell their wheat to whomever they choose.
Mr. Ritz told Mr. Martin to “check his research,” noting the board is not as useful or valuable to Prairie farmers as it once was and that two American companies now export more wheat from Canada than it does.
“That is how much it has slipped in value to western Canadian farmers. That is why we are nowhere on solid ground with western Canadian farmers. Moving ahead with marketing freedom will get that done, despite that member.”
Later, deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale – a veteran MP from Saskatchewan – remarked on the irony of the government’s move.
“On a day when the Americans say they’re going to stand by their Buy America policy – Canada gets no special deal ... we can just shove it as far as the U.S. Ambassador is concerned in his remarks today – this government is in the process of handing the Americans the biggest freebie in North American trade policy for 30 years,” he said.
(At a luncheon speech in Ottawa Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson defended the Buy American provisions in the President Barack Obama’s jobs bill and said it was ultimately good for Canada.)
And Mr. Goodale’s colleague Kevin Lamoureux accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of treating farmers like “trash.” The Winnipeg MP called on Mr. Harper to put aside his “personal hatred” for the wheat board and respect the “tens of thousands of Prairie farmers who want to keep it.”
The Conservatives, however, expect to have the wheat board bill passed by the Christmas break.