The Harper government has won a legal skirmish in its bid to end the monopoly power of the Canadian Wheat Board as the marketer of Prairie grain, but still faces challenges by board defenders on a number of fronts.
The Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba on Friday threw out a request for an injunction to suspend implementation of the new federal law stripping the CWB of its role as sole marketer for Western Canadian wheat and barley.
Eight former board directors wanted the court to order a delay until after another court rules on the law’s validity. They argue that the old CWB legislation had stipulated that Ottawa must hold a vote among farmers on the change, and as it had not, the new law is invalid.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the road,” said former CWB chairman Allen Oberg, indicating that he and his fellow ex-directors – who were elected to the board by the farmers and lost their positions under the new act – are considering an appeal.
Meanwhile, the government has appealed a Federal Court ruling in December that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz breached the law in not consulting with the wheat board or holding a farmers’ vote before introducing the new legislation. The appeal is expected to deal with the question of the law’s validity.
The government also faces two class-action suits. In addition to a suit initiated in Saskatchewan, a case launched earlier this month supported by several pro-CWB groups, challenges the legislation on the grounds that it deprives farmers of their rights under the federal Charter of Rights.
The Harper government’s assault on wheat board powers has been a polarizing force in Western Canada, pitting farmers who want the freedom to sell their own wheat and barley against growers who prefer the sales, marketing and transportation clout of a single selling desk for their crops.
The federal government hailed Friday’s ruling, pointing out that its Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act is now law, and farmers can initiate forward contracts with buyers of their choice for delivery beginning Aug. 1. It said the CWB remains a “voluntary marketing option.”
“Our government knows that producers need marketing certainty as they move forward,” Mr. Ritz said in a statement, arguing that the decision gives them the best possible opportunities as they shift to an open market.
In the Manitoba ruling, Judge Shane Perlmutter concluded that a producer plebiscite was not required under the terms of the new marketing act, and turned down the injunction request.
Lawyer Steven Shrybman of law firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP says the Manitoba ruling does not affect the class action suit his firm has brought, backed by the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board and other groups.
The class-action challenge is being waged on the basis of Charter rights, including rights of association. Even if it fails, he said, the law firm will ask for recovery of lost assets, revenues and damages for farmers caused by the end of the board’s 70-year-old marketing role.