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A worker picks up a handful of wheat off the conveyor belt at a grain terminal in Vancouver on Oct. 6, 2011. (BEN NELMS/REUTERS)
A worker picks up a handful of wheat off the conveyor belt at a grain terminal in Vancouver on Oct. 6, 2011. (BEN NELMS/REUTERS)

Farmers slap Canadian Wheat Board with countersuit Add to ...

The Canadian Wheat Board finds itself the target of legal action one day after a slim majority of its directors launched a court challenge of Ottawa’s plans to dismantle its cartel power.

A group of western farmers long opposed to the wheat board’s monopoly over grain sales on Thursday announced it will seek an injunction against the federal grain marketing agency.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers of Canada said it will ask a judge to prevent the board’s directors from using revenue from grain sales to fund legal action against the Harper government.

Kevin Bender, president of the Wheat Growers, said his group had been contemplating legal action against the board for some time over its use of grain revenue to fight the Conservatives.

“The [board’s]decision to file a legal action against the federal Minister of Agriculture was the tipping point,” he said. “We cannot stand idly by and watch the CWB directors continue to misuse our money.”

News of the countersuit was welcomed by the Harper government, which forwarded the Western Canadian Wheat Growers’ news release to reporters.

“The CWB and its board of directors have a duty to safeguard monies received from the sale of grain,” Gerrid Gust, chair of the Wheat Growers said. “This is not their personal slush fund. They have no right to use farmers’ funds to advance a political agenda.”

He said the directors that launched the suit should fund it from their own pocket. “They should not be allowed to reach into mine.”

The battle over the future of the Canadian Wheat Board has shifted to the Federal Court, where a judge is being asked to rule on whether the Harper government can unilaterally end the institution’s monopoly over Western grain sales.

A slim majority of directors at the board, fighting to preserve its place in the grain industry, announced Wednesday they are suing the federal government.

Their target is the bill the Conservatives tabled in the Commons to dismantle the Prairie seller’s control over wheat and barley grown from B.C.’s Peace District to the Manitoba-Ontario border.

In all, there are 15 directors at the wheat board: 10 elected by farmers and five appointed by Ottawa.

There’s been tension between the two classes of directors since the Harper government took power in 2006 and replaced the appointed ones with people sympathetic to the Conservatives’ policy on the wheat board.

Wednesday’s lawsuit was backed by eight farmer-elected directors while another two broke with their colleagues, calling those behind the legal action ideological bullies.

Farmers themselves are divided. Those challenging Ottawa appear to represent six out of 10 wheat farmers and five in 10 barley producers, based on a plebiscite gauging support for the wheat board that the seller itself conducted last summer.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, whose party has campaigned against the wheat board since its Reform days, said the suit will not dissuade the Conservatives. He said the Tories, who have a Commons majority, will proceed as planned.

The minister said the Tories don’t believe a farmers’ vote is required in this case. Ultimately, he added, the power to change any law should rest with Parliament.

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