Farmers to Rally Behind Board

Media Appearances, Agriculture, Frontier Centre

FIRED-UP farm groups plan to hold a “pro-Canadian Wheat Board” meeting in Saskatoon on Thursday that will run parallel to a roundtable on the CWB’s future organized by the federal Conservatives.

The meeting is being arranged by the National Farmers Union in co-operation with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and other farm organizations, the NFU said in a press release yesterday afternoon.

“The majority of farmers in Western Canada support a strong Canadian Wheat Board and single-desk selling for wheat and barley,” said NFU president Stuart Wells.

“Unfortunately, a vocal minority who want to destroy the CWB now have the ear of government,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl and Saskatchewan Conservative MP David Anderson are hosting their roundtable in Saskatoon to discuss how the wheat board would function after it lost its monopoly over Canadian wheat and barley exports.

The Conservatives promised during the federal election campaign to institute a dual-marketing system, which critics say will essentially gut the Winnipeg-based wheat board.

Anderson said earlier this week the purpose of the government’s roundtable — which will be closed to the public — is “to bring together a number of the groups who over the years have been in favour of … choice (in grain marketing) and to allow them to lay out their vision of what they see as the future possible role of the Canadian Wheat Board.”

The groups will also weigh in on how the board should be structured and what types of “financial instruments” the board will need to keep it competitive once it loses its monopoly powers (often referred to as single-desk selling), Anderson said.

The roundtable has irked pro-wheat board supporters, who feel that no changes should be made to the marketing agency’s powers without the permission of Prairie growers.

The wheat board itself has not been invited to the federal roundtable, although Anderson, Strahl’s parliamentary secretary, said this week that it would be consulted later.

David Rolfe, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, told the Free Press earlier this week that it was premature for Strahl to hold a roundtable on how the grain industry would operate under dual marketing.

Farmers have not given Ottawa a mandate to change the wheat board’s powers, he said. “There’s been no plebiscite held.”

Strahl’s roundtable is an invitation-only event. The government has said it will announce a list of the invitees shortly — once individuals and organizations have confirmed their attendance.

But the list of invitees is believed to include, among others, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Western Barley Growers, Alberta Grain Commission, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange, several academics, as well as technical staff — as opposed to politicians — from each of the four western provinces.

Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk said she’s “quite disappointed” that Strahl and Anderson, who is parliamentary secretary for the wheat board, have largely invited organizations that favour a dual marketing system.