Report Outlines CWB Change

Agriculture, Commentary, Crown Corporations, Media Appearances, Rolf Penner, Rural

The Canadian Wheat Board could lose its export monopoly on wheat and barley exports in 2008, if the federal government moves on advice from an appointed task force.

The seven-member task force recommended a scenario where farmers could sell barley outside of the board starting in February 2008, with the monopoly for wheat ending six months later. The report, released to the public Monday, also proposes a producer-owned "CWB II," in which farmers could purchase shares.

Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl called the report a "comprehensive model of how the CWB could thrive in a marketing choice environment."

"I will be examining it carefully and I look forward to hearing what Western Canadian grain producers have to say about the ideas put forward by the task force," Strahl said in a statement. But wheat board chairman Ken Ritter said the report fails to outline a workable option.

"At the end of the day, what they're basically (presenting) is the end of the CWB, and the end of any kind of entity that has farmers' interests top of mind," said Ritter, a Kindersley farmer.

Conrad Bellehumeur, Strahl's director of communications, said there won't be much consultation on the task force report until the election of CWB farmer-directors wraps up.

The wheat board has 15 directors, including five spots for appointed directors and 10 positions for elected farmers.

Strahl's office confirmed Monday that the Tory cabinet has terminated one appointed director, Ross Keith of Regina.

Prior to his termination, Keith had explained in a letter to Strahl that it is "misleading" to suggest a strong wheat board can exist without the single desk.

"The choice is between the single desk and an open market. The open market will resemble the American system without the subsidies, and will not be to the benefit of farmers," wrote Keith.

Keith, president of real estate development company Nicor Group, has been active in Saskatchewan with the Liberal Party.

The task force also recommends that the Canadian Wheat Board Act be repealed, but that task would currently be difficult given the Conservatives have a minority position in the House of Commons.

All three opposition parties recently denounced government moves concerning the wheat board as "undemocratic."

Wascana Liberal MP Ralph Goodale maintained the board needs its monopoly or "single desk" to exist.

"The notion that you can have a voluntary wheat board is like saying you can be married five days a week but single on weekends," he said.

The National Farmers Union criticized the 30-page report's failure to mention the idea of a farmer vote on the future of the board's marketing system as current legislation requires.

President Stewart Wells also slammed the suggestion that government appoint an interim board of directors once the CWB II is in place, until there are shareholders to elect directors.

But for those anxious to see an end to the board's monopoly, one of the few complaints was the task force plan doesn't move fast enough.

"I was hoping we would see marketing choice by the beginning of next crop year," said Rolf Penner, a farmer and fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.