Hundreds of Prairie farmers gathered in Winnipeg on Thursday to protest against Ottawa’s plan to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s grain marketing monopoly.
Holding placards that read “Hands Off Our Wheat Board” and “Multinationals No – Single Desk CWB Yes,” farmers such as Marv Gerbrant said they have depended on the board for years. “It is at least one thing that is stable in a profession that has a lot of instability to it,” said Gerbrant, 54, who farms near Morris, Man.
He added he appreciates having the wheat board do his marketing for him.
Farmers want the federal Conservative government to back away from sweeping changes to the board, and they’re angry with federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl.
Stewart Wells, president of the National Farmers Union, compared the ongoing fight to “a hostile takeover.”
He said the federal government’s recent decisions to change the voters list for director elections, the threat to fire board president Adrian Measner after midnight tonight and a refusal to have binding plebiscites all point to unfair politics.
“Watching this unfold over the last two or three months has really made me afraid for the country, afraid for democracy.”
The Tories want to end the board’s monopoly on wheat and barley sales – a move critics say would effectively kill the farmer-run organization.
Some farmers have argued that selling grain through a single government agency no longer works in an era of globalization.
A handful of farmers in the crowd supported the government’s plans but wanted to see what their opponents had to say.
Rolf Penner farms near Morris, Man., and is the agricultural policy fellow for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
He said there would still be a role for the wheat board in the grain market even without a monopoly.
He said the issue is about fundamental civil liberties.
“Is it right for one group of farmers to be able to tell another group of farmers how to run their business and how to market their grain? I think the answer is No.”
Several opposition MP’s attended the rally, including Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter.
Bill Toews of the group Friends of the Wheat Board said they hope the demonstration will make it clear to the public how strongly farmers support the organization.
“Sometimes you have to let farmers vent,” said Toews, who farms just west of Winnipeg.
“We just felt we had to send a clear message and show the public at large that Mr. Strahl is off base.”