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Saturday, October 28, 2006 

Wheat Board Final Fight Gets Closer


OTTAWA -- The Stephen Harper government moved one step closer to stripping the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly over grain sales this week when a task force struck to recommend how it could be done submitted a final report to Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl.

Mr. Strahl received the report Thursday but has not made it public. His office said the document, which is more than 30 pages long, will be released shortly.

With tens of thousands of farmers and two provincial governments who strongly support the current mandate of the CWB, the final battle over its future will be historic.

Globe and mail
(if the Globe and Mail link does not work, here is the full text of the Oct 28 story)

Wheat Board Monopoly Nears End
Agriculture Minister reviews new report on how to scrap powers of grain body

Steven Chase
OTTAWA -- The Stephen Harper government moved one step closer to stripping the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly over grain sales this week when a task force struck to recommend how it could be done submitted a final report to Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl.

Mr. Strahl received the report Thursday but has not made it public. His office said the document, which is more than 30 pages long, will be released shortly. The report is expected to suggest a transition period as part of the process of scrapping the monopoly powers of a Western Canadian institution that has managed grain sales on behalf of that region's farmers for more than 70 years.

The Harper government declined to make task force chair Howard Migie available for comment yesterday. But Ottawa did allow Mr. Migie, an Agriculture Canada employee, to speak to Inside U.S. Trade, a prominent trade publication in the United States, where the biggest foes of the Canadian Wheat Board are located. Washington and U.S. farm groups have repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, launched trade challenges to curb board powers.

The task force report will make recommendations on the length of the transition period required before the board would lose all its monopoly powers, Inside U.S. Trade reported in an Oct. 27 story, citing an interview with Mr. Migie.

Mr. Strahl wants to give Western Canadian grain farmers freedom to opt out of the Canadian Wheat Board to sell their products on their own -- a promise the Tories made in the last election campaign.

The Canadian Wheat Board defends its "single desk" selling power as the key to better returns for farmers on international markets. If the board lost its monopoly, agency officials warn, farmers would end up being "price takers" selling at lower prices to local or global firms such as Agricore United or Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Agency officials warn that the board cannot survive a shift to dual marketing. But board critics, such as the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, say the agency should have the know-how to survive even if some farmers strike out on their own. "They've got 75 years of experience . . . and all kinds of relations around the world, so if with all of that they feel they can't compete, it's ludicrous," says Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers.

Her group would like to see the board's monopoly end by Aug. 1, 2007, the start of the new crop year. Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter believes the Tories want to make changes by next August.

Critics say opposition parties and farmer opinion could block Conservative plans. Recent wheat board polls show it's far from certain Mr. Harper could get majority support from farmers -- and opposition parties vow to fight any legislative changes. "There is no business case to demolish the Canada Wheat Board. It's pure ideological madness. And make no mistake, doing away with single desk is the death rattle of the board," said NDP MP Pat Martin, whose riding is in Winnipeg where the board is headquartered.

The wheat board said Ottawa must hold a plebiscite to let farmers decide their future, but Ms. Jolly-Nagel disagreed. She said each farmer should be free to sell their wheat as they choose rather than acting in concert with others.



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