Judge rules Ritz breached Wheat Board Act

WINNIPEG — A Federal Court judge has ruled that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz breached the Canadian Wheat Board Act by making changes without holding a plebiscite among producers.

WINNIPEG — A Federal Court judge has ruled that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz breached the Canadian Wheat Board Act by making changes without holding a plebiscite among producers.

“I find that the act was intended to require the minister to consult and gain consent where an addition or subtraction of particular grains or types of grain from the marketing regime is contemplated, and also in respect of a change to the democratic structure of the CWB,” Judge Douglas Campbell wrote in his decision released Wednesday.

Campbell said the board and its supporters made a compelling argument about the “unique democratic nature of the CWB and its importance.”

“I accept the argument that the CWB’s democratic marketing practices are ”significant and fundamental“ because they are long-standing, and strongly supported by a large number of the some 17,000 grain producers in Western Canada,” said Campbell.

“This support is worthy of respect.”

Lawyers for the wheat board argued Tuesday that Ritz broke section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

The section states that changes to the agency’s handling of wheat and barley cannot be made unless “the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension.”

The argument was that the purpose of section 47.1 was to ensure that “farmers, not government, would be in control of any future change to the (CWB’s) marketing authority,” including the implementation of dual-marketing and the elimination of the single desk.

The board was set up following the Great Depression to have farmers band together and seek higher prices.

Supporters say the single desk prevents producers from competing against each other for sales. Opponents say they want the freedom to seek better deals on the open market.

Ritz introduced legislation in Parliament in October to end the wheat board’s marketing monopoly on western wheat and barley as of Aug. 1.

Government lawyers argued the section refers only to the addition or subtraction of particular grains from the marketing regime. They said it leaves the future of the single desk as a matter for Parliament to decide.

Campbell also said “simply pushing ahead without engaging such a process” is what led to the matter going court.

Board chairman Allen Oberg immediately called on the federal government to respect the ruling.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley stood up in the House of Commons after the decision and said the government disagrees with the ruling.

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina