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Canadian Wheat Board set for corporate takeover

Barlow speaks at a rally in Winnipeg against the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, October 2011.The Council of Canadians has long supported the Canadian Wheat Board.

In 2005, we said, “The Government of Canada should maintain the Canadian Wheat Board and supply-management mechanisms that support family farms, protecting them from the prejudiced impact of international trade agreements.” In 2011, we joined with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, ETC Group, and Food Secure Canada as interveners in a Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board court challenge that argued Section 47 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act required a vote by grain producers to remove the single-desk marketing authority of the Canadian Wheat Board.

But despite the efforts of many, by August 2012 the Harper government had effectively dismantled the institution that had benefited family farmers since 1935.

Today, CBC News reports, “Under a sort of reverse-nationalization plan now taking shape behind closed doors, a private-sector investor will assume control [of the Canadian Wheat Board] without reimbursing the federal treasury for assets Canadians paid for, or at least indirectly financed.”

In terms of a timeline, “2011’s Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act gave a revamped CWB — purged of farmer-elected directors and now run by a board of Harper government appointees — until 2016 to come up with a privatization plan and until 2017 to implement it. …President Ian White wants to accelerate the process… Fast-tracking could [mean] a deal before the election [in October 2015].”

The likelihood is that the CWB will soon be foreign owned. “The CWB wants a large, international player as its majority partner. …Grain farmers participating in a new farmer equity plan will have only a minority stake. …The search for a partner is down to a ‘very short list’, [federal Agriculture minister Gerry] Ritz [recently] told the [agriculture] committee. Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland Company, [is] said to be a serious contender… Ritz says of control passing into foreign hands [says], ‘I’d leave that final decision up to the wheat board itself.'”

And on the sale itself, the article notes, “A class action lawsuit seeking leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada next spring claims the value of CWB’s cash and hard assets in 2011 was over $200 million. [But Ritz says], ‘You can get cash from the sale of something, or you can get a return over the years as the economy grows. That’s more the long term look that this government is interested in.’ [NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen says], ‘I don’t expect anything to come back to farmers.'”

At an October 2011 rally in front of the Canadian Wheat Board office in Winnipeg, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow told the large crowd assembled there, “Stephen Harper doesn’t like democracy, and you know what? I don’t think he likes farmers very much either.”

Further reading
Outcome of our 2011 court challenge in defence of the Canadian Wheat Board (January 2013 blog)
Council of Canadians campaign actions to defend the Canadian Wheat Board (November 2011 blog)
The Canadian Wheat Board explained (November 2011 blog)

Photo: Barlow speaks at a rally in Winnipeg against the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, October 2011.