Canadian Wheat Board continues to make news

Being a rather long-in-the-tooth reporter of things agricultural on the Canadian Prairies, some three decades now, there have of course been some constants to what makes news.

The weather remains at the top of the heap in terms of a topic covered regularly in agriculture, followed by commodity prices, government subsidies, and of course the Canadian Wheat Board.

article continues below

But, wait, the Canadian Wheat Board is long gone you say.

That is correct.

The Canadian Wheat Board's single desk marketing power officially ended Aug. 1, 2012 as a result of Bill C-18, also known as the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, which was tabled by the Stephen Harper government and passed in December 2011. The Act effectively started the dismantling of the CWB which was established in July 1935. Its operation was governed by the Canadian Wheat Board Act as a mandatory producer marketing system for wheat and barley in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and a small part of British Columbia.

However, in the world of agriculture things have a tendency to linger, to hang around, to fight to have something grow new from an old root. That is the case with the CWB. Its ghost is still out there and there are supporters of it who are still trying to breathe some sort of life back into its corpse.

It would seem safe to say that the single desk selling body that was the old CWB will never rise again, but politics shift quickly these days, and an extended trade war with the power of China on one side and the deep pockets of the US, and its volatile leader Donald Trump could create a vastly different mindset for producers a year from now.

Still, that is a long shot. But producers who favoured the CWB, and in general terms that number was significant, probably closer to 50 per cent than producers for change would like to admit, still want some answers to what happened, or more importantly how it transpired.

Prairie farmers opposed to the way the CWB was dismantled made an appearance in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench May 28.

The farmers, supported by an organization known as Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB), hope to launch a class action lawsuit against the federal government for its handling of the CWB and its demise.

The group feels the Harper government didn’t treat farmers fairly when it dismantled the CWB. That of course is largely a matter of perspective as farmers fighting for change were generally pleased to see the CWB go.

There is a dollar figure involved here too, with the FCWB contending the government’s actions resulted in more $150 million being withheld from farmers in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 crop years.

That is no small amount, but whether a red cent of it will ever get to a grain farmer’s pocket even with a court win is a big question.

As is the question of when the CWB will finally be only a section of agriculture history in this country and not a story still being written.