Monday, June 11, 2007

Barley war heats up!

Strahl Lights Up Barley Battle
Cabinet Orders Marketing Choice on Aug. 1
Wheat Board Backers Prepare Challenge

By Larry Kusch
Winnipeg Free Press
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Page B6

AGRICULTURE Minister Chuck Strahl came to Manitoba in triumph Monday to announce that Prairie farmers will be free to choose how they market barley, starting Aug. 1.

But hours later it became clear that the fierce battle over barley marketing isn't over yet.

At a news conference on a farm west of Headingly Monday morning, with about two dozen supportive farmers cheering him on, Strahl announced that Ottawa had approved - through Order In Council - regulations stripping the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly power over barley marketing.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a truly great day for Canadian agriculture," Strahl said, adding that Prairie farmers will now be free to choose whether they want to market their barley through the Wheat Board or in the open market.

He said the government was justified in making the change because 62 per cent of farmers in a plebiscite earlier this year indicated they supported marketing choice.

But later in the day, in a Winnipeg law office, a group calling itself Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board announced it would file an application as early as today in Federal Court to quash the barley order.

Anders Bruun of Campbell Marr LLP, who is representing the Friends said the "fundamental flaw" with Ottawa's barley order is it ignores the fact that an act of Parliament - not simply a Cabinet edict - is required to strip the Wheat Board of its monopoly.

"They are not abiding by the rule of law in this matter," Bruun said of the government.

As well, the Friends' lawsuit will argue that Strahl failed to consult sufficiently with the Wheat Board, as set out in the Wheat Board Act, and that the plebiscite it conducted was tainted and failed to comply with the law.

Meanwhile, a spoleswoman for the Canadian Wheat Board said Monday the CWB will convene a special telephone meeting of its Directors this morning to determine its response to the Cabinet Order.

Several Board Members - if not a majority - are believed to favour a court challenge to the new barley regulations.

The amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Regulations will be available for viewing today at www.pco.gc.ca.

Asked by reporters on Monday about the prospect of a court challenge, Strahl said he hoped that the government's opponents would respect the results of the plebiscite.

"If someone was to stop it or try to change it," Strahl said of the proposed new barley rules, "there's only one group of peeople it will hurt, and that's farmers."

He and several of the grain producers who gathered at Jim Janzen's farm near Headingley argued that farmers stand to make a lot more money if they're free to market barley as they wish.

Ron Hiebert, who farms 11,000 acres near Sperling, said he could earn $160,000 to $200,000 a year more for the wheat he grows if he could sell in the open market.

He said he hadn't grown barley on his farm in many years until this spring, when Ottawa announced its intentions to change the rules.

"As soon as they announced it we bought seed," Hiebert said.

On the other side of the coin, the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board said if the Wheat Board loses its monopoly over both wheat and barley sales, a typical Prairie grain farmer will be out "more than $10,000 per year."

Strahl renewed his pledge Monday not to seek any changes to wheat marketing rules for at least a year. The Wheat Board has a marketing monopoly on all Prairie wheat that is exported or used for human consumption in Canada.

Bruun helped represent the Prairie wheat pools 15 years ago when the Mulroney government attempted - also by Order In Council - to remove the Wheat Board's monopoly over barley sales within North America.

"We had an open market for six weeks and then the judge declared that the Order In Council in that case was invalid....," he said.

Bruun said he expects it could take two to five months before his group gets a court hearing.

He said that once news of the court challenge appears, other farm groups will likely join the Friends, which describes itself as "a coalition of farmers and other Canadians in suport of a democratic, farmer-controlled Wheat Board." Already, the National Farmers Union has joined the cause, he said.

Who Can Sell Barley? Nobody Backing Down

The Background: The Conservatives promised during the last federal election campaign to end the Canadian Wheat Board's sales monoploy. After holding a plebiscite of Prairie farmers earlier this year, the government said it had a 62 per cent mandate from farmers to change the barley marketing reles. Ottawa's opponents said the voting process and the way the question was worded were flawed. This dspring the government announced it would pass regulations authorizing marketing choice for barley (through the CWB or open market) as of Aug. 1.

What Happened On Monday? Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl announced, on a farm near Headingley Monday morning that the government had passed the regulations. Hours later, a group calling itself the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board said it would challenge the government Order In Council in Federal Court, saying it is illegal.

What's Next? The Canadian Wheat Board's Board of Directors will hold an emergency meeting by telephone today to plot their response. A judge probably won't hear the Friends' application to quash the regulations for two to five months.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca
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JEFFREY J. NIEDERHOFFER
jnieder@shaw.ca

We first met Anders Bruun last year when he and Winnipeg attorney Jeff Niederhoffer successfully defended The Honourable W. Yvon Dumont against the Metis National Council's beyond ludicrous lawsuit. The MNC was represented by Counselor Trachtenberg. Mr. Bruun's courtroom presence is reminiscent of Andy Griffith in the television series Matlock - low-key but extremely effective.

Besides being a Senior Partner at Campbell Marr, LLP, Anders is Honourary Council of Denmark having been appointed Counsul for the Province of Manitoba by Her Majesty Margarethe II, Queen of Denmark, in 1983. He was awarded the Knights Cross of Dannebrog in 1992, the Knights Cross of Dannebrog (First Class) in 2001 and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003 for community service.

In addition, Anders is on the Agri-Food Research and Development initiative Council.

Distribution List:
Strahl.C@parl.gc.ca


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