Tory glee at CWB monopoly defeat

The typically reserved prime minister, Stephen Harper, at first seemed uncertain about what to do.

When he rose on the evening of Nov. 28 to cast the first Conservative vote to approve Bill C-18 that will end the Canadian Wheat Board single desk July 31, 2012, his caucus troops clapped and cheered.

He sat down and began to read his papers again but then quickly realized something unusual was happening. The 153 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons for the historic vote kept on applauding as each of their colleagues stood to have their vote recorded.

Finally, after about a minute, Harper began applauding too.

By the end of the vote, the Conservative MPs had applauded for more than five minutes, a rare display of enthusiasm in the Commons.

It was their moment.

Not to mix a moment of hockey sacredness with the politically profane but sitting in the parliamentary gallery watching, the moment was reminiscent of another moment in time.

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For members of Habs Nation, a sacred moment came March 11, 1996 before the last Montréal Canadiens game at the old Forum when former great Maurice Richard came out for one last bow at the arena where he set so many records and won so many Stanley Cups.

But that had been almost 40 years before.

Yet as the old man skated out to wave at the crowd of almost 20,000, they began to applaud and for more than eight minutes, gave the Rocket their thanks even if many of them were too young to ever have seen him play.

For the Conservative Nation, the impending death of the CWB monopoly after decades of criticism clearly was their moment to stage a spontaneous, heart-felt, prolonged ovation.

For some longtime CWB critics like Harper, Gerry Ritz, Ted Menzies, David Anderson and Randy Hoback, it must have been a very personal triumphant moment.

But the majority of that caucus, coming from outside the Prairies, wouldn’t know a Wheat Board from a pine board and yet they stood and applauded, knowing that for the original prairie party faithful, this was an important moment to be celebrated.

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It capped a strange day in Ottawa with Alberta and Saskatchewan agriculture ministers traveling to join with federal minister Ritz to sing the praises of ending the monopoly. There seemed little reason for their presence other than that they wanted to be there to witness history.

Outside the press conference room, pro-CWB farmers with their signs and anger waited to loudly tell the departing ministers what they thought of them.

Across the street in the Commons visitors’ gallery, scores of anti-CWB farmers invited by the Conservatives listened to hours of debate and waited to applaud the final vote despite Commons rules against such gallery displays. Liberal leader Bob Rae later complained about them.

But in the end, the triumphant mood of the moment was captured by that prolonged ovation by smiling MPs on the floor of the House while opposition MPs across the aisle and a few Board supporters in the gallery sat glumly, knowing it was all but over.

Even the reserved prime minister was pulled in on the act.

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About the author

Barry Wilson — Barry Wilson started work with the Western Producer in 1977 as a reporter in Saskatoon, but not long afterward he moved east to open the paper’s Ottawa bureau. He retired at the end of January, 2014.

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