Liberals throw cold water on early passage of wheat board bill

The Conservative government’s proposed legislation to change Canadian Wheat Board election rules has almost no hope of passing before fall CWB elections, says Liberal critic Wayne Easter.”I simply don’t see a way this bill will be through Parliament by fall the way it is written,” he said May 28. “We are going to need some amendments before we can support it. If it is such a high priority issue, why doesn’t the government call it for debate?”On May 28, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said he hopes House leaders for the four parliamentary parties can agree to move the bill quickly so the new rules, including a production threshold for eligible voters, can be in place by autumn.“It takes agreement of the House leaders and I am hoping for that,” he said after a speech to the Canadian 4-H Council. “I’d like to see it through, locked and loaded. The vast majority of farmers support these changes.”In a close split vote, the CWB board of directors voted to support the legislation.Pro-CWB director Bill Toews from Manitoba has said publicly that seven of the 10 farmer-elected directors opposed the bill. The vote carried because of the five government appointed directors, two elected directors who oppose the single desk and one pro-monopoly director who supported it to create the slim majority.Easter cited that report as part of the reason for Liberal skepticism. A majority of farmer-elected directors opposed the government proposal, he said.“The Conservatives like to complain about the unelected Senate but here we have unelected wheat board directors essentially making policy,” he said.The legislation would set a voter threshold of permit book holders who have produced at least 40 tonnes of one of the seven grains and oilseeds cited in the CWB Act in the previous three production seasons. Critics complain that it would allow producers who do not use the CWB to decide policy for the board while smaller producers who do use the board and help pay its costs would be excluded.“It seems strange that in the proposed bill, people who use the board would be excluded and some people who don’t use the board are allowed to vote,” Easter said. “That doesn’t seem right. That is not right and no other farm organization operates that way.”The veteran MP also raised the issue of using the size of farm production as a threshold for voting.“In a Canadian election, should a billionaire have more of a weighted vote than someone who makes $30,000?”He said Liberals will not give the bill quick passage unless the Conservatives accept amendments.While Liberal caucus has not yet decided what those amendment demands will be, they could include raising the production threshold and perhaps separating the election rule changes from proposals that government approval of CWB initial payment requests be streamlined.

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