Appeals court sides with Ottawa on CWB issue

Lower court wrong | Ritz did not break law by introducing CWB ending bill without farmer vote

The Federal Court of Appeal has decisively supported the right of the federal government to end the CWB monopoly without a farmer vote.

In a June 18 judgment, the court shredded the 2011 ruling of Winnipeg Federal Court justice Douglas Campbell that agriculture minister Gerry Ritz violated “the rule of law” when he introduced legislation without holding a farmer plebiscite.

Reflecting a unanimous decision by the three judges who heard the federal appeal in May, justice Robert Mainville said each of Campbell’s arguments against the government’s ability to change the law without farmer approval was wrong.

The appeal court also ordered that those who challenged the government — Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board and former CWB directors dismissed by the government under the new legislation, as well as the Council of Canadians and others — pay government costs.

Essentially, the appeal court ruling said that 1998 amendments to the CWB Act brought in by former Liberal wheat board minister Ralph Goodale requiring a producer vote to add or subtract grains from the board could not bind a government trying to end the monopoly to act only after a group of citizens said it was OK.

“The effect of such a provision is to relinquish Parliament’s powers in the hands of a small group not forming part of Parliament,” justice Mainville wrote. “I seriously doubt such a provision could be used to impede the introduction of legislation in Parliament.”

Although lawyers for Friends of the CWB argued during the appeal in May the intent of the appeal was not to challenge the law but rather the performance of Ritz as minister, the appeal court said the Campbell lower court judgment carried significant weight and had to be addressed.

It is at the heart of a claim that the legislation should not be allowed to proceed, as well as a class action suit filed by pro-CWB farmers that is asking for billions of dollars in compensation for farmers.

Mainville said a reading of the record shows no evidence to support the idea that farmers rather than government would decide the fate of the CWB.

“I have found nothing in the record which leads to the conclusion that the repeal of the single desk as a whole or of the CWB Act in its entirety were somehow made conditional to obtaining the prior consent of the CWB or of grain producers.”

He dismissed judge Campbell’s acceptance of a Council of Canadians argument that the CWB had to be “democratic” to meet international trade obligations.

If they choose, opponents must now appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a statement issued by his office late June 18, agriculture minister Ritz said he was pleased with a judgment that he had expected.

“The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act is in force and farmers are moving forward and contracting their wheat and barley with buyers of their choice for delivery beginning Aug. 1, 2012,” he said.

“Marketing freedom will build a stronger economy by attracting investment, encouraging innovation and creating value-added jobs.”

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