Sask. Wheat elections create controversy

The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission election is heating up as accusations of impropriety swirl around an existing board member.

Dan Danielson, vice-chair of the board, made a Facebook post on Oct. 2 encouraging farmers to vote for four out of the list of 10 candidates running for election.

There are four positions up for grabs on the seven-member board. Danielson’s position is not one of them.

“I believe it is extremely important to have progressive farmers elected who can work together for farmer profits, not selling out to foreign corporations,” he said.

Danielson endorsed three existing board members who are attempting to retain their seats — Bill Gehl, Ken Rosaasen and Glenn Tait.

Gehl is the chair of the commission and former chair of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance. Rosaasen is a retired University of Saskatchewan professor of agricultural economics. Tait is a former vice-president of the National Farmers Union.

The fourth candidate picked by Danielson is Rod Luhning, former Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Lumsden.

The post caused former Sask-atchewan Pulse Grower chair Morgan Nunweiler to question governance policy at SaskWheat.

“Why are current directors trying to influence the outcome of the election?” he said in a response to Danielson’s Facebook post.

“Don’t you believe that farmers can decide for themselves who they should elect without you as directors getting involved?”

Nunweiler said a similar incident occurred a few years ago when he was on the SaskPulse board and the board took action to prevent directors from influencing future elections.

Danielson said he is being attacked by the same pro-industry forces that organized the Team Wheat slate of candidates that jointly campaigned against him in the 2015 election.

“What do they think I’m supposed to do, just sit around and keep my nose out of this and watch industry take over?” he said.

Danielson believes some of the candidates in the 2017 campaign are backed by industry, but he wouldn’t mention names.

“This comes down to a debate or a competition between who represents farmers and who represents the corporate industry point of view. I’m on the side of farmers. They’re on the other side,” he said.

Tait said the endorsement issue came up at a board meeting and it was decided there would be no constraints placed on board members.

“We do not have the right to stifle comment by anybody, including board members,” he said.

Tait was pleased to receive Danielson’s endorsement.

“I do give Dan a lot of weight being on the commission already. We have worked together for four years. We know how we think about the issues,” he said.

Nunweiler said board endorsements lead to voter confusion because they don’t know if one person or the entire organization is endorsing the candidates.

He said most commissions struggle to get farmers to run for election, so it is incumbent upon them to create a level playing field for those who do.

“It just doesn’t sit well with a lot of farmers when you’ve got directors doing that,” he said.

The other six candidates vying for seats are Western Canadian Wheat Growers board member Daryl Fransoo, former Canadian Canola Growers Association president Brett Halstead, Weyburn farmer Jake Leguee, Humboldt farmer Patricia Lung, Battleford farmer Trevor Scherman and Broadview farmer Scott Sefton.

Nunweiler tweeted about his concerns on Oct. 19 in hopes of generating some discussion on the topic. It did.

Cereals Canada board member and former Canola Council of Canada chair Terry Youzwa said SaskWheat continues to “operate in a silo with no meaningful market development.”

Fransoo weighed in saying he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Danielson or “any of the NFUers” who he identified as Gehl, Tait and Rosaasen. He later added that there was a resolution at SaskWheat’s annual meeting in 2016 instructing it to join Cereals Canada that was completely ignored by the board.

“Not farmer first,” tweeted Fransoo.

Tait said the only NFU members on the board are himself and Gehl.

“I don’t think two out of seven control the whole board. It’s kind of silly,” he said.

Tait said the Cereals Canada resolution was thoroughly debated at three consecutive board meetings before the board made the “well thought out” decision not to join the organization.

He was more forthcoming about his feelings in his Twitter response to Fransoo.

“Farmer first is not throwing farmer money away on industry captured useless orgs like Cereals Canada,” said Tait.

The Twitter debate even drew in former federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz who encouraged farmers to defeat the candidates selected by Danielson.

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