My Canada includes the Wheat Board,” “62% of farmers support the wheat board,” and “Canadians stand with the Wheat Board” were among the signs raised by protesters at a rally on Nov. 15.
The rally, held in front of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) office in Winnipeg, coincided with a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa that tried to convince the federal government to stop Bill C-18.
Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, is a federal bill meant to end the monopoly the CWB has held for 60 years over grain and wheat sales in Canada. It is based on the idea that an open market will increase the number of buyers bidding on Canadian wheat and barley.
The bill has been causing controversy since it was tabled on Oct. 18.
The board of directors of the CWB launched a lawsuit against the federal government on Oct. 26. The suit claims the federal government is acting illegally in regards to a part of the wheat board act that calls for a referendum among affected producers before grain can be taken away from the board’s control.
According to a recent poll conducted by farmers, 62 per cent of farmers still support the CWB. Some of these supporters marched in a picket line at last Tuesday’s rally.
During the rally, individuals spoke into a megaphone to express their support of the CWB.
Mary McCandless, a member of the Council of Canadians who spoke at the rally, said the CWB is very important to the council in terms of democracy as well as corporatization and take-over.
“All of these things are going to be severely damaged [or] disappear entirely if the wheat board ceases to exist,” said McCandless.
McCandless said the rally was protesting the Harper government’s decision to dismantle the CWB despite that the majority of farmers want to keep it.
“It belongs to the farmers. It’s farmer owned, not Harper owned,” McCandless said.
McCandless said she hoped the rally would have an influence on Ottawa so that the government would instead listen to farmers and perform the referendum that is legally required.
Andy Baker, a Manitoba farmer and speaker at the rally, said the money the wheat board earns for farmers each year is the main reason he came to the rally.
“It has a direct influence on my farm at home and my pocketbook,” Baker said.
Baker also said he was at the rally because the CWB has the strength to represent him against the railroads and U.S. trade challenges.
Baker said he has sold all his wheat and grain to the CWB since he began farming and that without the CWB it will become harder to farm.
Baker explained his three sons are starting to farm and that if he wants to retire he has to make sure his sons have a farm that is viable.
“This is a part of a viable farm, having the CWB.”
Baker said his 24-year-old son attended the press conference in Ottawa “because he can see that we’re going to lose control of our industry completely if we lose the wheat board.”
Fred Tait, another Manitoba farmer who spoke at the rally, said he felt it was important “because of the attack on democracy that the federal government has launched.”
Tait said the issue affects him because it takes wealth out of his community.
“All the value we produce is being taken from us,” Tait said.
Tait explained that with the CWB, farmers don’t have to worry about high risks because they get the average price.
“You never had to worry about not being paid or not being properly represented in negotiations with the railways and the grain companies,” Tait said.
Jon Gerrard, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, said he thinks it is a mistake to get rid of an organization like the wheat board.
“I hope that we’ll send a message that there is a lot of support for the CWB. It’s a very important organization.”
Gerrard said the federal legislation will have a significant impact on Manitoba because of the 460 jobs in Winnipeg and the 2,000 jobs around the province that are related to the operation of the CWB.
Bill C-18 will have its final reading in the House of Commons this week, and if it is approved it will go on to Senate.