WINNIPEG — Ottawa’s newly minted law eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly powers to market Prairie wheat and barley has survived its first legal challenge.
Late Friday, a Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench judge denied a motion by eight former wheat board directors that would have temporarily prevented the Harper government from implementing the new law, which received royal assent on Thursday.
"I am not satisfied that there is sufficient urgency to justify the consideration of an interim injunction at this stage," Mr. Justice Shane Perlmutter ruled. He will hear more detailed arguments on an injunction against the controversial law in Winnipeg on Jan. 17-18.
For now, though, the Harper government’s Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act (Bill C-18) remains in effect.
Earlier on Friday, at a rally with supporters on a farm near Regina, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz celebrated the passage of the new law.
"This feels … good. It’s been a long time coming," he said of the government’s long fight to end the wheat board’s single desk.
"First they said it shouldn’t be done. Then they said it couldn’t be done, and then they said it wouldn’t be done because they’ll take us to court," he said of the naysayers.
Nine days earlier, a Federal Court judge had ruled that Ritz had broken the law when he introduced Bill C-18 without first holding a vote of Prairie grain growers. But the judge did not rule on the legality of the bill itself.
Ottawa announced it would appeal the Federal Court decision and pressed on with passage of C-18.
One of the provisions of the new law is the immediate removal of the CWB’s farmer-elected directors, who had fought against the legislation. The wheat board is now being run by five federally appointed directors, giving the Harper government control over the grain-seller’s operations.
With the new law in effect, the wheat board withdrew as a plaintiff in Friday’s court action, leaving eight former farmer directors to fight the legislation on their own.
Perlmutter could still grant an injunction against the new law next month, when he hears more detailed arguments. But he wasn’t persuaded Friday to do so immediately. At one point in the proceedings he termed such an action “fairly draconian.”
It could take as long as a year for the Court of Queen’s Bench to hear a motion by the former directors to declare the marketing freedom law invalid.
Ottawa intends to end the wheat board’s sales monopoly next Aug. 1. In the interim, it is allowing the private grain trade to enter into contracts with farmers on next year’s wheat and barley crops.
CWB president and CEO Ian White issued a statement Friday assuring farmers that the board will continue to market farmers’ grain, if they so wish. “We will work to achieve the best prices for farmers and superior service for customers in Canada and around the world,” he said.
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