Farmers launch $14.5 billion lawsuit against Conservatives' wheat board closure

Furious farmers have launched a $15.4 billion class action lawsuit in response to the Conservative government's vow to shut down the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).
 
The suit came after Ottawa stripped the 77-year old CWB of its long-time monopoly on wheat and barley sales in western Canada - designed to ensure fair pay to food producers - and kicked out the Board's directors, who had been elected by farmers and made up the majority of its 15-seat decision-making body.
 
But the Conservatives' legislation included no provisions to compensate farmers, alleged lawyer Tony Merchant, in Regina. His lawsuit alleges the CWB holds millions of dollars in assets, including 3,400 train cars, lake freighters, an office building in Winnipeg, and $100 million. Those assets, the suit alleges, are the result of farmers' investments and must be compensated.
 
Last September, 62 per cent of farmers voted in a required CWB plebiscite to retain a single marketing desk for wheat, and 51 per cent for barley. After that vote of confidence, the farmer-elected chair of the Board said that the plebiscite showed the resistance to Ottawa's plans.
 
"Farmers have spoken. Their message is loud and clear, and the government must listen," said Allen Oberg, chair of the CWB's farmer-controlled board of directors, in a press release. "Western Canadian producers have voted to keep their single-desk marketing system for wheat and barley. They cannot be ignored.

"We will not sit back and watch this government steamroll over farmers. We are going to stand our ground and fight for farmers."

Founded in 1935, the Depression-era institution ensured that farmers received a guaranteed price for their crops by being a single purchaser and vendor. At the end of each year, the CWB returned its profits to its members.

But the Conservative government said it was only fair to allow farmers to sell their own wheat and barley on the open market, and passed legislation last month stripping the CWB of its monopoly - or "single desk" - on sales. The CWB loses its single desk in August, and will lose federal support altogether in five years.

"The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act repositions the entire grain sector for the future - one that is better able to attract investment and allow farm and industry entrepreneurs to seize new markets, increase sales and drive our economy," said agriculture minister Gerry Ritz in an earlier press release when the legislation passed. "Today and every day, the Harper Government is standing up for farmers, delivering on our promises and working with industry to make Canada a better place to live and work."
 
None of the lawsuit's allegations have yet been proven in court.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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