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Federal government appeals ruling in wheat board battle

In this August 30, 2007 file photo, a Viterra grain elevator is shown near Regina, Sask. Grain handler Viterra Inc. is cheering the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly.

TROY FLEECE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The latest chapter in the long and bitter saga of the Canadian Wheat Board played out Wednesday in the Federal Court of Appeal.



The court agreed to hear Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's appeal of a ruling that he broke the law by stripping the wheat board of its monopoly over western wheat and barley sales.



The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board and others, including the board's former directors, had asked the Federal Court of Appeal to quash Mr. Ritz's motion to appeal a lower court's decision.

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Last year, a Federal Court judge ruled Mr. Ritz violated the original Canadian Wheat Board Act, which required a plebiscite among farmers before any major changes were made.



But Justice Douglas Campbell's ruling did not stop the Conservatives from passing a law in December to open up sales to the free market and changing the wheat board to a voluntary agency for producers.



John Lorn McDougall, the lawyer for the former directors, argued Wednesday that Mr. Ritz ignored the Federal Court's ruling by going ahead with legislation to dismantle the wheat board's monopoly.



"He simply thumbed his nose at the court," Mr. McDougall said.



A government lawyer said Mr. Ritz did no such thing.



The federal appeals court's decision is expected to come at a later date.



Since the 1940s, wheat and barley farmers in Western Canada had to sell their grain through the board.

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The Conservatives long promised to allow farmers the option of independently selling their grain, as their counterparts do in other regions.



The move has the support of many farm groups, who say producers can often get better prices on the open market.



But supporters of the monopoly say the open market will leave farmers at the mercy of railways and big, international grain companies.



They argue the monopoly prevented producers from competing against each other for sales.

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