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Judge weighs Wheat Board bid for injunction against Tories

Viterra Inc., which operates this grain elevator near Regina, is one of the companies cheering the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly.

TROY FLEECE/Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press

The legal battle over the future of the Canadian Wheat Board was back in a Winnipeg court room Tuesday, just as the marketing agency announced a round of layoffs.

A group of former Wheat Board directors is asking a Manitoba judge for an injunction to stop the implementation of the federal government's law to end its monopoly over the sale of all wheat and barley grown in Western Canada. That law took effect last month and the eight farmer-elected directors, including chairman Allen Oberg, were dismissed.

The former directors say the law should be suspended until a court rules on the validity of the legislation. They argue law is invalid in part because the government did not hold a vote among farmers.

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"We're asking that this injunction be granted so that the whole industry can step back and make the determination as quickly as possible," Mr. Oberg said Tuesday outside the court.

Mr. Oberg said he and the other directors are paying the legal costs of the lawsuits with financial help from other farmers. And, he said even if they lose the current round of legal action they plan to keep fighting in court.

The farmers are clinging to a Federal Court ruling made in December that said the law was improperly adopted because the government failed to have a farmer vote. The government has appealed that ruling and it argues the court was merely making a "declaration" and did not challenge the validity of the law.

During Tuesday's court hearing on the injunction application, Mr. Justice Shane Perlmutter of the Court of Queen's Bench gave a lawyer representing the ex directors a tough time. Judge Perlmutter asked repeatedly why the directors did not go back to Federal Court for the injunction request and he questioned whether the federal court ruling made the law invalid or was simply a declaration.

Colin MacArthur, who represents the former directors, said the federal ruling dealt with the "manner and form" of the government's law, which renders the law invalid. He also said it was easier for the ex directors to apply to the Manitoba court for the injunction request instead of heading back to the federal court. Either way, he added, the Manitoba has jurisdiction.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

While the legal battle plays out, the Wheat Board is adjusting to its new mandate. The government has said it will keep backing the board financially for five years but farmers are free to sell their grain to the Board or private companies such as Viterra Ltd. or Richardson International Ltd.

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The board confirmed Monday that 23 people have been laid off from the Winnipeg head office this week and further layoffs could be coming. The Wheat Board employs about 400 people in Winnipeg.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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