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Non-stop train 'barrelling down' on wheat board, Harper declares

Combines harvest wheat on an Alberta farm on Sept. 26, 2011.

TODD KOROL/REUTERS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a message for all the critics of his government's plan to end the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board: Get over it.

Mr. Harper was in Regina Friday to celebrate the announced construction of a $50-million pasta plant by Alliance Grain Traders Inc., one of the largest pasta companies in the world. With the dismantling of the wheat board, farmers will be able to sell their wheat directly to the company.

"It's time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down a prairie track," the Prime Minister said.

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"You're much better to get on it than to lie on the tracks because this is going ahead. It's time for the wheat board to go out in a dual marketing environment, to cultivate its customers and provide a competitive service because those customers are going to have choice in the future."

Not all grain producers are happy about losing the institution that has been the sole marketer for their wheat and barley for the past 76 years. The wheat board recently conducted a poll of 68,000 farmers that suggests a majority are in favour of maintaining the board's "single desk" for wheat.

But the Prime Minister, who has criticized the poll, said the legislation to end the board's exclusivity will be coming soon after the House of Commons returns from its break next week.

"And let me be very clear," he said, "not only will the legislation come forward, it will be passed very soon. We will have dual marketing in August for the next crop year."

This is a historic change that's been long overdue, Mr. Harper added.

The construction of the Alliance plant is expected to create 150 jobs and there 60 people will be needed to work at the facility when it is complete

A number of pasta plants have been proposed for Saskatchewan in the past but the distance to major markets has been prohibitive. One reporter asked Mr. Harper if he believed the end of the wheat board monopoly would even the playing field.

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The Prime Minister responded that there are "advantages and disadvantages" to opening this kind of business. But, he said, "the fact that the company is making this kind of investment tells you that the change we are making is a significant change to the environment for secondary food processing in this part of the country and I think it's a great development."

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