While directors of the Canadian Wheat Board make one last legal attempt to stop the federal government from scrapping the board, many farmers are starting to wonder if they should sign delivery contracts with the agency.
Farmers across the Prairies have begun planting preparations for spring, and many are trying to decide if they should sign one of the many Wheat Board contracts that guarantee a certain price on delivery. With the Wheat Board's status in limbo, farmers are wondering if the contracts will be honoured. They also can't turn to private grain companies because those firms are not allowed to offer contracts on wheat or barley as long as the Wheat Board exists.
"It's a real strange time," said Derek Squair, president of Agri-Trend Marketing Inc., a Red Deer, Alta.,-based company that provides business services to farmers. "We are kind of at a standstill as an industry."
He added that farmers had more clarity a month ago when it appeared the government would easily pass its legislation, Bill C-18, which would end the Wheat Board's 76-year old monopoly over the sale of wheat and barley grown in Western Canada (Ontario farmers already sell their own wheat).
That certainty ended earlier this month, when a federal court judge ruled the government had to abide by provisions in the 1998 Canadian Wheat Board Act, which require a vote among farmers before any major changes were made to the organization. The government has appealed that ruling and pressed ahead with adoption of the legislation.
On Wednesday, a group of Wheat Board directors asked a court in Manitoba to impose an injunction to prevent Bill C-18 from being implemented until the legal issues are resolved.
"This government has now put itself above the law by proceeding with this bill which is now before the Senate," said Wheat Board chair Allen Oberg. "Such a disregard for a court order is virtually unprecedented in Canada and it is unconscionable for a government in a parliamentary democracy to proceed with legislation in the face of a court order that has declared it illegal."
Mr. Oberg blamed the government for the uncertainty many farmers face about whether to sign on to Wheat Board contracts. He also cautioned them against trying to strike out on their own. "I wouldn't advise any farmers to break the law or to try to not honour any agreements that they have," he said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the government has no plans to hold back the legislation.
"Our government remains focused on passing this vital legislation and giving prairie farmers the marketing freedom they demand and deserve," Mr. Ritz said in a statement Wednesday. "We continue to stand up for all farmers and are equally disappointed that the directors would continue to put the industry at risk with this desperate and reckless action."