* Farmers favor wheat single desk; nearly split on barley
* Ottawa says will ignore results
* Political expert says CWB should negotiate
(Adds political scientist's comments, details)
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Sept 12 Nearly two-thirds
of Western Canada's farmers want to keep a decades-old monopoly
system for selling their grain, according to a non-binding vote
that is unlikely to derail plans to open the market.
The mail-in vote, which Ottawa said was flawed, appears to
entrench both sides in their adversarial positions with less
than 11 months to design any new model for the Canadian Wheat
Board if it is to continue operating once the monopoly ends in
Farmers in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and part of
British Columbia are required by law to sell their wheat and
barley (other than for domestic animal feed use) to the Wheat
Board, which then pools the grain for sale in Canada or for
export. The government wants to open the market, giving farmers
a choice of buyers for their crops.
Farmers who support the Wheat Board monopoly believe it
gives them to the best prices.
Sixty-two percent of those who responded, or 22,764
farmers, voted to keep the CWB's single-desk system, the last
major agricultural monopoly and one that controls most of the
supplies from the biggest exporter of spring wheat, durum and
The other 38 percent voted for an open market system, the
election coordinator said on Monday.
The vote was nearly evenly split for barley marketing, with
51 percent of respondents, or 6,283 farmers, voting to keep the
CWB's monopoly and 49 percent, or 6,014, voting for the open
The rate for returned ballots was 56 percent.
"We will fight to have this democratic decision honoured,"
said Allen Oberg, an Alberta farmer and the CWB's chairman. "We
will not sit back and watch this federal government steamroll
While the CWB is talking with the federal government about
the change, it is not negotiating a new model for the board,
GOVERNMENT STAYS COURSE
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said on Friday that the
results would not change the government's plans.
"Let me repeat -- regardless of the plebiscite results --
at the end of the day, every farmer will have the right to
choose how they market their grain," he said. "...No expensive
survey can trump the individual right of farmers to market
their own grain."
The ballot question was a choice between keeping the
monopoly or moving to an open market, but the government
believes there's a third possible outcome - a so-called dual
market with a voluntary CWB competing against private grain
Canada's Conservative government said shortly after it won
majority status in May that it will pass legislation this
autumn to scrap the CWB's monopoly over Western Canada's wheat
and barley in time for the 2012/13 marketing year.
Grain handlers like Viterra Inc VT.TO, Cargill Inc
[CARG.UL] and privately held Richardson International Limited
will be able to buy grain directly from farmers once the
monopoly ends, rather than handling crops for the CWB.
Politically, the Conservative majority of seats in the
House of Commons gives it a clear path to dismantle the
monopoly and it already is the most popular federal party in
The political risk at stake for the government appears
small, while time is running short for the Wheat Board to plan
a new role, said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political
science at University of Manitoba.
"I think the tide has long since passed that you can
mobilize opposition to their decision to end the monopoly,"
Thomas said. "At some point, if you're the leader of a pressure
group (like the CWB) ... you had better move on to dealing with
the change that's coming and try and negotiate more favorable
The Wheat Board has emphasized that current Canadian
legislation requires a farmer vote to decide the future of the
monopoly, which has been in place since the Second World War.
Ottawa faces a legal challenge on that basis from a
coalition of farmers called Friends of the Canadian Wheat
(Editing by Jim Marshall; David Gregorio and Bob Burgdorfer)