OTTAWA - More than 60 per cent of prairie wheat growers want to keep the Canadian Wheat Board as the sole marketing agent for their grain, a CWB plebiscite has found.
A total of 62 per cent of prairie wheat growers - 22,764 farmers - voted to keep the monopoly versus 38 per cent - 14,059 farmers - who voted to eliminate the monopoly and be able to sell their wheat on the open market.
Just over half of barley growers - 51 per cent - voted to maintain the monopoly compared to 49 per cent who voted to eliminate it.
The vote was held by mail-in ballot of farmers in the CWB area including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Turnout in the referendum was 56 per cent for wheat growers, 47 per cent for barley growers and 60 per cent for farmers who grew both.
The results were released this morning by Meyers norris Penny, which handled the plebiscite on behalf of the wheat board.
The CWB held the vote ahead of legislation to eliminate the monopoly which is expected to be introduced this fall by federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. CWB-backers hope the results will force Ritz to back away from plans to eliminate the monopoly.
Ritz has repeatedly said the plebiscite will have no bearing on his legislation because the Conservatives campaigned on a platform to eliminate the monopoly and were given the majority mandate by voters to carry out that mandate.
He also said it shouldn't matter what the results are because a majority of farmers shouldn't be able to dictate to anyone else how to sell their grain.
He appeared somewhat worried about the results last week however, penning a letter to editors ahead of the results, arguing the plebiscite was irrelevant because the question was misleading and the voters list was off. He said farmers who died received ballots.
A farmers' group trying to save the monopoly is in court trying to force the government to listen to a farmers' vote, or perhaps even hold its own vote. Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board filed the case in June asking a court to force Ottawa to follow the Canadian Wheat Board Act and not change the monopoly without a referendum among farmers.
A court official ruled Friday the case would not be tossed out as Ottawa had requested. It will proceed to a case conference in October.
Full detailed results can be found online at www.cwbvote.ca.