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Ottawa pumps $349M into revamped wheat board

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OTTAWA – The federal government is injecting $349 million into the Canadian Wheat Board to cover off costs as its moves from a monopoly grain marketer to a voluntary one.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz made the announcement from the CWB headquarters in Winnipeg this afternoon.

He said the government is committed to helping the CWB become a successful entity as a voluntary board, and this money will help it do that.

"The revitalized Canadian Wheat Board is open for business," said Ritz.

The funds will help cover off severance payments to about 300 people who are being laid off as the CWB makes the transition to a voluntary company. Legislation eliminating the monopoly the CWB has had on prairie wheat and barley sales for nearly seven decades passed Parliament last year. As of August, prairie farmers can choose, for the first time since the Second World War, whether to sell their grain through the CWB or to another grain company.

The money will also be used to cover off costs such as pensions and post-retirement benefits, rejigging computer systems, and generally making the company smaller and more efficient, said Ritz.

"Nothing good ever comes easy," he said.

Earlier this year Ritz unveiled a $25-million, five-year program to give incentives to grain companies to use the Port of Churchill to ship grain. During the monopoly, the CWB was the main user of the port and the northern Manitoba town feared losing one of its main employers if the business dried up.

Mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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