Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Backers of old CWB lose in $17-B lawsuit

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OTTAWA -- The Federal Court has struck down most of the claims in a lawsuit by supporters of the old Canadian Wheat Board, but the case is still moving forward.

Board supporters are seeking $17 billion for damages they claim were caused when the federal government ended the CWB's monopoly over western wheat and barley sales.

Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer struck several claims, including those of expropriation and unlawful interference with economic relations.

On the expropriation issue, the judge basically said there has been no transfer of property.

"In sum, and unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the loss of a single desk due to the change in the regulatory scheme is not enough in itself to claim a loss of a property interest," she wrote in the decision.

Tremblay-Lamer said the claim for mismanagement can continue with a revised statement of claim.

On the mismanagement issue, board supporters say the government and the new CWB leadership used money that should have been paid to farmers to cover the transition when the marketing monopoly ended.

Board supporters argued they have a proprietary interest in the assets and goodwill of the CWB.

The supporters also claim the government interfered with their economic relations by ending the single-desk marketing system, which they said got them a premium price for their grain.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a release Thursday the ruling underscores the right of western Canadian farmers to market their own grain.

The government filed a motion last August asking for the claim to be struck and the proposed class action dismissed.

One of the arguments it made was that while producers had the right to elect wheat board directors from 1998 until 2011, they were never shareholders and had no right or interest in the property of the CWB.

Producers were simply entitled to payment for the grain they sold, the government said.

Stewart Wells, former president of the National Farmers' Union and a former CWB director, said the decision means farmers have no claim on board assets.

The assets include rail cars and ships that were bought with money from farmers' grain sales, as well as a contingency fund that was partially financed by farmers' fees.

"So we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars of hard physical assets," Wells said from Swift Current, Sask.

"It's disappointing that the court so far has upheld the government's right to what I would term a legislated theft from farmers."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2013 B8

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