OTTAWA -- The federal government told western grain farmers Friday to continue planning as if a bill opening up wheat and barley sales in Western Canada will become law.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz made the statements Friday as the government officially filed its appeal of a court ruling from earlier in the week that threw a legal wrench into his legislation to end the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board.
"While others try to deny western farmers control over their own crop, our government remains focused on creating more economic opportunities for western Canadian farmers by passing the marketing freedom for grain farmers act," Ritz said in a news release.
Justice Douglas Campbell ruled in Winnipeg on Wednesday that by introducing bill C-18 without holding a vote among producers nor consulting the Canadian Wheat Board's directors, Ritz violated the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
The act explicitly states the minister cannot introduce a bill in Parliament that excludes any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley from the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on the sale and marketing of those grains without consulting with the board and unless producers have voted in favour of doing so.
The government will argue in its appeal the legislation is wholly within the power of Parliament. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week no previous government can prevent a future government from passing legislation.
There are only a few examples of legislation with clauses requiring the government to consult with citizens in a plebiscite or referendum before the legislation can be changed. Federally, that includes the Clarity Act. In Manitoba, the current NDP government passed legislation requiring a referendum to be held before Manitoba Hydro can be privatized.
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said Harper is correct that one Parliament cannot bind a subsequent Parliament's hands. However, Goodale said, the CWB Act doesn't say the act can't be amended or changed, just that it can't be changed without a vote by farmers.
NDP wheat board critic and Winnipeg MP Pat Martin said if the government holds a vote and gets more than half of Prairie farmers to agree to do away with the monopoly, that would be the end of the debate.
Martin said the government is creating tremendous uncertainty for the grain industry in Canada and should put the brakes on the bill until the court challenges are exhausted.
Supporters of the government's bill urged the Tories to keep pushing the legislation through, because nothing in Campbell's ruling declared the bill itself to be out of order.
Campbell's ruling did not actually discuss the validity of the bill itself because he was not asked to do so. However, it is expected the courts will be asked to prevent the bill from being implemented.
The courts cannot intervene in Parliament's ability to debate and pass legislation but could be asked to prevent legislation from being acted on as long as the issue is before a judge, Queen's University politics professor Ned Franks said this week.
The government served notice it intends to call for a final vote on C-18 in the Senate on Dec. 15. As soon as the bill receives royal assent, the farmer-elected directors of the Canadian Wheat Board will be fired and replaced with government appointees.
The remainder of the bill is supposed to come into force gradually over the next eight months, with farmers allowed to begin contracting with firms other than the CWB for sales after Aug. 1, 2012, when the bill would come fully into force and the monopoly would be lifted.