Two court fights aimed at overturning Ottawa’s deregulation of the former Canadian Wheat Board have officially hit their last legal wall.
The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday dismissed, with costs, the separate applications from Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB) and from former farmer-elected members of the CWB’s board of directors, both seeking leave to appeal their loss at the Federal Court of Appeal in June 2012.
The top court’s decision, which gave no reasons for the dismissal, stems from the FCWB’s initial win in December 2011 at Federal Court in Winnipeg.
In that ruling, Justice Douglas Campbell had declared Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz — by pushing through legislation to end the former board’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley — was in breach of section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
Campbell found Ritz to be in breach when the ag minister introduced Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, without first consulting with the wheat board’s directors and then getting Prairie farmers’ approval through a farmer vote.
However, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned Campbell’s ruling, finding “none of the arguments (from the FCWB or its interveners) can sustain an interpretation” of the law that would have prevented Ritz from legislating changes to the CWB’s mandate or prevented the Conservative government from repealing the CWB Act altogether.
Ritz’s C-18 took effect last August, ending the board’s single desk and dismissing the farmer-elected portion of its board of directors. The former board now markets wheat, barley, durum and canola under the abbreviated name “CWB,” through handling arrangements with Prairie grain companies.
“We are pleased with today’s decision that upheld the right of western Canadian grain farmers to make their own business decisions,” Ritz said in a statement Thursday, noting an “overwhelming majority of Prairie grain farmers are already taking advantage of the benefits of an open market.”
The FCWB, however, warned Thursday that the Supreme Court’s dismissal is not the last legal word on the board’s deregulation.
The FCWB in February last year filed a proposed class-action suit in Federal Court in Ottawa, with representative farmer plaintiffs from each of the four western provinces.
The proposed class action’s statement of claim seeks a declaration that C-18 is “of no force and effect” as an infringement of farmers’ Charter rights; a stay or suspension of C-18′s implementation; a declaration that Ritz infringed on farmers’ Charter rights by not holding a producer vote in advance of introducing C-18; and $3.75 billion in damages from “a diminishment of the fair market value of the (CWB’s) assets and good will.”
Alternately, the action would ask for $17.062 billion in damages from diminishment of those assets, loss in profits to producers, and “conversion of assets, funds and revenues including the (CWB’s) contingency fund” that “should have subsequently been transferred to the (CWB’s) 2011-12 pool accounts but were not” after C-18’s passage.
FCWB’s chairman, former CWB director and ex-National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells, said in a release Thursday that the group doesn’t believe the Supreme Court dismissal would have a “direct effect” on the proposed class action.
“The class action is based on several legal principles which were not before the Supreme Court and as a result the class action is not affected by today’s ruling,” Wells said.
Granted, he said, in the months since C-18 took effect, wheat and barley prices have remained “exceptionally good” due to droughts in grain-growing regions worldwide.
However, he added, “the fact remains that producers have lost the premiums on high-protein wheat and malt barley which the CWB was able to obtain for the benefit of farmers.”
CWB single-desk supporters file for new class action, Feb. 16, 2012
Appeal court upholds “marketing freedom” law, June 18, 2012
Federal judge rips Ritz’s plans for CWB reform, Dec. 7, 2011