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Firing may show new CWB stance on barley: MCO

Observers of the Canadian Wheat Board say a vote by the CWB’s directors on the firing of one of its vice-presidents may show an important shift in their willingness to defend single-desk marketing of Prairie barley, the Manitoba Co-operator reports in its Feb. 7 issue.

The decision last week to axe Deanna Allen, the
CWB’s vice-president of farm relations
and public affairs, split the 15-member board and demonstrated the new
dynamic created when the Harper government inserted anti-single-desk directors into the five positions filled by federal appointment.

Sources told the Manitoba farmers’ newspaper that the five federal appointees,
along with three of the farmer-elected
directors, voted in favour of sacking the
employee who has been a powerful and
articulate defender of single-desk marketing in the face of the government’s campaign to end the board’s monopoly.

The decision came days after the federal government announced Australian
industry executive Ian White would
replace interim chief executive officer
Greg Arason. It also came the same week
in which Agriculture Minister Gerry
Ritz instructed the board of directors to
endorse an open market for barley — saying it would make it easier for the minority government to get the necessary opposition support to pass legislation.

The board issued a response following its
semi-annual strategy meeting — the same
meeting that ended Allen’s career at the
CWB — saying it will push forward with introducing CashPlus, its new
malting barley contract for
2008-09 crop year.

However, the
board also said it will meet with
Ritz to further discuss barley
marketing, leaving the door open

for the board to give its blessing
for an open barley market.

One source told the Co-operator there are
directors willing to endorse
an open market for barley on
condition that the government
agrees to leave the CWB alone
for three years.

According to observers,
Allen’s firing marks a significant
shift around the board table.
Traditionally, on issues concerning the single desk, eight farmer-directors vote to defend it; three
vote the opposite way, as do the
five government directors.

Sources say CWB chair Ken
Ritter broke ranks and voted
with open-market advocates.
Ritter didn’t return a phone call from the Co-operator
requesting an interview.

Without cause

Allen was officially fired “without cause,” which involves paying
severance, but does not require
proof of poor performance.

First
hired as an information officer in
1994, she left the board in 2000,
only to return again in 2002 as
vice-president of public affairs.
She was promoted again in

2004 when the board reorganized. Allen was also among the
senior managers offered a special retention bonus approved by
the directors to try to keep senior
executives from leaving during
this time of turmoil.

However, her feisty defence of
the board’s position on single-desk marketing and her management style placed her at odds
with the federal minister’s office
and with some employees.

Sources told the Co-operator wheat board CEO
Greg Arason told the board she
should be dismissed. Several
CWB directors said in interviews
later they didn’t believe Arason’s
reasoning. “How can she go
from being a star manager to
being fired in two years?” one
director said.

Arason told CWB staff that
Allen’s dismissal had nothing to
do with the battle between the
CWB and Ottawa over the single
desk.

“I can tell you that I wasn’t
ordered to fire her by the government,” Arason said in an
interview with the Co-operator. Because it’s a personnel issue he declined to comment further.

Former CWB communications chief Bob Roehle of Winnipeg, now a member of the Friends of
the CWB, said
Arason may not have had orders
from the minister’s office, but
he knows what the government
wants.

It is widely believed her firing will put a chill on all CWB staff.

“The message is clear,” said
one director. “Don’t defend the
single desk. Staff will be keeping their heads down.”

Former CWB CEO Adrian
Measner said Allen was “an
excellent worker” who went
beyond the call of duty.

Office politics may have
played a role. There was bad
blood between Arason and
Allen, according to sources,
from the time he was appointed
by the government after it fired
Measner, to whom she was
loyal.

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