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County rep resigns from CWB

Sturgeon County's voice on the Canadian Wheat Board has resigned over the group's fight to keep the single desk policy for wheat and barley. Henry Vos announced Oct.

Sturgeon County's voice on the Canadian Wheat Board has resigned over the group's fight to keep the single desk policy for wheat and barley.

Henry Vos announced Oct. 26 that he was stepping down as District 1 director for the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). District 1 covers Sturgeon County, northern Alberta, and part of B.C.

Vos, who farms near Fairview, has been the county's representative on the board since 2006 and was elected on a platform that called for an end to the single-desk policy that required all Western Canadian grain farmers to sell their wheat and barley through the board.

In his resignation letter, Vos described the CWB's board of directors as "dysfunctional" and "ideological," and said he could no longer serve his constituents and Western Canadian grain farmers within it. "What is happening at the CWB today, is, in a word, wrong."

The board's "at-all-costs" approach to protecting the single desk was harming the reputation of farmers, he wrote, and he criticized other directors for using board money to promote their views on the single-desk — a move he described as "ideological bullying."

"Decisions that are affecting the income of farmers are being made on the basis of ideology," Vos said in an interview, "and to me, that's just wrong."

Controversial lawsuit

Shortly after Vos's resignation, CWB chair Allen Oberg announced that his group had launched a lawsuit against the government's efforts to pass Bill C-18. That bill, if passed, would end the CWB's single desk policy next August and allow Western Canadian farmers to sell their wheat and barley on the open market. It would also dismiss its 10 elected directors and replace them with five appointed ones.

The suit, tabled by Oberg and seven other elected CWB directors, alleges that the Conservatives broke the law by tabling Bill C-18 earlier this fall without consulting the board or holding a producer vote on grain marketing beforehand as required by Sect. 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

"The Harper government has acted illegally and unethically in its attack on the Canadian Wheat Board," Oberg said, "and must be stopped."

Majority governments do not confer absolute power, Oberg said, and do not create dictatorships. "This is not about saving the CWB. This is about farmers being allowed to decide for themselves whether they want this kind of marketing structure, and all the evidence shows that they do."

Vos said he voted against the lawsuit. "I saw it as a complete waste of farmers' money," he said, as the board had plenty of evidence to suggest it would not stop or slow the passage of the bill.

Instead, he argued, it would create market uncertainty and make it tougher for farmers to plan for the future.

"All these things are going to cost farmers money." This lawsuit was "the final straw" for him, he said, and was what prompted his resignation.

Jeff Nielsen, who represents most of southern Alberta on the board, said he also opposed the suit.

"Parliament is supreme," he said, "and if they choose to change a law, they have the right to change a law."

The board hasn't done enough to reflect producers' calls for a more open marketing system, Nielsen said. "We should have been more willing to work with the government."

He said he shared Vos's frustration, and was thinking about stepping down from the board as well.

In an interview, Oberg described Vos's resignation as "unfortunate," noting that he had brought a different point of view to the board.

"Mr. Vos seems to think that the government's actions are justified," he said, "…but it's clear that a majority of farmers don't think that."

The board had three months to decide if it would hold a by-election to fill Vos's seat, he added.

The board has asked the Federal Court to hear its case before Dec. 6. The Conservatives have said they would pass Bill C-18 by the end of the year.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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