OTTAWA—The Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on western wheat and barley is over.
Killing it has been on the Tory wish list for years.
And after being stymied by minority Parliaments, the government flexed its majority muscle and stripped the board of its legal lock on Prairie wheat and barley crops.
The House of Commons voted by a 153-120 margin to support Bill C-18, ending the board’s monopoly.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear last month that the so-called single-desk monopoly was on borrowed time.
“It’s time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down a Prairie track,” he said.
Since 1943, farmers from the Peace River district of northeastern British Columbia to the Ontario-Manitoba border have had no choice but to sell their wheat and barley through the board.
For decades, the board was simply an iconic part of the western Canadian fabric.
But opposition began to grow.
In the 1990s, some rebellious farmers went to jail for selling token shipments of grain outside the wheat board system.
The board, established in 1935, was designed to help farmers struggling through the depression. It was handed a monopoly during the Second World War in an effort to boost price and encourage greater production.
Since, the board used its access to the entire Prairie grain crop as a means of ironing out boom-and-bust cycles and for strategic marketing and became one of the big players in world markets.
The legislation doesn’t kill the board. It allows an interim Canadian Wheat Board to act as a voluntary marketing entity, supported by the federal government, while it transitions to full private ownership.
Farmers will still be able to sell grain there. But the agency will have to compete with other agribusiness players—and it’s that competition that has people worried.
Some fear large international grain companies or the railways will end up controlling the market and cost farmers cash in the long run by killing the very competition Bill C-18 was meant to nurture.