KINDERSLEY, Sask. - Western Canadian farmers who were convicted in the 1990s for taking their grain across the border to sell in the U.S. have been pardoned.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the pardons Wednesday on a farm near Kindersley, Sask., where he and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz marked what the government calls marketing freedom day.
New federal legislation kicked in Wednesday to end the Canadian Wheat Board's decades-long monopoly on western wheat and barley sales. That means western farmers can sell their grain to whomever they choose, whenever they choose instead of having to go through the board.
"These people were not criminals. They were our fellow citizens," the prime minister said to cheers from hundreds of invited farmers who gathered to support the change to the wheat board.
Jim Chatenay, one of the pardoned farmers, said he was "overwhelmed with happiness."
"Now we can have everything in our favour...It's just a glorious, wonderful day and this was well worth the wait."
The farmers were trying to get around a law at the time that said they had to sell their wheat and barley through the Canadian Wheat Board or get export permits from the agency.
Chatenay ran into trouble in 1996. The Alberta rancher was told to pay a $4,000 fine or face 64 days in jail for driving across the border to donate a bag of wheat to a 4H club in Montana. The case was in and out of court until 2002 when Chatenay was put behind bars.
"The time was long and slow. Played a lot of cards. Lockdowns were a little painful and scary cause every once in a while we'd have to get moved around a little bit," he recalled.
In the end, Chatenay served 23 days. He joked that he got credit for good behaviour.
Harper said the farmers who drove small amounts of grain across the border in symbolic rebellion were responsible for first raising the monopoly issue in the minds of Canadians.
"For these courageous farmers, their convictions will no longer tarnish their good names ... it is to them that much of this victory is owed."
The grain growers belonged to a loosely knit group called Farmers for Justice. They would often have their vehicles or equipment seized at the border, and in some cases were charged and convicted for breaking the law. At least one producer spent several months in jail.
"Never, never, never again will western farmers — and only western farmers — growing their own wheat on their own land be told how they can and can't market their products," Harper said with rolling green fields behind him.
There are farmers who still support the monopoly. They worry that the open market will leave them at the mercy of railways and big, international grain companies.
The group Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board said in a new release Wednesday that the change will hit farmers in the pocketbook.
"By destroying the world's largest marketer of wheat and barley, Stephen Harper has transferred a tremendous amount of wealth and influence away from farmers," said group chairman Stewart Wells.
"There is no longer any meaningful influence by farmers inside the grain trade."
The group said the "crippled" wheat board will soon have no credibility with either farmers or international customers.
Chatenay, however, lauded the fact that producers like him now have a choice.
"Now we have the choice that the wheat board can step aside at times, because they can't be good to everybody all the time. And what really bothered me is that they told me when and how to sell my grain when I had a buyer in the U.S. that would pay me cash up front, done, finished," said Chatenay.
The true impact of an open market is unlikely to be felt much this year as poor crops in other parts of the world, and a drought in the United States, are raising demand for Canadian-grown grain.
In Winnipeg, the revamped wheat board started the first day of the new crop year with the announcement of another grain-handling deal with one of the country's largest agribusinesses. Richardson International of Winnipeg will accept grain deliveries from farmers with wheat board contracts at all its locations in Western Canada.
With the loss of its monopoly, the board, which does not own any of its own terminals, must sign contracts with companies that can handle farmers' grain.
Wheat board president Ian White said the agency now has more than 170 locations across the West where producers can deliver their crops.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin has said the Conservatives are gloating about killing what he calls the most successful grain marketing company in the world.
Liberal Ralph Goodale, minister responsible for the wheat board when his party was in power, suggests an independent organization should monitor what happens in the marketplace to see if farmers are better or worse off.
Have The Tories Kept Their Promises?
The Conservative election platform in 2011, "Here for Canada," featured many campaign commitments.<br><br>One year into Harper's "strong, stable, majority Conservative government," how much has been accomplished? What still remains to be done?<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em><br><br>(Getty)
What They've Done
The next five slides provide a list of what the Tories have accomplished in their first year.<br><br>(Getty)
Budget 2011 Measures
Budget 2011 measures (rolled into the election platform after the original March budget did not pass, and all delivered again in the June budget):<br><br> - Hiring credit for small business -- offering a short-term break from EI payments for those who increase payrolls.<br><br> - Extension for: work-sharing program (helping employers avoid layoffs by providing part-time EI benefits); the "targeted initiative for older workers" (programs to help older unemployed workers); temporary accelerated capital cost allowance rate for manufacturing equipment; mineral exploration tax credit; ecoENERGY retrofit program for homes (one more year only.)<br><br>- Funding for: Canadian youth business foundation; Canada student loans program; 30 new industrial research chairs at Canadian colleges and polytechnics and ten new Canada excellence research chairs for universities; northern adult basic education program in territories; student loan forgiveness for medical professionals willing to work in rural/underserviced regions.<br><br>- Funding for: all-season road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (to complete Dempster highway); two new national parks in Labrador and urban Toronto; snowmobile trails; small-craft harbour repairs; plus support for an agricultural trade commissioner and market access secretariat to "expand international markets for farmers;" as well as funding for an "agriculture innovation initiative."<br><br>- Funding for: Royal Conservatory of Music (to launch a national examination system); Canada periodical (magazines) fund; "youth gang prevention fund" to support projects in high-need communities.<br><br>- Tax credits: children's arts (up to $500/child in qualified arts/culture programs); family caregiver tax credit ($2,000 for those caring for an infirm family member); volunteer firefighters; plus a top-up for guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors.<br><br>- Phase-out of taxpayer subsidies to federal political parties.<br><br>(CP)
Other Economic Measures:
- Government-wide spending review, as reflected in the 2012 budget, implementing over $5 billion in spending and job cuts across all federal departments and agencies, representing some 6.9 per cent of total government spending.<br><br>- Repeal of legislation forcing mandatory retirement at a specified age for workers in federally-regulated industries (effective Dec. 2012).<br><br>- Financial assistance (loans) to help immigrants get foreign credentials recognized (pilot announced Feb. 2012).<br><br>- "One-for-one" rule for business regulations arising from work of "red tape commission," now requiring government to eliminate a regulation for every new regulation implemented (effective April 1).- Successful bidders chosen for shipbuilding procurement strategy (Oct. 2011).<br><br>- "Single desk" monopoly of Canadian Wheat Board dismantled and farmer-elected board dismissed, enabling an open market for Prairie wheat and barley effective 2012 crop year.<br><br>- Pooled retirement pension plans implemented (Nov. 2011).<br><br>- "Helmets to hardhats" program to help military veterans find civillian work after deployments (announced Jan. 2012).<br><br>
- 18 more First Nations signed on to the First Nations land management regime, opting out of land-related sections of the Indian Act (March 2012).<br><br>- Quebec sales tax harmonization agreement (signed in Sept. 2011).<br><br>- Increase health transfers to provinces by six per cent annually until 2017, with the rate tied to economic growth and adjusted for inflation after 2017 (platform pledged to not "cut transfer payments to individuals or to the provinces for essential things like health care, education, and pensions" while working "collaboratively with the provinces and territories to renew the Health Accord and to continue reducing wait times").<br><br>- Loan guarantee for Lower Churchill River hydro project (memorandum with Newfoundland and Labarador signed in Aug. 2011).<br><br>- Legislation to make the "gas tax fund" a permanent form of infrastructure funding to municipalities (passed Dec. 2011).<br><br>- Alberta's elected Senate nominee Betty Unger called to Senate in Jan. 2012 (no other provinces have elected Senate nominees eligible for appointment).<br><br>(Getty)
- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill/?" target="_hplink">Omnibus crime legislation (C-10)</a>, which included new mandatory minimum sentences, stiffer penalties for drug crimes, stiffer penalties for child sex offenders, an end to house arrest/conditional sentences for a range of offences, elimination or delay in eligibility for pardons, stiffer sentences for repeat or violent young offenders, new roles for victims of crime in parole decisions, measures to protect vulnerable foreign workers, new criteria for the transfer of Canadians convicted of crimes abroad, and new measures to seek justice for victims of terrorism (received royal assent March 2012, within the "100 sitting days of Parliament" deadline pledged in the platform).<br><br>- "Wanted by the CBSA" web site launched, to help find and facilitate deportations of foreign criminals (July 2012, and ongoing).<br><br>- Employment insurance benefits for parents of murdered or missing children (announced April 13).<br><br>- Legislation to end the long-gun registry (received royal assent April 5, but implementation stalled, subject to court injunction in Quebec).<br><br>
- Office of religious freedom created in department of foreign affairs, to monitor and promote religious freedom as part of Canadian foreign policy.<br><br>- Legislation to reallocate House of Commons seats to "restore fair representation" (C-20 received royal assent Dec. 2011).<br><br>(CP)
What They Haven't Done (Or Haven't Finished, Yet)
The next six slides provide a list of what the Tories didn't get done during their first year.<br><br>(Getty)
Trade Deals And International Commitments
- Canada-European free trade deal (pledged for 2012).<br><br>- Canada-India free trade deal (pledged for 2013).<br><br>- New border agreement with the United States encompassing trade, travel and security regulations (negotiations ongoing).<br><br>- Copyright Modernization Act (special committee reviewing C-11 reported back to House on March 15).<br><br>- Maternal and child health initiatives, to be implemented in collaboration with other countries (the "Muskoka Initiative," launched in Nov. 2010 - $82 million for specific Canadian projects announced in Sept. 2011 ).<br><br>- Post-combat efforts in Afghanistan, focused on "the education and health of children and youth; advancing security, the rule of law, and human rights; promoting regional diplomacy; and delivering humanitarian assistance."<br><br>(Getty)
- F-35 stealth fighter jet purchase (a new secretariat will now oversee the procurement of replacement fighter jets for the CF-18s, following controversy surrounding the disclosed costs of the F-35 program).<br><br>- New air expeditionary wing at CFB Bagotville, including 250 new personnel by end of 2011 and 550 stationed there by 2015 (undisclosed number of personnel added last year to "establish core" of new expeditionary wing, minister's office says, and the government is "committed to adding personnel as the operational tempo permits").<br><br>(AP)
- Long-term plan or program, with municipalities and provinces, for building public infrastructure once the Building Canada plan expires in 2014.<br><br>- National securities regulator (Supreme Court ruled in December a national regulator would infringe on provincial jurisdiction, but federal efforts to negotiate a deal with the provinces continue).<br><br>- Income-splitting for families with children under 18 years of age -- allowing couples to share up to $50,000 in income (to be implemented when/if the federal deficit is eliminated).<br><br>- Children's fitness tax credit to be doubled and made refundable (contingent on eliminating federal deficit).<br><br>- Adult fitness tax credit (up to $500 of eligible activities, contingent on eliminating federal deficit).<br><br>- Tax-free savings accounts to see doubling of annual eligible savings, up to $10,000 (contingent on eliminating federal deficit).<br><br>- Employment insurance benefits for parents of gravely ill children (nothing announced to date).<br><br>- Relocation for the head office for the Canada economic development agency for Quebec regions "to a centre or centres appropriate to all regions of the province" (it's still in Montreal, and the minister's office says "we are at the stage where we are considering all of the options").<br><br>- Legislation to implement the Canada-Quebec accord on offshore resources (brief mention in text of 2012 budget).<br><br>- New national farm and food strategy (no announcement yet).<br><br>(Alamy)
- Anti-terrorism legislation to reinstate powers like preventative arrest and secret investigative hearings, and make it illegal to leave Canada to participate in terrorist-sponsored training or other activities (S-7 currently before Senate committee).<br><br>- Legislation to streamline the process for deporting foreign criminals, including the opportunities for appeal (not introduced yet, expected "in a few short months").<br><br>- Doubling of victim surcharge that convicted criminals must pay (bill C-37 introduced April 24).<br><br>- Legislation to combat elder abuse by adding it as an aggravating factor in sentencing (bill C-36 introduced March 15).<br><br>- Legislation to clarify self-defence and property rights/citizen's arrest provisions (bill C-26 concurred at report stage April 24).<br><br>- Legislation to "give law enforcement and national security agencies up-to-date tools to fight crime in today's high-tech communications environment" (bill C-30 introduced Feb. 14, but stalled after receiving negative feedback). The campaign platform pledged to fulfil this within "100 sitting days of Parliament," which suggests a March deadline, now passed.<br><br>- Measures to combat drug abuse in prisons (no announcement yet).<br><br>- End to sentencing discounts for multiple child sex offences and child pornography charges (no announcement yet).<br><br>- Mandatory jail sentences for those with repeat convictions for contraband tobacco, and a new RCMP anti-contraband force of 50 officers (no announcement yet).<br><br>- National action plan to combat human trafficking (no announcement yet, but private member's bill C-310 to amend the Criminal Code to strengthen measures against human trafficking passed at third reading in the House April 27 and is now before the Senate).<br><br>- New law enforcement mandate for Canada's Coast Guard, to allow them to enforce federal laws on oceans and the Great Lakes, including new armed capabilities on board Coast Guard vessels and armed boarding teams (no annoucement yet).<br><br>- Legislation to allow sentencing courts to order the deportation of convicted criminals upon completion of sentence or parole eligibility, and to remove the requirement of the prisoner's consent for transfer to complete a sentence abroad (no announcement yet).<br><br>(Alamy)
Environmental And Community Measures
- National conservation plan (consultations currently underway at Commons environment committee).<br><br>- "Social impact bonds" to help raise money for worthwhile community projects (2012 budget said HRDSC was "exploring social finance instruments" for an announcement at a later date).<br><br>- Funding for a "volunteer-matching" service through Volunteer Canada (2012 budget ends federal funding for the national volunteer community service organization Katimavik).<br><br>- Defibrillators for every hockey rink in Canada, and training for using them (no announcement yet).<br><br>- Hunting advisory panel, to consult with environment minister on issues concerning hunting and fishing (no announcement yet).<br><br>- Review of the Species at Risk Act to ensure landowners receive fair compensation when their property is affected (no announcement yet, however the 2012 budget implementation bill does amend the Species at Risk Act).<br><br>(CP)
Senate Reform And Accountability Measures
- Legislation to set term limits for senators and provide a framework for Senate elections (C-7 introduced June 2011 but has not progressed further -- and on May 1, Quebec government announced a constitutional challenge of this Senate reform bill).<br><br>- Legislation to publish the salaries of First Nations chiefs and councillors (C-27 introduced Nov. 2011 but has not progressed further).<br><br>- Measures to implement Canada's commitment to the "open government initiative" (ongoing).<br><br>(CP)