POLITICS
10/24/2011 01:36 EDT | Updated 12/24/2011 05:12 EST

Canadian Wheat Board: Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz Says Ending Monopoly Will Free Farmers Ahead Of Vote On Bill C-18

AP

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board's (CWB) single desk will free farmers from their shackles.

He told an audience of agriculture industry representatives, the Harper government is moving ahead with legislation to remove the wheat board's monopoly so wheat and barley farmers can enjoy the same freedoms as beef, pork and canola producers.

The House of Commons will vote on sending the bill, C-18, to committee for further study this evening at 6:30 p.m. ET.

"This vote is about more than the next legislative step," Ritz said. "This vote is about a choice between stifling our economy and growing our economy. This vote is a fundamental choice between shackling farmers or freeing them."

Ritz said marketing freedom will attract investment, encourage innovation and create value-added jobs in Western Canada.

But many farmers believe ending the wheat board's single desk authority will result in lower prices and they have been protesting vehemently.

"This legislation will not put one extra dime in the pockets of western Canadian grain farmers, but it will destroy the short line railways, farmer owned terminals and producer car loading facilities we have spent the past twenty years building," Bill Gehl, chairperson of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, is quoted as saying in a press release issued two days ago during a rally in Colonsay, Sask.

Farmers are especially upset the federal government won't respect the result of a plebiscite the wheat board organized earlier this year which suggested 62 per cent of producers want to market their wheat through the board.

The minister said he hoped to pass the controversial legislation by the end of the calendar year.

"Markets, producers as well as the new CWB entity need clarity and certainty as to what's going to happen next year and move forward," he told reporters after his speech.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz speaking in Ottawa on Oct. 24, 2011.