WINNIPEG - They came in trucks and a tractor and carried their support for the Canadian Wheat Board to the front doors of the marketing agency Friday, where they unloaded their frustration at the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Roughly 350 wheat board supporters filled a sidewalk on Main Street, outside the agency's stone-faced Winnipeg headquarters.
At issue was the bill before the House of Commons that would strip the board of its monopoly powers over Western Canadian wheat and barley. The new law also gets rid of the farmer-elected board that runs the agency.
The board has refused to go down without a fight, despite a federal gag order. It has backed chairman Allen Oberg and is going to court to try and block the bill.
"Why can't we just vote on this?" Drew Baker said of the plan. "If they truly represent farmers, then why can't we have a vote?"
Baker, from Beausejour, Man., said he is one of those young farmers the government often says it represents as it moves to disengage one of the main levers the wheat board has used when it trades internationally. He said the government doesn't speak for him.
Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians was one of many who showed up to lend her support and she also lashed out at the Conservatives.
"This is blind ideology," she said. "Farmers pay for the wheat board. Farmers run the wheat board and only farmers have the right to decide the future of the wheat board."
Legislation regulating the wheat board was amended several years ago to require a vote among affected farmers if the government wants to remove grain from its control.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has refused to hold such a vote and dismissed the results of one the board sponsored itself this summer that supported retaining the monopoly.
Reacting to the rally from Ottawa via email, he was no more inclined to listen Friday.
"Not only does the government have the right to amend legislation, we also have the responsibility to fulfil our long-standing promise to give Western Canadian farmers marketing freedom," he repeated.
"While the Harper government is working to give farmers marketing freedom that will put more money in farmers’ pockets, Mr. Oberg continues to recklessly spend farmers’ hard-earned money."
NDP MP Pat Martin, who has expressed his own skepticism about the chances of any legal challenge, said he has spoken with the board's lawyers and said they feel they have a case.
Former Liberal agriculture minister Wayne Easter says farmers also can try to bring pressure on their Conservative backbench MPs. Most of the seats in Western Canada that are largely agricultural are held by Conservatives.
"They need to get aggressive with their local MPs, speak out and say how important this is."
Barlow noted the government has no real plan for the future of the board after it loses its monopoly powers, despite promises to help it continue on a voluntary basis. The board has few real assets other than its monopoly, such as the grain elevators or port terminals owned by private grain companies.
Baker noted those private grain companies are already predicting they will make more money with the wheat board out of their hair and said he expects that means he'll get less.