Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin returned to his raucous ways during question period on Tuesday, asking Conservative minister Gerry Ritz if he had “lost his freaking mind.”
The colourful outburst was related to an exchange about the government’s rejection of an ownership bid back in October by Saskatoon-based Farmers of North America (FNA) to acquire the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).
“Now we hear the minister will hand over the Wheat Board’s assets to the private sector for a grand total – get this – zero. That is right. Nothing. Nada. No 'thank you,' just give it away,” said Welland NDP MP Malcolm Allen.
Allen continued to scrutinize the government for brushing aside the bid from Canadian farmers in favour of offers from multinational corporations.
But the agriculture minister would have none of it.
“None of that is true or based upon any kind of fact, at all,” responded Ritz. “The Farms of North America’s bid was adjudicated by a third-party auditor and legal team that the CWB put into place."
“This was not a political process,” he said.
It was here when Martin spoke, accusing the government of taking “the largest and most successful gain marketing company in the world” and giving it away “free of charge, to an American agrifood giant which, until recently, was their greatest competitor.”
“Has the minister lost his freaking mind?” Martin asked.
House speaker Andrew Scheer was not impressed with Martin’s demeanour, telling him that his comments were "extremely unhelpful” and stripping away his response.
Still, some praised Martin's saucy remark:
Others, including Portage-Lisgar Conservative Minister Candice Bergen, found it to be in poor taste.
The Canadian Wheat Board was once an international powerhouse responsible for brokering Canadian farmers’ grain around the world. But the introduction of the Marketing Freedom of Grain Farmers Act in 2011 dissolved the government’s monopoly share, ousted farmer-elected directors, and replaced them with government appointees, according to CBC News.
“If farmers can’t acquire the CWB, we believe they will build their own efficient, globally competitive business with the grain they own and the fertilizer they buy, as farmers have done in many competitor countries,” FNA president James Mann said when the private farm business alliance's offer was rejected.
As of 2012, western Canadian farmers no longer exclusively sell their grain through the wheat board; they were given a new dual-market option to sell privately. The agency also dropped its “Canadian Wheat Board” name and rebranded itself to CWB Ltd.
Those selected for a seat on the board are tasked to come up with a plan for privatization and present it to government before 2016.
“CWB is interested in fast-tracking out privatization plans, and intends to beat that deadline,” the CWB states on its website. It's a challenge that comes at a time when Canadian wheat is being offered for sale at low values.
Few details are known about the CWB’s finances due to an amendment made to the Canadian Wheat Board (Interim Operations) Act. The change was designed to protect the agriculture minister’s right to withhold information to the public if it is deemed “detrimental to the commercial interests of the Corporation.”
The lack of transparency over the CWB’s future — as well as its possible bidders during privatization — has left many Canadian farmers frustrated.
“Time will tell once again … that over all, the farmers will lose and the corporate brokers and agribuisnesses will win,” Facebook user Rick Booth wrote in a group supporting Canadian farmers’ rights to market their grain through the CWB.
“And yes, I supported the campaign to save the Wheat Board, but not enough did.”
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