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The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), Monday, April 2, 2007

Wheat board vote a ruse: Dion
Liberal leader addresses farmers in Saskatoon

by Janet French

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called Sunday for the Conservative government to toss out the results of a Canadian Wheat Board plebiscite he described as "tainted" and dishonest.

Speaking in a Saskatoon hotel ballroom packed with more than 250 farmers and spectators, Dion characterized the plebiscite asking barley farmers about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board as a ruse orchestrated in a way that the Conservatives could manipulate the results to support their goals.

"You deserve an honest question, a clear question, asked through a fair process (that's) binding," Dion said. "Let's tell (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) to stop forcing his ideology down your throats. Let's tell him to show some respect for farmers and show some respect for democracy."

In last month's plebiscite, barley farmers were asked to vote for one of three options: To retain a single desk for barley marketing, to have the option to market to the Canadian Wheat Board or another buyer of their choice or for the wheat board to have no role in marketing barley.

About 38 per cent of 29,000 farmers voted to retain a single desk, 48 per cent wanted the choice to market to the wheat board or other buyers and about 14 per cent wanted the wheat board out of barley marketing.

Speaking in front of a screen depicting a rustling wheat field under a sunny prairie sky, Dion said the option of "choice" is based on a false premise, since the wheat board would likely crumble if it lost its monopoly on marketing grain. A fair vote would have just two options, he said: Single-desk grain marketing or an open market.

"The wheat board is under assault — an assault more brutal than anything we've seen before," Dion said, backed by Liberal MPs Wayne Easter and Ralph Goodale and supporter and trade critic David Orchard.

"Because of ideology, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to kill the wheat board. That is his plan. That is his goal, and I think he must be stopped."

The phrasing of the question wasn't the only problem, Dion said. A gag order on the board directors is troublesome, and a traceable ballot system is "for livestock," Dion said. "This is a government that wants to know who its opponents are."

The demise of the wheat board will jeopardize railway links in rural areas, putting small towns at risk, Dion said.

If the wheat board is dismantled, it will benefit American farmers and "the greatest rejoicing will happen in Washington," Goodale said. Such a move may also be irreversible, he said.

"It is very difficult to put humpty dumpty back on the wall again."

Dion added the Conservatives are untrustworthy because they broke their promise to Saskatchewan to remove natural resource revenues equalization formula.

Although he wouldn't specify what Saskatchewan's equalization deal should be, Dion said a Liberal deal would not impose any cap on the value of resource revenues excluded.

Although many of the people crammed into the Bessborough Hotel on Sunday were cheering and clapping for Dion, there was a vocal group of supporters for choice in marketing their grain.

Charles Anderson, with the group Market Choice Alliance, said under the wheat board, farmers are missing out on the chance to process their own grain, which costs them "millions of dollars every year." Dion's stance that the plebiscite question was too complex for farmers to comprehend is insulting, he said.

"It's disrespectful to farmers to think they weren't intelligent enough for those questions."

Even if the votes to eliminate the wheat board from barley marketing were excluded, the majority of farmers voted for choice over a single desk, he said. Although some farmers may have received more than one ballot, the ballots were audited and the vote was fair, Anderson said.

"No matter how you look at it, we were winners and democracy has got to move forward," he said.

jfrench@sp.canwest.com


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