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Western Producer, April 5, 2007

Liberal leader Dion backs retention of single desk

By Adrian Ewins

Before a standing-room crowd of more than 300 cheering supporters in a Saskatoon hotel ballroom last week, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion gave his audience exactly what they came to hear: a spirited defence of the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk and a stinging attack on the government of Stephen Harper.

Standing in front of a backdrop depicting a golden wheat field under a bright blue prairie sky, the leader of the opposition vowed that his party will do everything in its power to derail the Conservatives from dismantling the single desk.

"Because of ideology, prime minister Harper is determined to kill the wheat board," said Dion.

"That is his plan, that is his goal, and I think he must be stopped."

In a speech interrupted alternately by applause as he praised the wheat board or cries of "shame" as he described actions taken by the government in recent months, Dion described the barley vote result as illegitimate.

The three-option question was dishonest, he said, designed to muddy the issue, mislead voters and allow the government to interpret the results any way it wanted.

"I know a little bit about clear questions in referendums," he said. "I know a little bit about clarity and Stephen Harper's plebiscite just doesn't pass the test."

As minister of intergovernmental affairs in the previous Liberal government, Dion was responsible for passage of the Clarity Act of 2000, which set out conditions for a plebiscite on independence for Quebec.

Dion urged the government to hold a new vote that offers farmers a clear two-way choice between the single desk and the open market.

The results of the vote showed 38 percent voted for Option 1, the single-desk, 48 percent voted for Option 2, marketing to the CWB or another buyer, and 14 percent voted for Option 3, the open market.

In announcing the results, the government said 62 percent of farmers (options 2 and 3 added together) support marketing choice.

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, speaking after Dion's speech, said it's dishonest to put three options on the ballot and then count the votes as if there were two.

Fellow MP Wayne Easter said one could just as easily add options 1 and 2 together and conclude that 86 percent of farmers voted to retain the CWB.

When it came time for questions from the audience, the first person at the microphone was Charles Anderson, a Rose Valley, Sask., farmer and spokesperson for the Market Choice Alliance, a pro-open market group.

He urged Dion to accept the results of the plebiscite and said any suggestion that farmers didn't understand is an insult to their intelligence, a comment that earned a chorus of boos from the audience.

Dion responded that while he wasn't questioning the intellect of farmers, he knows from experience how easy it is to manipulate a plebiscite to get a desired result.

"That's what happened here," he said.

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