Rick Strankman, the new MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, was in the forefront last Thursday at Kindersley, Sask., when Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to town to announce Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, would take effect Aug. 1.
Strankman, after all, was among the 13 farmers charged in 2002 for illegally selling grain to the U.S., so last week’s announcement was a redemption of sorts.
Harper announced that “the farmers convicted under the old, unjust legislation of the CWB (Canadian Wheat Board) will be pardoned by the government,” under the authority of the rarely used Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
“It was a real gentlemanly thing for him to do this,” said Strankman, who in 2002 spent one week of his 90-day sentence in jail.
The latest ruling has significant meaning for Strankman, who has long been an opponent of the CWB having a monopoly. He was among the 16 farmers who in protest sold their grain to the U.S. illegally.
“I was bitter when I got out of jail,” he reflected Monday.
Strankman, an Altario farmer, said he was pleased with Harper’s announcement and described Thursday as “a great day.”
He was “moved” when the prime minister gave credit to the farmers involved in the protest.
“And it is to them that much of this victory is owed, because it is to them that the consciousness of the country on this issue was really raised,” Harper said.
Strankman said it was “overwhelming” to have played a significant part in changing a national policy.
Joining the prime minister — and Strankman — at last week’s news conference in Kindsersley were federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and several MPs, including David Anderson.
Local farmers enthused
The announcement was a move welcomed by many farmers, including those from the Stettler area.
“It’s the happiest day of my life,” said Jack Rairdan, who operates a grain farm northwest of Stettler.
“It is a great day for everyone who wants to do their own marketing. There isn’t any reason why the wheat board won’t survive, for those who want to use it.”
Rairdan foresees an opportunity to achieve increased grain prices for his farm and maintain a better cash flow, with all the cash paid on delivery of the grain.
Bill C-18 strips the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly to market wheat and barley grown by Western Canadian farmers, but doesn’t eliminate the grain-marketing board, which has been in existence since the Second World War.
The CWB was the last grain-marketing monopoly in the world. Farmers in Eastern Canada have been allowed to market their grain outside the CWB.
Erskine-area grain farmer Neil Brown echoed Rairdan’s sentiments.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Brown said. “We can sell our grain when we want, where we want and how we want. There is nothing but positive thoughts on this, and those who still want to market through the CWB are free to do so.”
Strankman said that as a result of the changes, he sees the opportunity for value-added secondary processing and linking to Asian markets.
“It may eliminate grain having to go through multiple unions and there may be more unseen financial benefits, as well,” he said.
Supporters of the CWB say the grain-marketing board might not have enough quality wheat to meet the needs of international customers. They question whether the government had the right to abolish the monopoly without a vote by farmers and plan to make an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.