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Canada Wheat Board to fight Ottawa in court

The Canadian Wheat Board is launching legal action to stop the Conservative government from ending the CWB's generations-old grain marketing monopoly, Chairman Allen Oberg said on Wednesday.

The board is filing the suit because the government is moving to create an open market system without holding a farmer vote on the issue, as current legislation requires, Oberg said.

The government is instead seeking to replace the legislation.

"Governments can either obey the law, they can change the law, but they can't ignore the law, and that's what's happened here," Oberg said at a news conference on a Manitoba farm.

"The purpose of this lawsuit is to persuade the federal government to listen to the wishes of Canadian farmers," he added.

Ottawa aims to pass legislation by the end of 2011 to terminate the Wheat Board's monopoly on marketing Western Canadian wheat and barley for milling and export as of Aug. 1, 2012. The change would allow farmers to sell those crops directly to grain handlers.

One of the opposition politicians leading the fight against the bill said Wednesday that legal challenges and other attempts to derail the Conservative government's plans are likely to fail.

The Conservatives hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons and there is little hope of stopping the bill in the courts, New Democratic Party legislator Pat Martin said in an interview.

"It's kind of like a faint-hope clause for an inmate on death row," Martin said, noting that Parliament has the right to overturn legislation put in place by a previous government.

"Our legal opinions have it that it's a very remote possibility that a court challenge would succeed because you're challenging one of the fundamental tenets of parliamentary democracy,"

The CWB's lawyers say the case is legitimate, Oberg said.

However, the move has further split the CWB's ranks over the monopoly issue, with one of the board's farmer-elected directors resigning on Wednesday, saying he disagreed with the decision to launch a court fight.

"The CWB's decision this week to launch a legal challenge ... when it is clear to everyone that it will not change the outcome and would not change the timing of the government action, is simply wrong," wrote Henry Vos, an Alberta farmer who has long supported a move to an open market.

A group called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board is already taking the government to court, saying the plan to end the marketing monopoly is illegal.

Opposition parties are also attempting to disqualify some Conservative legislators from voting on the bill under conflict of interest rules. Legislators who are farmers or work in the agriculture industry have a vested interest in the legislation, Martin said.

"Even though it's a faint hope as well, that's probably our best hope," he said.

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