A Canadian Wheat Board question elicited the most contentious argument during the All Candidates Forum in Swift Current on April 20.
Incumbent MP David Anderson and CWB District 3 Director Stewart Wells dueled over a question concerning the gag order placed on the CWB and their stance on the single-desk marketing system.
During the audience question period Wells asked the four candidates if they would repeal the gag order if elected.
"In 2006, for the first time in history the Harper Government imposed a gag order on the Canadian Wheat Board which stopped the Canadian Wheat Board from freely communicating with the farmers, and I'd like to know if these candidates would remove that gag order immediately," Wells asked.
In his reply, Anderson stated that the gag order was placed in part to protect the pro-marketing choice directors on the board.
"I had one of them at one time tell me he was told by other directors that if he didn't cooperate they would take his farm away from him."
"It's actually a very interesting question because the Canadian Wheat Board as you know only exists because of government legislation. And the government's only given them one mandate, which is the orderly marketing of Canadian grain. It's not to be involved as a political organization. And actually the order that they were given was they were told to focus on what they were supposed to do, which is to market grain and not to be getting involved in a whole pile of other things," Anderson said before being drowned out by the crowd.
"Please let me finish because you don't know the whole story. And I think Mr. Wells probably knows some of this. The reality is there is a gag order ... because there have been pro-choice directors have been intimidated in those board meetings for a number of years and they have committees to hold them to account, make sure they are behaving themselves."
"There's lots going on inside the board. What our position was we told them 'market grain. You're not a political organization. You want to be a political organization form one and go do that. But you have a responsibility to market grain.' They have a job - and I would say they have a requirement to improve the way they've been doing that, particularly this year."
After the forum, Wells was quick to challenge Anderson on his gag order statements.
"In Mr. David Anderson's response to my question, he made the allegation that the Canadian Wheat Board has threatened to take farmers' farms away from farmer directors if they're not saying the right thing in public. If Mr. Anderson has any integrity whatsoever, he will immediately produce some shred of evidence to show that he didn't just fabricate this allegation here tonight. I'll be waiting anxiously to see his evidence," Wells challenged.
Wells said that there have been all sorts of public statements made by directors in the past, pro and con the Wheat Board, about all aspects of Wheat Board operations. As a new CWB director, Wells feels there has always been a good discussion around that Canadian Wheat Board board table.
"If Mr. Anderson has any integrity whatsoever he'll produce some evidence that the Wheat Board, in the past, has threatened to take farmer-director's farms away from them if they don't say the right thing. This is important."
Following the meeting Anderson re-confirmed his concerns over intimidation of directors who were not supportive of the single desk.
"You should probably talk to some of the directors. Find the ones who have been elected on the pro-choice side. And I've had one come to me years ago, before we were government, and talk about the fact that he felt intimidated regularly at the board meetings. If the atmosphere has changed it would be up to them to publicize that, but certainly he felt that he was intimidated, he was isolated. A good example was he was not allowed to travel. Other directors were given travel allowances, allowed to travel, represent the board, he was not allowed to do that. So, hopefully that kind of thing is not happening, but maybe you can take a look at it."
Anderson added that producers are currently quite upset with the Canadian Wheat Board.
"Farmers are furious this spring. The calls for their grain are coming in now when they can't get at their wheat. They waited all winter, have not been able to move their wheat, they're very frustrated. They're calling us regularly and saying the Wheat Board needs to do a better job of marketing their grain. In the time of year now when they can't get at their bins, they can't get at their wheat, and they're trying to get seeding, all of a sudden the calls for the grain comes in."