Deanna Allen was fired as Vice President of Communications for the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) in February 2008 “without cause.” However, Allen had been a strong defender of the CWB’s monopoly on marketing wheat and barley. The monopoly is opposed by the federal government but was supported by a majority of farmers in a 2011 plebiscite. Opposition parties called it another example of dismissal of a civil servant who opposed government policy. CWB Directors said it would put a chill effect on other members of staff who shared Allen’s opinions.
When the Conservative government came to power in 2006, it began implementing plans to eliminate the CWB’s ‘single-desk marketing system’ - a monopoly on sales for wheat and barley in place since 1942. The single-desk system is supported by a majority of Canadian grain farmers, but the new government wanted to replace the monopoly with a system known as ‘dual marketing,’ that would allow farmers to choose whether to sell their grains through the Board or independently.
In December 2006, CWB President and CEO Adrian Measner, a vocal supporter of the single-desk system, was fired by federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl. Strahl appointed dual-marketing supporter Greg Arason to take over.
The CWB’s 15-member Board of Directors consists of 10 elected members and 5 members appointed by the federal government. Upon firing Measner, the Harper government appointed five board members who would advocate for the dual marketing system within the CWB. Observers claim this created a division between the elected and appointed members on the dual vs single marketing question.
Between 2006 and 2008, Deanna Allen continued to defend the CWB’s position in favour of a single-desk monopoly. Measner publically praised Allen for her hard work. Sources claim that from the time Greg Arason was appointed, Allen and Arason’s differing views caused tension within the CWB.
On February 2nd, 2008, Deanna Allen was fired after a closed-door meeting between the CWB’s Board of Directors and the new Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who had replaced Chuck Strahl in August 2007. On record, Allen was fired “without cause,” meaning that her termination was not linked to poor performance. Allen has told media sources that the news came “as a bit of a shock,” as she was caught unaware of an approaching dismissal.
Many believe Allen’s position on single-desk marketing was the real cause of her removal. Observers of the Canadian Wheat Board have said that the vote by the Board of Directors to fire Allen represents a shift within the institution, which could affect its stance in favour of single-desk marketing of barley.
CEO Greg Arason denied that Allen’s position on single-desk had anything to do with her being fired.
On February 4 2008, during question period in the House of Commons, Allen’s dismissal was repeatedly discussed. Opposition parties called it the latest example of a civil servant being fired for refusing to obey the wishes of the Harper government.
CWB Directors have said that Allen’s firing will put a chill on all CWB staff. "The message is clear," one director stated anonymously. "Don't defend the single desk. Staff will be keeping their heads down."
- December 2006: Adrian Measner, who favored single-desk marketing for barley, is fired from his job as President and CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board by Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl. Strahl appoints Greg Arason, who favours dual-marketing of barley to replace Measner as Interim President and CEO.
- February 2nd, 2008: Greg Arason fires Deanna Allen “without cause,” denying any relevance to her strong support for a single-desk system.
- February 4th, 2008: Opposition parties accuse the government of firing Allen for ideological reasons during Question Period in the House of Commons.
- February 2008: CWB directors express concern about a chilling effect on dissent against the government’s position within the organization.
Role or Position
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech: The firing of Deanna Allen represents another example of the violation of the right to advocacy and dissent, and reprisal against an official for holding views inconsistent with the combined forces of the government and aligned board members. It should be noted that a majority of farmers on the Wheat Board supported Allen.
- Democracy: The firing of Deanna Allen and Adrian Measner have further politicised the CWB over an issue that is still unresolved amongst farmers, in a context where support for the single desk marketing system still represents the majority view.
- Democracy: The Harper government ignored a farmers plebiscite which indicated that a majority of farmers wish to maintain the single-desk system, further indication of the government’s reticence to consider opposing opinions, even if the opposing views represent a majority opinion.