Our dairy, egg and poultry producers don’t want to compete. Our politicians agree
Opinion: Supply management is merely another way for the federal parties to buy off Quebec voters, which is what they seem to expect
June 20, 2018
By Morris W. Dorosh
Few if any lobby and pressure groups in Canadian history have had as many politicians in their pocket at one time as the supply management community. Under unprecedented assault for their monopolistic and import-eliminating features, the dairy and poultry boards have all parties foursquare behind them.
The Liberal party is beholden to rural Quebec voters, where the marketing board system makes families who milk 50 cows affluent. The affinity of Liberals and French residents of the Quebec backwoods predates Confederation, except for times when separatism is in cyclical ascent. Supply management is merely another way to buy off Quebec voters, which is what they seem to expect.
But why do the NDP and Conservative parties support this system with such passionate fervour?
Supply management is not free enterprise or entrepreneurship, so how does it fit with the philosophy of an allegedly conservative party? The marketing board system is labour unionism transferred into the country, except that no labour union has unilateral government sanction to do as it pleases. It does not have the support of all Conservative members, but woe unto him who disrespects the party line. Quebec Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who may be the only conservative in the Conservative caucus, was expelled from Scheer’s shadow cabinet last week after posting on his website the chapter of his forthcoming book that criticizes supply management. He lost to Scheer at last year’s Conservative leadership convention by such a microscopic margin that there should have been a recount or another vote, and in the book Bernier describes how Quebec and Ontario dairy farmers took out impromptu Conservative party memberships specifically to vote against him.
It is the expected thing to find incoherence in the New Democratic Party. But supply management is a point on which official party policy literally sides with the rich against the poor. There are 12,000 dairy farmers in Canada economically sheltered by the marketing boards and around 12 million consumers with sub-middle-class incomes, including 4.8 million living below the official poverty line. The Canada West Foundation estimates that dairy and chicken purchases for an average Canadian household cost $600 a year more than the average American household. This $50-a-month burden falls hardest on those with the lowest incomes, advocating for whom is assumed to be the reason that the NDP exists. The NDP places millionaire dairy farmers in the same class as union labourers. Dairy farms that have hired labour must be the only class of employers that the NDP is not sworn to victimize.
Dairy and chicken purchases for an average Canadian household cost $600 a year more than the average American household
It would be another matter if the supply management system were a template that could be applied across the whole economy and society. But it can’t, not in a market economy or a free society.
Supply-management farmers are on an artificial island of prosperity unavailable to any other. It is not accidental that the supply-management principle has not been applied to any new sector in at least 65 years. The dairy and poultry people found that surrendering the right to produce in exchange for the right to set their own prices was a great bargain, especially as the value of quotas that confer the right to produce exploded.
So the entire Canadian political establishment stands, like Horatius at the bridge, ready to fight to the death any foreign attacker of this rotten system. All the politicians (except apparently Bernier) are so pledged to the marketing board system that it can only be concluded that a trade agreement such as a renewed NAFTA would be rejected if it required dismantling of the supply-management monopoly. The milk-and-feather lobby expects nothing less and as far as it is concerned the 99 per cent of the non-supply-managed economy can go to hell.
The milk-and-feather lobby expects nothing less and as far as it is concerned the 99 per cent of the non-supply-managed economy can go to hell
Just before the G7 meeting, Trudeau visited a Quebec dairy farm where some farmers had gathered, claiming his stalwart defence of supply management as the reason for the tweet attacks from Trump. However the farmers eventually jeered the prime minister for reportedly offering to be “flexible” on dairy tariffs. The minimum position of the milk lobby is that there is to be no change whatever.
The milk-egg-chicken cartel wants us to believe that it cannot compete with producers in other countries, while Canadian grain, oilseed, cattle hog and other farmers are exposed to world prices all the time. The impression it leaves, as the monopoly attracts rare general media attention, is that dairy and poultry farmers do not feel like competing with anyone. As long as the entire political establishment is with them, why should they?
Morris W. Dorosh is publisher of AGRIWEEK, a newsletter for agribusiness executives published in Winnipeg since 1967.