Don’t throw the baby out with the milk quota

It seems somewhat counterintuitive for a party that holds sway largely with voters residing in rural Canada to put the dairy supply management system in the crosshairs of proposed policy, but that is exactly what the Conservative Party of Canada has traditionally done.

Stepping into power, one of the first things the Conservatives under Stephen Harper scuttled was the Grain Marketing Board, the cooperative entity that for generations had taken the uncertainty out of grain production on the Canadian prairies and negotiated large scale sales on behalf of grain farmers. The move had wide a wide ranging, and in some cases unanticipated, impact on the Canadian economy and the development of Canada’s North.

The resulting dearth of grain trains headed to the Port of Churchill on Manitoba’s portion of the James Bay coast has led largely to the mothballing of that port in what is certainly a totally unanticipated result that played havoc with Mr. Harper’s avowed intention to strengthen our nation’s Arctic presence.

Unintended consequences tend to be the norm when it comes to government interaction with the economy, but in the case of supply management, the intended outcome of keeping our farming communities and agricultural sector strong seems to have been at least a qualified success.

Thanks to the various supply management boards in place, Canadians can be assured that the eggs, turkeys, chickens, milk and other dairy products they find in their grocery stores are produced in Canada and that those who labour to produce those products can receive a living wage in return—all without the need for government (i.e. taxpayer’s) subsidies. Our food supplies are the envy of much of the world and a strength that would not be there but for the supply management system.

Today, the Canadian supply management system ensures that our food supply remains of the highest quality and untainted by an influx of cheap substandard products created in an environment with poor, if any, safeguards. Ontario’s agri-food industry is one of the leading strengths of our economy when approaching Asian markets and the burgeoning middle class that is appearing on the other side of the Pacific Rim.

There are challenges to supply management, to be sure. Many small farmers chafe under the restrictions imposed by having to purchase quota in order to exceed the production limits found under a supply management system. But the protections and supports for our agricultural sector that are in place supply management benefits us all, even if it does add slightly to the cost of doing meals.

The anger and angst of the Trump legions, chafing against the loss of high paying jobs to overseas markets, need look no further than to the low wages and lack of regulation in those same markets for the underlying cause of the hollowing out of the manufacturing sector that has led to such devastating job losses.

There are tradeoffs to be found in economic policy decisions that have to be made at the provincial and federal levels, but too often in those decisions ideology trumps sound economic sense.

The current actual frontrunner in the Conservative race is the libertarian focussed former Conservative cabinet minister and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier (Kevin O’Leary leads among Conservative voters with his television celebrity profile, but only a fraction of those being polled are actually party members) and he has indicated that the dismantling of Canada’s supply management system is high on his priority list as he seeks the Conservative leadership.

While such a policy would bring lower prices into Canadian supermarkets, the losses among Canada’s agricultural sector would be devastating and our nation’s food security and sovereignty would be the long term victim of that short sighted and ideologically driven policy.

Canada’s supply management system works, there is no reason to throw it out simply because it fits better into an ideology based on theories better suited to natural selection and novels glorifying the supremacy of the individual in society.

Let’s keep Canada’s food supply as local as it can be.