O’LEARY CORNER -- Federal Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay stood her ground Monday when dairy farmers challenged her position on supply management. Hall Findlay authored a paper last year arguing supply management has to go.
Three farmers greeted her at O’Leary Corner during the first stop on her cross-P.E.I. coffee shop tour.
While the leadership candidate argued the removal of supply management would reduce the cost of dairy products to consumers, Dairy Farmers of P.E.I. chairman, Harold MacNevin, countered it would only benefit multi-nationals in “a race to the bottom.”
“Multi-nationals go where the cheapest labour, the cheapest environmental regulations, the cheapest inputs are. We can’t compete with that,” he insisted.
In her research paper Hall Findlay called supply management a stumbling block to Canada’s full participation in international free trade agreements, and said it is unfair to Canadian consumers.
MacNevin argued supply management gives dairy farmers a stable income “We’re not entitled to a stable income?” he asked Hall Findlay.
When she pointed out dairy products are much higher in Canada than in the United States, MacNevin argued Americans get a 31 cent subsidy on every liter of milk they produce, meaning American consumers pay at the store and through their taxes.
“I’m not disagreeing the Americans subsidize. Let’s work it out with the Americans,” said Hall Findlay.
“We haven’t been very successful in that area with softwood lumber or hogs or beef or vegetables, working things out with the Americans,” Foxley River farmer Peter Bulger responded. “Maybe when you’re able to prove yourself that you’re able to take on the Americans in those areas, then we could talk about it.”
The price won’t go down to consumers; it will go down to farmers. It’s happened in a number of countries where it’s been deregulated. - Dairy producer, Peter Bulger
“Well, that’s the Canada I would like to see. I would like to see us take on the Americans, because we haven’t done it strongly enough,” she shot back.
“If you’re really concerned about low-income people, the dismantling of supply management is the wrong tree to be barking up, seriously,” Bulger instructed the leadership candidate. “The price won’t go down to consumers; it will go down to farmers. It’s happened in a number of countries where it’s been deregulated.”
Retired dairy farmer Ronnie MacWilliams predicted Atlantic Canada would lose its processing sector and its dairy farms if supply management were removed, insisting Atlantic Canada would not be able to compete with the large farm units of Ontario and Quebec.
In an interview following the debate among the coffee shop tables, Hall Findlay said supply management is so political that many MPs are afraid to discuss it.
“To have so many MPs say to me over the years, ‘We know it has to go, but we don’t have the votes,’ is, to me, the height of hypocrisy,” she said.
“We need to have more people who have the guts to stand up for what they believe,” Hall Findlay said in defending her position.