P.E.I. dairy farmers didn’t change Martha Hall Findlay’s position on supply management, but she didn't do much to sway the farmers toward her way of thinking either.
The federal Liberal leadership candidate visited P.E.I. Monday for a coffee shop tour. At her stop in O’Leary, she was confronted by some dairy farmers from Prince County who wanted to impress upon Hall Findlay the importance of retaining Canada’s supply management system.
The visitor claims the removal of supply management would remove that impediment to Canada’s full participation in free trade agreements. The end result, she contends, would be cheaper dairy products for consumers.
The farmers agreed there would be lower prices all right, but it would be the farmers getting the lower prices, not the consumers.
The farmers are probably right. As fishermen and farmers receive lower and lower prices for their products, it has not translated into lower prices in grocery stores.
Hall Findlay’s position on supply management works in theory, but as with many things that seem to make sense in theory, they don't work so well when applied in the real world.
For instance, she claims the removal of supply management would allow for an even playing field on the global market, especially with our biggest trading partner, the United States. Yet the Americans subsidize their dairy industry, so the playing field would not be level if supply management was removed.
Her argument was to duke it out with the Americans with regard to freely trading dairy products.
How has that gone for Canada in past free trade negotiations in other sectors like softwood lumber, pork, beef and vegetables? Not good.
The dairy farmers are understandably wary about the Canadian government’s ability to take on our neighbours to the south. The track record’s not a good one.
For all of P.E.I. dairy farmers, removing supply management is more likely to hurt them. They can’t compete with areas that have cheaper labour and lower costs of production. Small operations like those on P.E.I. would get swallowed up when pitted against the large farm units in Ontario and Quebec.
But the arguments didn’t change the leadership candidate’s mind on supply management. Before leaving the O’Leary coffee shop Monday she noted frustration with MPs who agreed with her position but didn’t “stand up for what they believe” when it came to voting in the House of Commons.
Well the small group of Prince County dairy farmers certainly showed her they weren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe is the best tool for providing them a stable income and keeping their operations running.