Simplistic answers on supply management.

Can a non-combatant consumer wade into this melee of opinions on supply management? We already know that the Harper Conservative government is opposed to supply management. The Conservatives staked that ground when they decreed the end of the Wheat Marketing Board.  Now we have former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay wading in with the same answer for our supply management system that was originally intended to stabilize pricing of milk, eggs and poultry. What we might be dealing with here are some very simplistic answers to some very complex problems.

It hardly helps when Conservative Party spokespersons, such as Professor Ian Lee of the Sprott School of Management at Carleton University, refers to Canadian supply management efforts as ‘Soviet-style’ policies. He wants Canada to join the new Trans-Pacific Partnership that is being formed around the Pacific. One of the conditions of this participation, we are told, is ending Canada’s supply management systems.

Supply management developed in Canada after the Second World War to prevent the destruction of Canada’s dairy and poultry farming capabilities. Not only was Canada faced with rapacious export policies from producers in the United States but there were serious concerns about the tactics of some of the large processors and distributors of these products. The one success people were seeing in this marketplace was the stability gained in groups working in cooperative arrangements.

The reason that the Wheat Marketing Board and the federal government are now facing off in court over the proposed demise of the Board is that the Board belongs to the producers and not to the government. It is not exactly a Soviet-style operation. It is a free-enterprise answer to selling our grains around the world. And it has done an excellent job at marketing and shipping them.

As a dairy farmer of some prominence explained to us once, “We do not need a marketing board to jerk us around on quotas, we need a marketing board to market our products.” It is that simple.

What has turned many Canadians against supply management is the unrealistic tariffs to protect the industry, the inflated prices in the stores, the control by the processors and distributors and the selling off of quotas to agribusiness. That kind of supply management will certainly put the family farmers out of business and annoy consumers.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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