I shouldn’t get too involved in Canadian politics until the U.S. presidential election is over. There is no doubt the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump makes good theatre. I am glad I don’t have to make the decision as a U.S. voter. It is truly a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don’t contest.
But, in keeping with the tradition of all major media outlets favouring a candidate, I am throwing the full weight of this Hart Attacks Column behind Hillary Clinton. That endorsement will no doubt be a game changer. I don’t know that she will make the best president, but I’m pretty sure with her in Washington we’re not going to see a president provoking a Third World War within their first two weeks in power. There would definitely be no guarantee with that other outfit in the oval office.
On the Canadian political front, if you haven’t noticed there are campaigns building for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. I’m blaming an email I sent to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper a few years ago that got me onto the Party’s fly paper mailing list. I can’t get rid of them. So now several of the leadership hopefuls are sending me emails.
The first one that really caught my attention was a message from my new buddy, Maxime Bernier, MP for the Beauce riding south of Quebec City. His first policy announcement (when elected leader and the Conservatives form the government) is to end supply management in Canada.
It’s a pretty gutsy statement for a politician from the Eastern Canada dairy heartland — end supply management. That marketing mechanism has been in operation for dairy, poultry and eggs for about 50 years. I remember when it was introduced and suspect it was one of the factors that eventually forced my Dad out of the dairy business — that and old age and the fact that none of his kids were interested in farming. If I had only stayed milking I could be a millionaire by now.
My dad was a pretty traditional Eastern Ontario dairy farmer back in those days. He milked about 30 cows. The milk was collected first by hand, then along came Chore Boy milking machines. The milk was strained into eight-gallon milk cans and the cans were put in a water trough of cold well water over night. The following day, soon after the morning milking, the milk truck would pull up to the gate at the end of the lane. The full milk cans were loaded onto a tractor-pulled wagon and transferred onto the milk truck and taken to the Nestle’s Canada processing plant in nearby Chesterville. The milk truck would return later in the day with the empty washed cans and you were ready to go again. It was a system that worked.
Then along came the Ontario Milk Marketing Board, supply management and quotas in the early ’60s. Everything had to change. Dad built a new dairy barn, with a milk house outfitted with a properly cooled bulk tank for holding milk. Every couple days the bulk milk truck would show up. For a while the milk went north to Nestle’s, then later south to the Kraft Foods plant. As the years passed there were new regulations, and requirements for upgrades. Dad decided to call it quits in the dairy farming business.
But supply management has flourished in those sectors, generally leading to fewer but bigger farming operations. Certainly no government politicians haven’t been inclined to end supply management over the years, so I was surprised Bernier made it his opening policy in this leadership campaign.
In Bernier’s brief statement he says in many cases Canadians are paying twice as much as they should for milk, cheese, eggs and chickens due to supply management. He points out it is prohibitively expensive business for new entry farmers. “… is it fair to buy a cow for $2,000 and then pay $24,000 (the quota cost) for the right to sell its milk?” he asks.
He says there are 5,000 dairy farmers in his riding along with 95,000 residents who are not dairy farmers. He’s taking his stand for those 95,000 as well as 35 million Canadians who pay too much for groceries.
The odd time over my writing career, I’ve heard the odd person mention beef industry and supply management in the same sentence. But later their bullet-ridden body was found in shallow grave near the manure storage pit on some feedlot. Although the beef industry certainly has its ongoing market struggles, it has never gotten so desperate as to seriously consider supply management.
Bernier is taking a bold stand, sort of. The end of supply management won’t happen over night. First he has to get elected leader, then the Conservatives have to form a government. Then they would have to find an estimated $30 billion to buy out the supply management sector to ease producers into a true open market. And before that would even happen the federal government would need the approval of all provinces. In a related matter, I think it took about 40 years of lobbying and political declarations to finally unravel the Canadian Wheat Board. I am not expecting cheap cheese anytime soon.