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Supply management compensation plan rumours dismissed by Ritz

News reports suggest the federal government may yield to outside pressure to grant increased access to Canadian markets

A front page Globe and Mail article claiming the federal government is planning a compensation scheme for supply management farmers “is pure speculation,” says Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

The newspaper said the compensation would be intended to blunt the impact on supply management from Canada joining the Trans-Pacific Pact. Speculation about a TPP deal this summer has heated up with Congress giving U.S. President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a deal.

“Our government continues to defend both our supply-managed and other agricultural sectors throughout negotiations,” Ritz said when asked about the newspaper report. “We have been clear that the government will only sign a deal that is in the best interests of Canadians.”

The federal election due in October gives the issue extra bounce, especially in Ontario and Quebec where much of the supply-managed sector is located.

Many livestock and crop groups want Canada to be in the TPP to ensure ongoing access to growing Asian markets. Commodity groups’ support for a TPP deal has been swept along in a campaign orchestrated by the Canadian Council for Chief Executives, which has long advocated abolition of supply management.

There are precedents for compensation for the impacts of trade deals. It was offered to the Ontario wine industry after NAFTA was signed and both the dairy and East Coast fishing industry could be in line for compensation if the tentative free trade deal with Europe gains final approval. The compensation is to be tied to actual financial losses.

All the parties in Parliament have supported supply management on several occasions. With the latest speculation about the future of the dairy and poultry sectors, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to defend supply management.

“I am urging you to commit to defending supply management in its entirety and reassure Canadians that it will be protected in all future negotiations,” Mulcair said. “Concessions in supply management sectors could have profoundly negative effects on our regional economies.”

He said Harper had created uncertainty when he said Canada is “working to protect” the supply management system in the TPP talks. “It is essential in my view that Canada be part of that — that the Canadian economy be part of that. At the same time, we are working to protect our system of supply management and our farmers in other sectors.”

Wally Smith, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said it’s critical for farmers “to keep in mind that no deal has yet been signed, and that negotiations are ongoing. However, they will ramp up over the course of the coming weeks. Dairy Farmers of Canada is in regular contact with the federal government. The government is telling us, and the media, that they will continue to defend supply management in these negotiations.”

He urges farmers and dairy suppliers and processors to use DFC’s MilkleDown Effect to remind politicians and the public about the benefits of supply management.

“In the meantime, we need to show a strong and united front throughout the supply chain, including partners and suppliers.”

Several observers noted the Globe story was based on unnamed sources and buried a statement by Trade Minister Ed Fast that supply management will still be left standing after a TPP deal that Canada signs.

The article was accompanied by a standard anti-supply management editorial.

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