But Liberal leadership prospect Martha Hall Findlay says poultry and dairy farmers have limited political clout and can safely be ignored
As soon as the announcement appeared that former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay would release a report critical of supply management, well-worn wheels were set in motion.
The marketing boards prepared their defences while newspaper columnists and open-market supporters readied their supportive arguments.
The news conference in the Chateau Laurier, a floor up from where Dairy Farmers of Canada holds its annual policy conference, could have almost been written up in advance.
Hall Findlay labelled supply management in dairy “a Byzantine system” in which “everyone suffers.”
“Canadians are forced to pay almost three times as much for four litres of whole milk as Americans,” she charged.
Moreover, supply management is hampering efforts to strike trade deals and hurting livestock and crop producers who “are being denied lucrative access” to foreign markets, added Hall Findlay, who may run for the Liberal leadership.
Dairy Farmers of Canada predictably slammed her report.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that Ms. Hall Findlay would make such potentially damaging statements without first making sure she had her facts straight,” said DFC president Wally Smith, noting that just days earlier Canada joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks.
“It’s also important to remember that consumers in other places where the dairy industry is subsidized, like the United States and the European Union, pay twice for their dairy products — once at the store and again through their taxes.”
Hall Findlay is just the latest person to perpetuate myths about supply management, said Chicken Farmers of Canada chairman Dave Janzen.
For example, Canada is the 16th largest importer of chicken in the world and imports more chicken than seven of the nine TPP members combined, he said.
“Our market is much more open than many countries in the world including some TPP members such as New Zealand, which blocks all chicken imports,” said Janzen.
And New Zealand dairy farmers haven’t exactly left themselves open to unfettered free-market forces — Fonterra, the farmer-owned co-operative, processes 95 per cent of the milk in the country, DFC noted.
Janzen said Hall Findlay, despite her leadership ambitions, is taking a position contrary to her party.
“All political parties in our country have made it clear that their support of supply management is unwavering,” he noted.
But Hall Findlay said Canadian politicians should stop and think about how much political power that dairy and poultry farmers actually have.
“There are now few, if any, ridings where dairy votes could plausibly swing elections — particularly compared to the votes of all those in those same ridings who would benefit from dismantling supply management,” she said.