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Musical Chairs Occur At Milk Price Review Commission

“There are some advantages that have been given away here.”

– CRAIG LEE

The Manitoba government has sacked all independent members of a provincial milk price regulator and replaced them with civil servants as it moves towards a single western Canadian fluid milk price.

Letters went out to members of the Manitoba Milk Prices Review Commission in early January telling them they were being let go.

The new commission members are all Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives employees. They are: Randy Ozunko, the commission secretary who will serve as chair, provincial dairy specialist Rob Berry, farm management specialist Peter Blawat, business development specialist Robin McRae and Urban GO team leader Mavis McPhail.

The change is part of Manitoba’s move toward joining the other three western provinces in having a uniform producer price for fluid milk.

Lorne Martin, a MAFRI assistant deputy minister, said the regulator will now be an “internal commission” but its responsibilities will not change.

“It will basically be doing the same kind of things that the external commission was (doing). But ultimately the objective is to transition toward western milk pooling.”

The new commission members were scheduled to have their first meeting Feb. 6.

The commission, which has existed in one form or another since the 1930s, sets a producer price for fluid milk and controls wholesale and retail milk prices. It bases producer prices on the cost of feed, replacement heifers and other production costs.

Manitoba belongs to the Western Milk Pool (or P4) along with Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The P4 shares markets and pools producer returns for milk sales. But it lacks a uniform fluid milk price. Alberta sets a benchmark price and Saskatchewan and B. C. follow it. But Manitoba is odd man out because The Milk Prices Review Act gives sole pricing jurisdiction to the commission.

MAFRI Minister Rosann Wowchuk agreed last year to develop a formula giving Manitoba dairy farmers the same fluid milk price as in the rest of the P4. But that would mean changing the act, which currently gives the commission pricing authority.

Provincial officials said the new commission will approve milk prices. But it’s not clear if it would still set them or act as a rubber stamp for the P4.

Martin said the commission’s role is unaltered.

“The commission will still be doing the same kind of things it normally does on consumer protection and there’s still a pricing for retail and wholesale milk that will be in place. That’s still part of the mandate of the commission.”

But having an internal commission enables the province to move toward a single fluid price in a “prudent” fashion, he said.

“By doing it in this manner, it allows us to see how things work and make sure we’re doing the right things.”

Craig Lee, the former commission chair, predicted the P4 pricing formula will be “less sensitive to producer costs” than one for Manitoba alone. As a result, producers will be slower to see price adjustments when they are warranted, he said.

“There are some advantages that have been given away here.”

A commission made up of civil servants is “obviously” less independent, Lee added. [email protected]

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