Dear Mr. President,
You may have heard about me during one of your State Department briefings. I am running to lead my party and replace Justin Trudeau as Canada’s prime minister after the next election. My whole platform is based on four principles: freedom, fairness, responsibility and respect.
So I was very pleased when I saw that you stole one of my best lines by denouncing supply management as an “unfair thing.” I have been making this same point since the beginning of my campaign a year ago.
I agree with you that this protectionist system is unfair for the farmers in Wisconsin and other states, who cannot make a better living by selling their products to their Canadian neighbours. But you will excuse me if I say I am mostly sorry for a much larger group: the 35 million Canadians who are paying on average twice as much as they should for their eggs, chicken and dairy products.
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Canadian families, especially low-income ones with children, suffer because of the hundreds of dollars in extra cost they need to pay each year to support this system. Isn’t it unfair?
I’m also sorry for the Canadian producers protected from competition by this cartel. It’s actually very unfair for some of them, too.
They have to pay $24,000 to $40,000 a cow to their protection racket for a piece of paper giving them the right to produce a certain quantity of milk – and that’s before paying for the cow itself! Even when they run a very efficient farm, they cannot grow and sell to foreign markets. That’s the price to pay for not allowing foreigners to sell here.
And finally, I think it’s very unfair that in order to keep a system that favours less than 10 per cent of Canadian farmers, our government has not been able to negotiate better trade deals for the other 90 per cent of farmers, or for other industrial sectors looking to export their goods.
So if I were in the Prime Minister’s Office when you call to ask, “What happened?” I would answer this: Yes, you are right, we should take responsibility for this policy failure, free our agriculture market, respect our consumers and your producers, and get rid of this unfair system. But since we are on this topic, Mr. President, what happened with softwood lumber?
I am sure your Commerce Department people told you that for decades now your country has repeatedly imposed tariffs and quotas on softwood lumber from Canada, claiming that we were unfairly subsidizing our producers. Every time this issue was brought before a trade tribunal, we were cleared of wrongdoings. Yet, you seem to be falling under the influence of lobbyists for special interests in your country who are asking once more for protectionist measures. Isn’t that unfair, Mr. President?
Unfair, that is, for hundreds of thousands of American families that would have to pay about $1,000 more for a new home if those 25 per cent tariffs are applied. Unfair for the 3.8 million Americans who work in residential construction, whose industry would become less competitive and dynamic because of these higher costs.
I won’t try to convince you, Mr. President, that this would also be unfair for the 25,000 workers in Canada who risk losing their jobs in the forestry sector if you go ahead. You have enough worries to deal with on your side of the border. But I’m sure you and I can agree on this basic economic law: protectionism is unfair for everyone. Unfair to some producers, and unfair to all consumers.
It’s time to fix this, Mr. President, for the benefit of both our people. I would rather be there to negotiate directly with you, but you could talk about it to a mutual friend of ours, Brian Mulroney. Justin Trudeau did one thing right by asking him to help with those negotiations. He knows a lot about these trade issues. And he agrees with us, too, that supply management has to go.
You’re known as a tough negotiator, Mr. President. Continue to push hard on our government to open our agricultural markets. But the best way to negotiate in the best interest of your own people would be to do the same thing with your softwood lumber market. Not to succumb to protectionist nonsense. Deal?
Maxime Bernier is a Conservative member of Parliament for the Beauce region of Quebec, and a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. This column first appeared in the Globe & Mail.