Monday, 5 December 2011

Let the People Speak

When the broadcast consortium that organized the Leaders Debate in the last federal election was looking for a host with talent and credibility, it chose Steve Paikin. Paikin is the regular host of a program called the Agenda on TV Ontario. TVO is a kind of hybrid broadcaster, somewhat like the CBC because of  some government funding and an educational/cultural mandate, and partly PBS because it does separate fundraising as well.

I have a lot of respect for Paikin and what the Agenda tries to do. It's not afraid to load up the set with smart people, and led by a competent host, tackle some complex subjects. (the BBC does this well too).

The Agenda had a go with the debate over the future of supply management the other night, and while it missed a couple of important points in my view, it was as good a discussion as you'll get. It took the time to discuss the history of the marketing boards (always important in my view), and expose some of the hypocrisy of the Americans when it comes to trade. (the U.S. allows fewer dairy product imports than Canada does). I think it missed the environmental consequences in New Zealand of developing an export oriented business  based on cheap milk (google: dirty dairying-new zealand), but there was new information to me that consumers in New Zeland pay more for milk than Canadians do.  And the other point is that there are just a few farm products here where the supply really can be managed properly. Anything grown outside is linked to the vagaries of the weather, and yields fluctuate year by year, that's why grain and vegetable growers couldn't even consider the marketing scheme.

Here's the link to the program:

Meanwhile the Globe and Mail commentators (Jeffery Simpson this time) continued their relentless trashing of supply management:

What was just as revealing were the comments of readers to Simpson's commentary. A sample here:

Forget everything else, I would end supply management simply because it is stupid and serves no real purpose. Why are a couple of farm groups singled out for this practice and the rest of the economy faces the open market. It is just dumb.

There are a few inconvenient truths that Mr Simpson overlooks, I suspect in part because he hates rural Canadians. If you remove supply management, dairy and poultry producers will have to sell their produce to oligopalistic or monopolistic entities. Can you honestly argue that a functioning "marketplace" would exist with thousands of sellers to only one or two buyers?
Producing milk is not like producing widgets--cows don't come with an "on/off" switch.

Tony Kwan8
Mr. Simpson takes it as a given that supply management is an evil without any benefits and therefore not worth protecting, particularly if it compromises Canada's chances of entering into a new free trade pact.

Perhaps a few issues are worth pondering first.

One, given the strength of the farm lobby in the U.S., it seems very unlikely that the Americans will end their heavy subsidies to agriculture. So, why then would it be acceptable for them to remain in effect protectionist but not for us to do the same?

Two, are we to regard Canadian farmers as disposable and/or obsolete pieces of machinery? Mr. Simpson doesn't seem to think there are any social or adjustment costs to be considered.

Three, favouring local food production means much lower transportation costs and, therefore, a much smaller carbon footprint.

Four, should we pay such short shrift to food security/sovereignty?

It seems to me most people on this board are losing site of the real costs of supply management. The few farmers involved are hurting the chance of millions of Canadians to benefit under this free trade deal. The government has to eliminate this gross trade restriction before we lose our chance for added trade in the Pacific.

Ron Conway
Farmers in Ontario receive about .45 cents for a litre of whole milk( similar in butterfat that you
get in a 3.25% homo bag) delivered to the dairy. This means that the dairy pays the farmer
$1.80 for the 4 litre bag of homo milk that sells for $5.60 retail- Why is everyone worrying about what the farmer is paid- Worry about the profit the dairy or the store is making.

If the price of membership in the TPP is lower prices on milk, cheese, eggs, turkey and pork, I am all for it!

Supply management forces consumers to pay more for their eggs, chicken and milk products at the retail level. This will not cost the gocernment more... that is a good will reduce food prices.... that is a good thing. The producers left in the dairy and poultry industry will expand and continue making money as they no longer need to purchase expensive quota.


Of course in the end it will be the judgement and negotiating skills of Steven Harper's government (that's what he wants it called right??) that will determine what happens. There's no doubt that New Zealand and the U.S. want an end to the import controls used to maintain supply management, and if Harper starts talking about "consumer freedom", then we'll know the jig is up.  Bottom line for me: they'd better negotiate smart, not the ham handed way they deal with most issues.

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