First CWB. Then Supply Management? Not likely

Right now I’m listening to the Canadian restaurant association on CBC’s The Current calling for supply management to be ditched so that consumers won’t have to pay such high prices for things like dairy products, eggs, chickens. After all, the Canadian Wheat Board is being dismantled, so why not supply management too, is the argument.

I’ve been waiting for this to happen. And I’ll bet the Harper government hates, hates, hates this coming up at this time. It has tried to make some sort of coherent division between its anti-CWB policies and pro-supply management policies, and they aren’t too convincing to anyone but partisans. Most would say they’re entirely political, with the government breaking the CWB monopolies to fulfill longtime promises to their supporters in the West, but with the government terrified of alienating huge numbers of voters in Ontario and Quebec who are connected to the supply managed industries.

But they no doubt realized that this would come up some time, because the contradictions are enormous.

And weird.

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Because the CWB is a far less offensive intrusion into free market principles than supply management. It’s hard to denounce and jump up and down yelling at the CWB’s imposition on farmers when its role and function is tiny compared to that of supply management. The CWB only controls the underlying bulk commodity price and delivery periods for whatever farmers grow, but supply management controls who is allowed to produce and sell its commodities, forces them to buy licenses to produce the stuff (quota), sets prices in the marketplace and makes it an almost market-free world.

That’s OK if that’s the general policy a government supports, but from what I can tell, the Conservatives like free and open markets. That’s what they’re saying with the CWB. But supply management is different. Hmmmmmmm.

I’d be shocked if the Tories ever moved against supply management because of the huge political cost they’d pay. But if this issue gets inflated – and that’s what the restauranteurs are hoping with their www.freeyourmilk.ca campaign and website – they’ll be reaping the whirlwind of their policy contradictions.

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