Outside forces threaten supply management: critic

Sylvain Charlebois says Canadian egg, dairy and poultry producers should prepare now for the end of supply management as they know it.

The University of Regina marketing professor has criticized supply management and marketing boards in the past. Last week, at an event sponsored by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a conservative oriented think tank, he told industry leaders and others that Canada won’t abandon supply management on its own but will be forced to change.

“I’m not kidding myself anymore,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be abolished, ever. I think what is needed is a reform.”

Charlebois said a “love triangle” is the reason the practice of managing supply to meet domestic needs will continue.

“Governments make sure that they apply policies to support rural areas,” he explained. “Rural areas can actually supply cheap food to urbanites and if urbanites get cheap food they can actually vote for government.

“That has been nurtured in Canada for years and years and years.”

But he warned that a crisis is looming, through external forces at the World Trade Organization. He said Canada stands alone against other countries at the WTO on its support for supply management.

Canada must accept the fact it has to adjust now to deal with a future crisis and negotiators should send a clear message that Canada will change, he said.

However, Charlebois couldn’t say what a new system would look like. It would have to address tariffs and quotas, he said.

“Most importantly we need to offer a fair deal to farmers in a reformed supply management that is in sync with Canadian values and the Canadian reality, the geography, the topography,” he said.

He suggested marketing boards be more transparent and consider the idea of societal marketing boards, where consumers are part of the process.

The status quo is the worst possible option, he said, because it delays the inevitable.

Charlebois agreed that free trade wouldn’t preserve family farms but he noted that protectionism isn’t saving them either.

Supply management leaders at the speech said they had heard similar advice from Charlebois before. They noted that he pointed out during his presentation the many good things about supply management and couldn’t really offer a concrete alternative.

Clinton Monchuk, chief executive officer of the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, is a former director of trade policy with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. He said Charlebois is entitled to his opinion and he disagreed that Canada stands alone at the WTO because of its position on supply management.

“Every country at the WTO has sensitive issues,” he noted. “The U.S. has sugar and dairy.”

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