Being a naive and silly person, I thought the Conservative government would be successful in its attempt to champion “marketing freedom” for grains, but not at all touch supply management. After all, methought, the West and the East are in almost separate worlds for economics and politics, so the forked-road strategy of the government – taking both forks simultaneously with continent-wide legs – would work. Supply management is an eastern thing (mainly) and the CWB is a western thing. So even though the government’s policy is flagrantly contradictory, it could cling to an “East is east and west is west” approach and get away with it, I thought.
I even thought that after the piece on the CBC’s The Current last week in which the national restauranteurs association attacked the high cost of dairy products in a new campaign it has launched. I wasn’t surprised that someone would raise the issue, since the comparison to the wheat board issue are obvious – and a lot worse for urban consumers, where all the votes are – but I thought it would just die away, since the government and none of the political righties has any interest in encouraging an issue that could devastate its support in Ontario and Quebec.
But in the middle of the night Friday-Saturday I saw a CPAC panel of McLeansians and other Informed People and they were discussing what they thought of the Harper majority so far, and golly if it didn’t head inevitably over to supply management after the CWB issue came up. A friend of mine had been pointing out to me all week the rise of this issue, but I had not changed my view that it wouldn’t go anywhere. But after watching that McLean’s/CPAC thingy, I began to think this issue might have come to life due to the CWB issue, and that this monster might take on a Frankensteinian life of its own, regardless of the fervent political hopes of rightie political types.
Once you open a can of worms like “marketing freedom” and dump them out on the Parliamentary table, they won’t necessarily wriggle their way uniformly in the legislative direction you want. Most people ignore ag issues 99.8 percent of the time. Many Ontarians and most Quebeckers have probably never heard of the CWB. But now that it’s front and centre in the national news, they’re paying attention. As are free-market-friendly economists, analysts, consumer advocates, and mainstream journalists. So once the government’s logic about marketing freedom for grains gets into everyone’s head, where does that logic lead?
If you’re pro-free and open markets, you’re going to start thinking about supply management. And you’re not going to like it. And campaigns like the restauranteurs’ one are going to rile you up. And with a more urban population than ever before, there’s a receptive audience for “make food cheaper” messages. Some time an urban-based government might adopt the issue to win votes.
So while the government won’t want this to become an issue, and it might not go anywhere in the short term, it might have lit a little fire that – like the CWB one – will smoulder and smoke and burn in the undergrowth for years, eventually catching fire some time in the future.
After all, who on the prairies would have ever predicted that the Farmers For Justice would in the end win in their crusade to kill the CWB monopoly?
How could this issue unfold? I don’t have a clue. Perhaps a frustrated farmer who can’t afford to buy into the Ontario or Quebec industries will start breaking the law and get arrested. Or perhaps urbanites will start noticing the price impact of supply managed foods and start agitating.
But sometimes opening that can of ideological worms and dumping it out where you want it is a lot easier than getting all those worms back in the can, especially when logic leads them elsewhere.