Supply management ‘a problem,’ says former Liberal MP

A political hot potato Trade critic Martha Hall Findlay says supply management should be ended but no one will take a public stand

Martha Hall Findlay, former Liberal MP, trade critic and leadership candidate, says it is time federal politicians escaped the political grip of the dairy farmer lobby and ended supply management.

This week, she publishes a paper on the issue written for the University of Calgary School of Public Policy that is certain to stir up a ferocious debate in the farm sector and in political circles, though often it likely will be in the background.

She says many politicians agree with her privately but refuse to take a public stand.

In an interview, she said supply management is bad economic policy that hurts Canadian consumers and the poor and undermines Canada’s trade negotiation credibility.

Hall Findlay said she favours a version of the Australian move a decade ago that ended dairy supply management but provided transition payments for farmers through a consumer levy.

“This is a chance for me to do something on an issue that has frustrated me for years,” she said, explaining why a former Toronto MP decided to tackle the supply management issue.

“It’s been frustrating because everybody behind the scenes has said it needs to go. Supply management is a problem but we can’t afford the political cost of taking it on.”

Hall Findlay said her analysis being published June 21 will use the number of dairy farmers compared to the voting public to argue that dairy farmer political power is not as great as politicians believe.

She noted that various trade negotiators and politicians who support supply management protectionism in their public roles reveal their discomfort with the position when they retire.

“A lot of them have done that and it is frustrating, one of the reasons I ended up doing this,” she said.

“I get frustrated by people saying one thing and doing another or doing one thing and saying another. You wouldn’t believe the number of people whether elected politicians or bureaucrats who say behind the scenes that they know this is bad policy so I ask, where is the courage to finally step up and say ‘let’s do something about it?’ ”

Supply management is a system of domestic supply controls, import quotas and high tariffs designed to improve incomes for dairy, egg and poultry farmers.

Hall Findlay, a lawyer and businessperson defeated in the 2011 election in her Toronto-area riding, wrote the paper under the direction of Jack Mintz, director of the University of Calgary School of Public Policy where she is an executive fellow.

He is considered the senior member of the “Calgary School” of conservative economic and tax policy that has influenced such University of Calgary graduates as prime minister Stephen Harper.

Hall Findlay said she hopes the paper stirs debate about a policy that has largely been off-limits for politicians.

“I hope I get a discussion going,” she said with a laugh. “I am the author so I will wear this.”

In the Liberal party, it could be an uncomfortable fit.

In 2006, Hall Findlay ran unsuccessfully for the Liberal party leadership. With another leadership race this summer to replace retiring interim leader Bob Ray, she regularly is included on lists of potential 2013 candidates.

Since support for supply management has been a staple for the Liberal party that oversaw its creation four decades ago, her proposals will be controversial.

Hall Findlay said her arguments are not anti-dairy but based on economics.

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