Politicians silent on supply management

Peruse the websites of the three major Canadian political parties and try to find anything that mentions the term “supply management.”

It’s also hard to find any reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks between 12 countries, including Canada.

Still all three parties have, at some point, voiced their support for the supply management policies that protect Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg producers.

But how strong is that commitment? In late August, Conservative leader Stephen Harper stopped in Lancaster, Ont., the heart of dairy country, and left with nary a word on protecting the supply management system, much to the chagrin of locals.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says supply management has worked here for years and so it should continue. Yet the party’s website says it would reduce “impediments to trade and commerce between our countries” without addressing how it squares that with protecting supply management.

The NDP has come out the strongest in favour of supply management. Speaking in Lethbridge earlier this month, party leader Tom Mulcair said he had written to Harper “asking him to ensure that in the TPP negotiation, our supply management system is protected in its entirety.”

The system is under the microscope because several countries are said to be pressuring Canada for access to our dairy markets. New Zealand is held up as a model for the anti-supply management system, having dropped it in the early 2000s and is now a major exporter of dairy products.

Editorials in the Globe and Mail and the National Post have argued Canada should go the same route, arguing a TTP deal would allow expansion of dairies and open up new markets for grain producers.

The Western Producer has argued the supply management system protects jobs, creates stable prices and safe food. And a system thrown open could well leave us buried by the U.S. behemoth.

The bottom line in this issue isn’t so much what the leaders are saying about supply management, it’s how much you believe them.

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