VIDEO: End supply management, spark a boom: Mulroney

Former prime minister says the move would create a boom for food processors and provide more affordable food for consumers

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is trying to convince Canadians to give up the supply management system.

He says it would create a “boom” for food processors and provide more affordable food for consumers, but can only be done if farmers in the system are offered compensation that makes them “very happy.”

He used a keynote speech at CropConnect held in Winnipeg Feb. 14-15 to call for “the careful, innovative and generous phase out of our highly restrictive supply management programs.”

The remarks were not off-the-cuff, but part of a carefully written section of his speech, the core of which he repeated to reporters after the event.

Mulroney said Australia’s and New Zealand’s dairy processing and export sectors have boomed since their systems were liberalized, and the same could occur in Canada.

However, that would be possible “if and only if the other partners to our (trade) negotiations respond with major concessions that would constitute a significant advantage for the advancement of legitimate Canadian interests.”

Mulroney said Canada would need to see “equivalent actions” from trading partners in order to undergo the disruption and costs of unravelling the longstanding supply management system.

The former prime minister’s comments contrast with the official position of the Conservative party, of which he was one of its most prominent leaders. This position also goes against the status quo in Canadian politics, which has seen no significant challenge to the supply management system from any of the major political parties.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government vigorously defended supply management in the face of an apparent clash with the party’s free market principles. Justin Trudeau’s current Liberal government has been similarly supportive.

The only direct challenges have come from small expansions of foreign milk product allowances reluctantly agreed to in the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union and in the proposed new Trans-Pacific Partnership. As well, recent milk protein isolates that entered Canada from the United States took advantage of a loophole in the supply management regulations.

That loophole has since been closed, but the situation provoked a dispute with U.S. President Donald Trump and made it an issue in current renegotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement.

While Canadian politicians have generally supported the retention of the supply management system, Mulroney is not the only former politician to challenge it once being freed from partisan constraints.

Martha Hall Findlay, a former Ontario Liberal MP and two-time Liberal leadership candidate, attacked the supply management system and called for its abolition, a position she developed while working as a public policy researcher at the University of Calgary and defended in her second leadership bid. She is now head of the Canada West Foundation.

Mulroney appears to have been thinking about supply management for a while. He said he met the former Australian prime minister a few months ago and was challenged on Canada’s system by him.

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