Farmers who take a close look at Maxime Bernier’s platform — that of the People’s Party of Canada — will find some things to like.
The question lies in the bigger picture — are these agricultural policies compelling enough for farmers to accept the massive cultural change the party would put the country through?
And is Bernier’s steadfast belief in the free market as the ultimate arbitrator of competition realistic in a global marketplace where governments are taking definitive steps, through policy and political means, to support their own industries?
Look, for example, at the US$867 billion farm bill now wending through the United States Congress. Canada has nothing like it. Nor could we. It contains a margin protection program for farmers that goes beyond the insurance available to Canadian farmers. How is that a free market? And how could a libertarian-style free market in Canada compete with that?
Bernier’s answer, in a recent editorial board meeting with The Western Producer, was this: “If the U.S. is stupid enough to subsidize their milk for Canadians, good. If we’re paying less because they are giving subsidies to their milk, good. We have a bankruptcy law, that’s a free market.”
And that is the philosophy of why he would phase out supply management: consumer over farmer. No mercy.
That philosophy would spill over into whatever circumstances that may afflict Canada’s grain and cattle markets, too.
All of a sudden Bernier’s philosophy might not be so appealing to farmers who may be sacrificed to subsidized competition. The U.S. is providing up to $12 billion for farmers affected by its trade wars. It’s doubtful that a libertarian Bernier government would do so. Canadian farmers would be left to wither at the caprice of geo-politics.
Bernier’s argument sounds reasonable, at first.
“I don’t want to help an industry that is not competitive but I will give them a chance to be competitive,” he said.
Yet there is no policy to explain how a Canadian farmer could be competitive with a subsidized American farmer. Bernier calls his approach a common sense revolution, a term that evokes strong reactions in Ontario, where bitter years of austerity under then premier Mike Harris in the 1990s are still in the minds of many.
There are other interesting parts of the PPC’s agricultural policy. Bernier calls for a flat tax to replace Canada’s progressive tax. Farmers with high revenues might like that. Yet a flat tax tends to favour the wealthy, with the naive presumption that they will most often re-invest their money in job creation.
Bernier would reduce the grain commission fees, yet they were reduced twice in the last two years to quell the overcharging that generated a surplus of $100 million.
He would pursue trade deals to increase exports, yet Canada is already aggressively pursuing that path.
He would eliminate the proposed carbon tax, relying on yet-to-be-discovered technology to deal with climate change.
He would not change the Criminal Code of Canada regarding gun laws. Instead he would ask the RCMP to “listen a little bit more to the victim.” And how would that play out when a shooter’s argument of self-defence has not been tested under oath in court?
Bernier’s platform says his party would reduce the federal farm tax from 15 percent to 10 percent. There is no federal farm tax, but a party official explained this refers to standard corporate tax rates.
The People’s Party of Canada’s philosophical bent for smaller government and lower taxes will likely be attractive to some people, but it must be subjected to much more scrutiny before it’s ready for action.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.