Thursday, June 21, 2012

Liberals mustn’t have any sacred cows, dairy or otherwise

I confess to knowing practically nothing about supply management. I know that people that support it say it’s necessary to keep Canadian farmers competitive and alive, and those that oppose it say it forces Canadians to massively overpay for milk, cheese and other products compared to people in other countries.

I also know that it’s considered somewhat of a sacred cow in Canadian politics to the degree that all parties routinely proselytize themselves at the altar of supply management and any discussion of the merits of the system or whether it's in need of review or re-consideration is unthinkable. A policy motion reaffirming Liberal support for policy management was passed in a pro forma way at the party’s January convention. I can’t remember the last time an open and frank debate on the pros and cons of supply management has happened; usually all we hear is “pass this or rural Canada will run you over with a combine.”

The Liberals have made a lot of noise over the last year or so about being the party of “evidence-based policy.” It remains to see whether that’s actually true or is just empty platitude. We may begin to get a sense of that if possible leadership contender (though she should really pay off her 2006 debt first) Martha Hall Findlay succeeds in sparking a debate on supply management.

In a recent op/ed in the Globe and in interviews in the media and elsewhere, and in a report, she argued in favour of dismantling supply management.

It is simply untenable that Canadian families pay upwards of $300 more a year than they need to, for milk alone, let alone higher prices for other products like cheese, yogourt and ice cream, to subsidize a tiny number of relatively well-off farmers. Worse, it’s regressive, which means that the ones who suffer most are the low-income families – the very ones who most need affordable access to nutrition. Many others, including processors and restaurants, have been calling to an end to supply management for years.

As I said, I’m not yet on either side of the supply management debate, mainly because we haven’t actually had such a debate in recent memory. But I am in favour of having the debate, and getting all the facts on the table. People such as Hall Findlay are making their arguments, and the Dairy Farmers are firing back with their arguments. That’s healthy; I look forward to hearing all the facts and deciding where I stand on the issue.

Because that’s what being an evidence-based party, if that’s what we want to be, is all about. If the evidence for supply management is as strong as its proponents insist, then the debate will surely end with our support for its continuation. But let’s have the debate and go where the evidence takes us.

SPEAKING OF DEBATE: Mike Moffat on the policy implications, Rob Silver on the vote implications, Steve V. on the farmers and Dan Arnold on the debate.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Skinny Dipper said...

I just saw Martha Hall-Findlay and a Dairy Farmers representative on Power and Politics. I noticed that every time Ms. Hall-Findlay wanted to make a numerical statement, the Dairy Farmers representative interrupted her. He wouldn't let her state her numbers.

Ms. Hall-Findlay has improved her skills over the past five or six years. She could make a strong leadership contender. By expressing her desire to get rid of supply-side management of dairy and poultry, she frames herself as a free-market supporter as opposed to those "socialist" Conservatives who will likely support the Dairy Farmers.

Möbius said...

Forget Trudeau. MHF is suddenly making the most sense of any (former) Liberal MP today.

Möbius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liberal supporter said...

What is the "evidence based" argument for having a military which can do more than guard the border? The military costs money, produces nothing, is a drain on our hardworking taxpayers.

But in wars in times past, the nation without a military ceases to be a nation in short order. A similar fate awaits a nation that cannot feed itself. Put all the farmers out of business and then some financial meltdown means we don't eat.

$300 a year for food security? Part of the price of freedom.

The Rat said...

I keep hearing food security and local production pushed out as arguments for supply management. The idea of the 100 mile diet has really put this in focus. The only place in Canada where a 100 mile diet is even remotely possible is the west coast of BC. Every other place suffers severe winters, limited crop availability, and has no access to seafood.

Our modern food security depends on international trade and the ability to bring fresh food from southern locales year round. That is food security and that's why we should be willing to take food from foreign producers. We get fruits and vegetables from California and South America so why not milk, cheese, butter, poultry, or eggs fro the US, Australia or New Zealand?

Having a wide array of competing suppliers is a hell of a lot more secure than relying on food from one local source that could fail.

Möbius said...

After falling to third place, and looking for new ideas to get them off the ground, MHF gets quickly slapped down from the left Liberals, for actually proposing a new idea. If the LPC is moving further to the left, you sure as hell better merge with the NDP.