One man’s food is another man’s poison, or so it is said. It certainly does seem to be the case when it comes to supply management. Didn’t we wage a long, expensive cold war with the communist regimes of Eastern Europe over capitalist markets versus planned economies? And aren’t we supposed to have won?
Why then do we have the contradiction of supply management being alive and well right here in Canada—and under free-market governments like the Conservatives in Ottawa and Liberals in Quebec and Ontario? A rhetorical question, of course. No thoughtful person really believes our governments give more than political lip-service to free markets. They’re as quick as any government to intrude in free-markets for their own self-interests and that of their patrons.
Entire systems across the country are built on subsidies, protectionism, wealth redistribution, marketing boards, protective tariffs and other trade barriers and the like. Our provinces even erect trade barriers between themselves, for the sake of their self-interests. Our governments are only free-marketers when they can’t figure out how to otherwise control/manipulate them. We’ve got lots of examples of this: Ontario’s automotive industry has been awash in government cash for decades, and now we have massive price protection for foreign “green energy” providers, to name only two examples.
We even provide massive cash and tax subsidies to the very political parties that form our governments. It’s debatable whether the Green or Bloc parties would be viable without their taxpayer subsidies. And would the Liberal Party of Canada be able to fund a national program without the annual handouts?
Which brings me to the consumer boondoggle we call the National Milk Marketing Plan or some such. This would have been the envy of every communist regime in the world, except that hundreds of selected individual citizens are getting rich from it—communists wouldn’t have like that.
Many Canadians cross the U.S. border to buy basic groceries, including dairy products which can be half the price we pay here in Canada. Ordinary Canadians are forced to pay twice the world market rate for dairy produce. According to a study published in December 2010 by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), in 2009 Canada’s milk producer price was third highest in the world, behind only Japan and Norway. All this so that dairy farmers in Quebec and Ontario can prosper at the expense of ordinary Canadians.
According to the MEI study, as quoted by the National Post, “the average value of a family farm has increased by 74% in the past 15 years, to almost $1.3-million. The average farm income is 15% higher than the average Canadian family income. The average dairy farm in particular makes a 25% profit margin.” And, as John Ivison points out in today’s paper, the agriculture industry in Canada received $7.9-billion in taxpayer handouts in 2008-09, about 31 per cent of that sector’s GDP.
In Quebec, farmers are protected—with taxpayer money—from the market by Quebec’s $650-million a year Farm Income Stabilization Insurance fund. From 1976 to 2004, producers in Quebec received government assistance, not including federal programs, to the tune of $5-billion.
Back-stopping this shameful attack on the pocketbooks of Canadian taxpayers and consumers are tariff barriers of 300 per cent on dairy, eggs and poultry imported into our country. Outrageous by any standard, but even more so considering the Conservative government’s pretence of being free-traders.
Countries with smaller populations and domestic markets and with similar standards of living to Canadians’, Australia and New Zealand, are managing quite well after discarding their central-planning approach to marketing agricultural produce, so why couldn’t we? No mystery there. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals have the intestinal fortitude to do what is best for all Canadians, for to do so means bucking powerful special interests and jeopardizes election chances in Quebec.
This is shameful and basically unfair, and is clearly a case of robbing the poor to give to the rich. This is a wacky intrusion in the market economy our governments pretend to admire.