Canada is a trading nation, one blessed with abundant and valued natural resources and a skilled workforce in every industry.
On average, we export 80 per cent of our farming and manufacturing production. While trade is important, we cannot negotiate away those agricultural institutions that give us a competitive advantage, which in many cases are the envy of the world, in order to simply increase our market access – most notably, our system of supply management.
Simply put, supply management is vital – not just to farmers, or rural communities, but to all Canadians. It is at once a buy local program and key to Canada’s food security and food sovereignty.
As we continue negotiations toward the Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and as we start our negotiations for entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is vital that we have this conversation, if only to ensure that Canadians understand the important role supply management plays in our economy and in our agricultural sector and to correct some of the commonly held misperceptions that are repeated by its detractors.
Over 40 years ago, a Liberal minister of agriculture, Eugene Whelan, oversaw the creation of several marketing boards that administer the supply management quota system instituted to provide stable, predictable prices for dairy, chicken, broiler hatching eggs, turkey and eggs.
He knew then what we know now – that stability is essential in our modern agricultural sector. Across the world, governments recognize the unpredictable and volatile nature of agriculture and acknowledge the necessity of government intervention, in one form or another, in order to prevent adverse effects. Factors from international commodity prices to climate can have a detrimental impact on a farm, challenging its competitiveness and profitability.
Supply management provides a system whereby our domestic demand is predicted and controlled through a quota and the price is pre-set and adjusted to reflect the cost of production. This guarantees that hardworking Canadian farmers get a workable price for their produce. It comes at no additional cost to the taxpayer, and unlike other business risk-management programs or government subsidies, this support to the farmer does not come in the form of direct government payments.
It has often been said that farmers do not want to earn their income from a government cheque in the mailbox. Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg producers earn more than $10 billion in farm cash receipts and the industries provide almost 107,000 direct jobs to the Canadian economy and employ over 300,000 Canadians altogether. Across the country, 17,238 farms contribute $24.5 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product and pay $4.8 billion in taxes.
There is no doubt that Canada’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership can create new markets, yet admittedly, there is significant resistance internationally to our entry.
Critics at home and abroad argue supply management is an unfair trade advantage other countries don’t enjoy, either unaware or ignoring the fact that agriculture in countries like the United States, one of the more vocal opponents of supply management, rely heavily on government subsidies.
Critics also argue that supply management comes at the expense of the consumer and make the misleading argument that lower-income Canadians are disadvantaged so l