U.S. Threats Signal Need for Action on Supply Management


When it comes to supply management, it looks like the showdown between Canada and the rest of the world is reaching another tipping point.

But those strange bedfellows, Ontario and Quebec, aren’t going to take it lying down.

Late last week the U.S., with its insatiable appetite for accessing Canadian supply-managed markets, said Canada won’t be invited to be part of the highly coveted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) unless it loosens up its borders.

That means Canadian tariffs against foreign poultry, eggs and dairy must go, and go fast: according to the U.S., the TPP is close to being finalized.

Who knows if that’s accurate? We’ve heard talk before that pact negotiations were concluding, and they didn’t.

We’ve also heard from the feds that Canada is in there like a dirty shirt. But that’s not what Catherine Novelli, the U.S. undersecretary of state, said as she threw a few haymakers at Canada.

During a media briefing, she was quoted wondering aloud about Ottawa’s intentions to make tough decisions about supply management and access. She claimed others — such as her country (if you don’t count the U.S. Farm Bill, of course) – have already become more liberal in their approaches to open trade, to help grease the TPP wheel.

“The question is,” she said, “what’s the level of ambition that the Canadian government has? We would love to have Canada be part of the agreement…I think that’s a judgment the Canadian government’s going to have to make.”

Note the “we,” the reference to the exclusive club that the U.S. speaks on behalf of. Such paternalism is nauseating, but it’s a fact the Americans, our biggest trading partners, see this as an opportunity to clobber Canada. With like-minded countries standing in the shadows, they’ll bully us into acquiescing then issue us a ticket to the TPP sweepstakes. Blech.

Let’s remember we have few global allies in our defense of supply management.

And, in fact, there are influential commodity groups at home that wouldn’t mind seeing supply management sacrificed in favour of the TPP.

Federal political party leaders have said they support supply management, calling it a part of our heritage and our right to so whatever we want within our own borders. But do they have the will to keep standing behind it, if it means being shut out of the TPP and being called out by some of the members of the very sector they’re trying to protect?

That’s quite a decision.

For their part, Ontario and Quebec, home to some of the strongest support in the country for supply management, aren’t backing down. These long-time rivals and competitors have shown increasing signs of unity over the years, realizing they’re stronger together than when they’re apart, fighting.

And with the U.S. tempting to sway Ottawa’s thinking about supply management, Ontario announced Monday that Québec Premier Philippe Couillard had accepted an invitation to address the Ontario Legislative Assembly, which he’ll do next week, May 11.

Coincidental? Maybe. Ontario didn’t say this coming together was about agriculture; rather, it was referred to as “a significant opportunity to deepen the relationship between the two provinces.” Ontario also noted how rare this is: the last Canadian premier to address the province’s Legislative Assembly was Jean Lesage, former premier of Québec, more than 50 years ago.

So what and who cares? Well, in advance of Couillard’s visit, Ontario also took the opportunity to remind everyone that it and Québec account for more than 55 per cent of the country’s total GDP. Together, they constitute the largest economic region in Canada.

And if anyone is going to fiddle with the economies of their provinces — which would be the upshot of Ottawa softening its stance on supply management – they’ll have to deal with the two most powerful premiers in the country, let alone the dairy, poultry and egg sector.

Think it’s time for a federal/provincial summit on supply management? I do. With this threat from the U.S. dangling over Canada’s head, Ottawa needs to come up with a solution likely to get the country into the TPP, while not turning some of our major commodities upside down.

With a federal election in sight, the timing of such a summit would be ideal for the government to take a leadership position in agriculture.

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