Wearing blue t-shirts that read “Canadian milk matters,” dairy farmers from across Ontario and Quebec rallied on Parliament Hill on Thursday.
The event was organized to show support for supply management and to bring attention to a basket of import-related concerns, explains Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) president Wally Smith, in the interview below.
“We don’t feel the federal government has been living up to the letter of the law in terms of enforcing border measures,” he says, referring to border management as the “third pillar” of supply management. “Without the third pillar, supply management as a sustainable vehicle for domestic production of dairy in Canada will not continue to exist.”
One of those issues — growing imports of diafiltered milk — has been in the headlines lately, as DFC believes a loophole is allowing milk proteins from the U.S. to displace Canadian skim milk.
Secondly, Smith explains they’re calling on the Trudeau government to address the issue of duty deferral, which allows companies to import goods for re-export within four years, but wasn’t meant for fresh foods, such as dairy products.
DFC would also like to see the federal government invest infrastructure funds in supporting dairy processing to “provide high-paying jobs in the processing sector and help us to modernize the processing sector.” Along with closing the loophole for diafiltered milk, updated facilities would help the industry create value from skim milk, for which there’s currently more supply than demand.
Compensation for dairy market access in the Canada-Europe trade deal is another issue DFC is hoping to have addressed, notes Smith. The federal government is currently in the consultation stage of deciding what CETA compensation will look like.
The future of supply management for dairy was already in mainstream news headlines this week after Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier declared his opposition to the marketing system on Tuesday, but Smith says the rally was unrelated to the extensive coverage Bernier’s announcement received.
While Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland weren’t in Ottawa, the Parliamentary Secretaries for Agriculture and International Trade met with the organizers prior to the rally.
DFC figures between 3,000 and 4,000 people participated in the rally, some of whom left their farms several days earlier to drive their tractors to Ottawa. There were several dozen tractors and some cows who posed for “selfies” with passersby. Related rallies were also held at MacAulay’s office in PEI and in Regina.