P.E.I dairy farmers afraid for their farms because of trade agreement

There are concerns Canada may allow greater imports of liquid milk from the U.S.

Colin MacLean colin.maclean@tc.tc
Published on September 30, 2015

Dairy farmers and their supporters gathered in front of Gail Shea's office in Summerside. 

©colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer

John Green suspects he may be seeing history repeat itself.

Green grew up on a dairy farm in the United Kingdom, but moved to and started farming on Prince Edward Island several years ago. His farm is in Springfield.

He was one of about 200 people, mostly dairy farmers, who gathered in front of Conservative Egmont MP Gail Shea’s campaign office on Water Street in Summerside Wednesday. They were there at the invitation of the Dairy Farmers of P.E.I., to voice their support for the Canadian dairy industry and to oppose what they see as a threat in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement currently under negotiation by a variety of Pacific Rim nations, including Canada.

There are concerns Canada may allow greater imports of liquid milk from the U.S. in exchange for concessions in other areas. The specter of losing Canadian milk supply management has also been raised.

 “I’m kind of seeing it all happen again, what my father had to deal with, and it all seems to be rolling ahead through Canada now,” said Green.

“It’s very concerning.”

There was scarcely a person in the crowd who didn’t share Green’s worry.

Nova Scotia natives Sarah Pollard and Will Blaauwendraat are a young couple who just last year purchased a dairy farm in Foxley River.

As new farm owners, they have a tremendous debt load right now, they said, and the prospect of losing the stable income that supply management provides terrifies them.

“If the plug is pulled on this and supply management is done, then our future as dairy farmers will be done too. We carry debt and we need our milk cheques to pay it,” said Pollard.

But while the crowd was generally worrisome about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Conservative government’s negotiations at that table, they were not belligerent to Shea.

She was invited to speak to defend her government and even took questions from the crowd.  

She denied any suggestion that Canada’s supply management system is on the table at the pacific free-trade negotiations. She added that if there is an increase in the amount of foreign liquid milk into the Canadian market as part of the deal, then Canadian farmers may be compensated, similarly to what happened with the European Free Trade Agreement that opened Canada to more European Union cheese exports.

“Dairy farmers here can take some comfort in that their government...has said it will uphold supply management,” said Shea.

Jim Bradley, CEO of P.E.I.’s Amalgamated Dairies Ltd., spoke out in support of the status quo and thanked the farmers for their support of their industry.

“I’m really impressed by the size of the crowd here today,” he said.

“I think it’s an indication of how serious farmers take this issue.

“This uncertainty is really causing (farmers) to think hard about their future in the industry.”

As for Green, he left not having heard much to ease his fears.