It wasn’t the welcoming reception that Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay expected last Friday at the Kaylee Hall in Pooles Corner. A day earlier, a large ad in The Guardian invited Islanders to attend the event where Mr. MacAulay was to share a good-news “significant roads announcement.” He was to co-star with Paula Biggar - P.E.I.’s minister of transportation, infrastructure and energy - announcing increased federal infrastructure support for provincial highways.
It all seemed like another happy ‘photo op’ for Mr. MacAulay as he delivered more federal cash for P.E.I. There would be smiles, thank yous and happy photos. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, as it turned out.
More than 100 P.E.I. dairy farmers – taking advantage of the open invitation - showed up to voice displeasure with the federal minister of agriculture for what they consider a betrayal and sell-out of their industry. They tried to drown out the minister when he began to speak - voicing their concerns over the revised trade deal which allows the U.S. limited access to Canada’s dairy market.
Canadians were assured that no NAFTA deal was better than a bad deal. Dairy, egg and poultry farmers will dispute that assertion today. The agreement was good for the auto industry and even other agriculture sectors – Cereals Canada voiced its support, for example. But not for dairy, eggs and poultry. It seems they were sacrificed to get a deal on a very tight deadline.
The trend to approve concessions on dairy started with the CETA deal with Europe, then TPP with Pacific rim countries and now the revised NAFTA deal. It was Mr. MacAulay’s responsibility to defend those sectors. He didn't. He promised on multiple occasions that the federal government would protect dairy and other supply-managed agriculture industries. It’s true that our supply management system remains, but it’s also evident that system is being seriously eroded.
To his credit, Mr. MacAulay staunchly defended the government’s decision and told dairy farmers he would support the deal in Parliament. He argued that Canada needed the deal; it was the best deal possible; and had to be done to avoid serious economic harm to other Canadian industries. That all may be true, and that changes were inevitable, but it's small comfort to dairy, egg and poultry producers who must bear financial hits.
Now it’s time for Mr. MacAulay to ensure those sectors are truly protected and not subjected to further international trade attacks. He must negotiate suitable compensation for affected agriculture sectors - although taxpayer handouts are far from what farmers sought. U.S. President Donald Trump had to pay billions in compensation to American farmers hit hard by his decisions to hike tariffs against China. Mr. MacAulay has let Canadian farmers down several times now on key trade deals. It’s time to make amends.
Oh yes, that highways announcement last Friday provides $3.5 million for rural P.E.I. roads, which will help get milk, eggs and chickens to market. It was small consolation to those farmers present at Pooles Corner.