BY ALFRED FYFE
Like many Islanders on Thanksgiving weekend, I was struck by the Guardian photo and story about the encounter between dairy farmers and the Hon. Lawrence MacAulay. The long-time MP for Cardigan has generally had a reasonable rapport with constituents and Islanders, but on this day, there was significant disappointment expressed to our federal minister of agriculture regarding the newly-settled USMCAgreement on trade.
One of the farmers who spoke to MacAulay at the protest in Pooles Corner, Dewar MacLeod, told the Guardian: “We don’t want compensation. We want a sustainable industry, one we can raise ourselves without taxpayers paying money for it. They (taxpayers) haven’t yet, and we don’t intend on having them start.’’
It’s true that dairy farmers in Canada, unlike their American counterparts, receive no subsidies from government. A compensation package provided by the federal government would basically put Canadian taxpayers in the position of subsidizing U.S. dairy imports. Is that really how we want our taxes to be used?
The Dairy Farmers of Canada say that market-share losses from recent trade deals totals 18 per cent, worth $1.8 billion to milk producers. First, in the CETA (agreement with Europe) through which 9 per cent of our cheese market was opened up to European imports. On-farm production was projected to decline by 2.2 per cent as a result. Next, the CP-TPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership), which allows imports into Canada (primarily from Australia and New Zealand) equivalent to 3.25 per cent of our fresh milk supply. Once implemented, it will give foreign corporations access to 14,500 tonnes of Canadian cheese quota which will increase to 16,502 over 20 years. Now, in the USMCA, the Canadian government has given up another 3.49 per cent of market share.
It wasn’t so long ago that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared, about NAFTA, that “no deal would be better than a bad deal.” P.E.I. dairy farmers might be wondering, just how bad the deal would have had to have been, to force Canada away from the negotiating table.
Under the USMCA, Canadian dairy farmers will simply not be able to produce as much milk. They will lose income, and as quota loses value, they will see their assets diminish.
But the effects go beyond farm families, who make up the backbone of our rural communities. Their loss of income will affect all of the tradespeople and suppliers who depend on them to purchase materials and services – they will lose out, too.
We will lose a style of farming which performs a valuable ecological role in the countryside. Unlike more export-oriented sectors, dairy farms use far fewer pesticides, restore organic matter and nutrients to our agricultural soils, and operate at a smaller scale than their industrial counterparts.
The supply management system depends on three things – managing production - using a quota system, producers ensure that consumers have a steady supply of milk; controlling imports – to ensure Canadian dairy market requirements are met by Canadian milk production; cost-of-production pricing system - dairy producers receive prices that which enable producers to cover production costs and which provide a reasonable return.
When one of those pillars is interfered with, the system is no longer viable for farmers. We have now reached that point.
It is dishonest for Mr. MacAulay to insinuate that supply management has been protected. How can it be protected when one of the key pillars of the system – controlling imports, which are often unfairly priced – has been so compromised?
The farmers at Pooles Corner could not have been more clear. Minister MacAulay must stand up for Island farmers and farmers from across Canada and speak out against this deal.
- Alfred Fyfe farms in Stanley Bridge and is a member of Trade Justice P.E.I.