The next budget is the Government’s opportunity to keep its word

At a public meeting in Saint-Hyacinthe on January 18, 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau gave this answer to a dairy farmer’s question:

“With CETA, CPTPP and NAFTA, we asked dairy farmers on three occasions to give up a little more. And I can tell you that we will not ask for anything else. Because the agree-ments we are in the process of negotiating, and those that will follow, will have no impact on farmers. That’s a promise. And we will ensure there is appropriate compensation, not determined by the federal government, but by dairy farmers like you.”

This answer has it all: The recognition that the dairy sector has paid the price of Canada’s future economic prosperity in three consecutive agreements. The promise to spare us in the future. And the commitment to compensate us for our losses. These commitments are totally justified.

First, because the dairy sector is a major contributor to the Canadian economy, with impacts in terms of jobs, GDP contribution and tax revenues comparable to those of the aerospace, automobile and forest industries, and far ahead of the steel and aluminium sectors combined. Its contribution is vital for the regional economy, not only in Quebec and Ontario, but across Canada. In 7 out of 10 provinces, milk production holds one of the top two ranks in agricultural revenues.

Second, because our sector is dynamic, resilient and innovative despite the repeated hits it has taken in the past few years. Quebec dairy farmers, for example, have invested over half a billion dollars annually from their own pockets in the past three years to modernize their facilities, equipment and machinery. Imagine what can be achieved in the future if we put an end to the uncertainty in which the recent trade negotiations have placed us and if we are compensated for the expropriation of our markets.

Lastly, despite what our detractors say, supply management is still the best agricultural policy to ensure a fair income to farmers, at no cost to the public treasury, and to provide high-quality local food at a fair price for consumers. At a time when environmental issues are so important, supply management is also the most effective way to avoid surplus production and waste and to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions while encouraging local production. In short, this is a model for the future and it must be maintained.

During the last election campaign, in October 2015, the Conservative Government had announced programs totalling $4.3 billion to compensate the sectors under supply man-agement, primarily the dairy sector, for the losses that will result from CETA with Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We know what happened next. The Conservatives lost and the Liberals scrapped these programs.

It was the Liberals who fi nally concluded and ratified the new version of the TPP in January 2018, as well as the new NAFTA, the CUSMA, last October. In market losses alone, the three agreements cumulatively will deprive Canadian dairy farmers of $450 million a year of gross revenue. If we add the costs of the removal of Class 7 and the imposition of a surtax on our exports, the bill could well reach $800 million a year.

Mr. Trudeau said in his answer to the farmer’s question that the compensation would be determined not by the Government but by dairy farmers like her. We participated in good faith in the working group set up by his government for this purpose. The estimate of the losses to be compensated in the long term was produced extremely rigorously, according to standard practices. The working group’s report was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture at the end of January.

If he does not want to fuel public cynicism about politicians and if he intends to be fair to expropriated farmers for the benefi t of the country as a whole, Mr. Trudeau must keep his commitments in the next budget.

 

 

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