On Oct. 26 and 31, I wrote a couple of blogs on price discrepancies between Canada and the U.S. In those blogs I focused on food products, especially those which the prices that Canadians pay are manipulated or controlled by supply management organizations. At that time there was little follow up by the mainstream media, but now we learn that Canada wants to join the Pacific Rim trade discussions and supply management might be a make-or-break issue for Canada in these negotiations. Now major media outlets are focusing much more heavily on exactly what supply management means to the average Canadian and what we are being forced to pay for these "controlled" products and why. It is time for the government to decide to stop supporting the present supply management management system. If we don't, it will be forced on us or we will lose access to a valuable market.
There is another aspect to this as well. Health Canada's food guide tells Canadians that we need two to four servings of dairy products a day, three servings for seniors. The same guide outlines how we need between one and three servings of meat or alternatives per day (if a senior this is two servings for a female, three for a male). According to Health Canada we need that many servings in order to:
"Meet your needs for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Reduce your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and osteoporosis. Contribute to your overall health and vitality." (Health Canada Food Guide)
On the one hand the government tells us that these items are essential to our health, but the Conservatives still allow supply management organizations to inflate the prices we pay for these crucial items. Prices far above what our American neighbours pay for the same products.
We know none of the federal parties want to touch the supply management issue because it will cost votes, especially in parts of Quebec. Conservatives want those votes, although supporting supply management didn't help them in Quebec in the last few elections. Conservative MPs, especially free market Conservative ones, run for cover when this issue comes up. The Liberals can't be counted on as they are desperate for Quebec votes and they put the current system into place. That leaves the NDP, but they have decided to be the champion defenders of the supply management system which is interesting when you look at other aspects of their platform.
The NDP insists that they represent the average Canadian; they claim that they want seniors to retain more of their earnings and they would like them to have a better lifestyle once they retire. To this end they have pushed for higher pensions and a reduction of the HST on heating fuel as an example. All very laudable, but how do they then turn around and tell those same seniors, people on fixed incomes and low income Canadians that they should pay far more than their American neighbours for products that Health Canada claims are essential to their well-being? Would we not help out Canadians if we cut out this overpricing? Would we not help Canadians if we offered them greater choice by eliminating some of the outrageous tariffs we charge foreign products in these areas?
I would like to hear one of the NDP MPs, especially one from Quebec, explain to his/her parents why that Christmas turkey they just bought here costs up to two-thirds more than one in the United States and why it was fair for them to pay that extra high price.
Sooner or later the present government will have to deal with this issue. Supply management boards will come to an end. The difficulty is how to do that in a fair manner for the farmers who presently rely on that system. A phase-out or buyout are two of the most obvious solutions, but first that requires some intestinal fortitude on the part of the government to end a system that gouges everyday Canadians.