Canadians are divided about the future of the country's supply-managed dairy and poultry system in the face of Donald Trump's demands for concessions, a new poll released Wednesday suggests.
As all three major federal parties push to protect supply management as part of a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement, the numbers show past Conservative voters are the most open to ending the system in order to secure a trade deal.
Angus Reid Institute polled Canadians in the wake of news this week that the U.S. and Mexico struck a bilateral trade "understanding." Trump reiterated Monday how the U.S. would "not stand" for high Canadian tariffs on dairy products and again threatened to hit Canada with 25 per cent tariffs on automobiles.
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Supply management, in place since the 1970s, has been a major sticking point in NAFTA negotiations with Trump publicly calling for the system's dismantlement.
It remains to be seen if Canada granting greater access to its protected dairy market, as was done in the Canada-EU trade deal, might satiate the president in time for a deal this week.
The system limits production of dairy, eggs, and poultry to keep the market stable. Big tariffs are slapped on imports to discourage foreign products from flooding into Canada. Trump frequently fumes that Canada's high tariffs on dairy products, such as 300 per cent tariffs on excess imports of butter and cream, aren't fair.
Speaking to reporters in Kapuskasing, Ont. Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not give any indication if he'd be willing to make concessions on dairy. Trudeau said he would always defend supply management and dairy farmers.
"Even though it has been very obvious that the Americans want us to get rid of supply management, I have said that is not acceptable to us," he said.
Prairie voters show strong support for scrapping supply management
When asked about Trump's demand for concessions, 45 per cent of respondents said Canada should "stand firm on supply management and trade related restrictions" even if it means no deal. Thirty-one per cent said Canada should end supply management and restrictions to ensure a deal, while another 24 per cent said they were unsure.
However, those numbers changed when respondents were presented with a scenario in which Canadian dairy farmers are compensated for the value of their quotas and losses as supply management ends. Thirty-seven per cent would end supply management to secure a trade deal with the U.S., while 34 per cent would "stand firm." Thirty per cent said they weren't sure.
Voters who supported the Conservatives in the last federal election were the most likely to support ending supply management and compensating farmers to secure a deal. Fifty-six per cent of past Tory voters embraced that position, compared to 23 per cent who want to stay the course.
By comparison, 42 per cent of Liberal voters and 40 per cent of NDP voters support "standing firm" on supply management, even if it means no deal can be reached.
The firm found that support for scrapping supply management is highest in the Prairies and lowest in Quebec. Roughly 80 per cent of Canada's 12,000 dairy farmers are based in Ontario and Quebec.
Supply management was a major issue in last year's Conservative leadership race. Eventual winner Andrew Scheer was an ardent supporter of the system, while Quebec MP Maxime Bernier stood alone calling for its end.
Bernier was later removed from the Tory leader's shadow cabinet for promoting a chapter in his upcoming book in which he said Scheer won the contest thanks to "fake Conservatives" who only signed up with the party to protect supply management.
Bernier also told The Canadian Press this summer he is the only politician who wants "real free trade" with the U.S.
On the cusp of the Tory policy convention in Halifax last week, Bernier announced he was quitting the party and starting his own.
"I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed," Bernier told reporters at the time.
A policy resolution to phase out supply management, put forward by riding associations in Red Deer and Ottawa, was never discussed at breakout sessions at the convention. Organizers put the motion at the bottom of the pile and the workshop ran out of time.
Several delegates voiced frustration over the lack of debate on the issue, including one who told HuffPost Canada's "Follow-Up" podcast that he would join Bernier's party over the matter.
The National Post has also published a copy of the reportedly leaked Dairy Farmers of Canada briefing book from the convention. The document referred to Scheer as a "safety net" because of assurances that he wouldn't put supply management in the party platform "regardless of the outcome at the convention."
Bernier shared that story on Twitter Wednesday, calling supply management a "litmus test."
Some people say I talk too much about supply management.— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) August 29, 2018
The reason is simple: it is a litmus test. If you let yourself be manipulated by a small cartel, how will you be able to resist other interest groups and make the right decisions for ALL Canadians? You just won't. https://t.co/A2JlJIt8k6
The Angus Reid Institute conducted its survey online between Aug. 27-28 among a representative randomized sample of 1,500 Canadian adults who are part of the Angus Reid Forum. According to the firm, a probability sample if this size would carry a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
With a file from The Canadian Press