In an announcement Tuesday in Ottawa, Quebec MP and Conservative party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier declared his opposition to the practice of controlling prices in Canada’s dairy and poultry industries, also known as supply management.
In the speech, delivered in English and French and posted to his personal Facebook page, Bernier acknowledged that he formerly supported the practice during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration despite having “grave misgivings about it for all these years.” A portion of the speech can be read online at MaximeBernier.com/end_supply_management.
“All Canadians should have access to affordable, nutritious food – grown in a way that allows our farmers to not be under the thumb of cartels and their Ottawa-based lobbyists,” said the MP for the Quebec riding of Beauce. “Supply management is a system that keeps the prices of dairy, poultry and eggs artificially high through the control of production, banning of imports, price fixing by bureaucrats, and the prevention of competition in the market. We must change this system because it is inefficient and fundamentally unfair to Canadian consumers and to our farmers.”
Supporting supply management hurts the credibility of the Conservatives, he added. “We Conservatives are not credible when we talk about free market principles, and then defend policies that squarely contradict these principles,” said Bernier, 53.
Opponents of supply management argue that it is a harmful, protectionist policy that costs consumers more money for lower quality products and inhibits choice in the market. Under supply management, however, Canada has not had to subsidize the dairy, poultry and egg farming industries as some countries in the European Union and the United States have done, the Financial Post reported earlier this week. Supply management is currently supported by the Liberal and Conservative parties, as well as the NDP.
In late 2013, Bernier commented that the Canada-European trade deal would not have a major impact on Canadian dairy farmers as it only opened up four percent of Canada’s dairy market to Europe, and supply management was still in place to protect them from market prices. Supply management wouldn’t be going anywhere “in the short term,” he said. At the time, Bernier stated that “If I want to change that, I’m going to push inside the party to change that.”
In April, Bernier was the second person to throw a hat in the ring for leadership of the Conservative party, one day after Ontario MP Kellie Leitch, and just prior to MP Michael Chong’s announcement. Bernier is perhaps best known outside of his home province for resigning from his position in Harper’s cabinet in 2008, where he served as foreign minister, after mistakenly leaving classified documents at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. He has positioned himself as a champion of the free market in the leadership race to come. Others thought to be considering declaring their candidacy include MPs Tony Clement, Jason Kenney, and Lisa Raitt, as well as former cabinet minister Peter MacKay and possibly TV “Dragon” Kevin O’Leary.
The Conservatives will vote for a new leader on May 27, 2017.