Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Conservatives new Power Base Makes Dairy & Poultry Vulnerable to Trade Talks

A couple of weeks I commented that the Conservatives' newfound ability to form a majority without Quebec was already starting to have profound consequences for the effectiveness of national bilingualism.  Now, news reports that dairy and poultry farming are finally 'on the table' at the APEC  trade talks are surfacing, alongside the government's abolition of the Wheat Board monopoly.

Although this development is presented as an inevitable aspect of international economic forces stemming from our trade partners, it is even more a product of entirely avoidable and contingent processes of domestic politics.  Brian Mulroney was the champion of free trade in the 1980s, but  his own riding of Manicougan was a the very heart of Quebec's highly protected dairy industry and the linchpin of his political power base.  Hence for his Progressive Conservative  majority,  liberalizing agriculture was UNTHINKABLE.  Now for Harper's new un-hyphenated Conservatives, exposing farmers has become very thinkable, not just for ideological reasons, but for very transparent reasons of domestic political calculation. Highly protected Quebec farmers are now politically expendable.

This is perhaps a textbook  example of how ideas and interests have to intersect for significant policy changes to occur.

An interesting footnote to this issue is what the long-term ramifications, if any, will be for British Columbia's farmers, consumers, and land developers.  Will the removal of protection for Quebec butter and milk create a local market opening for BC farmers, strengthening their local market niche?  Or will the general removal of protection mean more imports from abroad, keeping the price of dairy and poultry in check for consumers but negatively affecting the commercial viability of BC farms---and therefore their viability within B.C.'s Agricultural Land Reserve?  B.C.'s political leaders should be preparing themselves to deal with these questions.


Anonymous said...

Interesting MA paper, will BC gain or lose. It depends hugely on the exchange rate and relative monetary policies.

----M.E. (UVIC)

Mark Crawford said...

In a related point, Paul Krugman recently observed that the current crisis illustrates the value of Canada's (and Sweden's) independent monetary policies in giving them the policy flexibility needed to weather the recent economic crises.

(Both Canada and Sweden exist on the edge of large monetary areas but have retained their own currencies)