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  • Tricky two-step

    Predictably, the federal government now finds itself dancing a delicate supply management two-step while trying not to fall flat on its face.

    That's because, in introducing legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board marketing monopoly, the government flung the doors open wide to questions, particularly from sassy city commentators and think tanks, about the country's other managed commodities, namely dairy, poultry and eggs.

    The primary question is a simple: If an open market is good for prairie wheat farmers and Canadian consumers, why doesn't the same apply to producers of other controlled commodities and consumers?

    It's actually a fair question with no easy answer, as federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has shown in recent weeks. Compounding the delicacy of the dance is the federal protectionist policy on milk, eggs and poultry bolstered by substantial tariffs, always a bone of contention at international trade meetings.

    It leaves Canadian free trade negotiators squirming in their seats as they try to mount a plausible defense of our contrary policy without eliciting guffaws from their counterparts representing other countries.

    Most recently Ritz said that, going by a Canadian Tire sales flyer which arrived in his apartment mailbox, there's no reason for consumers to fear they're getting shafted on the price of milk and eggs in this country. And, bonus, you can buy them with CT bucks!

    It's not exactly scientific and it probably won't travel far in House of Commons Question Period. On another point, Ritz said an open market for dairy products could possibly lead to quality and safety concerns about competitive products entering the country.

    A more valid domestic argument in support of quota covered dairy, eggs and poultry is that the system seems to work in keeping producers at a comfortable income level. They remain sheltered from the cyclical crashes affecting non-supply managed commodities which usually require major cash injections from the government in order to restore equilibrium.

    In addition, virtually no supply-managed farmers are asking for an open market as was the case with western wheat. The position of dairy, eggs and poultry producers is to leave well enough alone.

    That's OK with us, but at least come up with a logical argument other than prices at Canadian Tire to justify the position!

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