ARCHIVE: INSIDE OUTLOOK
The “Policy” Versus the “Politics” of Dairy Supply Management
November 23, 2009
How can Canada’s 13,600 dairy farms1 have so much political influence? The Conference Board’s report Making Milk: The Practices, Players, and Pressures Behind Dairy Supply Management, considers the policy dimension of dairy supply management. Part of the Conference Board’s CanCompete research project, the report analyzes the complex workings of the system, how it has been built up over time, and the implications of the current system for producers, manufacturers and consumers, as well as for the competitiveness of the Canadian economy. The report, however, does not address the politics of supply management.
Urban Nation, Rural Appeal
In response to the question about how dairy farms have come to influence policy, a romantic or idealized view of the family farm is one factor at the forefront of supply management politics. The dairy supply management system may appeal to some Canadians at an emotional level, since it is seen as preserving a lifestyle that many admire. Although Canada is now an urban nation, many Canadians need only look back one or two generations to trace their family links to the farm and the land. Supply management may help to preserve a lifestyle that is part of the historic foundation of Canada. For example, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario notes that it is “the marketing group of the largest sector of Ontario agriculture and [we] are proudly owned and operated by the farm families of Ontario’s dairy farms.”
The dairy supply management system may appeal to some Canadians at an emotional level, since it is seen as preserving a lifestyle that many admire.
Not all producers, however, see it exactly the same way. In Quebec, dairy producers take a different communications approach. In their words, “dairying has been and continues to be Quebec’s leading agricultural industry. Today’s dairy farm is a real business enterprise, using state-of-the-art technology.”
There are other agricultural sectors—such as the raising of beef cattle—that also have significant family ownership but where supply management is not present. So there are other factors at play in the complex politics of supply management. This report does not set out to explore these political factors in depth. Nor does it address the range of health and phyto-sanitary concerns related to farming, and the related costs and benefits of different food supply systems.
Aligning Policy With Politics
If the policy and politics of supply management are ever to come into alignment in Canada, the emotional reaction to reform of the supply management system will have to be addressed head-on—just as the emotional factor had to be addressed in many other cases of reform, from the elimination of the Crow Rate on grain shipments to the ending of operating subsidies for Sydney Steel in Cape Breton. This challenge—creating alignment between policy and politics—will be the subject of a second report on supply management. The future report will examine the agricultural reform experience in countries such as Australia and New Zealand—how they were able to build political support for a successful transition in their agricultural systems and the implications for various stakeholders in those countries.
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