Supply Management Litmus Test of Political Courage

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Soon into any would-be politician’s career, they will be faced with necessary compromises, and soon after that, ever-so-less necessary but more politically rewarding compromises.  This process continues until the distinctions between most parties contending for power are only the minimum required to keep their forgotten base in line.

The exceptions to this normally result in those refusing to compromise being relegated to a fringe in their parties, or in exile.  Where party discipline is weaker in the US primary nomination process it produces Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul.  In Canada’s party-dominated nomination processes, outliers are required to shut up or leave their parties altogether, producing Maxime Bernier and Judy Wilson-Raybould.

All successful political parties are by necessity a coalition of interests requiring compromise to bring and hold them together, but at what point does a necessary compromise become a sell out?  At what point does taking a position contrary to one’s core beliefs become cowardly?

Rarely can a single issue help to define what side of the line a politician is on than supply management.

While most of the Canadian economy operates on a generally free-enterprise foundation, others operate within quasi monopolies granted by government regulation; and fewer still operate on the basis of Soviet-style command and control.  The sale of dairy, and to a lesser extent poultry, eggs, and maple syrup are all strictly controlled by government, requiring one to buy hugely expensive quotas to enter the industry, and agree to production levels and prices set by bureaucrats.  Dairy farmers can be seen from time-to-time, pouring milk down a drain when the government decides that there is too much supply in the market.

Supporters of the system claim that the government is needed to ensure that no one produces too much and floods the market, and that their monopoly provides a fair price to consumers and producers alike; a mechanism set by supply and demand in the free market.

On May 24th, federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer stated, “The difference between Liberals and Conservatives is simple: Liberals put their faith in government, Conservatives put their faith in Canadians.”  From those of us in the limited government camp, the statement deserves applause.  But does this statement jive with Scheer’s evangelizing support for Canada’s Soviet-style supply management regime?  The question itself should make the answer self-evident.

Despite his insistence that he unquestioningly supports supply management, it’s hard to believe that he truly does believe it to be the right thing in his heart of hearts.  There isn’t so much as a string to pull out of supply management to make it even vaguely connect to a belief in people over government.

In a way, leftist politicians that support supply management (that is, all of them) are more intellectually honest.  Supply management may cost the average family hundreds of dollars a year and cause our trading partners who close off portions of their economies to our exports in retaliation, but the idea of government strictly controlling an industry is not contrary to their core beliefs.

Scheer knows that supply managed industries constitute the single most powerful lobby group in the country – even playing a decisive role in making him the national Conservative Party Leader – but it is almost impossible for me to believe that he truly believes that it is the right thing.

Most elections boil down to two less than perfect options – and there will never be a perfect option but for the mostly blindly loyal partisans – but voters should demand better than ‘slightly less terrible than the other guy.’  We should demand that the compromises necessary to form governing coalitions be made only within the broader philosophical framework of that party.

Supply management is not the greatest issue facing the Canadian electorate this October, but it should serve as a marker if those professing to support people over government have the courage of their convictions.

Andrew Scheer may lose a powerful lobby if he does the right thing, but he will earn the support of many more who value courage.

Photo Credit: Greg Perry

More from Derek Fildebrandt.     @Dfildebrandt

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