Rathgeber fires broadside at supply management
Criticism puts local Tory MP offside with his own party
By: By Ryan Tumilty
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 04, 2012 06:00 am
Local Tory MP Brent Rathgeber put himself squarely at odds with his own party this week with an attack on Canada’s supply management system.
In a blog posting, Rathgeber criticized supply management boards, which set quotas on milk, egg and poultry production in all provinces.
Rathgeber argued the system was unfair for consumers, because it kept prices artificially high.
“A market economist would consider a system that limits competition and fixes prices to the detriment of the consumer a cartel.”
This is not the policy of the Conservative government, which pledged continued support for the system in last year’s throne speech.
“In all international forums and bilateral negotiations, our Government will continue to stand up for Canadian farmers and industries by defending supply management.”
Local MP Brian Storseth, who is also a Tory and sits on the parliamentary agricultural committee, said he hadn’t read Rathgeber’s post but firmly supported the system.
“You can’t argue with the fact that I have been elected for seven years and the supply-managed farmers aren’t coming to me with a need for taxpayer subsidies.”
Rathgeber attended a government event in Saskatchewan this week celebrating the end of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly and said he sees no reason why any agricultural industry should need government interference.
“As the grain farmers near Kindersley can attest, grain and beef farmers in Western Canada have proven that they can successfully compete without a government-sanctioned cartel.”
Industry representatives were unimpressed with Rathgeber’s argument and argued that unlike the wheat board, supply management has the support of farmers.
“Mixed as it might be, it was a producers’ decision to end the wheat board’s monopoly on grains in Western Canada. That is not the dairy farmers’ position at all,” said Mike Southwood, the general manager of Alberta Milk.
Southwood said retail prices and farm prices aren’t as linked as Rathgeber suggests. He points to the BSE crisis where cattle prices dropped, but grocery store prices stayed the same.
“There is just no relationship to the farm price and the retail price.”
He said it is unfair to constantly look to push down prices for farmers.
“Producers need to make a living, as well and I don’t know why the farmer has to be the lowest common denominator here.”
In the post, Rathgeber said he doesn’t represent any dairy farmers, but does represent a lot of dairy consumers.
“It is difficult to justify maintaining a sector of our economy that is protected from competition thanks to a government-sanctioned system that restricts supply to ensure a higher price.”
Southwood said he is discouraged by Rathgeber’s position.
“He says he has no dairy farmer in his riding, but he is a federal MP. He is representing all Canadians.”
Rathgeber was not available to expand on his posting. The Gazette also contacted the Minister of Agriculture, but calls were not returned.