Alberta Politics
The USMCA: putting the USMC back in trade! (Photo: USMC/Wikimedia Commons).

Conservatives would have fought harder to protect Canadian dairy farmers? Don’t believe it!

Posted on October 02, 2018, 1:24 am
9 mins

A lot of Canada’s Conservatives were wearing long faces yesterday about the impact of the freshly inked United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on this country’s dairy industry.

As political sins go, this small hypocrisy is a minor one. Why not let the sitting government take the rap for a treaty with our big, bullying neighbour that is certain to be unpopular with a small but vocal and well-financed group of voters inclined to support Conservatives anyway?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What’s more, the current leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada can hardly fail to be mindful of the fact Andrew Scheer became leader last year in large part because he took the side of the dairy lobby against the ideological market-fundamentalism of his rival Maxime Bernier, who for much of the leadership race appeared to be the frontrunner.

Just the same, you shouldn’t believe them.

Movement conservatives have been salivating at the prospect of dismantling supply management in dairy, poultry and eggs for decades. Why do you think Mr. Bernier came so close to winning the Tory leadership last year? If the USMCA is a step in that direction, they’ll struggle to hide their satisfaction that Americans are doing their work for them.

If the worst that happens to Canadian supply-managed agricultural industries is a ban on grated cheese from Canada, they got off very lightly, although it will be galling for them to hear U.S. President Donald Trump boasting that he Made America Grate Again!

Lame puns aside, even a 3.6-per-cent opening in the market to large-scale American producers has the potential to dramatically impact smaller Canadian dairies, driving down prices paid to producers and pushing some out of business.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This will not be the end of it, either. Canadian market fundamentalists, many still in CPC ranks, will continue beavering away at dismantling supply management. If they can use the USMCA as an excuse, they’ll be delighted to do so. If they can also blame the Liberals while shedding crocodile tears for the poor farmers, so much the better.

In the meantime, Cap-C Conservatives led by Mr. Scheer will continue to claim that, had they been in power, they would have negotiated a better deal with Mr. Trump than the Canadians led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

How? By kissing Mr. Trump’s posterior sooner and more passionately? By promising to campaign for him in 2020? (Devin Dreeshen, c’mon down!) By letting their affinity for Mr. Trump’s policies and prejudices persuade them to roll over on everything, as they advocated pretty much right up until the moment there was a deal?

Under the circumstances, this is probably the best deal that could have been achieved, and it is at least possible that Mr. Trudeau’s negotiating team – which included at the advisory level former Opposition leader Rona Ambrose and other Tory heavy hitters – did better because they stuck to their message than they would have if they’d hurried to sign, as the Opposition demanded.

U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Mexican auto workers will even be getting a raise to $16 an hour – above the $15 top Canadian minimum wage that came into effect in Alberta yesterday to the noisy consternation of the local fast-food industry. In the long run, this will be good for Canadian and U.S. autoworkers and their Mexican counterparts alike.

Regardless, it’s always easy to say you could have steered a better course when you don’t have your hand on the tiller. Canadian Conservatives are masters at this charade.

If you think I’m wrong, remember that it was Conservatives who gave away the Canadian store in the first place with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1987.

That was when we handed over control of our economy to another country, despite warnings by patriotic Canadians that it would be all but impossible to take it back. And that was what gave an anomalously bad U.S. president such a strong hand when it came to “re-negotiating” CUSFTA’s successor agreement, NAFTA.

But as Britain’s looming Brexit catastrophe shows, these so-called trade agreements are easier to get into than to get out of.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andre Forget, Office of the Leader of the Opposition).

Even hard-core opponents of globalizing trade treaties would likely have, upon reflection, realized that under the circumstances of 2018 there was not much to be done but negotiate the least awful deal possible.

By that measure, Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Freeland appear to have succeeded, if only because what we ended up with isn’t a catastrophe, a disaster, or even much of a change.

It may be, of course, as many commentators have observed, that all that was really required was a new name that Mr. Trump – in deep trouble with literally half the United States electorate thanks to his latest pick for the U.S. Supreme Court – could take to voters before next month’s mid-term U.S. Congressional elections.

More likely, though, some horse-trading was inevitable because professional negotiators had been given a mandate.

Meanwhile, giving NAFTA 2.0 a new name makes it explicit that Mr. Trump has enjoyed a limited success on trade – which he will, of course, claim to be the greatest trade victory in American history.

As for USMCA, it’s not such a bad name for a so-called free trade agreement with the United States, for two reasons:

1) It drops the word “trade,” which NAFTA had very little to do with anyway. It will remain a corporate rights deal designed to limit the rights of workers and voters in all North American countries.

2) It implicitly references the threat that lurks behind almost all globalizing trade deals: The United States Marine Corps, commonly known as the USMC.

If it’s mildly insulting because it puts Canada behind Mexico in Mr. Trump’s affections, so be it. Like our dairy farmers, we got off lightly. The day may come soon when it’s not so good to be publicly identified as a friend of President Trump.

Canadians would be wise, of course, to try seriously to diversify our trading relationships with the rest of the world.

But with this speed bump on the road to total American domination out of the way, I imagine not much more than lip service will be paid to that worthy goal.

15 Comments to: Conservatives would have fought harder to protect Canadian dairy farmers? Don’t believe it!

  1. brett

    October 2nd, 2018

    The truth of the matter is that Andrew Scheer would criticize any agreement.

    I suspect that he would be very embarrassed if the public got to know the names of the Conservative and NDP supporters who worked with the Government to reach the best deal for Canada. The first person that I saw praise the tentative agreement was none other than Rona Ambrose. They all had one interest-Canada.

    Scheer’s interest is in trying to make headlines even though he appears to have little of any real merit to say.

    Reply
  2. David

    October 2nd, 2018

    Now that Mr. Scheer no longer has Mr. Bernier in his party, I suppose he is free to pursue his true political passion – the defence of Canadian dairy farmers.

    Ok, a bit odd for a supposedly free enterprise party to defend supply management, but it is a party with a history of emphemeral contradictions. After all it was the Progressive Conservative party for some time until they decided they really didn’t want the progressive part after all. I think their current love for dairy farmers will not last forever either.

    I recall a former PC Prime Minister who famously said – you dance with the one who brung you. I guess for now the dairy farmers have an eager dancing partner in Mr. Scheer. However, I can’t imagine the free enterprise Conservatives are very comfortable watching this particular dance. In trying to cleverly out fox the Liberals, Mr. Scheer may be unwittingly helping out Mr. Bernier’s new fledgling free enterprise party at a crucial moment for it.

    Reply
  3. J.E. Molnar

    October 2nd, 2018

    On the surface, the new proposed labour amendments in the USMCA appear to be encouraging — but the devil is in the details.

    Labour complaints filed through the NAFTA labour dispute mechanism have failed to live up to expectations. Implementing a minimum $16 an hour wage is commendable, but enforcement would be virtually impossible unless the US or Mexico beefs up enforcement provisions under the new agreement by hiring an army of regulators to enforce those provisions. There is no mention in this new agreement on how these new labour provisions will be enforced — it is completely silent.

    In an article addressing the USMCA labour issues, posted online from Vox: “One of the biggest complaints against Mexico right now is that labor unions are largely controlled by employers, and workers are not even part of contract negotiations. So it’s no wonder why Mexican factory workers are earning so little.
    Interesting reads on two online articles submitted below:

    https://www.vox.com/2018/8/29/17791430/trump-mexico-trade-deal-nafta-labor
    https://www.usw.org/blog/2018/afl-cio-mexico-violates-weak-worker-rights-laws

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    October 2nd, 2018

    I agree it would be wise to work to diversify our markets so as not to be so depedent on the United States. Sadly, if Neil Macdonald’s reading of Clause 32 is correct, the Americans want to make sure that doesn’t happen either.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/canada-usmca-1.4845494

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 2nd, 2018

      We can diversify our markets without signing onto any more restrictive trade deals, with China or anyone else. After all, as Mr. Scheer says, we have the very bestest bitumen in the whole wide world, so why would the Chinese want that “sweet” Saudi crude. I mean, they call it crude for a reason, right? As we have a chance to examine the text of the USMCA, I’m sure we’ll find lots more wrong with this deal. It’s all pretty meaningless, though, since our American cousins don’t seem to be capable of sticking to anything they agree to anyway. Unlike our neighbours over the pole, we don’t have any nuclear weapons or hyper-sonic atomic-powered cruise missiles, so our options seems to be to keep trading with them anyway since they’re basically our only market, or build a wall. DJC

      Reply
      • Bob Raynard

        October 3rd, 2018

        I guess the issue is the term ‘non-market’ country. What does that mean? The ‘expert’ on [email protected] the other day didn’t know. If it just means China that’s one thing, but could it mean any country?

        Reply
        • Expat Albertan

          October 3rd, 2018

          Or it could be so meaningless that it doesn’t mean any country, including China. Lots of markets in China, btw.

          Reply
      • Jerrymacgp

        October 4th, 2018

        Here’s the thing about “trade diversification”: it’s a scam. Few Canadian businesses are going to prove big enough to be able to gain significant market share in overseas markets, like Asia, Europe or Down Under, or even to ship to them; the US is our largest trading partner because it’s RIGHT NEXT DOOR.

        Many of us here opposed the Mulroney-era CUSFTA, and its successor, NAFTA, for good reasons, many of which have been described quite articulately by our blogger. But a quarter century later, much of our economy is organized around it, to the point where a complete disruption—such as was repeatedly threatened by The Donald—would have been a serious threat to our still fragile recovery.

        This new agreement is far from ideal. However, when you negotiate with a sociopathic bully who also holds all the high cards, you do well to come out with your shirt still on, and IMHO Canada did just that.

        Reply
  5. tom in ontario

    October 2nd, 2018

    “…above the $15 top Canadian minimum wage that came into effect in Alberta yesterday to the noisy consternation of the local-fast food industry.”

    Restaurant Brands International: Tim Hortons, Burger King, Popeyes
    Net Income for the quarter ending June 30, 2018
    $314.1 million USD (rbi.com)

    McDonalds
    Net Income for the quarter ending June 30, 2018
    $1.496 billion USD (McDonalds Corporation)

    Reply
  6. Champlain

    October 2nd, 2018

    Pass a bill requiring Canadian food manufacturers to clearly state the percentage , if any , of foreign dairy in their products. 100% percent Canadian dairy should be 100%, let consumers decide. Free markets are the CPC golden idol.

    Reply
    • Kang

      October 2nd, 2018

      In Ag Annex 3-B, Section 6 it states that ““product of Canada” shall be determined based on U.S. general requirements” etc. So it is not likely you can have clear labelling about what percentage is Canadian anymore than you are allowed to have clear labelling about any GMO content in food products.

      Welcome to the world of corporate feudalism. Mulroney started it, Harper and now and the Liberals carried it on and on.

      Reply
  7. Farmer Brian

    October 3rd, 2018

    As opposition leader Andrew Scheer’s job is to oppose, his job is to point out from his point of view the mistakes of the government. While I certainly agree that nobody would have kept Donald Trump from gaining some additional market access for dairy, I do think that the goals that Trudeau set out at the start hampered his negotiating position somewhat. He wanted chapters on Indigenous rights, gender equality and climate change included in the agreement. Issues that were of no interest to Trump and are nowhere to be found in the final agreement. Trump certainly out maneuvered Canada by making a deal with Mexico first, this put us a distinct disadvantage. In the end we have a watered down Nafta, less than we had before and a deal which will chip away at the profits of our supply managed sectors. Enjoy your day.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      October 3rd, 2018

      You do realize that the stuff about gender and indigenous rights was put in there knowing that it would be bargained away. Better to give up on the easy stuff first.

      Reply
  8. brett

    October 3rd, 2018

    NAFTA was 25 years old. Our economy has changed since that time. And it is in the midst of change now-as is the US economy.

    I really do not understand Andrew Scheer nor do I understand who he is playing to. This was not a Liberal win. It was a Canada win. I doubt very much that Scheer is about to say the Liberals failed, but they were ably assisted in that failure by at least three Conservative members. Former PM Brian Mulroney, former Industry Minister James Moore, and former Conservative Interim Leader Rona Ambrose. Plus of course input from the NDP and from our major labour unions.

    Yes, there was some give and take. We had thousands of jobs at stake. They, the entire team, got this done. We should be thankful.

    From my perspective, Scheer looks a little silly. I doubt that he has even had time to fully understand the agreement. This is not the kind of leadership that the Conservative Party needs. I suspect that it will do nothing but fan the current flames of discontent within the Party.

    Reply
    • Kang

      October 5th, 2018

      You are whistling in the dark. Consider the following article:
      https://leaderpost.com/opinion/columnists/liberals-caved-to-corporate-america-in-new-trade-deal

      Quote: “Trump’s wrecking crew is in the process of trashing decades of consensus on the regulation of public dangers from asbestos to radiation to mercury, all based on little more than unabashed hostility toward the idea that government should ever act to promote public health and safety. . . The end result is that Trudeau has made major concessions to help Trump lock North America into decades of Republican-style anti-social government without allowing voters any say in the matter. “

      Reply

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