Tractors lined the street in front of Parliament Hill, cows were led up and down the road, and milk was splashed on the street as dairy farmers rallied in Ottawa to express their concerns about Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.
The farmers want to protect Canada’s supply management system, which shields the dairy market from foreign producers. Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal are currently underway, and the United States has pressured Canada to loosen its system.
“We’d like to protect the system that we have,” said Arnold Reijmers, a farmer at the protest. “It’s working well for consumers and farmers and processors at the same time so we’d like to protect it and hope the government is of the same opinion.”
Rene Buhlmann, a dairy farmer from St. Isidore, Ontario, said that he just wants to know what the government is thinking. “We would just like to know because this would be very tough for us. We will not survive in a game with the big dairy farms in the States.”
Some dairy farmers are beginning to withdraw their support for the Conservatives over this issue, he said. “We voted in the past for him, for the Conservatives, and we are not so sure anymore.”
Buhlmann believes that even though ending the supply management system might lower the price of milk at the store, consumers are also concerned about quality. “A lot of people I see in the city, they would like to buy Canadian products because we have the standards, we have the regulations,” he said. He doesn’t know whether other countries are held to the same standards.
Travis Mcfadden, a fifth generation farmer from Navan, Ontario, echoed those concerns. “It’s going to lower the price of milk, it’s going to lower the quality of our milk, and nobody’s going to know what you’re putting in your mouth.”
Mcfadden isn’t sure whether his family farm would survive without supply management. “Basically we’ve got to milk more animals or quit,” he said. There would be some tough family discussions and decisions to be made, he said.
Canada’s supply management system – a structure of production limits and import tariffs – has long been a cornerstone of the profitable, economically viable family farm, Conservative leader Stephen Harper said during a campaign event in Kleinburg, Ont.
“This government remains absolutely committed to making sure we preserve our system of supply management through trade negotiations,” he said.
“Decisions to be made on whether we have such a system or not are decisions we want Canadians to take, not foreigners to take.”
With files from Rebecca Lindell, Global News, and the Canadian Press