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Agriculture, NAFTA take centre stage on Day 15 of Quebec election campaign

PQ leader Jean-Francois Lissee makes a campaign stop at the UPA, Quebec's farmers association, in Longueuil, Que. on Thursday, September 6, 2018. .
PQ leader Jean-Francois Lissee makes a campaign stop at the UPA, Quebec's farmers association, in Longueuil, Que. on Thursday, September 6, 2018. . Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard launched into another defence of supply management on the campaign trail Thursday, pushing back at opponents of the system who argue abolishing it would result in lower prices for dairy products.

As part of ongoing negotiations in Washington over a new North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States is asking for an end to the system so it can have access to the protected Canadian dairy market for its own oversupply.

The U.S. commerce secretary made the link to lower prices during a recent meeting with Couillard.

READ MORE: Could dairy market access be the ‘bargaining chip’ Canada needs to lock in new NAFTA deal?

The Liberal leader said citizens have never complained to him about milk being too expensive, adding he believes Quebecers understand there is a give-and-take in creating a fair price for the producer, the processor and the consumer.

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The Parti Québécois was also on an agriculture footing Thursday, with Leader Jean-François Lisée saying he was concerned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s focus on standing firm on the Chapter 19 dispute resolution panels in the NAFTA negotiations.

Lisée interpreted Trudeau’s comments Wednesday as evidence the prime minister is “flexible” on supply management.

READ MORE: Experts say dairy prices could drop if Canada loosened supply management terms

“If he’s flexible on our interests, Quebecers will be uncompromising in the 2019 federal election,” warned Lisée, who was the instigator behind last week’s common front of Quebec party leaders in favour of supply management.

Meanwhile, a few hundred young farmers marched on Trudeau’s riding office in Montreal, calling for supply management to remain largely as it is now.

“We don’t want any concessions,” said David Beauvais, vice-president of an organization that represents young farmers.

“Maintain supply management is one thing, but we’ve already made concessions in previous months and years and we can’t allow for any more.”

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The group warned that opening up the market could have catastrophic consequences.

Couillard, meanwhile, said a re-elected Liberal government would move to limit the amount of farmland an investment fund could buy each year to 100 hectares.

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READ MORE: PQ candidate Guy Leclair quits Quebec election amid drunk driving charges

Also on the Liberal agenda would be an increased tax credit for farmers and a revision of agricultural financial programs to take into account climate woes.

The Liberal leader said the measures would help young farmers and family-owned farms.

The PQ also proposed to support young farmers by making the funds available to them more generous and by offering longer-term loans to encourage investment.

READ MORE: Couillard defends criticism of CAQ as election campaign hits one-third mark

And Lisée’s party was pitching a different kind of sovereignty on Thursday — food sovereignty — during a farm visit near Montreal.

The PQ leader said he wants dishes served in public institutions such as hospitals, schools and daycare centres to contain 50 per cent local products.

Elsewhere, the Coalition Avenir Québec promised to help families with handicapped children by increasing a financial aid program by $22 million annually to $54 million per year.