Quebec Conservative MP Maxime Bernier’s political future was decided by Canadian dairy farmers. How so? He tells us himself in a new book that he was working on until he recently decided to shelve the idea for the sake of the unity of the Conservative Party. What follows are excerpts from a released chapter on his 2017 leadership bid and his position on supply management that killed his hopes of leading the federal Conservative Party.
On why Bernier made supply management a leadership issue:
“I knew that if I wanted to be taken seriously as someone doing politics differently, I would have to take a position on this issue, which has become one of the biggest taboos in Canadian politics. All the parties represented in Parliament today officially support supply management. This need to take a clear position was driven home in particularly annoying fashion in early 2016, when my Twitter account became more active in preparation for the launch of the campaign. Almost every time I tweeted in defence of the free market in general, or in favour of less government intervention in this or that sector, I would get several replies along these lines: ‘Yeah, right, you’re all for free markets except when it comes to supply management. What else can we expect? You’re just another hypocritical politician from Quebec!’”
Bernier’s views on the effects of supply management:
“It should be clear that this is a transfer of wealth from the poorest to some of the richest in our society. Farming families working under supply management are indeed far richer than most Canadian families. Average after-tax income of all households in Canada is $69,100. By comparison, the average dairy farming household income is $147,800, and the number is $180,400 for poultry-farming households. Moreover, many of these families are paper millionaires, thanks to the value of their quotas. The average net worth of a dairy farmer is $3.8 million while that of poultry and egg farmers is $5.9 million. Where are all those who claim to be working for the interest of the poor when it comes to this issue?”
On how Bernier would dismantle supply management:
“I proposed to do it over a period of five to 10 years, with a gradual phase-out of import barriers and a temporary levy on supply-managed products to fund the compensations to farmers, as Australia did successfully in the early 2000s. I gave a rough estimate of between $18 billion and $28 billion for the cost of these compensations. Although I was aware that appropriate compensations would be lower than the full market value of the quotas, estimated at $35 billion as mentioned above, we did not have the time nor the resources then to make the complex calculations necessary to find a more precise number. I was not aware of the Conference Board study, and the MEI study had not yet been published. Had I known then about their estimates of the accounting value of the quotas at between $3.6 billion and $13 billion, I would have used these lower numbers. And I would have avoided proposing a temporary levy to fund them, which wouldn’t actually have been necessary. Predictably, some of my opponents used that levy during the campaign to accuse me of wanting to impose a new permanent tax on milk, eggs and poultry.”
On dairy farmers buying memberships to the Conservative Party:
“During the final months of the campaign, as polls indicated that I had a real chance of becoming the next leader, opposition from the supply management lobby gathered speed. Radio-Canada reported on dairy farmers who were busy selling Conservative Party memberships across Quebec. A Facebook page (called Friends of supply management and regions) was set up and had gathered more than 10,500 members by early May. As members started receiving their ballots by mail from the party, its creator, Jacques Roy, asked them to vote for Andrew Scheer.
Andrew, along with several other candidates, was then busy touring Quebec’s agricultural belt, including my own riding of Beauce, to pick up support from these fake Conservatives, only interested in blocking my candidacy and protecting their privileges. Interestingly, one year later, most of them have not renewed their memberships and are not members of the party anymore. During these last months of the campaign, the number of members in Quebec had increased considerably, from about 6,000 to more than 16,000. In April 2018, according to my estimates, we are down to about 6,000 again.”
On Andrew Scheer winning leadership of the Conservative Party:
“At the annual press gallery dinner in Ottawa a few days after the vote, a gala where personalities make fun of political events of the past year, Andrew was said to have gotten the most laughs when he declared: “I certainly don’t owe my leadership victory to anybody . . . ,” stopping in mid-sentence to take a swig of 2 % milk from the carton. “It’s a high-quality drink and it’s affordable too.”
Of course, it was so funny because everybody in the room knew that was precisely why he got elected. He did what he thought he had to do to get the most votes, and that is fair game in a democratic system. But this also helps explain why so many people are so cynical about politics, and with good reason.”
On the future of supply management:
“After the groundwork I did in my campaign, anyone willing to defend the same position in a future leadership race, or in government, will find it easier. If not on the basis of principles and sound economic policies, change will come because it will have become politically and economically inevitable, perhaps very soon if it’s part of a renewed NAFTA deal. An unstable system based on lies, coercion, and the exploitation of the majority to benefit a tiny minority is bound to collapse one way or another. Just like the Berlin Wall had to fall one day.”