By Tom Collins
OTTAWA — About 200 Quebec and Ontario dairy farmers closed down the normally busy Wellington Street in front of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on Sept. 29 with about 100 tractors. With a message for Ottawa to defend supply management at the current Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks, the farmers poured a can of milk onto the street, chanted, and walked seven cows as passersby stopped to take photos with their phones.
The TPP is a potential trade agreement between 12 countries and would touch about 40 per cent of the world’s economy. The countries’ trade groups met in Atlanta at the end of September to try to once again hammer out a deal.
Dairy farmers at the Ottawa rally were reacting to media reports that the federal government was willing to open up 10 per cent of Canada’s dairy market to the Americans as part of the TPP, although Trade Minister Ed Fast denied this. Speaking at an agriculture debate just down the street at the Chateau Laurier hotel the next day, federal Ag Minister Gerry Ritz said that the Conservative government would maintain “the pillars of supply management” and referring to imports said “if there is a loss to your farm you will be compensated.”
“If they’re going to sacrifice 10 per cent of our market, it’s just the start of the end of all of our quotas,” said protestor Pierre Pasquier, who milks 100 cows at Embrun, east of Ottawa.
Several other farmers said the loss of supply management would mean the end of their farms.
Chris Ryan, a seventh-generation dairy farmer at St. Isidore’s Ryandale Farm, said he is optimistic supply management will be protected but it still worries him.
“It’s good to have trading between countries,” he said. “But at the same time, when you look at Europe and New Zealand, which got rid of their quotas, lots of farms disappeared and guys couldn’t make ends meet.”
The Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) was not part of the protest and board members were at a meeting in Mississauga the same day.
“This was a grassroots organized event, so we were not promoting it, but we were supporting it,” said DFO communications director and general counsel Graham Lloyd. “We didn’t discourage anyone from attending or participating. Given how it was organized in 48 hours, there was no need for us to be engaged.”
Lloyd said the DFO has supported meetings with MPs and asked all committee members to write all candidates in the federal election to say “we expect the candidates to actively support, promote and defend supply management.”