Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Telling the truth about supply management

Maxime Bernier, who narrowly lost the Canadian Conservative Party leadership, has released the supply management chapter of his eventually forthcoming book on Canadian politics. 

It is excellent.

The laying out of the problems in supply management is, or should be, old hat to anybody who's been paying attention. But you almost never hear it from a Canadian politician.

But the politics - oh my. Bernier explains how the dairy cartel bought the Conservative leadership through its rotten-member structure. In short, anybody can sign up as a Conservative member the day before the leadership ballot and cast a vote. And so a cartel can run a whip-round, sign up ten thousand paper members, and tip the race.
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.33 A Facebook page called Les amis de la gestion de l’offre et des régions (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.34

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.

A few days after the vote, Éric Grenier, a political analyst at the CBC, calculated that if only 66 voters in a few key ridings had voted differently, I could have won.35 The points system, by which every riding in the country represented 100 points regardless of the number of members they had, gave outsized importance in the vote to a handful of ridings with few members. Of course, a lot more than 66 supply management farmers voted, likely thousands of them in Quebec, Ontario, and the other provinces. I even lost my riding of Beauce by 51% to 49%, the same proportion as the national vote.

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.”36 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. 
Bernier lost his shadow cabinet position for releasing the chapter. You should read it if you want a feel for Canada's politics.

If Canadian citizens resident abroad are allowed to take up a Tory membership in the next leadership campaign, and if Bernier is running again....

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