Paul MacNeill- Against the tide

No one should be surprised that Trudeau Liberals caved on a promise to protect Canada’s supply management system, which allows dairy, poultry and egg producers to earn a living, just modestly above the cost of production. When you crack open a door to a bully, eventually it will be blown wide open.

And that is where Canada stands after agreeing to terms with the Trump administration on a new North American free trade agreement as we potentially sacrifice a cornerstone of the rural economy to protect Ontario’s auto sector.

This should surprise no one. With the exception of Atlantic Canada, the Trudeau caucus is largely urban. It’s where the votes are. Winning improved access to the Canadian market was a key US demand, despite it already boasting a $425 million dairy budget surplus with us.

When President Trump repeatedly targeted dairy with his fiery, misinformed rhetoric there was little to stop the inevitable, save walking away from NAFTA altogether. Trudeau could have called Trump’s bluff, called a snap election and fought it on the grounds of needing a national mandate. The US Congress would be unlikely to sign off on a new deal that did not include us, so the pressure of an immediate deadline would be removed.

The prime minister did not have the courage for what would be an admittedly high stakes gamble. So now we are all left with the impact of the new deal.

No politician should have been surprised that angry dairy farmers showed up to Pooles Corner where Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay was trying to announce $3.5 million in road construction funding with the province last week. As minister responsible for the supply management system, MacAulay will wear whatever Canadian negotiators agree to even though he had precious little, if anything to do, with dictating terms.

The raucous dairy rally was predictable. Whoever thought celebrating such a modest amount of government spending was a good idea in the aftermath of ink drying on NAFTA 2.0 probably should find a new line of work.

Farmers are rightfully scared. No one really knows the impact increased American access will have on local producers. They made their point, strongly, while sheepish politicians tried to ignore the chaos around them.

The reality of NAFTA 2.0 is tariffs on aluminium and steel remain. A clause within the agreement gives the US a de facto veto over any future Canadian trade agreement with China. Is an agreement at any cost – present and future – with Donald Trump worth it?

Not an easy question. Every day Canada conducts billions of dollars worth of business in the US. We can’t simply ignore that. Those, such as federal Tories, who claim they could have negotiated a better deal are ignoring reality or are politically naive. Or both.

There is nothing normal about this moment in time.

A US President has made lying normal.

He has made bullying normal.

He has made voodoo economics (to borrow a term from the Ronald Reagan era) normal.

He has made hate and anger normal.

He has taken the norms of diplomacy and basic human decency and thrown them in the gutter.

But we all have small ways to fight back.

We can continue to buy local dairy and eggs and poultry and celebrate how these industries help build our province.

We can resolve not to be dragged into the gutter where belittling those that oppose us is standard operating practice.

And we can live in hope that this new normal is but an angry blip in time.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at

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