World

Canadians Could Abandon Policy Nobody Knows About

REUTERS/Jim Young

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief

Canadians are ready to walk away from their historic commitment to supply management to renew NAFTA.

But, as the National Post reports, few of of them even know what supply management is.

Successive Canadian governments have been adverse to tamper with a policy that regulates the amount of milk the dairy industry can produce in order to control the supply, demand and price of the product.

A new Angus Reid Institiute (ARI) poll indicates, most Canadians have no such compunctions, with 25 percent of the 1,500 respondents saying it should be sacrificed immediately in NAFTA talks, and 45 percent saying they are wiling to recant supply management if the talks get tough and Canada requires a significant bargaining chip.

Only 29 percent believed it imperative that Canada must “stand firm on supply management, even if it means the United States may retaliate.”

But the poll also indicates that the term is understood by very few people.

“Since the early 1970s, some farms in Canada have operated under a system called ‘supply management.’ How aware are you of this system?” the poll queries.

Across the country, a median of four percent said they understood the policy well enough to discuss the arguments for and against it. Clear majorities in every province said they had no knowledge of the policy.

A bare majority at 51 percent picked milk as grocery staple that is controlled by supply management; 42 percent incorrectly guessed that beef was subject to supply management.

The poll indicated that when people comprehend that supply management is a system of quotas and tariffs designed to keep foreign products out of Canada and Canadian prices high, only one-third support it.

“There’s no doubt that the level of awareness, in terms of the actual nuts and bolts of supply management, is fairly low,” ARI’s executive director, Shachi Kurl, told the National Post. “If you’re a proponent of scrapping supply management, maybe that works for you, or if you’re an opponent maybe that works for you. There’s no opinion like an unformed opinion in this debate.”

Kurl said that though the concept is misunderstood or incomprehensible by many, supply management’s days may be numbered.

“There is a willingness, a very clear willingness, to see supply management get scrapped…it’s certainly something people in this country say, if push came to shove, we might be prepared to let it go,” he said.

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