A novice bureaucrat (and future PM) on supply management

Here’s a stray bit of commentary from the distant past to mull over along with the news that the Harper government just might be willing to consider reforming Canada’s politically sacrosanct, economically dubious protection of poultry and dairy farmers:

“Price support is only a means; the end we seek should be a livable income for every citizen. And as a means, price support cannot be used systematically; for it naturally tends to prevent equilibrium of demand and supply.”

That’s from the six-page memo “On Price Support for Commodity Surpluses,” written by very junior civil servant named Pierre Trudeau in 1949, when he was briefly assistant to Gordon Robertson, the head of the Privy Council Office’s economics division. His sensible advice on the economics of agricultural and fisheries is quoted in the new biography Trudeau Transformed: The Shaping of a Statesman, 1944-1965 by Max and Monique Nemni.

Unfortunately, Trudeau didn’t get rid of marketing boards during his long run as prime minister. Neither has any of his successors. The potential for change now comes because the federal government is, reportedly, willing to put supply management on the table if that’s what it takes to be seriously considered for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

For Andrew Coyne’s forceful argument against the existing system of marketing boards, which forces Canadian consumers to pay inflated prices for basic food like eggs and milk, here’s the link to his Maclean’s story from this past August.

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