The coming European cheese crisis -

The coming European cheese crisis

The first great challenge of the second session of the 41st Parliament


A day after the greatest throne speech of Chris Alexander’s lifetime, Justin Trudeau appealed everyone to the highest calling.

“It is time—actually, it is well past time—to return to these great stone buildings,” he said, concluding his formal response in the House to the throne speech, “the respect, the dignity, the public trust that they deserve.”

It was time, if nothing else, to get on with the business of this place.

Thomas Mulcair called on the government to initiate an inquiry into the scourge of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, wondered when the Prime Minister would be around to account for the scandals of the government, chided the government for closing veterans’ offices, to which a Conservative MP accused the opposition of wanting to make veterans drive to service offices, and then Mr. Mulcair and Peter MacKay took turns challenging the other to support their respective legislation on cyberbullying.

Mr. Trudeau scorned the government’s economic record, suggested a lack of interest in accountability and then wondered if the Conservatives might be ready to start disclosing their expenses as the Liberals were. Government whip John Duncan stood and unceremoniously said yes. The New Democrats accused the Prime Minister of misleading Parliament as to who knew what about what Nigel Wright did and, in response, Conservative MP Paul Calandra insisted that the government would remain committed to economic expansion. Heritage Minister Shelly Glover wondered if the opposition would “remain silent” about the scourge of bundled cable channels and the NDP’s Megan Leslie asked Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq whether she believes in climate change. There was some discussion about the safe transport of oil by rail. Several references were made to marijuana and, at one point, Mr. Trudeau was accused of favouring the drug trade.

Out in the foyer, Tony Clement would happily pronounce his government “second to none” on openness and transparency in response to a dire report from the information commissioner. And down the hall, the Prime Minister’s appointed government leader in the Senate would stand and explain why he was moving to have three of the Prime Minister’s appointed senators suspended from the upper chamber.

Amid all this was the looming crisis of Canadian cheese. Or, more specifically, the looming crisis of an invasion of European cheese. Sixteen-thousand and eight-hundred metric tonnes of European cheese to be exact.

“Mr. Speaker, Canada’s dairy and cheese industry provides good high-paying middle-class jobs,” the NDP’s Malcolm Allen explained to the House. “Dairy farmers and cheese makers are central to many rural communities across this country. These farmers produce high-quality products at affordable prices without receiving one cent in government subsidy. Why are Conservatives going to jeopardize the livelihood of dairy farmers and cheese makers across this country?”

At issue here is the matter of an apparently impending trade deal with the European Union, particularly the apparently agreed-upon provision for the importation of a total of 30,000 metric tonnes of European cheese without the imposition of tariffs. The Dairy Farmers of Canada are displeased.

At present, a mere 13,200 metric tonnes of European cheese is allowed in tariff-free. This is because of a system known as supply management, a highly debatable measure that is accused of artificially raising the price of cheese for the sake of protecting Canadian dairy farmers.

For whatever reason, supply management is widely supported by federal politicians. Last year, it was the Conservatives accusing the Liberals of not sufficiently supporting supply management. Last February, the Prime Minister lamented that the NDP had forgotten to mention supply management in their election platform.  The Conservatives vowed to defend it in the yesterday’s Throne Speech. And, indeed, even as his side was being accused of undermining it, Pierre Poilievre was claiming that it would be protected.

“Mr. Speaker, all three pillars of supply management are protected, but more than that farmers from across Canada, who are the best in the world, will now have access to over half a billion new hungry customers,” Mr. Poilievre explained this afternoon on behalf of the government side.

Mr. Allen reminded Mr. Poilievre of the Prime Minister’s stated support for supply management. Mr. Poilievre repeated that the pillars of supply management were being protected, even as the market for Canadian cheese was being expanded. “This is jobs; this is hope; this is opportunity,” Mr. Poilievre enthused.

The NDP’s Ruth Ellen Brosseau was apparently unconvinced. “Mr. Speaker, they are disconnected from the reality of Quebec,” she charged. “The Quebec cheese industry is growing. It provides good jobs, often in rural areas who need these economic drivers, in addition to providing Canadians with delicious cheeses.”

Mr. Poilievre chose to think of all the Italians and Swedes who might enjoy Canadian cheddar. “This is 500 million hungry customers waiting to buy Canadian agricultural products,” he cheered. “It is an enormous victory for our farmers.”

And so we come to the first new challenge of this second session of the 41st Parliament of Canada. Can we have both hope and delicious Canadian cheeses? Or must we choose between the two?


The coming European cheese crisis

  1. The nature of this discourse makes me shake my head, and say: Cheeses Christ!

    • So you’re cheesed off?

  2. Man: I think it was, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”!
    Gregory’s wife: What’s so special about the cheesemakers?
    Gregory: Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products

    • “Blessed are the cheesemakers”

      Hester, you almost always attribute your quotes, no matter how tedious or specious they might be. But you FAILED this time.

      Nonetheless, this quote is apropro. It’s from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

      • “Aw, let’s go to the stoning …”

        • Only if Justin Trudeau is there — I’d enjoy a good stoning with him!

          • Sadly, that would make me cough too much, so these days I can only hang with this guy:

          • Vape = no coughing.

          • One of my favourite songs, ever :-D

      • “Hester, you almost always attribute your quotes … ”

        I tried to post .26 sec video but it wouldn’t let me and then I couldn’t be bothered to type out title. My bad but i figured only the cool kids would get wtf i am talking about.

  3. How about a middle Eastern trade deal?
    Then we could get cheeses of Nazareth…

    • Blessed poutine!

    • Hey – Harper’s got it all covered with CETA. Apparently he will be handing out samples on Monday…
      *this won’t link for some reason…

  4. “Blessed are the cheesemakers” – from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

    Dairy farmers in Canada subscribe to a quota system, which is central to the contrived “farm supply management” system in question. These “quotas” are sold in an open market. The price, per dairy cow, is around $25,000.

    So a dairy farmer in Canada with 100 cows (a rather small diary farm in the EU) is worth $2.5 million based on that piece of paper alone. This asset does not include equipment, land or livestock, which can be parcelled and auctioned off, if necessary, to the highest bidder when the time comes.

    But let us talk about the artisan cheesemakers, for they are blessed.

    Amen brother.

    • In fact, it’s easier to rent out your quota than your capital equipment.

      • Those quotas are gold. You can even borrow against them. Banks accept them as collateral. Likely one of the most egregious examples of artificially created wealth that has ever existed. Except for turkey quotas. Turkey quotas are even more valuable than dairy quotas. If you think milk is over priced (and really it’s not that bad) go buy a nice big bird and see what that costs you.

        • 87 cents a pound, this past Thanksgiving (quite a deal). And really, they have only three or four short selling seasons per year. I’d think a chicken farmer would have a better expectation of profit (though that’s pure speculation on my part).

  5. There are many potential side-effects of an EU free trade deal, and yet the opposition seems to focus solely on… cheese. Will it affect the price of medication here in Canada? What about patent laws? Or any cultural exemptions, which France seemed to lament a few months ago? All pertinent questions, and yet the opposition is fixated on cheese. I’m generally for this new trade deal, but let’s discuss more important complications than simply dairy.

    • Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the world for generic drugs,thanks largely to the Canadian artisan generic drug industry which probably spends more money on lawyers than scientists. They have benefited enormously in the past from Canada’s compromised patent laws. Thankfully that is coming to an end.

      • Thanks. I appreciate the reply. Glad to see that this new trade deal will be of some benefit for Canadians. Based on the comments section at CBC, the new deal seemed all doom-and-gloom for ordinary Canadians…

      • “… the Canadian artisan generic drug industry which probably spends more money on lawyers than scientists.”
        Just did a search in our inhouse case law dbase on Apotex as a party in a style of cause, and limited it to 2012. 149 hits for just Apotex in one year. And I know from experience this is pretty typical. I often wonder, when I fill a prescription, just what percent of my prescription costs go to pay for court costs.

        • The generic I used cost 700% more in Canada than it did in Holland. Oh, and it is made by a Swiss company.

    • Sounds more like Wherry’s fixation. He lightly touched on quite a number of issues raised by opposition but made cheese central to his piece. He could easily have picked a different focus.

  6. nl.s fishing industry may be on the line as well.

  7. Dude.

    I know you’re only going over what the idiots in Parliament are focussing on, but come on. This is a frigging $35B a year trade deal. This is huge. It deserves better than this kind of flippant coverage over cheese quotas.

    If this is all you have to offer by way of analysis, for the love of God leave it to Wells. He’s clearly the only guy here remotely qualified to provide a reasonable analysis.

    • It’s an agreement we haven’t seen, won’t see the details of until they sort them all out, which is likely to be 2 years.

      So until then, we have cheese talk.

      • I think the details will be sorted out a bit sooner than that, but it will surely be months. Both Canada and the EU have said that the agreement should be RATIFIED by 2015, so they have to get the details together earlier than 2 years from now, unless they don’t plan to ratify it until the very end of 2015. I imagine we’ll see a text before the end of 2014.

        • It’s also still possible they could find they need provincial approval to implement some aspects of the deal, and then it could spiral into decades.

          • I can see how they might need provincial cooperation for some aspects of implementation, but I don’t believe that they’d need the provinces for RATIFICATION, would they? The point being, a text of the agreement will have to be seen by the public before the 2015 election if it’s going to be ratified before the 2015 election.

          • That’s possibly a moot point. It seems like all the provinces gave their blessings for this trade deal, according to another Macleans article titled “The inside story of Canada’s trade deal with the European Union”.
            Of course, anything’s possible… a new provincial government might decide to block it in any way they can, or a current prov. gov. might renege on its word and oppose it.

          • They can ratify it, but if it turns out they’ve agreed to something that’s in provincial jurisdiction, they can end up in breach of the agreement with no way to fix it if a province won’t play ball. Often it’s common practice for Canada when signing int’l agreements to state that they’re only agreeing to the extent that the Federal Government has authority, but since this is serious $, I don’t think that alone will cut it this time.

        • Or at least a tweet.

    • I would gather from the tone of this article it is his daily analysis of Question Period, not an analysis of the free trade deal. Normally the title would start with “The Commons”; seems he didn’t do that with this one.
      Given the banality of Question Period, one shouldn’t be blown away an analysis thereof is also banal.

    • In Wherry’s defence, 1) This isn’t an article about CETA, it’s an article about what people talked about in QP, and 2) we have precious little detail as to what’s in this agreement exactly, nor will we for a little while as the details haven’t been finalized yet.

      It’s a bit disingenuous to bemoan the lack of substantive analysis of a “huge and important trade deal” that basically no one has seen. Politics aside, one of the main reasons the cheese bit is getting so much coverage is that it’s one of only a very few items in CETA that anyone knows anything about.

      • “… one of the main reasons the cheese bit is getting so much coverage ….”

        I hate cheese, it is devil’s food, but I notice other people love it beyond sense or reason warrants. There is something about cheese, and chocolate, that makes people particularly exuberant.

        • I was with you, until you mentioned “chocolate…” :)

  8. I missed the cheese debate. Why? Because, after turning on QP for about two minutes — during Paul Calandra’s exchange with the opposition, I believe — I couldn’t watch any more. It was just… so… dumb. Stupid accusatory questions followed by stupid non-answers. It was an orgy of dumb (!) partisanship, and for some reason it seemed even worse than usual. I’m not sure why expected, or even idly hoped, for anything different — maybe I’m the stupid one. But, after two minutes, I HAD to turn it off. I was too pissed off.

    • Words fail to convey my disgust with Pierre Poilievre, whose every answer is an insult to the intelligence of most rational people.

      I understand completely.

    • The problem is that joining a political party means you have to leave your brain at the door and spout mindless drivel day after day. I think the obedience MPs have to pay to their leader is one of the major factors in stopping quality people from joining political process.

      • Who needs quality when unflinching, unquestioning, logic-defying loyalty will do.

  9. If Canadian cheese makers can export their product to 500 million new EU customers,
    it would expand their brand and employment, not shrink it. The importation of EU cheese
    might make cheese less expensive for Canadians. U.S. cheese is already far less expensive, so we’ve been paying a pretty penny so far.

  10. So, you’re quoting the single mom and bartender accidentally elected as an MP. This is in a post that covers CETA. Her point is that Quebec cheese is delicious. She is earning every penny.

    You can really make yourself look like a clown, Wherry.

    • If it does something to get cheese to us that doesn’t go bad almost before you get it home from the store regardless of the best before date I will be very happy.

      • Where are you shopping?

  11. How many flatulating dairy cows does the 30,000 tonnes of cheese offset?

    • From Statscan new data base – ‘quite a few’.

  12. What are Canadian cheesemakers so afraid of4?. Our cheeses can compete with the best! Grow up Canada.