The legislation seeks to prevent our trade officials from making concessions on Canada’s supply management regime in any future international negotiation.
To oversimplify, supply management protects our dairy, eggs, and poultry producers from foreign competition. For a more detailed explanation, see here.
In June, C-282 passed third reading in the House Commons by a vote of 262-51. Among the 51 who voted No were just two Liberals (Chandra Arya and Nathaniel Erskine Smith) and 49 courageous Conservatives. (Pierre Poilievre supported the bill).
It is a shame that much of the limited debate over C-282 focused on whether supply management was worth sustaining.
Both Prime Minister Trudeau and Mr. Poilievre have stated publicly on countless occasions that its future is not at risk under a government led by either of them.
Members of the House of Commons should have debated whether it was in the national interest to handcuff Canadian trade officials in their future dealings.
Legislating even the smallest concession on supply management off-the-table in perpetuity is a gift to our trading partners.
If the bill passes, future negotiations will inevitably begin with opposing negotiators claiming that their willingness to come to the table at all in light of C-282 constitutes a concession. They will then demand a similar concession from Ottawa before formal discussions even start.
In this context, Trade Minister Mary Ng’s support for the bill is, to be generous, baffling.
Surely, even if pressure to support C-282 from the Prime Minister’s Office was intense (supply management is overwhelmingly popular in Quebec), she could have at least absented herself from the House to avoid publicly undercutting members of her own department.
I can’t be sure whether Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly’s decision to pair her vote was a creative attempt to avoid the wrath of the PMO while sending a subtle message of support to Global Affairs Canada employees, but I hope it was.
Fortunately, the bill must pass through the Senate to become law, and some senators, like former diplomat Peter Boehm, have already expressed significant concerns.
Senators who genuinely believe that their chamber exists to offer sober second thought have an incredible and timely opportunity.
They can refuse to pass this flawed private member’s bill and demonstrate to Conservative partisans that, even though 62 of the 91 sitting senators were appointed by the current prime minister, the Upper House is capable of rejecting legislation that has the Liberal caucus’ near-unanimous support for the sake of the national interest.
If senators do not stand up this time, when the case to do so could not be clearer, they will make it that much easier for any future Conservative prime minister to transform the Upper House back into the partisan echo chamber that it used to be.
In The Globe and Mail, trade policy expert Lawrence Herman also argues against C-282. His focus is on the economics of supply management.
If you’re interested in Canadian political news, check out The Hill Times. Its small group of young and hungry journalists covers important stories that few others pay attention to.
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