Scott Aitchison is a candidate for the Conservative Party leadership and Member of Parliament for Parry Sound – Muskoka.

Grocery bills are skyrocketing, inflation is out of control, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is making things worse. While our Conservative caucus is leading the charge to stop the carbon tax, it is not enough. Canada needs to scrap another bad policy making life unaffordable: supply management.

The Canadian Dairy Commission used its price fixing powers to hike prices 8.4% to start the year, the biggest in the Commission’s history. It is going to get worse, as the Commission is reportedly pushing its first-ever mid-year price hike. While the amount is unclear, new heights for surging inflation are certain.

Supply management inflates grocery bills, stifles competition, and stops Canadian farmers from selling to the world. Here’s how it works: The government fixes the price of dairy, egg, and chicken products — illegal in any other industry. They tell producers how much they can sell — and if they produce too much, it must be thrown out.

The system blocks trade with other countries through punishing tariffs and prevents domestic competition in the industry by requiring new producers to pay millions for a permission slip — “quota” — for the right to farm. It’s the complete opposite of a free market and the type of system only Pierre Trudeau could dream up in the 1970s. 

Supply management has caused problems in the recent USMCA, CETA, and CPTPP negotiations. It is once again causing problems in the ongoing Canada-UK free trade talks. Our allies are understandably frustrated. Even when Canada does agree to a sliver more of market access, the government in practice continues to block imports while further fencing the Canadian industry in. 

New Zealand has launched a trade dispute on the matter under the CPTPP, as have the Americans under USMCA. The origin of all these disputes is supply management, forcing Canadians to needlessly pay more for dairy and restricting opportunity for would-be market entrants. 

While originally billed as a way to protect the family farm in 1970. Supply management has completely and utterly failed. There were over 100,000 dairy farms then, and today there are fewer than 11,000.

Powerful Ottawa lobbyists have been telling politicians to leave supply management alone — or else. Lobbyists and special interests tell Conservative MPs and candidates election after election they cannot oppose supply management because it will cost our Party seats in Quebec and Ontario. 

No one is surprised to see the Prime Minister defend the status quo and continue to support harmful big-government policies. It is however surprising to hear so many Conservatives take up Justin Trudeau’s position which adds to Canada’s inflation problem. 

My fellow candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race; Pierre Poilievre, Leslyn Lewis, and Jean Charest are all parroting variations of dairy lobbyists talking points to defend a program that inflates the cost of groceries for Canadians, while stunting the growth of Canada’s agricultural sector and limiting the number of farmers in it.

While Pierre talks about firing gatekeepers, those at the Canadian Dairy Commission apparently fall outside the scope of applicability for Pierre’s slogan. Instead of addressing the problem, he echos dairy lobbyist talking points about the cost of winding down the system and gives up before even trying. 

That may make for easier politics, but it is not leadership. The cost our leaders should be focused on is the inflated grocery bills Canadians are forced to pay. It needs to stop. Supply management cannot be phased out overnight, but this 50-year program can be wound down in a few short years. Recent trade deals show that Canada can also open up more economic opportunities if supply management was sunsetted.

Farmers forced to pay for quota will need to receive some form of compensation, but it cannot stop Conservative determination to lower the cost of living for Canadian families, made even worse by today’s inflation. We must stand up to the special interests in Ottawa who want to keep forcing Canadians to pay more.

Under my leadership, our Party will take a common sense and collaborative approach to get this right. Let’s end supply management, lower grocery bills, and sell Canadian dairy to the world. All sides need to come to the table to make it happen and with real leadership it will. Let’s do the hard work to deliver this benefit for all Canadians. That’s the right approach.

Scott Aitchison is a candidate for the Conservative Party leadership and Member of Parliament for Parry Sound – Muskoka.