meta Could Scheer’s devotion to Big Dairy finally break the supply management consensus in Canada? :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Could Scheer’s devotion to Big Dairy finally break the supply management consensus in Canada?

Kidding, not kidding: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pokes fun at his alleged links to the dairy industry at the National Press Gallery Dinner in 2017.Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/File

Part of the standard Liberal narrative about Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is that he’s beholden to social-conservative party members who supported Brad Trost for party leader but wound up picking Scheer over Maxime Bernier on the final ballot. This explains to many Canadians why Scheer is likely to legislate on abortion despite vowing not to, even after Stephen Harper spent 10 years vowing not to legislate on abortion and kept his word. (Of course, Harper was portrayed as an identical threat to women’s rights after Reform’s merger with the Progressive Conservatives.)

I long ago concluded that the most, shall we say, passionate social conservatives — the ones trafficking in photos of aborted fetuses, for example — are, above all, masochists. They keep supporting nominally conservative parties, and all they do is lose ground, and then back they come four years later. But if I were one of the many far-more-reasonable so-cons placing some hope in Scheer — if I pined for a Swedish-style abortion law, say, rather than an Alabama-style one — I would be preparing myself right now for yet another crushing disappointment. Because Scheer is currently demonstrating in quite spectacular fashion what it actually looks like for a Canadian political leader to be utterly beholden to a special interest group, and it’s not the so-cons. It’s ultra-protectionist Big Dairy, representatives of which bought up scads of memberships during the leadership race and are credibly credited with handing him the leadership over Bernier, who is — for all his innumerable faults — one of Canadian politics’ very few apostates on the question of supply management in the dairy industry.

“I truly do believe that chocolate milk saved my son’s life,” Scheer joked to a room full of dairy farmers in Saskatoon on Wednesday. Said son was apparently a very picky eater in his early years. The line earned him much mockery, not least because he deployed it as a weapon against the recently updated Canada Food Guide.

Scheer is demonstrating what it actually looks like for a Canadian political leader to be utterly beholden to a special interest group

Scheer alleged a “complete lack of consultation” went into said document, and argued that it “seems to be ideologically driven by people who have a philosophical perspective” — namely, one that doesn’t see the need for Canadians to consume half a litre of milk every single day to keep their vitamin D up, and that savagely demotes milk into a nutritional category called “milk and alternatives.”

Certainly some ideology and philosophy went into the food guide de-emphasizing milk and animal proteins. But this version of the food guide is notable for having largely fended off various industry groups that have in the past successfully interceded to make a mockery of the entire exercise — for example to make fruit juice, which is basically just a sugar-delivery mechanism, a recommended food for children. This time medical science largely won the day, and whatever medical science’s flaws, we can safely trust its advice over that of the Dairy Farmers of Canada or the Cattlemen’s Association.

There’s no shame in a conservative politician opposing the federal government of a gigantic country containing multitudes of lifestyles trying to create an ideal diet for all its citizens. “I’ll eat what I want, get out of my kitchen,” is a perfectly respectable position — especially since the food guide is such a joyless, under-salted slog. But that’s not Scheer’s position. Instead he’s vowing to “get it right.” This suggests consulting people other than medical and scientific experts, most of whom were relatively pleased with this edition of the food guide. It suggests bringing industry voices back into the mix. And that’s not something anyone other than Big Dairy and Big Meat should want.

The so-con comparison is somewhat facetious, of course: Abortion is a third-rail issue, or at least the media treats it as such, whereas unwavering protectionist support for our dairy farmers is an all-party consensus-cum-contest to see who can most abase themselves. The winner, by far, is Andrew Scheer. On Wednesday he excoriated the Liberal government for allegedly missing deadlines to explain how it would compensate dairy farmers for ever-so-slightly opening the Canadian market to European and Asian countries.

“(This) mistreatment is unacceptable,” he told the Saskatonian audience. His future government would “never back down from defending the (dairy) sector,” he vowed.

In a strange way, it gives me hope. Surely it’s objectively weird that a man the Liberals are trying to portray as the human embodiment of Canada’s future ruination is so cartoonishly in favour of subsidizing and coddling a given industry, thereby continuing to inflate prices for Canadian consumers, and yet his opponents’ only instinct is to find a way to agree with him. By rights it ought to be the Conservatives who bust up lactosa nostra (copyright CBC’s David Cochrane). But having rebuffed Big Dairy’s dubious dietary advice, the option is entirely open to the Liberals as well. The average Canadian grocery shopper will thank whichever party finally gets it done.


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