• Carmen Marie Fabio

Area dairy farmers vent frustrations at Town Hall Meeting


PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

Michelle Soucy was one of many angry Quebec dairy producers in attendance at Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke’s Town Hall Meeting held October 10. The dairy farmers are protesting the recently drafted USMCA trade agreement that would open up Canadian markets to American dairy products, including the Coca-Cola owned Fairlife brand (held by Soucy).

Though concerns on legalized cannabis and cybersecurity were raised, it was the recently negotiated USMCA (United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement) and its effects on supply chain management in the dairy industry that dominated the October 9 Town Hall Meeting held by Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke.

Emotions ran high at the Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot Community Centre as area dairy farmers voiced their frustrations over the draft agreement that will allow American dairy producers 3.59 per cent of the Canadian market.

“We’re worried,” said André Séguin, Vaudreuil-Soulanges representative of the Producteurs de lait Montérégie-Ouest. “We feel we were betrayed by our Prime Minister.”

What the market share represents

Séguin outlined the challenges that USMCA, coupled with the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, would pose to local producers that would allow a market share of what he says is closer to 10 per cent, translating to 800 million litres of milk, or the equivalent of 12,000 medium-sized family farms.

“The Americans got a good deal,” said Séguin, breaking down the market share losses as follows:

  • 50,000 tonnes of milk

  • 10,500 tonnes of cream

  • 7,500 tonnes of powdered milk that the Canadian market already has in surplus

  • 6,250 tonnes of cheese

  • 4,500 tonnes of butter

  • 4,000 tonnes of yogurt and 10,000 tonnes of other products.

“This hurts,” Séguin told Schiefke. “I know the Canadian economy is vast but this really hurts.”

PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

André Séguin, Vaudreuil-Soulanges representative of the Producteurs de lait Montérégie-Ouest presents his concerns to MP Peter Schiefke at the October 9 Town Hall meeting.

Loss of Class 7

Séguin went on to describe how the potential loss of Canadian ‘Class 7’ pricing class on milk ingredients including skim milk powder and proteins is the proverbial nail in the dairy producers’ coffin, giving the Americans the right to control Canadian exports as well as imposing penalties on Canadian exports of whole milk powder.

“If there’s a new class to replace Class 7, it’ll require the authorization of the Americans. Where’s the sovereignty in that?” Séguin asked to a round of applause from the roughly 80 people in attendance.

With the upcoming American midterm elections, Séguin also questioned the need to sign the deal so quickly, thus sealing the Canadian dairy farmers’ fate before a potential change on the American political landscape.

Compensation

Schiefke thanked Séguin and reiterated the federal government’s promise to fairly compensate dairy farmers for losses related to USMCA. “My job, and the jobs of all the deputies who represent dairy producers, is to ensure that this is the case,” he said.

Another attendee in the audience was skeptical about the federal government’s ability to mitigate the potential damage to area dairy farmers.

“Compensation – I don’t believe it. I don’t want it,” said St-Armand based dairy farmer Michelle Soucy who is also the administrator for Montérégie-Est milk producers.

Soucy questioned why Fairlife, an American dairy product, was already available on local grocery store shelves. “This is not supposed to be in the country,” she said of the lactose free, protein enriched milk product owned by the Coca-Cola Company.

“You negotiated this deal under pressure,” Soucy continued. ”You think opening the market just a little bit won’t destroy the (supply management) system? We had the best system.”

This sentiment was echoed by others in the room who said the system is considered the best in North America and is the envy of many American dairy producers.

PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

Vaudreuil- Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke said he'll present all the dairy producers' concerns to caucus October 17.

Best deal possible

“The deal we reached was the best one under the circumstances,” Schiefke said, describing how the Americans initially sought to completely dismantle Canada’s dairy supply chain management. “If you look at what Mexico gave up, it’s 10 times what Canada lost.”

Rigaud dairy producer Daniel Legault questioned Schiefke on how farmers who’ve recently invested in expanding their enterprises would be compensated. He also described the difficulties in applying for a 2007 compensation package when, after a week’s preparation, he was deemed ineligible when his email application arrived six minutes late. Others questioned why of a $250 million compensation package, only one application out of 10 was accepted.

“The process has been improved and streamlined,” Schiefke said, asking Legault to describe his particular situation in detail so he can share it with his colleagues.

Legault and others present also expressed reservations in their ability to compete with American factory farms that can keep tens of thousands of cows and raised concerns of the animals’ wellbeing.

Ottawa to hear concerns

“I will share all your stories with caucus next week,” Schiefke told the dairy farmers of his upcoming October 17 meeting in Ottawa. “I knew this would be a difficult evening. But I’m not hiding. This is why I called this meeting so soon after the USMCA negotiation deadline."

Protest action

Les Producteurs de lait de Montérégie-Est and L’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) are calling on food producers and consumers to join them Friday, October 12 in the Town of Grandby beginning at 10 a.m. where they will protest what they are calling an unprecedented threat to food sovereignty.

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