Dairy farmer anger over trade deal gets awkward for at least one Liberal MP
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau pours coffee for supporters next to local candidate Pierre Breton during a campaign stop at a coffee shop in Granby, Que., on October 6, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
OTTAWA -- The newly struck North American trade agreement will let more American dairy products into Canada and, while it has yet to be ratified, it's already putting at least one MP from the governing Liberals in an awkward spot.
A couple of weeks ago, Quebec Liberal MP Pierre Breton offered support to farmers in his rural riding of Shefford at a protest that opposed his government's trade policy. Theatrically.
On a small stage in Granby Breton took a mouthful of American milk. Then he spat it on the ground for a cheering crowd of farmers.
The moment -- when Breton sprayed the milk from his mouth -- was captured in photos and on video. The images accompanied local newspaper and TV reports about his public display of solidarity with the demonstrating farmers.
"It's not real milk," a smiling Breton can be heard saying in one video as another man on stage hands him the bottle.
One news report said some 300 farmers participated in the demonstration against Trudeau's trade deal.
The Trudeau government's agreement-in-principle with the United States and Mexico, once finalized, will open up Canada's protected dairy market by 3.59 per cent. That might seem like a tiny number but dairy producers argue that cracking open the country's doors to American milk will hurt their bottom lines and expose Canadians to an inferior product. The Dairy Farmers of Canada have warned it will have a "dramatic impact" on individual producers and the industry as a whole.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the trade agreement, hailing it as a big victory for Canada after 14 months of tough negotiations with the Trump administration. But the deal's contentious dairy provisions, and the resulting outrage, could echo in dairy-producing regions in the leadup to the October 2019 federal election.
Breton's office said he was unavailable for an interview but his spokesman insisted the MP's objective at the rally was to listen to farmers' concerns.
"At that moment, Mr. Breton, all he would have said is that he was there to bring their message to Ottawa," said aide Danny Girard, who added that the government is preparing consultations aimed at finding ways to ensure the Canadian milk industry remains viable. "So, it's a little premature -- there's not really anything to say about his opinion."
Asked about Breton's decision to sputter the milk, Girard said the MP essentially followed the lead of the president of a milk producers' organization.
"It wasn't just Mr. Breton that spat the milk," he said. "Pierre demonstrated his support for milk producers by making the same gesture that had just been made by the president."
When asked whether Breton has a problem with the new North American trade deal, Girard said from a global perspective it's a good agreement -- but noted that "nothing is perfect in this world."
He recalled that the U.S. wanted to dismantle Canada's supply-managed system and the deal succeeded in maintaining it.
"That's good news," he said.