La Coop Fédérée: The Canadian Model Must Not Be a Bargaining Chip

Apr 24, 2017
The Canadian Model Must Not Be a Bargaining Chip

Dear Prime Minister:

Founded in 1922, La Coop fédérée is a major player in the country’s agricultural and agri-food industry, with more than 90,000 members grouped into 70 cooperatives, nearly 18,000 employees and combined revenue of $9.2 billion. La Coop fédérée operates in 8 of Canada’s 10 provinces either directly or through subsidiaries and partnerships

Canada might enter into NAFTA renegotiations with the United States and Mexico. This is a major source of concern for agricultural producers and the Canadian agri-food industry. These concerns are well founded if you compare the players involved: Canadians and their counterparts south of our border. The size of US farms, the billions paid in subsidies to US farmers and the production methods used in the US are unbelievable. This comparison in itself would be enough to justify the concerns felt by us and all across the country. While what we have to say today takes this information into account, it is not the only lens through which we see this issue that affects us so deeply. Agriculture is a significant economic activity in Canada.

It is first and foremost a deeply human activity, a history of men and women who have passed down their work, from one generation to the next, and set high standards for themselves, providing their fellow Canadians with access to high-quality products. Our farmers were practising an economy of proximity well before it was a buzzword. Canadian agriculture is also a particular way of understanding our country and the quality of life of its inhabitants due to the reliability and safety of the products provided, the jobs created, the economic activity generated. This also includes cutting-edge research and the development of digital services.

Supply management is a societal choice, a value choice. In this sense, our agricultural and agri-food philosophy is a part of our collective identity, our expression of respect for people, family, animals, land and the environment. This philosophy has enabled the development of an agricultural economy that is a crucial part of the Canadian experience. Prime Minister, every day our farmers are modernizing their practices, using more efficient and environmentally friendly technology, diversifying their offering and helping expand our country’s global reach, while demonstrating the soundness of a model—supply management—that benefits producers, processors and consumers, while ensuring food safety for all.

It is because of this model that our farmers can make a decent living from their profession, despite climate conditions that are considerably increasing their production costs and the proximity of agro-economic predators hoping to turn an even bigger profit by coming into our farms and supermarkets without considering the damage this would cause to our regional economies. Canada came to be because of the determination and energy of pioneers who wanted to build a better world while respecting the most admirable of human values: honesty, support, solidarity and fairness—values that are firmly held by the members of La Coop fédérée. And the history of these pioneers so far has been a resounding success, with no need to succumb to the siren’s song of economically liberal despots.

In 1994, several countries agreed to give the arts and culture special treatment in some major international treaties. This was called “cultural exception,” meant to be a counterweight to the offensives of certain powers. As you know, several countries, including India and Brazil, have rejected the unique model for the exceptional activity that is food production and processing for human consumption. We must ensure Canadians that the food they buy and consume is consistent with our values and the quality and ethical standards they are entitled to. In the upcoming negotiations, the political and economic choices that Canada makes will have implications on several future generations of Canadians. We appreciate you not thinking of our agricultural economy as a bargaining chip, as just another industry, as you asserted in a Bloomberg Debrief.

Mr. Trudeau, we are available should you wish to meet with us and engage in what we believe, under the present circumstances, is an essential dialogue.

Yours sincerely,

Ghislain Gervais 
President of La Coop fédérée 
President of the Board of Directors of Olymel L.P.
Président of the Board of Directors of Groupe BMR