Thursday, November 14, 2013

A time for defiance is emerging

In his book, David and Goliath, author Malcolm Gladwell says there are times when those with power abuse it so much that the people resist and win.

He cites examples such as police chief Bull Connor trying to face down anti-segregation protest marchers in Birmingham, Alabama, British troops trying to curb violence in Ireland and the pro-Nazi French government of Marshal Petian facing pacifist resistance from the Huguenots in a remote German village close to the borders of Switzerland and Italy.

It brings to mind the situation in Ontario's chicken and egg industries.

The Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board, Burnbrae Farms and L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. are accused to conspiring to drive Svante Linde and his Best Choice Eggs egg-grading operation out of business.

I think they have a convincing case.

At the very least, there have been egregious abuses of power by all three.

And then there's the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

It surely knew, or ought to have known, that it would leave CAMI International Poultry Inc. stranded without adequate supplies to meet the demand for Hong Kong dressed birds in the Asian market concentrated in and around Toronto.

It abused its power to go ahead, anyway, with a ban on inter-provincial movement of chickens and an accompanying denial of adequate supplies of Ontario-grown birds to replace what CAMI had been buying from Quebec producers.

The board surely knew, or ought to have known, that the Ontario demand for kosher poultry would likewise be left unmet when it approved the transfer of supply quota from Thai Kosher Poultry Ltd. of Toronto to Sargent Farms.

It abused its power and went ahead anyway and then refused to grant supply rights to a group of Jewish investors who sought to bring the Thai plant back into kosher production.

The Ontario chicken board surely knows that the Ontario market is short of Ontario-grown birds, especially to grow the market for niche-category products. It knows this abuse of power arises with the Ontario Association of Chicken Processors and with the national agency, the Chicken Farmers of Canada.

Yet those abuses of that power, to continue to deny Ontario the right to meet its obligation, which is spelled out in legislation enabling the exercise of supply management -- the obligation to ensure the market demand is met. That's an abuse of obligation that has persisted for decades while other provinces and the processors conspire to keep the Ontario market restricted.

The poultry and dairy marketing boards surely know, or ought to know, that the prices their supply-management systems extract make their products unaffordable for poor people. Yet they persist in that abuse of that power.

Gladwell's book indicates these injustices will not be allowed to last forever.

There will be resistance, probably pacifist resistance that will gain widespread public attention and support.

Can the marketing boards save themselves?

I doubt it. They have dug themselves in too deep for too long to see their way out.

And their supervisory bodies - the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission and the Farm Products Council of Canada - are equally to blame. They toady to supply management leaders and do nothing on behalf of victims of their abuses of power.

And so reform will probably be forced these marketing boards. Too bad, because a lot of quota-holding families will likely be deeply wounded.