Frustrated farmer feels caught in the middle as Trump and Trudeau spar over dairy

Dairy farmers are being made into scapegoats in the brewing trade war between Canada and the United States, according to one Manitoba producer.

'This matters and it matters a lot,' warns Pallister of looming trade war with U.S.

Manitoba dairy farmer David Wiens says some of the recent rhetoric has misrepresented the state of the dairy industry in Canada. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Dairy farmers are being made into scapegoats in the brewing trade war between Canada and the United States, according to one Manitoba producer.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made Canada's supply-managed dairy industry and tariffs imposed on imported American products a major issue in the dispute that took on increasingly threatening and personal tones over the weekend.

Grunthal, Man., dairy farmer David Wiens said he's confused by the way his industry has come under attack.

"It becomes very frustrating for us, for the kind of rhetoric that's going on that is implying things that are simply not the case. And so you begin to feel like a bit of a scapegoat," said Wiens, chair of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba and vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to defend the Canadian dairy system during NAFTA negotiations. On Saturday, after Trudeau reiterated his position that U.S. tariffs imposed on national security grounds were "insulting" and that Canada would "not be pushed around," Trump responded with a scathing Twitter attack calling Trudeau "very dishonest" and "weak."

"Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!" he wrote.

Wiens said Canada's supply management system — which gives marketing boards control over the price for various agricultural products — ensures our industry is sustainable, and said ending the system would be devastating. Whatever the outcome of NAFTA negotiations, Wiens said there should be no negative impacts on the dairy industry.

"When you look at the facts, there's no reason why this should even be part of that discussion," he said.

Stefanik defended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the Twitter barbs hurled at him by then U.S president Donald Trump. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada allows imported dairy to make up as much as 10 per cent of the market, while the U.S. only allows up to three per cent. Trade between the two countries on dairy favours the U.S. by a margin of five to one, Wiens said.

With a population smaller than California, Canada makes up a fraction of the U.S. market. The state of Wisconsin produces more dairy than all of Canada, Wiens said.

Wiens said he thinks Canada's supply management system is being blamed for problems in the U.S. caused by oversupply. 

Manitobans should be concerned: Premier

Premier Brian Pallister says Manitobans should be concerned about a looming trade war between the United States and Canada.

"Canada and the United States have had the most positive, strongest working relationship, trading partnership, arguably in the history of our planet. So yeah, this matters and it matters a lot. America won't be great again without Canada," Pallister said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Canada's supply management system gives marketing boards control over the price of dairy products. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Late last month, the U.S. imposed tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on imported aluminum, citing national security interests. Canada has countered with a dollar-for-dollar tariff of its own on some steel and aluminum products and other goods from the U.S. — including beer kegs, whisky, toilet paper and "hair lacquers."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the countermeasure "perfectly reciprocal."

The bickering between the countries turned personal over the weekend when Trump blasted Trudeau as "dishonest" and "weak" over statements he made at the end of the G7 summit that the U.S. tariffs were "insulting" and his insistence that Canada would not be pushed around. Trump reportedly felt blindsided by the criticism. 

Several prominent conservative politicians in Canada, including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, expressed support for Trudeau on social media.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said a possible trade war should be a cause for concern. (CBC)

When asked for his opinion on Trudeau's handling of the dispute, Pallister said he thought it was better "for our people to be negotiating with their people somewhere in private than to be doing press conferences."

Retaliatory protectionism no-win situation

Exports to the United States represent about 45 per cent of Canadian steel production, according to the Canadian Steel Producers Association. Steel is produced in five provinces, but the industry is heavily concentrated in Ontario.

Manitoba Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chuck Davidson cannot imagine a positive outcome to this political wrangling. 

"We're going to be this protectionist policy south of the border and then we're having to do the same from our perspective to protect Canadian businesses," he said. "I'm failing to see where there's going to be a win-win for everyone here."

Manitoba doesn't have many steel or aluminum sectors, but is sure the costs from any tariffs will reverberate down to consumers, Davidson said. Beyond that, "everything is still speculative in terms of what those impacts are going to be."

Davidson said his provincial counterparts across the country back Trudeau's retaliatory measures. 

"This isn't necessarily a time about playing politics," he said. "It's a time about making sure that we're united, supporting the prime minister, and not really getting pushed around by our big brother to the south."

Pallister said most people he has spoken to in the U.S. understand the importance of the trading relationship to their economies. 

"Their economies depend upon Canada more than in fact, I believe, about three quarters of the United States. We're the No. 1 creator of jobs of anybody outside of the United States itself."

An upcoming conference of midwestern legislators will bring hundreds of representatives from several U.S. states to Winnipeg in July. This will provide an opportunity to build on those relationships, Pallister said.

Manitoba dairy farmer caught in middle of Canada-U.S. trade war

5 years ago
Duration 2:31
One Manitoba farmer says he doesn't understand why his industry has become a focal point of an ongoing trade dispute between Canada and the U.S.


Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to

With files from Sean Kavanagh and Meaghan Ketcheson