Marketing board backer named dairy commission head

The Harper government has selected a strong proponent of supply management as the new CEO of the Crown corporation that oversees prices and production in the dairy sector.

Harper government appoints N.B. farmer Jacques Laforge to head Canadian Dairy Commission

The Harper government has selected a strong proponent of supply management as the new CEO of the Crown corporation that oversees prices and production in the dairy sector.

Jacques Laforge, a third-generation farmer from Grand Falls, New Brunswick, has been appointed by the Harper government to head the Canadian Dairy Commission. (Dairy Farmers of Canada)

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced Tuesday that New Brunswick dairy farmer Jacques Laforge has been appointed to a three-year term as head of the Canadian Dairy Commission.

"As both a farmer and a former president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Mr. Laforge has established himself as a driving force in the Canadian dairy industry," Ritz said in a press release announcing the appointment. "I am certain that his knowledge and passion for the industry will continue to serve our dairy producers and processors well as he takes on this important new role."

Laforge, who operates a 1,000-acre mixed farm near Grand Falls, N.B. served until last July as the president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

"Jacques Laforge has been an active farm leader for many years at both the provincial and national level in the last 30 years," said Wally Smith, the current president of the dairy farmers' organization in a statement Tuesday morning. "He is a progressive dairy businessman and his leadership and management skills were well-appreciated while he was DFC president in recent years."

The Canadian Dairy Commission is a federal Crown corporation that coordinates federal and provincial dairy policies and monitors milk production across Canada. Part of its role is setting prices and overseeing the quota system used to regulate Canada's dairy sector.

Since the 1970s, Canadian milk production has been supply-managed, meaning farmers who wish to milk dairy cattle need to hold regulated quota and sell into a centralized marketing board system, which sets and stabilizes prices according to production levels and market demands.

Supply management opposition

Supply management has been a trade irritant in the past, and is seen by some as an issue for current and future talks with Europe and Asia-Pacific countries.

It also has its critics domestically. A restaurant and food industry lobbying campaign, "Free Your Milk," seeks to pressure the federal government to reconsider production limits and price controls for Canadian milk products.

But Ritz, Trade Minister Ed Fast and other Harper government spokespeople and Conservative MPs have maintained support for the supply management system and the benefits it provides for Canadian dairy farmers.

When the Harper government sought to dismantle the marketing monopoly held by another former Crown corporation, the Canadian Wheat Board, it began by appointing board members who were in favour of dismantling the monopoly system.

By contrast, Laforge is seen as a strong proponent of the exisiting supply management system.

The government's press release says Laforge will "work with producers, processors, the restaurant industry, and consumers to build a long-term vision for the CDC and its stakeholders that will include innovative ways to continue to build a strong, sustainable dairy industry."