MRO Magazine

Canadians support supply management for dairy products – until they don’t

August 16, 2017 | By MRO Magazine

Calgary, AB – On the eve of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), public support for Canada’s dairy supply management system, long defended by the industry, turns out to be soft.

The majority of Canadians support the dairy price support system, yet are ready to put it on the table to see what can be gained in exchange, according to polling conducted by NRG Research Group for the Canada West Foundation and featured in an op-ed in iPolitics.

“Even though Canadians may be willing to individually pay more for milk and subsidize dairy farmers, when put into the context of what’s at stake in the larger NAFTA relationship, with over C$2 billion a day in trade crossing the border and millions of jobs at risk, keeping supply management is no longer an affordable luxury,” said Carlo Dade, Director of the Trade & Investment Centre with the Canada West Foundation.

Canada’s supply management draws fire from U.S. state and federal politicians, most recently including President Donald Trump; they see it as an unfair subsidy that protects Canadian producers from less expensive U.S. dairy products.


In Canada, polls have historically shown support for the dairy processing industry as well as Canada’s quota and price support system. According to the recent NRG/Canada West Foundation poll conducted in advance of the NAFTA talks, however, that support goes only so far.

A majority of 56 per cent initially favour keeping the current system with its higher prices compared to 44 per cent who favour abolishing the current system in exchange for cheaper milk.

However, these numbers take a turn against the reality check of looming NAFTA negotiations.

When asked what the Canadian position regarding dairy in NAFTA negotiations should be after being reminded that it is at the top of the Americans’ list for change, a majority of Canadians are open to making concessions to the Americans while only 18 per cent are in favour of defending the current system at any cost.

The breakdown of the 67 per cent of all respondents open to making concessions includes 36 per cent in favour of entering NAFTA negotiations with dairy on offer to see what the Americans will offer in return, and 22 per cent who suggest waiting for the Americans to bring it up to see what can be gained. Nine per cent of respondents are prepared to offer to end supply management before negotiations even begin.

“For Canadians and the Federal government, it’s not just a black and white question of ‘Do you keep supply management or not?'” said Andrew Enns, President of NRG Research Group. “Canadians’ opinions on dairy industry supply management are nuanced. But this only comes through when people are asked questions which take into account the context of the actual trade negotiation Canadian officials will likely find themselves in.”

These results are from a provincially-representative Canada-wide study of 1,000 online respondents conducted by NRG Research Group from May 11 to May 14, 2017. NRG purchased online panel sample from Research Now, a long-established, reputable research panel provider with an extensive panel list numbering over half a million panelists in Canada. The poll was conducted in English and French. Results were weighted to reflect the actual age and gender distribution in each region.

Since the research is conducted online using panel sample, it is considered to be a non-probability sample and therefore, margins of error are not applicable. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of a survey size of 1,000 cases with this sample plan would carry a margin of error of approximately +/- 3.2 percent, 19 times out of 20 for the total sample.

NRG Research Group is a leading Canadian public affairs and market research company with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg. For more information, visit

The Canada West Foundation focuses on the policies that shape the West, and by extension, Canada. For more information, visit


Stories continue below

Print this page