Sunday, November 28, 2010



The fact that we pay more for our dairy products, poultry, meat and other foods than the Americans just across the border was shoved into our face again, like a pie hitting a clown, with the kerfuffle over bringing more than one frozen turkey into Canada.
It had been reported that you couldn't even bring in one turkey without paying duty. Nope, Toronto Star readers objected, you can. The feds confirmed that, but warned if you try to bring in a second one, that would end up costing you 154.5% in duty besides the purchase price. (Let's not forget that .5 per cent because our government is always determined to get every last cent.)
Oh yes, you also need a special form from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Turkeys have been big news recently. Not only did all the American news come basted with turkey gravy for a week or so, there were more announcements that turkeys may be an incredibly stupid bird, and they've been bred so they're too top heavy to walk easily, but their meat is healthy as well as tasty.
Of course there is always the publicity over the U.S. president "pardoning" two turkeys. When I first saw that on an hilarious West Wing TV show, I thought it was a clever writer's gag until it turned out to really happen. An unpopular president pardoning turkeys is an early Christmas gift for stand-up comics. The gag for Jay Leno was that the bird pardoned by the president went on to commit a crime.
An official for the 546 turkey producers in Canada said that charging duty on two or more turkeys is needed to make sure our producers make money.
If that sounds familiar, you have heard similar arguments over the years when the media spotlight that we pay more for milk, eggs, poultry, cheese, pork, beef - and the list stretches over the horizon - because our Canadian producers have to make money.
Since many of our family farms have evolved into larger agri-businesses instead, one wonders why our giant farm businesses can't compete better with the multi-national farm goliaths south of the border. Aren't we just helping huge corporations rather than a farmer with a mixed 100-acre operation that used to beroutine in Canada until they vanished under the huge cost of land and machinery.
Why do we have to pay duty if we bring in more than 20 kilograms of any fresh, chilled or frozen poultry or meat for personal use?
My mini headline about who is looking after the food consumer is an issue that has bugged me for decades. I remember in 2001 writing about the stats in a speech by the federal agriculture minister which appeared to indicate that the value of what our farmers produced was equal to the government aid that they received. Why, I wondered in a column, don't we just forget about helping the farmer and enjoy the lower food prices when the support levels were removed. I waited for the reaction about how I had misinterpreted the figures but there wasn't a peep.
In 1990, my son John Henry, working as a consultant to Small Business Ontario, which was a creation of the provincial trade ministry, completed a study of cross-border shopping in a number of cities near the border. He found that a Canadian Tire store in Cornwall was selling a popular Nintendo video game at a lower price than any store just across the border, yet local customs records showed that between 30 and 40 of those games each day were being imported by shoppers. We're so used to bargains there than we really don't shop around here.
My son now lives in California and daily enjoys the lower costs and better service. He says a major reason Ontarians shopped in the States two decades ago was the cheaper gas and the cheaper booze because our government taxes on them are so much higher. Our booze is also more expensive because our brewers and distillers must buy their grains in Canada even though they are cheaper in the U.S.
Even our bread costs more. That is significant because there are countries like Egypt where the price of bread is kept as low as possible to keep the people happy. The same thing happened there thousands of years ago, and beer was included too. In countries like Japan today, their staple of rice is not only not taxed, the production is subsidized heavily to make rice cheap.
The turkey should be the icon for the needed debate into why Canadians have to pay more for their food than Americans, even in restaurants. After all, its nickname is "gobbler," after the call of the male. And we all know that "gobble" is not a nice term for devouring.
Which leads me to accuse the federal and provincial governments of gobbling our taxes and not being ashamed that they care more about rural voters than city voters.
Who speaks for the Canadian consumer? No one! Even the consumers' associations and food critics are brushed aside by the marketing boards who have captured the politicians and all the officials who probably used to work for the marketing boards.

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