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Conservative MP Maxime Bernier speaks at the 2016 Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press)
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier speaks at the 2016 Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Maxime Bernier’s maple syrup pitch: Stop being such saps Add to ...

Ladies and gentlemen, Maxime Bernier.

The Quebec MP and candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada on Tuesday called for the end of Quebec’s maple syrup marketing board. “We must bring back the freedom to produce and trade maple syrup,” he said, referring to a freedom not at the top of many people’s list of important freedoms, but a freedom nonetheless.

Quebec makes 80 per cent of the world’s maple syrup, the production and sales of which are tightly controlled by the federally-mandated Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Anyone who taps a Quebec maple tree and boils the sap for commercial purposes must join the federation. It sets quotas for its compulsory members, decides how much can be sent to market each year, and even keeps a “strategic reserve” as a means of controlling the price.

Mr. Bernier has now thrown his support behind a Quebec woman who was busted by the federation for illegally selling her product in New Brunswick. She challenged the federation’s authority over interprovincial sales but lost her case in 2014, when a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that a federal order-in-council granted the required jurisdiction.

Back when Mr. Bernier was the federal minister of state for agriculture, he meekly suggested “something could be done to modify this order-in-council.” He then promptly did nothing. Now able to fly his libertarian flag more freely, he is calling on the Trudeau government to repeal the order-in-council in question.

Fair enough. It’s politics. And Mr. Bernier is on the right side of the issue. Canada’s agricultural marketing boards are a drag on innovation and keep the prices of many food staples, such as eggs and milk, artificially high. The country’s endless restrictions on interprovincial trade are equally harmful.

To his credit, Mr. Bernier is also calling for the abolition of egg, dairy and poultry marketing boards, and for free trade between provinces. That’s an ambitious platform, and not one that will necessarily win over most voters in rural Canada.

But there is something wrong when a person can be hauled into court for selling pancake sweetener to the wrong people. Let’s start small and end the maple syrup cartel. Who knows what heights we could reach from there.

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