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Maple syrup rebels take fight over supply borders to Quebec appeal court

A group of rogue maple syrup producers is taking their fight to the Court of Appeal of Quebec later this month, hoping to reverse last year’s Quebec Superior Court decision that the province has the right to control the out-of-province sale of maple syrup.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The latest set-to in Quebec's sugar-bush wars looms as the two sides continue their clash over the right to sell maple syrup outside the boundaries of the strictly enforced supply-management system.

A group of rogue producers is taking their fight to the Court of Appeal of Quebec later this month, hoping to reverse last year's Quebec Superior Court decision that the province has the right to control the out-of-province sale of maple syrup.

Angèle Grenier, a maple syrup producer in Sainte-Clotilde-de-Beauce, south of Quebec City, is leading the court battle. She has been hit with a series of fines and injunctions by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers for selling her product directly to buyers in New Brunswick.

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Under the current system, the 7,400 or so producers in the province must sell the bulk of their syrup to the federation, which sets annual quotas and prices and markets it on behalf of its members. A small band of producers has revolted against this system over the past several years and have opted to strike out on their own.

The upshot has been a crackdown by the federation, which has levied major fines, gotten court injunctions to stop the rebels from selling independently and stationed on-site security guards to make sure the barrels of syrup don't go anywhere.

Ms. Grenier, a 58-year-old grandmother, and her group contend that selling products outside the province is subject exclusively to federal laws and that the Régie des marchés agricoles et alimentaires du Québec – the administrative tribunal enforcing the law over maple syrup and other products – has no jurisdiction in that area.

"The federation is taking away that right [to sell where I want]," Ms. Grenier said in a telephone interview from her maple syrup farm, which boasts about 7,000 tapped trees.

It's not fair that producers in Quebec aren't allowed to export, while their counterparts in New Brunswick and Ontario are, she said.

"It's a mafia," she said about the federation. "They threaten us. Last year, they tried to seize my syrup. I had to [move the product into New Brunswick] at night. This year, they hit me with an injunction."

Paul Rouillard, deputy director of the federation, says he's confident the Quebec Superior Court will uphold the decision that the province has jurisdiction over where its maple syrup is sold.

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But he says the federation has not been aggressive enough in the past in countering media portrayals of his group as the villain of the piece.

"If we've shown one weakness, it's in communications," he said.

The federation is working harder at getting its message across, such as meeting with provincial politicians to explain its mandate, he said. It is also putting together a public-relations strategy to deal with any negative fallout if it becomes necessary to seize rogue producers' syrup from this spring's crop.

Last April, the federation garnered lots of press after it was authorized to send security guards to a number of sugar shacks to ensure the syrup didn't leave the property.

Both the federation and Ms. Grenier and her fellow producers are eager to clap eyes on a study examining Quebec's maple-syrup supply-management system and the future of the industry, which faces growing competition from other provinces and the northeastern United States.

The report by former provincial police chief Florent Gagné was submitted to provincial Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis just before Christmas, but it is not clear at this point if it will be made public.

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Quebec dominates the world maple syrup market with about 70 per cent of sales, but that represents a decline from about 80 per cent a few years ago. Producers from the U.S. northeast have taken most of that lost market share.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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