Canadian dairy farmers who lost domestic market share resulting from free trade agreements with Europe and countries on the Pacific Rim will share $1.75 billion in compensation over the next eight years, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Friday.
The country's roughly 11,000 dairy producers — about half of whom are in Quebec — will receive $345 million to be distributed this year, Bibeau told reporters on a farm in Compton, Que. She promised a similar program when the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement comes into force.
The sums will be allocated according to producers' quotas, with an average farmer with a herd of 80 cows receiving $28,000 in the first year. Bibeau added her party has committed to no longer cede market share in the dairy sector in future international free trade negotiations.
She also rejected accusations that Friday's announcement — two months before October's federal election — was a ploy for votes.
"In terms of financial mechanisms, there is a lot of complexity," Bibeau said. "The producers of dairy, eggs and poultry each had their preferences in terms of financial mechanisms. So with all this complexity ... that's what explains the delays. So, it's not really about an electoral timeline."
The Liberal government's March budget earmarked $2.15 billion to help farmers who lose income because of the trade deals with Europe and the Pacific Rim, both of which make it easier for foreign egg, dairy and poultry producers to enter the Canadian market.
Bibeau said negotiations are ongoing between the federal government and egg and poultry farmers, for a separate compensation program. She said money for those farmers will be available "as quickly as possible."
Jacques Lefebvre, chief executive officer of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said the government's commitment is "a very good announcement." But he said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made two promises to his members.
"The first one was to compensate, and he's followed through on that," Lefebvre told reporters following the announcement. "The other one is there would be no future concessions in any new trade deals, and we'll be very vigilant on that one."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the Liberals' plan is the "exact same formula" the Conservatives put forward under Stephen Harper's government before the 2015 election.
"I know a lot of producers are concerned it took this long," he told reporters in Moncton, N.B. "This is the same plan that Conservatives originally put on the table. This would be in line with what a Conservative government would do and has done in the past, and has proposed in the past."
Scheer added Trudeau "gave away" too much to U.S. President Donald Trump during negotiations of the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.