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The Progressive Economics Forum

The Colour of Margarine in Quebec

As reported yesterday and today, the Government of Quebec has lifted its ban on margarine coloured to look like butter and the province’s dairy farmers do not seem inclined to put up much of a fight.

This story has provided excellent fodder for witty headline writers:

Can’t believe it’s not yellow?” – Globe and Mail

Quebec margarine goes mellow yellow” – National Post

Quebec spreads word that margarine battle over” – Toronto Star

I think that it also has a couple of important implications.

First, the prophets of doom about Canada’s supposed internal trade crisis will be scrambling to find another example now that the one bonafide inter-provincial trade barrier is gone. Get ready to hear a lot more about the size of cream containers and dimension requirements for trucks.

Second, it’s worth emphasizing that the margarine issue was resolved by the Quebec government simply removing the restriction, rather than by some TILMA-style tribunal imposing a fine or by the federal government invoking its much-vaunted trade and commerce power. This episode undermines proposals for some new sweeping, legalistic approach to address inter-provincial barriers. Quebec has demonstrated that, as Marc and I have argued all along, it’s possible to kill flies with flyswatters rather than with sledgehammers.

For those intrigued by the margarine issue itself, Karen Hawthorne has posted an interesting history. In 1950, the Supreme Court ruled that margarine was an area of provincial jurisdiction. I think that this decision helps explain why the inter-provincial margarine issue persisted, even though the courts have consistently struck down inter-provincial trade barriers in other areas.

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Comments

Comment from Alex
Time: July 9, 2008, 1:36 pm

As a student at SFU, I’ve written and tried to do a bit of organizing on the TILMA issue. Just so you know, I attempted to get a concrete list of these “barriers” from the BC government (as you folks have mentioned on this blog that you’ve tried to do, at various points).

I eventually received an response to my message, with Colin Hansen’s name at the bottom. But, alas, there was no list, nor a reference to one.

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