A Propensity to Protect: Butter, Margarine and the Rise of Urban Culture in Canada


229 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88920-994-9
DDC 338.4'766432'0971





Reviewed by J.H. Galloway

J.H. Galloway is a geography professor at the University of Toronto.


The struggle in Canada between the dairy and margarine lobbies is now
more than a century old. It began in 1886, when, shortly after imported
margarine first appeared on the market, the dairy farmers convinced the
federal government to pass “An Act to Prohibit the Manufacture and
Sale of Certain Substitutes for Butter.” Except for a brief period at
the end of World War I, the dairy lobby was able to maintain this
ban—that is, until 1948, when the margarine interests achieved a
knockout blow. They persuaded Parliament to test the constitutionality
of the legislation that governed the ban—Section 5(a) of the Dairy
Industry Act of 1927—before the Supreme Court. The Court found Section
5(a) to be ultra vires of Parliament, a ruling the Judicial Committee of
the Privy Council upheld in 1950. As a result, regulation of the
manufacture and sale of margarine became a provincial matter. Today,
only Ontario and Quebec continue a modest protection of butter by
forbidding the sale of butter-colored margarine.

Heick examines each piece of legislation, reports on how members of
Parliament voted, and, through an exhaustive survey of newspaper
editorials, chronicles the changes in public opinion. Several factors,
he argues, led to the eventual defeat of the dairy lobby, among them the
emergence during the 1940s of a pro-margarine agricultural lobby
composed of cultivators of canola and other oil seeds, and a growing
demand for margarine from Canadians who had become familiar with it
while on service in Britain during World War II. For Heick, however, the
urbanization of Canada was the main cause for the defeat of the dairy
lobby. Simply put, the interests of dairy farmers were not an important
concern of city voters.

This book is a useful case study both of the lengths to which an
agricultural lobby will go to protect its own narrow interests and of
the willingness of the Canadian government to interfere in the free play
of market forces. Unfortunately, the densely written text and poor
copyediting will put off many readers.


Heick, W.H., “A Propensity to Protect: Butter, Margarine and the Rise of Urban Culture in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/12262.