Evidence of meeting #111 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was farmers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Stewart Skinner  Chief Farming Officer, Imani Farms, As an Individual
Maria Labrecque Duchesneau  Founder, Au coeur des familles agricoles, As an Individual
Patrick Smith  National Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association
Paul Glenn  Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum
Ginette Lafleur  PhD Candidate, Community Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices
Lucie Pelchat  Training Advisor, Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices
Bev Shipley  Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

In the conversation we have about farmers versus activists, I don't believe it's as simple as setting it up in black and white terms. I think that, much as having one really bad farm with a really bad case of animal abuse gives everyone a bad name, such is the case with activists. Some use really dastardly tactics, but I think that by and large many are just trying to make sure that the animals' health is looked after.

I agree with what you said, however, that the communications side needs to be done better and that for farmers, it's not just about earning a living; it's a way of life. It's what you do. Being attacked in that way, sometimes with completely unfounded claims, does lead to a lot of stress.

I think there is an opportunity here whereby, through the recommendations we make in our study, we may be able to mount some kind of campaign to help farmers explain what they do, the hours they put in, and the fact that they're usually on the front lines of climate change and are trying to be the best stewards of their land, and that healthy, well-raised animals are actually in their best financial interest.

In what ways can the federal government help to build you up? Do we start a national ad campaign? Do we build up some social media platforms to give you that voice?

10:15 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

The biggest thing we need is education starting from a young age. We seem to have missed generations of young people who have been off the farm. Many families now are three or four generations off the farm. The disconnect from what farming and agriculture is presently in our day is very different from what it was 50 or 60 years ago. We need to start educating people on what agriculture is to explain that this is why we're doing it, why we're using new technologies and genetics in crops to grow the food we can with less water, less sunlight—all these more efficient things.

I think education is one of the most crucial things we need to undertake right away for the next generation, and then to support with more media to tell the current population how we do it, why we do it, and why it is a good way of doing it.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

We also heard testimony during the course of the study about how important it is to get rural broadband infrastructure set up. Because health care professionals are usually far away, maybe one way we can solve this problem is by having the necessary bandwidth so that while you're out on your tractor you can actually do a FaceTime video conference with a health care professional.

Is that something you think we should be pursuing support for?

10:15 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

Definitely. Internet is a big issue in rural areas, especially anything high-speed. It's something that's needed tremendously. It's the same with three-phase power, natural gas or all these cost-cutting items that agriculture needs to stay competitive in the global market.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Okay.

Thanks, Chair.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. MacGregor.

Next is Mr. Peschisolido for six minutes.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Chair, thank you.

I'd also like to thank Mr. Glenn, Madame Lafleur and Madame Pelchat for coming here.

I guess where you stand depends on where you sit. As Mr. MacGregor mentioned, both he and I are from British Columbia, and throughout the past six or seven presentations I've been struck by the anguish, the poignant tales. Here we are in an agriculture committee and we're talking about end of life. We're talking about suicide prevention.

I'd like to follow up on Mr. Shipley's point about bringing people together. I've always been impressed with your presentations here, Mr. Glenn. I was struck by your statement that the future of agriculture depends on collaboration.

On the whole point of stress, up until now with the witnesses, we've discussed tactical things, which are very important, things like how to get services. We have a lot of that on the record. I was so pleased to hear about the innovative approaches in Quebec. Hopefully we can transfer them to other parts of the country.

At the end, I'll provide you with an opportunity to keep speaking because I think there are a few more points that you'd like to make, Madame Pelchat.

Mr. Glenn, are there any structural changes we can do? It seems as if finances are the problem. It seems as if the problem is different visions of farming. Someone's activist is another person's concerned citizen who may be misguided in how they're proceeding on things.

How do you foresee, as the Young Farmers' Forum, that we can get that connection back to the people, between farmers and people who eat the stuff?

10:20 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

It does lead back to education. Maybe there could be more programs to visit farms, more opportunities for people to visit farms. A lot of young farmers are actually doing just that. Do you want a vacation? You can go to the farm. You take your family to the farm on the weekend and see the cows, the pigs, the horses and how you care for the animals.

Education is needed. It's hard to explain in a very short time—in an elevator speech—what we do, why we do it and why we care so much about it to someone who isn't from agriculture and doesn't know anything about it.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

One of the best groups I found with youth and education is 4-H. Do you think we can get them involved in spreading the message to parents and communities?

10:20 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

Yes, 4-H is a wonderful organization that is doing quite a lot now to spread the word and to encourage young people who are in agriculture to join 4-H groups and learn more about agriculture.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

You talked about collaboration with a variety of sectors in society. One of the frustrations that I believe Mr. Longfield chatted about earlier is that health is a provincial matter. Farming is joint. Everyone is involved in farming.

What can we do better? What can the federal government do better to help you deal with the other sectors of society?

10:20 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

I think the mental health challenges agriculture is facing right now...when they speak about mental health first aid, that is such a huge issue. The first time I heard about mental health first aid, I thought, wow, that is the perfect thing that everyone needs. I don't understand it enough. We weren't educated enough as youth to know that I'm not feeling well, but it's okay to say that I'm having these odd thoughts and I need to talk somebody about it. We need to release that stigma. If I broke my arm—not cool—but if I'm sick, then I need to get some help.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

The future of farming.... As you mentioned, Canada is a diverse country. In British Columbia we have water but we also have drainage and we don't have frost, which is an amazing combination. It's a trifecta.

10:20 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

It's a beautiful place.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

It's a great place.

What can be done with institutions? For example, in Steveston—Richmond East, which I'm honoured to represent, there's an educational institution called Kwantlen and there's an individual named Kent Mullinix who's head of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems. He's focusing on small parcels, 10 to 20 acres of land, with a more place-based focus.

Do you think that would relieve the stress, having both types of agriculture—the larger industrial farming sector and smaller organic locally based farming?

10:20 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

The struggle with agriculture is that we're affected globally, and it's very hard to compete with some of these other countries, because they have a very low cost of production. I find it amazing that we can compete at all in Canada, quite honestly.

Young farmers are very innovative. They're coming up with some really amazing ideas to create small businesses to really engage with the public, and that's what they're doing. They're direct marketing to the public.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Ms. Pelchat, I don't know if you are aware of the situation—

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Unfortunately, Mr. Peschisolido, we're out of time.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Okay. Forgive me.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you.

Mrs. Nassif, the floor is yours for six minutes.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to the witnesses for being here today.

My question goes to Mr. Glenn.

You mentioned ways to help our farmers face mental health problems. You talked about social media. Are there other things that we could do for our young farmers who will be forming the next generation?

10:20 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

The biggest thing we found coming from these small groups dealt with creating a safe place for young farmers to come together and to speak and realize that we're all facing very similar issues and are not alone.

I've reached out across the country to friends in B.C. and said, “I'm having a hard time with this. How did you get through it?” It's the small things like that: just to let everyone know that it's okay and that we're all facing these struggles and to provide a safe place where someone can let their feelings out and share with another small group of young farmers, even from across the country.

These groups were just provincial ones, but when we've done things on a national level, it's amazing that while the country is very different from coast to coast, the problems are very similar.

October 18th, 2018 / 10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

I am now going to turn to Ms. Lafleur, who is doing doctoral studies on suicidal behaviours among farmers.

I also include you, Ms. Pelchat.

We all know that there are problems and we are already familiar with a lot of factors that cause farmers stress: insecurity, the climate, the long work hours because of the labour shortage, debt, prejudices, and so on. There are a lot of factors. We are dealing with an epidemic; farm suicides are a plague.

Tell us about the studies you have done in Quebec and whether the statistics apply to Canada as a whole.

10:25 a.m.

PhD Candidate, Community Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices

Ginette Lafleur

I cannot tell you whether my statistics apply to Canada, but, in general, they match the trends demonstrated in international studies.

As I said, I am a doctoral candidate but I am also very involved in the field. There are certainly a lot of problems beyond the farmers’ control. Farmers are often isolated and they will not go and look for help. So we have to be proactive. If we wait for the telephone to ring in order to solve a problem with stress or distress, we will be waiting a long time. Quebec therefore decided to be proactive.

The objective of the sentinels is to have eyes and ears everywhere in the field in order to detect signs of distress. However, you then need people to look after those who have been identified. That is where the field worker concept comes in. Ms. Labrecque Duchesneau talked about that. I also believe that you have heard another presentation about it. The field worker concept is modelled on the street worker principle, the concept of outreach. We go out to the farmers, we do not wait.

We are also working to eliminate the stigma associated with asking for help. We are making some progress. After 14 years, it is being talked about much more openly. A lot of work still has to be done, but things are moving forward nevertheless.

We work proactively to help people, first with the sentinels and then with the field workers. We spread ourselves around the area. With those front-line services alone, we are meeting a huge number of needs.

The main problem that we have had with the sentinels and the network of field workers we have established in Quebec is the uncertain funding. However, the formula works. The field workers are trained to respond and they know agriculture. The two go hand-in-hand because knowing agriculture makes establishing trust with farmers a great deal easier. The formula works and I believe in it, but we are always looking for funding. Money makes the world go around, as they say. Still, in Quebec, we continue to establish a safety net for farmers.

As I was saying, we do not have recent statistics on the suicide rate, so we are not able to say whether there is a real impact. However, I choose to believe that all the measures we have been putting in place for 15 years are bearing fruit.

Finally, after meeting a number of dairy producers following the negotiations of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, I was very concerned, but I told myself that at least we had our networks in place. That is very fortunate because—

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Lafleur.

Unfortunately, your time is up, Mrs. Nassif.