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

9:30 a.m.

Founder, Au coeur des familles agricoles, As an Individual

Maria Labrecque Duchesneau

Field workers must make themselves available in their environment. For example, they go to auctions—

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

To auctions?

October 18th, 2018 / 9:30 a.m.

Founder, Au coeur des familles agricoles, As an Individual

Maria Labrecque Duchesneau

Yes. They go to auctions, they go to agricultural shows and events. They have to make themselves known. Why go to auctions? Because someone may be at the auction and not want to be. He may not be doing well.

Personally, I walked around, I said hi to people, I made myself known. I have given a huge number of lectures. In agriculture, we always need lecturers. Perhaps you have a role in that yourself. Lecturers are in great demand. I was often called on to respond and I offered my services. So many people came to see me that, in winter, the cloakroom was full of coats. People came to see me and I made appointments with them. I made myself available when I went to a region.

Let me give you an example of a talk I gave in Chaudière-Appalaches. When I got there I was told that a farmer had committed suicide and I was asked if I could go to his home. It was raining hard. I had not yet given my talk. So I gave the presentation and then I went to see the lady in question on the farm. Did I have the time to do that? No, but I went anyway. You have to make the time.

Field workers have to be available and visible. They have to give talks and make it known that they are there.

I even go to funerals, because, after farmers hang themselves, they leave other people behind.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Other farmers.

9:30 a.m.

Founder, Au coeur des familles agricoles, As an Individual

Maria Labrecque Duchesneau

Other farmers, yes, and it can give them ideas. But families are left behind. I make myself available for the family members. I tell them about the resources available to help them after a suicide. I tell them where to go, if they wish to, and I mention that there is no cost. The fact that there is no cost is important. They do not want to pay for services like that; they prefer to make payments on their tractors. You have to be available and you have to understand them. That’s all it is; you have to give them courage and help them to want to get up in the morning. When a veterinarian calls me and tells me that a farmer is no longer milking his cows, it’s serious, because soon the cows will not be doing well. So off I go.

I also want to tell you that we have to fight the health care system a lot. As an example, let me tell you about a farmer’s son who was not doing well. When I arrived, the kid was smashing a lot of things with a baseball bat. I told my husband to be ready to call 911 in case he wanted to hit me. I told the kid that, if he did not come with me to get some psychiatric help, I was going to call the police. The young guy followed me. The psychiatric unit kept him for 24 hours. Explain that to me. The parents were so afraid of their son that they kept the doors locked all the time. The unit kept him for 24 hours.

In Quebec, we in mental health are the poor cousins. I can’t talk about Canada as a whole, but, in Quebec, we are the poor cousins. In less than 24 hours, the young man came back to my house.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Thank you, Ms. Labrecque Duchesneau.

Let me turn to you, Mr. Smith. I have barely a minute left.

In Canada, are problems with anxiety and mental health prevalent to a greater or lesser extent among young farmers, compared to the others? Have any studies been done on that? What are you seeing at the moment?

9:35 a.m.

National Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association

Dr. Patrick Smith

It's distributed across the age groups among farmers and within rural and remote communities. As in other countries, the mental health challenges for the younger generation are somewhat different because they are addicted to their phones and screens. There is that kind of capacity, but it also creates another opportunity for us to reach out to people who are in rural and remote communities. We're finding that e-mental health for the younger generation—not the older generation—is a way to be able to reach out and meet the needs of people.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Smith.

Mr. Dreeshen, you have six minutes.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Again, thank you to our witnesses.

I am a farmer. Right now, in some places in Alberta, we are still under snow. We have grain dryers that are going steady. That's happened in the past, so when people say it's all because of the changes that are happening, we also know what happened 50 years ago and 20 years ago, and how it continues. Ironically, this is one of the added stressors that farmers have because they've done so many things regarding mitigation of climate change, sequestering of carbon and so on, yet they feel like they are being attacked. Right now in Alberta, the average farm is probably paying $10,000 to $12,000 per year in carbon tax alone. These are different types of things.

We have government decisions in CRA that basically have called small business people tax cheats. Those are some of the kinds of things that take place.

We have governments that come in and say they can help the farm worker, but there's a difference between someone you are hiring and that owner-operator who is trying to deal with it, so you often feel as though you are being looked at in negative ways.

As for the scenario that has been talked about, there is unease about seeking help because if you show weakness, there's always somebody there who will help you out, but they're out looking for land to rent or buy. Are they helping you out in a positive way to say, “Hey, I think we can give you the best you can possibly get,” or are they waiting until you're at the stage where you can't do anything? That just adds to your stress. That's one of the key things.

If a child dies in a farm family, you know people are going to rally around and help get the crop off. If somebody is sick with cancer or whatever, you know there is going to be assistance there, but how do you get to the stage where people are going to help you out in that short term or potentially long term that is required? Having somebody like Maria around, to whom you can't say no, would be great, but how do we get that group of people together so that they are there, and so that you know that if they are talking to you they're not going to be talking to the neighbour down the road about when to start buying new equipment so they can cover your farm off? That is the key thing.

Maria, when you speak about the agricultural ombudsman, is that concept similar to what you were speaking of when you were saying there are mental health solutions or things that you have seen done? Is that what you would expect to see from an agricultural ombudsman, or is it simply another bureaucratic operation that we'd have to deal with as farmers, which we wouldn't trust anyway?

9:40 a.m.

Founder, Au coeur des familles agricoles, As an Individual

Maria Labrecque Duchesneau

I hope that it will not be too bureaucratic.

When a seller shows a sheet of instructions to a farmer, the farmer expects the figures to be correct and accurate. If a farmer is seeding his land and notices that the instructions for the seeds do not match what he is seeing, or if he buys a tractor that does not work and is then told that the warranty does not apply, he will not go to a lawyer because that takes too much time to get a result. He does not want to get involved in that kind of situation. I have spent 20 years in this area and I can tell you that a number of producers have abandoned approaches like that because it was simply not worth it.

I will speak for Quebec and I apologize for not knowing what the situation is in the rest of Canada.

The ombudsman in Quebec is for the public sector. You can go through the Financière agricole du Québec or work with public servants in government matters, but that does not apply with the private sector. For example, say a producer has lost $10,000 because of an incident. In a case I saw, some business people told a farmer that he should get a lawyer because they knew full well that he would not do that. They told him to get a lawyer but that they would give him the runaround.

It really is David against Goliath. An ombudsman is a kind of guarantee that tells companies to be careful what they are selling farmers.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

I understand that. One thing that was mentioned before is the burden on the whole family. The work, though, is seldom the source of the stress. When we had hogs, being out with the animals was the important part; that was the best part of the day. It's all of the other pressures that are associated with it. It's coming up with coping mechanisms for the situations in which you see yourself being bombarded from so many different directions.

I know my time is up. I appreciate your comments.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Dreeshen.

That will wrap up this hour. We want to thank all our panel.

Mr. Skinner, thanks for sharing your experience. It's going to help us tremendously in our report.

Ms. Labrecque Duchesneau, we almost felt that we were in the fields with you today. Thank you for coming to testify about what is happening in Quebec. It is all very cutting edge.

Dr. Smith, thank you so much for sharing the Canadian Mental Health Association's perspective.

Thank you, everyone.

We're going to break for two minutes and we'll be back for the second hour.

Thank you.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Welcome to our panel for the second hour.

I want to welcome, from the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum, Mr. Paul Glenn, Past Chair.

Welcome, Mr. Glenn.

Also we have, from the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices, Madame Ginette Lafleur.

Ms. Lafleur is a PhD candidate in community psychology at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Welcome, Ms. Lafleur.

We also welcome Lucie Pelchat, from the same organization. She is a training consultant at the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide.

Welcome, Ms. Pelchat.

Mr. Glenn, you'll have six minutes for an opening statement.

Thank you.

9:45 a.m.

Paul Glenn Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for the opportunity to come before you today.

I'm Paul Glenn. I'm from the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum, a national organization dedicated to young farmers 18 to 40 years of age from across Canada.

Agriculture producers face unique struggles and stresses, time constraints, and demands on their time, young farmers especially, because they are building businesses and families and typically doing the heavy lifting in family farming operations.

Farmers, like everyone, want to succeed for themselves and their families, but failure is a common occurrence and mostly from uncontrollable forces. Farmers also have financial worries and uncontrolled challenges, from weather challenges to political, social and economic challenges, and the list goes on. Young farmers can experience not just days or weeks but months and years of relentless pressure and uncontrolled stresses that can compound, causing physical and mental health issues.

Three years ago during an open forum consultation, we asked participants at the national young farmers forum to identify ways that Canadian Young Farmers' Forum could support them and ideas for programming that they felt were needed. A young man stood up and suggested that the agriculture industry needs to provide support and training on stress management. This was a humbling moment, because farmers in general do not openly speak of what is considered in their minds to be a sign of weakness.

Since that conference we have added education for stress management and self-care presentations to our annual conference. We have delivered a few more provincial sessions on these topics and have discovered a great need for more action.

The majority of young farmers are stressed. What we have learned is that our members are ready to ease the burden of their stress by opening up to their peers. We have witnessed producers weep during presentations on this topic and have learned that producers are willing to discuss this tough but growing concern in our industry. It was also easy to see that stress is very common among young producers.

As you are also aware, there are several statistics that clearly tell us that mental health is a growing concern in our industry and that an alarming number of people are taking their lives.

Not only is stress affecting the mental health of our producers; it is also taking a toll on the physical health of many. Farmers residing in rural communities have limited access to facilities and health care that can support their stage of being. Often, the services required for mental health are services that individuals must pay for. The unfortunate truth is that farmers rarely invest in anything other than their operation, let alone in themselves.

Another challenge is that farmers aren't clear on when to reach out for help. There is a need for education and self-identification in mental health and on timing for treatment before it becomes an emergency. There needs to be training on mental health first aid, because it is hard to know what mental health conditions look like and when it is time to help. Stress is a daily way of life. I can see the stress in the faces of my neighbours, but what is the right course of action?

Resources are limited for many producers, and they vary from province to province. Producers don't know where to go for help, other than to the family doctor. It can take months in wait times to see a specialist for treatment in non-emergency situations.

Taking time off from the operation to address health issues is often very difficult for producers and is offset by more time being needed to catch up or to struggle to find employees just to take time off, let alone make an appointment in some place hours away, causing more stress.

We need to encourage self-care and increase the understanding and awareness of the signs and symptoms of when to intervene, as well as of the types of mental health issues people face, such as depression, anxiety, social anxiety.

We need to create spaces for more social interaction and face-to-face events to bring young farmers to share vulnerabilities and experiences to support each other. We need to increase knowledge of not being alone and have more conversations and consultation with farmers by region to learn what symptoms farmers are facing and what support they need by region, as this will vary.

The Canadian Young Farmers' Forum intends to help by doing consultations, such as open forum discussions to find out directly from producers what they are facing and what they need; presentations and education sessions across Canada to raise awareness, provide education, and help producers understand the signs and symptoms and what to do and when; social media outreach to increase awareness of self-care practices, posting articles and resources to guide farmers to where resources exist; and collaboration with other organizations to work together to find solutions.

In conclusion, I have realized that there is a lot about mental health that I don't know, but we still need to find ways to address this growing issue. The future of agriculture depends on it.

Thank you.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you very much, Mr. Glenn.

The floor now goes to Ms. Pelchat and Ms. Lafleur. I gather that they are going to share their seven minutes.

9:50 a.m.

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

Just a second, I'm going to start my little stopwatch, because I have a tendency to go over time.

Thank you for the invitation.

My name is Ginette Lafleur. I am a PhD candidate in community psychology at UQAM. My doctoral thesis is on suicidal behaviours among farmers.

The mental health challenges faced by the Canadian agricultural community are significant. I would say that they are even more so in times of uncertainty, or during economic or sectoral crises. The financial or relational consequences of these upheavals can jeopardise mental health and bring about an increase in deaths by suicide, at least among men.

Daily financial problems, the inability to pay debts, or financial losses can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Financial difficulties can also contribute to deteriorating relationships between spouses or family members. Those are the people who traditionally provide some protection in cases of mental illness and suicidal behaviours among men.

A sectoral crisis also creates a climate of uncertainty in which farmers may have major decisions to make. Should they, or should they not, expand the operation? Should they, or should they not, sell it? Should they change crops? Dealing with such changes can generate a lot of anxiety.

As I said, the challenges are significant.

As for suicide prevention, many international studies show that male farmers have a much higher risk of dying by suicide, compared to other groups of workers or the general population.

Moreover, Canadian researchers have observed that, in the period from 1971 to 1987, the suicide rate among Quebec farmers was double that of men of the same age in the population of Quebec. In addition, the suicide rate increased during the period being studied, the end of which coincided with an economic recession.

However, we do not know the current extent of the problem, either in Québec or in the rest of Canada. It would be appropriate for Quebec and Canada to gather statistics on deaths by suicide by employment sector, as is the case in Scotland or France ever since those countries adopted a national suicide prevention plan. France specifically has had statistics on farm suicides since 2007.

According to the World Health Organization, farmers are one of the professional groups that is most at risk of suicide, mostly because of their stressful work environment, their isolation, and their access to lethal means. Their reluctance to express their distress and to ask for help complicates the work of prevention.

It is important to know that, by committing this ultimate act, farmers want mostly to put an end to their unbearable suffering. They see no way out. With farm suicides, the losses are often painful. These are loved ones like husbands and fathers. Financial difficulties are also an issue, with all the potential losses that it can represent: the farm, the family heritage that could not be preserved, the role of provider, self-esteem and even identity, because, for some, if they are no longer farmers, they are nothing. Records of suicides also note losses in mental or physical health that bring about major changes in the roles and tasks on the farm.

Farm suicides also cause painful family conflicts, including those between fathers and sons. Family is very important in agriculture: you work and you live as a family. You support each other but you also live through extremely painful conflicts. Family relationships in conflict are even more significant in agriculture because of the couple-family-work relationship that is more entangled than in other sectors of activity.

So the challenges are great, not only in preventing suicide but also in preventing stress.

Here is a statistic from the research I was able to do in 2006 and in 2010-2011 with Quebec dairy producers. In 2010-2011, 42% of them felt that most of their days were somewhat or extremely stressful, compared to 20% with other Québec men.

I would like to quote an eloquent testimony to the degree of stress that some producers can experience. It comes from the “Enquête sur la santé psychologique des producteurs agricoles du Québec” that I conducted in 2006:

Stress? Tell me about it! I ground my teeth so much for a number of years that they wore down about 3/8 of an inch. I am now seeing a dentist who has found a serious problem with a displaced jaw. I am also seeing a physiotherapist and a chiropractor because of problems with extreme tension in the neck and shoulders.

That producer left farming, because he could longer take it.

I see that my time is running out.

In conclusion, let me read you another comment on stress that I received from another farmer:

The environmental pressure is heavy. The administrative burden is overwhelming... The company debt. The pressure on yields, on performance. Climate change. The uncertain future of supply management. The pessimism of the media...All those things increase the stress in agriculture. All farmers want is to make a living from their work, feed their families and pass on a legacy to the next generation. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, in the current situation, it is.

I want to leave some time for Ms. Pelchat. So I will just briefly say that the challenges in preventing psychological distress are also great. Those figures are also alarming.

How can we face up to those challenges? As my answer, I will add to my researcher's hat the one as second vice-president of Au coeur des familles agricoles. The challenges can be met by responding in a way that is tailored to the farming population.

You have heard the presentations on the field workers from the representatives of Au coeur des familles agricoles. I am in total support and I could give you more details if you have any other questions. In Quebec, we have made good progress in setting up a safety net for farmers.

For the last minute, I will pass you to Ms. Pelchat, who will introduce the topic of agriculture sentinels.

9:55 a.m.

Lucie Pelchat Training Advisor, Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices

In Quebec, we offer a training workshop entitled “Agir en sentinelle pour la prévention du suicide — Déclinaison agricole” through which any adult volunteer can learn to be proactive in suicide prevention among farmers.

For example, we train agronomists, farm veterinarians, inseminators and even milk truck drivers to identify farmers in distress, to check whether they are having suicidal thoughts and to steer them to the assistance and resources available in their area.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Pelchat and Ms. Lafleur. Perhaps we caused you some stress too with the speaking time you had, but we have to move to questions now. You will be able to provide more details in your replies.

Mr. Shipley, you have six minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC

A comment was made earlier.... I farmed all my life, also. I went through some of the issues and the concerns back in the 1980s. I can tell you with certainty that it isn't the work that causes the stress. When you change the circumstances around the work, it's a great day. You go forward. You look forward. That's part of it. We all want some stress in our business. That's what drives us.

Then it becomes not the work but the circumstances around that work that distract us. We have had some incredible witnesses who have opened up to us. I think all of us are learning so much from it.

Paul, when you had your group on social media, the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum, you talked about the benefits, but did you talk about the impact of the negative comments and the negative narrative that comes through? Andrew Campbell was here the other day. He talked about being called a murderer, being called all these things because he raises Holstein cattle and is a dairy farmer. Did they talk about that?

It's a forum. We need some suggestions. We're looking for help here in terms of recommendations on the ground.

Do you have any thoughts at all? I'll turn it over to the others also, please.

10 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

Thank you, Mr. Shipley.

Some events we did in some provinces across Canada included self-care. It was a small gathering of about 15 to 20 young farmers, just to talk about some of the stresses that they're going through. It was refreshing to hear that I wasn't alone in these stresses, in talking about the pressure from parents and other family members to be successful, or even just the way to take the operation. There are definitely a lot of outside stresses, as you say, on social media. Farmers only care about doing the best.

10 a.m.

Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC

Bev Shipley

Can we turn that social media around, in terms of some initiatives, so that we actually use that as our platform to promote what we're doing right to come out against these activists who are out there? They cause incredible stress on us as farmers—not just livestock producers—around the production of our crops because of what we use to grow these crops that are the healthiest.

Is that a thought, that we can actually put together something at a national level, talking about the health of our product, how it's well maintained, how we produce it, and how we look after it? I mean, we can't particularly do things for certain provinces. They do that, but we've never heard that come forward. I was just wondering.

10 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

In agriculture we dropped the ball a bit on public trust and showing what we do and how we do it. We've been struggling for the last few years to really catch up and get ahead of the activists because they have a very strong presence in social media, obviously.

That's something we've been trying to do by sharing our story. As young farmers that's what we've been doing. At CYFF that's what we've been doing, to show everyone we care about our animals and we care about the land. That's how we make our living, so it's absolutely paramount that we take care of it.

10 a.m.

Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC

Bev Shipley

Okay. I'm looking for some direction. I think that's a real opportunity that we may be missing.

Earlier, Mr. Skinner mentioned that the key is to leverage the strength of the community. There have been individuals, and I would like to comment that, actually, you have gone through and trained professionals of all types to come in and assist in training farmers. As we invest the community, I have to tell you that the legacy issue is a huge issue. If you're generational, and you're the one that you think is going to lose it, that is a huge burden and stress upon you. It gets complicated more so by the other issues around it.

I think that as governments...and you mentioned the red tape. The farmers in my area are so concerned about the trades. We have supply management now that has been really tested. We have taxes coming forward. These are things they can't control, and yet they have to write the cheques or it becomes a deduction.

Is there any recommendation you could help us with—if you don't have one right now, please consider sending it later—of what we can do as a government? We always talk about what the government can do to help, but would you actually give us a hand in what the government can do to back away from the stresses they are putting on the families and the farmers? Is that an opportunity that you would see available to you?

10:05 a.m.

Past Chair, Canadian Young Farmers' Forum

Paul Glenn

I think so. I can send some further information for you, but agriculture as a whole is an extremely fragile thing. Obviously, margins are very low. When it's good, it's really good, but when it's bad, it's really bad. We have to make sure we strengthen the industry as much as possible.

10:05 a.m.

Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC

Bev Shipley

How much time is left? I guess I'm done.

Thank you very much.