Evidence of meeting #70 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 chicken.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Nick Saul  President and chief executive officer, Community Food Centres Canada
David J. Connell  Associate Professor, Ecosystem Science and Management, University of Northern British Columbia, As an Individual
Evan Fraser  Director, Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph, As an Individual
Claire Citeau  Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance
Rebecca Lee  Executive Director, Canadian Horticultural Council
Mike Dungate  Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Linda Delli Santi  Chair, Greenhouse Vegetable Committee, Canadian Horticultural Council

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Unfortunately, Mr. Saul, I'm going to have to cut you off again.

We're going to move to Mr. Longfield, for six minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks, everybody, for being here, and for having patience while we paid tribute to Judy Foote, who is leaving Parliament after many years of dedicated service.

I'm very interested in the discussion on land use. I'll just direct my first question to David Connell. Then I have something around governance for Dr. Fraser from Guelph, my hometown.

As we look at the challenges of land use and the interaction between levels or orders of government and strategies, have you done studies on the challenges the federal government can pick up on and how they might fit into some type of a governance model with the provinces, territories, and municipalities?

4:15 p.m.

Associate Professor, Ecosystem Science and Management, University of Northern British Columbia, As an Individual

David J. Connell

The starting point for the federal government is a question of constitutional authority to intervene in land-use planning. There are definitely constitutional limitations that are set on the federal government in terms of what it can do.

Setting that aside, from my view, the position I presented was that a serious problem is that we don't have consistent land-use planning or levels of farmland protection. So the primary role and contribution that I would set forward for the federal government in terms of the role it can play that doesn't step into that constitutional realm is to engage in agreements. That starts with a policy statement that protecting farmland is important, and then keeping and maintaining that and holding it as a principle for agreements like the Growing Forward agreement and the national food policy.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Greenbelt initiatives and that sort of thing....

4:20 p.m.

Associate Professor, Ecosystem Science and Management, University of Northern British Columbia, As an Individual

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

That's tremendous, and that's the type of thing we're looking for in our report. Consultations have been happening across Canada on these themes, but what are we missing? That actually was a suggestion by our Conservative colleague, to make sure we focus on that.

Dr. Fraser, it's awesome to see you virtually. Usually it's face to face over a table. We've had quite a few conversations over the last few years.

The governance model is a very interesting concept. I was thinking of the land use, and then soil was mentioned, and Mr. Saul was talking about the social stresses. How much of this can a governance model handle? If we looked at a SWOT analysis around food, it touches every level of activity that people have every day. You can't do anything without food, period.

4:20 p.m.

Director, Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph, As an Individual

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Could you just give us a minute or two on that? I have three minutes left, and I have one more question for Mr. Saul.

4:20 p.m.

Director, Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph, As an Individual

Evan Fraser

I'll be very brief, Lloyd, but you're identifying an extraordinarily complicated issue. I'll say three things.

First of all, there are different ways of constituting some sort of governance structure, such as an act of Parliament. Outside of an act of Parliament, there are different ways of doing it. We could have a long conversation about that. Anything, I think, is better than nothing, and right now we have nothing. Food always falls through the cracks, and you have an opportunity here to fill some of those cracks. It's not going to be perfect, of course not.

The second thing would be about the mandate. The mandate of a governance body should be to advise government on policy issues, to work to build consensus around agreement amongst the multi-stakeholders, to provide research and expertise, and to set benchmarks and independently verify them. These are the sorts of things which, in my mind, a governance mechanism can and should do.

The final thing I'll say is that we have examples of these sorts of things happening. Domestically we have the International Institute for Sustainable Development out of Winnipeg that's been very effective over its career. We have the former national round table on the environment and the economy. We also have lots of international examples, such as Brazil, Scotland, and Finland, that have embarked on multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder governance models for food.

We're not developing things out of zero, and we can build a research body and a series of recommendations based on global best practices that will put Canada and Canadian governance at the absolute forefront of this important issue.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

There's also a time piece to this. We're not going to do everything on our first day. Part of this is looking at the changes—and I'm looking over at Mr. Saul—in society, the changes in climate, and other changes that might impact a policy.

You've outlined some of the things around children. What are the variables that a food policy should be flexible enough to touch on? Where are some priorities that you might want us to be including in our report?

4:20 p.m.

President and chief executive officer, Community Food Centres Canada

Nick Saul

I'd really like to see the national food policy, if it can't do it itself, push other ministries to really focus on income security and food security. Evan talked about food insecurity in the north. It's a massive problem with 40% to 50% of those communities being food insecure. I would put that right up at the top of the list of things that you need to get at.

I would have liked, if I had more time, to talk about the idea of a sugar tax, for example, the 10% to 20% which the Dietitians of Canada are talking about on sugar-sweetened beverages. This would create a really nice fund of dollars that could support all sorts of health promotion initiatives.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

This is a tough forum.

4:20 p.m.

President and chief executive officer, Community Food Centres Canada

Nick Saul

It's a tough forum. I'd like to talk longer, but—

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Time is always the worst thing for us.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Longfield.

I'm sorry, Mr. Saul. You seem to be the one we cut off all the time.

Ms. Brosseau, you have the floor for six minutes.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Chair.

I'd like to thank the witnesses for their presentations, their participation in this consultation, and their patience.

I realize that there was a tribute in the House, but all members are expected to be at committee for 3:30. This is a really complicated, broad subject, and I wish we had more time to delve into it.

In 2012, the UN special rapporteur came to Canada. I remember because I was on the agriculture committee. We talked a lot about food insecurity and the recommendations that were made. I don't think the last government acted on them, and I'm not sure where the present government is on that, but the right to food is something that has come up quite often at committee.

In Canada we produce amazing food, and the government has an objective that we export more, but then we still have four million Canadians who are food insecure in Canada. It seems that we do have a broken food system, and the solution is this food strategy.

My fear is that we'll consult as a committee and the government will do their consultations. We'll have a wonderful report, but there will be no outcomes, no results, and we won't solve many of the problems. That is my big fear.

I was wondering if we could start off, Mr. Saul, and talk about the importance of a national food strategy for children. I know my colleague Olivia Chow, who's no longer with us in the House, worked really, really hard on a national food program for kids. She talked about its importance. There are so many children who are food insecure. Would that be something that could be a food strategy or recommendation? We don't even know if there's going to be money attached to this, at the end of the day. I was wondering if you could talk about the importance of starting with young children.

4:25 p.m.

President and chief executive officer, Community Food Centres Canada

Nick Saul

Sure. One thing I would say that may be a surprise to folks is that food won't solve hunger. Food is not going to solve hunger. Income is going to solve hunger. It's really important for us to figure out a way to ensure that moms and dads and kids are putting really good food on their tables, and that's not the case right now. We work in hundreds of communities across the country where people are struggling deeply to make ends meet, and their fridges are empty.

We need to have income support programs, which I could talk at length about. I have hope for the national poverty reduction strategy. I know there's been quite a bit of movement on the housing file, which is very important. A lot of money has been unlocked there, but I encourage the national food policy to continue to talk and to put pressure on that body to really think about the income supports that are necessary to ensure people can live with health and dignity.

In terms of kids, I would absolutely foreground the importance of creating a national school nutrition program. I think that is a no-brainer. If you link the kind of food that appears in those schools to a local food strategy and put a sustainability lens on it, you can create a market for really good food and support farmers who want to go in a way that is different from the chemical and export monoculture.

There's a growing number of farmers who want to move in a different direction. They don't want to grow 12,000 acres of corn. They want to grow mixed crops. It's exciting to see these new farmers come onto the scene. We have an aging farmer population, so who's coming up next? I think there's a huge interest in growing differently. If we're going to talk about kids, let's make sure that they walk into school and eat well so they can focus and concentrate. Let's get the food literacy stuff tied into that and also support a local food economy.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I have farmers in my riding, in Lanaudière specifically, who have made the change to organic. It takes a few years, but once they're there, they have a market for it, right?

4:25 p.m.

President and chief executive officer, Community Food Centres Canada

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Also, it's more sustainable. The government can have a role in supporting the transition to organic.

4:25 p.m.

President and chief executive officer, Community Food Centres Canada

Nick Saul

There's very little support for that currently. You get about $800 an acre out of corn. I have a friend who farms in Creemore. He makes $35,000 an acre on mixed greens that he sells directly to restaurants and through community shared agriculture. There is a market. It just needs to be validated, encouraged, and recognized, with more knowledge provided to support people to move away from conventional practices when it comes to agriculture.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Fraser, you've put forward quite a few recommendations for the committee. Here's my concern. We have the Minister of Agriculture who has brought this forward and is the cheerleader, the minister who is holding the umbrella. Then there are all the other departments that revolve around it and have vested interests: first nations, our indigenous people, and Health Canada.

Do you think we should be concerned with the alignment between those departments? Do you have any suggestions for the committee to make sure that we do get this right and that we don't get lost?

4:30 p.m.

Director, Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph, As an Individual

Evan Fraser

It's a superb question, so thank you.

In terms of alignment, yes, you have to make things align. This is one of the big concerns I've had for the last eight or nine months. It feels like the national food guide and the national food policy are being developed on parallel tracks, when they really need to be talking to each other. Similarly, the export goals promoted by the Barton report should be aligned with the national food policy, and I'm worried that they are not.

I think the only way of aligning these different elements is to establish some sort of clearing house governance mechanism, such as a national food policy council or a national round table for food that has the official and specific mandate to have the conversations, build the coalitions, and work through the tough, thorny issues—

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Fraser. I'm going to have to cut you off here.

Mr. Peschisolido, you have six minutes.

September 28th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Chair, thank you very much.

Professor Connell, you discussed the importance of agricultural land-use planning. As you know, in B.C. we have a land reserve. You also talked about the relationship between the federal government and the provincial government.

In British Columbia and all across Canada, we have things called ports. In British Columbia, we have Port Metro Vancouver. I'm not sure if you're aware of what's happening. I'm the member of Parliament for Steveston—Richmond East. In Richmond, we have probably some of the most fertile land in the world, because we're in an estuary and bog. Port Metro Vancouver bought about 300 acres of Gilmore Farms. Are you familiar with that situation?