Evidence of meeting #13 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was market.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Benoît Fontaine  Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Jeff Nielsen  Chair of the Board, Grain Growers of Canada
Erin Gowriluk  Executive Director, Grain Growers of Canada
Dave Carey  Vice-President, Government and Industry Relations, Canadian Canola Growers Association
Michael Laliberté  Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Jean-Michel Laurin  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council
Joël Cormier  Chair of the Board, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council
Rory McAlpine  Senior Vice-President, Government and Industry Relations, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
Paulin Bouchard  President and Chief Executive Officer, Fédération des producteurs d’œufs du Québec

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Lyne Bessette Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My sincere thanks to the witnesses for their presentations. I want to underscore the essential role each and every one of them plays in maintaining the supply chain and food security.

My questions are for the Chicken Farmers of Canada representatives.

Under AgriRecovery, $150 million in new funding is being made available to farmers to help them manage the additional costs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In your brief, you indicated that nearly 90% of the costs would be covered.

Can you explain to the committee how AgriRecovery helps farmers?

2:30 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

Mrs. Bessette, I should mention that you are my member of Parliament, since I live in your riding. What a coincidence.

AgriRecovery covers a portion of the depopulation costs. As I said, the value of the flocks isn't covered. Michael Laliberté, Chicken Farmers of Canada's executive director, is online and can provide a more detailed and clear explanation, using the right terminology.

Mr. Laliberté, can you round out the explanation pertaining to AgriRecovery, which covers 90% of the costs, as Mrs. Bessette mentioned, but not the value of the birds?

2:35 p.m.

Michael Laliberté Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Certainly, Mr. Fontaine.

I think you've already provided a good overview.

AgriRecovery helps chicken farmers when they have to depopulate poultry houses. So far, we've been lucky in that we haven't needed to euthanize any chickens, thanks to the efforts of farmers and producers. Nevertheless, the risk remains. Should a major processor shut down because of COVID-19, preventing chickens from being slaughtered, they would have to be euthanized.

AgriRecovery covers only the cost of euthanizing flocks, which is a huge cost. It's a federal-provincial program under which the federal government covers 60% of the costs and the province assumes the remaining 40%. As Mr. Fontaine mentioned, the cost of the chicken—because we are talking about a chicken that would be ready for market—is not covered. It would mean huge losses for farmers if flocks had to be euthanized.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lyne Bessette Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Laliberté. I have a limited amount of time.

The federal government is open to AgriRecovery applications, but of course, jurisdictional authority has to be respected, since, as you pointed out, the program also depends on the provincial contribution under the federal-provincial framework.

Have you spoken to the provinces about it?

Can you tell us where you're at in those discussions?

2:35 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

The subject has been brought up. Mr. Laliberté is in touch with the directors and managers in all the provinces. They're meeting with the help of the same tools we're using today, Zoom, Teams and such. You're right that there has to be co-operation between the federal and provincial governments.

I know everyone's not at the same point in the process.

Mr. Laliberté, have some provinces already started implementing the program?

2:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Michael Laliberté

Ontario is the only province that gave us confirmation that it launched AgriRecovery. We've spoken to our partners in all the provinces, and they will be making the request provincially. Thus far, I'm not sure whether the request has been made to the federal government.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lyne Bessette Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you.

In an interconnected world, we know international markets open up multiple opportunities for farmers here. It's important to look after our domestic interests while developing international markets.

In your statement, you underscored the importance of fair compensation, with the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA, coming into force soon, not to mention the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

What should that compensation look like?

2:35 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

Supply management encompasses five types of products: dairy, chicken and turkey, boiler hatching eggs and table eggs.

In the dairy sector, I think farmers received direct payments. As for the poultry sector, we've always asked for funding to encourage people to buy Canadian chicken or tax credits to help poultry farmers upgrade and expand their facilities.

Out of fairness, we don't think that funding should be limited to the first year. When it comes to tax credits, our preference has always been that farmers have access to them for a decade or so. A young poultry farmer who starts farming this month, or who started a year ago, won't have the money to make investments at the beginning of their career. This would enable them to start investing in the seventh, eighth or ninth year. We aren't in favour of direct payments to farmers. We want a tax credit or funding to promote chicken products, which all 10 provinces are doing.

Without supply management, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island might have no chicken farmers. Without supply management, the market would not be controlled as strictly. Let's be clear, supply management is an economic solution in rural Canada.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Fontaine and Mrs. Bessette.

Mr. Perron, you have the floor for six minutes.

May 29th, 2020 / 2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Good afternoon.

My thanks to the witnesses for being here today.

I'm going to stay on the same topic Mrs. Bessette brought up. I hope she won't mind.

Mr. Fontaine, when you were talking about compensation, you were explaining the importance of supply management. The form that compensation should take is well-established. We are all familiar with what you are asking for.

If money were made available immediately, would that give you a bit of breathing room during the pandemic?

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Fontaine, are you there?

2:40 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

Yes, I'm here. I'm back.

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Did you hear the question or not?

2:40 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

No, I didn't hear the question.

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

If I may, Mr. Chair, I'll repeat my question.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Go ahead.

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Fontaine, I'm going to build on what my fellow member, Mrs. Bessette, was talking about with respect to supply management and compensation, specifically.

You started telling us how important supply management was, and you told us what you were asking for. Basically, you have some very specific requests that have been well-documented for quite some time. Unless I'm mistaken, the amounts you are seeking in compensation have long been clear.

If you were given access to that funding, to make investments, for example, would it help you at this very difficult time?

2:40 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

That's a great question.

Obviously, there's no direct connection between COVID-19 and the compensation we have been negotiating for years. The amounts have been determined. If, however, there were a regulation whereby the compensation were used to encourage consumers to buy Canadian chicken, it would, without question, help Canadian chicken farmers get through the crisis. Programming supports tailored to our sector would also help.

In any case, the amounts paid and the tax credit or other programs will help farmers directly or indirectly. You're absolutely right that that would help our sector, not to mention other tailored programs.

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Not only would it help farmers, but it would also help society at large, since the impact is being felt in every community. I don't need to convince you of that.

Mr. Fontaine, I'd like to continue talking about the importance of supply management.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I read articles mentioning that chicken farmers weren't asking the government for compensation for the drop in production they're experiencing because they've been able to manage the situation themselves thanks to supply management. They do, however, need some assurances, since they would incur significant losses if livestock had to be euthanized or they had to depopulate poultry houses, as you said. You pointed out earlier that the AgriRecovery program doesn't fully cover those losses.

Did I get that right? Would you mind rounding out your answer?

2:40 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

That is true. The supply management system is there to meet market needs, so that we can feed Canadians. We adapt production every eight weeks in order to respond, for example, to population growth, to increases in tourism during the summer, and to the drop in tourism during the winter. When an event like the Olympic Games is held, production must be increased in a given province to meet market needs.

So we say that, in that sense, supply management meets our needs. Owing to sudden changes in the market in terms of processing and the closing of restaurants, we have taken the initiative to reduce production by 15% in Canada's east and by 7.5% in the west. That has led to product surpluses for factories specializing in food service products.

The second part of your question concerns depopulation. The cost of depopulation is reimbursed at 90%, but the cost of birds who would be thrown away is not covered. The financial stress is tremendous.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

In that situation, you need the government's assurance that they will be there if something were to happen. So far, you have not heard anything from the government in that respect, right?

2:45 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

Yes. You are reading my mind.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Excellent.

I will briefly come back to supply management because this situation is, after all, out of the ordinary. I would like to draw the committee members' attention to that issue.

You just bluntly told us, Mr. Fontaine, that supply management protects sectors and that, during this pandemic period, there has been less negotiation on the government side. I would still like this to be remembered and be on the record because it is a major argument.

I assume you would agree with us protecting those systems through legislation in the future in order to avoid further breaches. Would you?

2:45 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

I do believe that the Prime Minister has made a firm commitment that upcoming negotiations—be it only with Mercosur or for all other future agreements—no breaches or concessions would be made. At the end of negotiations, supply management has often been a little bonus or a cherry on a sundae—or any other expression you may have heard.

We feed Canadians. That does not mean we are a closed market, as we engage in superior trade with many countries around the world. It is not true that we don't import chicken. We are an open market, but we clearly manage quality and quantity. Canada is a northern country, with very high standards, which we must maintain. I want to reuse the example of the Honda Civic assembled in Ontario and sold at a higher price in Montreal than once it's been exported to the state of New York.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you very much for those clarifications.

A piece of legislation will always be stronger than commitments.