Evidence of meeting #16 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 money.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard
Chris Forbes  Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Colleen Barnes  Vice-President, Policy and Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

From the day that we announced the $252 million, we have also made modifications to the CEBA. It means $670 million in direct funds to producers, and I'm not talking about loans. I'm only talking about additional direct funding to producers.

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Farmers have been told to get BRM money because it will be easier for them to make the case for more money for agriculture, but farmers have told us that it takes years for their BRM claims to be paid. How will you be able to provide more help to farmers now during the pandemic when they need it, if they can't find out whether they're getting BRM money for years?

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

They can get 75% in advance in almost every province, within a month or so.

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We'll now go to Mr. Blois for five minutes

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister and our other guests, for being here today.

Minister, you were asked a series of questions at the beginning of the panel that I want to give you the opportunity to address. I don't want to use the word “misleading” but sometimes Canadians are watching and might not always know. There has been a lot of narrative around new money, and I asked you this last time that you were at the committee. For example, the $125 million that went to AgriRecovery to support beef farmers and pork producers was not money that would normally have flowed from government in this given year. Is that correct?

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Well, the way it works with the business risk management program is that I have a maximum amount of money to be used to respond to the needs. For AgriRecovery this maximum, this cap, is $125 million per year, but for the last five years, for example, the average was $15 million. It's not new, but if you compare with previous years, it's significantly more.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Right. So as I understand it, the money is allocated in the budget but not always spent, and obviously our government is spending this money to ensure that farmers and producers have the support that they need.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Exactly.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I want to go to the piece on the price on pollution. Mr. Barlow has raised this quite often in our committee.

I asked you this last time, but I will ask again for the benefit of Canadians who are watching our committee proceedings or anyone else. In the relationship and the stakeholder arrangements that you've had with individuals, you've mentioned that you've been working very closely with industry stakeholders. Has that been a predominant theme in terms of their request to you? Has that been the main focus of what they want you to respond to right now?

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

No, this is not the main focus of our discussions.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

It gets raised a lot, and I think that's important to have on the record.

I want to move to the local food infrastructure fund. This is of interest certainly in my riding of Kings—Hants in Nova Scotia. Many folks are interested in trying to develop the local food sector. We've had the first round of funding. You mentioned the second round is coming. How best would I encourage someone from my riding who is interested in accessing this fund to go about trying to apply?

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

They can make two different levels of applications.

If you have a small organization that needs to buy a refrigerator, for example, it can get money from the local food infrastructure fund. If you have a few organizations working together that want to improve their organizations, partner with the grocery stores, restaurants and producers, for example, and want to put in place a food system within their community, this is the time. They could get money for infrastructure and equipment, but they could also get money to put in place an online platform, for example, or other types of supports that will last through the years. The only thing that is not eligible within this program would be expenses that would come every year.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

You mentioned the online platform. You weren't here obviously at the last committee meeting, Minister, but we had Ted Hutten from my riding who talked about how the demand for local food is significant right now. His online platform has allowed him to pivot his business to ensure he has been able to mitigate some of the challenges we're facing.

I know Mr. MacGregor asked about government support to ensure small processors are able to access online programming and build their capacity, so I'm happy to hear that's part of our plan.

To remind folks on the committee, I wasn't here prior to 2019, but we're the first government in history that has introduced a food policy to try to address some of these challenges. Is that correct?

June 10th, 2020 / 6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Absolutely. We launched the first-ever food policy last June.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I have about 30 seconds, Minister Bibeau. The piece around the Canadian Dairy Commission is not in the estimates. This is huge in my riding. We have the most supply-managed farms east of Quebec. The $200 million for the Dairy Commission is not in the estimates. I'm not an accountant, maybe that's for good reason, but can you explain how influential that program is and perhaps elaborate on that?

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

This is very important for Canadian dairy producers. With the supply management system, they have the capacity to organize themselves to manage their supply better, and we have improved it.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Minister Bibeau.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Minister.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We have only five minutes left.

To finish the round of questions, I'll give the floor to Caroline Desbiens.

Ms. Desbiens, you have the floor for two and a half minutes.

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline Desbiens Bloc Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the minister for staying with us.

I'll give the second question to my colleague, Mr. Perron. However, I still want to ask about the accessibility of these programs. Producers often tell us that they're willing to use programs to obtain assistance, but that they always come up against one or two criteria that exclude them. As a result, the programs don't work as well and money is left in government coffers. I want to hear your comments on this issue.

Will there be more flexibility and accessibility?

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We also need rules, because we must still manage public funds properly.

To answer your question, take the Canada emergency business account. We launched it very quickly to enable businesses to access a $40,000 loan, of which $10,000 may be non-repayable.

We listened to entrepreneurs, including farmers, and we made changes. Just for farmers, the non-repayable portions alone could total up to $670 million. For those not yet eligible for assistance programs, we created a special fund through community futures development corporations, or CFDCs, and business development centres, or BDCs.

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline Desbiens Bloc Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Minister Bibeau, I just want to say that this still constitutes debt. Some people are no longer able to go into debt.

I'll now give the floor back to Mr. Perron, who will finish the round of questions.

Thank you, Minister Bibeau.

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Good evening, Minister Bibeau.

I want to ask about the AgriInvest program. You often say that producers should be encouraged to withdraw funds from their AgriInvest account. However, all the witnesses we heard from told us that the AgriInvest account is used to invest, not to replenish coffers. It's the equivalent of asking someone to empty their bank account before they receive any type of assistance.

They also say that not everyone has money in this type of account.

How would you respond to these people, who feel a bit rushed by this?

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

There are four main risk management programs. The AgriStability program is designed to help farmers in the event of a significant loss of revenue. The AgriRecovery program is designed to help them in the event of a significant increase in costs—