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

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Tim Louis Liberal Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

That's perfect. I've talked to many farmers in my riding, at businesses like Pfenning's Organic Farm in Wilmot, who are able to make use of this. It's amazing to see how resourceful farmers are and how much they care. I know this added cost is worth taking on. They're treating their temporary foreign workers like family. These are people who come back year after year. I know it's appreciated, and the resourcefulness should be noted, because it's a hard task.

We talked about worker safety. I know that the federal government is also providing, I believe, $77.7 million for the food-processing sector. Can you give some examples of what those funds are going to be used for, to protect workers and at the same time maintain production capability?

6 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Yes, you're right for both. It's to put in place the right measures to make sure that the workers have a safe environment and also to increase the processing capacity. For example, they can have added sanitation and security requirements, adjustments to current processes in manufacturing, lines to accommodate social distancing, or equipment such as safety barriers. There are quite a number of things they can do, they can buy and they can put in place to protect their employees and be as efficient as possible.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Tim Louis Liberal Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I've heard that in my riding as well. Conestoga Meats is responsible for about 40% of the pork processing in Ontario, and the measures they took right away to protect their workers were not only because every Canadian has the right to safety and a safe and healthy workplace, but because it also helps with production. I know that's much appreciated as well.

Maybe also on that vein, we could talk about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the investments that you made of $20 million in the supplementary estimates. Can you expand on that as well?

6 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

From the beginning, we knew that our inspectors are normal people and they are essential workers as well, and it was a challenge for them to continue their essential work. We wanted to be sure that we would have the resources to respond to the demand. This demand is even more important, because, for example, some plants that are seeing a decrease in their capacity are extending their hours of work, so they require more inspectors.

We wanted to be sure that we would have enough inspectors, so we have hired back some inspectors who had retired recently. We have trained some other staff who have the qualifications, but needed specific training within the organization. We have put in place agreements with Alberta and Ontario to share resources such as the training of provincial inspectors.

It was very important to respond to the demand while we were protecting our inspectors, because it's very important for us to offer them a safe environment.

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Louis. You were right on time.

Now we'll go to Ms. Lianne Rood for five minutes.

6 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister, I had the opportunity to ask you a question in the House the other day, and I didn't get an answer, so I'd like to ask the question to you again today.

Canadian ginseng farmers are facing some real trouble right now; they've lost their export market to China. I'm wondering whether you've spoken to your Chinese counterpart to remedy the situation or what concrete actions your government is going to take to help these farmers.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I understand that ginseng is a unique commodity and that the sector is, as many others are, facing very important challenges. The programs we have—

6 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair—

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Go ahead, Mr. Perron.

6 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Sorry to interrupt the discussion. We haven't had any interpretation for the last three comments as a result of the sound quality. This is indeed an issue. If I don't raise a point of order now, it will be raised by anglophones when we ask questions in French.

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Perron.

I think that the clerk is looking into this.

June 10th, 2020 / 6 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard

If you don't mind, I suggest that we suspend the meeting again. We'll make a final attempt to try to resolve the technical issues.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We'll suspend the meeting for a few minutes.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Ms. Rood, you still have four minutes and 16 seconds. Go ahead.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

The minister didn't answer the question, though, before we were interrupted. I only got my question in. If she could answer the question, that would be great.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I was saying that I understand that the ginseng sector is facing difficult challenges right now. We are first putting in place programs that will respond to the greatest number of businesses like the Canada emergency business account, $670 million in direct transfer to the producers. I'm not talking about the loans, just the forgivable part.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

So there isn't something tangible for ginseng farmers in particular. We're just talking of very broad strokes here right now.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Yes. They would have to apply to the general programs, BRM and the CEBA, for example.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you.

Last week at this committee, we passed a motion that asked your department to produce specific statistics on AgriInvest. We understand that some of this information has since been provided to some journalists, yet this committee hasn't seen it.

I'm wondering whether you're able to provide the same information to this committee as was provided to the journalists.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Yes, actually, I think I said that in my speech. The average amount in the account of the producers is $25,000; horticulture, $25,000; grains and oilseeds, $33,000; and potatoes, $93,000.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Minister, you said last month that farmers need to use the RM programs before the federal government can give them any more financial support. We heard you say that some of the cuts to AgriStability were from a previous Conservative government, but that's because we moved it from 85% to 70% as this program was [Inaudible—Editor] paying into profitability for some producers, rather than helping farmers stabilize their income. In fact the Liberals made cuts to our AgriInvest programs, in reducing contributions.

Minister, farmers have said these programs don't work for them. Is there no additional federal support coming for the agriculture sector at this time?

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I'm sorry, but I have a hard time understanding your point. You're telling me that the Conservative government has cut into the AgriStability program and the AgriInvest program, and I'm telling you that these programs still exist. They're working, but they're not available.... The producers would want.... I'm sorry but I don't get your point.

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

I'm asking you whether there's any additional federal coming for the agriculture sector at this time.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We are still working with the most affected sectors. Stay tuned.

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

All right. Farmers are telling me that the $252 million that was announced so far is just not good enough. We've established that over half of the package was old announcements. How many farmers have you spoken to who think that this amount of federal funding is sufficient?