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

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

The program requirements will be announced in the next few days. Thanks to the conversations we've been having with the various associations, we know for the most part where the greatest surpluses are. We are going to call on people and organizations—encompassing producers and processors as well as food banks and northern regions—to work together on projects that will ensure food surpluses are used. Figuring out the challenges around packaging and transportation, for instance, will be key. We'll continue to work out the logistics in the weeks ahead.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Minister.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

I just want to introduce the team with the minister. From the Department of Agriculture, we have Mr. Chris Forbes, deputy minister, and Christine Walker, assistant deputy minister, corporate management branch.

From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Colleen Barnes, vice-president, policy and programs, and also Dominique Osterrath, vice-president and chief financial officer of corporate management.

Welcome to all of you and, of course, you'll be staying on for the second hour.

Mr. Perron, you may go ahead for six minutes.

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon everyone.

I'd like to thank Ms. Bibeau and the officials for being with us today.

Ms. Bibeau, I'd like you to clarify something for me. What portion of the measure you announced yesterday is new money? I'm referring to the initial $50 million that was announced to redirect surplus food to food banks.

Is that $50 million still part of the funding announced yesterday?

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

No, they are two different things.

We announced an investment of $100 million for food banks.

A total of 75% of that $100 million is new funding, and the remaining 25% is money the department had leftover from last fiscal year.

The measure I announced yesterday has to do with the local food infrastructure fund, which is part of the food policy for Canada. The fund is a $50-million initiative.

Last year, under the first call for proposals, we used $6.6 million, so that leaves $43.4 in available funding for the second call for proposals. The money was earmarked as part of the $134-million food policy investment, provided for in the 2020 budget.

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I see.

I gather, then, that it's not really new money. It was previously earmarked.

I'd like to talk about the programs and improvements.

No doubt, you heard about the Canadian Federation for Independent Business's survey. It revealed that 29% of farmers consider the support programs to be adequate, 48% are worried about their debt and 40% have concerns about their business's future.

When you first announced support measures, Prime Minister Trudeau referred to them as a first step, saying that if more assistance were needed, the government would do more. We believe the government needs to do more as of right now.

Can you tell us whether you'll be announcing any program improvements soon? Have you set a date?

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We continue to work on the various components with the groups most affected, but since we announced the $77.5 million to deal with the surplus, the two $50-million investments for AgriStability, the meat industry and all the rest, I want to point out that we've made significant changes to the Canada emergency business account. For the agricultural sector alone, the 25% in loan forgiveness can translate into $670 million in direct transfers to farmers.

That's considerable, and it came afterwards.

June 10th, 2020 / 5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Very well.

As far as the necessary changes go, it was clear that the $77.5 million for the processing sector wasn't enough. The money went quickly.

When it comes to the support for the pork and beef sectors, stakeholders told the committee that the $50 million the government had allocated was practically invalid already and that they needed a whole lot more.

With all due respect, Minister, when you tell us that you're working hard, that's great and we believe you, but the sector has been in need of help for quite some time now. Everyone is telling us the same thing. Every committee member will agree with me when I say that the programs aren't working, so action is urgently needed.

You probably know that we'll be resuming our work and making recommendations. We are offering to work with you, because things really have to move quickly here.

I would now like to give the floor to my fellow member Mrs. Desbiens, who will use the rest of my six minutes to ask a question.

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

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

Good afternoon, Minister.

Good afternoon to those joining us today.

Minister, I'd like to talk about the next generation of farmers. In Quebec, our food sovereignty is very much at risk, so we are putting a lot of focus on young farmers.

How can the programs and newly announced measures help young farmers, who are wondering what to do?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

You mentioned new measures. We are in the midst of setting up emergency programs to help businesses in the broad sense and some specific farming sectors, again, in the broad sense. One of the recent measures we announced relates to the youth employment and skills program in the agriculture sector.

We are also working with Farm Credit Canada and other organizations. We do have programs to support the next generation, but they aren't specifically tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

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

That next generation is hard at work right now. I'm not talking about farm workers. I'm talking about entrepreneurs.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Again, I would point to the fact that a number of programs exist to help the next generation, particularly those available through the department for economic development. My department has programs as well, mainly through Farm Credit Canada, including entrepreneurship support for women. I would be happy to provide you with more information on those programs later.

The emergency programs in response to this COVID-19 pandemic have a broader scope.

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

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

My last question is this. Are you worried that certain regions will experience a food shortage come the fall?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

No, I'm not worried. I think that we're privileged to live in a country that has many resources. The producers and processors are extremely committed. We have a very robust and well-structured food system.

I'm not worried that we're running out of food. There may be a little less variety, and some products may be a little more expensive. However, we're working in many ways to protect our producers and the food system in general.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Minister Bibeau and Ms. Desbiens.

Mr. MacGregor now has the floor for six minutes.

Go ahead, Mr. MacGregor.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Welcome back to the committee, Minister Bibeau. Thank you for being here to talk about the supplementary estimates.

I want to talk to you a bit about the food policy for Canada. Last year, you said that the advisory council would be a “central piece” of this overall food policy because it would “bring together the expertise and diversity needed beyond government to address the challenges”.

I think the challenges are very great. I would like to know first of all why you have delayed putting together the advisory council, given that their expertise would be quite valuable at this time.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

With the COVID crisis, our team is overloaded right now with responding to the situation, but yes, the committee's expertise will be very useful. For example, I'm looking forward to making the announcement for my youth council. I believe that in the coming weeks, or after things get back to normal a little bit more, we will be able to go forward with that. I agree with you. This expertise will be welcome.

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Can you put a timeline on that, Minister? I do understand how much work has been foisted upon your department, but it seems to me that having the advisory council there to take on some of the load, to present some alternative policy options, especially on what our food system is going to look like in the future, would be quite valuable at this time. Do you have any kind of timeline as to when you want to put this together?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I will say during the summer.

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Okay. We'll take you up on that. Thank you very much.

I want to also talk about the local food infrastructure fund. I know that it's been rejigged a bit to help a lot of local food security organizations deal with the acute phase of the crisis. It seems to me, though, that if we're going to be building resiliency into the system and making sure our communities are resilient, this is the exact type of funding that communities would need to set themselves up for the long term.

Is it your government's intention in the long term to increase funding to this fund so that local communities, especially in rural areas, can have that infrastructure necessary to continue to thrive into the future and to meet those other shocks that are undoubtedly going to come?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I also believe that this type of program will be very helpful to our communities. We have $43.6 million available in the local food infrastructure program for the second call for proposals. We will see how it goes, and I'll have discussions around that if appropriate.

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Perfect.

Minister, you announced funding to help those in the cattle industry, in particular, maintain their herd stocks, especially given the backlog caused by the lack of processing. I've heard from groups in Alberta who are saying that they're going to have a rolling backlog, going into the future, of up to 375,000 head of cattle. It's going to collide with the upcoming calf season in the fall.

What is the department's long-term plan? Right now, that money seems to be holding things together for now, but what's the long-term plan to diversify our processing sector? Is your government in talks to make the changes to provincially regulated processing to allow processors to process animals across provincial borders? Is that going to be a long-term plan to help us diversify?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I've been in this position for a bit more than a year now, and this is something that I identified very early in my mandate. We have space for more processing capacity in Canada. I know we could take advantage of more value added regionally as well, because rural vitality is very important to me and I believe that we can have more processing facilities throughout the country. However, this is not something that can be decided overnight; we would need to look further forward to the vision for the future.

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

My final question continues what my colleague Monsieur Perron said about the business risk management programs. As you know, we are continuing our study and are looking forward to presenting your government with our recommendations. Perhaps you could give us a sense of what your initial position is going to be when you talk with your provincial counterparts. What kind of an outcome does the federal government want to see from this? If you aren't going to get that agreement, are you prepared to take a leadership role and make sure that these programs are finally responsive to the litany of complaints that we've been hearing?