Evidence of meeting #17 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 meetings.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Markus Haerle  Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario
Mark Brock  Co-chair, National Program Advisory Committee, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Benoit Legault  Chief Executive Officer, Producteurs de grains du Québec
Todd Lewis  President, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan
Alan Ker  Ontario Agricultural College Research Chair in Agricultural Risk and Policy, Professor, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics and Managing, As an Individual
Corentin Bialais  Committee Researcher
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Haerle, can you put your mike just a little bit to the centre of your mouth?

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, are you speaking to me?

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

I was speaking to Mr. Haerle.

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Very good.

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Let's try that. Sorry about that.

Go ahead, Mr. Perron.

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Haerle, you said that AgriStability doesn't work. If program coverage were brought back up to the 85% level—where it was before the Conservatives' cuts in 2013—and if the reference margin were removed, would that fix the problems with the AgriStability program?

Kindly keep your answer brief.

2:35 p.m.

Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario

Markus Haerle

It will help, for sure, because there is one thing I have to say. Grains and oilseeds have long, not as deep cycles, where animal production—like pork and beef—has deep drops and short drops. That's when bringing it up to 85% will actually help, because we will be able to trigger a lot more quickly in that time frame. That's the simplest answer I can give you.

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Very good.

Now I'm going to turn to Mr. Brock.

Mr. Brock, you provided a list of recommendations that your committee came up with. It's quite compelling.

I'd like to know whether your committee has explored the idea of making more up front support available. Right now, farmers have to incur losses before they receive any compensation, so there's a significant lag.

Have you given any thought to something that looks more like the European model?

2:35 p.m.

Co-chair, National Program Advisory Committee, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mark Brock

To really answer that question, I would have to step back a little bit and give you a fairly political answer. We're really struggling with messaging from the government around cost neutrality. When we were given this task, both in the external advisory panel and within the national program advisory committee.... It's always done under the premise of cost neutrality. I think that was one of the things we asked ministers in a letter I sent back in December on behalf of the members of NPAC: Can we have some clarification around cost neutrality?

What happens is that we tend to paint ourselves in a box, and then we always think in that box. Unless we can have maybe a broader breadth of scope to really look at some of that stuff, we would struggle to look at European-style models or other models around the world.

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Do you think the U.S. limits itself to the premise of cost neutrality, as compared with Canada?

2:35 p.m.

Co-chair, National Program Advisory Committee, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mark Brock

No, there are no limits in the U.S.

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

There you have it.

2:35 p.m.

Co-chair, National Program Advisory Committee, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mark Brock

I think it speaks to Canada needing to have a clear, defined national agriculture and agri-food policy. Business risk management programs fit in that. I think there needs to be a broader discussion about how those assist producers and actually give us confidence within our domestic agri-food policy.

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Brock, I have five seconds, but I'd like to ask you the same question I asked Mr. Haerle.

If the AgriStability threshold were restored to 85% and the limit were removed, would that be a boon?

2:35 p.m.

Co-chair, National Program Advisory Committee, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mark Brock

It would help. As Markus said, the margins in grains and oilseeds live in that area that was cut.

I think the struggle you'd have would be marketing a program that's been changed. Too many farmers would think of AgriStability as AgriStability. Even if we changed it to be a really good program, I think we'd have to change the name.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Brock and Mr. Perron.

Go ahead, Mr. MacGregor. You have six minutes.

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

Welcome to our witnesses. Thank you for participating in our study and allowing this committee to come forward with some recommendations.

Mr. Haerle, I'll start with you. I'd like to turn to AgriInsurance. That's one of the programs you mentioned, which I think there's generally a large amount of satisfaction with. I understand that now there's a move by the federal government to negotiate with provinces to include labour shortages as an eligible risk for this program, I think in the horticulture sector. Do you have any comments on what you would like that to look like? Are you excited by that news?

2:35 p.m.

Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario

Markus Haerle

Actually, for the grain sector, it doesn't really have great impact to put that in as an insurable peril. The grain sector is actually quite mechanized to handle the production that we do. It doesn't matter if you're in eastern Canadian production sites or western Canadian; it will be a minor factor for us to consider.

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Are you pretty happy, from the grain point of view, with how the different crops are covered? I know that with certain crops, there's a lot of uniformity when you go province to province. For some sectors there's more specificity, depending on what that province specializes in. Are you pretty satisfied with how the crops are selected for insurance models?

June 12th, 2020 / 2:40 p.m.

Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario

Markus Haerle

Yes. That's actually working fairly well. In Ontario, we have a good mechanism in place to make those changes as they come up. Those proposals go forward in an appropriate manner. They get addressed in a timely fashion to get them out to the farmers so they can use those programs.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you for that feedback.

Mr. Brock, I think COVID-19 has exposed a lot of fault lines within our food supply system and how our assistance programs function. I think there's been a sense that perhaps our business risk management programs may not have been the ideal vehicle to fully deal with the pandemic.

What's your sense of how well the BRM programs have functioned during this pandemic? We've had AgriRecovery, which has been stocked with $125 million to help some sectors. For the next pandemic that comes, do you have a sense that the BRM programs are well suited to deal with a crisis of this magnitude? Or should Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in conjunction with the provinces, be looking at something else entirely to deal with something of this magnitude?

2:40 p.m.

Co-chair, National Program Advisory Committee, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mark Brock

It's my hope that we don't run into this pandemic situation again and put the pressure on the business risk management programs as we're seeing right now. Because of this pressure and uncertainty, we as producers are looking at them and feeling uncomfortable about them, as I alluded to and in some of the points you highlighted.

Really, what has happened is almost a disconnect between government action and policy development and the direction in which they want to head with agriculture and producers. There seems to be less conversation between producers and government, and that has led to uncertainty and a disconnect, and maybe a lack of trust around these programs.

We look at the ways the government has been reacting to help support different sectors and different industries, such as agriculture. There are always people looking at how different ones are being supported. I think there needs to be a lot better communication and a long-term vision and strategy for agriculture with producer and government engagement that, to be honest, isn't caught up in different election cycles and that consumers can feel confident in. If we as producers feel confident in the system, then consumers can feel confident in that system. That's where we need to get to, in case we run into a pandemic such as this again. When it does happen, not only will the producers have confidence, but consumers will as well, and government.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Haerle, do you have any comments on that same question?

Also, perhaps I could get thoughts from both of you on whether you are optimistic about the federal-provincial meeting that's coming up later this year. Do you think the federal government and the provinces are armed with a sufficient number of concerns about the existing programs and that we'll actually see some change really come about from this meeting?

2:40 p.m.

Chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario

Markus Haerle

Perhaps I'll start with the outlook for the FPT meeting.

First of all, it's unfortunate that it had to be delayed from July until, I think, October. The problem I see coming is that we're going to have to get all provinces lined up to agree on the principles of getting a reform done on the programming itself. The wheels are in motion, but there seems to be some hesitation from the federal government to step forward and take the initial step. It would be very important that the Canadian government show leadership through this crisis, show what it is willing to offer up, and I'm nearly sure that the provincial governments will actually sign on to the programming that would be proposed.

The urgency is there. The farmers are reaching out to government levels to get action. Ontario has the premier advocating on our behalf. I think we are getting some interaction, but it takes everybody to make it work.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Haerle.

Thank you, Mr. MacGregor.