Evidence of meeting #8 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 covid-19.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claire Citeau  Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance
Kathleen Sullivan  Chief Executive Officer, Food and Beverage Canada
James Donaldson  Member of the Board of Directors, Food and Beverage Canada
Mary Robinson  President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
Scott Ross  Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
Sylvie Cloutier  Chief Executive Officer, Conseil de la transformation alimentaire du Québec
Jason McLinton  Vice-President, Grocery Division and Regulatory Affairs, Retail Council of Canada
Bob Lowe  President, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
Tyler Fulton  Director, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
Dimitri Fraeys  Vice-President, Conseil de la transformation alimentaire du Québec
Fawn Jackson  Director, International and Government Relations, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Welcome, everyone, from across the country. Some of us are bathing in the sun on the beach, and some of us are scraping the snow away. That is Canada.

I call this meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number eight of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Pursuant to the orders of reference of April 11 and April 29, 2020, the committee is meeting for the sole purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order of reference of April 11 also stipulates that only motions requesting or scheduling specific witnesses can be considered by the committee and that such motions shall be decided by way of recorded vote. As you know, today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.

For your information, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee. In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules for you to follow.

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If you have any technical difficulties, such as problems hearing the interpretation, or if you're accidentally disconnected, for example, please inform the chair or the clerk immediately. The technical team will try to solve the problem. Please note that we may need to suspend the meeting at that point to ensure that all members can fully participate. Could all participants click on the top right-hand side of their screen to ensure that they can see everything? That way, you should be able to see all the participants in a grid. This will enable all participants in the video conference to see each other.

Finally, just as we usually do in a regular committee meeting, we will suspend in between panels or sections of the agenda.

With that, we are ready to begin. I would like to welcome our witnesses.

For the first panel, from the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, we have Madame Claire Citeau, executive director.

Madame Citeau, please say hello to ensure that we can hear you.

2:05 p.m.

Claire Citeau Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance

Hello.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you.

From Food and Beverage Canada, we have Kathleen Sullivan, chief executive officer.

Ms. Sullivan, are you present?

2:05 p.m.

Kathleen Sullivan Chief Executive Officer, Food and Beverage Canada

Hi there. Yes, I am.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you.

We also have James Donaldson, member of the board of directors.

Mr. Donaldson, are you also present?

May 8th, 2020 / 2:05 p.m.

James Donaldson Member of the Board of Directors, Food and Beverage Canada

I am here, yes. Good afternoon.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

From the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, we have Mary Robinson, president.

How are you, Mary?

2:05 p.m.

Mary Robinson President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

I'm well, Patrick. How are you?

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Good. It's good to see you again.

2:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

It's good to see you.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We also have Scott Ross, assistant executive director.

Mr. Ross, are you there?

2:05 p.m.

Scott Ross Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

I am, thank you.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Okay. Now we'll start the opening statements.

We'll start with the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance.

Madame Claire Citeau, you have up to 10 minutes. The floor is yours.

2:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance

Claire Citeau

Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.

Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. My name is Claire Citeau and I am the executive director of CAFTA, the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance.

As you know, CAFTA is the voice of Canadian agriculture and agri-food exporters, representing the 90% of farmers who depend on trade, as well as the ranchers, producers, processors and agri-food exporters who want to grow the economy through better access to international markets. This includes the beef, pork, meat, grains, cereals, pulses, soybean, canola, sugar, malt, and processed food industries. These sectors represent 90% of Canada’s agri-food exports and support about a million jobs in urban and rural communities across Canada.

A few short months ago, just as the pandemic shutdown was beginning, I spoke at an event where I said we were worried that Canadians took free trade for granted. Today, I am here to say it’s more important than ever that we not take trade for granted.

First, on Canadian agri-food exporters feeding Canada and the world, I will give you a brief overview of where CAFTA and our membership stand.

With most of the world on lockdown, it has become crystal clear just how foundational agri-food trade is for our economy and way of life. From feeding people here and abroad to the critical role global agri-food supply chains play in supporting jobs, the term “essential service” doesn’t even begin to describe how vital farmers, food manufacturers and others are to a world in crisis.

Canada’s export-oriented agri-food sector feeds our families and families around the world. Canada has become an agri-food powerhouse precisely because we have specialized in making products that the world wants and needs.

In all this, CAFTA remains focused on advancing trade liberalization and ensuring that the voice of our exporters is heard. That’s why we’re pleased to be speaking with committee members today.

For our members, it is a mixed bag. Grain farmers continue to operate more or less as normal and face headwinds of rising non-tariff barriers with market access issues in various markets. Demand is strong for some grains, although the impact of massive U.S. subsidies for corn and soybeans adds to the anguish over a long list of issues. Pulse demand is high and prices are up. “Normal” also means that our canola exports are still blocked by China, and pulses and durum wheat continue to face trade barriers in key markets such as Italy, Peru and Vietnam.

There are increased costs and absenteeism in food manufacturing and questions about the future of the restaurant industry. It’s a very hard time for hog farmers and cattle producers with backlogs of livestock growing.

For all, there is anxiety, uncertainty and challenges in unprecedented ways, whether it is canola, malt, soybeans, feed or even sugar, which food processors rely on.

Despite the crisis, those in the agri-food supply chain are a resilient bunch. However, we are concerned about one thing above all: the fear that this crisis will bring about new trade barriers and other forms of protectionism, and that rules and trade commitments that have been made will be undermined and not followed. I worry about the talk of self-sufficiency in food and nationalism, and I fear it will lead to a new form of protectionism in the name of “precaution”.

I want to acknowledge the leadership role Canada is playing to keep agri-food trade open. First, we’re very grateful that the Canada-U.S. border has remained open for trade. We have no more important partner than the U.S. Agri-food is especially reliant on inputs, ingredients and labour from the U.S. Our integrated supply chains remaining functional is one of the reasons grocery stores stay full today. The implementation of CUSMA will help ensure a continued strong foundation for trade with the U.S., and we are eager to see this agreement enter into force as quickly as possible.

On the issue of safeguarding rules-based trade, in recent weeks we’ve also been grateful for the leadership role the federal government has played in keeping global agri-food supply chains open. We have welcomed commitments to keep trade lines open and oppose export restrictions to help maintain resilience and avoid disruptions in the production and distribution of food. We know that supply shortfalls are best addressed through the unfettered flow of products and increased production. Essentially, in these dire times, more trade is needed, not less.

CAFTA is pleased that the federal government has been at the forefront of efforts to safeguard the WTO and the rules-based trading system. There is a new interim appeal mechanism, which is also very positive and which returns some certainty to the global trading system. We are hopeful that the appellate body will soon be restored.

When the threat of the pandemic subsides, our entire industry stands ready to work with the Canadian government to demonstrate that free trade needs to play a central role in helping economies return to full speed.

In fact, embracing unfettered trade in agri-food should be central in the plan to reboot Canada's economy. People around the world will continue to need to eat, and agri-food trade gives us one of the best engines for growth. Trade will be vital, but only if we limit protectionism and bolster international co-operation.

In all this chaos, Canada has a unique opportunity to find bold new ways for international trade and agri-food trade. The federal government is well positioned to take us there and help reach the goal of $75 billion in agri-food exports by 2025, as identified in the Barton report.

Canada's government should also champion regulatory modernization. The economic round tables singled out the need to update domestic regulations and bring them in line with other jurisdictions.

Recommendations now need to be enacted. Much of what is needed is contingent upon other nations doing things to assist our export trade.

Trade in finished goods and cost-efficient regulatory processes in Canada help all links of our value chain be competitive. At a minimum, Canadian rules should evolve rapidly to support our competitiveness.

As recovery plans get developed, we want to share our ideas and work with you on actions that will give exporters confidence on a path forward.

On maximizing and enforcing rules-based trade, for us to take flight we need our existing free trade agreements to work. For example, CETA holds so much promise for agri-food exporters, yet it continues to fall short. The EU is not abiding by commitments to remove technical barriers shutting out our exports. At the end of this summer, it will be three years since the deal came into force. Our exports are flat, when they should be much higher. On the other hand, EU agri-food exports to Canada continue their double-digit increase. It's time to find solutions.

Such work includes achieving mutual recognition of meat-processing systems, developing protocols to verify livestock production practices, addressing misaligned regulation of crop protection products, more predictable and timely review of seed technologies, ensuring that country-of-origin labelling requirements are not applied in a trade-restrictive manner, and addressing illegal EU sugar subsidies that make our exports uneconomic.

Italy provides an example of where Canada needs to be more assertive in defending our trade interests. Quiet conversations have not resolved the issue to date. It's important that Canada challenge these measures, so that Italy's protectionist measures do not spill over into other countries and products.

Adding insult to injury, EU officials stress that Canadian exporters need to meet the high standards of the EU, when we're the fifth-largest agri-food exporter in the world for a good reason. We've asked the Canadian government to take up these issues with EU political leaders in order to secure commitments and timelines to remove and address the barriers that persist.

The world is moving towards the enforcement of rules. Canada should step up its response, too, and push for enforcement. India, a major market for pulses, has not followed internationally agreed-upon protocols and is not living up to its WTO commitments. Peru and Vietnam are major markets with unwarranted SPS measures that are creating significant risks and uncertainty for wheat exports. Canada needs to be proactive and nimble in its response to the growing use of non-tariff barriers to block agriculture exports.

I'll conclude by saying that the best way to support free trade is to continue to pursue new and deeper trading relationships around the world. If we do that, our export-oriented agri-food sector can help anchor Canada's economic recovery by powering ahead in global markets.

Before the crisis, our sector was growing faster than all other sectors of the economy. We believe that a strong agri-food trade sector means a strong economy and a strong Canada. Free trade has always been a key part of Canada's growth, and that will remain the case as we move ahead.

We look forward to working with all parliamentarians to advance our shared goals, which are rooted in free trade, support for the rules-based global trading system, and the belief that Canada can compete and win in the world.

Just as keeping trade open is feeding people today, embracing it tomorrow will be essential for economic recovery when life returns to normal.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Madame Citeau.

Now we'll go to Food and Beverage Canada for up to 10 minutes, whether it's one or two of you. You can indicate if you're going to split your time.

Ms. Sullivan or Mr. Donaldson, go ahead.

2:15 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Food and Beverage Canada

Kathleen Sullivan

Thank you very much. I will be sharing my time with James Donaldson.

Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Kathleen Sullivan. I am the CEO of Food and Beverage Canada. FBC is the national association representing Canada's food and beverage manufacturers. My members include the country's food and beverage associations, as well as food and beverage companies.

I am joined here today by James Donaldson, who is the CEO of BC Food and Beverage. Later today, you'll also be hearing from another of my members, CTAQ, which represents Quebec's food and beverage manufacturing sector. Together, we represent about 1,200 member companies.

Right now I'm going to turn it over to James to talk to you for a little bit, and then I'll return at the end to close our remarks.

2:20 p.m.

Member of the Board of Directors, Food and Beverage Canada

James Donaldson

Thank you, Kathleen.

Good afternoon, everyone.

I want to start by describing our sector. While some of you might feel that's unnecessary, we have learned through this pandemic that here in Canada, even among senior policy-makers, there is a fundamental lack of understanding of how Canada's food system operates. Without this knowledge, it's impossible for governments to adequately support us and to ensure that the food system continues to produce.

Food processing is a critical step in the food system. It's a step that takes place between primary agriculture and retail, and it represents over 60% of agri-food industry revenues in this country. While much of our fresh produce travels directly from the farm to the grocery store, the majority of the food you and I buy has undergone a transformation in one of the companies Kathleen and I represent.

When you think of your grocery store, across virtually every aisle and department—deli, baked goods, cheese, pastas, sauces, meat, flour, sugar, baking goods, granola bars—these products came to you from a food processor in this country. The work we do takes place in manufacturing plants. Food and beverage processing is the largest manufacturing sector in the country. It includes over 7,000 facilities, employing close to 300,000 workers, and it produces $118 billion in products every year. Our plants can be found in every one of your provinces, and they range in size from a few employees to over 10,000 staff.

In terms of COVID-19 and its impacts on our industry, it has hit our sector and our workers very hard. Food has been declared an essential service and “critical infrastructure”, yet our plants have continued to operate with little recognition and even less support.

Food manufacturers have virtually impossible jobs. They have been asked to keep their plants running so that people like you and me can eat. Employees and production workers have been asked to come to work every day, while their families and everyone else they know have been told to stay home. At the same time, food manufacturing is tasked with keeping our workers safe from a deadly virus while maintaining operations.

Before COVID-19, our main focus was food safety, and our plants were set up to facilitate food safety. Almost overnight, we had to pivot and introduce new ways of social distancing in closed buildings that were never designed for this.

Companies have accomplished this through a number of means.

There's certainly an increased usage of PPE or personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. I should note that these items are used in the normal course of operations, but of course the usage has increased during this pandemic. The challenge, though, is in both the access to PPE and the costs, which have been prohibitive. In many cases, the costs of these essential materials have escalated by several hundred per cent in the past two months of this pandemic.

There is also the introduction of health screening tools, such as thermal imaging cameras to determine whether or not employees have elevated temperatures; building temporary non-structural barriers such as Plexiglass screens, which is possible, but not in every environment; and other increased measures, such as increasing the sanitation of touchpoints, staggering shifts and staggering the use of common areas like lunch and change rooms.

The industry has pivoted very well, and a lot of the measures taken have been an extension of the food safety protocols it already had in place. That said, we do estimate that there has been a cost in excess of $800 million, which is a cost that we just cannot pass on to the consumer.

In addition, we've seen an almost complete collapse of the food service industry, only one-third of which has been made up by increased retail. Also, even retail sales have focused primarily on staple items, as opposed to the specialty items, which in B.C. in particular is a $10-billion industry largely dominated by small companies that are really specialized in innovative and unique niche products. Those items have also been in decline, even at retail.

With that, I'm going to pass this back to Kathleen, who can talk a bit about some of the liquidity strains on the industry.

2:20 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Food and Beverage Canada

Kathleen Sullivan

Thanks, James.

We have a huge problem across Canada's food manufacturing sector, and this is not going to be a short-term crisis. We are facing a new normal of extraordinary cost pressures that we have to address somehow, either by means of government support or through food price increases. Right now, in the immediate term, there is really no relief for these companies.

First, most food companies or food manufacturers are not qualifying for the COVID emergency relief programs. Programs like the Canada emergency wage subsidy are based on revenue losses. Of course, we are still selling food, so our revenues haven't fallen. What has happened, though, is that our costs have skyrocketed, because of the elements James talked about. What we really need is for these emergency programs to look at the impact on net income and use that as the real measure of loss.

The other problem we have is that it's virtually impossible in this country for food and beverage manufacturers to pass cost increases on in the best of times, and certainly not costs of this magnitude. Our retail sector is very strong and very concentrated. It creates an imbalance of power that is very challenging, particularly for small and mid-sized companies. Just last Friday, with no advance notice, one of the major retailers in this country sent an announcement to food companies about immediately imposing penalties related to delivery issues.

We know there was an announcement early this week from the Prime Minister of $77.5 million. As James pointed out, we estimate the cost of adapting to COVID-19 to be over $800 million. More to the point, the announcement this week really isn't designed to address these cash crunch or liquidity issues. It has been designed more to allow for investments by food companies.

The ongoing pressures we're facing are undoubtedly going to destroy some companies and drive them into bankruptcy. Food availability, food affordability and food sovereignty are all going to be impacted. Canadians will still eat, so, frankly, if we do nothing, what we will see is that more and more of our grocery shelves will be filled with products that come from offshore.

What do we do? On February 24, 14 food processor associations essentially representing the entire industry wrote to the Prime Minister and the federal Minister of Agriculture to highlight our concerns. We suggested that the federal government give serious consideration to expanding the existing emergency programs so they are better suited for the companies in our industry really facing liquidity pressures. We also suggested that the federal government look at more creative measures, for example tax credits, for companies to offset the additional costs of COVID-19, at a minimum.

Looking forward, we have to take a serious look at how our food system is structured and supported. This pandemic has magnified the importance and fragility of the food system. It has also highlighted some significant weaknesses. We will not be solving these issues with short-term business-as-usual approaches.

I note the announcement this morning by Minister Bains of a new industry strategy council to look at the impact of COVID-19. I sincerely hope that council includes someone from Canada's largest manufacturing sector who really understands how food processing and the food system work.

I want to close with probably the most important message I can deliver to you, and that's a message about our workers. For two months, as the pandemic has ravaged the globe, food workers have continued to go to work so we can have food. Our workers are heroes, but they do not have superpowers. Despite all of our efforts, they are getting sick. Tragically, as we have now heard, three food workers in Canada have died after contracting COVID-19. We send to their families and colleagues our deepest condolences.

We ask that you, as industry leaders, help us ensure that the Prime Minister and the public understand and acknowledge the efforts these workers are providing and the benefit they're providing to all of us, to make sure we have food in our pantries.

Thank you very much.

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Sullivan.

Now, from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, we have Ms. Mary Robinson, president, and Scott Ross, assistant executive director.

Go ahead, for up to 10 minutes.

2:25 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the committee. We appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Mary Robinson, and I farm. Mine is a sixth-generation family farm in P.E.I., and I am the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the largest general farm organization in Canada.

I would like to start by thanking and acknowledging the work of Canadian governments, at all levels. Public servants and elected officials have been working 24-7 to help Canadians and keep us safe during these difficult times. The federal government has designed and executed many programs for both business and Canadian individuals. We are talking today about how we can bring this ingenuity and commitment to ensure an adequate food supply and support for our farmers.

The first wave of COVID-19 has exposed Canada's food access weaknesses as potential disasters. If there is a second wave in the coming months or if there is a similar pandemic in the years ahead and we have not addressed the food supply issues we are here to discuss, we risk economic and human tragedy.

As leaders, we have an obligation to plan for the worst and strive for the best. These coming days and weeks are critical if we are to ensure that Canada's domestic food supply is secure, both now and into the future.

Farmers go to work every day with the goal of putting quality food on the tables of all Canadians. Canadians take this for granted, and they should. Canadian farmers do not let Canadians down.

However, COVID has put Canada's food production, supply chain and food access in danger, and the food crisis is likely to worsen over the coming months if further action is not taken on an urgent basis. The CFA is calling for an emergency preparedness plan that gives farmers confidence to overcome these challenges, targeting investments in a number of key areas.

First and most immediate is emergency funding to address critical food supply challenges, enabling immediate targeted programming to help affected sectors address these unprecedented challenges. CFA conducted a survey of agriculture commodity organizations across Canada more than two weeks ago now, which at that time identified $2.6 billion in financial impacts that pose urgent threats to the supply of food and the viability of farm operations across Canada. Given the rapid evolution of this crisis, the scope and scale of these impacts have only increased.

Second is that this crisis is telling us that now is the time to wake up and get Canada's BRM suite of programs right for producers to adequately respond to the unique challenges posed by this global pandemic. Farmers need the confidence that they will receive the support they need from AgriStability to keep on farming if they see significant financial losses. The BRM suite was never designed to deal with this kind of crisis, and now is the time to get it right. The next time we may see an even bigger food crisis in Canada.

Finally, further measures are needed to encourage Canadians to work on farms and in Canada's food-processing plants. This includes financial incentives but also, just as critically, prioritizing access to PPE, second only to health, to ensure that all agri-food workers feel safe coming to work.

Food systems around the world are under duress from unprecedented challenges and untenable operating conditions, with supply chain disruptions, lost markets and labour uncertainty threatening many agri-food supply chains around the world. Recently, the UN warned that the world is “facing multiple famines of biblical proportions”, with COVID pushing an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.

Canadians and consumers around the world have always been able to depend on Canada's farmers to grow food, but today Canadian farmers are asking for immediate assistance from our federal government to be able to continue fulfilling that responsibility. Without it, Canadian consumers can expect to see decreased quantity and variety of food at their local grocery stores, as well as higher prices in the months ahead, while undermining our capacity to export and assist in meeting the impending global food security crisis.

Regardless of the economic plight facing so many people during this truly global crisis, everyone strives to eat three meals a day. Canada's farmers want to do everything they can to assist by providing access to the full breadth of affordable, quality Canadian food products.

Achieving this goal requires Canada's farmers and food businesses to overcome unforeseen obstacles, exorbitant new costs and immense uncertainty in the coming months. Painting a single picture of these challenges is difficult, as Canadian agriculture is an incredibly diverse industry, with hundreds of different commodities produced in regions across Canada.

However, in the face of this unprecedented crisis, it is also a significant challenge, as one-size-fits-all solutions are incapable of addressing the diversity of issues that arise. We have witnessed the loss of food service markets for fish, mushroom and potato farmers, just to name a few, who have seen markets evaporate overnight and now face the prospect of surpluses, sunk costs and reduced production. We continue to see uncertain access to labour, forcing horticulture farmers to make difficult decisions about how much they will plant, if they will at all this year, or whether they will have the workforce they need throughout the season to see those products go to market.

We continue to see the disruption of downstream supply chain partners, as we've seen across a number of livestock-processing facilities, driving increased costs and reduced markets and raising the spectre of animal welfare concerns and depopulation for many of Canada's livestock farmers, a truly regrettable last resort. Meanwhile, farmers across Canada, much like our partners in food processing, are taking on exorbitant costs and reduced efficiencies to maintain critical public health measures while being price-takers with no ability to pass those costs along.

Despite this diversity, we hear an all-too-common story from farmers looking for COVID-related relief. They are ineligible for support. Whether it's lumpy revenue that fails to see farmers qualify for the wage subsidy, operating structures that preclude them from accessing the Canada emergency business account, or the responsibility of being critical infrastructure and producing an absolutely essential good that limits them from seeking the Canada emergency response benefit, these existing measures do not respond to the urgent challenges they face in putting food on the tables of Canadians.

When it comes to the agriculture measures made available, we would first like to note our continued appreciation for the government in acting so quickly to provide farmers with access to urgently needed temporary foreign workers. We know that this work continues to this day. Saying that, looming shortages of work permits still hold the potential to undermine the successful entry of workers to date, leaving farmers facing continued uncertainty.

Furthermore, we were pleased to see the government quickly take steps towards addressing liquidity in the sector through FCC and the advance payments program. However, the unfortunate reality for many Canadian farmers is that they are not in a position to take on additional debt in the face of such uncertainty. Following on the most recent announcements, we're pleased to see the steps taken to help address a number of issues identified above, but based on dialogue with the affected sectors, they are inadequate to respond to the scope and scale of the challenges they attempt to address.

When it comes to business risk management, I look at the collaborative efforts of all levels of governments and what they have undertaken in mobilizing their resources to tackle the unprecedented health crisis posed by COVID. I applaud all orders of government in their continued efforts to protect Canadians' health, demonstrating what can be accomplished in the face of urgent challenges when we work together.

However, maintaining and restoring Canada's agri-food supply chains to full capacity must be the leading priority behind the direct public health impacts of COVID. Yet when farmers call for a collaborative FPT approach to address essential food production, farmers are told to look to existing BRM programs that farmers have for years identified as inadequate. They were never designed to respond to this kind of unprecedented crisis spanning the entire Canadian farm and food sector and posing such acute challenges to the Canadian food supply.

In conclusion, Canadian farmers take pride in the fact that every day we feed Canadians. Every bite of food you have today and have had every day of your life started on a farm. Like most sectors of the Canadian economy, farmers have felt the tremendous pain brought about by the unprecedented nature of COVID.

We will always work as partners with government to make nutritious and affordable food available to all Canadians.

I thank you for your time and welcome any questions you may have.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Robinson.

We will start our questions with a six-minute round.

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

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was up first. I thought John Barlow was up first.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Oh, I'm sorry. I have the second hour here. Yes, it should be Mr. Barlow.

Mr. Barlow, are you ready to go?

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

I'm sorry. Go ahead.