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

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

It's okay. I know that Gerald would have been ready to go, too.

Thanks, witnesses, for your testimony. It highlighted a lot of the concerns that we have tried to bring forward. Many of the programs currently being offered by the government are not accessible by agriculture, for a variety of reasons. It's a unique business structure and has a unique financial position.

Mary, I'll start with you. I appreciated the comments you had after the agriculture minister made her announcement of some of the assistance packages brought forward earlier this week, which fall woefully short of the $2.6 billion you asked for. Your comment on that was that it was like offering a bucket of water for a burning house. Why are these programs insufficient to meet the needs of agriculture? Why that comment?

2:40 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

Thank you for the question, John.

Well, when we look at our pork sector, they had estimated that in order for them to.... Obviously, none of the requests that are included in the $2.6 billion are people's expectations of coming out of this whole. What we're looking at is that we want to be able to survive this. We can look at the $50 million offered to pork and beef. That did fall quite significantly short of the combined just over $800 million that they felt they needed in order to maintain herds or just to survive COVID.

In general, I think, we walk a tight line there. We're so pleased to see that some monies have been put towards agriculture, and we're thankful to have our Prime Minister mention it in the press. We're also pleased to hear him say that this is the beginning.

We're just trying to convey the sense of urgency. We need money now. People now are having to feed animals that were supposed to go to slaughter. It's having impacts on animal welfare and on how people are going to survive this from the perspective of farms.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

You brought up the Prime Minister. He made an interesting comment during question period yesterday about how farmers should be happy with paying the carbon tax because they're actually gaining revenue from that. You talked about being a price-taker, and we have brought forward the fact that eliminating the carbon tax from agriculture would be an opportunity to help during this time. It would be more money in producers' pockets.

I did an Order Paper question earlier this year asking the department for the data on the impact the carbon tax would have on agriculture. I was really shocked when I got the answer back last week that those documents are “secret”. Apparently, there's some national secret in the impact that the carbon tax has on agriculture.

I would like your opinion. Do you think that agriculture should know the impact of the carbon tax? Do you think that during this COVID pandemic farmers should be thankful that they're making revenue off the carbon tax?

2:40 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

I didn't come prepared to speak to the carbon tax today. I did come prepared to speak about COVID. I think we want to convey the message that we are keen to continue working with government. Hopefully, we will see some real momentum and traction here and we'll be able to find mechanisms, whatever they might be, to deliver a meaningful financial backstop to give our producers confidence to move through this growing season.

Ultimately, what we're faced with right now is investing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in fertilizer, seed, fuel, equipment, people and putting crop in the ground, and it's difficult to do that when we don't have any confidence that if something happens on the farm we won't go bankrupt and there will be a meaningful backstop for us.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Thanks.

You bring up a good point. The article that Dr. Sylvain Charlebois had out last week or the week before said that if there isn't some immediate assistance, we could lose up to 15% of our farms through this season. That will have a significant impact on our food security and certainly on the price of groceries on the grocery store shelves, not to mention, as Claire said, the opportunity for us to meet the global food shortage that could be a result of this.

How real is the financial crisis that agriculture is facing? Is the number that Dr. Charlebois brought up accurate?

2:40 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

We, too, saw those numbers. Just to put a real number on it, that's probably 30,000 farms that we're facing losing due to COVID this year. As for the impact of that, certainly we will feel it on food, but rural Canada will certainly feel it beyond food. Agriculture is the fabric of rural Canada, and it really is the backbone of our entire economy.

With regard to that, I haven't looked at how those numbers came to be, Mr. Barlow, but we can certainly supply you with more information that we might not have with us today.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Claire, do you want to respond to that very quickly? You talked about the opportunities for an engine of growth in agriculture, but if there isn't some assistance—a cash injection—for agriculture and we lose those 30,000 farms, what impact will that have on our trade opportunities?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Ten seconds, please.

2:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance

Claire Citeau

I don't think I can really comment on the revenue and the cash contribution. That's really something that our members are best to address, but what I want to say is that diversification and trade access to fight against protectionism is perhaps going to be even more challenging now. We cannot promote competitiveness in Canada if we are shut out of the growth from abroad that will ultimately return, and the stimulus of the competition that comes with it.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Citeau.

Now for our second round, and Kody Blois for up to six minutes.

Go ahead, Kody.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and to all of our witnesses for providing their testimony today. We certainly appreciate hearing from you.

I'm going address my first questions to Ms. Robinson. This was touched on a little bit by some of our witnesses, but just briefly: Are all sectors of agriculture being negatively impacted as a result of COVID-19?

2:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

We do know that there's massive diversity in Canada, not just in commodities, but also in the nuances of how that's playing out regionally. We know there are some commodities that are hurting exponentially now, and the level of hurt varies. Here in Prince Edward Island, we have a lot of potato growers, and we're certainly facing a great amount of uncertainty as we look to make the investments to put the crop in the ground for next year. We know that mushroom farmers have thrown out millions of pounds of mushrooms. We know that greenhouse—

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mary, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have a number of questions I'll try to get through.

I'm hearing that it's diversified and does not affect everyone. Some sectors may be doing better than others. Can you just highlight quickly some of the sectors that might be doing better than others?

2:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

Well, I think in western Canada our grain growers are seeing shipments move quite well. Beyond that, I'm not really sure of any others.

Scott, is there anyone that you think stands out?

2:45 p.m.

Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Scott Ross

I would just speak to what Mary said. We understand that there's still a lot of uncertainty in front of grain farmers, moving forward. From our understanding, things are moving reasonably well in that sector currently. However, as you know, things can evolve quite quickly. I think that certainly stands out as the sector that is, to some extent, in the current situation at least, managing reasonably well.

May 8th, 2020 / 2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mary, in your presentation you mentioned that you wanted to extend the CERB. Is it my understanding that the CFA would like to have all agricultural workers qualify for the CERB, or did I get that wrong?

2:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

We're certainly looking for financial incentives to bring people who are currently displaced from their usual jobs, or unemployed, to come to work on farms. We feel that we need some financial tools to do that because we need to incentivize people to leave home and put themselves out there in the workforce today.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

What about the announcement by the Prime Minister this week of $4 billion for essential workers, which could certainly include some of the agricultural workers? Just briefly, how are your discussions going with the provinces and getting some of that money flow to them?

2:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

Scott, can you speak to that? I'm not really up to speed on that.

2:45 p.m.

Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Scott Ross

Yes. As it stands currently, as a national organization we certainly aren't the ones having those direct engagements with the provincial governments. However, we have encouraged our members to look at that wage top-up as a real opportunity for an incentive there, and to have discussions with their respective governments to see what can be done in that space.

We do hope there are some incentives possible through that structure, certainly.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mary, you talked about the fact that there has been about $250 billion that has been put out, and you said it has largely not been available to agriculture. I appreciate that in certain circumstances that might be the case, but do you know the number of farms that might have been able to enroll in the Canada emergency business account so far, meeting the $20,000 payroll threshold?

Have you heard from your members about enrolling in that program?

2:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

We have heard from several members who have had trouble accessing that because of the structure of their business.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Surely there would be members out there who would have the $20,000 payroll, between $20,000 and $1.5 million, who are certainly benefiting from that?

2:45 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

Yes, I believe so, and we certainly have much larger operations where that money is maybe not that significant to keep them going. Again, there would be diversity.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I want to talk about the $2.6 billion that you've referenced. We've seen a lot about this in the media.

I went on your website today. Where can I find that report? Is it public?