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

2:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

We submitted that to government. These are our emergency preparedness documents on the strategy.

With regard to the building of the numbers, I'm not sure if that's public yet or not.

Is it, Scott?

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I couldn't find it. Certainly if you could provide it to the committee, we'd appreciate it.

I want to go to the approach of having an agri-food emergency preparedness plan. You referenced it in your piece. You talked about a number of different things, like the emergency fund and the AgriInvest stimulus of 5% for all farmers.

Do you know how much that would cost? Obviously you have the $2.6-billion emergency fund. You've talked about bringing AgriStability up to 85%. I hear this in my riding and I appreciate it. Do you have a global sum of what all those measures would cost?

2:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

I believe we know what it would cost for the AgriInvest. Was it $1 billion?

What was the number, Scott?

2:50 p.m.

Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Scott Ross

It was $1 billion, yes.

2:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

As to your question, Kody, you're wondering what the cost would be for....

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I want to know the overall cost. Eight different measures were put out. We know that AgriStability, in any given year, is about a $1.6-billion program. I just wondered if moving it back up to the reference margin of 85% was costed as part of your proposal to government.

2:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

2:50 p.m.

Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Scott Ross

I can speak to that.

With AgriStability, because it's demand-driven, it's quite difficult to assess exactly what the cost would be, because as the situation evolves that would change.

Certainly, those eight measures you referenced were identified about six weeks ago, and a lot has changed since that time. Certainly issues like access to PPE continue to evolve in terms of what the costs are, but as for our understanding of the increase on AgriStability, the minister herself has indicated it will cost around $400 million.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I have one final question, if I could, Mr. Chair.

The emergency wage subsidy—

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We're basically out of time. Sorry about that, Kody. I need to move on to the next member.

Mr. Perron, you have the floor for six minutes.

May 8th, 2020 / 2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Good afternoon, everyone.

I want to thank the witnesses for joining us.

Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Donaldson, you said that you were receiving little recognition and support and that the cost of the adaptations amounted to over $800 million.

I imagine that, when you heard the announcements this week, you were disappointed. Specifically, what more do you need? You spoke about identifying structural weaknesses. In 30 seconds, can you elaborate on this issue?

2:50 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Food and Beverage Canada

Kathleen Sullivan

First and foremost, we outlined for the Prime Minister in a letter that the best way to approach the liquidity issues or cost crunch issues that Canadian food companies are facing is probably through the existing emergency programs that have been set up for COVID-19 to address the problems that many different sectors are encountering.

The challenge we have is that, because those programs are based on revenue, we don't qualify. It's not our revenues that are impacted; it's our cost increases. If we could amend the terms of the Canada emergency wage subsidy, for example, even if it were just for essential or critical infrastructure, to base it on net income, that would go a long way toward helping a lot of companies.

The other way is to take a look at using tax credits. We could provide companies with a tax credit for the costs they have had to incur, particularly critical infrastructure organizations that are essentially required to keep going and that incur these costs. They should be able to offset them at the end of the road.

In terms of challenges—

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

One moment, please, Ms. Sullivan.

Mr. Chair, there has been no French interpretation since the start of Ms. Sullivan's comments.

I want to make sure that my time isn't reduced because of this interruption.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Can someone from technical services fix this problem?

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Lehoux Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Chair, the same thing happened on my end.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Okay, Mr. Lehoux.

Excuse me, Mr. Lehoux. I just saw that you raised your hand. I was about to respond. However, if I had known that your comments concerned the interpretation, I would have responded immediately.

Let's wait and see what the technicians do.

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

May I continue, Mr. Chair?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Go ahead, Mr. Perron.

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Okay, I'll continue.

Ms. Sullivan, I believe that you were about to discuss the structural weaknesses that you identified.

2:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Food and Beverage Canada

Kathleen Sullivan

Yes, there are three main weaknesses we've identified through the pandemic. We knew of them before, but they've been really magnified now.

The first is, I think, a really profound lack of understanding of how Canada's food system works. We know that more and more consumers are urban based, and they've sort of lost that connection to where food comes from. I think we're also seeing it with our policy-makers. Probably 95% of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's resources, its staff, are focused on primary agriculture. That's important, but what we don't have is any department in this federal government that is focused on the entirety of the food system and understanding how the entire food system works.

We also have a problem with the high concentration that we have in the retail sector in this country. It's virtually impossible. I mean, we, ourselves, are price takers in many cases, but 90% of the food companies in Canada would be considered small or mid-sized business, and they simply don't have the power to negotiate on an equal footing with large retail enterprises.

Finally, and this is a perennial Canadian problem, is the split jurisdiction between the federal, provincial and territorial governments. I know this is something that we all deal with, but we're in a crisis, which is really akin to this country being at war, and when we're in a crisis situation, we have to have the mechanisms where we're not sitting on calls with government officials who are saying, “Well, that's the province; that's not us”, and then we have to go off and try to figure that out. I understand it's difficult, but we need to work together to find better ways to link that communication together. We don't have the time, as a country, to sit and wait for all of that to be sorted out.

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

That's fine, thank you.

Yes, we're well aware of the overlap issues.

Ms. Robinson, you spoke about the issues with the current programs. I think that, like a number of us, you're a little tired of being told that the existing programs could be used.

Can you tell me what isn't working? How would an emergency fund address the fact that small farms currently don't have access to the assistance and need it? I'm thinking of a request made by the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec regarding this issue.

2:55 p.m.

President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Mary Robinson

I would ask Scott to jump in here. He is our BRM expert at CFA.

2:55 p.m.

Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Scott Ross

When we look at BRM, one of the most noteworthy concerns we have is that, as it currently stands, around 31% of Canadian farmers are in AgriStability. That speaks to the number of farmers who are currently lacking in trust in the sufficiency of that program to respond to the risks they're facing in a normal year, let alone an unprecedented crisis like this.

When we look at AgriInvest as well, I think it's critical that we look at that $1.6 billion number that is being referenced and ensure that we look at how the funds available in that pool relate to the sectors facing the most hurt. Then, when we look at a number of sectors, for example, the equestrian industry and horse farmers in Canada, they're unable, in many respects, to access those programs, because they, for one reason or another, are unable to qualify for a farm business registration number in many provinces.

There's a myriad of issues that drive that. It's a very complex set of issues, but we've certainly been working for a number of years on targeted measures to address that need. We believe that in the current kind of acute crisis we're facing, there's a need for a more timely intervention, and that speaks to the emergency fund that you raised.

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you.

Based on what we've heard from all the stakeholders, I gather that the current federal assistance is clearly insufficient.

Ms. Citeau, you spoke about our competitive relationship with American companies. Compared to what's happening here, these companies are receiving a fairly significant amount of assistance from their government.

What will be the short-term impact of this issue, both right now during the crisis and also in the aftermath of the crisis?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Please respond quickly, Ms. Citeau.