Evidence of meeting #9 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 meeting.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Rick Bergmann  President of the Board of Directors, Canadian Pork Council
René Roy  First Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors, Canadian Pork Council
Marcel Groleau  Chair, Union des producteurs agricoles
Michel Daigle  Chair of the Board of Directors, National Cattle Feeders' Association
Janice Tranberg  President and Chief Executive Officer, National Cattle Feeders' Association

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll be sharing my time with my colleague, Ms. Desbiens.

Good afternoon, Ms. Bibeau. I hope that you're doing well. I have several questions for you.

First, do you acknowledge that, because of the COVID-19 crisis, things will be extremely difficult this year for our farmers? Do you acknowledge that they need a great deal of support?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Yes, absolutely.

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I knew that your answer would be short, and I like that.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture was asking for $2.6 billion in emergency funding. You announced $252 million in assistance. I want to be honest with you. Clearly, this amount falls far short of the mark. You also seem to be saying that all these amounts are new money, when this isn't the case. How do you explain this?

Last Thursday, two days after your announcement, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Union des producteurs agricoles and other agricultural organizations sounded the alarm by saying that the amounts were clearly insufficient.

What's your response?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

First, the amounts are mainly new money. I'll use the example of AgriStability. The program addresses the provinces' requests when they see that an agricultural sector must deal with exceptional costs. The pre-approved leeway is $125 million. However, on average, $15 million has been used in the past five years. We can consider that, for AgriStability alone, the new money totals $110 million.

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I agree, Ms. Bibeau. However, I want to focus on the basic issue, which is the difference between $206 billion and $252 million. Even if this were only new money, and I'm not convinced that this is the case, isn't that a huge difference, given that the United States announced $19 billion in assistance for its agricultural sector? Our farmers must compete with American producers during the COVID-19 crisis and afterwards as well.

Aren't we endangering the sustainability of our agriculture to some extent?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Measures have already been taken and more will follow. However, producers can't simply turn their backs on risk management programs. These programs amount to $1.6 billion a year, and this figure could be much higher. There's some leeway. These programs meet needs.

Producers must access the money available to them through AgriStability. To make things easier for them, we've extended the deadline for producers to register for AgriStability to July 3. As well, producers are being offered an advance payment worth 75% of the amount to which they're entitled, compared to the usual 50%. This will only be possible in the provinces that have signed on. However, I'm confident that several provinces will do so.

We've also created an online calculator, because there are many rumours going around about AgriStability. Producers can now go online to do the math, which is much simpler. It's a bit like a mortgage calculator.

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Sorry to interrupt you, Ms. Bibeau. Your calculator does seem very useful. You've mentioned it several times. However, it doesn't increase the amount of money available.

At the last committee meeting, I asked beef producers for their opinion on the $50 million. They told me that they had already spent it and that it was completely insufficient. The pork producers said that the $50 million that you announced covered about 10% of the hogs in Canada. It's not enough.

Will you be announcing more funding soon?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We'll be implementing these programs very quickly. We're about to announce the eligibility criteria and the process for applying for these programs. This process will be implemented very quickly. If we confirm that this meets a need and that the need is much greater, we'll reconsider the funding.

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

The time frame may be very short, if I understand you correctly.

I'll now give the floor to Ms. Desbiens.

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Perron.

Thank you for joining us, Ms. Bibeau. I represent the constituency of Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, where many young and up-and-coming farmers live. We're talking about small businesses. I want to hear your comments on the programs that are better suited to these young people.

Can they expect financial support?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We must look at Farm Credit Canada, which already provides programs designed specifically for the next generation of farmers. In connection with the COVID-19 crisis, we've created programs, such as the wage subsidy program. We've made some adjustments to help start-ups, for example.

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

However, the wage subsidies are often intended for larger payrolls. Ms. Bibeau, I want to hear your comments on start-ups that don't always have a large enough payroll to obtain the wage subsidy, for example. The criteria are a little difficult for them to meet.

Are you considering any improvements in this area?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We're always ready to look at potential improvements. I really care about the next generation and the role of women in the industry.

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Many organic companies are also starting to develop their business in our area. Have you taken measures to better help these companies, which, as we know, are also small businesses?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

As you've seen since the start of the crisis, we're trying to implement programs that cover as many people and businesses as possible. Yesterday, we came to the rescue of small and medium-sized businesses and large businesses. That's how we work. We're always open to the idea of improving programs.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Bibeau and Ms. Desbiens.

Now we have Mr. MacGregor for six minutes.

May 12th, 2020 / 5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you for appearing before the committee, Minister Bibeau.

In the technical briefing for the bill that your government is introducing this week to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act, your officials informed us that 30 million litres of milk had been dumped in late March and early April. Can you give us a quick answer as to what reasons led to that?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

It was because at the beginning of the crisis we had seen a significant.... When all the restaurants and the institutions closed, it brought about a big disruption and diminution in the demand. Obviously, we all know that we cannot stop the milk production overnight. At the same time, they had seen an increase in the demand in the grocery.... I remember that in the first days they increased the level of production for a few days after realizing that the decrease was more important. It took some time for the industry to reorganize their production.

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you, Minister.

I think it's important that we put the 30 million litres of milk in the context of the market share that's been lost over three successive trade deals.

I know that the dairy processors and the Dairy Farmers of Canada certainly want to see this measure pass, but I'm wondering if your department has come up with any form of compensation for the dairy farmers not just as a result of CUSMA but also as a result of your government's not honouring the August 1 start of the dairy year?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

We have processed and signed and ratified the agreement in the context of many considerations and many industries, for the good of the Canadian economy. I don't see the relation you are making with the dumping of milk that happened at the beginning of the crisis, which has been resolved thanks to the good work of the Canadian Dairy Commission.

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

The point I'm making is that the sector is definitely feeling a pinch right now, but they've also felt pinches from other years. I just wanted to know if you've made any commitment to compensation to the sector for trade deals that your government negotiated with respect to CUSMA. Have you entered into any thoughts on that, yes or no?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

For CUSMA, no, we have not yet done so, but our commitment is strong.

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you.

Going on to the temporary foreign workers, I know Mr. Blois indicated, as Mr. Forbes testified, that April saw about 86% of last year's number of temporary foreign workers. This is good, given the circumstances. However, we know that many more will be needed, especially as we get closer to harvest season. I think we need to put this into the context of farms that are struggling as to whether they're going to make it through this year.

How confident are you that we are going to be able to meet full demands for labour when we get to the really busy season later this summer?

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

I'm quite confident, based on the results of the month of April and seeing the exceptional work that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration is doing with the support of Global Affairs Canada. They have put the processes for all the visas and the permits that they need to have on a fast track. It leaves me very positive in terms of getting a good number of temporary foreign workers.

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Do you have a specific number? Has the department made any projections on the number you think you'll be able to have in place in the next few months?