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

6:55 p.m.

Chair, Union des producteurs agricoles

Marcel Groleau

The main reason Canada's agricultural sector is able to compete right now is that the exchange rate works in our favour. If the loonie were at par with the U.S. dollar, or even rose to 90 cents, it would devastate the sector. Can that be the foundation for an industry like agriculture? The answer is no.

Canada absolutely has to have business risk management programs that are competitive with Europe's and the U.S.'s.

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you very much.

I heard your warning, and I understand the need for immediate action, so I will echo your plea.

Lastly, I'd like you to explain the importance of something young farmers are calling for regarding coverage for small businesses. They have trouble qualifying for one-time assistance in the form of loans.

Can you explain it to the committee members so that everyone understands?

6:55 p.m.

Chair, Union des producteurs agricoles

Marcel Groleau

The problem is that general partnerships aren't eligible for the $40,000 small business loan, because withdrawals made by owners aren't considered payroll. To qualify, businesses have to have paid $20,000 in payroll last year. That rules out a large number of Quebec's small businesses, since the government hasn't changed the requirement, despite our requests.

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

That means small farm businesses in Quebec and across the country are in serious jeopardy right now. Isn't that so?

6:55 p.m.

Chair, Union des producteurs agricoles

Marcel Groleau

Those businesses aren't eligible for the support measures that have been announced, so-called important measures for the sector.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Groleau and Mr. Perron.

Now we go to Mr. MacGregor for four minutes.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

I'll start with Ms. Tranberg of the National Cattle Feeders' Association.

Could you remind the committee of what you said in your remarks about our processing capacity? Did you say we're at about 50% now, but you don't really expect that to get much higher than 85% in the coming months?

6:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, National Cattle Feeders' Association

Janice Tranberg

That would be correct. All the things that needed to be done to make the plant workable—they had to put partitions between people, and they had to increase space for social distancing—will slow down production. We don't know precisely, but at least in the short term, full capacity probably is not going to be much past 85% of what it was pre-COVID.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Yes, and that's very troubling. I was looking at some research from the Western Stock Growers' Association. They estimated that we may see a rolling backlog of over 375,000 head of cattle. They think the glut might happen right at the peak of the fall calf run.

If we're going to have this rolling backlog and we're still not going to have processing capacity up to 100% even in a few months' time, is there an ability to build additional feedlot storage area?

My big question is, how are we going to deal with this glut? How long can the National Cattle Feeders' Association keep going with this huge backlog of cattle in its facilities?

7 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, National Cattle Feeders' Association

Janice Tranberg

We're reaching peak right now, and you're talking about whether they can build more capacity. They can't even manage the capacity they have. You have to have finances to be able to support your cattle right now, let alone looking at building even more.

To expand on the previous question—sorry—$50 million barely covered our best-case scenario, which was that the plants would produce at 85%. For a while, we were below 50%, and now we're just barely back to 50%. It's going to take us quite a bit of time to get back to normal. We're not going to be able to cover the costs certainly in the short term.

7 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

I don't have a lot of time left, but looking forward, I don't think it's too early to start thinking about how we can build resiliency into our system so that we're better able to withstand shocks like this in the future.

Do you have any thoughts to add on that? How do we build resiliency into the system in two or three years so that when something like this comes again we're not going to be in such a sorry state?

May 12th, 2020 / 7 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, National Cattle Feeders' Association

Janice Tranberg

Well, you're asking me to look into my crystal ball. I would just say that some of the changes being looked at under business risk management are things that would help provide better liquidity and resilience.

Michel, I'll give you a chance to respond.

7 p.m.

Chair of the Board of Directors, National Cattle Feeders' Association

Michel Daigle

In recent history, the slaughter or processing industry has been so concentrated that two big players alone account for 75% to 80% of all cattle slaughtered in the country. When an epidemic of COVID-19 proportions breaks out, this is exactly what happens. In the future, will—

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Daigle.

Unfortunately, that's all the time we have.

I would like to thank the three panels again.

Thanks to the Pork Council, with Rick Bergmann and René Roy.

I'd also like to thank Marcel Groleau and Isabelle Bouffard, from the Union des producteurs agricoles.

Also, thanks to the National Cattle Feeder's Association, Janice Tranberg and Michel Daigle.

I apologize for the issues with the sound as we learn how to navigate these new technologies.

Thank you, all. You may now leave.

I will ask all the members to stay with us to settle one or two business issues.

We have just learned that the meeting next Tuesday will be cancelled. What I need to know from the committee is where you want to put that meeting with the same panel. In other words, our next meeting will be the following Friday, on the 22nd. Do you want to take the Tuesday meeting and move it later on, or do you want to continue...?

Don't forget that on Friday, we have the Minister of Immigration, Mr. Mendicino. On Tuesday, we have the horticulture sector and foreign workers. I need to get some direction as to how we want to proceed on Tuesday the 19th.

Mr. Perron, you have the floor.

7 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I wasn't aware that Tuesday's meeting had been cancelled. Can we reschedule for Wednesday or some other time during the week?

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

No. We just found out as well. There won't be any meeting at all on Tuesday. It's postponed. Other committees may be sitting, but our meeting has been cancelled. We may be able to make it up later, but at this point, we just need to figure out whether we want to postpone or stick to the schedule and push it to Friday. As I said, we have the minister appearing on Friday. I don't know whether he'd like to postpone his appearance. I'm open to suggestions.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Chair, I will ask you a couple of questions on this.

First of all, why is it cancelled? None of us have heard a reason why.

The other question I have is why can't we go over today? We're obviously going over the seven o'clock meeting time to discuss this. We had four minutes of questions for that second round. I know it's not our fault that we had technical issues, but I think that has to be addressed. Why could we not have gone past seven o'clock? Is there a reason that there is a deadline? You said they don't want us to go past seven o'clock. Who are “they”?

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

As you can imagine, there's a whole team making this happen. We were told not to exceed, as much as possible.

Obviously, we're a little bit over time now and we're thankful that they have stayed around. Sometimes it's not even that; it's the fact that there's another committee after us. That's not the situation this evening.

Sometimes we manage to get a few minutes, but I try to be fair to everyone and to keep us on time.

We can modify if you wish. We can look at the time for witnesses. We can look at different ways of doing this. Unfortunately, with the new technology there are always some issues that come up which cut into some of our question time.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to make a proposition.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Sorry Francis, I just....

I know we talked about it last week, and I would suggest that we try to get to two witnesses per hour, then, and have seven minutes instead of 10. I thought we did talk about that last week, cutting them down to seven minutes.

Obviously we are all in different situations. I think it's really important that we have as much time for questions and answers as possible.

Francis, maybe that's what you were going to suggest. I didn't mean to cut you off, but maybe your input....

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Go ahead, Francis.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

If we do want an extra meeting, honestly, I don't want to say it's beyond our pay grade, but that has to be discussed with the whips. The whips will make that decision.

I noticed that the AGRI committee will be held at the same time as the finance committee next week, so again, based on the technical folks who are available, those supporting us, it always depends. If they're not available, then our committees will get cancelled, and finance, PROC and—I think there's another one—health get priority over us. That's why we're going to get these things happening based on the motion that was passed in the House.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

John, I'd like to clarify also that all the whips of different parties got together and decided that at least our committee was not going to meet on Tuesday. We didn't make that decision. We learned about it just prior to the meeting.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

No, I wasn't insinuating that you cancelled the meeting on us, Mr. Chair. I was just wondering what....

Thanks, Francis, for that explanation. We're trying to book these witnesses so far in advance. I know there's limited technology. I just wanted to know why ours was cancelled.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

John, we have no problem with seven minutes if there are two witnesses. That would allow everybody to get at least a round or two in. We're fine with that.