Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon.
I am Kathleen Sullivan, CEO of Food and Beverage Canada. We are a national trade association that represents Canadian food and beverage manufacturers. Across Canada there are almost 8,000 food and beverage manufacturing establishments. The vast majority, as I'm sure you well know, are small and mid-sized businesses. These companies play a critical role in transforming Canada's agricultural products into food for Canadians and for our trading partners.
A strong and vibrant food-processing sector is critical to support primary agriculture, to ensure local food security and to ensure Canada's food sovereignty. The past few years have been unprecedented in this sector. Critical labour shortages, disruptions in global and domestic supply chains, historic price inflation, climate emergencies, natural disasters, transportation infrastructure disruptions and many other events have placed inordinate and, most importantly, destabilizing pressure on Canada's food system.
While food manufacturers should be looking towards recovery and growth, they are instead contemplating consolidation and contraction. Critical to the future of Canada's food system is ensuring that we strengthen the foundational elements that are required to support and stabilize this sector. Without a strong foundation, economic growth and expansion will not be possible.
Today I will very briefly focus on three critical foundational issues: labour, supply chains and infrastructure.
The first is labour. Labour remains the most serious issue facing Canada's food and beverage manufacturers. I think over the past year we've had a chance to talk to almost all of you about this. Today we estimate that the sector is still short about 20% of its workforce, a situation that of course was exacerbated during the pandemic. It has worsened, and we expect it will worsen over time.
Manufacturers are struggling to attract workers from a limited and shrinking labour pool. Chronic labour shortages and serious skill gaps undermine our ability to maintain current levels of food production, threatening local food security and weakening our future economic development and trade growth.
With funding from the future skills centre, my organization, along with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, is now leading the development of a workforce strategic plan for agriculture and food and beverage manufacturing. This is an industry-led initiative, with participation from over 100 stakeholders. It is identifying the root causes of our labour shortages and our skills gaps, identifying concrete actions to address these shortfalls and setting meaningful goals and timelines to measure progress and resolve the issues. We strongly encourage the federal government to continue supporting this work.
We also encourage the federal government to continue making improvements to Canada's temporary foreign worker and immigration systems. Foreign workers will be critical to addressing labour issues in the short and medium term. In April, the federal government announced very welcome changes to the TFW program to provide short-term relief for labour force challenges. We encourage the government to continue improving access to foreign workers by simplifying the TFW program, by introducing a trusted employer model, as announced in budget 2022, and by establishing programs to secure workers for permanent and year-round jobs.
I will just take a moment to comment on yesterday's announcement about the immigration targets for the next three years. These are very welcome, but unfortunately even with greater numbers of people coming into the country, the current immigration streams do not always support the workers we would be looking to have enter our industry, so we will have to work on that as well.
Finally, I want to talk jointly about supply chains and infrastructure. The federal government has designated food and beverage manufacturing, along with the entire food supply chain, as critical infrastructure. Despite this, in truth, few measures are in place to insulate Canada's food system from external pressures. The challenge of maintaining Canada's food infrastructure and supply chains falls largely to industry itself, a challenge that is complicated by the size and scope of industry, by the lack of policy coordination across different government jurisdictions, by the global nature of supply chains themselves and by the fact that virtually all of the enterprises that exist along the food supply chain are private enterprises, many of which are publicly traded and each of which has its own independent objectives and governance structure.
We very much welcome the report of the national supply chain task force released in October and encourage the federal government to implement those recommendations.
We also recommend the federal government adopt measures to ensure a consistent and coordinated approach to support supply chain resilience for Canada's food system. This could include, for example, investing in ongoing monitoring and intelligence gathering related to global and Canadian supply chains that is shared with industry, and investing in measures to buffer the food system from external shocks and to support food supply chain resilience, starting with a critical assessment of key risk factors and vulnerabilities along the food supply chain.