Thanks very much for inviting me to appear before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food today. It's my honour and pleasure.
Bill S-227 seeks to designate the Saturday before the first Monday in August as Food Day in Canada.
As we know, food is at the heart of our homes, our communities, and our economy, and I think one positive thing that has emerged from the pandemic is that many Canadians, especially those outside of rural and agricultural communities, have become more interested in learning about where and how their food is grown.
It's important for our future generations to understand that our farmers, producers, processors and agri-food retailers work hard to produce good food. Canadians young and old need to see for themselves that our agricultural communities care about the land, the commodities they grow and animals they raise.
Having a nationally recognized Food Day in Canada can help them understand that there is so much to learn about agriculture and food production in our country and will, hopefully, increase public trust in our food supply systems. As rates of food insecurity rise, not only in Canada but around the world, I believe it's paramount that we work to support our systems and trust that it can provide us with healthy, safe and affordable food.
When we talk about local food production, we are talking about people in our everyday lives. We are talking about the farmers who grow the crops we drive by as we travel Canada, about the agri-businesses that produce the food we see on the shelves, about the restauranteurs and chefs who feed us and the vintners and brewers who produce the wine, beer and spirits that we enjoy. Local food is about much more than just what we eat; it is about Canadians.
We heard about these Canadians during the many speeches in your chamber from the members for Perth—Wellington, Wellington—Halton Hills, Guelph, Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. They all presented compelling accounts of how agriculture has impacted their communities and Canada at large. I am confident that most, if not all, parliamentarians could do so. Agriculture truly touches us all.
As you know, Canada is one of the largest producers and exporters of agricultural products in the world. In 2021, the agriculture and agri-food system employed 2.1 million people, provided one in nine jobs in Canada and generated $134.9 billion, which is approximately 6.8% of Canada's gross domestic product. Passing the Food Day in Canada act is another way that we can acknowledge the important role that agriculture and local food plays in Canada.
In fact, many provinces already celebrate local food with special days throughout the year. For example, here in Ontario, the province passed legislation to proclaim Food Day Canada in Ontario in June 2021. While provincial celebrations are wonderful, I am a firm believer that there should be one day nationally when the entire country can come together in honour of this important sector. Bill S-227 would give Canadians a reason to celebrate agriculture and agri-food from coast to coast to coast together every summer.
Some of you may recall that a previous bill, Bill C-281, which was originated in your chamber by a former member of Parliament, sought to designate the Friday before Thanksgiving each year as national local food day. While the ideas may appear very similar, and I wholeheartedly support the call to celebrate agriculture any time, Bill S-227 is based on an existing celebration that began as an industry-led initiative. I believe it's important that we involve industry as much as possible in the organization of this event. It is important, and the industry agrees that the day should fall in the summer, at the height of the growing season, as opposed to the fall, when agriculture is slowing down before the start of winter.
If established, this annual celebration would not only see Canadians join together in celebration of our food from our farms to our forks and the people who make it happen but also encourage Canadians to continue learning about our agricultural and agri-food industries. It's a chance to highlight and appreciate the diverse and nutritious food products we have access to each and every day. Agriculture and agri-food are critical industries that contribute not only to the whole of our nation, but to countries around the world.
I also want at this time pay to tribute to a great advocate: Anita Stewart, the founder of Food Day Canada. As many of you will know, the first Food Day Canada was born from Anita’s concern for beef farmers during the 2003 bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis, the BSE crisis.
Anita was a trailblazer who made a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of the Canadian food system. Her spirit and passion for Canadian cuisine from coast to coast to coast and the people who grew, harvested, and cooked it were unrivalled.
She is missed by all her knew her. Her memory lives on in the legacy of her recipes, her family and of course in Food Day Canada.
Thanks very much again for inviting me to join you today. I would also like to send my thanks to many of you and to many other members of Parliament who spoke in your chamber on Bill S-227.
I look forward to answering any questions you might have, and I look forward to hearing what our second witness has to say.
Thanks in advance for your support of celebrating Canadian food regardless of the outcome of this bill.
Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.