Evidence of meeting #2 for COVID-19 Pandemic in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was chair.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable Minister of Health has the floor.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Chair, to help the provinces and territories with the surge of health activity during this pandemic, we increased funding by $500 million to ensure that they would be able to have the supports and services necessary across their communities. This funding is in addition to the $40 billion that we already provide to provinces and territories each year.

We're going to continue to work with provinces and territories to assess how this money is supporting them and what other supports we can provide as they adjust to the new normal with COVID.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Go ahead, Mr. Perron.

April 29th, 2020 / 1 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question has to do with agriculture.

The situation is critical. At the moment, vegetable producers have to make business decisions: should they plant vegetables or should they plant soybeans because they're afraid they won't have the labour needed to harvest them?

The government can take concrete, simple measures, including insuring crops against risks. The government needs to tell producers that they can plant their fields and that it will be there for them.

Can we get a formal commitment today?

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable minister has the floor.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Chair, I appreciate my colleague's co-operation in finding solutions. It's true that our producers are making decisions right now. That's why we are working closely with their representatives on a regular basis, I would say even every day. We are also in discussions with producers to find the best ways to help them, in addition to the mechanisms already available to them.

Let me remind you that we have invested an additional $5 billion in Farm Credit Canada. We are helping producers to bring in foreign workers by giving $1,500 per worker.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Perron, you have the floor.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I understand that we were given answers like this last week or two weeks ago, but now is the time to act. I talk to farmers every day. People in the fields need answers and firm commitments.

I'm hearing about the amount of money invested in Farm Credit Canada, but it's still debt. Farm businesses are already heavily in debt. It takes an injection of capital without increasing their debt load.

As far as foreign workers are concerned, there are plenty of other measures, but now an announcement about crop insurance is needed. There would be a way to do that permanently with the AgriStability program. An emergency fund could also be set up right away.

I'll rephrase my question: When are we going to have an announcement about this?

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable minister has the floor.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Chair, yes, there is a whole range of risk management programs, including the AgriStability program, which provides coverage for loss of income, and the crop insurance program. All these programs are administered in co-operation with the provinces. I assure you that we are working very closely with the provinces to find the best mechanisms to support our producers quickly.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Perron, you have the floor.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, there are simple things that can be done, including speeding up the processing of visa applications for foreign workers, automatically renewing the permits of workers who are already here and giving them an open permit so that they can work anywhere, and introduce a financial incentive to encourage workers to work on farms. That's what we've been talking about today in our proposal; we talked about it in the press briefing this morning.

There isn't just a sense of urgency in the fields and on our land, but also of distress. People need reassurance. We seem to forget that agricultural entrepreneurs—that's how I describe them—are the ones who are assessing the risks as we speak. If they let their vegetables rot in the field, they have no guarantee that someone will support them. If they have to let their vegetables rot in the field because they don't have the labour to harvest them, they have no guarantee that someone will support them.

We need a formal commitment. I'm not the only one saying there's an agricultural emergency: everyone says so. Dr. Charlebois of Dalhousie University says that we're losing 5% to 7% of our farms every year. Imagine the loss in the time of COVID-19. We're going to wake up in the fall, and there will be a shortfall in the markets and inflation. The time to act is now.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable minister has the floor.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-Claude Bibeau Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Chair, I want to assure my colleague that discussions and work continue day and night with industry partners, producers, processors and the provinces.

Programs already exist. I know that producers want the AgriStability program to be more generous, but it already exists. They already have access to advance payments under this program. As well, there are various provincial initiatives that have been implemented, which are 60% funded by the federal government and 40% by the provinces. Multiple initiatives have already been put in place.

I would remind you that the federal government transfers funds to the provinces, which can then enhance the wages of essential workers, including those in the food sector. In fact, that's what the Government of Quebec has done by offering a wage increase to workers in those two categories. Workers in the food sector benefit from both programs.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

I would like to remind members that they must address the chair during their questions and comments.

We will move to Mr. Angus.

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Chair, I am so proud of how Canadians have come together with incredible determination and solidarity. It's our role in Parliament to help them with what they need, because whether it was a crisis in long-term care or the fact that we didn't have the PPE for our front-line workers, Canadians weren't prepared. Canada was not prepared. We can never leave them in that position again.

I would say to the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity that it became clear within a week of COVID-19 that millions of Canadians did not have enough savings to pay their rent. What commitment is the government going to make to work with the New Democrats to ensure that Canadian workers and families are never ever again left in such a precarious financial position?

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mona Fortier Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Chair, I can tell you that since day one we have been working hard to develop an economic response plan to help all Canadians, all workers and businesses to be able to go through this pandemic. We will continue to support all Canadians so they can put food on their table and pay their bills.

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Chair, I really appreciate that answer. The question I am asking, though, is where do we go from here?

I ask because it's not the billionaires who have stepped up, but the personal support workers and the grocery store clerks and the cleaners working for 14 bucks an hour who have put themselves on the line, and there is no going back to that old normal.

What steps will we take? Is $2,000 a month the new baseline to ensure financial security for workers across this country, and will the federal government play a role in ensuring that this is the new baseline?

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mona Fortier Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Chair, our top priority since the beginning has always been the health and welfare of Canadians.

As you probably have seen, we have developed an economic response that will help Canadian workers and businesses. The Canada emergency response benefit helps Canadians across the country to pay their bills during this unprecedented time. We will continue to find other programs to support Canadians through this very difficult time.

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Chair, there is one way we could help, because families in the rural north are doing their part to flatten the curve. They are at home with their children, who are getting schooled online and working at home; yet if you're living in a rural area, you're getting hosed and fleeced by companies like Bell.

I have a family who got a bill for $650 a month. I have another family who have to drive into town to the Tim Hortons so their kids can sit in a car and do their homework.

Everybody has to step up in the age of COVID, and that includes corporations. What steps will the government take to make the telecom carriers like Bell play their part and stop fleecing rural northern families?

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Chair, first of all, as we have discussed already this afternoon, improved Internet access for Canadians in remote northern rural communities is absolutely a priority. It's been a priority of our government from before this crisis, and the member opposite is entirely right that the crisis has underscored the importance of rural broadband access for children and their parents.

When it comes to corporate responsibility in this crisis, I agree with the member opposite. We all have to do our part. I think we're seeing essential workers, many of them very poorly paid, acting heroically every day and we expect corporate Canada to step up too.

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you. I really appreciate that answer. I look forward to the next steps to make sure that corporate Canada, when it comes to rural telecom, helps out.

First nation communities are doing an enormous amount of work to protect their people from COVID-19, but in the far north where we have many communities with overcrowded homes and poor medical service, the only tool they have is the complete lockdown and shutdown of their communities.

They are keeping their communities safe, but the economic impact of that is devastating for small air carriers and airports like the one at Moosonee that service community regions like Treaty 9.

The beating of COVID-19 cannot include the loss of air service across the north from bankruptcy. Therefore, what steps will the minister take to ensure that coming out of COVID-19 our air transport into the northern indigenous communities remains strong?

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Mr. Chair, that is a very important question. We know the essential service nature of air travel into remote and indigenous communities, particularly 96 first nation communities and 50 more Inuit communities.

This is something the government has moved quite swiftly to address by assuring financial stability, funding the territories with, in the case of Yukon, $3.6 million in emergency funding for the airlines, $8.7 million for the Northwest Territories and $5 million for Nunavut.

This is something we will continue to do. With respect to first nations in fly-in communities, we are working actively to bridge that gap because we know the nature of that essential service.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mrs. Gallant.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, tests that are manufactured in Canada for COVID-19 antibodies are being exported to and approved in other G7 countries, but the government won't allow them to be used here. Why not?