Evidence of meeting #9 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was harvesters.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Nancy Vohl
Timothy Sargent  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Jean-Guy Forgeron  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.)) Liberal Kenneth McDonald

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number nine of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on May 26, 2020, Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on June 1, 2020, the committee is proceeding to a briefing from the minister and the officials on the government's response to COVID-19.

Today's meeting is is taking place by video conference, of course, and the proceedings are public and are made available via the House of Commons website. So you are aware, the webcast will show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.

For the benefit of all members and also our minister and witnesses, I should remind all of you of a few rules to follow. However, since everyone here was here yesterday, except for Mr. d'Entremont, shall I skip over that part? If everybody's been on other committees, they've probably heard them many times.

Should any technical challenges arise, for example, in relation to interpretation or a problem with your audio, please advise the chair immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times as we need to ensure all members are able to participate fully.

Before we get started, can everyone click on their screen, in the top right-hand corner, and ensure they are on gallery view? With this view, you should be able to see all the participants in a grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see one another.

I would now like to welcome our witnesses who are with us again today and, of course, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. We have the same list of participants as yesterday, so can I have unanimous consent not to read out everybody's name and their position so we can get down to business?

Okay. I'll let the minister know that it's her turn for opening remarks for six minutes or less.

Go ahead when you're ready, Minister Jordan.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Chair, I believe the minister's speaking notes were circulated to all of us yesterday. We've all had a chance to go over them. If the minister would indulge us and allow us to simply go straight to questions, we may be able to get more question time in today.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Okay. I leave that up to the minister.

They're your six minutes if you so want to use them, or if you want us to advance to questioning, we can do that.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

I would like to hear from the minister.

3:05 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margarets Nova Scotia

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan LiberalMinister of Fisheries

I would like to make my statement, please.

Thanks again for the opportunity to speak to the members of this committee.

Today I am again accompanied by many officials, including my deputy minister, Tim Sargent, and Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Mario Pelletier.

I appreciate the invitation to discuss our government's commitment to help Canada's fish and seafood sector get through these unprecedented and very challenging times. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we're working hard to protect Canadians, support the harvesters and businesses and ensure families have what they need.

I would like to begin by assuring members that my department remains very much at the forefront of managing Canada's fisheries and protecting the marine environment. As this crisis unfolded, our fishery officers kept up the patrols, surveillance of the North Atlantic right whales continues and, as I indicated in my testimony before you yesterday, the remediation work at Big Bar continues to move without stopping.

Our officials have worked overtime to make sure that stakeholders across the country were being heard. We continue to navigate this crisis together, listening to advice from those who work in the fishery about when to open the various fishing seasons and how to adjust our ways of working to make sure that we continue to support commercial and recreational fishing. DFO officials and harbour authority volunteers have worked hard with provincial and territorial counterparts and other partners to ensure the health and safety of essential workers, fish harvesters and, indeed, all Canadians who use our harbours.

The Coast Guard continues its essential operations and remains hard at work every day, delivering much-needed search and rescue, ice-breaking, maritime security and environmental response.

Today I want to reassure committee members that we continue to provide essential services in our fisheries sector so that those working in our fisheries can expect to receive the support they need to safely continue feeding Canadians.

Back in January, we started to see the kind of impact COVID-19 was having on the global economy, particularly in the seafood sector, with the decline of overseas export markets. Since then, my officials and I have been talking to and working with harvesters, aquaculture producers, processors, indigenous partners, and the provinces and territories about some of the unique pressures that the sector has been facing.

As spring approached, we started to plan amidst an uncertain global market. We knew that in order to stabilize the industry as a whole, we would need to develop programs that would provide financial support to both harvesters and processors.

As you well know, the window of harvesting certain stocks is limited, so products needed to be stored longer and new markets needed to be found.

With export markets declining and domestic food supply becoming more important than ever, the industry will need to respond more to Canadian domestic consumption. With the closure of restaurants across the country, Canadians are instead looking to purchase seafood at the store and from local harvesters.

As you know, our government has delivered economic measures to help individual Canadians and businesses get through the pandemic, through the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the Canada emergency business account and a number of other tax credit measures.

We have also been working around the clock to support the Canadian fish and seafood industry adapt to a new reality, as it is the backbone of many of our coastal communities.

This has ultimately led to a significant $500-million investment to support the hard-working women and men in our fisheries. To deliver these funds, we've created the fish harvester benefit, the fish harvester grant and the Canadian seafood stabilization fund.

The fish harvester benefit will provide self-employed commercial harvesters and sharesperson crew members who cannot access the Canadian wage subsidy with up to $847.00 a week. This includes those in inshore and freshwater fisheries and fishing under indigenous commercial communal licences.

The fish harvester grant will provide a non-repayable grant of up to $10,000 to self-employed commercial harvesters who cannot access the Canada emergency business account. Along with the benefit, these funds can be used to cover the costs of running a fishing business, including increasing costs due to health and safety requirements. We're working to ensure that harvesters can receive these supports this summer.

The $62.5-million Canadian seafood stabilization fund is invested directly into the marine processing sector to help tackle a number of challenges and to help plants adapt to market changes and the new ways of working. Processors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts can tap into the funds to increase their storage capacity, allowing them to buy more from harvesters and aquaculture operators. The funding can also be used to help with rebranding and marketing efforts, to make changes to manufacturing and automated technologies and to offset the cost of implementing health and safety measures.

While these new programs take into account the unique operational structures of the industry, we know that this season will definitely be a challenge. That's why we're proposing changes to the fish harvester employment insurance system, which will allow harvesters and sharespeople to file EI claims based on previous seasons' earnings. The industry went into this pandemic strong, but we know this year is going to be like unlike anything we've ever seen before.

Tens of thousands of Canadians were counting on this fishing season for employment, revenue and food. By investing over half a billion dollars in the seafood sector, our goal is not only to ensure that workers get the financial support they need right now, but that the industry as a whole is placed in a strong position for recovery.

As we continue to move forward in the face of so much global uncertainty, I am confident that we will continue to serve Canadians under these very difficult circumstances. I am now happy to take your questions.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Minister.

Before we begin questions, I want to welcome Mr. d'Entremont to the committee today. He's replacing his colleague Mr. Calkins, from the riding of West Nova, in Nova Scotia.

Welcome to the committee, sir.

Now to Mr. Arnold, for six minutes or less, when you're ready, sir.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here.

Early in the process, fish harvesters and processors and provincial governments repeatedly asked for guidance from the federal government in their efforts to make their workplaces safe for Canadians. Time and again, these requests for guidance were ignored and the federal government didn't provide any guidance. This created uncertainty and delays across our fish and seafood sectors.

Yes, the provinces have a responsibility for workplace safety, but they wanted federal guidance with regard to the unprecedented threats of COVID-19.

Last week, the committee heard that the Coast Guard started developing onboard safety protocols for all vessels and bases in February, as soon as they heard that the COVID-19 crisis was coming.

Minister, why did you refuse to provide workplace safety guidance such as the protocols that the Coast Guard has in hand for vessels of all sizes, or the protocols that the CFIA has provided for meat-processing plants?

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

With regard to making sure safety protocols were put in place for processors, as you know, this is provincial jurisdiction. However, having said that, I met regularly with my provincial counterparts on the east and the west coasts to talk to them about measures, and we had regular weekly meetings to discuss what needed to be done in processing facilities.

We recognized that the CFIA had a role to play, as did the provincial government. We were there for them to make sure that the processing facilities were able to put protocols in place. We actually had to delay some seasons to make sure they could meet the protocols that were required.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Chair, I neglected to recognize that I will be splitting my six minutes equally with Madam Gill, as per a previous agreement.

Minister, why have you repeatedly placed the needs of the processors, by providing programs and protocols to them, ahead of the needs of harvesters and the Canadians they employ?

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I very strongly disagree with that statement. Since the very beginning, we have been working with processors and harvesters to make sure they have what they need to be safe on the water and have what they need to have a successful season.

We worked with processors to develop the programs they needed through the Canadian seafood stabilization fund, and we worked with harvesters and a number of different organizations on the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant.

We're continuing to work with stakeholders across the industry to make sure we're addressing the needs of the seafood sector this year.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Mr Chair. I'll pass the remaining time to Madam Gill.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

When you're ready, Madam Gill, go ahead.

June 10th, 2020 / 3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank everyone here, including Minister Jordan.

Thank you for being with us and for agreeing to answer our questions.

People are worried—

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, but I'm not getting interpretation.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Madam Gill, there is no interpretation. Are you on the French channel?

Go ahead.

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

I wanted to thank you, Ms. Jordan, and all those from the department who are here today to answer our questions.

First of all, I would like to talk about the benefits and grants available to the fishing industry. People are worried right now because fishing seasons are ending as we speak. They would like to know when they will have access to the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant. Could we have a more exact date?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We have worked very hard to make sure that we have the benefits in place that harvesters require. For the fish harvester benefit, we recognized right from the start that many fishing enterprises did not qualify for the measures we had already put in place. There was a gap, and that is why we introduced the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant.

We are now working to get those programs out the door, recognizing the urgency of this, because the seasons are ending in some areas. I think harvesters have the security of knowing that those benefits are coming.

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

As I understand it, Minister, no date has been set. I hope that your department will be able to move very quickly, because some have already received the CERB and other sectors are receiving support. In the meantime, various people in the fishing industry are telling me that they are being left out.

In fact, they often ask me why the decision was made to develop the programs you worked on to fill gaps in the government's offering when the fisheries sector could simply have been included in the various subsidy programs, such as the Canada emergency wage subsidy or the Canada emergency business account.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

The challenge with including the fish and seafood sectors in the programs that were already existing was that they did not qualify, based on the way their systems are set up. Based on the way their enterprises were set up as businesses, they did not include family members, although now they do. They are seasonal, so they make all of their money in a very short period of time. They do not have the same ability to look back on previous months, because their season hasn't even opened. There were specific challenges for owner-operators as well.

We wanted to make sure that we dealt directly with the industry and met its needs directly, because it was falling through the cracks. That is exactly what we did.

We are now working diligently with ESDC to make sure these programs are being put in place as quickly as possible. We know that the industry requires them.

Harvesters are having a very difficult year this year, and we know there are significant challenges in export markets, but we know the measures we are putting in place are going to benefit the entire industry, because they will continue to allow fish harvesters to survive this season.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

We'll now go on to Mr. Cormier, please, for six minutes or less.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Good afternoon, Madam Minister. Thank you and the officials with you for being with us today.

First, I would like to commend you for your work, but also for your efforts to speak in French. It is worth mentioning. Your French is very good. I hope that our upcoming discussions will be held in that language.

My questions are about the new $470-million program. It is one of the largest investments in the fishing industry in the past 20 years.

Fishers are worried about this season, so I would like you to tell us more about the programs announced and the threshold of a 75% loss in revenue. Could you also tell us about employment insurance? It has been said that fishers could be eligible for it and that it could be based on the employment insurance benefits they received in previous years.

Can you explain these programs in more detail to reassure our fishers and show them that we are thinking of them and that we will help them through the difficult times they are experiencing right now?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Cormier. Also, thank you for all of the work you've done in your riding to make sure your harvesters' and processors' voices are heard.

We have put three specific programs in place: the fish harvester benefit, the fish harvester grant and the Canadian seafood stabilization fund.

The fish harvester benefit is going to provide up to $847 per week for owner-operators as well as share crew. Recognizing that they did not qualify for the wage subsidy and they treat their crews differently with regard to a share as opposed to a wage, we wanted to make sure that these people were captured.

The grant is for up to $10,000. That is a non-repayable amount of money that can be given to harvesters to help with their overhead costs this year for things like bait, insurance and licence fees. These are all things that we know have costs. They are not not going to have quite as lucrative a season this year, based on what we're seeing with our export markets.

Finally, there is the seafood stabilization fund. That was a $62.5-million fund that we put in place for processors to put safety protocols in place. Of course, it's backdated to March, so for anything that they have done they will be able to qualify. It's to put safety measures in place, as well as retool their facilities and do value added to make sure they have the capacity to store. Right now, as you know, we're primarily a fresh market exporter. Having an ability to have fridges and freezers was something we heard a lot about, and we wanted to make sure that we were there for them.

These measures are going to be put through the regional development agencies, but I will say that this would not have been possible without all the input we got from so many great people across the industry, such as people in your riding, for example, and the Maritime Fishermen's Union, the crabbers associations, the harvesters and the processors. We've worked very diligently with all of them to make sure we have the measures in place that they require to get through this very difficult season.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Minister, for those comments. Yes, fishing associations, fishermen and all in the industry of course play a key role in these measures. I know that you consult with them. We consult with them. I thank you for that.

There is one other thing I want you to comment on, maybe just to clarify. As you know, my father was a fisherman all his life, and now my cousin is taking part in this business. A lot of comments I have received are from new entrants in the fishing business. For example, because they don't have any revenue to compare to last year, they are scared that they may not be able to qualify for the 75% wage subsidy. Could you talk about this a bit?

I know that you've received a lot of asks from different associations. Will they be able to qualify under this program or maybe other programs that they are not aware of? I know that the CBDCs and ACOA, for example, can help them, but are you able to say “we listened to this and we're going to provide some help for them”?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

This is something that I have heard from a number of people and from new entrants into the fishing sector. We know that this is an expensive venture to get into. Right now, they do not qualify for the fish harvester benefit or the fish harvester grant, based on the fact that it's based on previous seasons' earnings specifically.

As the Prime Minister has said many times, nobody will be left behind. We'll continue to look at ways that we can support all people right across the country.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Madam Minister.

I would like to talk about something else.

As I told your officials last week, fishing fleets head out to sea right outside my home. They include lobster and crab fishers. Unfortunately, the shrimper fleet has not yet gone out to sea this year. I know that you had a telephone conversation with them last week.

Today, agreements have been reached in Quebec. The shrimpers may be able to go out to sea, but if fishing does not go ahead in our area, I hope specific programs will be in place for our shrimpers.

Could you tell us about the shrimp issue in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but also in other parts of the Atlantic provinces?