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

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We know that pretty much everybody in the fish and seafood sector is having a difficult season this year, and the shrimpers are no exception. There have been some challenges there for them with coming to an agreement on a price with processors, as well as, of course, a glut on the market left over from last year.

There are a number of programs that the shrimp industry already does qualify for. They will qualify for the fish harvester benefit or the wage subsidy, depending on how their business is structured. They will qualify for the CEBA or for the fish harvesters grant—once again, depending on how their business is structured.

One of the things I also wanted to mention is that we're going to be instituting changes to fishers EI, and that's going to be something that's going to help carry a number of harvesters through the next year until we get through COVID-19. As most of you would know, fishers EI is structured differently from regular EI. It's based on your catch, as opposed to the amount of hours you work. What we have said—

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Minister. That's all the time that's permitted.

We'll now go to Madam Gill, please, for six minutes or less.

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to come back to families.

The minister said that family businesses were not excluded from the various types of government assistance. However, I have confirmation in my constituency that, given certain rules, some people are.

Could you tell me more about it and perhaps confirm that information about the March 15 date? For seasonal businesses, it is difficult to say who is coming back to work before they go fishing. So people are not hired at that time.

Can these individuals not slip through the net, as you so aptly put it?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We structured the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant because we recognize that many fishing enterprises are family businesses and we wanted to make sure that they were captured within those grants, whereas they would not have been under the wage subsidy or the business account. We wanted to make sure because many fishing vessels are generational. We wanted to make sure they were captured, so they are, within the harvester benefit and the harvester grant.

On the other thing you mentioned with regard to the seasons, what's really important here, as I started to mention to Mr. Cormier, is that we will be structuring EI so that fishers EI benefits will be based on previous seasons, not on this year's catch. We want to make sure that we're looking after people. I know that people were very concerned because of the shorter seasons in some cases and because of the delay in seasons in some cases, and because of the poor markets. The EI benefit is going to help a lot of people make sure that they're covered for the coming year.

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

So at the moment, there are people in family businesses or worker cooperatives who are not covered for the dates we talked about.

You brought up employment insurance. It is also very important to people in eastern Quebec, since separate changes are being announced for fisher helpers, a certain category of workers in the fishing industry.

However, there are also seasonal workers in the processing industry. There are also people who do not have access to employment insurance, people who do not know if they will be able to accumulate enough hours to qualify and receive benefits, people who believe that their year will be a complete black hole, that they will have absolutely nothing to survive on, except perhaps with an extension of the CERB. However, that would not put food on their tables for the whole year.

Have you made plans to do anything for these individuals faced with having absolutely nothing, either now, or as soon as their CERB ends?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

This is a conversation that we continue to have right across the country, because although it affects processors and seasonal workers in the fish and seafood sector, it's affecting seasonal workers right across in the country, in the tourism sector, in the agriculture sector.

I have had many conversations with my counterpart at ESDC, Minister Qualtrough. We are working to address the gaps we're seeing for seasonal workers and making sure that the ones who do not have access to EI have some coverage.

We'll continue to work on that program with her. I know that seasonal workers are very concerned about making sure they have enough hours to qualify to make sure they have an EI cheque at the end of the season.

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

I hope that, despite the seasonal nature of their work, these individuals will not be penalized, that is to say they will be able to receive these benefits. I really hope that the changes to the program will make it possible. These individuals do not have an employment relationship for a certain period of the year. That is kind of what I was talking about earlier when I mentioned family businesses where that employment relationship is not there.

Can you confirm that those who have not been employed for a certain period of the year will be able to receive support? Ultimately, it is they who return year after year to work in these companies.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We're continuing to work to make sure we're addressing the gaps we're seeing in the system. We have already made sure that the emergency response benefit is available now to seasonal workers, where it wasn't initially. We're continuing to assess programs as we go forward to make sure that anyone falling through the cracks is covered.

We will continue to work with our stakeholder groups and with industry, making sure we're hearing from a number of different people to address their concerns and that people are looked after in this very, very difficult time.

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Thank you.

Whether it is here, in Quebec, or in eastern Canada, it is a sensitive subject. We are talking about workers and businesses, but we should also talk about entire communities that rely on these industries. We are also talking about land use, and I hope that these individuals will be supported so that the communities can survive here at home.

I do not have a lot of time, but I would like to talk about something else. Maybe we will have time to do it later. I would have liked to talk about the health issue.

I would like to know why the at-sea observer program was not automatically suspended at the beginning of the crisis.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We initially suspended the at-sea observer program for 45 days, until people were able to get safety protocols in place.

This program is extremely important. We make our decisions based on science, and that science is critical. We absolutely have to collect it. It's part of a number of agreements that we have. We have to have the at-sea observer program.

We are working with communities. We are trying to be flexible to make sure that safety measures are in place, both for the harvesters and the observers. They both have to be happy with the situation before they will get on vessels.

However, we definitely need to have this program in place in order to maintain the science that drives our decision-making process.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Minister.

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

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here again today.

First I want to thank you for the important relief benefits that you've announced for fishers and fish harvesters.

When can fishers and fish harvesters expect money to start flowing through the harvester benefit and the harvester grant?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Johns.

We recognized right from the start that this was going to be a critical piece for harvesters: making sure they have what they need. We are working diligently around the clock to get this out as quickly as possible, recognizing how important it is to harvesters.

It is a brand new program, so it has to be built from the ground up. As you can imagine, it's not just a matter of writing a cheque to everybody.

We're continuing to work with ESDC and Finance to make sure we can get this out as quickly as we can.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

I'm just relaying concerns about how quickly they need that. As you can imagine, everybody is under so much pressure.

Can you talk about new entrants and young fishers? What are you doing for them? Do you have any programs that you're going to announce to support them? Right now, they don't qualify for almost any of these programs.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

As I said to Mr. Cormier earlier, I have heard that concern from a number of new entrants.

There are a number of programs available to people who need help. We are continuing to look at how we can address issues. The Prime Minister has said on many occasions that nobody is going to be left behind.

Right now, they do not qualify for the fish harvester benefit or grant because they are based on previous seasons' earnings. We will continue to look at ways that they can be supported.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

I'm going to circle back to something. Yesterday we were talking about restoration and habitat protection and how important they are. I'll give you an example.

There's a project in my riding, and I've talked to you about it, called Kus-kus-sum. It's a project with the City of Courtenay and the K'ómoks First Nation. Local community groups have raised $1 million in the community and the province has put forward $1 million. They need $3 million to buy this brown field, a former mill site, to restore the area to its natural habitat for salmon protection.

This is one of the most important projects on Vancouver Island, but this group is being told there is no program at the DFO to help them and that they should go to ISC, and then ISC is telling them to go to ECCC. They're getting bounced around, yet the government can find an extra $35 million for the Big Bar landslide, which we support and has to happen.

What we don't support is that the Liberals can find $17 billion for a pipeline but can't find a million dollars to save this project. The deadline to buy this property was supposed to be the end of the month, but instead it's been moved to the end of August. We're looking at losing a really important project, not just for salmon but for reconciliation.

Minister, what are you going to do to fix the gaps in your programs so that we don't let projects like this fall apart? The province is going to end up getting its million dollars back. It has vetted it. It knows it's a good project.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Mr. Johns, we've had this discussion before. It's important to recognize that the DFO does have a suite of programs, but this does not fall into them. We have had a conversation with regard to being involved with Environment and Climate Change Canada on this.

We are looking at ways to support it, but the DFO does not have the ability to buy a piece of land. We've had a conversation about this. This is something that we can continue to look at, but at this point there are no programs available for this specific project.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

I'd say that's extremely disappointing, because the salmon are going to lose and reconciliation is going to lose. That property will end up being put on the market instead of saving salmon. Right now we're in a salmon crisis. That's the most important restoration project on Vancouver Island.

We talked about the salmon conservation stamp. We've asked the government to look at it. Right now it costs $6 and generates a million and a half dollars a year. There has been an ask to raise the salmon stamp fee. Certainly the NDP doesn't typically support user fees, but in light of the situation with our salmon, they would go straight to projects to help with restoration.

Will the minister consider raising the salmon stamp fee so that community organizations can get the support they need to continue to do the great work that they're doing?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We continue to work with a number of organizations through a variety of means to make sure that we're addressing the concerns they have with regard to habitat restoration of the wild Pacific salmon stock.

I will take this on to see if there is anything we can do. I'll turn to my deputy to see if there's anything he can add here.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order. It may only be a question of clarification.

I would like to know if this meeting with the minister was supposed to have been exclusively about COVID-19. That is what I assumed, at least. I have the impression that we are discussing other issues unrelated to the COVID-19 crisis.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

I hope I don't lose time for that. I'm happy to clarify that, because it is directly related to COVID.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

I do not think it is a waste of time. I just want to know. If we make rules together, I would like them to be followed.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

I'll refer to the clerk, just to see if it's relevant or if we're supposed to be strictly on COVID-19.

Nancy.

3:35 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Ms. Nancy Vohl

The minister was invited for COVID. Normally the members ask questions related to the study. However, if the members ask questions outside the scope of the study and the minister wants to answer them, she can.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Thank you.