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

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Mr. d'Entremont, with regard to that, the whole point of the programs we've put in place is to get people through this very difficult time. There are unprecedented challenges within this sector. We're seeing fishers who have not seen this kind of market in years and years, as you know, as someone who comes from an area that relies heavily on this sector. We want to make sure that what we're putting in place is able to get us through this very difficult time so that the industry not only can come back after COVID-19 but can come back strong.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

I don't want to create two playing fields, where you have the group that got money through COVID and the group that spent all of its money to get things set up in the meantime.

I have a quick point, if I can make one. LFAs 33 and 34 have the highest lobster licensing fee, at $1,900. It would go a long way if the department were to waive or substantially waive that fee. Has that been in any discussions with DFO?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We have discussed the waiving of licence fees. What we came up with was the fish harvester grant, which they can use for a multitude of reasons. One of them would be to use the $10,000 to pay their licence fees.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

We'll now go to Mr. Hardie, please, for five minutes or less.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being here.

I wanted to get back to the issue that arose in the House of Commons today. Bill C-17 was due to come forward. It was due to handle the legislation necessary to get the support out to disabled people, but as well, there were going to be some changes to the Canada emergency wage subsidy program, especially to deal with irregularly employed people. Would that have reflected on the benefits and the support that would have been available to fishers or to the industry, the sector?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

They would not have impacted the fish harvester benefit or the fish harvester grant, but it is unfortunate, because one of the things we've heard a great deal about is that seasonal industries need support, and this bill would have given it to them. It is unfortunate that the Conservatives have stopped us from making sure that seasonal workers are getting the support they need through the wage subsidy.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Okay. We certainly have heard from everybody, and I think everybody agrees, that there's a sense of urgency to deliver supports to people who need them.

There was an offer today to split out the disabled and the other work from some of the things that the opposition found problematic, but again, that didn't receive the support in Parliament that it needed to move forward in an expeditious manner today. Are there workarounds necessary, then, for the absence of this legislation?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

The fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant were not part of this legislation. That did not require legislation on its own, so they will still go ahead. It is unfortunate, though, because many seasonal workers will be caught up in this legislation not going forward, and that will include people who did not qualify for the fish harvester benefit or the fish harvester grant.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Let's look to a brighter future, hopefully. The fishery on the east coast has been a bright spot in Canada, certainly compared with ours on the west coast, but everybody is now suffering again from the collapse of the local market and the fresh market, etc. What plans will be in place to try to restore these markets, particularly in international trade, which has also taken a real hit because of the pandemic?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I think there are a number of things there, Mr. Hardie.

First of all, we have seen the collapse of the export market since early in January. The fish and seafood sector was one of the first sectors impacted by COVID-19. We have been working to try to develop new ways of asking people to support their local industry and to make sure that people eat Canadian seafood. We Canadians don't eat enough seafood. I think everyone should be promoting that as much as possible to support our local industry. We continue to explore where markets could be developed, but of course, as you know, that's a different department.

We are looking to make sure that we have the capacity in the processing facilities to store and hold product longer. We are looking at value added. That's another big thing that's necessary. One of the industries in B.C., for example, is the oyster industry. We've spoken to one oyster producer who wants to go from a fresh product to a smoked product, because he knows that will have a longer shelf life and he'll have more of an ability to sell domestically if he does.

Those are the kinds of innovative ideas that we're supporting and looking for to make sure we can get through this very difficult time.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

We certainly have taken some steps to improve the storage capacity, but what happens to, if you like, the quality and the value of the product? Obviously, even in your fridge at home, there will be an end date on that potato salad at the back there. Beyond what point, if this pandemic continues, is even storage not really going to be helpful in maintaining incomes?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

What we've done this year is this: With the availability of the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant, we have given enterprises the ability to make a business decision based on the fact that they will still have some income. Whether they choose not to fish, whether they choose to fish less or whether they continue to fish now, at least they know they will have some income.

With regard to markets, we are seeing a bit of an increase in some of the export markets. The Asian markets are starting to open up. Some of the restaurants in the U.S. are starting to open up.

I think one of the things we also have to do is work together with the provinces and territories through the Canadian fish and seafood opportunities fund as a way of marketing fresh seafood within Canada.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

We'll now go to Mr. Bragdon, for five minutes or less.

I understand that you may be sharing your time, and that will be up to you.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to go back to our talking about the various programs that have been announced and are starting to be put in place, but that are yet to be fully accessible to the harvesters.

We've noticed that other governments, like in Australia and Britain, were able to announce and deliver support for their fish and seafood sectors as early as April 1. Why did it take so long to provide relief for the Canadian fish harvesters?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Actually, I would disagree with that statement, Mr. Bragdon. We listened very diligently. We made the announcement as quickly as possible, and now we're working to get those measures out the door.

This is building a brand new program. It's not something that you can turn around on overnight. We are working with ESDC, which is responsible for the delivery of the program, to make sure that we have everything that is needed in place.

Harvesters can rest assured that the money is there and that it's coming. Yes, they need it, and we are working to make sure that they get it as quickly as possible.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Again, and not to belabour the point, it's just that, obviously, comparable nations around the world were all faced with unprecedented circumstances and unbelievable situations arising from COVID-19, and were able to deliver that support, it seems to be, in a more efficient and timely manner.

We're hearing from the fishermen and from the harvesters that this aid is needed sooner rather than later, for sure.

Minister, as a result of the weak demands in the market right now, and as much as we need to be doing what we can on the storage side, when it comes to the need for increasing or helping demand and helping mitigate some of the damages being caused by the lessened demand as a result of COVID, does the government have any plan to promote the recovery of the fish and seafood sectors by promoting trade and increased domestic consumption?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Yes. That is what I was just talking to Mr. Hardie about.

I've been working with my provincial counterparts on the east coast, as well as on the west coast, talking about ways that we can work together to market fresh seafood within Canada and to make sure that people recognize that it is an extremely vital part of our food chain and that it is an excellent source of protein. As I said, we're working together with our provincial counterparts to do some marketing.

With regard to the international side, we are also looking at ways that we can continue to build on our export markets, knowing that right now they are not very good, but at some point they have to come back, and we'll continue to look at ways that we can market our seafood overseas as well.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Minister, on April 3, you stated that basically it was going to be up to individual areas to determine if the fishermen wanted to delay their season openings or stay on the shore. While this commitment held true for harvesters in certain areas—maybe not in other areas where they were delayed—these decisions added to some uncertainty that was faced by the sectors and the Canadians they employ.

I heard from one harvester in Tignish, Prince Edward Island, who said, “Losing our first two weeks is a massive blow. This is the period where we catch our biggest landings.” Fisheries representatives also warned that the season delays could create a surge of the harvest, causing the additional challenges for harvesters and processors that we see today.

Why was the commitment that was made to fishermen, that they would determine if there would be delays in season openings, that they would kind of lead that, broken? It got moved away from them.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Actually, Mr. Bragdon, it was not broken.

We took a number of things into consideration when it came to the delays. With regard to the gulf specifically, the four areas in the gulf, we had various requests for opening dates. The one request that was consistent though was that they all open on the same day.

Recognizing that processors were not ready because of health protocols that had to be put in place, the delay had to remain until May 15, because that was when the processors would be ready and when the majority of the harvesters wanted to go. The harvesters in those areas all said that no matter what the date was, they had to go on the same date.

It was a decision made in consultation with harvesters, the industry, stakeholders, processors and buyers. These are all things that are taken into consideration when we make these decisions.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Mr. Bragdon. Your time is up.

We'll now go to Mr. Cormier, for five minutes or less.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to follow on Mr. Bradgon's comments. That is exactly what happened.

As the minister said, the plants were not ready. Plants had to put in place safety protocols for employees, and even fishers realized that the plants were not ready. There have been cases of COVID-19, for example, in Quebec. So safety protocols had to be implemented for plant employees so that they could work in a safe environment. Several associations asked that the fishing season be delayed.

In this regard, Madam Minister, for the past four years, the presence of right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has had a significant impact on the industry and our communities, as you know. This year has not been easy so far, but I would like to thank you. Indeed, measures were relaxed again this year.

We have removed the static zone and set up dynamic zones. These measures were proposed to us by industry, by associations. We also brought in Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers. The hovercraft came into the area much earlier than usual. We also have a contract with an icebreaker that came in to open up the seaports in the region so that the season could start earlier. I thank you for that.

Nevertheless, it is not easy this year, as you know. Whales are in the Gulf. Several fishing areas are closed. In the past four years, we have always been able to adapt. We have also listened to the industry to ensure that the measures concerning right whales are adjusted from year to year, but also so that we do not lose the market in the United States, for example, and elsewhere in the world.

Madam Minister, as you know, fishers are a little frustrated with the situation at the moment. The community is suffering as well, and I would like to ask you this.

Are you prepared, as we have been doing for the past four years, to once again consider improvements to right whale protection measures so that fishers can bring their quotas ashore, but also so that the employees and communities depending on the fishery can make a living from this industry? The region is in great need of it.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Cormier.

The harvesters in your area have faced a number of challenges this year with regard to not only COVID-19 but also weather delays, ice and, of course, now the whales returning to the area.

One of the things we have done as a government and as a department over the past number of years is to address the whale measures. Every season we look at what works, what doesn't and how we can make it better. We know we need to protect the whales for a number of reasons, not only because they are an endangered species but also because doing that is extremely important for us in our agreements with the United States for export markets. We'll continue to do that.

We want to work with the industry. Its members were the ones who worked so hard with us to come up with the measures we put in place this year to protect the whales. We'll continue to do that. It's extremely important that we continue to have those conversations.

I understand there are challenges this year. I also understand they have caught close to 80% of their quota, so it is good, but I know it's challenging with the closures because of the whales.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Minister. Again, thank you for all the work you did this year with getting the coast guard here ASAP and also the third party agreement with our icebreaker ship.

Another thing I want to go back to is EI payments. I heard a Conservative member on a committee speaking about EI. All of a sudden Conservatives all want fishermen and seasonal workers to have EI, when in 2013, something I don't know if everyone remembers, the Harper government put the worst EI reform in place, and it hurt our region and our seasonal industry.

In the program we just announced, we said that we will look at EI for fishermen based on their previous year. As you know, there are deck men who also come into play, as well as other seasonal workers in the industry.

You said that EI will be based on the previous year. Also, the Prime Minister said that nobody will be left behind. My father was a deck man, and I hope we will think of those people also.

Can you please comment on that and where we are in the discussions regarding EI payments?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Sure, and I would like to make a correction. The EI for fish harvesters will be based on previous seasons, not necessarily the previous year. That is going to be beneficial to the people on the west coast, who did not have a great season last year. We want to make sure they're well covered.

The other thing is with regard to seasonal workers. As I said earlier, this is a much bigger conversation that we're having with ESDC. We need to make sure seasonal workers are covered as well, and that goes for the agriculture sector, the hospitality industry and, of course, it impacts the fish and seafood sector.

I have been in conversation with Minister Qualtrough. I know she is working very hard to address these challenges because, as I said, no one will be left behind.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

How much time do I have, Mr. Chair?