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

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

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

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you again for being here, Minister.

Parliament took a shot at it this afternoon and it didn't work so well, so we're going to need to do a little bit more consensus building, I think, among our opposition colleagues to get some of these things done.

I'll be splitting my time with Mr. Cormier. He'll want to get a question in.

We really have to focus on the east coast, where there are some major processing plants, as we don't have major processing plants so much on the west coast anymore. In the work that's been done, have you noticed, Minister, whether those plants are going to have to, in the longer run, make some significant changes to their physical plant in order to maintain social distancing, to operate safely so that workers, unlike in the beef and pork sector, don't get sick?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Hardie. That's a really important question.

I will say that processors have been working very diligently to put measures in place to make sure that their workers are protected. Some of them have been very innovative in some of the things they've been doing. They've been bringing in trailers so that people can socially distance at break times. They're putting in Plexiglas between workers. These things are all going to be ongoing.

Of course, we don't know how long COVID-19 challenges will last until we have a vaccine. These are all measures that are being put in place now, but they are definitely going to be beneficial to the processing sector for the long run.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Have the processors been made aware that there's always a risk of another wave? As well, what have we heard from the provincial health authorities about the safeguards being put in place? Have there been any reported cases of COVID-19 among workers and processors?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

With regard to the provinces, I was meeting weekly with my provincial counterparts on the east coast for about the first three months. It's recently moved to biweekly. We've had a lot of good discussions about the processing sector—of course the province is responsible for that sector—and making sure they have the protocols in place.

They have been very diligently working within the industry themselves. They recognize the importance of the fish and seafood sector to our coastal communities, so they want to make sure they're doing everything they can to support them.

With regard to cases, I'm going to turn it over to the deputy here. I'm not sure if there have been any reported cases of COVID. I believe there was one in Quebec, but I might be wrong on that.

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

We don't have confirmation. I know there were suspected cases, one instance in Quebec, but I don't know if that case was actually confirmed.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

All right. Thank you for that.

We haven't talked a lot about the far north or the freshwater fisheries in the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg. What oversight have you had on those areas? What issues have you heard come up, and what has been your response?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

With regard to the freshwater inland fisheries, first of all the Canadian seafood stabilization fund is available to the Prairies as well, for inland processors. The fish harvester benefit is available to all harvesters in the country who have a valid licence, so also in Ontario. Of course, in Ontario, processors have the ability to access the RDAs, which will have programs similar to the seafood stabilization fund.

We're making sure we're addressing all of the concerns we're hearing about right across the country.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Thank you.

I'm going to turn the last minute over to Mr. Cormier, as promised.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Madam Minister, you said we need to work together. The provinces and the territories are included too. The fisheries are not only a federal jurisdiction, because the provinces have a role to play as well.

Since the beginning of this pandemic in New Brunswick, Premier Higgs, a Conservative, has been the last premier in Canada to help his fellow citizens.

When I hear the Conservative committee members also asking for employment insurance flexibility, I wonder what country they live in. We must remember that in 2013, they went ahead with the worst reform of employment insurance ever. It hurt our economy and our fishers very badly. Premier Higgs said that people in New Brunswick were living on an employment insurance system that no longer exists, one of 10 weeks' work for 42 weeks of benefits.

My question is this, Minister. Have you had discussions with the provincial fisheries minister? Did he tell you whether New Brunswick is going to put money on the table to help New Brunswick fishers at this time?

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I will say that the conversations I've had with the provincial ministers have been very beneficial. They are people I've done a lot of work with to come up with the benefits. They've been very supportive of the harvester benefits, as well as the grant and the EI changes. They recognize how important that is. I will also say, though, that it's critical that we get this out the door as quickly as possible. We know that the harvesters are in need of this money.

With regard to the provinces, one thing that was a bit of a challenge with New Brunswick was that they were not allowing temporary workers in when our processing facilities desperately needed them. That also set us back a bit. We know they made those decisions based on what they needed, but our processors desperately needed temporary foreign workers, and they were not able to get them at the very start of the pandemic.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Minister.

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

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Chair, I'm relinquishing my time to Mr. d'Entremont.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Go ahead, Mr. d'Entremont.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

Thank you so much.

Mr. Hardie, thank you for the comment that we all need to find consensus, and it does take work with all members of the House of Commons to make that happen. I do want to thank you for that comment.

Scallop fishermen are going fishing soon. Since we're all talking about our own pedigree, my father was a scallop fisherman for many years. We know that's a larger vessel, with 19 people going out fishing all at the same time.

Have any of those organizations grabbed onto some of this funding to help them physically distance on board some of these boats, which is almost impossible to do?

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I'm not sure about who has reached out specifically with regard to that.

We've put in place a number of suggestions to the provinces on how to work socially distant on a boat, because we recognize it is a challenge. There are challenges like making sure you have the same crew all the time; making sure that, if you can't physically distance, you wear a mask; and making sure that when you are on land, you're home, as opposed to being out in the community, before you go back out. These are all things that we've asked to be put in place and the province has been working on that.

I'm not sure if the deputy has any comments about the scallop fleets specifically. I'll see if he has anything to add there.

4:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

I have nothing to add to that, Minister.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

Let me expand that just a little bit from a scallop fleet to the groundfish fleet.

We're talking about smaller vessels with three people fishing on board, and now we have observers having to come on board. I know that three people who are normally from the same community, fishing on the same boat, can socially distance or at least trust one another, but they don't know where those observers are coming from.

Can you comment a little bit on that one?

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

The at-sea observer program is critical in order to have the science so that we can make the right management decisions. It's also part of an agreement we have with the United States that they are part of our processes.

We recognize that it's going to be challenging for people. We're trying to be flexible. The thing is that the harvesters, as well as the observers, have to feel that they're safe on the boat. It's a two-way street. It's not just one or the other; it's both of them. This is definitely something we'll be working on, but we recognize that we need to have those observers on the boats. It's a critical piece of science for the industry.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

I know five minutes goes by quickly here. On the elvers issue, I brought this up a couple of times in the House of Commons during question period, and I have brought this to your attention a couple of times.

The elvers restriction has been extended for another 45 days as of June 11. Can you give us a quick rundown of why it was extended again? We have some organizations that really want to get fishing.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

With regard to the elver fishery, we have to make this decision based on conservation. We were very concerned about the stocks this year. Initially, a 45-day restriction was put in place, and now it's extended because we still have concerns around the stock. We are now consulting with the industry and with indigenous communities to figure out the best way forward. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to conserve this species so that it can be fished for generations to come.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

Way back in March, I brought up the issue of marketing. As the markets collapsed, some of our products weren't able to get to where they normally go. How have these programs been able to help organizations market their product worldwide to try to get some of those markets back to normal?

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We're working on a number of different initiatives with regard to marketing, of course with provinces and territories, and we are also looking at the Canadian seafood stabilization fund. It's able to provide funding for processors who may need to remarket their products. For example, if their packaging was translated for an Asian market, they can now use this funding to rebrand their product for the French and English markets. There are funds available to help with those types of things as well.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

I have lobster tonight, so I will be eating lobster and some fresh seafood.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Good for you.