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

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Chair, how much time do I have left, since we've stopped?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Can we go back? I had asked my deputy to comment on the stamp.

3:40 p.m.

Timothy Sargent Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

I'm more than happy to do that.

Certainly, the Pacific Salmon Foundation does very good work with the money that's currently coming from the stamp. We are looking at how to increase that. This will, however, require a regulatory change, so it's not something we can do straight away. Obviously, we also have to consult with others before doing that.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Okay, great.

How much time do I have, Mr. Chair?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

You have one minute.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Okay.

The way this relates to COVID is that a ton of people are out of work right now; there's a salmon crisis happening right now, and we need to get people back to work and get people on the ground doing the important work of restoration. Also, the government did make a promise to move to closed containment. This is an opportunity for the government to create a new normal, to start with that transition to closed containment, to move the open-net fish farms to closed containment and to get people working.

Will the government look at following through on their promise to move to closed containment? This will give certainty to those people who are employed in that sector and to the sector itself. This is an opportunity to create a new normal for aquaculture and for coastal British Columbia.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Sorry, Minister, all the time was used up in the question. You could provide an answer in writing if it doesn't get asked further down the road during this meeting.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

That would be great.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

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

Go ahead, please.

June 10th, 2020 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for joining us again today.

Minister, we just want to know if the seafood stabilization fund, the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant are now all open for applications as of today.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

No, they are not. The seafood stabilization fund is about to be rolled out, probably within the next few days to a couple of weeks. The fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant, as I said, involve actually building a whole new program, and that's going to take a little bit of time. However, recognizing that, we have been working extremely hard to get it out the door as quickly as possible. We're working with ESDC.

I want to give a big shout-out to our public servants. These are extremely trying times, and they have been working around the clock to make sure we get this benefit out as quickly as possible because they know how important it is to our harvesters.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you.

When will the details of the proposed EI changes for the fishers be announced? Do you have a time frame on that?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

With regard to the EI changes, those are actually being worked on as well right now. They will be coming as soon as we have them available. We recognize that people need to know these things. That's why we're working as hard as we can to get that done as quickly as we can.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Will the changes require legislation?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

No, they will not.

Actually, I know the fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant did not require legislation. I am not 100% sure on the EI changes. I don't know if the deputy has any information that he may be able to share. I'm not sure whether EI requires a legislative change or not.

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

We would have to check with ESDC on that. We can certainly get back to the committee with that information.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

I would appreciate that. If it does require a change in legislation, we'll need Parliament to be in session for sure to be able to bring about that change. Obviously it's urgent at this point that we get the help in place that needs to be there for our seafood workers and harvesters.

What are you doing to ensure that the EI changes actually fit the needs of the fish and the seafood workers?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

The EI changes are actually going to be based on the previous season's earnings, so what they would have received up until now will be basically the same again. They will be able to qualify based on previous seasons instead of this year. That's actually a really good thing. We know that last season was a very good season for most harvesters.

With regard to British Columbia, where last season was not great, we're making sure they can look at seasons previous to that so they're better able to qualify for the EI benefits and get the biggest amount they can for it.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, the minister and her office have repeatedly given and issued assurances to the fishers and their employees that relief programs like the wage subsidy and the business account announced by the Trudeau government were available to them. We, as Conservatives, have heard from harvesters from the east coast to the west coast who cannot access these benefits. The testimony from fisheries representatives provided to the finance committee on April 8 stated that federal relief programs were not accessible by most fish and seafood sector operators and workers. Finally, on May 14, the government announced the harvester benefit and grant and admitted that these supports were necessary because harvesters had not been able to access the wage subsidy and business account that the minister had told harvesters they could access.

Minister, were the harvesters misled when you and your staff repeatedly told them they could access the emergency wage subsidy and business account?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

What we did from the start was we looked at what was necessary for the fish and seafood sector. We started out with the seafood stabilization fund.

Once the wage subsidy and the business account were announced and we had a chance to look at what the qualifications were, and recognizing that harvesters' businesses were set up differently, we moved very quickly to make sure they were not lost in a gap. We saw a whole sector that was going to be impacted, and we worked really hard and very quickly to make sure that we addressed the concerns we heard from harvesters with regard to that. This is all because their enterprises are set up very differently than most businesses are. People who live in fishing communities recognize that. People in the fish and seafood sector are the only ones who have a totally different program based on the fact that they were not able to qualify for the other benefits.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Minister, I—

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

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

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

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Minister, for joining us today and for all of your advocacy for our fishermen and fisherwomen.

Our Prime Minister announced that the government is introducing the fish harvester benefit, as our fish harvesters have unique needs. It's an industry of seasons and catches and good years and bad years, but this year it's been challenging, to say the least.

In my riding, one of the biggest issues facing our fishermen and harvesters is the lack of demand, and prices are really low. It's changed the dynamic of the local economy. It has been said that there may need to be a pivot to increased processing and a need for greater storage for longer periods of time. Can you give us an indication of what our government is doing to ensure we have the ability to store more of our catch?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Battiste.

I will say that this was one of the first things we heard about when we saw the export markets collapsing back in January or February. We knew there could be a problem, because we generally have a fresh market product. The fish and seafood sector is live lobster, and it's mussels and oysters. Making sure that the fish is fresh is what has been really important to our exports.

Recognizing that, we put into place the Canadian seafood stabilization fund, at $62.5 million. That's going to give processors the ability to increase capacity and to put in freezers and fridges so that they have storage for longer periods of time. This is going to also help the harvesters, of course, because now that things don't have to move as quickly, they're able to continue to sell their product.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you for that, Minister.

Can you give me a sense of what has been our total new investment in dollars that our government has put forward to address the challenges of COVID-19?