Mr. Speaker, the Green Party supports this legislation to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act. We also support additional measures to help our farmers.
As has been pointed out by many other hon. members in this place today, Canadian farmers need help. They need help to deal with the sudden disappearance of demand for their products. Tens of thousands of restaurants, cafés and diners closed their doors two months ago. Hotels and schools were emptied out. At that moment, the demand for dairy products to go into their coffees, baked goods, sandwiches and desserts evaporated.
Dairy cows do not suddenly stop producing milk when the demand for it disappears. And as dairy farmers cannot lower production quickly, they were faced with an unstoppable supply and no demand. Some milk was dumped, but instead of dumping it all, dairy producers across the country have donated hundreds of thousands of litres of excess milk to those in need. Dairy Farmers of Canada has announced that producers have committed to donate $10 million of dairy products to food banks across the country. Dairy producers have also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. I applaud them for their support feeding people in need.
The Green Party does not like to see anything wasted. We believe in the idea of a circular economy, where nothing is wasted and every product has a full life cycle, so I can say we do not like to see dairy products dumped needlessly. Dedicating more federal funds to help with the storage of butter and cheese is an important way the government can support dairy farmers and avoid wasting valuable food.
Unfortunately, the trouble for Canada's farmers and for food security in this country did not begin with the COVID-19 crisis, and it will not end when restaurants and cafés reopen.
The average age of a farmer in Canada is 55. Most aging farmers who have been surveyed report they have no succession plan for their family farms. Families that want to transfer farms between generations should be able to do so without facing a huge tax bill. This is something we can also fix.
At the same time, more and more young people are pursuing farming as an occupation. That is the good news. The bad news is that unless they grew up on a family farm and intend to take over from their parents, many young farmers have great difficulty accessing land to farm.
In British Columbia high property values are a major factor. On one hand, agricultural properties that are not protected by the agricultural land reserve are increasingly being developed for housing. On the other hand, ALR-protected farmlands that are not available for development are still too costly for young farmers to buy or lease. The unfortunate result of this situation is that agricultural lands end up sitting fallow or not being used for food production.
On Vancouver Island we have a very long growing season and one of the best climates in Canada for food production. We also have a large amount of prime agricultural land, but the number one crop being grown on Vancouver Island is hay.
Why are we not growing more food? This is a very relevant question to be asking right now. Food production has become too centralized and we are far too dependent on international supply chains. Up until the 1950s, about 85% of the food consumed on Vancouver Island was grown on Vancouver Island. Now we import 95% of the food we eat.
In the event of a serious supply chain disruption, such as an earthquake, Vancouver Island would be in a very perilous situation. We have a three-day supply of food in our stores and warehouses. We have a growing population. We need to get very serious about increasing our capacity to produce food locally.
That applies across the country. We urgently need to support efforts to relocalize food production. It is one of the most powerful actions we can take to develop resilient communities that will be able to weather the challenges of climate change in the coming decades.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many issues and weaknesses in our food production chains in this country.
Nearly a decade ago, the federal government got out of inspections of abattoirs and passed that responsibility on to the provinces. The fallout of that decision is still rippling through small farms in B.C. today. Many small regional abattoirs shut down, because it was too expensive to comply with new provincial regulations that mandated a separate, dedicated washroom and office for the inspectors when they visited.
In many cases, this just strengthened the market position of big corporate players. Now, small-scale farmers who used to get their animals processed close to home at their local abattoir have to truck their animals for hours to a large abattoir. In many cases, the large abattoirs charge more than they used to pay and have large minimum orders.
Many small-scale farmers have had to get out of raising animals for meat. Every time this happens, it hurts local food security. It increases centralization in our food production, and it also means a lower quality of life for the animals being raised.
Many small farmers have farms that resemble the farms in children's books. Large industrial farms with tens of thousands of animals being raised in close confinement have very little to do with the farms in our children's storybooks. Bigger is not always better. The move to big feedlots and bigger slaughterhouses has led to issues such as the spread of COVID-19 among the workers. This is a provincial issue. Nonetheless, it has created serious problems for farmers and for the supply chain, and it will increase food prices for consumers.
The canola trade issue with China has highlighted another problem. Concentrating agricultural production on certain export crops leaves our farmers susceptible to trade disputes and unfair trade practices. It is important that Canada continue to do its part to feed the world when so many are going hungry, but it is just as important to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have the ability to feed their own populations, and direct foreign aid can help increase the capacity in those countries to help them become more self-reliant.
As I mentioned earlier, re-localizing our food production is key. For the first time in decades, we are seeing a significant increase in the number of young people who want to be farmers. That is a trend we can support and encourage. We need to figure out what role the government can play in connecting young farmers with land that they can farm on. These kinds of arrangements require long-term thinking, because it can take years to bring a former hayfield back to food production, but it can be done and is worth doing.
Organic regenerative farming can sequester carbon. It is a key tool in the fight against climate change. We need to support organic regenerative farming. We need to increase food security with more local food production. The government should provide more local food infrastructure funding so that communities across Canada can count on locally produced food, as much as the weather in their regions will permit.
I want to give a shout-out to the Cedar Farmers Market, which opened this past weekend, and today the Island Roots Market opened outdoors for the first time this season.
Local food production enhances our food security. It lowers the carbon footprint of the food we eat. We must develop and strengthen urban growing, and farms and community garden initiatives. This has been shown to create good employment, as well as nutritious, fresh produce and fruit for people living on low incomes.
Prior to being elected, I worked for a local non-profit, Nanaimo Foodshare, and I did skills training for people with barriers to employment and people with diverse abilities. We worked with them with food. We taught them how to grow food, how to cook food and what nutritious food was all about. We got them jobs in areas of food production, working on farms, working in processing, working at grocery stores and in restaurants, and engaged them in all those aspects related to food.
I remember being in the van with a group. We were going to a farm, and a young first nations fellow said to me that he did not want to go to work on the farm that day. He was not interested in a job on a farm.
At the end of the day, after spending the day out in the open air planting, digging and working with his comrades, he told me he really wanted a job on a farm, so I got him a job on a farm. He really enjoyed it. He loved it, actually.
Other young people I work with also love working on farms. They love feeding the chickens, taking care of the animals, planting crops and watching them grow and taking care of other things. There are a lot of young people who benefit from that.
The urban farms in my community grow a lot of local produce, which goes into good food boxes that Foodshare supplies. They go to low-income families, seniors, students and people with diverse abilities, because nutrition is key to physical health, mental health and our well-being. The young people with diverse abilities who face challenges in their lives feel a sense of pride in helping other people in their communities who face challenges. They are proud to step up and help other people.
I stated earlier that the trouble for Canada's farmers regarding food security in this country did not begin with the COVID-19 crisis and will not end when restaurants and cafés reopen. The sad reality is that a very large number of restaurants and cafés will never reopen. Those closures will have a ripple effect and negatively impact suppliers such as dairy farmers. Many restaurants and cafés were operating on very thin profit margins, and in some cases, newer restaurants were operating at a loss while they worked at building clientele. Many restaurants are very dependent on tourism in the summer months. Summertime is the high season for them, a time when they can make the money that gets them through the rest of the year. The dairy industry and many other industries depend on the restaurants and hotels getting tourist business.
The tourism industry is also facing tremendous uncertainty. Tourism employs more Canadians across the country than the oil and gas sector does. The prospects for tourism operators this year are grim. Hotels, motels, tour operators and fishing charters are only a few of the businesses in my riding that might shut down forever. Again, widespread closures would negatively impact businesses that are intertwined with tourism, like restaurants and farms. We need to make sure that these businesses are supported in order for them to weather this storm and survive until next year's tourism season.
We should start thinking about marketing strategies to increase domestic tourism. Our country will have to be creative as we come out of this crisis. We will not be able to rely on foreign tourism for a while. When it is safe to do so, we will need to encourage more Canadians to rediscover the tourist destinations in their regions. This is another facet of re-localization: rediscovering all there is to appreciate about the places we call home, reconnecting with nature and our parks and reconnecting with our communities, neighbours and local farmers.
Agriculture is very important to all of us. No matter what we do, what kinds of occupations, pastimes or passions we have, as my good friend Farmer Brown likes to say, “We all eat for a living.”