Madam Speaker, I am proud to be the voice for my constituents of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex and, now, the new shadow minister of agriculture and agri-food on behalf of farmers and agricultural producers. It is a tremendous honour and responsibility that I do not take lightly.
Over the past several months, we have seen our country go through a lockdown, when Canadians were asked to stay at home and keep safe, except for those who worked on the front lines. I would like to take a moment to thank all of the front-line workers and the farmers for helping us through this pandemic. Farmers stepped up to make sure that Canadians were fed, regardless of the obstacles that they faced and the minimal help that they received through the emergency response programs. How were they repaid? The word “agriculture” does not even appear in the Speech from the Throne. I had hoped that the Liberal government would use this opportunity to recognize the importance of agriculture not only in feeding Canadians but as a critical pillar of our economy.
I am disappointed to see that, once again, the agriculture sector is not a priority for the government. Agriculture should be included as a key component of Canada's economic recovery plan coming out of COVID. To be honest, I was not expecting much, but at the very least, it would have been nice to hear that it is understood that our agriculture sector had been through a lot and that the unique challenges that threatened various farmers' livelihoods must be addressed. This would have gone a long way to tell my constituents and Canada's farmers that their voices have been heard. Admittedly, an ambitious plan that is responsive to the on-the-ground concerns before they metastasized into a food security crisis would have even been better.
Contrary to Liberal beliefs, food does not just magically appear on the shelves of our grocery stores. Farmers, ranchers and producers work tirelessly to ensure that Canadians have delicious, grown and raised-in-Canada food available to them on their grocery store shelves. When the pandemic initially hit, Canadians were caught by surprise and the instinct to stock up kicked in. For some reason, toilet paper was the first product on everyone’s list, but the reassurance that farmers and food producers were up to the task of feeding Canadians and that we were not in danger of running out of food was not front of mind.
It did not take long, however, for most to recognize how fragile our way of life is. I am grateful that Canadians do not have to worry about food availability on top of everything else, but it is the government’s responsibility to be aware of and to act proactively to ensure that Canada’s food security remains unthreatened in the years to come.
When it comes to actions, the Liberal government’s track record of responding to the on-the-ground realities have a lot to be desired. There is anxiety from across the agricultural community about competitiveness, market access, reduced production and processing capacity, just to name a few. I sincerely hope that the government’s actions will finally address its accumulating concerns, because if they do not, we may no longer be able to take for granted our current level of food security.
We must ensure that our local food production remains stable in the face of uncertainty. Our domestic demand must also be able to be sustained by local production. Anything short of that would be negligent. This year, 2020, has made it abundantly clear that when times are tough, we can only truly rely on our very own made-in-Canada safety net, so why is it that the concerns and calls for action from those who feed us so often fall on the deaf ears of the government? If the government truly recognized the fragility of our food security and was serious about protecting it, we would have seen it demonstrated with actions or, at the very least, with a promising throne speech.
It is sad to say that the throne speech did not provide much evidence that there was an epiphany on the government's part. Still, I am going to remain hopeful that Canada’s food security will not stay in the government’s blind spot for much longer and that we will soon witness a determination to do better. I truly hope that is the case and I welcome every opportunity to work collaboratively with the minister and members across party lines to create conditions where farmers can earn a living knowing that their government will have their backs if external factors outside of their control threaten their livelihoods.
The first step, which I am hopeful is a common-ground issue that we can get the ball rolling on right away, is modernizing the business risk management programs. The diversity of the agriculture sector requires a more flexible solution than we currently have. The obstacles are different for different producers.
The agriculture committee completed a study on business risk management and was ready to review the report right before Parliament prorogued. The FPT ministers meeting that was scheduled for October has now been moved to November, leaving time for the agriculture committee to resume its work on this report and get it to the minister ahead of these meetings.
It is important that industry works collaboratively with all levels of government so that we can soon find long-term solutions to better manage risks and provide real stability to a sector that contributes so much to our rural communities and our economy. Likewise, I am hopeful the government will recognize the urgent need to sit down with beef and pork producers and processors and find—