Speech for the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Agri Committee

Speech

June 10, 2020

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the committee once again for your hard work for the agricultural sector.

I appreciate the opportunity to join you as we look at AAFC’s Supplementary Estimates (A) for 2020-21, and to highlight the support that our Government has put in place to respond quickly so our farmers and processors have the support they need during this challenging time.

Added to the 2020-21 Main Estimates, this brings AAFC's 2020-21 Authorities to Date to approximately $2.8 billion.

Sector overview

COVID-19 caused a sudden shock to our food system.

I care deeply for our producers and food business owners and workers, who are facing the struggles caused by this pandemic.

I think particularly about our young producers and the stress this unprecedented situation has caused for them and their families.

I think about our livestock producers who are facing delays and volatile prices, about labour challenges faced by our fruit and vegetable growers, and about the loss of markets due to restaurant closures.

But there have been positive signals in the sector as well. The demand and export of grains, oilseeds and pulses has increased. We are having record months for the movement of grain by rail. Our slaughter capacity is normalizing, and helping to clear the backlog.

Support for sector

Since the pandemic began, our government continues to roll out supports as fast as possible.

For our farm families and processors, this support represents over $1.25 billion.

CEBA and cashflow

First, our Government created the Canadian Emergency Business Account, which could deliver over $2.6 billion in interest-free loans to 67,000 farmers across the country.

With the ability to access $10,000 forgivable on a $40,000 interest free loan, that can translate into $670 million in direct support to Canadian farm families.

To help producers manage their cashflows, immediately, when the pandemic hit, we deferred payments on $173 million through the Advance Payment Program.

And we increased the lending capacity of Farm Credit Canada by $5 billion, of which $4 billion has already benefited producers.

Labour and processing

Access to workers continues to be a challenge in the country. But we continue to have a significant number of temporary foreign workers arrive every week – so far representing 80% of the workers compared to last year. But a lot of work still needs to be done.

Employers are making use of our $50-million program to support them with the costs associated with the mandatory quarantine period.

We are all deeply saddened to hear about the recent passing of two temporary foreign workers in Ontario, as well as the many others who have fallen sick.

Our top priority is to keep workers safe, and we will continue to work together with employers and local health authorities.

Included in the Supplementary Estimates, the $77.5 million Emergency Processing Fund will also help food processors adjust their operations to keep their workers safe.

It also helps them maximize production capacity by modernizing or reopening their facilities. And we increased the funding to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency by $20 million to ensure the continued inspection services to keep our food safe for Canadians and our export markets.

To get more young Canadians working in the sector, we announced $9.2 million under the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program, which will fund up to 700 new positions for youth in the agriculture industry.

BRM and FPT supports

We also made improvements to the Business Risk Management programs available to producers.

Yes, there is more to be done to improve these programs, but one of my messages to farmers continues to be: these are important tools, and please make use of them.

Usually, these programs provide $1.6 billion a year in direct support to our producers. This year it could be over $2.2 billion, including potentially doubling the payout for AgriStability.

Most provinces have now signed up to increasing the interim AgriStability payments to 75%.

In Alberta, for example, the province estimates this could result in $20 per head for pork producers.

We have extended the enrollment period of AgriStability to July 3rd and we encourage producers to apply.

Canadian agricultural producers have almost $2.3 billion in their AgriInvest accounts, a self-managed producer-government savings account designed to help producers:

  • manage small income declines, and
  • make investments to manage risk and improve market income

The average producer has close to $25,000.  Horticulture producers have on average about $25,000, grains and oilseeds producers $33,000, and potato producers $93,000.

We also took leadership in announcing our commitment to the AgriRecovery initiative, committing the entire $125 million and changing the program so that producers would benefit from the federal assistance, whether the provinces chose to participate or not.

It is encouraging to see some provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, made announcements of their contribution to AgriRecovery.

Indeed, our partnerships with the provinces and territories has become even stronger during the pandemic.

We have met weekly and are partnering on meat inspection, business risk management programs and much more.

Food banks and surplus

Lastly, we have really taken the challenges of Canadians’ food security to heart.

Since the pandemic hit, we have $100 million to support our national food bank and food networks.

The supplementary estimates include $75 million, helping food aid organizations serve vulnerable Canadians during the crisis.

To give you an example, thanks to $170,000 in federal funding, the Unemployment Help Centre in Windsor, Ontario has been giving out emergency food hampers to families in need.

Yesterday, we launched the second call for proposals of the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, to help local food organizations invest in larger projects up to $250,000.

This second application intake will build on the success of our first round of projects, which have helped communities across Canada.

And, lastly, the estimates include $50 million to help local food organizations access local surplus foods to serve vulnerable Canadians.

Conclusion

We have made good progress – but there is much more to do.

Mr. Chair, I know our agriculture and agri-food sector will be a key driver of leading the economic recovery of our nation – and to continue supporting the prosperity of our rural communities and our national economy.

We will need to work together more closely than ever to help the industry get through this crisis and lead our nation on the road to recovery.

So, Mr. Chair, I would like to again thank everyone in the agri-food supply chain who are working so hard to feed Canada during this time.

They are nothing short of heroes.

Thank you.

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