I'll call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 35 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Pursuant to Standing order 81(4) and the order of reference of Thursday, February 25, 2021, the committee is undertaking its study of the main estimates 2021-22.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. Therefore, members may be attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
I'd like to take this opportunity to remind all participants to this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of the screen is not permitted.
To ensure the meeting runs smoothly, I would like to share some rules with you.
Before you speak, please wait for me to recognize you by name. If you are participating via video conference, click on the microphone to mute it. The microphones of participants in the room will, as usual, be monitored by the proceedings and verification officer.
I remind you that all comments from members and witnesses should be directed to the chair. When you do not have the floor, please mute your microphone.
With that, I would like to welcome our witness.
Madam Minister, we are pleased to welcome you today to our study of the 2021-2022 main estimates.
Also, I would like to welcome Ms. Anita Vandenbeld, MP. We also have MP Anju Dhillon.
Thank you for joining us.
I believe those are all the new ones we have, other than the minister.
We have the minister for the first hour.
Madam Minister, you have the floor for seven and a half minutes to make your statement.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am pleased to appear before your committee.
I am joined today by Mr. Chris Forbes, deputy minister, as well as the assistant deputy minister of the corporate management branch, who is therefore responsible for finance, Ms. Christine Walker. I would like to note that this will be Ms. Walker's last appearance before the committee on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, as she is leaving us shortly to join the Treasury Board Secretariat.
I thank you very much, Ms. Walker, for your excellent service.
I am also joined by Ms. Sylvie Lapointe, vice-president, policy and programs directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
I would like to begin by thanking the committee for its attention to key sector concerns, including food processing capacity, business risk management, and the contribution of the agricultural sector to the environment.
Like you, the government is showing dedication to the sector, as reflected in the 2021-2022 main estimates we are discussing today. Our investments in the sector total just over $3 billion this fiscal year alone. Over $700 million will help farmers and food processors take advantage of market opportunities. This includes our continued investment in our AgriMarketing program, which has helped our farmers increase their exports. This has been the case for Prairie oat farmers, who have achieved record sales in Japan and Mexico in recent years.
The $3-billion budgeted amount also includes $469 million for the third year of the Dairy Direct Payment Program, which compensates Canadian dairy farmers for the impacts of trade agreements with the European Union and Trans-Pacific countries. This program represents a total commitment of $1.75 billion. Producers have already received nearly half of this amount, as set out in our plan to make payments on an accelerated basis over four years.
The budget also provides more than $600 million for science and innovation, which will allow us to continue to support the work of our research clusters in areas such as safe alternatives to antibiotics, particularly as it relates to the pork sector.
The budget provides more than $1.5 billion to our enterprise risk management programs. We continue to improve our programs to ensure they meet the needs of farmers. We have removed the reference margin limit from the AgriStability program, which has been well received by the industry.
Also as you know, the federal government's offer to increase the AgriStability compensation rate to 80% is still valid.
Building on these investments, the recent budget commits to more than $800 million in new investments in the agriculture and food sector. The budget builds on agriculture measures announced under the strengthened climate plan by committing funding to help farmers scale up actions on farms in the fight against climate change.
We propose adding $200 million to the agricultural climate solutions program to put real dollars in the pockets of farmers who will launch immediate on-farm climate action, such as implementing practices to improve nitrogen management or to increase cover cropping and rotational grazing. The budget also proposes to ensure that the recently expanded agricultural clean technology program will prioritize $50 million to help farmers across Canada with grain drying through improved technology. It will allocate $10 million over two years towards powering farms with clean energy and moving them off diesel.
We know that farm employers are struggling even more to maintain their workforces because of the pandemic. We have learned lessons from last year, and the vast majority of temporary farm workers are arriving on time this year. To help workers and employers navigate the system as efficiently as possible, we now have a dedicated partner in Quebec: Dynacare. The Switch Health resources that were effected to provide support to Quebec may now be reallocated to serve other provinces.
As promised, the budget includes a commitment of $292.5 million over seven years to compensate dairy, poultry, and egg processors for the impacts of the agreements with the European Union and Trans-Pacific Rim countries. The budget also renews our commitment to provide full and fair compensation for the impacts of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA. We will work with the supply-managed sectors to determine these compensation payments.
Our government is also committed to providing no further market access for supply-managed products in future trade agreements.
Despite the significant challenges of the pandemic, our farmers delivered record exports this year and are well ahead of the pace so far in 2021. To help them post another record year, the budget commits close to $2 billion to strengthen trade corridors—highways, railways and ports. To keep the supply chain strong, we want to invest $20 million to maintain the extra CFIA inspectors in the meat plants so that we can eliminate the backlog caused by the pandemic. Also, to make sure farmers can take full advantage of the latest technologies, the budget commits an extra $1 billion to connect rural Canada to high-speed Internet.
As our significant investments in agriculture clearly demonstrate, our government shares this committee's vision of agriculture as a key driver for economic recovery and a key partner for the fight against climate change.
While there have been some challenges, the sector has responded well overall to COVID, and the outlook for the sector looks positive. According to data released by Statistics Canada yesterday, for the first quarter of 2021, farm cash receipts are already up 15.5%, and net cash income for 2020 rose by 36.5%.
The main estimates will help the sector continue to grow by taking advantage of market opportunities, strengthening its competitive edge through investments and innovation, anticipating and addressing business risk, and supporting sustainable growth.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Minister. Thank you for appearing at our committee today.
The 2021-22 budget allocated funds to extend the 14-day mandatory isolation support for the temporary foreign worker program. Nonetheless, not only is the program set to expire in August, but starting June 16, the maximum contribution amount will be reduced from $1,500 to $750 per worker. International farm workers will continue to arrive in Canada for the fall harvest even beyond August 31, and farmers will continue to incur the same costs but with only half the assistance they are used to receiving.
Your government is choosing to take away something that is extremely useful to farmers who are struggling with pandemic expenses. Ending the program in August, before the government lifts its quarantine restrictions, is unacceptable. It points to uncertainty for the future of Canada's agriculture sector and threatens our food sovereignty.
Minister, I'm wondering if you will ask your colleague, the , to amend the budget immediately to maintain this program in full until pandemic restrictions and quarantines are lifted.
Thank you for being here today.
That's the extent of my French today.
Thank you also to the department officials for being here.
Minister, you touched on it, but it would be worth expanding on because BSE, known as mad cow disease, is a progressive, fatal disease of the central nervous system of cattle. May 20, 2003, marked the beginning of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis in Canada. Markets around the world immediately closed their borders to live cattle and beef exports from Canada, including Canada's largest customers—the U.S., Mexico and Japan.
The Canadian cattle industry is extremely export-dependent, and the loss of almost all major export markets has had a devastating impact. We all witnessed the economic hardships of these beef producers due to the BSE crisis, and in July 2020, as mentioned, Canada submitted its application to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the OIE to be recognized as a negligible risk country for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It brought the industry to a new chapter.
Can you expand on what you said earlier and give us an update on the application?
As I said, this morning it's really fresh. The World Organisation for Animal Health, which we all call OIE, confirmed, among other changes to disease status, that Canada has achieved the negligible risk status for BSE, so it's very good news. It will enable us to enter into market access negotiations with foreign markets that may have more stringent conditions for animal products and by-products.
For example, Canada could seek to export meat and bone meal to the U.S., Vietnam, Mexico or Honduras. Countries that have previously refused to enter into negotiations with Canada for export of live cattle, like China, Indonesia and Malaysia, may become more willing to discuss market access with us now, so it's a good day for the beef sector.
It certainly is. Thank you.
It also fits in with the other investments we're making as a government with infrastructure and with broadband, which you mentioned previously, so thank you.
If I could switch, women remain under-represented in sections of the agriculture and agri-food sector, according to 2016 census data. In primary agriculture, 35% of farm employees were women, and 41% in food and beverage processing. In primary agriculture specifically, women remain under-represented in farm operator positions. Of all the farm operators, only 29% were women.
There are barriers that women face entering and progressing within the sector, such as balancing family, child care and business responsibilities or access to networking and mentorship opportunities, access to capital financing and gaps in skills training.
Can you tell us about the measures taken by our government to help with these under-represented groups in Canadian agriculture?
You're so right, Tim. We all know that agriculture is done on family farms in Canada, so we would expect to see as many women as men in the sector, but it's not really the case in the decision-making positions of the different associations yet.
As the first female Minister of Agriculture, I take it to heart, and I also believe that youth should be much more represented, since we want to talk about the future of the industry, so I'm trying to put in place different measures to support these under-represented groups to be more present and visible in the sector.
For example, we're working with FCC, Farm Credit Canada, and they have put in place a very remarkable program to support women entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector. It was supposed to be a $500-million program, and it turned into more than a billion-dollar program because the demand was there. That was amazing.
I've put in place the first Canadian agricultural youth council. It's obviously half women and half men, with a very great and impressive representation in term of regions and in terms of expertise. This is a very valuable council to whom my officials can turn on various subjects.
We're trying to put some other incentives in place in different programs. For example, regarding the emergency processing fund, we changed the cost sharing to make it more advantageous for youth and the under-represented groups. The other recent example is in compensation to the poultry and egg sector. The contribution that they will have to make to access the fund, if they are under 40, will be only 15% instead of 40%.
We are trying to put in place measures that make it more accessible to youth, women and under-represented groups. We have the AgriDiversity program as well to support them.
I thank the minister and the department officials for being with us today. We are very grateful to them.
Madam Minister, you seem in fine form and we are happy to see you.
Earlier, you talked about compensation and you mentioned, among other things, $292 million for the impacts of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.
Is this the full compensation, or are there other amounts to compensate processors with respect to these agreements?
I invite you to explore this avenue as the needs are there. When undertakings become more efficient, their operations obviously have less negative impact on the environment.
You mentioned temporary foreign workers earlier in the exchange with Ms. Rood, and the decrease in the $1,500 amount. You know I wanted that amount to go up, not down. Obviously, we have a different position on this issue.
My question is about people who have experienced delays because of Switch Health. This issue is central to Quebec, because Quebec is where we have had language issues and we have seen quarantines last up to 20 and 30 days.
Are you considering compensation for producers who have had seven, eight or 10 workers stop working for weeks at a time?
As always, my response will be quite transparent.
The mandatory isolation support for temporary foreign workers and the 14-day isolation period component is an emergency program developed in the same spirit as other emergency programs that have been put in place for our businesses across all sectors, such as the Canada emergency business account or the emergency wage subsidy. They are designed to help our entrepreneurs in all sectors weather the crisis, keep their heads above water and bounce back when the recovery comes.
When you compare the various sectors, the agricultural sector has weathered the crisis much better than other sectors, and this emergency program may not be essential to keep entrepreneurs' heads above water.
This is not a compensation program, but an emergency program to get them through the crisis. That's why we announced in the budget that we were going to phase out of this program, while leaving a small door open. We would be willing to reconsider if we saw that, for certain sectors or certain regions, this program was helping businesses to be viable.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome back to our committee, Minister. It's good to see you again.
First of all, I want to note that it is really great news to hear of the increase in revenue that we're seeing on farms. I think all of us can really celebrate that fact. It's great to see that this year is on pace to beat the previous year.
In light of that, I'm interested in digging down a little closer into some of the numbers, because your departmental plan doesn't yet have a result for the percentage of financially healthy farms. I think you had a target of 90%. Do you have any updates on that? Farms, in recent years, have taken on a significant amount of debt. While their gross receipts might be quite high, they also have to pay a lot of that to input costs, so the farmer, at the end of the day, is sometimes left with a very small amount.
Can you tell us a little bit about how many financially healthy farms there are, from the department's numbers?
That would be appreciated. Thank you.
My next question dovetails from the first one. It's regarding the agricultural climate solutions program. I think we, all around the table, recognize that farmers are increasingly on the front lines of climate change. It's great to see that financial resources are being made available to really recognize the key role that agriculture can play in combatting climate change.
I know that this program uses the living laboratories model, in partnership with farmers and scientists, in setting up little mini-research stations across the country.
Going forward, looking into the next decade, we've been kind of stuck in this argument over the carbon tax. I'm trying to find ways we can maybe financially reward farmers for good agricultural practices.
Minister, in your long-term vision for how Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is going to tackle this, do you see room for other types of policies in the future that will build on what the ACS is currently doing, where we can maybe reward farmers for good agricultural practices in the future, give them an incentive for following regenerative models, give them rewards for the amount of carbon they're sequestering in the soil and so on?
Anything that you can talk about in that vein would be appreciated.
You referred to the agricultural climate solutions program that was announced. We already had our living laboratories initiative, and then with the increase in the budget, in the fall economic statement, we now have $185 million to, how should I say, put in place more of those kinds of living labs across the country. In this budget, you've seen an additional $200 million—over and above the $185 million—that is directly and specifically dedicated to putting money in the pockets of the farmers who are adopting better practices to contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions or to increasing carbon sequestration.
We are designing the program right now in consultation with the industry, and the idea is really to reward those who will be adopting rotational grazing, cover cropping or nutrient management like the 4R approach. This is really what we are doing.
There will also be the reverse auction. The idea is that instead of having one seller and many buyers, there will be many sellers and one buyer—the government. The idea will be that for those farmers who will commit to protect a certain portion of their grassland, for example, or forest and make sure that these are contributing to sequestration, we will pay them for that. It's another way for us to support, to reward, those who are doing the right thing.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Greetings, Madam Minister. Thank you for being with us this afternoon.
In the budget, $1.5 billion is allocated for risk management programs. In the last few months, we have provided you with a report on building food processing capacity.
The government has proposed to the provinces that the compensation rate for producers be increased to 80%, but the provinces are not unanimous.
Why not move forward with this compensation program in co-operation with all the provinces that are willing to sign on to allow producers to benefit from the program and get what they need?
Thank you, Minister. It's good to see you.
I would like to begin with the pest management centre and its funding. The budget has cut the budget for the centre down to $8.9 million. The Canadian Horticultural Council is requesting another $5.3 million for this centre. In particular, the pesticide risk reduction program has been reduced from $1.2 million down to $200,000, resulting in the closures of Bouctouche, New Brunswick, and the Delhi station in Ontario. The testing capacity of this risk reduction program is down from 37 projects to 10 in just a year.
The result is that our competitors get access to more benign products sooner, and they take our market share. It seems like the budget had money for everybody except agriculture. Agriculture's not looking for handouts here, but we're looking for the tools to become competitive.
Why would you cut funding for research, particularly when it's a source of data for new crop protection products that are more selective and of a more benign environmental footprint?
Minister Bibeau, it's always great to have you before our committee.
Let me first take a moment to congratulate you. When I look at the fall economic statement, when I look at budget 2021, I see massive investments in the agriculture sector, of course, directly and indirectly through some of the environmental initiatives, as you've mentioned. I'm sure that's because of your hard leadership and engagement within the government cabinet. Well done.
Congratulations on BSE. That's great for our country, and that's going to matter across the country and, indeed, in my riding of Kings—Hants.
I just have one more note before I get into my questions. For example, I looked at the actual business risk management programs and some of the main estimates there. Of course, the estimates are almost double this year what they would have been previously. Of course, some of that is highlighted because of COVID-19, but again, that's because of your work and our ability to increase the reference margin limits, which I know is going to help make a difference for farmers across the board.
My first question to you, Minister, is around the wine sector. I look forward to the chance that you might come down to my riding of Kings—Hants after the pandemic. We'll have a glass of wine together.
Let's talk about the $101 million that was in the budget to support the wine sector. Can you speak to that? I would really appreciate that.
I understand that you are considering it. I would like to ask you some more questions before my time runs out.
There is a great desire to increase exports, and we agree on that. At the same time, we see the parallel threat of complaints from the U.S. We know that we're respecting the agreement, but it is something that is never ending.
There are two very important bills right now. There's Bill , which addresses that issue, and there's another one on farm succession, Bill . I would imagine that these bills are progressing well and that we can count on the government's support for farm succession, among other things.
This is an issue that is near and dear to your heart, isn't it?
I think I'm going to follow up on a question that was asked by Mr. Blois. The Cowichan region, which I represent, is a designated wine-producing region. It got that designation officially from the B.C. government. We have the vast majority of the vineyards on Vancouver Island, and I'll have to send Mr. Blois a bottle of Pinot Gris to see how it measures up with his region.
I did actually share information from budget 2021 with all of the wineries in my region, and the response I got back was that they've all seen a collapse in sales over the last year. Some of them were not able to access any of the relief programs that were offered to many small businesses.
One of the main questions I got back, Minister, had to do with this program. There is interest in this program, but they were wondering, given the difficulties that they've all experienced, why this program is beginning in fiscal year 2022 rather than right now, given the immediate needs of the sector. That was a main recurring question I got from the wineries in my region.
Why are these funds not being made available now, given the difficulties that they've just gone through?
Thank you, Mr. MacGregor.
Thank you, Madam Minister.
Unfortunately, that's all the time we have, but I really want to thank the minister for coming to our committee today.
The situation is very positive in the agriculture sector.
We wish everyone a good season. After the pandemic, I hope that everything will be fine, and we can sail in calm waters.
Thank you again for being with us, Madam Minister.
I think we're all ready to go, so we'll start our second hour.
I want to welcome the department official from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Madam Sylvie Lapointe, vice-president, policy and programs branch. Also, from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, we have Mr. Chris Forbes, deputy minister. Welcome again, Mr. Forbes, to our committee.
We also have Ms. Christine Walker, assistant deputy minister, corporate management branch. Welcome again. I believe it will be your last time at AG committee, but welcome to our committee.
I don't believe we have an opening statement, so we'll go right to our question round.
We'll start with six minutes. Ms. Rood and Mr. Steinley, I believe you're going to split your time.
Go ahead, Ms. Rood.
Thank you to the officials for appearing today.
Thank you, Ms. Walker. It will be great to have you here today, and we wish you well as you move on to your next assignment.
We've had the recent review of the Canada Grain Act, and the deadline for stakeholders to submit their suggested improvements to the act was April 30. I sent a letter to Minister Bibeau on May 13, explaining that my colleagues and I had met with some of the stakeholders and they were very frustrated and felt out of the loop on what was coming next.
I'm just wondering if you have any indication of what the plan is for the next steps in the review process and whether it includes stakeholders. Do we have an idea of a timeline for reporting the consultations publicly at this time?
My last question will be in the same vein as Ms. Rood's, talking about grain drying.
We just went through 's private member's bill talking about fuel for grain dryers. There has always been talk around the next technology, the next iteration of what we could use for grain drying. I'm from Saskatchewan. The farms are very large here, and so far natural gas is actually, by far, one of the cleanest available options for running grain dryers.
To your knowledge, is the technology ready for any other fuel, other than natural gas and propane, to run these huge grain dryers in our provinces?
Thanks for that question, Mr. Ellis.
The local food infrastructure fund was launched as part of the food policy. We've had two waves of applications so far, for both very small and mid-sized projects. I think they've been very successful. It's a very popular program.
Certainly from the applications we have received, reviewed and approved, we are taking an approach of lessons learned in terms of who the applicants are, what the success stories are and, in the outcomes we're seeing, who the beneficiaries are. I don't have any details for you right now, but I think there are a lot of positive signs. We're certainly keeping an eye on the program and looking at how we refine it. Of course, maybe I'll finish off by saying there will be future calls for proposal going forward, and we want to make sure we adapt from the learnings we've had thus far.
Thanks for the question.
The main estimates themselves don't have anything specific for the north. I would point out that we have done a few things over the last year in particular, through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the local food infrastructure fund and the emergency food security fund that we provided, including, in October 2020, $30 million for Indigenous Services Canada to support local food security as part of its indigenous community support fund.
We also, as part of last year's programming, had a surplus food rescue program. Three of the nine projects we had under that program were redirecting surplus food to indigenous communities in the Prairies, in Nova Scotia and also in Nunavut.
There's ongoing programming in our ministry, and of course, then, Mr. Ellis, there are programs through Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada, and indeed ESDC, on support for communities for poverty reduction.
I would like to thank the officials for being able to make themselves available to participate in the meeting this afternoon.
I'll talk about exports first, a topic we touched on quickly with the minister earlier.
They say they want to put a lot of emphasis on exports, on access to international markets. Of course, there will be requests from other countries eventually.
I come back, however, to the issue of reciprocity of standards and actual access to those markets.
Mr. Forbes, has any money been put into adapting, in particular, our beef production so that it can access the European market? Can you speak more to that?
Thank you to our witnesses, Mr. Forbes, Ms. Walker and Ms. Lapointe, for appearing.
As you know, our committee is also studying Bill . We did have the CFIA appear before the committee and express concerns about that bill and whether the organization would in fact have the resources to carry out the mandate that would be legislated upon it by the increase under the authority of the Health of Animals Act.
If we were in a hypothetical situation where Bill didn't exist, but the concerns that farmers have with risks to biosecurity and trespassers coming onto their property are very much prevalent.... I know some provinces have taken initiatives to address these issues. Can you tell me what policies or plans the federal department is currently engaging in to deal with those two issues, aside from what Bill C-205 is proposing?
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being with us this afternoon.
My question is for Ms. Lapointe from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Ms. Lapointe, following up on a question from one of my colleagues about introducing spent hens, you mentioned some problems with testing. You also mentioned that you have to work jointly with the Canada Border Services Agency.
What relationship do you have with CBSA?
I would like to go back to the issue of diafiltered milk. In the past, there have been major problems with this at the Canada-U.S. border. It is true that some transits were stopped, but it seems that traffic has started to flow back into Canada quite significantly.
Do you have the necessary means to counter the introduction of products that aren't illegal, but that don't comply with Canada's rules?
Of course, thank you, officials, for your expertise and your ability to answer these questions here today.
Mr. Epp talked about when we had the minister here about PMRA. I think it's an important point to raise. He seemed to suggest that Bouctouche might have been closed or that there was something to do with a research station that was closed. My understanding—perhaps this is to the deputy minister—is that it was actually closed under the last government.
Can you confirm, if you have the information, whether Bouctouche was actually closed in these main estimates, or am I somehow getting those two points confused?
My colleagues and I keep hearing from all kinds of farmers about issues with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I've heard from fruit and vegetable producers, beef and pork producers and from poultry and egg producers, and they keep telling me that with disturbing regularity and frequency inspectors from CFIA are inconsistent in their application of regulations and sometimes even capricious in their inspections.
Here's what I mean by this: We've heard producers tell us that they have seen the regulations applied in one way on one farm and quite differently during inspections on another farm in the same district, let alone in different provinces. In some instances, I've heard that CFIA inspection staff have no predetermined, scientifically backed data to support consistent delivery of these expectations across the industry.
Producers are just looking for simple fairness and consistency of application and inspection. I'm also hearing from producers that some inspectors will change without any notice how they apply the regulations and inspections, again with little regard for science and research.
I'm just wondering if you can reassure this committee and the farmers that I hear from that you will investigate how the CFIA applies these regulations and conducts inspections so that we can ensure that these inspections are done with consistency.
Thank you for that answer.
Another concern that I've had raised by farmers about the Canada Grain Act has to do with their ability to schedule sales with futures contracts for their production.
It's my understanding that in the United States agricultural commodities traders are required to report publicly to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the quantities and the prices per bushel of what they export and sell, but here in Canada, commodities traders are not required to publicly report the prices per tonne for what agricultural commodities they sell. That leaves Canadian farmers at a disadvantage as they negotiate futures contracts to sell the commodities they produce.
What it means is that, while Canadian commodities traders are getting record prices for commodities exports, many farmers are not seeing those record prices reflected in futures contracts.
I'm just wondering if there are any plans to put in place a requirement similar to that in the United States, to require agricultural commodities traders to report these publicly, both for volumes and exports, and for the prices they receive for those commodities exports.
I'll start with Mr. Forbes again. This committee put forward the processing study—or at least it was tabled in the House of Commons—and I don't know if you've had the chance to look over it directly. Of course, one of the recommendations was on the temporary foreign worker program, which is around 10% in agri-food businesses.
The Harper government, as I understand it, cut this program from what used to be 20% and brought it back down to 10%. The committee is recommending that it go up higher and did not necessarily put a number on that.
Yes, this is something that can be at the political level in terms of my own colleagues, but from the administrative level, the bureaucratic level, Mr. Forbes, is this something that you think the department is amenable to in terms of working with other departments to make this a reality?
Yes, you can look at it. I appreciate that.
One thing that I guess I'd go on record as saying is that of course we have the western live price index, which stakeholders have talked about at this committee. I understand that there are some provincial iterations like Quebec's and Ontario's. We don't have a massive beef industry in the Maritimes, but there are a number of producers that are important to their particular communities.
My understanding is that the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and perhaps the Maritime Beef Council are looking at trying to pilot some administrative work on the way that they could incorporate the Maritimes into those other indexes across the country eventually.
Is this something that you're aware of, Mr. Forbes? I know that there's a lot going on and you're running a $3-billion agency, but is this something you're aware of? Is this something for which you can at least take away my comments today about the importance of what this would mean in the region?
You mentioned, of course, that there's ongoing work around trade and engaging countries and trying to make sure that we have open markets. This is a broader question for you, Mr. Forbes. In sitting here today looking at the way of the world and particularly on the other side of the pandemic, my concern is about protectionist measures in countries, which I think in some cases—and respectfully and rightfully so—are looking at domestic capacity.
That's a good thing, but given the fact that a large proportion of our commodities is export based, is this something that is on your mind as the deputy minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and on the minds of your officials, to make sure that we have the resources and the expertise to be protecting our ability to export into these markets beyond what you're already doing?
Do we have some level of concern in the days ahead? I know that no one has a crystal ball, but can you speak to that broadly?
Thanks to all of you. That is the end of our question round.
I want to thank, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Madam Sylvie Lapointe, vice-president, policy and programs branch. Also, from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Mr. Chris Forbes, deputy minister, thank you again for coming to our committee.
As well, thank you to Ms. Christine Walker, assistant deputy minister, corporate management branch, who will now leave for the Treasury Board, I believe. We really want to wish you a good future in your new endeavour. On behalf of the committee, I wish you the best.
The officials can be excused.
I'll ask the members to stay so we can vote on the main estimates.
I believe you all have the paperwork. You pretty much know how this works, so we'll go to the different votes.
CANADIAN DAIRY COMMISSION
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$4,094,435
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
CANADIAN GRAIN COMMISSION
Vote 1—Program expenditures.......... $5,237,236
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND AGRI-FOOD
Vote 1—Operating expenditures..........$605,035,536
Vote 5—Capital expenditures..........$49,005,131
Vote 10—Grants and contributions..........$407,506,869
(Votes 1, 5 and 10 agreed to on division)
The Chair: That's the end of our vote.
Shall I table the estimates in the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: We're all in agreement, so I'll probably table it tomorrow.
With that, I thank you all.
As a final word of parting, go, Habs, go! Do I hear “on division” on that?