Good morning, colleagues. I call this meeting to order.
It is a great pleasure to see you, particularly the members who are taking part in the meeting in person. I hope you have all made good use of the break, which allowed you to spend a few weeks in your ridings.
Today's meeting deals with the supplementary estimates (C).
Welcome to the ninth meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food.
Before starting the meeting, I would like to offer a few reminders.
The meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House Order of November 25, 2021.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
I would remind all participants that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.
And the last point, I would remind the members taking part in person that they must keep in mind the Board of Internal Economy's guidelines for mask use and health protocols.
I have a few comments for our witnesses.
I recognize that we have the deputy minister and other folks here. I suspect this is not your first rodeo in front of a committee, but make sure you raise your hand and work through the chair in your interactions. Languages are available at the bottom of your screens.
It's our pleasure to have you today.
Good morning, Minister.
Welcome. It is a pleasure to have you here today.
Thank you for all your work.
You have five minutes for opening statements, and then we'll turn to questions. I pass the floor over to you, Minister.
I would like to note that the following people are taking part in the meeting virtually: Chris Forbes, Deputy Minister; Marie-Claude Guérard, Assistant Deputy Minister, Finance; and Sylvie Lapointe and Philippe Morel from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
I want to start by saying a few words about the situation in Ukraine. On March 11, I met with the G7 agriculture ministers at an extraordinary meeting attended by the Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture, Roman Leschenko.
I assured Mr. Leschenko that Canada was going to continue to support Ukraine in these difficult times. The G7 ministers also reiterated the importance of collaboration to ensure that the cross-border movement of goods is not interrupted.
We are already seeing very strong pressure on the global supply of foodstuffs and agricultural inputs, particularly fertilizer and fuel, with the resulting rapid rise in prices.
With an additional $942,000, the supplementary estimates bring our total budget for fiscal 2021‑2022 to over $3.9 billion, making it the largest in history. The department has about 5,000 employees.
Our supplementary estimates, which come to a little over $22 million, demonstrate the government's commitment to helping the sector meet the current challenges.
A little more than half of the supplementary estimates supports our $28 million investment in helping Prince Edward Island potato producers manage the surpluses resulting from the closing of the border with the United States. I am resolved to restore the trade in fresh Prince Edward Island potatoes with the United States and to support our producers.
The estimates also include $292.5 million for the Supply Management Processing Investment Fund, which I announced just under two weeks ago. This investment involves over $3 billion in total compensation payments to support producers and processors of dairy, poultry and egg products.
Since our last meeting, we have continued to make new investments to help Canadian producers strengthen their resilience for dealing with climate change. If we consider the devastating effects of the recent floods in British Columbia and the historic drought that struck western Canada, there is no doubt that we have to redouble our efforts to enable our agri-food producers to continue to feed a growing global population.
We have worked with the provinces to provide over $1 billion through the AgriRecovery program and the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements to help western producers who have suffered from drought and flooding.
Our government has committed to paying more than a half billion dollars over the next decade in our new programs to help farmers adopt sustainable practices and clean technologies. That includes the Agricultural Clean Technology Program, which helps producers everywhere in Canada invest in technologies that reduce environmental impact, such as high-efficiency grain dryers, solar panels, or precision agriculture.
There is also the On‑Farm Climate Action Fund, which is offering $200 million to help farmers combat climate change and adopt beneficial practices, such as cover cropping, fertilizer management and rotational grazing practices.
Labour is another major challenge for this sector. I'm working with governments and industry to develop an agricultural labour strategy. I'm also working with to expand pathways to permanent residence for agricultural temporary foreign workers. I will continue to dedicate myself to supporting the safe and timely arrival of temporary foreign workers this year. Last year, we welcomed a record 70,000 workers to farms across the country.
Significant challenges remain for Canada's agriculture sector. The current CP labour dispute will worsen existing pressures on our supply chain. This is a critical issue for all producers, including livestock producers. The work stoppage will have a significant impact on the importation of cattle feed from the United States, when availability is already limited following last summer's drought. There would also be a significant impact on the transport of fertilizers during the critical seed season, when world food security is destabilized by the war in Ukraine.
Both parties are still negotiating. We are urging them to work together to resolve their issues and reach a deal as quickly as possible, and we'll continue to do so. Canadians have worked together throughout the pandemic to find solutions to our collective challenges. They expect the same from such actors in our national economy. We continue to support the parties so they reach an agreement soon.
As well, CFIA continues to work with poultry producers to eliminate and prevent the spread of avian influenza in Atlantic Canada.
There are significant challenges, but I believe the long-term future is bright for our industry. FPT ministers and industry are working hard to develop the next policy framework of agriculture, to run from 2023 to 2028. Through this framework, our farmers and food processors will be able to ensure that Canada remains a world leader in sustainable food production, and we will build on recent reforms of our business risk management programs to make them more timely and equitable.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate this opportunity and I'm happy to answer your questions.
Thanks to the minister for being here. I appreciate that.
On February 1, AAFC announced $28 million for the surplus potato management program in P.E.I., to divert some of those potatoes that weren't going to be exported. However, what we've seen in the supplementaries, which we're here for today, is that only $12 million was allocated for that program.
Is the other $16 million going to be rolled over into the next fiscal year? Where is that discrepancy? Why is that not the total that was promised?
Thanks to the minister for being here. It's great to see you. I haven't had a chance to see you since you did a really great food security round table in my riding. I wanted to thank you for that. My constituents and the organizations in my riding were very grateful for that opportunity to speak directly with you.
This relates to my first question, which is a concern in my riding of Whitby and across the Durham Region. During COVID-19, we've seen an increase in food insecurity in our communities. The use of food banks, food hampers, food pantries, etc., has increased. We've done many food drives in the community to increase access to non-perishable foods. Obviously, this is a result of the global pandemic. There have been job losses and income loss, and all of that relates to people's ability to access healthy, affordable food.
In regard to this, Minister, I wanted to ask you what measures have been taken to counter this increase in food insecurity during COVID-19.
Thank you very much, Minister. I know the support given out during the COVID-19 pandemic has been really helpful for food security organizations in my community, so thank you for that.
I notice you also mentioned the B.C. floods and the extreme weather in the prairies—the drought, etc. We know that these extreme weather events have been devastating for our farmers, especially for smaller operators. I think they are even more vulnerable to being able to absorb some of the shocks that these extreme weather events cause. We've also seen how many months of work and investments can be wiped out in a matter of minutes.
It has highlighted for me the importance of the support through the business risk management programs. Can you tell us about these programs and how they've helped farmers and producers during times of crisis? Given the pattern of weather that we're seeing due to climate change, which is obviously ever more concerning, how can we ensure that these programs are sustainable in the long run? Obviously, the demand for the programs will increase.
Yes. You're so right. We had to face the drought in the west and then the floods in B.C. Farmers are the first ones to be affected by these extreme weather events.
We have our business risk management in place, and we also have the disaster financing assistance program. For B.C. we were able provide, with the province, $228 million. I understand the applications are already being made. Money is being sent to farmers. In the last year or so, we've improved the AgriStability program, which is the first safety net that farmers benefit from when they face a hard situation. We removed the reference margin limit, which put $95 million more into this program. We still hope that the prairie provinces will join and we will be able to increase the compensation rate from 70% to 80%.
I can tell you that while we are discussing the next framework agreement for 2023 to 2028, business risk management is also being discussed.
Thank you for that. That's great. I think in the next policy framework, there obviously will be questions and discussion on how those programs get reframed. Thank you for that response.
How much time do I have, Mr. Speaker...or Mr. Chair? I just promoted you to Speaker—unintentionally.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Ryan Turnbull: Congratulations.
To go back to Mr. Barlow's comments about CUSMA and the dispute resolution mechanism that's built in, is that a quick solution, in your view? My understanding is that it would be quite time-intensive and quite long. I'm not sure whether it would provide the kind of resolution in a timely fashion that we're probably looking for.
Would you agree with that, Minister?
We are committed to providing the details during the first year. It might be when the budget is announced, or in the fall economic and fiscal update. That remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, I think producers and processors can rest assured. In the case of dairy producers, they received their third payment very recently, in January and February. They already know the amount of the fourth payment, and it is agreed that the compensation payments in connection with the Canada—United States—Mexico Agreement will follow. So that guarantees them predictability.
For poultry and egg producers and for processors, funds are already available for the first two agreements, under investment programs. So they can already count on predictability. As well, that gives us more time to hold discussions and clarify the terms relating to the compensation payments resulting from the Canada—United States—Mexico Agreement.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome back, Minister. I think the last time we had you before our committee was in June of last year, so it's good to have you here.
I wanted to follow up on the line of questioning from my colleague, Mr. Barlow, regarding P.E.I. potato farmers. I met with them earlier this month and, suffice it to say, they are quite unhappy with the current situation. I'm sure you very much understand that.
On the question that he was about to ask you regarding retaliation against the Americans, if you look at the state of Idaho in particular, they're having problems with nematodes. We asked this line of questioning of your government before, when it came to China's blocking imports of Canadian canola seed. There seems to be this aversion in your government to taking that next step, following through and letting our foreign competitors know that we mean business.
Have you ever entertained the thought of bringing sanctions against American agricultural imports, to let them know that this is a two-way street and that we need to have a relationship that's based on mutual respect?
Those farmers are watching this live right now, I bet, and they need to have a strong signal about how we're going to resolve this pretty soon.
I want to change tack in my last minute and a half. In his mandate letter, the asked you to work with integrating climate risk management, which flows to our business risk management programs.
I know that in the next policy framework, this is going to be a key thing, but I want to know—because I've asked this question before—if your department has made any calculations as to what the future costs of climate disasters are going to be. You were in British Columbia recently, standing side by side with Minister Popham. That was a huge package, but how much more future tax revenue are we prepared to spend to help farmers out on this?
Is there some kind of cost accounting of the strain climate disasters are going to put on the business risk management programs in the next year, the year after that and the next decade?
On March 8, one of the largest retailers in Canada sent an email to one of the processors in my riding, saying that in the event a CP labour dispute causes service interruptions, it is their expectation that freight will continue to be delivered on time to service their stores and customers. They also said there would be no exemptions for fining due to late purchase orders as a result of any rail issues.
Well in advance of a potential lockout or strike, there were already threatening letters to our suppliers from our retailers, with no acknowledgement for additional costs.
Can you tell this group when you expect a grocery code of conduct to be in place?
I have limited time, and I want to get one more question in.
With respect to labour, I want to pick up on the comment of my colleague, Yves Perron. In your opening comments, you addressed long-term labour strategies, but 11 groups wrote to you in the fall. They asked for something before January 31. They wrote again on February 23. Again, we're dealing with the CAP issue, which was part of the study we finished back in June.
When can we expect to see some action on the emergency program, which we desperately need?
Thank you for your remarks and the time you are giving us today, Ms. Bibeau.
As we all know, the agricultural sector is very important to our economy and to Canadians' health. You therefore have a crucial role to play, Ms. Bibeau. You have numerous challenges to meet because of the COVID‑19 pandemic, geopolitical problems, and, of course, the climate crisis.
My question is about the measures being taken to combat the climate crisis and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I think Mr. MacGregor already referred to the costs of the risk management programs and these climate disasters we're seeing more frequently.
While I know you're busy dealing with a lot of the short-term crises that have to do with the situation in Prince Edward Island, which is very severe, as well as, obviously, in Ukraine, we still have that longer-term issue that we need to keep dealing with.
Could you talk a little about how the department is addressing your mandate to deal with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector to help us reach our goal by 2050?
We are investing significantly. In the last year, we have committed more than half a billion dollars on environmental measures. For example, we are extending our living labs. We're really proud of how we are taking our scientists and having them work with farmers in the field. That is showing results, and it helps inform farmers as well. We have added $165 million to this initiative.
We added $200 million for direct incentives to farmers. Actually, a few weeks ago I announced who the project managers, as I call them, will be. We have 12 partners across the country who will be intermediaries with the farmers, and they will get financial incentives for cover cropping, rotational grazing and better management of the fertilizer.
The third thing is $185 million for the clean technology program. You may remember that in our platform we committed to tripling this amount of money. A portion of this is dedicated to research and innovation. We also want to incentivize the industry to develop faster and to commercialize and scale up these good technologies. A big part of that is really to provide farmers with incentives, actually subsidies, to buy technologies that will help them reduce their emissions, for example, grain dryers, poultry barn heating and equipment for precision agriculture. That type of equipment can be purchased with subsidies. I like to say it's fifty-fifty for most farmers—for the experienced farmers, let's say—but young farmers, women and under-represented groups can get a subsidy of up to 60% through this program.
Well, farmers are taking care of the land forever—for generations—and this is what they have that's most precious. I think they get it. They are the first to be impacted by extreme weather events.
I can tell you that through the associations, they really get it. They are working hard, and I really feel that they want to be part of the solution. The challenge we have in the ag sector as compared with other sectors of the economy is that we have about 200,000 farming businesses, family farms, across the country. It is a challenge to reach out to all these farmers, to incentivize them, to get them to adopt these practices, and just to share the right information and let them know what are the best practices and what are the results of our research and everything. It is a challenge, but I can feel that the associations want to be part of the solution.
Once again, their fields are the most precious things they have, and they want to take care of them.
Minister, over the years that I've been a member of this committee, it's often been said that we need to have better representation of various departmental staff at our embassies abroad. I notice that in these supplementary estimates, there is a transfer from Global Affairs Canada to AAFC, so that we can have departmental staff located at those missions abroad.
I would like to know how this fits in with our strategic diversification goals. What countries have you selected as a short list for where the departmental staff should be going? Do you have an idea of how many staff will be involved? Finally, has the war in Ukraine changed your calculus about which countries suddenly have more importance?
Good morning, Minister. Thank you for being with us this morning.
I am going to talk about labour, particularly in the pork production sector, which, as you know, is very important in Quebec and Ontario.
One employer in my riding employs 1,200 workers, but it is currently short 300 to meet the need. The labour shortage translates into overflowing piggeries, and the farmers are seriously starting to consider euthanasia.
The percentage of hirees who can be foreign workers has been raised from 10% to 20%. At the beginning of the year, you announced that the process for integrating these workers was going to be simplified and improved. But last year, the employer I just mentioned was short 200 employees, and it is now short 300. So the situation has not improved.
What is happening in the departments? Why can the foreign workers not be brought in as quickly as possible?
Thank you for the question.
In Quebec, yes, the percentage of hirees who can be foreign workers has risen from 10% to 20%. When workers initiate the process of applying for permanent residence, they are no longer considered to be part of that percentage. So that gives us some leeway.
The problem in connection with labour will not be solved just by bringing in foreign workers. However, we do need a large number of those workers.
We are also working on other fronts, and, in particular, we are trying to attract young people through the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy in the agricultural sector. We have also committed to improving tax incentives so that seniors can keep working longer, for example.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. I very much appreciate it and all the witnesses who we're going to be talking to today.
I wanted to talk about food loss prevention. About a third of the food grown at present here is wasted. About $49 billion a year is Canada's portion. Much of the focus right now is on diverting food waste. Right now, programs are emphasizing organic waste management, so that organic waste does not end up in landfills, where it generates methane gas during decomposition.
The best way to reduce the numbers is to keep the food in the food chain in the first place, by focusing on food loss prevention rather than these more efficient ways of destroying or modifying food waste. We know that prevention creates the greatest economic social and environmental benefits. Once you reduce food loss at any point in the chain, you're automatically saving it all the way back up the chain. If we're wasting a third of the food we grow, we're automatically wasting a third of the fertilizer, a third of the fuel and a third of the land that it took to grow it.
Minister, can you share with us some of the programs and the solutions that we have and would like to implement to combat food waste?
Thank you, Mr. Lewis, and thank you, Minister.
That concludes our one-hour panel with you today. On behalf of all the committee members, I would like to thank you for your time and for your leadership. As you mentioned in your remarks, there are challenges globally, particularly with what's happening in Ukraine and elsewhere, but there are also opportunities, and we know you'll rise to the occasion. We look forward, as a committee, to continuing to support your work and helping to provide recommendations to the government.
All the best. We'll excuse you at this point. You can go enjoy your lunch.
Colleagues, we're going to break for three or four minutes. Speaking of food waste and not letting it go to waste, the clerk wanted me to remind you that we have lunch at the back. She orders this faithfully so we can have a quick bite, so please enjoy the lunch.
We'll be back in three or four minutes. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Falk.
I have just a couple of points.
Mr. Forbes, it was suggested in the room that if you are comfortable and you think it saves battery, you can shut your camera off. We're willing to make that happen. We know who you are and we trust your voice, so I will leave that to your discretion.
Mr. Falk, you had some questions on Canada summer jobs. I know MPs have the ability to help categorize priorities. In Kings—Hants I have put agriculture, and probably other colleagues have as well. That's just for your benefit.
Mr. Forbes, I see your hand. Go ahead, quickly.
Good afternoon, colleagues and Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses who are providing input into this discussion.
Many groups are under-represented in Canadian agriculture, whether they are youth, women, indigenous people or persons with disabilities.
Can the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food share what initiatives are in place to help address the key issues and barriers they often face to thriving in the sector?
I know Mr. Forbes had to step out, so this is for Madame Guérard.
I would like to thank Mr. Forbes, Ms. Lapointe, Ms. Guérard, and all the witnesses for being with us today.
Mr. Forbes, I asked the minister a question just now about funding relating to the organic standard. I mentioned that the funding had been cancelled, but instead she talked about the non-renewal of an amount that had been established before for a particular period.
Are you considering funding the review of this organic standard again in the near future?
I see that no one can give me details on this subject.
This point is important, because the fact that the standard is funded by the federal government is a way of guaranteeing our producers' credibility abroad. These are not huge amounts of money. We are starting to invest a bit all over to preserve the environment, but it seems to me there is something incongruous when it comes to the organic standard.
We spoke just now with the minister about the point when we would be able to restore trade and about the sanctions provided.
Mr. Forbes, the Prince Edward Island producers are being compensated at present. We have seen $12 million provided for that purpose.
Will that be enough? If it is found not to be enough, are you considering providing additional funds?
This money was from when there was unused money from other departments over the course of the year. We had excess demand for the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada part of the program, so we were able to step in and use that money.
There are different target groups.
I'd have to get you more detail on the specifics of how the money was broken out, but we have targets that go—per one of the previous questions—to some disadvantaged groups.
The goal is always to increase employment in the sector for youth. It's a very one-to-one relationship, right? We try to make sure there are some regional and sectoral varieties, so that it's not all concentrated in one subsector or part of the country. It's application based, so where there's demand, we will try to fill in with as much as we can provide.
We are in the process of reviewing what we heard from stakeholders. There are a range of views and interests. Obviously there are some significant views placed around outward inspection fees in general, with some feeling that this is an extra burden and some stressing the importance of it.
We've had a few other issues come up over the course of the consultation. The normal process would be that we would work through a set of options, approaches—which is what we're doing—to move forward, to see if there are ways we can respond to stakeholder feedback to modernize the act in a way that we feel will be helpful for the sector moving forward.
It's a bit early to say exactly when and how next steps will come out, but it is something, as you said, that was in the minister's mandate letter, so it will be something that we continue to work on.
We can always add 20 seconds on at a future time. I'll keep that in mention.
We're going to now turn to Mr. Barlow.
Colleagues, obviously we want to pass the estimates, or certainly call it to a vote, so we are going to go for five minutes, five minutes, two and a half minutes and two and a half minutes. That will get us to 12:50. I'm going to reserve one question for myself—I rarely do it, but I want to—and then we'll get to the voting procedures.
Mr. Barlow, you have five minutes.
What's the point of having a monitoring program to detect pests and then throwing out 20 years of data and making such an overreach, I would suggest, with the decision that was made by CFIA?
For our own government to put in a ministerial order when the United States is exporting to Mexico potatoes that are Sprout Nipped and washed.... It seems odd that the Americans are exporting the potatoes that you say are perfectly fine for the Americans when, in contrast, not only is Canada blocking those same potatoes from P.E.I., but the United States has quarantinable pests in many states, including Idaho, yet we are still importing those potatoes into Canada.
Why is there a double standard from CFIA? We are punishing perfectly safe Canadian potatoes while still importing American potatoes that have quarantinable pests.
Mr. Forbes, I'm going to continue with my examination of the minister's mandate letter.
There is a mandate here to support food producers who choose alternative pest management approaches. I am going to assume that those are approaches that do not need pest management regulatory agency approval, because we have heard from a lot of producers who are concerned with the backlog at PMRA.
I'm just wondering if you can provide our committee with a bit more information on what those alternative pest management approaches are. What does this support look like? Does this support include some of the fantastic research that's going on in Canada, in places like the University of British Columbia's experimental farm? Please give us any information you can on that particular mandate.
Thank you, Mr. Turnbull.
Colleagues, I'm just going to exercise my discretion because I have a quick question for Mr. Forbes.
Mr. Forbes, the , in her remarks, talked about the targeting of Ukrainian agriculture infrastructure in the war that's happening right now. We know that Russia and Ukraine together represent about 26% of the global wheat market. There's going to be fallout on potash and other critical supplies that are important to the agriculture industry.
Notwithstanding some of the challenges the Canadian industry has faced over the last year—we've talked about that vis-à-vis COVID and otherwise—is the department looking at different ways the government can work with industry to strengthen Canadian agriculture? Can it perhaps respond in a global way and be there as an important backstop, given everything that's happening in the world right now?
Thank you, colleagues, for indulging me in a couple of quick questions.
On behalf of the committee, to all of our witnesses and to all those who are working with CFIA and with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, we thank you for your work, and we thank you for your time here today. We permit you to leave the virtual room.
Colleagues, we're going to continue, because we have to move forward with the supplementary estimates.
Unless anyone objects, I will seek the unanimous consent of the committee to group the three different votes together under the supplementary estimates, so that we can deal with them all at one time. Can I have unanimous consent to move forward in that fashion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Do we need a recorded vote or can we perhaps say “on division”?
Some hon. members: On division.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND AGRI-FOOD
Vote 1c—Operating expenditures..........$5,669,154
Vote 5c—Capital expenditures..........$1,042,945
Vote 10c—Grants and contributions..........$12,000,000
(Votes 1c, 5c and 10c agreed to on division)
The Chair: You've made my job easy. Thanks so much. Have a great day. Take care.
The meeting is adjourned.