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View John Barlow Profile
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-13 15:11 [p.2285]
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauce.
It is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-16. I know we are all going to be supporting this bill today, and that goes to show we are supporting Canada's agriculture sector. However, there are some issues with how this was brought about and it highlights many of the issues we have been trying to shine a light on with the government's approach to agriculture as a whole and the industry within Canada.
What is being proposed today, which I feel will be supported by all the parties in this House, is, again, additional loan capacity. It is not an injection of funds or a program that would give liquidity to the agriculture sector as a whole.
I did ask the minister if this was a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or if it was more a response to what Canada's dairy sector will be facing as a result of the increased imports that will be coming from the United States as part of the USMCA.
The minister said in her response that the Canadian Dairy Commission had the loan capacity and the line of credit to deal with the COVID pandemic when it was at its peak, when restaurants and schools were closed, and many of the traditional customers of Canada's dairy producers were closing their doors and were temporarily on lockdown. As a result of those closures, many of our producers, especially in eastern Canada, had to dump millions of litres of milk, which is not something that any Canadian wants to see.
It was certainly good to see Canadians from across the country step up and do everything they could to help our producers, whether they were food banks, schools, or anyone who was willing to take their product and then donate it to those who had a use for it.
However, what that response says to me is that this is more a response to what will happen with the USMCA. The dairy industry in Canada is going to be taking a hit as a result of that.
We have given up a great deal of our trade sovereignty in signing that USMCA. Not only will it increase imports of American dairy products, but it will also limit Canadian dairy producers' opportunities to access foreign markets and it will limit the growth of certain products that are produced right here in Canada.
The other issue that comes to mind is how long it took for the Liberal government to address a problem that was highlighted very early on in Canada's agriculture sector. That has been an ongoing issue with the current government.
Let us take a step back to what was announced last week with the agriculture assistance package of about $250 million. To put that in perspective, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture asked for $2.6 billion as the amount needed to be a tangible relief for Canadian agriculture.
When that announcement came out to be less than 10% of what is deemed by the industry, by producers, food processors, our ranchers and farm families as what is needed for them to be able to keep their heads above water during this pandemic, it was extremely frustrating for our producers.
Let us put that in perspective. This is $250 million to Canadian agriculture, when the President of the United States has given $19 billion. That is putting our industry at a considerable competitive disadvantage.
We look at all the other programs that have been announced for Canadian businesses, and Canadian agriculture is getting a fraction of that. It is extremely difficult when the Prime Minister is saying, time and again, that Canadian agriculture is an essential service and that it is a critical pillar of our food security and of our economy. To say that in one breath, and then not offer the resources the people in that sector need to be successful, does not make a lot of sense. We are seeing the clear frustration of Canadian farmers, producers and food processors who have voiced their displeasure and frustration over the past week since the announcement from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Even today, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has said that there are business risk management programs in place that agriculture can access. Those business risk management programs were never designed to deal with a pandemic like COVID-19. They were designed to deal with other variables that impact various sectors of agriculture, certainly not a global pandemic. She talks about the $1.6 billion in AgriStability, so let us use AgriStability as an example. Less than 35% of farmers have actually subscribed to AgriStability, because it is not efficient and it is not timely. They may not see a payment for months or even years down the road. By that time they could be bankrupt.
Let us take a look at AgriInvest. She said there is another billion dollars in AgriInvest, but producers have asked who has that money, where is it, and who has access to it. In many cases those dollars have already been spent, or they are being put aside for transition to the next generation.
In no other program, such as CEBA, for example, has the government told small business owners to drain their bank account before they can have access to or qualify for the emergency business account. However, that is exactly what the Minister of Agriculture is asking farmers to do.
Many of these farmers have maybe $5,000 or $10,000 in their AgriInvest account. It is not a huge amount of money we are talking about here, but the Minister of Agriculture is telling those producers they had better drain their savings accounts, and then maybe the government will look at other programs that may be of assistance to them. The government is not asking that of any other sector in Canada's economy, and it is not fair.
The ramifications of that are quite profound. Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, one of the Canadian experts on food security, has said 15% of Canadian farms are in jeopardy of going bankrupt if there is no federal assistance. That is 30,000 family farms in jeopardy. That is a huge number, and we cannot possibly fathom the impact that will have on our rural economies.
More important, what impact is that going to have on Canada's food security? What kind of impact is that going to have on the price of groceries on the store shelves?
I know that for many of us in this room, never in our lifetime have we gone to a grocery store and seen empty shelves, until now. I am hopeful that as a result of this Canadians across the country now have a much better appreciation of where their food comes from, who makes it, how we do it and why we do it.
Every single day we are asking Canadians across the country to stay home, to protect themselves and stay healthy. At the same time, because they are deemed an essential service, we are asking farmers, ranchers and employees at food processors to get up every single day, go to work and work hard to make sure we have food on our tables and on our grocery store shelves.
Those people are asking for respect, and that respect comes from being a priority to the current government and the programs it is putting forward. It is very clear that Canada's food security and our supply chain is not a priority for the government with $250 million being given to farmers through various programs.
The other frustration with this is that these are not new programs and this is not new money. For the government to come out and say it has taken these steps to address the COVID-19 pandemic, even with changing this Dairy Commission legislation, they are still not addressing the pandemic.
These are not extraordinary measures to deal with an unprecedented challenge within our agriculture sector. These are just reannouncements of existing programs. What message does that send to Canadian agriculture?
They are saying that the farmhouse is burning down and the Liberal government is standing by and offering them a bottle of water as assistance. That is just not good enough. It is not good enough for Canadian agriculture. It is not good enough for our farmers, our ranchers and our processors, who are working hard every day to do their jobs, and who do it with pride.
All they are asking for is that the Liberal government stand beside them and show that the work they are doing means something. I think the question the government has to ask itself is this: Is the Liberal government's food security plan to ensure that we have to import food from other countries to feed Canadian families?
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