Madam Speaker, the Conservatives want to debate a report about food security within the federation that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts studied almost two years ago. The Conservatives' intentions are probably questionable, but unlike the members who like to play partisan games and the Canadian parties who can only argue with one another, I am quite happy to talk about food security. Even though this report was completed almost two years ago, it is still a very topical issue.
Indeed, for a supposedly self-respecting G7 country, Canada and Quebec still have major problems with food security.
Unsurprisingly, the report highlighted shortcomings regarding one fundamental duty of any self-respecting country: making sure its citizens do not go hungry. It is not a coincidence that Maslow's hierarchy of needs puts food at the bottom of the pyramid. I know that my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou will be very happy to hear me mention Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
It is also not a coincidence that many a monarchy in the not-so-distant past has been toppled by food riots. It is not that we want to preserve Canada's monarchy, but food security comes first.
Let us consider what this report tells us and, above all, what it says about the Liberal way of governing. Let us take a look at the Auditor General's findings.
First, in 2009, the government designated food as a critical infrastructure sector. That was written down back in 2009. However, the Auditor General noted:
...the government had not developed a national emergency preparedness and response plan that considered a crisis affecting the entire food system and Canadians' food security.
The pandemic struck in 2020. In 2009, food security was identified as a critically important issue. Eleven years on, the government still had no plan and still had done nothing to prepare for a crisis.
Second, the Auditor General noted:
...although gender-based analysis plus and sustainable development were considered during the design of each program, the responsible departments and agencies could not always measure gender and diversity outcomes, and the programs' contributions to sustainable development were not always clear.
How is that for another surprise? We can tell what really matters to the government in a crisis. Clearly, it is not sustainable development, women, visible minorities or gender minorities. Wow, just wow.
Third, the Auditor General noted the following:
...the responsible departments and agencies had many oversight controls in place for the delivery of the emergency food programs and monitored that the funding was spent as directed. However, [the Auditor General] also found some inconsistencies in program design, which led to unfair treatment of applicants and recipients across regions.
I will come back to that.
When the pandemic hit, the government decided to take action on food security. We were in crisis. With that in mind, the government created an emergency fund with various programs to address food security across the country. Criteria were established for how that money would be spent, especially for the organizations receiving it. Not surprisingly, some organizations did not meet the criteria, but they received government money anyway. Why is that? It is because we were in a crisis and money had to get out quickly, they said. However, that was not the real reason. The government is doing the same thing with Boeing.
Fourth, the Auditor General also noted the following:
...each of the programs helped to mitigate some effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic on elements of Canada's food system. However, because of shortcomings in how the responsible departments and agencies gathered information, they could not show that they had achieved results against all of the outcomes intended to reduce food insecurity or support the resilience of food processors in the agriculture and agri-food and the fish and seafood sectors.
Again, there was absolutely no follow-up mechanism to determine whether or not the organizations, some of which received hundreds of millions of dollars, had met their objectives. That is just great. It is truly fantastic.
Let us come back to food security and the organizations that were selected for these emergency funds. The organization that was supposed to cover the beautiful nation of Quebec did not meet the criteria. That was La tablée des chefs. The department invited organizations to submit a request for the funding that was available rather than opening a competition to all. Does that not remind members of what happened last week when we learned that there had been no open competition? Does that not ring a bell for anyone? It is funny, because it does for me. Again, I am thinking of Boeing.
The reason given by the department when I questioned it was that these are well-established and financially robust organizations with wide-ranging networks that cover the entire country. The first thing we see when opening the financial statements of that organization is that it received funds from the Canada emergency business account. Is that what we would call financially robust? I do not think so. What were the criteria for giving out hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency funding? It is difficult to fathom. How can one organization receive emergency funding and, at the same time, take part in a program of such magnitude?
Again, no surprise there: it is all in a day's work for the Liberal government. When the Liberal government gives an untendered $9-billion contract, it claims that no decision has been made, that it is still unclear, but it still goes ahead. Once again, in a time of need or in a crisis, it brushes aside that which it considers to be unimportant. This time, it is Quebec's economy that is brushed aside to accommodate an American company, with no call for tenders, just as we see in this report.
As I mentioned earlier, food insecurity is always there, crisis after crisis. I do not know how long it will take for the government to realize that food security is an important issue. The pandemic might be behind us, but we are in an inflationary crisis. Looking at what the Auditor General wrote in her report in 2021, we can see that not much has changed, unfortunately.
Here is what the Auditor General said:
According to a May 2020 study by Statistics Canada [and we cannot argue with the numbers], food insecurity among Canadians rose during the COVID‑19 pandemic to 14.6% (almost 4.4 million people), up from 10.5% (almost 3.1 million people) according to a 2017–18 survey. The May 2020 study also noted that the level of food insecurity for households with children was even higher, at 19.2%, [or almost one in five households] and reached 28.4% for those absent from work because of business closures, layoffs, or personal circumstances as a result of the pandemic.
What are we seeing? The situation is basically the same right now. This year, when the cost of basic necessities skyrocketed, the Liberal government simply allowed normal market forces to prevail, without intervening with any tangible measures. Take, for example, the fact that grocery prices have increased by about 10%. As a result, one in five Canadians are eating smaller meals, and one in 10 Quebeckers are using food banks. Once again, this report was published in 2021 with data from 2020. It is now 2023, almost 2024, and as we approach the holiday season, we are still talking about food insecurity and food banks. One in 10 Quebeckers are using food banks.
Four years later, having made zero investments in this area, the government may want to think about continuing to reflect, move forward and act. In 2019, the Liberals pledged to introduce a national school food program. Those were promises. There have been crises, yet we still have nothing, four years later. There is no national food program making sure children can go to school with full bellies so they can learn. The only thing we ask of them is to go to school. Kids are going to school hungry, and that is unacceptable in any self-respecting country.
While children go to school hungry, their parents wonder how they will pay the next grocery bill, and food insecurity is on the rise in Canada, what are we learning? We are learning that this government is still taking its time setting federal standards that ignore all special local circumstances and that, after years of delays, it is still unable to ensure its citizens have a modicum of food security in the event of a disaster. The Liberals have not even considered including first nations in their approach, when it is obvious that isolated communities will be the first victims of a major disruption in the food supply.
How many more crises will it take before this government finally starts planning for the future?